Monday, June 24, 2024

Galápagos Diary, Day 2

Day 2, April 13: On the water, under the water, and on shore


Brown Pelican at dawn

First thing this morning we were greeted by a Brown Pelican riding on the bow of the boat. It posed for a few photos, then flew off to look for its breakfast while we went inside for ours.

Isla Eden

Our morning outing was another panga ride, this one along the rocky shoreline of Isla Eden. Shooting from a boat is challenging at best. The boat is in constant motion, side to side, forward and backward, and up and down, as the driver maneuvers to get close without crashing on the rocks. You can’t use a tripod or monopod because it would transfer the vibration of the motor to your camera, and the longer the lens you have, the harder it is to keep your subject in the frame. The best you can do is pick a fast shutter speed, set your ISO to the highest number you’re comfortable with, shoot lots of exposures, and pray to the god or gods of your choice - Nikon, Canon, Adobe, Topaz - that one of those shots will be usable.

Blue-footed Booby, Brown Pelican, and Marine Iguanas

But there’s no other way to get these photos, and the crew does a great job of getting us close to our subjects and holding a position long enough for everyone to get their shots. This morning we had our first encounters with several species, many of which will become very familiar to us over the next several days – Marine Iguanas, Galápagos Penguins, Lava Lizards, Galápagos Sea Lions, Nazca Boobies, and Sally Lightfoot Crabs – as well as Brown Noddies, Blue-footed Boobies, and Brown Pelicans. Lots and lots of Brown Pelicans.

The Booby Dance

I really should have practiced snorkeling.

This afternoon we had our first snorkeling session. The experience and skill level of the group ranges from a few avid divers and snorkelers to those who snorkel occasionally to, well, me. I’ve snorkeled a couple times, decades ago, without any problems, so my only real concern was that my wetsuit and mask were a good fit. I was completely unprepared for what happened next.

After just a few minutes in the water, some part of my brain became convinced that I couldn’t breathe, even though the snorkel seemed to be working fine. What followed can best be described as a minor panic attack – I needed to be out of the water right now. I swam toward the nearest rocks, where I was able to stand with my head above water. Monica saw me there right away and swam over to check on me. I felt weak and anxious about going back in. For a few minutes I held onto a flotation ring with Tui and another member of the group who was also having trouble, waiting to see if my mental state would improve enough to try again. It didn’t, so I climbed into the nearest panga. Unfortunately it wasn’t the one I had arrived on so I didn’t have my hat or sunglasses while I waited for the others.

I was surprised and disappointed by the experience. I hadn’t expected any problems, and, worst of all, today turned out to be our best opportunity to see iguanas underwater and I had missed it. Talking with Tui later, she suggested I had gotten into a condition where the tight wetsuit plus the water pressure makes you think you’re struggling to inhale, which makes you try even harder while not realizing that you haven’t exhaled. You can’t inhale when your lungs are already full. I’ll keep that in mind next time.

Our first wet landing

A wet landing is pretty much what it sounds like. The panga pulls up on a beach, where you take off your shoes, roll your pant legs up, and step into the water while hoping you don’t drop your camera bag.

We made our wet landing this afternoon on a beautiful white sand beach in Bowditch Bay, on the west coast of Santa Cruz Island, and I'm happy to report that no people or cameras fell in the water. For the next couple hours we explored the beach and nearby ponds, photographing Lava Gulls (the rarest gull in the world, with a total population of fewer than a thousand birds), iguanas, ducks, crabs, pelicans, mockingbirds, and boobies.


Lava Gulls

Sally Lightfoot Crab

Blue-footed Booby

Sea Turtle nest

Iguana tracks

Walking back to the panga it occurred to me that I was following in the footsteps of one of the world’s best photographers. I mean, literally. She was right there, twenty steps ahead of me.

Day 3: Don't forget to preheat your camera!

Day 1: Photographers meet Galápagos


  1. I can barely snorkel because they always expect me to wear flippers and I trip myself up every time!!

    1. We had the advantage of putting our flippers on in the panga, then jumping directly into the water from there. I'm sure I would have had trouble walking in them on land.