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Galapagos: The Enchanted Isles Photography Workshop - June 19th, 2014

Wow, what a trip. I'm sitting in my hotel in Quito Ecuador fresh off our Aperture Academy 8-day photography cruise of the Galapagos Islands, trying to pull together all the wonderful experiences of this past week. I've spent the past 15 years traveling the world and I've seen many amazing things...come face to face with wild Grizzly bears, witnessed big cats hunt the great plains of Africa but never have I seen such unique and amazing wildlife as you will find in the Galapagos. At first glace you might think it's just a bunch of strange birds and lizards but if you take a moment to slow down and take a closer look you'll be amazed at what you can find.

Over the course of the past eight days we did just that...and here's what we found...

DAY 1

Our entire group managed to navigate their international flights to arrive in Quito Ecuador late evening on June 19th. This was great news...everyone was going to make the boat and we had a full day free to explore the historic city of Quito.

With a beautiful, partly cloudy sky, we decided to take the Telerefrico tram to the top of the world...11,000 feet looking down to see all of Quito nestled into the lush Andes Mountain Range.

From the tram we loaded back onto our private bus and left for one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen, the Basilica del Voto Nacional. The group entered the church and spread out, exploring and photographing every part of this highly photographic building. We even climbed the steep, narrow stair cases up into the clock towers, and steeple, which provided an amazing birds eye view of Quito up close.

From the Basilica we returned to our hotel for an afternoon rest, then we walked two blocks where we enjoyed a nice group dinner before settling in for a good nights sleep.

DAY 2

My alam went off at 5:15am -- it was time to meet the group for a quick breakfast and to depart to the Quito airport...next stop, the Galapagos Islands located 600 miles west off the shore of Ecuador.

With a quick, smooth flight we landed on the island is San Cristobal to a nice, warm, tropical breeze. After gathering our luggage we boarded our private bus for a quick 5 minute ride to the harbor where we got our first look at where we would be living the next 8 days -- our luxury, and historic, yacht the M/Y Grace. The boat was owned by Princess Grace of Monoco. We loaded up our group into two Panga's (local term for a Zodiak, or dingy) and as we drew near we could tell the Grace was full of every luxury you could want. This was indeed going to be a fantastic week!

Once onboard we met our naturalists, Jonathan and Lenin. Both have spent the past 20-25 years living and working in the Galapagos and by the end of the first day it was evident that we were in the best possible hands. Jonathan's deep, intimate knowledge of both the ecosystems and wildlife provided to be extremely educational. Both local guides were literally encyclopedias of vast knowledge and enhanced our workshop experience tremendously.

A short time later our first lunch was served. You could tell that the quality, and quantity of food being served was going to make it difficult to watch your diet but who cares...we're on vacation!

While we ate lunch and everyone settled into their cabins the M/Y Grace left harbor and we sailed to Lobos Island, just across the small channel from San Cristobol. This tiny little island certainly lived up to it's other name "sea lion island" and as we arrived on shore we were greeted by two sea lions. Walking up the shore we quickly discovered there were hundreds of them sleeping in and around the bushes, on the beaches and rocks.

Our next discovery were several Blue Footed Boobies. We spotted one sitting on an egg, also blue in color, as well as two others in the midst of their mating ritual. The rapped clicking of our guests cameras left little doubt that this was our first great photo op of this cruise.

With just about an hour before sunset we re-boarded the Grace and sailed to Kicker Rock to photograph the low, warm light striking the rock formations. This was a great way to wrap up our first day in the Islands before heading to dinner.

DAY 3

Overnight, the M/Y Grace sailed 4 hours to the south to Espanola Island, also known as "Hood Island". We boarded the two Panga's and motored from the anchored M/Y Grace to the secluded Punta Suarez Cove. We split into two small groups, each walking the loop trail and as we walked we passed carefully through, first, a colony of Blue Footed Boobies, then we came upon about a dozen nesting Albatross. The highlight of the morning was witnessing the rare, and complex, Albatross fencing and courting ritual. Jonathan and Lenin educated us on many amazing facts about the species were were photographing and their insight to behaviors helped us to predict and capture some amazing moments.

From the colonies we reached the cliffs on the the south side of Espanola Island were we sat to rest and photograph a giant blow hole which sprayed sea water high into the air as the tide crashed ashore. It was an amazing thing to see, and hear.

With a full morning on the Island, and full memory chips we returned to the Grace for lunch. Again we sailed, this time to the farthest point of Espanola Island (as well as the most easterly point of the Galapagos Islands themselves), Gardner Bay. With the Grace anchored this was our first opportunity for snorkeling in the crystal clear waters and conditions did not disappoint. Within the first few minutes of being in the shallow waters we saw sea turtles, sea lions parrot fish and so much more. Everywhere you looked was something to see and photograph, and many guests did have underwater cameras so they took advantage of this time to capture a few images as well as play with the very friendly, and curious young sea lions.

In the afternoon we landed the Panga's on the pristine, pure white, beach and exited the small boats with our bare feet in the warm tropical waters. Let me tell you, it felt so good! The warm water and very soft sand was like paradise. We explored the beach and captured some amazing images of the sea lions basking in the last hour of sunlight. As sunset drew near the sky filled with pastel pinks and that great color against the teal tropic shallows of Gardner Bay made for some fantastic portrait shots of our group.

After the sun had set we loaded up into our two Panga's and motored back out to the Grace. I remember the ride that night was very quiet as everyone looked out at the vast horizon and took in the scene. Tropical warm air, a nice breeze and colors that you have to see to believe. It was a one of those special moments you store away, deep in your memories, to recall over and over again the rest of your life.

DAY 4

The next morning we awoke early for a sunrise landing on Floreana Island. Our Panga's landed us on the remote shores of Post Office Bay where we found the historic whalers "post office", an old barrel left on the island in 1793 with a long history of being used for mail deliver by anyone who came along that could deliver the mail found to a location they were traveling. As we looked through the stacks of postcards in the mailbox we noticed addresses from all around the world -- previous visitors to Post Office Bay hoping to one day be reunited with their postcard. We took a few that our guests felt they could hand deliver and we left our own. After a few photos to record our own historic visit we returned to the Grace for breakfast and then made a quick sail to Champion Islet for snorkeling.

The afternoon gave us our first chance for some time on the yacht where we could download the photos and to do some Photoshop and Lightroom review with Stephen and Ellie. We gathered in the main gallery of the M/Y Grace, a very large and comfortable area to spread out and work one-on-one as well as small groups to learn new ways to get the most out of the images we had taken.

As we worked on post processing and ate lunch, we sailed to Cormorant Point where we took a short hike to explore the island. Along one stretch of beach we found many giant sea turtle nests and a few baby turgles were hatching, only to be snatched up by awaiting Frigate birds as they tried to make their way to the safety of the sea. We came along a few Flamingo's in one of the lagoon's we passed and back on the beach we found a large number of Sally Light Foot crabs which proved to be very photogenic with their bright colors and unique details.

DAY 5

After sailing most of the night we arrived at Santa Cruz Island in the early hours. We departed in the Panga's for a beautiful little beach. From there we hiked up into the interior of the island in search of land Iguanas and they did not disappoint! We found several along the trail and they all but posed for us in the nice morning defused light. We also spotted the very colorful Galapagos Grasshopper -- this litte fella was about 3-4 inches long with vivid stripes down each side. We also spotted a couple of Flamengo's feeding in a small lagoon.

After lunch we sailed up the coast of Santa Cruz Island to a small dock where we boarded a bus which took us up deep into the highlands. The weather was perfect as we arrived to view, photograph and learn about giant land turtles. These amazingly unique creatures range in size, the larger are around 3 feet long, weigh in around 350-400lbs and can live 150 years and longer.

After a quick visit to the lava tube we returned to the M/Y Grace for our next day's briefing and dinner. Just before dinner we were gathered in the lounge where we enjoyed a few cold drinks and shared some laughs and memories from the day. Suddenly, a loud "thunk" was heard on the deck and we looked over to find a sail fish had leaped from the water...and what a leap it was because we were on the second deck, approximately 20 feet off the water! Jonathan jumped up to grab the fish and return it to the ocean. With a careful toss the fish was dropped over into the water...and into the mouth of a shark! If you were not there then you are surely finding this "fish tale" hard to believe but I assure you, every word is true. Jonathan exclaims "oh my gosh, a shark just ate it!" and everyone lept from their chairs to look over the rail into the darkness. Sure enough, there were 3 large Galapagos Sharks swimming next to the Grace, circling as if awaiting other easy meal. We were mesmerized by the sharks and watched them for about 20 minutes before moving to the outdoor dining room for dinner.

DAY 6

For the first time on the trip we stayed anchored over night just off shore of Santa Cruz Island. This was by design and allowed us to arrive early morning at La Bachas Beach. This visit put us the closest yet to wild Flamingo's with some photographers getting within just a few feet capturing colorful, frame filling, images. The Sally Light Foot crabs were everywhere and posing atop the lava rocks making for some fantastic compositions.

Back on board the Grace we did some most post processing of our images before yet another great lunch was served. I actually came on this trip thinking I could eat light and loose a couple of L-B's but let me tell you, the food was so good there was little chance of anyone leaving any lighter.

During lunch we sailed north toward Chinese Hat. The weather was the best yet on the trip and the colors of the islands and surrounding waters was stunning. Several sea birds followed the boat as we cruised creating an opportunity for some on-board photography with our new found bird friends.

Our afternoon shore adventure took us to the tiny island of Chinese Hat. Named very simply because, well, it looks like a Chinese hat. As our Panga entered the narrow channel toward the landing beach we spotted several Galapagos Penguins on the rocks. We were able to pull up within just a few feet to capture many frame filling images before landing on the beach. As soon as we left the boat we spotted a penguin in the water swimming in just a foot of water! He swam around our feet for about 10 minutes, playfully moving back and forward across a 30 feet stretch of beach. It was amazing to see.

DAY 7

This morning we landed on one of the most unique beaches I have ever seen, located on Jervis Island. Right as we landed on the beach s big, beautifully marked Pelican was spotted just a few feet away and he made for some quick early morning images. We hiked a short trail that gave us views of the Grace, anchored just off shore, as well as the red sand beach that stretched out in an arc below us. On the walk we spotted many birds and captured some of the abstract patterns in the cactus and other plant life.

Once we were back on board the M/Y Grace we had a great lunch and then spent the early afternoon snorkeling.

Next step for the afternoon we found ourselves Anchored just off Santiago Island and left the Grace in our Panga's to go explore this alien, volcanic landscape.

DAY 8

That night we anchored in the calm wanters near Pinnacle Rock and at first light we loaded into our Panga's and headed for the 360 wooden steps that awaited us so we could summit the island for a 360 degree, birds eye view, of the region. Looking down on Pinnacle Rock you could easily see how these uniques shapes were formed. The sky was full of fantastic cloud formations and we had a lot of fun capturing panoramic images, group photos and just enjoying the breathtaking views.

After a great lunch and some Photoshop/Lightroom processing, we headed for Seymour Island, our last afternoon landing of the workshop. We spent nearly 3 hours walking a short quarter mile trail that lead us through Blue Footed Boobie colonies as well as Frigates mating and raising their young. Often times we were within mere feet of these subjects and captured many frame filling images. It was without a doubt one of the best locations for photography on the entire trip and a wonderful way to wrap up the trip.

Day 9

Our final morning we enjoyed our last omelet-to-order breakfast on the famous M/Y Grace and spent about an hour enjoying the pristine sandy beach of Mosquera Islet. Many playful sea lions were around and we aimed our cameras for one last time on them, capturing their cute and playful antics.

From Mosquera Islet we departed for Baltra Island and made our way to the airport for our return flight to Quito. An uneventful flight landed us back just in time for dinner where we enjoyed a few celebratory drinks at our hotel before departing the next morning. Many were headed home and Stephen, Ellie, Tom, Nancy and Winona were of to Peru for the next workshop, Machu Picchu -- the lost city of the Incas.

We want to give a big thank you to everyone who joined us on the Galapagos Cruise Workshop. It was without a doubt a truly fantastic group of people and Ellie, Jonathan, Lenin and myself all enjoyed working with you and the many great laughs we had over this trip. Thank you, thank you and we hope to see you again some day on another photo adventure!



If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.


© Stephen W. Oachs

© Stephen W. Oachs

© Stephen W. Oachs

© Stephen W. Oachs

© Ellie Stone

© Ellie Stone

© Ellie Stone

© Stephen W. Oachs

© Ellie Stone

© Stephen W. Oachs

© Stephen W. Oachs

© Ellie Stone
Comments


Carol Ferguson - June 30th, 2014 (7:36am)

Your journal and photos were wonderful! I almost felt I was there experiencing all the wonders you spoke of; thank you for sharing your adventure! Martyn and I so enjoyed the class we took and the Zoo Workshop. We hope to take some more of your fantastic workshops!

Larry Kearney - June 30th, 2014 (1:55pm)

Kudos to Stephen and Ellie and the staff of AA along with the naturalists, Jonathan and Lenin and the crew of the Grace for making what turned out to be an amazing adventure of a lifetime in the Galapagos Islands. Photography, natural history, and exotic wildlife! It truly doesn't get any better. The only fault? it was too short.


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