Expedition to Galapagos

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Weeks 6-7

It's a Wrap!
13 March 1999 Cabo Douglas

Finished the land shots yesterday with more vistas, iguanas, etc. After I did the sound recording for Ray (hanging offshore at 15 ft. for 15 minutes in cold water through which I could not see 5 ft. - yuck!), we all went to shore to help take down gear and move it. The plan was to move the crane to another beach (not the one we landed on but a closer one that did not require hauling it all back over the large expanses of lava rock) and pick it up at high tide with the larger of our pangas from the SULLIVAN. Well, the best of plans... Vladamir from the SULLIVAN (the strongest guy on both boats by far - he carried 4 of the crane weights to the cliff at Plaza on one trip!) Decided he could get into the beach despite the low afternoon tide. He did indeed, and we loaded the entire crane, weights, accessories, etc., onto it. This of course made it very heavy, and it started banging into rocks on the way out. The worst situation developed: just as the boat was heading out into the breaker area, the pin on the propeller broke from the encounters with rocks, and the panga was without power. We all stood on the cliff and watched with fear as the panga faced large breakers with no power to push through them or avoid them. We all expected the boat to be flipped with all the gear and go crashing into the rocks. But luck has been on our side THIS trip, and no more so than yesterday, as a rip current pulled the boat to the right of the breakers and out a bit - not out of danger but bow forward into the waves. Fortunately, Al was nearby in the zodiac, heard their distress calls, and zoomed in to assist. They managed to get a line from the panga to the zodiac and tow the panga to safety. Whew - a close call here for all of those guys, both boats, and all the gear. We then resorted to Plan A and moved the rest of the gear to the beach for pick up at high tide today. We will do a couple shots with Mathias and me in the zodiac approaching shore, then pick up the rest of the gear at high tide, then "vamanos", we leave Cabo Douglas. I wish I could share this place with everyone, but at the same time, it’s nice to know that there are many places in Galapagos off limit to tourists. Cabo Douglas is perhaps the wildest of natural settings I’ve ever seen, seemingly unspoiled, a spot that I cherish having visited.

Before dinner last night, the crew of the DAPHNE called us all together on the upper deck for a farewell caipirinha, some toasts, and some expressions of gratitude from both sides. The crew was dressed all in white, probably their standard uniforms on normal trips with tourists. It is a remarkable group of men who have willingly done everything asked and always with a smile. Amazing when you think about the fact that we’ve been out here 5 weeks - 20 people on a small ship. There is almost no tension within the group, and I don’t think you could ask for a better group of people with which to do this job. Unfortunately, most (all?) of the crew will never even see the film...

We got word yesterday from L.A. that all of the underwater footage has been screened. They are ecstatic! Add to that the incredible top-side footage we’re getting. We’re on a roll.

14 March 1999, 8:00 a.m., Puerto Ayora

Wrapped up the top-side part from boats yesterday with some footage of blue-footed boobies at Punta Espinosa. It was cloudy and so the blue feet don’t stand out so well, but the dark clouds over Isabella Is. as a backdrop for the boobies on a guano-covered rock was picturesque and moody. Michael was happy. Pulled anchor about 5 p.m. and just now arrived in Puerto Ayora. We will begin off-loading in half an hour and then Randy, Jon & I will go to Cueve Kubler (Kubler’s Cave) to begin rigging ropes for the cave shots tomorrow and Tuesday. It is hot here again! Will have to monitor the water intake...

On the steam last night, the water was full of bioluminescence, and we had fun leaning over the bow and watching fish dart away from the ship in a streak of light. It was so mesmerizing - made me feel sorry for people who have to sit in an office every day and never get to see such beautiful peculiarities of nature.

Well, we were blessed with good luck on this second trip and now hope for a few more days of it. I will be involved in most of the shots this week, the most exciting of course will be the rappelling into the cave. Hopefully, all the practice on the DAPHNE will be of value. We are going to change ropes from the colorful one Randy brought that has a lot of stretch to it to a static line. The bungee cord quality of Randy’s rope is apparently ideal if you have a fall, but it sure takes some getting use to when you go off the edge and first put your weight on it because you fall quite a bit as the line stretches. Gives you one of those heart-in-your-throat moments...

The SULLIVAN will be in about noon, as it’s a bit slower than the DAPHNE. I hope to have dinner with Michael and Reed at some point as I haven’t gotten to know them socially. I am so impressed with Michael’s style; he gets things done and done well, and it was brilliant of IMAX to make the decision to bring him in.

Ok, time to haul gear, sweat, drink water, haul more gear... am definitely in good shape these days!

15 March 1999, 6:20 a.m., Puerto Ayora, Red Mangrove Inn

It’s the little things in life - a bed that envelops you when you lie down on it, a powerful flow of hot water in the shower, the sound of waves crashing gently onto shore, a lobster dinner with nice friends... It’s nice to be off that boat, wonderful a boat as it was!

We worked really hard from about 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. unloading the DAPHNE, loading the barge, unloading the barge, loading the trucks, unloading the trucks, going back to the dock to unload the barge with SULLIVAN gear, loading the trucks, unloading the trucks!... I hadn’t slept well the night before, so by the time we sat down for lunch at 2 p.m., I was exhausted. It was brutally hot on top of everything. After lunch, I went with Michael, Dave, Reed, Mathias, Bobby, Tony & Randy to check out the lava tube (Cueve Kubler). We will do six shots there beginning tomorrow, and Mathias and I will have to do some tricky rappelling. The rappelling is planned for the second day, which means that Camille will be here to see it. Today, the film crew will go to the highlands to hunt for and hopefully film tortoises. I will go with Randy and Tony (lighting) and Mathias to the cave to begin preparing for tomorrow’s shoot. Then I’ll go to the highlands for the afternoon for some shots of me sketching tortoises and finch beaks. The drawings were done by a professional artist (shhhh!), and I will just add finishing touches. Although I do my own scientific illustrating of fishes through a microscope using a camera lucida device that basically allows you to trace what you see in the microscope, I’m certainly not talented enough to sit in a field and produce the kind of drawings this artist did. Then again, she was probably copying from a book!

11:00 a.m. I’m at the Red Mangrove this time, in the Blue room upstairs - a very elegant room. The bathroom especially is full of creature comforts - big fluffy towels, the toilet on a pedestal so that when you sit you’re looking out over the water(!), a long counter with two sinks, a huge shower, and best of all, the whole place is done in white mortar with bits of broken blue and aquamarine tiles laid in. There are 3 beds in the room, two ceiling fans, lots of windows, and the whole thing opens onto a deck that overlooks the water. Jon is in the room next to mine, and Stuart, Russel, Doug & Roberta are downstairs. After a 5 p.m. production meeting at Hotel Galapagos, I had a beer with Dave & Randy on the patio after calling Mom, Dad & Camille. Camille flies to Quito today and arrives here tomorrow. Can’t wait! Had dinner at Salvavidos "lobster place" with Michael, Randy, Ray, Doug & Roberta. Excellent... Finished the night relaxing on the veranda at Red Mangrove, then slept like a rock in my beautiful room!

As I write, I’m sitting on a lava rock pile beside the hole in the ceiling of Cueve Kubler - the lava tube that we will rappel in to. I spent the morning helping Randy prepare rigging ropes. There are two places around the cave that Michael would like us to rappel into, one much easier than the other.

I will leave here in an hour or so and go up to the highlands where they’re filming tortoises. Then we’re here at the cave tomorrow and Wed., wrap party at Furio’s in the highlands Wed. night, Al leaves Thursday, and the rest of us pack for 3 days, and then leave for Quito on Sunday the 21st.

16 March 1999, 4:45 p.m., Puerto Ayora, Red Mangrove Inn

Got rained out a half hour ago after a productive morning and early afternoon at the cave. We’re all pretty beat, so an early finish was nice. I went to the highlands at noon yesterday and did some shots with the tortoise and finch beak drawings. Pretty tedious stuff, and on one shot, I got placed right in an angry ant pile. As the camera was rolling, I was getting bit over and over and trying not to ruin the shot by bailing out. Reminded me of the scene in Pat Conroy’s Lords of Discipline when the plebes had to stand along the edge of a South Carolina marsh at sunset and not move while being bitten by mosquitoes, gnats, etc. The shot with me was short, however, and I didn’t have to tolerate the torture nearly as long as the unfortunate plebes. For the tortoise shot, I had been placed in one spot and others were designated to drive the tortoise to a spot near me. The tortoise chose its own course, and as soon as it started moving, I had to scramble to a new spot, try to "arrange myself" exactly as I’d been in the previous spot, and pretend I was drawing the animal. This scene was great because the tortoise started coming right at me!

First thing this morning I started rappelling with Randy (acting as Mathias) at one of the two sites (the easier one) we’ll enter the hole on camera tomorrow. Did the rappel about six times, so we’re set for that one. The other one we never got to try today. Did a number of shots in and around the cave with Mathias today - lots of climbing around lava rock and sweating - very hot and humid in the cave today.

Camille did not make it today. Her flight from Miami to Quito was canceled because of unrest in Ecuador over the unstable economic situation. Lot of striking and rioting going on. The sucre goes up and down - was 7,000 sucres per U.S. dollar when we arrived, then went to 12,000, which makes things pretty inexpensive for us. But banks have been closed, and there’s just generally a lot of unrest. So, Camille is scheduled to fly to Guayaquil today and here tomorrow. She should still get to see some of the cave filming.

Al left this morning with all the topside film shot so far. We know he made it to Quito but will have to wait and see if he makes it out of there.

20 March 1999, Puerto Ayora

I kind of lost track of the journal for a few days! I forgot to mention on the 16th that after one of the practice rappels, I came out of the cave and ran into Sylvia Earle! What a surprise. She got a laugh about them using me in the rappelling scene - we decided that I should do it with a mask and snorkel! On the 17th, we did the rappelling scenes. It was decided pretty early on that all of the shots would be done from the 2nd spot, the trickier one that I hadn’t yet practiced. I have to admit that I was really nervous, especially after watching Randy do it once. But, you tell yourself over and over "I can do this," try to swallow the fear, pray for a safe rappel, and you do it. And in this case, you do it again and again and again! I must have rappelled down a dozen times. Each trip is exhausting mentally because of the concentration required at the beginning. Add to that my worries about Camille - she made it to Guayaquil, but by the time we finished the cave sequence at 4 p.m., she still hadn’t made it to Galápagos... Anyway, I think I could learn to enjoy rappelling. The vertical drops are exhilarating, and I imagine the initial committing of your weight to the ropes gets easier over time.

We did the last shot of the filming at Hotel Galapagos. I was just sitting on some lava rocks by the ocean reading Darwin’s writings about the voyage of the HMS Beagle... About 20 minutes after we finished, Camille finally arrived, so she didn’t get to see a single shot! But she did get to meet the crew, and she knew everybody by name by early the next morning.

24 March, 1999, Washington, D.C.

Home again. Another sad farewell to the film "family," even tougher this time because I’ve now spent 4 of the last 10 months with some of the crew. That’s a long time. But I’ve made some lifelong friends on these trips, and I’m sure we’ll keep in touch.

Back to the Galapagos. On the 18th, we had our wrap party in the highlands at Furio’s - an Italian gentleman who spent a lot of time in Malaysia. The food was wonderful, and the ambiance unbeatable. We made it out in time to see a beautiful sunset, which was accompanied by wine & Campari cocktails and Andre Bocelli on CD. After dinner, we were entertained by Ecuadorian musicians and dancers, then Mathias sang a song or two, and then Michael surprised everyone with his rendition of "Galapagos Blues." A memorable night...

On the 20th, I took Camille up to the highlands to see tortoises, to the lava tube to show her the shots we made there, and then to Tortuga Bay for some excellent body surfing. We all left Galapagos the next morning by bus to Baltra and then a military C130 took us to Quito! I got to sit in the cockpit part of the trip and stand up behind the pilot during the landing. Not your everyday kind of experience!

After another remarkable Ecuadorian dinner in Quito (tamales, empanadas, potato/cheese/avocado soup, grilled pork, taxo, Sambuca, vino...) It was time to say goodbye to Jon & Russel who would stay with the gear and return on Wednesday. And then the flight to Miami where I sat with Randy and his injured leg (all that tricky work on lava rock and he injures himself badly after the work was finished) and we talked and talked. I was in a pensive mood the whole day and still find myself spending most of my mental time back in Galapagos. To say I was captivated by the place, the people, the experience, is an understatement.

Those who see the film will have no idea the effort it took to make it happen, and they’d probably never believe it was all done by so few people. When you see the credits in a Hollywood film, they go on and on for minutes. I’m sure there will be a lot more credits for this film than those who worked in the field, but still, I’ll bet they could be listed on a single screen (regular size even).

In reflecting on the whole experience, I would say first that as a scientist, I found myself in a position to break new ground, to visit in the sub places on earth that nobody has ever seen. I feel lucky, special, privileged. But even in shallow water scuba dives, I learned so much more than I expected. I know the fish and can name nearly every species as I swim around. But I didn’t know that Holacanthus passer (king angelfish) are cleaners on hammerhead sharks, that Bodianus (hogfish) cleans trumpetfish, that some of Darwin’s finches clean land and marine iguanas, etc. In the field you can see how all of the separate parts you study in the museum fit together in real life. The natural world is such a complex mosaic, and one that is changing all the time. I cannot believe the different worlds we saw at e.g., Cabo Douglas this past summer (1998) and then again seven months later - night vs. day, devastation vs. proliferation, death vs. life...

How to describe the trip on a personal level... Adventure is addictive, and when you combine that with learning about the natural world and the human world, and challenging yourself to do things that deep inside scare you, you leave the experience a changed person - stronger, both mentally and physically, and much more compassionate about life in general. I cheered for the recovery of the wildlife in Galapagos following El Nino, and I cheered for the heroic efforts of our hard-working crew. We’re all in this life play together. If ever I need to be reminded of this, I know where to go.... back to Galápagos... or possibly just to the nearest 3-D IMAX theater at which Galapagos is playing. With any luck, millions of people will gain a new or renewed appreciation of nature via this surrogate trip to Galapagos, that "little world unto itself," said Charles Darwin.


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