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Quito was  fun, but the real highlight of the trip was a week spent in the  Galapagos Islands,  aboard a small catamaran - the Pulsar.

We got lucky on this one.  We'd done some research finding a boat that would be out  in the islands at the correct time to see the eclipse.  Talked to local travel  agents, agents recommended by others, and scoured the Web for more info.

Ultimately we found a contact through the Web with a boat that would be out in the water  at the right time (and returning in time to get us to the airplane!) and started booking  the tour


While we were lucky in finding the Pulsar cruise,  we were exceptionally lucky that it had the right group of people on it.  Unlike some  of the other more formal, cruises this one was pretty much playing it by ear -the way we  usually like it. 

The other passengers were all our age or younger,    most of them travelling through South America (or the world) for quite some time

Just as credit card numbers were going to be  exchanged, we got email that this boat's cruise had been cancelled!

That started another search, leading to this find with the Pulsar.  The boat was  going to be there at the right time, and very reasonably priced for the trip. 

We booked it.

The Galapagos Story -

Everyone's  probably familiar with the Galapagos as the site of Darwin's research leading to his  development of the Theory of Evolution.  Why the Galapagos?

If you want a real, in depth explanation check out the
Galapagos Geology Web Page or  other resources.  Here's a link to an Infoseek search for you here.   Otherwise, here's my quick version.

The Galapagos are about 600 miles west of the coast of Ecuador.  They're a fairly  recent geological event - the "oldest" of the islands is about 4-5 million years  old, young pups in geological time.  They were formed as a "hot spot" moved  under the earth's crust and burned holes through it, forming volcanoes.  The  Galapagos, like Hawaii, is composed of the tops of volcanoes, each a bit newer than the  other.

Since they formed entirely separated from mainland (they were never connected to South  America) their plant and animal life evolved somewhat separately from the rest of the  world. Only life that could swim, fly, or float a long way could make it to the  islands.  This resulted in a few unusual effects, the most interesting are the  effects on the evolution of the life that made it across.

Many of the species that made it came across with none of their natural predators.   As a result, today you can literally walk over birds nesting in the trail and they do  nothing but stare at you.  Lizards stand like statues while you check them out, sea  lions come up to play with you in the water, and you can spend the afternoon snorkeling  after penguins who are much more interested in finding their next meal than in you.

Darwin in particular looked at finches.  I'm not exactly sure why they're important,  but I think it has to do with their breeding habits and the fact that certain  differentiation's are easy to spot and track.  We saw some finches too, but most of  the rest of the animals on the islands were way cooler.

Cruising the  Islands...

You  can't be in the Galapagos on your own, period.  It's part of Ecuador, and is a  national park.  If you want to land on one of the islands you need to have a  registered Naturalist guide.  "Just sailing through" is probably frowned  upon but I'd bet it can be done.

Entering the Galapagos legally, you need to pay about $80 in entry fees and you need to be  booked on an organized tour of some sort.  We chose pretty much at random, dictated  by timing and price more than anything. 

The Pulsar was on the small side of the range of boats available.  The captain  (Patrick) and a crew of four - Luis the captain, Alehandro, Juan the cook, and Jorge -  gofer.  Ten passengers - myself and Patty, Janey and John (from London), Shannon  (SoCal), Paul (a Seattleite), Peter and Alison (soon to be Seattlites), Emi (from Tokyo)  and Elisha (from the east coast somewhere, I've forgotten.)

The  general plan was to stop at an island each morning, leave the Pulsar on a rubber raft and  land on an island, do a walking tour, head back to the boat for lunch and some swimming,  maybe do a dive, then on to another island for another walk in the afternoon, followed by  more swimming and dinner.  A nice mix of relaxing in the sun and actually getting out  and about, seeing interesting things


Patrick is a naturalist as well as the owner of the boat, and a wealth of information on  the plants and animals we were seeing.  On most of the tours we ended up stopping  almost every few feet to see another unusual sight (and hear why it evolved the way it  did.)

Photographically,  the Galapagos were not as good to me as I would have liked.  I'm used to stopping and  spending time checking out a place to find the right shot, it was hard having to keep up  with the tour group all the time (straying was not a good thing.)  I ended up with a  few good pictures, but I'm sure I could have gotten some spectacular shots with more  flexibility.  Regardless, the animals there made it easy for you to get a good  picture no matter what you were doing when you hit the button.

Lava LIzard
Blue Footed Booby
Sea Lions underwater
Giant Tortiose
Chasing penguins
Patty underwater
Baby Sea Lion
Sleeping Sea Lion

Total  Eclipse, February 26th, 1998

Of  course, the eclipse was a great thing too....

If you want to check the technical details of an eclipse, check out
Sky and Telescope’s Eclipse page but come  back.  Here's  another good site with a lot of details, from NASA..  Lastly, this one is gosh  darn good also.

Here's a link to some related  stories about the eclipse from Sky and Telescope magazine, the last one describes the  scene from an island just a few miles from where the Pulsar stopped to observe.

We started the morning early, around 4am if I remember right.  The captain had been  reluctant to commit to getting out into the path of totality because the crew had been out  the night before and would be leaving early with little rest.  We discussed it with  him the night before the eclipse and made an agreement, that we'd simply head north under  power from early in the morning and see how far we got.

The weather was beautiful.  Motoring north we got luckier, the ocean calmed and what  few clouds there were all disappeared to the edges of the sky.  We spent the morning  laying on the deck reading and baking - I don't know exactly what the temperature was, but  I'd guess around 100 degrees...

As  it approached eclipse time everyone got out their glass filters and started checking out  the sun.  I didn't keep exact observational records of any sort (get those elsewhere)  but I'd guess first contact happened near 10am. 

I took some shots of partial phases (pretty boring) but mainly  enjoyed the shade of the sunscreen on the front deck  It was very, very hot out!.

More and more of the sun was covered with no real noticeable difference in the surroundings until perhaps 75% or more had been eclipsed.  Before that, I could tell that the light was changing from  my light meter readings, but my eye couldn't detect anything.

Once most of the sun started to be covered by the moon, strange things started  happening.  The sun's heat got noticeably cooler, even though the light appeared just  about as bright.  The light meter confirmed that it was actually getting  darker. 

Nearing totality, it started to look like sunset around the horizon - the  clouds turning orange and red.

As we got closer and closer, everyone  got involved.  Patrick had joined us during the final phases, and now the crew got a  break to come out and look.  Pretty quickly, the stars came out and the horizon  turned too dark to photograph from a boat. 

I'd done some studying on how to photograph an eclipse from documents on the web.   Check out the technical pages linked above, you'll find lots.  I found quite a few  good starting points, here are some of the results of that in practice.

Corona, 1/250th sec

Corona, 1/60th sec

Diamond Ring, 1/250th sec

  All photos with Nikon N8008S, hand-held 210mm zoom with doubler attachment, at F8 w/400ASA

I'm not sure what caused it, probably just  excitement, but the eclipse seemed to generate a rush of adrenaline to everyone that was  pretty intense.  Everyone was shouting, and when the sun finally came back we all  dove in the water. 

A few minutes later, as we started our motoring back south, Dolphins started leaping out  of the water around us - not just a few, but lots of them all over.  The article in  Sky and Telescope mentions this also.  Hmmmm... anyone know anything about a possible  dolphin-eclipse connection?

Here's some info on dolphins .   You can see they refer to dolphins as having excellent eyesight, but this guy here seems to  think their migrations are more due to fish than anything.  My own non-scientific  totally unprovable theory is that they've figured it out.  After a couple million  years checking out the stars at sea during the night (dolphins are as much nocturnal as  diurnal) and using the internal wiring in their brain that figures out sonar pulses  they've developed internal maps of the movements of things in the sky.  The dolphins  were gathered there having a party like we were!

Okay, so it's a hare brained theory - anyone know anything about this?  Mail me if you've got info on anything like this.

The rest of the trip....

continued  through the Galapagos, swimming after penguins and with sea lions, watching Galapagos  hawks wait for baby marine turtles to hatch, checking out frigate birds up close and  personal and having a great time. 

If you want more info, or would like to be emailed zip files with many more pictures from  the trip, send me some mail.  I've got a file  of low resolution scans of all that adds up to about 1.3 meg, and high resolution scans of  many of the pictures, some with file sizes in the 3 meg range.  If you have a fast  connection (as we do) and want some of those high res copies, let me know what you're  interested in and I'll send you a zip file of them.

Here's some useful links to Ecuador and the Galapagos -

The Pulsar!

GORP Ecuador resources

Useful links on Ecuador

Infoseek  on Ecuador

The Funky Fish Ecuador Guide

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