Tag Archives: galapagos
April 11, 2012

An Invitation to Visit Australia

As I mentioned previously, Oksana and I have decided to spend a year living and working in Australia.  However, we’re trying very hard to replenish some of the savings we burned through traveling around the world, so playing the tourist isn’t something we’re planning to do while we’re in Brisbane.  Though it’d be a shame to live an entire year in Australia and not see anything outside of Brisbane…

So we’re making plans.  Plans which may involve you, especially if you’re one of our friends or family members (or pretty much anyone on our Facebook or Twitter list!)

Although I haven’t really had the opportunity (yet!) to share what happened on our Galapagos trip – the one where we invited friends and family to come along with us – both Oksana and I viewed it as a big success.  We had 5 people join us in Ecuador; a good friend, his cousin (who we’d never met at all), and a family of three I barely knew in passing.  We all hit the streets of Quito, found ourselves a luxury cruise at a reasonable price, flew out to the islands, and spent a week together on a boat.  Afterwards, our friend stayed an extra week with us in Ecuador, where we took him on a day trip into the jungle.  I think it’s safe to say a good time was had by all.

Solo travel has its own rewards, but there’s something immensely satisfying about sharing adventures with other people.  For that reason, I’m not only glad I got to travel the world with my wife, but I’m also thankful that other people joined us, as well.

I know that many people consider Australia to be on their “bucket list,” that is, a place they want to visit before they die.  If you’re one of them, why not consider joining us Down Under later this year?


January 5, 2011

2011 Galapagos Wildlife Calendars

Galapagos Calendar Preview

One of these days, I should probably try to put into words my philosophy about making money off our Postcard Valet web site.  In a nutshell, we want everything we have to offer – photos, videos, writing – to be free for you to enjoy… but more money means more traveling, and that’s important to us, too!

It would be easy enough to put up some Google ads or to explore other set-it-and-forget-it revenue streams on the site, but I hate how banner ads destroy the aesthetic.  Besides, when I visit other sites, I tend to completely ignore all the ads, anyway.  Don’t you?

The best solution, in my mind, is to create something special that you’d want to spend your hard-earned money on.  For example, we haven’t really pushed it, but we already have a link to our Smugmug gallery where you can purchase a print of any one of the photographs posted under the “photography” category on Postcard Valet.  And today we’d like to present you with our first published product: A 2011 Galapagos Wildlife Calendar!  (Actually, there are two of them!)

2011 Galapagos Calendar Cover (Premium) 2011 Galapagos Calendar Cover (Standard)

Visit our Lulu storefront to purchase one of these calendars!

The premium version of our calendar is printed on glossy white paper, is 13.5″ wide by 19″ tall, and has a coil binding.  It’ll run you $29.79, which puts exactly $5 in our pockets.

The standard version is a little bit smaller at 8.5” by 11”, but costs only $18.79.  Buying it, too, will give us five more dollars to travel on.

If we to sell 20 of these, we’ll be able to add another day of travel to our trip!

I’ve dealt with Lulu, the self-publishing site, before and the quality of their products is superb.  You can order directly from them and have one of these calendars for your own in just a few days.

I put a lot of effort into making this a product that I would want to own.  Hopefully, after you see them on our Lulu storefront, you’ll want to own one, too!

December 20, 2010

PVX: Diving in San Cristóbal, Galapagos

View the same video in high-definition (720p) on Youtube.

After we finished up with our Galapagos excursion, Jeff, Oksana, and I found ourselves with a few days to kill in San Cristóbal. Our original plan was to go to Santa Cruz and look for diving excursions out of Puerto Ayora, but being on hotel lockdown for a day (during the Ecuadorian 2010 Census) left us a little short on time. We decided the best thing to do with our remaining days would be to simply dive out of Puerto Bazquerizo Moreno again.

We asked around at a few shops and figured out which dives were in the area. Kicker Rock has to be the hands-down best, but we’d already done that a couple days before. We opted to save a little money (and time) by doing two dives closer to town. We found the Dive and Surf Club who offered us a 2-tank dive for $85.

The next day, we discovered there would be one more person accompanying us. Tim, a fellow traveler who was just 6 dives or so away from his Divemaster license, was coming along, too. In fact, it was Tim who sent me an email about a week after we returned to the mainland, asking if any of our underwater footage came out…

This video is for you, Tim!

December 17, 2010

Galapagos Hawk

Galapagos Hawk

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We were walking back from a “power hike” up over the flooded crater called Darwin’s Lake on Isabela Island.  The plan was to get back to the pangas for a quick ride around the outer coastline before the captain picked us up with the Evolution for a brief whale watching trip before sunset.  We were sort of in a hurry, spread out along the trail.

A few meters in front of me, someone looked up and said, “Oh!  Wow!”  There, perched on a branch directly over the trail, was a Galapagos Hawk.  He was on the lowest set of branches, low enough that you could reach up and ruffle his feathers.  In fact, he was so low, I have no idea how the first few people in our group, including our naturalist guide, managed to miss him!

The rest of us, of course, clustered around the hawk and started taking pictures.  At first, we moved slowly and stayed a comfortable distance away from him, but then, as it became apparent that he wouldn’t fly away, we stepped closer.  Eventually, we were all arrayed almost directly underneath him.

If a hawk can be said to have a personality, I would label this one “curious.”  As we aimed our lenses at him and clicked away, he peered down at us, rotating his head this way and that.  Toward the end of the encounter, I stood directly underneath him with the long barrel of my lens practically up against his talons.  He never seemed bothered, never even flinched.  I would swear that he was as interested in me as I was in him.

When people ask why the Galapagos is so special, I think of moments like this.  There’s no other place on the planet where the wildlife are so comfortable around human beings.  It’s not just the hawks; it’s the sea lions, the iguanas, the birds, and the tortoises.  In the Galapagos, anyone can be a wildlife photographer and some of their best shots will come from a wide-angle lens!

Canon 5D Mark II
Date: 4:55pm, 25 November 2010
Focal Length: 105mm
Shutter: 1/1250 second
Aperture: F/4
ISO: 100
Photoshop: Slight crop, Auto color, dodged shadows very slightly, increased saturation very slightly.

Galapagos Hawk and its photographers

October 22, 2010

Alpha Tortoise

Tortoise Dominance Games at the Darwin Research Station

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One of the featured attractions of the Galapagos Islands is its giant land tortoises.  Charles Darwin noted them 175 years ago when he surveyed the archipelago in 1835.  In his day, the tortoises were known to passing whalers as an excellent food source.  They would haul them onto their ships by the dozen, flip them on their backs, and they would keep for months at sea.  Fortunately for the turtles, today they are known more for the clear evidence their shells present for evolution.

What you may not know is that there are very few places a tourist can go to see these tortoises at all.

There’s a highland ranch on the island of Santa Cruz that lets visitors in to see “wild” tortoises, but other than that, your best bet is to visit the Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora.  It’s here that scientists and grad students research and breed the different varieties of Galapagos land tortoises in an attempt to reintroduce them to the wild.

Back in January, when my group passed through the Research Station, our guide gave us a brief tour of the different tortoise pens before he departed and left us on our own.  We had a few hours to kill before we were to meet back on the boat, so I decided to stay put.

There’s one pen in the Station where tourists are invited to mix with these huge animals.  It was early enough in the morning that the five or six tortoises in there were still fairly lethargic.  A gentle rain was starting, so there were very few other tourists with me.  I sat down less than ten feet from a group of three sleeping giants and watched them slowly wake up.  Before long, one ambled over to another and I watched a dominance game play out.

As if in slow motion – well, actually, their motion was slow – two long necks snaked out from their respective shells and climbed straight up.  When neither tortoise’s neck could rise any higher, they both laboriously lifted their shells off the ground as they used their stocky legs to gain a bit more height.  Mouths open, exposing pink tongues behind sharp beaks, the two tortoises hissed at each other… until the one on the right, an inch or two shorter than the other, finally submitted.

Throughout the morning, I saw this display again and again.  While these two turtles never managed to bite one another, I did see one take a chunk out of another’s cheek.  These guys may be slow, but they have some powerful jaws!

Panasonic DMC-TZ5
Date: 10:37pm, 09 January 2010
Focal Length: 5mm (28 at 35mm equivalent)
Shutter: 1/320 second
Aperture: F/3.3
ISO: 100
Photoshop: Heavily cropped, cloned out a coiled garden hose in the background, increased saturation, decreased brightness.

October 8, 2010

Marine Iguana

Marine Iguana

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I went to the Galapagos without an SLR.  There, I said it.

It wasn’t my fault.  When I went to Ecuador with a group of eight college students, I made the decision to concentrate on video.  Then only thing less fun than carrying around an SLR and a camcorder is trying to juggle them both on a shoot by yourself.  Even so, I brought along a Panasonic Lumix point-and-shoot “just in case” (and because it literally fit in my pocket.)

Halfway through the trip, four of the students decided to spend a week in the Galapagos.  We split the group and I went with them.  While the Lumix proved invaluable for underwater video (with the underwater housing I brought along with it), it was extremely frustrating to use on land.  Not that it can’t take good photos when the conditions are perfect; it has a decent chip and a nice long zoom lens.  My biggest complaint with it (and for that matter, all point-and-shoots) was that I just could not tell if a photo was really in focus until I got it onto a computer screen.

So there I was, at probably one of the best places on the planet for wildlife photography, surrounded by other photographers with 400-600mm lenses, without a decent camera myself.  I did the best I could with what I had.

And I got some good photos, too.  I just lost some great ones while doing it.

They tell you not to use flash photography on the wildlife in the Galapagos, and for good reason.  If every tourist pushed their strobes in front of the semi-tame animals, every iguana, blue-footed boobie, and sea lion on the islands would be stumbling around blind.  I am normally very conscious about rules like that, but I realized, after the fact, that when I took a photo of this little guy, the auto flash had fired.

Granted, the shot really did need a good fill flash – without it he would have been a silhouette against that blue sky – but I felt guilty just the same.  The iguana?  He didn’t seem to mind.  After I moved on, he continued to pose for everyone else in our group, too.

I’m looking forward to going back this November with my new 5D mark II.  I only have a 200mm lens (with a 2x extender, if I need to push it to 400mm), but you can get so close to the animals there that that should be more than good enough.

Panasonic DMC-TZ5
Date: 4:59pm, 12 January 2010
Focal Length: 19mm (112 at 35mm equivalent)
Shutter: 1/640 second (Flash fired)
Aperture: F/4.7
ISO: 100
Photoshop: Auto color and minor cloning to remove a twig from the sky.

May 5, 2010

Visit the Galapagos with Us!

Our group from the Floreana, January 2010

Have you ever thought about going to the Galapagos Islands?  How ‘bout this fall?

Here’s the deal.  Oksana and I will very likely be passing through Ecuador around October or November and I can’t imagine not taking her out to that amazing archipelago.  Unfortunately, it’s going to be way outside our budget of $100/day.  The rest of Ecuador is quite inexpensive, so we might just settle down for awhile and save up for the trip, but I’m hoping we can find another way…

When I was there in January, our group paid for a seven-day tour of the islands.  For the entire week, our home was the 78’ motor yacht, Floreana.  There’s room for 16 passengers (8 rooms), and everything from an English-speaking naturalist guide to three meals a day was provided.  Our itinerary generally consisted of two land excursions and two snorkeling excursions every day, with a couple of nights out on the towns (Puerto Ayora and San Cristóbal.)  Although there were only five people in our group, we quickly bonded all the other tourists and had a fantastic time!

The Yate Floreana

Every time I bring up my trip to the Galapagos, someone says, “Oh, I’d love to go there someday.”  It gets me thinking.  How hard would it be to fill the Floreana with friends and family?

This is me, inviting you to join us on a Galapagos trip!

Let’s discuss the details a bit: