Lessons from the Galapagos

by Paul Schmitt

There were many lessons learned in preparing for and making the most of our travel. It is not possible in a newsletter to bring forth the many photos nor all of the insights gained. There are, however, points which are valuable for a big trip and for a trip two hours distant to a new location. First, let’s describe the trips three parts. Most routes to the Galapagos go through Quito, Ecuador. Since a cancelled flight from the US generally means a lost day, it is wise to get there at least day early. The tour leader schedules the first day as a trip to Guango Lodge to see and photograph mountain hummingbirds. If a travel delay causes clients to miss that day, they are still on the next day’s flight to Galapagos. Miss that flight and you literally miss the boat for the week. We arrived an extra day early to have a day tour of historic Quito. Great idea and a real stress reliever . Whether it is for a sunrise at Montezuma or Quito, arriving at the last moment creates unnecessary anxiety. Visiting the center of Quito made a great beginning.

For a big trip, get to know the leader and how the tour works. Look at the timing for our departure to the islands at left. He hired a fixer to get us to the flight which included a bus, group check-in, help with security and agricultural screening. The trip out there is a busy, long day and this was a BIG plus. We were on the yacht before noon! Our leader, a birder/photographer himself, got us ashore early for the best light.

The days were very full and the equatorial climate is unlike what you experience in New York, so here are some lessons on what was important. The white board at right listed a day’s plan. So, do a lot of walking to get in shape. The sun is unlike what you know; protect yourself. There are no benches on the trails; wish we’d had a small seat. Drink a lot of water. Note the two items that were questionable.

Finally, you can do a lot of planning from home to prepare you for making the most of an expensive trip. I should have spent a lot of time on eBird for both Guango Lodge birds and for the islands on our route. Finding what had been seen at Guango in August for the last ten years would have greatly prepared me for the overwhelming number of new birds seen.

What lenses does the photographer need? The research above can do a lot to answer that, and the trip leader, if competent , will have a good idea. But, our leader hauled a big tripod and 500 mm lens until it wore him down.  Note that you really need to backup all files via laptop and keep a copy on a flash drive in your pocket when traveling.