Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Amazon: Playing with an iPad

Saturday, August 4th, 2012
Playing with an iPad

We spent a week at the end of June on the Amazon River in Peru with International Expeditions. Fantastic trip, more on that in a later post.

One afternoon, we visited a village — Nueva York — along the Amazon. We spent some time with the children of the village, learning a bit of spanish and teaching them a bit of english (Head! Shoulders! Knees and Toes! Knees And Toes!).

Fun with Photobooth

One of our guides asked me to show the kids my iPad as they had never seen anything like it before. It took a moment, but they were enthralled. The big hits were Photo Booth and a simple finger painting app.

It was quite gratifying to see the kids take to the iPad and start using the apps so naturally. They quite quickly learned how to change and control the effects in Photo Booth. Including taking their own pictures, as seen at the right.

Of this wonderful experience — the kids were fantastically good natured and the adults were warm / welcoming — there were two standout events that I shall relay, one purely cultural and the other just flat out cute.

When I first launched Photo Booth and showed it to one child, I was a bit surprised by the reaction. It was sort of, “Well, that’s neat.. but.. meh, weird pictures of a person isn’t that interesting”. When I turned the iPad so his friend could see, the second kid’s reaction was the same, but the first child completely lit up with laughter as soon as the second kid’s face was on screen! Then the same happened when I rotated back to the first child.

As it turns out, there are pretty much no mirrors anywhere outside of, maybe, a hand mirror or two. Children really don’t see themselves on a regular basis save for on the back of a digital camera in the hands of a tourist (we were encouraged to always show them any pictures we took). Thus, seeing “self” just wasn’t very interesting at all.

Once I suspected this was the case, I saw this same behavior with pretty much every child who saw Photo Booth for the first time!

The really cute event happened when I was showing a little girl — maybe 6 or 7 years old — the finger painting application. It took her a second, but she got into it and had quite a bit of fun making a smily face. I showed her that the color could change and then left the color picker (a little grid of color swaths) on the screen for her to pick.

She thought about it for a moment.

Then carefully tapped light blue.

Then looked at the tip of her finger to make sure the color was picked up.

Disappointed that her finger wasn’t blue, she tried again with yellow. Same thing.

Then I showed her that the color really did change and she was happily drawing away again. Still, every new color required a finger tip inspection…

Neat folks. I hope to visit again.






Galapagos April 20, 2010 (4 of 4): Walk On Punta Espinosa of Fernandina Island.

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010
Marine Iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) and Pelican

Of all of the excursions we took on this trip, I personally found this one to be the one that captured the essence of the Galapagos more than any other.

Life was abundant, the land was harsh, and the contrasts between lifeless and teeming were distinct.

This was also the hike that drove home exactly how harsh life on the islands can be for any given individual animal, while the population, as a whole, thrives. More on that in another post as the pictures are rather brutal.

Isla Fernandina is the most active volcano in the archipelago (and one of the most active in the world).

Thus, it is an island of many fresh lava flows intermingled with the green of new, and sometimes relatively old, growth.

As the rich sea upwellings strike the island, it supports a diverse and rich ecosystem at the shore.

Roger and Marine Iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus)

Much of which we were about to see.

Looking across the lava flow and beaches from our Zodiac, it looked like the entire island was covered ancient weathered logs.

Not so! There were hundreds and hundreds of marine iguanas. Thousands, actually.

Piles of them everywhere.

And, oddly, in the late afternoon sun, they largely align themselves in the same direction towards the sun. As mentioned in a previous post, marine iguanas are cold blooded. They regulate their temperature by both pressing their bodies against the hot lava rocks and/or controlling the cross section of their bodies exposed to the sun.

As can be seen in this photo, the iguanas were entirely un-phased by our presence. Actually, the bigger risk was to us!

Namely, after the iguanas spend time feeding in the ocean, they sit on the rocks, warm up, and sneeze out salt water. If you are posing like Roger was in this photo, you run the very real risk of being sneezed upon!! No surprise, Roger spent a bunch of time trying to get sneezed on!

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Galapagos April 20, 2010 (3 of 4): Snorkeling off Punta Vicente Roca (Isabela Island)

Sunday, August 8th, 2010
Galápagos Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas agassisi)

Not only did we do a Zodiac tour of the coast line and cave, but we also hopped in the water for some snorkeling in the calm, almost bay-like, shallows near the shore of Punta Vicente.

This particular area is well know for the vast number of Galápagos Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas agassisi) that hang out in the water. As there isn’t much in the way of sandy beaches, this spot didn’t really seem to be an attractive nesting grounds.

At least not for the turtles.

The flightless cormorants, penguins and other birds could be seen nesting all over the cliffs and rocky beaches.

Unlike other areas of the world, the turtles in the Galápagos showed no real fear of humans. They were perfectly content to float about.

However, there was one very absolutely strict rule; do not approach or touch the turtles. On the other hand, if a turtle decided to inspect you, that was OK!

Galápagos Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas agassisi)

And inspect they did!

While Roger and I were diving down to get a closer look at the ocean floor, we turned to our right and this rather grand turtle had swam right up to us for a closer look!

This particular turtle followed us around for a bit, getting within a couple of feet even though we were trying to keep our distance.

While an incredibly impressive creature, this particular snorkeling spot had much more to offer.

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Galapagos April 20, 2010 (2 of 4): Zodiac Tour Of Punta Vicente Roca (Isabela Island)

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010
Isabela Island Cave

Anchoring off Punta Cicente Roca after our long journey around Isabela Island, we were greeted with quite the geological smorgasbord of coastline.

Cliffs of Isabela Island

Beyond this rather stunning point of green with cave below, you can see a much rawer bit of dark lava to the right.

To the north — just beyond that cave — are long stretches of coastline that are largely raw, relatively, fresh lava flows with swaths of green where the lava hadn’t flowed in the last 100,000 or so years. Even in this relatively small bay, there were sandy beaches, weathered cliffs of a sandstone like rock, broken tumbles of lava boulders and dramatic sheer cliffs.

With all of the different kinds of coastline in such a small area, this was clearly a spot worthy of further exploration.

Before diving into one spot (literally), we took a zodiac based tour of the shore to see what critters might be around.




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Galapagos April 20, 2010 (1 of 4): Crossing the Equator

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010
Common Dolphin (Delphinus)

During the night, we crossed the equator while traveling northward on our way to the westernmost islands of the Galapagos archipelago. Specifically, our destination was snorkeling off Punta Vicente Rosa (Isabela Island) followed by a hike over lava flows on Punta Espinosa (Fernandina Island).

First, though, we had to get there.

At about 6:30am, we were woken by an announcement that a couple of large schools off dolphins off both sides of the ship.

And large they were!

Literally hundreds of dolphins cruising through the water on the way to wherever dolphins go at the crack of dawn.


Common Dolphin (Delphinus)

But not just swimming. Quite a few of the dolpins seemed to want to fly, leaping high out of the water, twisting about, and splashing along.

The captain of the ship circled us about for a while amongst the dolphins and we had nearly an hour amongst these magnificent creatures.

Photography aside: This is when the Canon 100-400mm lens really came through. The dolphin were mostly far off from our boat. Having an image stabilized lens with 400mm of reach on a 1.6x crop factor camera body made these images possible.

That and a bit of patience, a touch of luck, and a willingness to burn through a few hundred exposures before 7am.


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Galapagos April 19, 2010 (2 of 2): Beach Combing & Hiking Punta Cormorant (Floreana Island)

Saturday, May 15th, 2010
Slate Pencil Urchin And Roger

After the wonderful snorkeling in the AM off Champion Island, the Endeavor lifted anchor at lunch and took a short cruise to anchor just off of Cormorant Point (Punta Cormorant) for an afternoon of beach walking and hiking on Island Floreana.

Floreana is a middle-aged island in the archipelago. Thus, it actually has honest-to-goodness beaches while still having volcanic cones and a handful of fairly raw, mostly lifeless, lava flows.

Access to any part of any of the Galapagos islands outside of the handful of human enclaves is extremely restricted in what is, effectively, a gigantic natural park.

Floreana offers one of the few beaches upon which we could wander freely. And so we did prior to taking a walk across Cormorant Point to a second beach that was also the nesting grounds of green turtles.

Upon landing, Roger immediately found something interesting. In this case, a sun-bleached pencil urchin.

Roger Being Splashed
Sea Lions In Surf

On this particular Lindblad cruise, there were actually quite a number of kids.

The free beach time was also an opportunity for the kids to swim about and generally get in some quality beach play.

The waters were warm and, on this beach, quite clear.

Not surprisingly, the kids weren’t the only ones to show up on such a beautiful beach. The ever present sea lions were out and about, too. While the kids were in the water, you would often catch a glimpse of a sea lion or two swimming about near or, even, between various swimmers!



Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) Study: Head Profile

The beach had its share of creatures beyond sea lions, too.

This brown pelican — rather grand brown pelican — was hanging out on one end of the beach.

Combining the lack of fear of humans with the low afternoon light, it made for a very patient and stunning photography model!

I ended up taking about 100 frames of this one bird, varying parameters, angle and framing.

Between the patience of the bird and me being able to take the time to do a proper photographic study of this magnificent creature, I ended up with enough “keepers” to devote a post to this one subject!

What an absolutely incredible creature!

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The Brown Pelican (Galapagos April 19, 2010: Punta Cormorant on Floreana Island)

Saturday, May 15th, 2010
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) Study: Portrait

While beachwalking on Island Floreana, we came across a brown pelican hanging out on one end of the beach.

It was late afternoon and the sun was fairly low in the sky, making for some wonderful warm lighting as long as I could maneuver around to the right angle.

Which, of course, proved to be easy given that the pelican really couldn’t care less what about me.

Thus, photo study time….

Pelicans are quite interesting geometrically. They can choose to maintain a relatively horizontal profile or can lift their head up, tuck in their bill, and go for a vertical appearance as in this shot.

With just a bit of a wind, the feathers on the back of the bird’s head were fluttering slightly in the wind.

The color near the end of that viciously hooked bill is exquisite, too.

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) Study: Profile

Like I said, wait for a moment and you can grab a vertical profile or a nice horizontal shot like this one.

Given the texture of the feathers, I’d bet this pelican had been fishing not long before and was so patient because the sun was warm.

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) Study: The Blink

Take enough photos and you’ll eventually get something truly out of the ordinary.

In this case, I caught the pelican mid blink. That would be the pelican’s nictitating membrane, if I’m not mistaken.

I would like to say that it was my awesome skills applied to an epic shutter finger that yielded this photo.

Not so much.

This is the product of taking about 100+ photos of this one bird. Choose an angle, choose a framing, choose some settings (I shot all of these in manual mode to get a feel for it), and fire off three to five frames (my camera is pretty much always in multi-frame mode).

The beauty of digital is that there is no more cost incurred, save for a bit of your time selecting the best shots, for shooting one frame versus 10 of any given subject!

Galapagos April 19, 2010 (1 of 2): Snorkeling Champion Islet Off Island Floreana

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010
On Zodiac To Snorkeling

The seas around the Galapagos are every bit as biologically interesting and diverse as the land, but in a different way.

Whereas there are relatively few land dwelling species on the island, all unique and generally completely lacking in fear of humans, the sea life is more in line with what you would expect in relatively tropical waters around the world.

While the fish were fairly typical, the underwater environment was otherwise atypical. Notably, there simply isn’t any significant coral growth. No coral heads of any size. No coral reefs and none of the rough, nook and cranny filled, walls of coral growth normally associated with tons of tropical fish.

Instead, and making the waters of the Galapagos fairly unique in and of themselves, the lava foundation of the islands provides all the hidy holes marine life of all sizes might need.

School of Fish

To provide the biomass to feed the incredible numbers of fish and other marine life, the islands sit at the cross roads of five ocean currents, with major currents dominating from the South, North, or West depending on season and El Nino.

Some of the currents are quite deep and bring up tons and tons of biomass in the form of plankton and other deep sea creatures as the currents hit the archipelago.

As a result, there is plenty of biomass to support a dense and diverse marine population. Yet, those very currents — the one up the west coast of South America from the Antarctic — also means that the water temperatures can be really cold for part of the year.

Hence, no significant coral growth. Coral needs a constant, relatively warm, water temperature.

Travel tip: If you are planning on visiting the Galapagos, go in April/May. The predominant water current is very warm and, thus, we spent the week snorkeling in 79 to 82 degree water. No wetsuit needed. If you were to visit the same locations in August-ish time frame, the water would be a chilly 65 degrees!

In any case, enough words. What about the creatures themselves?

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Galapagos April 18, 2010: Hiking on Española Island

Friday, May 7th, 2010
Red Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus) Sunning
Española Red Iguana (Amblyrhynchus) Stares Back

Today marked the first full day in the islands and our introduction to the rather intense schedule that would be typical for the rest of the week.

Wake up was at 6:45am with a full breakfast buffet (or whatever you wanted from the kitchen) from 7am to 8am.

Promptly at 8am, we departed for Punta Suarez on the westernmost tip of Española Island. For such excursions, we used zodiacs — inflatable boats with outboard motors commonly used by the military — to ferry from the Endeavor to the shore.

Española Island is composed of relatively rocky shores with the occasional beach where we landed. We then hiked around to stand atop 100 foot cliffs.

Marine Iguanas (Amblyrhynchus) Digging a Nest

In between, we met many of the critters endemic — unique species only found in the Galapagos and, in some cases, only found on one of the islands — to this particular island. This was also the first island where we encountered the red marine iguanas, one fine specimen pictured at left.

They were everywhere on this island, obviously along the shore but also quite far inland as the females will wander way inland to dig a hole to lay eggs, sometimes losing more than 50% of their body mass on the journey.

Marine iguanas are exclusively vegetarian and are the only iguanas that forage in the water for their food, primarily the algae that grows on the rocks up to 30 feet under water.

But more about Marine iguanas later in a post dedicated to these magnificent creatures. Española had many other creatures, including some unique to the island.

Sally Lightfoot (Grapsus grapsus) Molt

Like, for example, the Sally Lightfoot (Grapsus grapsus) crab.

The Sally Lightfoot crabs are everywhere on every shore. They are the cleanup crew of the island and one of the first land critter to colonize fresh lava flows (marine iguanas and sea lions being the sea critters that climb up on the land and provide the crabs with one major food source). The crabs feed on basically anything dead or nearly dead, efficiently converting biomass into what will eventually become the soil that provides a toehold for plant life and other creatures.

Crabs have an exoskeleton and, like many such creatures, they shed that exoskeleton periodically as they grow. This is actually a shed exoskeleton. While the live crabs are quite brightly colored, their shed exoskeletons are even more intensely colored.

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Galapagos April 17, 2010 (2 of 2): Hiking on North Seymour Island

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010
Sea Lion Strikes a Pose

Our first hike was on North Seymour Island, a small island just to the north of Baltra Island. During lunch, the Endeavor left the bay on Baltra and anchored just off shore of North Seymour.

Travel aside: The logistics of the trip were pretty intense; the Endeavor generally only moved when we were asleep or during meals (as needed to get to the next location). The guests were pretty much never confronted with the monumental amount of work going on around us to get from place to place, to portage folks to/from excursions, or to otherwise keep the boat livable and comfortable. Truly, the crew did a fantastic job of making us comfortable and providing access to the animals with minimal environmental impact.

The North Seymour island hike is a good introduction to the typical excursion in Galapagos. The overarching theme of every excursion was do no harm. Hikes were always on marked trails approved by the Galapagos National Park. Excursions were always broken into groups of 12 to 14 people with at least one licensed naturalist per group.

Animals come first. Many times on a hike, we would pause while some critter would take its merry time crossing our path.

Sea Lion Stares Back

At left is the first critter on this particular hike. A Galapagos Sea Lion doing a bit of sunning. It was pretty much exactly in the middle of where we entered the trail. Around we went and it really didn’t care.

That much, anyway. As you’ll see in a number of photos, sea lions are very curious beasts and, for some odd reason, they really like to look at you upside down as the character on the right was doing!



However, the wildlife of North Seymour was certainly not limited to sea lions! Read the rest of this entry »