Sunblock and bug spray
Apply early, liberally, and often. Use a high SPF block—the sun is strong and when you’re on an outing, shade is scarce along the paths. Bring several small lip balms—they’re easy to misplace—with high SPF to slip in your pocket for touching up areas where you might sweat off the original application. If you’re going snorkeling, bring waterproof sunblock and don’t forget to put some on the back of your neck. Bring lots of it and put it on every time you head out for an outing. For any landings you’re doing in sandals, put lots on your exposed feet. And don’t forget your nose and the tips of your ears!
If you’re traveling in the warm/wet season, you’ll want to take bug spray too. Mosquitoes and biting flies can get quite annoying. (Or at least so I hear. Another advantage to traveling during the cool/dry season is that—at least in Sept.—we had absolutely not bugs bugging us.)
Motion sickness remedies
My husband has been a sailor most of his life; even on a sailing trip of several days’ duration, he had never had any problems with motion sickness. I had been on a boat only for day trips, so I was concerned I might experience motion sickness. Also, we were traveling in what is generally written about as the time of the choppiest water (September, which is when the currents are shifting). To be safe, we decided to take scopolamine patches for both of us. Much to our surprise, I had absolutely no problem with motion sickness, even in some very lively seas. But Z started experiencing sort of a foggy or fuzzy-headed feeling that he attributed to motion sickness. He was perfectly fine out on deck—probably having something to do with being able to see the horizon—but in the evenings, inside the boat, the fog descended. He applied the scopolamine patch and was just fine after that. In our group of 16, about 2/3s were using something for motion sickness—Dramamine, wrist bands, or (most commonly) the patches. My theory among our group (which wasn’t perfectly supported but suggested a trend) was that if you aren’t affected by reading in a moving car, you have a good shot at not being bothered on the boat. (I can and do read in a car; my husband can’t even look at a map while the car is moving.)
Motion sickness could totally ruin your trip, so I suggest you go prepared, even if you don’t expect to have a problem. The patches aren’t cheap (at least on our insurance plan) and are available only by prescription. But they made a huge difference in my husband’s ability to enjoy the evenings on the boat. One caveat—each patch was supposed to be effective for 3 days. However, several times Z washed a patch off in the shower and had to use a new patch before he normally would have. However, we had 2 prescriptions’ worth with us; since I didn’t need mine, we had plenty. But you might want to take some extras, if you decide to go this route and the patches you get aren’t to be replaced every day.
We used the trip partially as an excuse to buy a new, pocket-sized digital camera. We also brought our older, larger digital camera. We had originally been thinking maybe we’d just bring the small camera. But the larger camera had a better optical zoom (12x vs. 3x), so we brought them both. I was glad we had them both, especially the larger camera. When I was working with the photos to put them on the blog, I was able to crop the photos from the larger—and higher-resolution—camera more easily and get clearer close-ups. But the smaller camera performed well and at times was just what you wanted to slip in your pocket as you headed out. For instance, on a panga ride, the small camera was much easier to use in the bouncing boat than would have been the larger one. Also, it was nice to have a back-up camera, in case something happened to one or the other. (One person in our group slipped and cracked her camera.) It would have been dreadful to come home with a broken camera AND no photos.
Buy lots and lots of memory cards. They are so cheap and so small these days—there’s really no reason not to just have 6 or 8 GB of memory right at hand. We came home with more than 800 photos—and that was after we deleted the really bad photos at the end of each day. We set both cameras to their 2nd-from-the-highest resolution (~2.5MB for the big camera; ~1.5MB for the small camera), to save a bit of memory space. That was probably unnecessary, but those levels of resolution were just fine for our purposes. NOTE: Be wary of changing the resolution of the photos after you have some photos on the memory card! One person in our group did that on the 4th day out and thereby erased all of the photos he had taken to that point. What a heartbreak (although several of us were happy to send him our best photos once we got back home). If you consider doing this, make sure your camera will retain the photos taken at the previous resolution.
Bring lots of batteries and take any used ones back with you. You can now buy lithium batteries that are lighter and have more power. Even better—if you have rechargeable batteries and a recharger you can carry, you can plug it in on the boat; it likely has compatible electricity.
Since flashes are not allowed on the islands, you may want to make sure you know how to permanently turn off the flash on your camera. We had several people who were used to having their flashes set to “automatic.” The flashes went off without their thinking about it. The first few days, before he knew all of our names, our naturalist guide spent considerable time saying, sotto voce but firmly, things like “The black camera—kill the flash.” If you have different settings on your camera, you might experiment with settings appropriate for cloudy days, just to be ready. I found I needed to electronically brighten a good number of our photos for the blog—photos that the automatic flash would have handled on its own.
If you’re traveling during the warm/wet season, you might consider a waterproof cover for your camera, in case you run into rain or serious drizzle. During the cool/dry season when we were there, the garúas (bouts of drizzle) were infrequent and easily handled. But others who traveled during the warm/wet season have reported needing to cover their cameras during unexpected showers. No matter what season, the panga rides are a bit splashy–you sit on the sides of the boat and water sloshes up. Your shorts and feet will probably get a bit wet. Some people put their cameras and binoculars in camera dry bags or ziplock plastic bags, to keep them dry on the rides to shore. We just put all of the optics in the day pack we took with us on all of the outings; Zell held it on his lap during the panga rides and they all stayed perfectly dry. Note that “wet landings” aren’t all that wet: You hop out of the panga into the water (perhaps calf-deep, at most) and wade a few yards to the beach. So unless you trip or drop them, your optics won’t be in harm’s way during wet landings. Having written all that, camera dry bags or ziplock bags don’t take up much room, so bring them along if you’re worried about this.
A few people in our group had underwater digital cameras; we didn’t bring one. We didn’t know much about fish and they were a lower priority for documentation than were the other species. (If you read the Rábida page, you know that I had my plate full just trying to snorkel like a normal human.) So we didn’t bring one. But the photos that folks got while snorkeling were pretty nifty, I must admit.
This page on the TripAdvisor Web site has a great list of things to think about for photo-taking—especially if you’re really serious about your photos. And if you look at the right column on this page, you’ll see a Top Question called “Any tips for photography?” that have links to other detailed discussions.
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