Galapagos Islands Photo Essay

In 2011 when I confirmed that my very first photo tour would be happening in Peru in February 2012, I said to myself, “If you are going all the way to Peru, you can’t NOT go to the Galapagos Islands. It is so close. And, what if you never get back to South America?”

And so began my love affair with South America.

At that time, I really wasn’t sure if I would ever go back to South America or not. Four years later, with two Peru: Through the Lens Photo Tours complete, two trips to Argentina (one consisting of four months in the beautiful city of Buenos Aires) and visits to Uruguay and Chile … well, let’s just say I love South America.

I flew to Quito, Ecuador and then off to Baltra Island of the Galapagos Archipelago where I would do an independent tour with Bamba Experience. It was their first year operating in the Galapagos, so there were a few glitches, but nothing could dull the amazing beauty of these incredible islands and the locals who went out of their way to assist me in every way they could.

I visited Santa Cruz and Floreana islands. Someday, I’ll return to visit more of the islands, but, being on a tight budget, a short amount of time and wanting a land-based itinerary, my options were limited. None-the-less, I’m glad to have the amazing memories that I do from one of my favourite places in all of my travels.

Want to read more about my travels to the Galapagos Islands?
Check out these past blogs:
Floreana Island – Dolphins
Lifejacket Complication
Fresh Fish Feast
Swimming with the sea lions

Is the Galapagos Islands on your travel bucket list? What’s stopping you?
Send me a message, let’s chat about all of the great options for an amazing, educational and life changing experience for you alone, with your friends or family. I’d love to help make this dream come true for you! You can reach me by email at stucker@tpi.ca

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Galapagos Islands – Dare to Dream

One year ago today I was on my way for a three week adventure that would change my life significantly. I traveled to Quito, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador and all over Peru. I had no idea what an impact each of these places would have on me for the rest of my life.

I arrived in the Galapagos Islands, embarking on an independent land-based tour to see the mystical, magical creatures that call this beautiful and unique place, home.

I had struggles, adventures, laughs (many laughs), great food, fantastic photos, broken camera equipment and life affirming moments while I was there. All of this in just five days. It was truly amazing.

I dreamed of visiting the Galapagos Islands, but I never dreamed I would love it so much.

Now, I dare you to dream.

I will be hosting a free travel talk about the Galapagos islands on Wednesday, February 20th at The Adventure Travel Company – 5552 Kaye Street, Halifax, NS from 7 – 8pm. I invite you to join me while I take your imagination to the islands via beautiful photos, personal experiences and give you lots of information on how you can get there too!

Please RSVP as space is limited and The Galapagos Islands is an in-demand destination!

Fresh Fish Feast – Photo Essay

February 2012
Puerta Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos Islands

I was wandering along the waterfront one afternoon and came across the fresh fish market. I’m passionate about photographing people in their environment, working … what better place than a fresh fish market? The fisherman had come in off the boats not long before and they were preparing fresh fish for locals, on request. As with any subject, I started photographing from the front and then started to wander around to different vantage points. I’m so glad that I did because some of my favourite shots are the ones from behind the fish counter.

Hope you enjoy my photo essay of the Fresh Fish Feast!

How many crabs can you find?

Just a fun little hide and seek game …

How many crabs can you find in this photo that I took in the Galapagos Islands earlier this year?

Hint #1 – Some are red, but some are bluish!
Hint #2 – Click on the photo to bring it up larger.

Crabs in the Galapagos Islands

Crabs in the Galapagos Islands

If you are interested in reading about some of my Galapagos Islands adventures, check them out here.

Update: Correct Answer – 15 (see yellow arrows below)
Thanks for the guesses on Facebook & Twitter!
Winners are Gail-James Carpenter & @Galakiwi who will both receive a ‘crab’ photo by mail!

Colorful crab in the Galapagos Islands

Colorful crab in the Galapagos Islands

Did you know that I Did THAT?

When I sat down to start making a list of all of the fun, unique and adventurous things that I’ve done in travel since 2006, I was quite amazed at the list. Check it out!

** Updated Jan 1, 2016 – updates still in progress

Dominican Republic
White water rafting – Jarabacoa
River kayaking – Sabonita
Latin dancing – Punta Cana, Santo Domingo, La Romana, Cabarete and Sosua
Photos of Not for Profit School “Dominino” – San Luis district of Santo Domingo
Botanical Gardens, Santo Domingo
Visited Banos salt mines and the only sand dunes in the Caribbean.
Puerto Plata Teleferico (cable car) – 2555 feet – the highest cable car and manicured gardens in the Caribbean.
Horseback riding through rivers on Christmas Day 2014
Danced Merengue, Salsa and Bachata in a local barber shop – Santo Domingo
Survived local transportation in the form of carros publicos, guaguas, tour buses & moto conchos

Peru
Homestays – Luqina Chico & Ccaccaccollo
Lake Titicaca Boat Tour – Lake Titicaca
Rowed a boat made of reeds – Uros Islands
Volunteer Family Photographs – Ccaccaccollo
Incan Ruins – Machu Picchu, Pisac, Ollantaytambo
Hot Springs – Aguas Calientes
Train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu & return to Cusco
Ate local delicacy – guinea pig

Ecuador & Galapagos Islands
Lava tunnels – Santa Cruz Island
Snorkeling & swimming with wild sea lions – near Santa Cruz Island
Charles Darwin Centre – Santa Cruz Island
Boat tour & hike of the highlands – Floreana Island
Dolphins – Floreana Island
Teleferico (cable car) – Altitude 13 280 ft – Quito
Old town Quito private city tour – Quito

Poland
Old town Warsaw night tour – Warsaw
Packaging and delivering wishes to terminally ill children – Southern Poland
Majdanek Concentration Camp – Majdanek

Germany
Berlin Zoo – Berlin
Bradenburg Gate – Berlin
Checkpoint Charlie – Berlin
Train from Berlin to Warsaw

Mexico
Rapelling & Snorkeling in cenotes – Mayan Riviera
Zip lining – Mayan Riviera
Tulum Ruins – Mayan Riviera
Snorkeling with sea turtles and sting rays – Mayan Riviera
Coco Bongo – Playa del Carmen
Chichen Itza Ruins
Learned to surf – Sayulita (2015)
Horseback riding

USA
Bayou swamp tour – New Orleans, LA

St. Pierre & Miquelon
Zodiac boat tour – St. Pierre
Wild horses – Miquelon

Cuba
Catamaran & snorkeling – Varadero
Swimming with Dolphins – Varadero

Costa Rica
Cable car & Rain forest Zip lining – Arenal
Leatherback turtles laying eggs – Tamarindo
Black sand beaches

Nicaragua
Masaya (active) Volcano tour – Masaya
Granada Islets boat tour – Granada

Bermuda
Sea do tour & snorkeling – Dockyard
5 day cruise with Norwegian Cruise Lines – Boston to St. Georges

Turkey
Hot Air Ballooning over Cappadocia at sunrise
Learning (trying) to make pottery
Horseback riding through Cappadocia at sunset
Visited Troy / Gallipoli and Anzac
Visited Aya Sofia / Blue Mosque / Galata Tower

Belize
Swimming with sharks and rays
Climbing waterfalls
Listening to spoken word poetry from our local guide in the jungle
Jungle horseback riding

Thailand
Snorkeling off Koh Phi Phi Islands
Travel from Malaysia to Thailand overland (train / bus)

The Philippines
Learned to dive
Visited the chocolate hills
Saw Tarsier monkeys
Learned about sand bubbler crabs
Snorkeling at _______________
Visited El Nido – Island hopping / snorkelling
Tried a bite of crocodile

Malaysia

Argentina
Visited Iguazu Falls
Street Art Tour

Uruguay

Chile
Felt an earthquake while at dinner

Montenegro
Visited the islands with the church / museum

Slovenia

Italy

Greece
Treno Sto Rouf Dinner Theatre
Street Art Tour

Croatia
Hiking through abandoned villages

Vietnam
Visited Halong Bay
Learning (trying) to make pottery
Agent orange museum ??

Cambodia
Visited Angkor Wat

Singapore
Singapore flyer ride

 

Bumper Car Thoughts

How to make a Decision – Part 4

Oh I can feel the energy! Loud music, the smell of cotton candy and popcorn, children laughing, adults acting like children and the hum of electric bumper cars …

I excitedly choose a little red car in the middle of the bumper car pack, wait for the horn and then I start off slowly with a childish giggle thinking I can sneak past my friend before she bumps me. I test the gas peddle and my car does a little jerky-hop forward.

Now, STEP ON IT!

Ok, don’t get too excited, they don’t really move that fast, but I’ve managed to slip past my friend without her making contact. Now is my time to spin around and make my move!

Then with a jerk, my head is tossed to the left as a stranger blindsides me from the right and I hear him chuckle with excitement for his clever hit.

As I refocus my vision, I remember to step on the gas before I become stuck in the middle and forever battered by a constant stream of bumper cars waiting to attack my faithful little red car from every angle. Are those thoughts (er .. I mean … um … cars) ever going to have room to move again, or are they forever stuck in this grid-lock, surrounded by strangers waiting to attack … and then chuckle nonchalantly  about it?

Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, oh my goodness …. I’m going away to study Spanish! EEEEEEEEEEEEEK!!!!!!

Wait a second … where is it that I’m going? oh right, I don’t know yet!

When I initially started thinking about learning Spanish in 2009, I had wanted to return to Nicaragua. I spent very little time there, but I felt such a big connection to the places that I visited.

But wait, then I traveled to Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands in February 2012 … and I decided that I wanted to go back to the Galapagos (in August 2012) to study. My best friend was invited to a wedding in Ecuador and I’d be able to visit with her before heading over to the islands. Then, while I there I could do some volunteer work, take lots of photos and see more of the islands that I had a chance to in my first five day visit.

But wait again! The Galapagos Islands are so far away and crazy expensive to get to! Not to mention that it is expensive to live there. And, well, it is a very small area. Will I get bored there for an extended period of time?

Maybe I should study Spanish in Quito, Ecuador? I knew a couple who had just studied for four weeks there before joining in on my Peru Through the Lens Photo Tour. They had loved it and both studies and living in Ecuador are dirt cheap. Oh wait … I didn’t feel safe in Quito, it was high altitude and well, it really just wasn’t my favourite place. So, cheap or not, that’s not really where I want to be!

Hmmmmmm …. there are so many Spanish speaking countries and I really would love to see them all. How am I ever going to decide? I can’t research them all, that would take too long!

What about the Dominican Republic? I had just returned from a beautiful week in Punta Cana where I was photographing a destination wedding. I had a couple of great local experiences, but felt like I didn’t really see much of the country because I was mainly on the resort. Let’s think about this option.

When I really began to contemplate the option of returning to the Dominican Republic to study, it just seemed to fit. It was cheaper to get flights to the Dominican than all the way to the Galapagos Islands. It was relatively safe for tourists, beautiful, sunny, beaches, Spanish culture, dancing, good food …. sounds good so far!

I revved up that little red bumper car engine and was poised to stomp on the gas and force my way out of the grid lock, but then hesitation …

I dug a little deeper in my thoughts … Although I had made the decision to go study Spanish for myself, I couldn’t totally ignore the part of me that found it easier to justify this ‘vacation’ if it had some business benefits.

Learning Spanish is something that I wanted to do because I was interested, but it was an extra bonus that it would also help me when I’m doing Photo Tours in South America. Were there other benefits to be found from the possibility of studying in the Dominican Republic? Why, yes, yes there are! The reason that I was in the Dominican Republic to begin with was to photograph a destination wedding. At our resort alone there were 3-4 weddings per day, seven days a week. Multiply that by however many resorts there are in Punta Cana … well, that means there’s something crazy like 150+ weddings PER WEEK just in this one area. Wouldn’t it be interesting if I could capitalize on this. Maybe I could arrange to photograph some weddings while I am in Dominican Republic learning Spanish, if that’s where I decide to go.

hmmmm … or maybe not.

Do I really want to be working or is this trip just about figuring me out? Well, maybe I could compromise and shoot one or two weddings to cover the costs of my trip. That’s not too much of a sacrifice! Oh no, there’s a hitch in that too … if I want to go this summer, that is slow season for weddings in Dominican. Not to mention that it is the nicest time of year in Nova Scotia and my main market for destination weddings would be couples from Nova Scotia. Geeze, I sure am glad I’m thinking about all of this!

Maybe the answer is that I don’t photograph any weddings while I am there, but I do some research to see if I can work with some of the resorts. And, regardless of when I do destination weddings, at least the Dominican has a high market for it. If I were to go to the Galapagos Islands, the number of destination weddings would be much fewer.

Did I just make a decision? Nah, I couldn’t have. But wait … maybe I did? What about all of the other countries that I could study in? Belize, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Guatemala, Honduras … and the list goes on … It’s a big world out there, how do I choose just one location?

Look at that green bumper car … the driver is a maniac! He’s relentless! He has no shame, no compassion and takes a good hit on anyone he can, even if they aren’t moving. That’s not very sportsman like is it? Wait, he’s aiming straight for me on my one open side, as I’m grid-locked in everywhere else. I’m not going to let him beat my while I’m down! I’ll show him … GAS!!!

After several days of debating with myself and giving myself justification from a business standpoint I said ‘Enough is enough! Just pick a place and go with it!’. So, I did just that. Based on my previous experience in Dominican, the cost of getting there, the distance and the opportunities to expand my business there, I decided to just go for it.

With the wind dancing in my hair, a childish grin on my face and lots of driving practice, I starred back that the guy in the blue bumper car, I braced myself, put the peddle to the metal and hit him so hard, straight on, that it took his breath away.

Wait a second … it took my breath away too … all of a sudden I’m free of grid-lock. I gasped for air and then realized that there is plenty of it there to enjoy, I just needed to break free, attack head on and keep moving forward.

Gas!

Leaving Paradise

Feb 16, 2012

Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands

Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands

This photo was taken at sunset the evening before, but this is what I think Paradise looks like.

I got up early my last day on Santa Cruz island. Finished packing and then headed to the docks to take a few last photos in the early morning sun. By 8am though it is already harsh and strong. I snapped a couple of photos of the bay and boats, waved to a few of the guides that I had traveled with in the past few days and headed back to my hotel for one last breakfast.

My transfer driver came to pick me up at 9am and off we went for the 40-50 minute drive to the ferry to take us to Baltra Island where the airport is.

The ferries are funny … They fit about 50 people, all crowded in on the lower level with all of our luggage stowed (not so safely) on the roof of the boat. Once I was on the ferry I saw a familiar face, but couldn’t quite place him. I noticed him tell the man collecting the .80c fee that mine was covered, so I figured the familiar face was there to take care of me. The ferry takes about 7-10 minutes. I honestly think it goes extra slow just so that staff have time to collect everyone’s fees.

Once I got off, the familiar face was quick to help me with my luggage, show me where to stand and usher me into the shade. It was here that I asked his name … it was Darwin! The transfer driver who ate lunch with Mariana and I and who dropped us off at the Charles Darwin Station. How could I forget Darwin!

Darwin continued to get my luggage on the bus to the airport, push his way through to bus line with me in tow. The bus was so packed that we both had to stand up on the 10 minute twisty turny bus ride to the airport. Darwin once again took care of my baggage and showed me where to go to check in. All of this without speaking any English.

Check in went smoothly, he pointed me toward a small market to buy some souvenirs and showed me which line up to stand in to go through security. I gave him a hug and a small tip, said thank you and went on my way.

Once through security I sat for nearly 2 hours, drenched in my own sweat even though I was sitting still. The heat is almost stifiling. There wasn’t a dry person in that airport, all of us with glistening arms, foreheads and wet spots on our backs.

I ran into my friends Tanya and Victor who rescued me on my first day. I also chatted with Kate from one of my boat tours. Unfortunately none of that really seemed to help the time pass more quickly. It was like being in a sauna with a couple hundred people. Sound like fun?

Thank goodness for the air conditioning once we got on the plane. And, it was a beautiful day for flying, so flights leaving Galapagos, flying into Guayaquil for our stop over and then into Quito were all beautiful.

Floreana Island – the boat ride

Feb 15, 2012

I got up really early on Wednesday morning (Feb 15) to head out to the tour I had booked the day before. Destination Floreana Island in search of penguins! Floreana is the shortest distance to travel to possibly see penguins. The other islands, Isabela, Santiago and Bartolome are all further either by land first and then boat, or just a longer boat ride. Being scared of getting sea sick, I decided to take the shortest route.

Just before 8am, I popped my gravol and put all kinds of positive thoughts through my head. Had a little chat with myself “You will not get sea sick. Think of other things. Concentrate on all the awesome adventures you’ve had. Think of your friends. Wonder what they are doing right now. Don’t get sea sick. Oh that was awful in St. Pierre when I was so horribly ill on the ferry. I don’t want that to happen again. Wait, supposed to be thinking positive here … Oh what a beautiful day!”

By 8:15 we were on the boat … crammed on the boat I might say. There were 16 of us on the tour, which was capacity for this boat, Mitzzy Juli. Our official guide that day was Marco. He spoke some English, but not a lot. Enough to get by but not really enough for me to understand all of the history that he was explaining.

As we headed out into the bay, one of the deck hands asked (and motioned) to see if I wanted to go somewhere. I thought that he was motioning to the small area inside, maybe because I had told Marco I was concerned about sea sickness. I said no because I’d much rather be in the fresh air than in an in-closed space. THEN as 2 or 3 other people headed to the edge of the boat and climbed up a ladder, I understood that he was asking if I wanted to go sit upstairs. Of course I wanted to sit upstairs! But, I had missed my chance. Upstairs was a small bench directly behind the captain of the boat, Raul. There was only room for 2-3 and now it was full. Boo me.

So, I sat and enjoyed the shade and fresh breeze from the water, not to mention the spectacular views as we bounced our way out to sea. The waters are warm and calm this time of year. Now, it is still open ocean, but overall, mostly a mildly rocky ride. Nothing like my horrendous experience on the ferry from St. Pierre & Miquelon!

The boat ride is about 1.5 hours. I couldn’t use my big camera on the boat as it makes me sea sick to look through it, so I took a few shots with my point and shoot.

View of Santa Cruz en route to Floreana Island

View of Santa Cruz en route to Floreana Island

After we got going, like a lot of people, I think the boat lulled me to sleep. It wasn’t a very good sleep as my head was bouncing around, but a little siesta none-the-less.

About 30 minutes from Floreana you could really begin to get a feel for the look and size of the island. It happens to also be the island that you see in the distance of this beautiful photo taken from Tortuga Bay.

view of Floreana Island from Tortuga Bay

view of Floreana Island from Tortuga Bay

Here it is closer up.

Floreana Island, Galapagos

Floreana Island, Galapagos

On arrival at Floreana our boat couldn’t go all the way in, so they tied it off to a floating thing a short distance from shore. The floating thing also had three sea lions (lobo marino) basking in the hot hot hot sun.

Sea Lions, Floreana Island

Sea Lions, Floreana Island

The Captain whistled loudly and a water taxi headed our way. This is standard in Galapagos. There are water taxis everywhere and you (or your captain) just whistle loudly to get their attention then they’ll come get you.

The water taxi pulled up along side our boat and we piled out single file. This is easy enough for me, but several passengers who were older or who had mobility issues had a really hard time transferring from one boat to the other. The waves would rock the boats … sometimes bringing them closer, sometimes separating them. No question it is dangerous, but I honestly doubt there are many accidents. The guides and deck hands are there to tell you when to step and hold your hand.

Once at the dock, we climbed off the water taxi on to a stair case having the same issues as before with the boat rocking to and from the dock. I’ve done this quite a few times and I feel that I’m pretty aware overall, so it didn’t bother me, but a few people were really scared.

We all got to land safely and headed out for our next little adventure … the highlands.

Floreana Island – Dolphins

Feb 15, 2012

After leaving the penguins behind, I stayed on the upper deck with Raul. I figured since the seas had gotten rougher that I would have a better chance at not being sick if I was in the fresh air, looking forward.

After awhile, deck hand Richard came up and sat with us as well. I attempted conversation with the two of them, but it wasn’t the greatest as neither of them spoke English and my Spanish is still only in single words, not sentences. Of course, I was able to ask their names, as well as show them pictures from my trip so far on my Lumix Waterproof camera. Richard knew Armando (my snorkeling with the sea lions guy). We were able to chat briefly about a few things and they taught me a few new Spanish words.

Richard on the boat

Richard on the boat

After about an hour, Raul all of a sudden said ‘Dolphins!’. Richard immediately grabbed my hand to get me to come with him. He took me down the steep ladder off the top of the boat and directly to the very front tip of the boat where he told me to sit with my feet over the edge. All of this through hand motions and Spanish.

The next thing I knew there were three dolphins racing with the boat, DIRECTLY beneath my feet. My feet were about 2-3 feet from the water and the dolphins were less than a foot under the water. When Raul would slow the boat down, the dolphins would slow down … if he sped up as fast as he could go, the dolphins sped up right along with us.

Dolphins in the Galapagos Islands

Dolphins in the Galapagos Islands

Dolphins in the Galapagos Islands

Dolphins in the Galapagos Islands

Besides the two or three that were swimming directly under the boat, there were half a dozen more doing tricks, jumping and doing displays in the water.

Dolphins in the Galapagos Islands

Dolphins in the Galapagos Islands

The next thing I knew, one of the dolphins came up for air, spraying me and completely covering me. Richard was lying down on the other side of the boat on his stomach and was getting sprayed in the face too. I’m sure he’s seen a display of dolphins like this a million times, but I think he enjoyed it a little extra that day because I was so excited.

Up until this point I think I was strickly in awe of the beauty. Once I was covered in dolphin spray I shed one little tear. I was overwhelmed with the beauty around me. Overwhelmed and thankful for having this opportunity. And, believe it or not, I was glad that my camera was broken so that I didn’t have the urge to take it out and photograph this. Dolphins are very hard to photograph as they move so quickly and I would have wasted precious time trying to capture them instead of taking in the whole amazing scene.

It was an absolutely beautiful moment meant just for me … no work, no worries, just pure beautiful enjoyment. It was at this time that I knew I was in love with the Galapagos Islands that no question, I would be returning.

We must have stayed and ‘played’ with the dolphins for about 30 minutes and I enjoyed every single second. I don’t believe I’ve been this happy in a long long time. It is such a wonderful feeling to be in the open sea air and be so close to nature. Dolphins are so curious and playful. I really just wanted to jump in with them, but I didn’t think Captain Raul would let me do that! Although looking back, maybe I should have asked!

I honestly can’t explain my feelings of that day other than feeling beauty rush through my body and a healthy energy rush through my veins. I feel like that one day simply changed my way of thinking. Somehow, weirdly and ‘hippy-like’ I felt connected to nature. It was a moment when I could feel all of my stress just leave my body and I felt completely rejuvenated.

Galapagos Sunset

Feb 14, 2012

I’ve already done my little pitty party about being alone on Valentine’s day, but I tried to make the best of it. I headed out this evening around 5pm to the waterfront to shoot a few photos of the setting sun.

Here, near the equator, the sun sets very quickly. It isn’t dusk for long in these parts at all. In fact, last night in the 15 minutes it took me to shower, the sun had already set and gone away completely so I missed it all together. Shame on me!

Tonight I didn’t want to make the same mistake. I got a few nice shots, but nothing spectacular. For one, the sunset wasn’t ‘the best’ and two, I wasn’t really at an ideal location for viewing it. Tomorrow I think I’ll be coming back by boat around sunset time, so hopefully I’ll have another opportunity!

Here’s a couple of quick photos though.

Sunset at Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands

Sunset at Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands

Sunset at Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands

Sunset at Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands