Expedition to Galapagos

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Week Five

Filming on Land
6 March 1999 Plaza 8:00 a.m.

Another early morning with a couple shots of sea lions in early light, and hauling the rest of the gear from the cliff. We were utterly exhausted last night. Didn’t get back to the ship until about 7:00 p.m., so it was a long day - but very successful. I did manage to find the strength to put my plankton net out. Got few fish but some new ones. Put Shawn Colvin on the Diskman when I went to bed and fell asleep with the music playing. I haven’t been so physically exhausted in a long time. Woke up pretty sore this morning - mostly my arms from hauling those 40-lb. crane weights to the top of the cliff - and knew the best thing to do was get back out there and do it again. I’ll be in good shape by the end of this trip! We’ve just pulled anchor and are steaming to Bartolome - ca. 6 hours. If the decision is made to take the whole enchilada to the top of the volcano, we are in for a grueling experience. As Bobby says, this kind of work requires "hands across the set" which means that everyone including the producers pitches in with the hauling. I’m actually enjoying the different exercise, and there’s plenty to carry that I can handle. Spirits are high now that we’ve had a good start on land with Caulfield. All of the new crew is great - Bobby and Sean handle the crane and track operations, and they are polite and professional. Reed is the camera operator and DP - he’s very quiet but also very professional and nice. Michael seems a bit harsh on the surface, but he’s a strong leader, and we need this. He’s been very open with me and frequently checked on my comfort level during the rock climbing scenes. He’s told me that all shots that I’m included in will show me being active, rather than just walking around or sitting and looking. I told him this suits me fine, as I’m most happy when I’m active. He now calls me "Miss Active" and also "Spiderwoman"...groan...

Plaza is really a wonderful place. I saw sea lions (the bull male patrolling the landing was attacking ankles this morning - scary!), land & marine iguanas, lava lizards, blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, swallow-tail gulls, tropic birds, lava gulls, Sally Lightfoot crabs, etc. I took lots of pictures yesterday. Will plan to give some talks about the islands and the filming when I return.

7 March 1999 Bartolome 7:00 a.m.

Got another shot at the landing at Plaza and hauled the rest of the gear to the ships. Then cruised the 3 hours to Bartolome. After Caulfield et al. scouted the area, it was decided that the camera crew would shoot some late afternoon stuff from the zodiac while the rest of us started humping the crane and gear to the top of Bartolome. We were afraid of this! We worked intensely for about 2 ˝ hours - took each of us 3 trips carrying backpacks loaded with gear. The psychology of hauling gear up mountains is interesting: you swear part way up that you’ll never make it to the top, but then you do and by the time you’ve hiked back down, you’ve forgotten the pain and are ready to go again! Fortunately, we worked the 3:30-6:00 time frame, so it got cooler as we went along. We were rewarded with some wonderful palometa sashimi afterwards and a gorgeous starry night later on the upper deck after I’d finished my plankton work. Not getting much in the net - very little current here - but manage to collect a few larvae each night.

Well, it takes a LOT of effort to make one of these 3-D IMAX films in a remote location like Galapagos (this is the first time it’s been attempted). We’ll have it a bit easier today since the crane will stay on the mountain (I think... what do I know?). The muscles could use a rest...

8 March 1999 Bartolome 7:30 a.m.

Wrong! The crane did stay on the mountain, but we had to move it twice - once only ca. 20 ft. laterally, the second time all the way down to near the base for an afternoon shot later today. The last of the hauling was done in the dark and was a bit tricky with steps and the few passages through lava rock at the end. While we were hauling the crane down (there are about 8 big pieces, a bunch of small pieces, about 30 of the 40-lb. crane weights, sand bags, lead-shot bags, poles, batteries - all kinds of other heavy stuff), the camera guys and a few others took just the camera and accessories to the very top (another 75 steps or so) to set up for a time-lapse sunrise shot. They’re out there now doing this shot and continuing to set up for the afternoon shot. All of these shots on the mountain are scenic - the ones with the hothead and crane started at the base of a small spatter cone and then lifted up to expose a stunning lava landscape. These shots will help make up for the lack of aerials. The shot at the very top is being done without the crane and hothead - just a dolly track the camera moves along on wheels.

The plan now is to stay here today and part of tomorrow and then cruise the 11 hours to Cabo Douglas, Fernandina, hopefully with a stop at Buccaneer Bay on James Island (Santiago) to film the dramatic shoreline there. We shall see. All is well, and we are getting some good footage.

9 March 1999, 6:00 a.m. Bartolome

An interesting day yesterday. The film crew did some time-lapse shots on the peak at sunrise and then most of the others went over at 7:30 to set up the crane that we’d moved pieces of the day before. Dave told me to stay back on the ship because they wanted to shoot the scuba prep. scene at 8:30 and didn’t want my hair all sweaty and wet. So, I missed the "excitement" when a tourist collapsed on the top at about 8:00 a.m. from heat stroke. It was brutal yesterday and very little wind. 110oF in the sun at lunch time. We have first-aid supplies and a medical kit and were able to help the guy with water and electrolytes. Then our guys built a stretcher with the back-pack frames we’ve been using to haul gear up the mountain, and they carried the stricken tourist down. This after just carrying the 600 lb. hot-head down; quite an effort. Al and I took the zodiac over to pick up the guy - he was lethargic and disoriented - and took him and his guides to their ship. A lot of tourists who come here (60,000 per year from what I understand) apparently are not in good enough physical shape to hike to the top of Bartolome on a hot day. Eventually, all returned to normal and we went on with the planned schedule for the day. Interestingly, when Randy woke up yesterday morning, he said to me he had a feeling that today was going to be a big day- that something was going to happen. I suppose you could call saving someone’s life "big"! Randy was one of the four or five guys who hauled the tourist down the mountain.

Eventually we got around to filming the zodiac scenes yesterday. After the torturous scuba prep scene (I was broiling sitting on the side of the black zodiac in the hot sun with all my scuba gear on - fortunately, Bobby held a screen over me part of the time - a little embarrassing, but I was grateful nevertheless!), we did a "return from an exciting dive" scene. Trying to act this out was not easy for me, but Michael eventually made it easier by standing on the zodiac and engaging me with questions/comments that I could simply react to with a nod, smile, hand gestures, etc. He didn’t want me talking, just reacting (acting!). I felt like a fish out of water...

11:15 a.m. The film guys just returned from filming Pinnacle Rock, and reported that they filmed a couple penguins, something we’d hoped to get on this trip but not something we held out a lot of hope for. During the reloading, Michael decided to take me along on the next run to snorkel by the penguins if we saw them again. Another fun adventure! I snorkeled right up to a rock a penguin was sitting on, pulled myself part way out of the water, and stayed there a moment watching this animal from a distance of a couple feet. I hope at least one penguin scene makes it into the film because, more than anything else, it will demonstrate the difference between the water in Galapagos (cold) and water in other tropical areas. The endemic Galapagos penguin is the only penguin species that occurs even remotely close to the equator, and the fact that they’re here at all tells a lot about the physical nature of the place.

We are now steaming to Cabo Douglas with a stop at Buccaneer Bay for another drive-by-the-cool-rocks-shot. Another 11 hours from there to Cabo Douglas, where we’ll stay the remainder of the trip unless we go around the corner to Punta Espinosa in search of blue-footed boobies.

Well, I don’t want to jinx us by writing this, but we’re on a roll here. Finally it feels that we’re making a good film, and it is so exciting!

10 March 1999, Cabo Douglas, 7:40 a.m.

Got some great shots at Buccaneer Bay of rock formations. They mounted the camera on the stern of the DAPHNE, and we cruised by the shore in several places. The only concern with all these boat shots (yesterday they shot from Peter’s Dad’s boat at Pinnacle Rock, and from the zodiac at the penguin site) is the chance of making people in the audience sea sick! Slight rocking on the boat could translate into rock formations swaying dizzily on the screen. Michael, the director for top-side work, is suffering a bit from sea sickness and doesn’t want the audience to feel what he’s feeling! After the filming, we stayed at anchor until 8:00 p.m. A group of us went in for a snorkel along the rock wall; visibility was awful (< 5 ft.), and there was a lot of crud in the water. Lots of king angelfish and yellow-tail surgeonfish; would have been a great place if it had been clear. Saw a couple small sharks and some sea lions. We ended up swimming to shore and hiking along the beach for a while. There were oyster catchers on the beach with ridiculously long bright orange bills and pale orange eyes. Beautiful birds. While we were hiking, three of the boat crew (Vladamir from the SULLIVAN, our captain Marlin, and one other) went ashore to hunt goats! We watched part of the hunt - these guys run up and down the mountain, "these guys" being both the hunters and goats! The goats are black and maybe 60-100 lbs. The hunters ended up getting two, so we may see some more goat on the table. Had some for lunch a few days ago, and I like it - pretty tender and tastes like beef. Killing the goats is encouraged in Galapagos because their introduction has caused many problems for native wildlife, especially the tortoises with which they compete directly for food.

Not much to do last night since we were steaming. We can’t go topside while cruising because of the radar; too bad because it was a dark and starry night. We arrived at Cabo Douglas during the night, and now we’re on the ship waiting word from the jefes who are scouting on shore. Will probably move equipment to the beach this morning at high tide (9:00 a.m.). Doesn’t look like a lot of action by wildlife here, but we just got word from the shore party to pick up anchor and move around the bend, so perhaps they’ve found some good stuff.

2:15 p.m. Boy did they find good stuff! The difference between Cabo Douglas now and 7 months ago is remarkable. There are thousands of healthy marine iguanas, lots of fur seals, cormorants, Sally Lightfoot crabs, some penguins, hawks, etc. It’s very tricky getting in and out of the site: we have to load and unload gear at high tide, timing the entrance into the beach and cove between wave sets. When leaving the island other than at high tide, we hike ca. 10 minutes to a rocky point where the zodiac can get to, albeit with caution because of crashing waves and rocks. I find the whole business unnerving - yet another example of the extraordinary effort that goes into natural history film making... But the crane is now set up with the hothead and on the track, so we got all the hardware in. We are just up from a nap (a daily ritual after lunch these days!) And the core team has gone ashore to film iguanas coming out of the water. In the morning, they will film iguanas going into the water. The part of the sequence that we’re missing, of course, is the animals feeding underwater...

Randy will stay on board this afternoon and begin training Mathias and I to use the ropes for rappelling into the cave later in the shoot. This morning, I took a walk on Cabo Douglas with Duncan and Dave to look for blue-footed boobies. Didn’t find any, unfortunately, (not everything is back to normal yet), but we found a beautiful spot at which to film. There is a large tidepool at high tide near the edge of a small cliff and a smaller one (about the size of a backyard kiddie pool) right next to it. The tide pools are covered on the seaward side with brilliant green algae, and there are fur seal pups playing in the pools. If you get down low and dangle glasses in front of them, they will come out of the pool and right up to you. At times, there would be 3 or 4 of these guys in the little pool, and a wave would crash over the rocks and fill the pool with foam. They would completely disappear and then you’d see their heads popping up through the foam. Very cute... As I write, Randy is sitting here filming frigates as they soar around the DAPHNE. The crew is downstairs cleaning baccalao - always a treat for the birds. Time to do a little laundry before we begin rappelling practice.

11 March 1999, Cabo Douglas, 7:15 a.m.

Had a 5:45 a.m. breakfast and then the film crew headed in to set up for filming marine iguanas going into the water. They got some shots yesterday of the animals walking on the beach after they’d come out. Mathias and I are now on call for our beach landing scene. They picked the right place for it since they want it to be a little dramatic - as I mentioned yesterday, getting in and out of the film site is tricky! I believe we’re to jump from the zodiac into ca. 3 ft. of water, turn the zodiac around, and then walk onto shore. In another scene, we’ll study a chart of the archipelago as though we’re planning our expedition.

Kept getting interrupted yesterday but did manage to get in one trip over the side of the boat on a belay by Randy. Regardless of how much you trust Randy and the ropes, it’s an uncomfortable feeling to stand on the edge of the highest point of the ship, lean backwards, and step off! The trick is to keep your feet out in front of you so you’re essentially walking down the side of the ship - a bit tricky on a rocking boat with slippery sides! Will continue to work on this and get to the point that we’re controlling our own descents...

12 March 1999, Cabo Douglas, noon

Went in yesterday about 9:30 for the "arrival to shore" scene. That went pretty smoothly, although we caught a wave almost broadside which added a little excitement. Unfortunately, the camera wasn’t rolling! After that shot, we moved the crane across the lava rock (treacherous but all went smoothly) to the tide pool on the cliff that Dave and I had found the day before. Spent the rest of the day filming fur seals (these are really sea lions - have ears and walk around on front flippers - there are no true seals in Galapagos - but they’re called "fur seals" for some reason). Also filmed waves crashing over the cliff into the tide pool. We stayed on site for lunch - had the hot meals they fix each day brought in by boat - minus the sopa (soup). While waiting for lunch to arrive, I did a beach clean-up. Lots of plastic, rubber, shoes, toiletries, etc., have washed up on shore, and you hate to see a place, especially one off limits to tourists (we had a special film permit to work there) so cluttered with man’s waste. Presumably, most of this trash came from boats. After lunch, we had the most delightful afternoon. I’ve never seen anything like this Cabo Douglas site - brilliant green algae covering dark lava rock, thousands of bright orange Sally Lightfoot crabs, iguanas, sea lions, oyster catchers, herons, hawks, etc. I could sit on that cliff for many days and not get tired of the action. Even the dead animals are interesting - I found skulls/skeletons of a marine iguana, sea lion, booby, and pelican.

We didn’t get off the island until after 6 p.m., so it was a long day out there. After dinner and a drink under the stars, hit the sack exhausted about 9:30. Up at 4:45 this morning for a 5:15 breakfast and 6 a.m. departure back to the island. We left everything on shore last night, although we moved things up high on the rocks to avoid the night high tide.

This morning, we did the "map scene" - Mathias and I sitting on a rock on the cliff discussing our route. Nice light and a nice background of breakers coming onto the rocks where hundreds of marine iguanas were basking. After that and the over-the-shoulder shot of the map, Dave took a roll of stills of me in one of my Smithsonian shirts (by SI request). In a few of the shots, I am basically face to face with a big marine iguana perching on a rock. I’d been close to them before, but I’d never gotten my face right up there close. What a bizarre, primitive looking creature! Then Al picked Mathias, Randy & me up for some more rappelling practice on the (off the!) DAPHNE. Ended up rappelling myself from the top 3 or 4 times by the end of the session. That first part - standing with your back towards the water and leaning back and trusting the ropes is the most difficult - that, and the first couple "steps" downward. Something tells me it won’t seem any easier at the cave site, especially since there’s no water to break the fall if something should happen! The rest of the rappel is much easier and a lot of fun. Unfortunately, Randy burned his hands pretty good when attempting a maneuver he thought we might have to do at the cave. The blisters look painful. He had gloves on, but like mine, the finger tips are cut off, and that’s where he got hurt. Even the experienced get hurt occasionally when engaging in challenging feats.

After a short post-lunch siesta, Ray will do some recordings of me underwater breathing with scuba gear. Then we’ll head back into shore for possibly one scene with me with iguanas (so people don’t think they’re 30 ft. long as they’ll appear on the screen. On second thought, that could make it more exciting!) And then we’ll move the crane and gear to the beach for tomorrow’s pick up. We’ll shoot a couple scenes with Mathias and me in the zodiac in the early a.m., then pick up the gear from the beach, then steam out of here mid day. We hope to stop in Punta Espinosa for a shot of blue-footed boobies. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’re there. After that, it’s "home" to Puerto Ayora for a final week of top-side filming. We’re winding down here now...

 

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