My journey through the Galápagos Islands presented a myriad of opportunities to see a multitude of animal species, some endemic, up close and personal. For a nature photographer this is heaven on earth – to watch and catch in photos, creatures big and small, living their lives in relative peace with few natural predators.
But nature is about more than walking, swimming and flying animals – it is also about the elements – air, water, earth, – even fire and the Galápagos Islands offer spectacular vistas in every area. They represent a diverse and scenic ecosystem – it’s no wonder they are called the Enchanted Islands.
AIR – My initial view of the islands was a just a teasing glimpse at the eye candy to come. It’s just a short flight – less than 2 hours from Guayaquil on the coast of Ecuador to San Cristobal, the easternmost island and the first island on our itinerary. Here’s a brief refresher on the Galapagos’ layout:
It’s better in person – here are some views from the plane:
These are just teasers for views post-landing and while it is difficult to completely separate each element I’ll do my best.
WATER – Technically, The Galapagos has quite a unique oceanographic profile. The islands are in the Eastern Pacific Ocean right along the equator, but many currents, tropical and cool, converge to create a nutrient rich environment:
They also create some powerful and beautiful oceanic views:
A few mini-islands and eroded formations add to the waterscapes’ eye candy:
LAND – The Galápagos Islands are dynamic and ever-changing. Islands have been created and recaptured by the ocean since the Galapagos’ inception between 3 and 5 million years ago. This “production” is still gong on as the islands are located over a “hot spot” – a place where the earth’s inner layers have liquified through extreme heat and pressure. This is molten magma and when it pushes through the earth’s crust, a volcano is formed (hence the fire element). Once the magma reaches outside the crust of the earth it becomes lava. As layers of lava cool on top of each other the volcano grows and a new island begins to form.
From this violent beginning land is created and due to the Galapagos’ great climatic diversity you can see not only the stark ferociousness of the lava’s fury But also the lush verdant landscapes.
Right off the coast of Isabella Island is a small group of inlets called Las Tintoreras – which translated is “The Chasms” or “The Rift.” Multiple lava formations have created quite an unearthly setting and it is hard to believe that any life there is sustainable:
Many of the lava formations are razor-sharp and one has to be particularly careful hiking in the area. Remarkably, though, Las Tintoreras is a wildlife haven and iguanas, penguins, herons, crabs and sea lions are plentiful.
The other side of the spectrum can also be reached on Isabella Island – the 500,000 year-old Volcan Sierra Negro – the second largest volcano in the world and it is worth the grueling and difficult hike to get to the rim of its caldera. The volcano stands 4500 feet high and the caldera has a diameter of over 6 miles. While the name means “Black Mountain Range” it is anything but – although the ever-present fog does usually obscure the total richness of the green foliage surrounding the caldera. Since the climate here is tropical – there is high humidity and frequent rain but on the day we hiked the 6 miles from base camp at Santo Tomas it was partly sunny. However the ground was saturated, making the hike particularly treacherous. Also, due to the dense foliage you cannot always see the sinkholes and mud traps and gullies so even with the sturdiest hiking shoes and walking sticks invariably much of the hike, particularly on the way down was accomplished on my butt.
Still, as I have stated many times – my enjoyment in traveling is going outside my comfort zone – and despite the heat, humidity and mud, it was glorious. Here is the beginning of the trail before it got interesting:
You will note that similarly to my other challenging hikes (see Peru, Alaska etc) I did not have my camera out taking photos during the hike – safety is always paramount.
After a few hours – you can see me emerge from the jungle onto the edge of the caldera, courtesy of Alfredo:
The fog was there of course – but the spirits had some pity and allowed the fog to lift and let me get a few unobstructed photos:
I am humbled..