Guest Post: Overland Journey Through Canada’s Western National Parks

Sunset on Long Beach near Tofino. Vancouver Island. After nearly two weeks of being dwarfed by massive mountains and forests of Alberta and BC, the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean seems otherworldly.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a first for me. This post is a guest post from my friend Genevieve Hathaway. I  write regularly for the G Adventure’s Looptail blog and was offered a chance to explore Canada on one of G Adventure’s trips. The timing wasn’t right for me so I suggested my friend Gen as a replacement due to her writing and photography and social media skills. To help Gen with her social media ‘reach’, I offered to let her write a guest post about her experiences and post it here because I know it would be relevant to my readers (holy cats! There are 2300 of you!).

When I think of the great wildernesses of Alberta and British Columbia three words come to mind: big, bold, beautiful. Soaring peaks, high alpine lakes, glacier-carved valleys, abundant wildlife and seemingly endless adventure opportunities make Canada’s western provinces an exciting region to explore. To experience the national parks in Alberta and British Columbia I joined G Adventures on their National Parks Of The Canadian Rockies (Westbound) tour in mid-June. A 12-day journey by vehicle from Alberta’s Calgary, also known as the “Heart of the New West,” to British Columbia’s metropolitan Vancouver; we passed through many iconic national and provincial parks including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Mt. Robson, Kootenay, Wells Gray, Pacific Rim, Green Lake, and MacMillan.

We traveled the 1600km journey overland, exploring western Canada’s natural beauty, seeing much of its iconic wildlife and having plenty of adventures along the way. Caribou, bison, moose and elk inhabited much of the meadowlands we passed through. Since it was spring, mother bears with their cubs were easy to spot. Gray Whales were migrating off the coast of Tofino. And we had the opportunity to visit seal and sea lion colonies along the coast.

In addition to spotting wildlife, we also had opportunities to walk with giants in the towering old-growth forests, hike above slot canyons, whitewater raft the powerful Wild Horse River, fly through the trees on ziplines, canoe the remote waterways of Wells Park, spot migrating gray whales off the coast of Tofino, get off-road with ATVs, hike near glaciers in Icefields Parkway, soak in mineral hot springs, and explore western Canada’s culture in its vibrant cities.

We began our journey in Calgary, located on the Bow River, is in the foothills of the great Canadian Rockies mountain range. It is also the largest city in Alberta and has a vibrant and colorful cowboy culture. From Calgary, it didn’t take long to get deep into the Canadian Rockies. A few hours drive and we were in Banff National Park exploring Icefields Parkway; from there traveling through Jasper National Park.

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View of downtown Calgary and Prince’s Island.

View over Peyto Lake. One of Icefields Parkway's many stunning turquoise lakes situated amongst the soaring peaks of the Canadian Rockies.

View over Peyto Lake. One of Icefields Parkway’s many stunning turquoise lakes situated amongst the soaring peaks of the Canadian Rockies.

Hiking Maligne Canyon in Alberta's Canadian Rockies provides a lifetime of laughs and memories.

Hiking Maligne Canyon in Alberta’s Canadian Rockies provides a lifetime of laughs and memories.

Caribou inhabitant Alberta’s grasslands and often can be seen close to the road.

Caribou inhabitant Alberta’s grasslands and often can be seen close to the road.

Exploring the Columbia Icefield in Icefields Parkway. A chance to get up close and personal with a glacier.

Exploring the Columbia Icefield in Icefields Parkway. A chance to get up close and personal with a glacier.

Mt. Robson stands as a lone sentinel on the border between British Columbia and Alberta provinces. This mammoth mountain is a sign that soon the forests will be changing from high alpine pines to thick, lush old-growth forests. We continued on through British Columbia’s Rockies, soon reaching the Columbia Mountains and then the Pacific coast.

Mt Robson, at 3,954 m, is the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies.

Mt Robson, at 3,954 m, is the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies.

Canoeing in Wells Gray Provincial Park provides a unique perspective on British Columbia towering mountains and peaks.

Canoeing in Wells Gray Provincial Park provides a unique perspective on British Columbia towering mountains and peaks.

Ziplining through the trees and between the peaks in Whistler, one of the many summer adventure sports opportunities in the area.

Ziplining through the trees and between the peaks in Whistler, one of the many summer adventure sports opportunities in the area.

The ziplines in Whistler take adventurers both peak to peak and through the forest canopy.

The ziplines in Whistler take adventurers both peak to peak and through the forest canopy.

Sunset on Long Beach near Tofino. Vancouver Island. After nearly two weeks of being dwarfed by massive mountains and forests of Alberta and BC, the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean seems otherworldly.

Sunset on Long Beach near Tofino. Vancouver Island. After nearly two weeks of being dwarfed by massive mountains and forests of Alberta and BC, the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean seems otherworldly.

Plan Your Own Adventure:

To thoroughly explore western Canada drive overland through the national parks. There are a few options for renting a car and planning your own roadtrip. You can drive from the United States into Canada or rent a car in Calgary or Vancouver and drop it at the other end of your trip. Grab a group of friends and make a memorable roadtrip out of exploring the best of western Canada’s stunning wilderness! Or let G Adventures do the driving and hop on one of their independent-style small group tours.

Gen’s travel during this trip was covered by G Adventures. The photos and words are all hers, please do not reuse without written permission.

Riviera Maya Caves And Cenotes Worth Returning To

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The place was called Indiana Joe’s and yes, they used the same font at the Indiana Jones franchise, so I knew there was a good chance of cheesiness involved. Joe’s was made up around two central, natural features, a pretty cool cave system and a cenote, which is a naturally occurring underground pool.

My daughter and I were visiting Indiana Joe’s along the Riviera Maya coast of Mexico on a press trip and dang it was hot. Melting-my-brain hot. Or at least, frying-my-patience-for-a-heat-weary-kid hot. We were luxuriated with an air conditioned van, a driver and a local guide, so it seems odd to complain, but we’re from the Pacific Northwest and this kind of heat saps our strength.

Once outside of the van at Joe’s the temperature could be felt and we were eager for the caves, knowing they would be naturally air conditioned. Later we would find the cenote to be frigid, but in a good way. I have no pictures of the cenote and that is a shame, because it is a cool swim-around cave.

The funny thing about tourist attractions in this part of Mexico is they often have to make stuff up to gain tourists and Indiana Joe’s is no different. We not only visited the cave and cenote, but also the ‘zoo’ they have there. We passed on the ziplines, opting to do those another day at another place. It’s a little cheesy, but understandable since most tourists in this area want to sit on the beach and maybe see some Mayan ruins at Tulum. Maybe.

The cave system was a leisurely 50 minute walk as I remember it and quite fascinating. In places they have to chisel new paths, but 80% of the cave is natural formations and passages. It’s not a ‘true’ caving experience as there are lights-a-plenty, but it is pretty cool to look at all the same. Kids will love it and if they don’t, just mention, “Where do you think the dragons sleep?” and you will have them hooked. It’s that kind of awesome.

I love places like this, honestly. The fact that thousands of people have been through the caves and they have been blasted in places to make passage does not take away from the awe and childish wonder in me. I love the formations and marveling at what time and water can do.

Take a look for yourself at the images above. (If you can’t see the images, click here to see the post online)

Oh wait! Obligatory, but useful, links to our hosts: Indiana Joe’s & Riviera Maya.

This is one place I would visit again on my own. It was cool (and refreshing!) and I love caves. If anyone else wants me to take pictures of their caves, drop me a line.

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Above The Ocean

The rain is starting but I am dry in my car for now. Perched 40′ above the beach on a tiny pull-off, occasional cars zoom by, but for the most part all I hear is the roar of surf. This is the Oregon Coast I think of: gray sky melts with gray seas and comes rolling forward in languid three foot tall waves. Again and again. The water struggles for self expression as it thins over the muted orange sands, showing a little if its aquamarine color. If the sun were to burst through the clouds, the ocean could pull apart from the sky, with deep, rich color. But for now it plays its role as chameleon well and I can’t find a boundary between sea and sky.

I am thankful for days like this, days when I can’t make out the edge of the horizon. Because on days when I can, I am confronted with size. So much in life is close in: car windshields, desks at work, walls of our home or office or coffee shop. Occasional vistas pop out but they are remarkable for their uniqueness, such as a mountain range or river bend. And we know they come to an end.

The ocean, on a clear day, presents me with problems. It knocks me down to size because as much as I stare and stare, I can not find its end. Even in a jet plane crossing the Pacific, for instance…from a height of 40,000′, even then I can’t see the other side. This vast featureless expanse makes me feel a little lost. Small. Forgotten. Insignificant.

At other times I have stood on shores like these and felt acutely part of the waves. I remember felling like I could step in and just blend. Crazy thoughts. Not even the jellyfish truly blends with the sea. It was a feeling of peace and being at home. It was also sunny that day and my skin didn’t feel the cold chill it does this day, when it is acutely aware that there is an inside of me and an outside.

But today, as the rain has finished pounding my car and I can unroll a window to let in the salted air and white noise many crave to help them sleep, I feel apart. Maybe because I am still in my car, on a bluff. Maybe because my mind is churning through the work I need to get done later today.

The clouds are lifting and the horizon struggles into place.

Maybe I should take off my shoes, climb down this bluff and see what I can find at the ocean’s edge.

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Show Me Something New And Honest, Like Garbage

I am a positive guy and that often makes me guilty of one of the softer crimes in travel writing and photography; only showing the good stuff. The happy stuff. The pretty stuff.

You know, like this:

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Ahhhh…Mt. Hood reflected in Trillium Lake, just 45 minutes from downtown Portland, Oregon. Pretty, isn’t it? While I believe the world needs more pretty stuff, it’s only part of the truth. Here’s the reality:

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Yes, Milwaukee’s Best, crushed and slightly charred, was just out of frame.

I have seen it over and over in my travels. Jordan, Hawaii, Mexico, Tanzania, Nepal and even “Shangri-La” infused Bhutan. All those places had garbage and trash, in varying degrees, that you almost never hear reported on blogs around the Internet. Again, I’m a positive guy, and I like to look at the good stuff, not bad, but I do think I need to introduce more balance into the content on this site. Maybe your site, if you write or take photos, could use some balance too.

This topic has been on my mind after taking a press trip to Jordan last year with Sabrina. You might remember some of the pretty pictures I posted at the time and in the months after the trip. Jordan is a beautiful place.

But there came a time in our travels through the country when I finally broke down and asked our driver to stop on the side of the road. The disconnect between the beauty we were witnessing, the warmth we were feeling from the Jordanians we met and what we saw outside our car window grew beyond my ability to ignore. What we saw was this:

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Plastic bags seem to be the favorite type of garbage left alongside the road in Jordan. In this field they were twisted around a barbwire fence and left clinging to tufts of field grass. The band of garbage did not go to the horizon, although it may seem that way. The band is contained mainly in a strip along the road, about 30 meters from it on either side. That strip dissipated the further we drove from populated areas. But I could always tell when we were approaching another town from the increase of garbage along the roads.

When I had returned to the car after taking a few photos our guide was smiling. We had spent only a day together so far but he had rightly told our driver moments before that I would be asking to stop once I saw the garbage. The scene was not something he was not proud of and, as an ardent naturalist and volunteer at the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Petra, it dismayed him how lax his fellow countrymen and women were about their garbage disposal. He told me exploring nature and taking care of it were not high priorities for the Jordanian people individually.

The scene was repeated along the shores of the Dead Sea. You may remember pictures of me floating in the medicinal waters at the lowest point on the surface of Earth. It’s fun and a little heavenly and so is the photo of me with a mud treatment right after the dip. That photos plays out again and again in blog posts about the Dead Sea.

Just outside our resort, along the road to the newly minted Wadi Mujib Biosphere Reserve, we passed a locals’ hangout. It was a place where Jordanians without the money for the posh resorts go to take a dip in the soothing waters of the Dead Sea and then shower beneath a small waterfall. Some will even picnic in the area. It’s not hard to miss this section of the road.

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For about half a kilometer the garbage is strewn within throwing distance of the ancient waters. In their defense, it seems the Jordanian government is trying to alleviate the problem by providing dumpsters and even recycle bins for food waste, but they mainly go unused.

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I have seen garbage in all my visits inside and outside the USA. It happens. But I was amazed at how much there was in Jordan as compared to other modern areas of the world, especially in a country where over 60% of the Gross Domestic Product comes from the services industry, with tourism being the main driving force in that industry.

I am not laying all of this out to pick on Jordan. Here’s an image of our guide and my guest carrying a bag of garbage we collected at a popular tourist spot alongside the road in Bhutan:

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Garbage happens. Mainly because of lazy humans.

In my own travel writing and photo essays I am going to strive to show a more balanced view of what you can expect to find if you follow my footsteps to the magnificent areas of the world. It’s not all glitter and you deserve to know the truth. It’s also not all garbage.

This post is also a subtle warning to any tourists boards or visitor centers out there who are thinking of inviting me on their next press trip; I will show the good and bad and seek out the balance away from the shiny, posh resorts you hole me up in during my stay. If you are a blogger, I challenge you to do the same. We don’t need more fluff pieces on the shiny things. We need more reality.

View On The Forest Floor In An Alaska Rainforest

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What’s lurking on the floor of an Alaskan rainforest? Plenty!

For my daughter, girlfriend and I, cruising with InnerSea Discoveries in Alaska’s Inside Passage this last summer allowed more than one opportunity to take a small skiff ashore and wander in pristine temperate rainforest. Not only that, I also was teaching photography to guests aboard the 80 passenger boat and had ample opportunity to capture life close to the ground.

The images below were taken in and around Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. As luck and planning would have it, I’ll be teaching aboard another sailing with InnerSea Discoveries this April in Hawaii, where there is a whole different kind of rainforest. If you’re interested in joining us, check out the April 6th sailing at this link.

Click on any image for a much larger version.

Top 10 Photos Of 2012

Daybreak, Canyonlands National Park

My friend and fellow photographer Jim Goldstein is not only a great photographer, he invites people to share their work through his annual round-up of everyone’s best images from the previous year. I’m not one to participate in many “Best of…” lists, but it’s an honor for me to be included in Jim’s list as there is some stunning images shared on his site. If you would like to join in with your best images, follow the instructions on this post.

I picked my image for a few different reason. Most are because, for me, the images were technically difficult or rewarding to shoot. Some were just opportune moments and then there are fun or wonderful memories for me alone to enjoy. I hope the images tell you a story of the different locations where they were shot all over the world. And how beautiful our world and life can be.

For this year’s entry, I submit to you, my viewing audience, my 10 favorite images from 2012 in chronological order. Click each image for a larger version if you like.

Dinner For Two - Velas Vallarta

Shot in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, at the Velas Vallarta Resort, this image was not set up for me, but for a lucky couple. It was too perfect of a setting to not shoot while before they showed up. I used a reverse graduated neutral density filter (3 stop) to hold back the sun on the horizon while metering for the foreground.

There was a lot of work in Lightroom on this one to balance the light and I have been very happy with the result. It was hard to not sit down and soak up the setting before the intended guests showed up.

Canon 7D, Canon EF 10-22mm lens, ISO100, 10mm, f/6.3, 1/60

Sunset From Nahargarh Fort, Jaipur, India

Another shot that was technically hard, and another image to use the reverse graduated neutral density filter by Singh-Ray, the sunset in India is often a time when no filter can be used, simply because the haze mutes the brightness of our star. I wanted to ensure the ancient fort and the massive city of millions was well exposed and this filter helped with that.

Shot with a tripod and patience. What appear as ants on the sand hill below are Indians playing soccer and picnicking. What you can’t experience in this image is the call to Muslim call to prayer which had just started while I was instructing one of my photo tour guests on the use of the filter.

Canon 7D, Canon EF 10-22mm lens, ISO 100, 10mm, f/9, 1/10

Resting Tiger, India

A Bengal Tiger relaxes in the heat of the morning as she is surrounded by about 12 jeeps full of tourists eager to glimpse this beautiful creature. She soon got up from her spot and proceeded to walk to a water hole while the vehicles all jockeyed for the best photography position.

I have other pictures I enjoy more, pictures where she is walking through the jungle, but nothing captures her grandeur like a nice close-up. Shot in Ranthambore National Park, India, while leading a photo tour.

Canon 7D, Canon 28-300mm L, ISO 250, 300mm, f/5.6, 1/320

Layers - Oman

Oman was a fun and exciting trip with my girlfriend taken in the heat before summer. In this image, the sun was getting ready to set and I simply stopped by the side of the road as the layers in the mountains were too gorgeous to not shoot. We spent a week in the country and were happy to find so many stereotypes purveyed by popular US media were not the case.

The people we interacted with were kind and warm, one of them even driving 8km out of their way, and back again, to bring us jumper cables. Then he climbed under the car and beat on the started, refusing my offer to compensate him and instead accepting a handshake and “Shukran” for his effort. It is a county to which I plan to return and explore more.

Canon 7D, Canon 28-300mm L, ISO 100, 235mm, f/9, 1/800

Sabrina Being Dangerous

Traveling with my daughter is almost always fun. No so much when it gets very hot (as it was for us in Jordan in the summer) but even then she plays along with my silly ideas. I picked this image because I love her and traveling with her. We were fortunately enough to be guests of Jordan and shown the many wonderful sites the small country has to offer.

Amazingly stable in an area of unrest (they have welcomed decades of refuges from Iraq, Syrian and Palestine) this was my third Islamic country for the year (UAE and Oman being the others) and another place to which I will return for more lasting memories.

Canon 7D, Canon EF 10-22mm lens, ISO 800, 15mm, f/18, 1/60

The Treasury At Night

Petra in Jordan is one of those places people talk about being a “Once in a lifetime” trip and I pray it is not for me. I want to go back and explore for a couple of days. The architecture and hiding places. The majesty. The colors. In this photo Sabrina and I were granted special permission to go inside The Treasury, something that is not allowed these days, to get a shot I have had in mind since booking our trip.

The shot is taken after the Petra By Night cultrual event which is well worth the price of admission. While many shots show the outside of the The Treasury at night, I was very happy with the results from this unique angle.

Canon 7D, EF 10-22mm lens, ISO 640, 10mm, f/6.3, 30 seconds

Breaching Humpback Whale, Alaska

Talk about unforgettable, watching humpback whales breach and bubblenet feed in the chilly waters of Alaska was a jaw-dropping gorgeous trip for Sabrina, my girlfriend and I. We went of separate trips (one week with my daughter, one week with my girlfriend) over the course of two weeks while I shot and taught photography aboard two great vessels run by InnerSea Discoveries.

These boats only hold 80 guests and bring nature up close and personal. Shot of renting a 20′ runabout, this is the best way to view whales in Alaska. Not to mention the delicious food and inspiring locations we visit. This was my first time photographing humpback whales and I’m severely hooked. We’ll be heading to Hawaii in April for another photo themed cruise if you want to join us!

Canon 7D, Canon 400mm L, ISO 200, 400mm, f/2.8, 1/4000

Daybreak, Canyonlands National Park

I love Southern Utah. Canyonlands, Arches, Bryce….so much great country to explore! I joined fellow Puget Sound photographer Michael Riffle and his wife for a few days of shooting in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in beautiful weather in October. Not only that, I was lucky to borrow a Nikon D800E and 14-24mm lens for the trip. I was in landscape photographer heaven and this trip was unforgettable.

Up early for each sunrise and up late for some start photography. One image is just not enough, so here are some more from that trip. While I love traveling internationally, Southern Utah makes an undisputed argument for never having to journey far to see world class landscapes that could fill a lifetime of exploration. I hope to return here in 2013.

Nikon D800E, Nikon 14-24mm, ISO 50, 14mm, f/7.1, 1/13

Lava Lake

I consider Hawaii to be international travel. While the money is the same and they mostly speak English, the land is so different from mainland USA that it seems a world away. That and the resurgence of colorful Hawaiian culture makes the islands feel warm and inviting. So warm, they even have lava, which is one thing you can see here and in few other places.

This was a special trip shared with my girlfriend and the chance to witness the island being created while flying over P u’u O’o, an active, sputtering hot spot on the edge of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, was a highlight for me. Located on Hawaii, The Big Island, this channel into magma beneath the surface is best viewed from a helicopter, thanks to Paradise Helicopters. If I could, I’d also include an image from our time SCUBA diving with manta rays.

Canon 7D, Canon 28-300mm L, ISO 1250, 170mm, f/5.6, 1/6400

Above The Sunset

My last favorite shot from 2012 is not from some exotic destination nor far reaching corner of the planet. In late 2011 I fell in love with an amazing woman who happens to live not in Washington, but in California. As my schedule permits, I am able to fly down the coast and spend time with her often and while the regular flights might seem monotonous after a while, I have always been awed by what I see out the window when passing geography I have seen dozens of times already. In this case, I picked a window seat knowing the sun would be setting close to touchdown in Southern California and I was rewarded with an amazing display. After the sun set below the high clouds at around 20,000′, there was still sunlight beaming below. You know how you see clouds just catch fire when on the ground? It’s equally amazing from the sky. Below the clouds is Channel Islands National Park, an area we plan to explore together in 2013.

Canon 1D X, Canon 28-300mm L, ISO 640, 170mm, f/7.1, 1/320, Seat 3F

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It is true that picking just 10 images from a whole year of images (I shot more than 30,000 images in 2012) can painful. But it’s also fun. And I thank Jim for putting on this event to help me appreciate what 2012 brought to me in photographs.

I also want to thank those who helped me get to and take these photos, including, Velas Vallarta, Jordan Tourism Board, Mahfouz – our tour guide in Jordan, InnerSea Discoveries, BorrowLenses.com, Hawaii Island Visitor Bureau and Paradise Helicopters. And the two best travel companions I can ask for on many of these trips, my daughter and my girlfriend.

Neon In Aqaba, Jordan

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I didn’t expect to find so much neon in Aqaba, Jordan. Not that neon is unheard of in the country, but for some reason there seems to be a larger concentration of the gas in tubes in this town.

My daughter and I were strolling back to our hotel from the far side of the market one night when I started noticing neon everywhere. We couldn’t stand on a street corner without glimpsing some bright form of the glass art, typically beckoning us to a restaurant.  As we were wandering around at night, I was a little more guarded, keeping an eye on my daughter and one hand on my camera bag, not wanting to flash around my expensive camera.

But as we walked further and the tempo of the night made itself known, I relaxed. Families were out shopping, choosing to avoid the heat of the day. The atmosphere was a little festive with groups heading out to dinner or to get groceries. The longer we meandered, the more comfortable the town felt.

It wasn’t until we were almost back to our hotel that I began snapping shots of some of the neon signs. The largest sign, atop a hotel, had just shot off and I missed bagging it for the prize it is. But these smaller renditions will give you an idea of how Aqaba lights up the night with colorful neon signs. <Click on an image for a larger version>

Our trip to Jordan was covered by the Jordan Tourism Board, but never once did they insist, “You HAVE to come here to take pictures of our neon!!” The images and words are my own.

Starting Traditions On The Road

MeSabrinaMy daughter Sabrina and I have this thing. It started in Africa and I blame my friend Julie for starting it. Blame and thank. You’ll see why.

It started one night when Sabrina was having a hard time falling asleep in our tents under star-filled skies on the Serengeti plains. She was eight at the time and bunking with Julie that night (Julie is, in fact, cooler than her Dad, so I understand). To help calm Sabrina to sleep, Julie gently moved her hand over Sabrina’s face, relaxing her while asking what kind of mask Sabrina wanted painted on her face. Julie then used her and Sabrina’s imaginations to ‘paint’ a mask while Sabrina closes her eyes and relaxed off to sleep.

Since then, probably about every other night, Sabrina requests a mask. Sometimes she picks the animal and sometimes I do, usually relating to something we saw that day. I start by ‘cleaning’ the slate and gently brushing her face. Then I go about shaping and sculpting her face into the animal of choice. Whiskers, long nose, big ears, etc… It helps her relax and has become a nice father-daughter ritual, connecting us at the end of the day. Sometimes, I really don’t feel like doing it because I’m dead tired and want to sleep myself.

But I always say yes. Cats are an easy, quick mask but she has caught on to that and sometimes asks for something “not fast”. It’s been three years since that trip and I am happy what started out on a lark has grown into something that helps us feel connected, especially at the end of a long day or after not seeing each other for a week.

Which leads me to ask; Do you have any rituals or traditions you have started while on the road and continued long after returning home? You don’t have to have kids or even a partner, it could be something you do just for yourself.

What traditions have you started while on the road?

California Adventure Minus The Cars

photo 3We had high expectation upon entering Disney’s California Adventure. I had first seen the theme park during our last visit to Disneyland when Sabrina was four, but that was just from the outside. What lay on the other side of the sprawling Disney property, away from the Castle and It’s A Small World? In 2005 I only guessed before running the normal gauntlet of princesses, animals in human clothing and pirates that is Disneyland proper.

This is why I jumped at a chance for a free day with Sabrina, my girlfriend and her five year daughter when the new Cars Land opened in Disney’s California Adventure. We weren’t the first to visit, like my friend Debbie of Delicious Baby who snagged a sneak preview before the new land opened to the public. Her view and mine were quite different.

For one thing, we never went on the Radiator Springs Racers, the premier ride at CarsLand. Why? 2.5 hour wait in the sun. There is some shade along the slithering, python-like waiting pen, but not a lot. Not enough that a five year old would not melt into a puddle of “How much longer”. Heck, I didn’t want to wait in that long of a line. When we asked about the coveted Fast Pass which allows for skipping the line, more or less, we were told they sold out by 9:12am. The park opens at 9:00am. This was, after all, July, known as ‘high-season’ for the park.

The speedway looked fun, but we skipped it. Sabrina and I opted for Luigi’s Flying Tires which said it only had a 30 minute wait. We learned this from the Disney Mobile Magic App, which is very handy for checking wait times across the park and sniping out the best use of time. I highly suggest downloading it before you arrive.

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Luigi’s was fun. Bouncing around on a hovercraft always is. (Okay, I admit this was my first time on a hovercraft.) But the volume of the music and commotion from excited visitors while waiting in line (we picked this ride in part because the waiting area is indoors and air conditioned, which was nice) was enough to turn my mood sour. Did I mention we started the day waiting in line for 90 minutes at the Grizzly River Run? This was all before the app.

Get the app. I wish I received a commission for saying that, but it’s just a fact that life is better with the app. Once we had the app, we picked some rides with far shorter lines in Bugs Land. These are at the cusp of Sabrina’s age range but she enjoyed them all the same. The Tuck and Roll’s Drive ‘Em Buggies bumper cars were fun (but slow for my maniacal, leadfoot tastes) and we all enjoyed Flik’s Flyers. Me included. Bugs Land had the shortest waits with some only lasting five minutes.

We also hit up Monster’s Inc’s Mike & Sulley to the Rescue! twice. The wait was only 20 minutes the first time and 25 the second. This ride was fun enough for that long of a wait and we could see the immense and empty holding pen that was built to absorb the onslaught when the attraction was new.

And that is what I learned from our visit; Get the app. No, I mean, expectations are important. We rode the Grizzly River Run twice and didn’t even know about it before we showed up (once was after dark and the water can feel a bit colder then)(oh yeah, and being stuck for 15 minutes at the top of the big drop the second time around is not so fun for a certain ten year old when she knows what’s coming). That one was a lot of fun. The Soaring Over California experience was also worth the wait and I would have gladly done that one again. It is extremely well done.

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But we missed out on most of Cars Land because it was a zany zoo. Like ants to a cube of sugar, the new area (only open since June) was abuzz with life. And lines. And not a lot of shade.

And that’s okay, because we found a lot of other fun to be had in Disney’s California Adventure away from the crowds looking for the new hotness.

I would like to go back now that it is November. Hopefully the crowds are less and we won’t roast in the sun. I know there is no true ‘off-season’ for Disney but I have to think anything is better than trying to see a brand new attraction in the middle of summer heat.

In the end, this is as close as we got to Lightning McQueen. (No, we didn’t want to pay for the real posed picture. ;))

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Experiencing The Mujib Biosphere Reserve In Jordan

Mujib Biosphere Reserve, Jordan

I was saddened when we were told Sabrina would not be allowed in the slot canyon of the Mujib Biosphere Reserve in Jordan. She’s 10 (nearly 11!) but they said it was too dangerous, even if she wore the required personal floatation device (PFD).

Our guide had already secured for us special access at Petra a couple nights before so I know he tried his best to gain Sabrina access. I asked one more time with pleading eyes, but the answer was still, “No” form the man behind the counter. In a hurry, and after talking it over with Sabrina, we decided she would stay in the shade of the visitor’s center, pad of paper in hand, while Mahfouze and I would take a short walk up the river to snap some photos, then head back.

The temperature was about 100F that day and worse in the sun. But the nice aspects of visiting Wadi Mujib, as it is also known, are twofold: First, the exploration of the biosphere reserve is up a slot canyon carved by eons of water on sandstone. This means we won’t be baking in the morning sun. Second, a river still flows down the canyon, meaning we will be wading in and out of the water to help cool us. it sounds like a good plan and I hug Sabrina goodbye as we descend steps to the river below.

What follows is a short, but truly awesome, hike up a river course through sandstone cliffs. The walls aren’t red, as are some sandstone slot canyons, especially in the US Southwest, but are instead a darker color. Swirls and curves and patterns emerge with each twist and turn. Visibility forward is maybe 70 feet at any given point in time and the way meanders tightly uphill.

As mentioned, I stopped early. But further on is the chance to climb along side waterfalls as well as rappel (abseil) down through them. Trips can be arranged on your own or with a guide and last from short walks in the river to full day treks up the canyon. The area was listed with UNESCO as a biosphere reserve only one year ago and even my short visit showed my the natural beauty worth preserving in this unique canyon. Part of the larger Mujib Nature Reserve, the lowest nature reserve on the planet, Mujib Biosphere Reserve will be on my list to explore on my next visit to Jordan.

And I’ll be sure to bring a water proof camera. (Click on images for larger versions)

Here is a link to current prices for visiting the reserve. For directions to the entrance to the canyon, head toward the Dead Sea from Amman then take a left on 65. Stop when you get here. It’s pretty easy to find. Oh, and don’t wear flip-flops! You’ll want serious footwear with good support.

Rafting The Roaring Fork River In Colorado

Photo Courtesy of Ben Drivin'

The raft shot up the wall of a wave four feet high just 30 feet after leaving shore with the five seemingly drunk clients flailing paddles into last night’s snow melt waters with no more precision nor coordination than an elephant on a three week heroin bender trying to paint a Rembrandt. Gasping for air as the near frozen water sluiced down that tiny gap between wetsuit and dry skin, the group fiend attention and understand of what guide Mike Glock was shouting. He certainly was shouting something because it seems he wanted the raft pointed down river, not up.

Photo Courtesy of Ben Drivin'

Flail, paddle, flail, paddle. Breathe. And POP! Out of the first wave on the Roaring Fork river in Colorado the group, now wide-eyed and adrenalin riddled, let out bottled up excitement in the form of laughter and exclamations of joy to not being thrown overboard while spinning aimlessly in the wave.

I have the pleasure of being in that raft with Mike as we took a morning trip with Blazing Adventures (who rafts under the company name ‘Blazing Paddles’) down the Roaring Fork River as it carves the Rocky Mountains before meeting up with the mighty Colorado. Located just outside the village of Snowmass, our put-in is a quick introduction to the ferocity of rivers all over the West which have been bolstered by a solid winter of gracious snowfall.

While the river is flowing faster than normal, making our anticipated two hour trip closer to a 90 minute endeavor, we were treated to many impressive waves bulked up by the increasing temperatures of a looming summer sun. It’s true we can’t raft the vaunted Slaughterhouse Rapid due to safety concerns, a nice reminder that Blazing Adventures values living customers over the chance to practice river rescues. Even without the largest challenge on this stretch of the river, our day is non-stop action.

I have been rafting as a client in various states and countries over the last two decades. I don’t know it all, but I do know that our day on the Roaring Fork is as good of an ambassador of Colorado’s whitewater potential as I can ask for. While the larger Colorado often overshadows the ‘lesser’ rivers in the state, and while this river would not be on my list of solo reasons to fly all the way to Aspen and Snowmass, it is an unexpected highlight to my trip, sponsored by Colorado State Tourism.

That's me, taking a face full of Roaring Fork up the nose - Photo Courtesy of Ben Drivin'

First, the river is a refreshing escape from the valley’s hot days during summer. The water comes from the surrounding hills and was snow only half a day before meeting us at our put-in. That means it, and the air around, is cooler. Thankfully cooler because standing around in a wetsuit in the Colorado sun will bake you alive.

Second, the river is non-stop, as I mentioned before. I have been on many Class III+ rivers and they are a lot of good, wholesome fun. But they often have long stretches of, for lack of a better term, boredom. River guides are well versed in jokes and yarns to spin while plying the slow waters but Mike only had to fill about 10 minutes of ‘down time’ on the Roaring Fork. That’s 80 minutes of “watch where you’re going or you’ll get doused with a wave” action.

It’s 12 miles of wearing a stupid grin on my face as I eat wave after wave. Loving every minute, even through chattering teeth.

Lastly, the guides and staff are bona fide nutcases. The good kind of nutcases. The kind of nutcases you want as your guides because they do care about your safety, but they are also very interested in having a good time. And for them, that means loving what they do. They have to, because they will be heading down the same river later that day. And the next. And the next.

While we are a press trip, which often makes people treat us a bit more special, I can tell that Mike and Talbot, our other guide, really didn’t care. Not beyond their normal amount of care for those in their charge, who have entrusted them to deliver smiling customers to the take-out. They aren’t out to impress us and they are a lot of fun with entertaining knowledge of the river (most of it likely BS, but that’s a river guide’s job). They are rafting because they love it and don’t seem to care if we are the village idiot or kings and queens; they are going to show us a good time as a guest on their river and in their state of Colorado.

Blazing Adventures delivered what I want from a rafting trip:

  • Fun, knowledgeable and safety conscious guides
  • Convenient pick up from hotel
  • Wetsuits and jackets in good condition
  • Stories, jokes and river history
  • A rafting guide with a Hollywood name that seemed made up
  • A huge grin when I was done

Blazing Adventures is a company I will gladly raft with again when I return to the Roaring Fork Valley. Just like crack cocaine, handing out that free sample for a press trip was enough to get me hooked and I will gladly fork over whatever I need to get another taste of Colorado whitewater. Originally posted July 22, 2011.

The Simple Math Explaining Why That Airline Seat Is In Your Face

photoI am on a flight from Seattle to Denver on Alaska Airlines and typing on a laptop that is tipped on my lap with my elbows pulled back. Cramped. Because the guy in front of me has reclined his seat (and I don’t blame him if he got up at 4:45am like I did). Raise your hand if you know this scenario. I am thankfully without a passenger to my left otherwise I would not be able to type with both hands.

Travelers the world over likes to grouse about how airlines suck and that we are packed in like cattle. The ‘seat recline’ complaint is heard often on social media and I am betting you have read at least one complaint from a friend or acquaintance this year. Probably more, if your friends travel often as mine do. It was pointed out to me by Pam Mandel that leveling your angst at the blurry-eyed passenger in front of you, who only wishes to nod off, is wrongheaded.

Her point was you should be complaining to the airline. The airline (and not the plane manufacturer) decides how many seats go in their planes. They are the ones putting your seat within sneezing distance of the one in front of you. I therefor agree with Pam’s logic (there it is, on the Internet for all to see). So why don’t airlines give us more space and make it more attractive to fly with them rather than their competitor?

The quick answer is they are cheap bastards just like us. We don’t want to pay more than we have to for any service. Airlines don’t want to incur more cost and make less profit than they have to. Raise your hand if you enjoy having money and not being poor. See? We both, kind of, want the same thing.

Some airlines do offer seats with more room. But they cost more (more grousing and gnashing of teeth from those trying to fly on the cheap) and I have read and heard comments, more than a few times, from seemingly sane friends refusing to pay more for those seats with more space. “Rip off!” “All the seats should have that space!” come the cries. To those complainers, let me lay out the simple math as I see it. I hope this helps you understand why giving you more seating space will cost you more money.

An airline is a business and a commercial business exists to make money by offering goods or services to customers for a higher price than they pay for the raw materials it takes to deliver those goods or services. Simple enough. Let’s take a look at the plane I am on to see how much more six inches (6”) of seating space will cost me. Six inches would give me space to set this laptop on the tray table and not be scrunched up like a hermit in a hovel.

This plane has 19 rows in coach with six seats in each row to equal 114 passengers. Let’s assume it’s full (and be happy that it is not). I paid $200 two and a half months ago for this leg of the trip. I know not everyone paid the same, but let’s assume this is close to the minimum for a two hour flight of a little more than 1,000 miles. That means the airline brought in $22,800 from those of us in coach (we’ll ignore First Class passengers for now because I haven’t a clue what they spent). $22,800 buys the fuel, pays the wages, keeps the plane flightworthy and ensures everyone can have orange juice if they desire.

I measured my seat using the assumed length of the inflight magazine to be 11”. It looks close. From the back of my seat to the same point on the seat in front of me (I did this before take-off when the seat in front of me wasn’t reclined because I’m that forward-thinking of a writer. And because I had to have my iPhone turned off which meant I was hopelessly bored) is just less than three magazines. I rounded down to 32”. 19 rows times 32” equals 608” of passenger space.

Still with me? No need to raise your hand. If I want six more inches of seating space, I’m guessing everyone else will get it to. That’s the socialist pig mentality I employ regularly. 19 rows times 38” equals 722”. Someone’s not going to be seated inside this plane because I know they are not going to stretch it out to fit everyone. 114” more inches? That’s 10 more feet of plane and that would cost the airline more because it is a whole other class of airplane. Remember, Boeing wants to make money also.

Well then, some of us have to go. 114” divided by 38” of luxurious, newly acquired space means three rows less people or 18 less passengers. Now there are only 96 of us on the flight in coach to foot the $22,800 tab which means my ticket price would now be $237.50. An 18.75% increase.

And that’s the (somewhat overly simple) math of it.

The next time you are shopping for a flight and looking to save a buck, consider how important leg and face space is to you. Then use a tool like SeatGuru.com to compare the seat space between flights. Or consider the “Economy Plus” seating options if available, knowing that you shouldn’t pay much more than a 20% premium for an extra six inches of seating space.

Personally I won’t pay extra for that extra space unless I know I have work to do. I am flying 1000 miles for $200, or $.20/mile, in two hours time. Far, far better than driving or taking the train when I have appointments to keep and can’t ‘afford’ the time (although I LOVE a good road trip).

How about you? Would you regularly pay 20% more for six more inches of seating space?

Wishing For Fresh Air, Finding Kathmandu

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I am desperate for fresh air the moment I land in Kathmandu.

Airport. Airplane. Airport. Airplane. And finally, airport. All of them, except the last, enclosed habit-trails of recycled breath. Others. Mine. A few token plants thrown in to hand out five molecules of pure oxygen for the 250,000 humans transiting the Pacific travel corridor.

My end point, Kathmandu, an unlikely place to find clean air and my checked luggage. It isn’t clean so I’ll call it fresh air that greets me at the top stair leading to terra firma below beige skies which were ocean blue just 15,000 feet higher and 30 minutes ago. Those skies allowed a view to the chiseled Himalayas stacked to the horizon, like a drawer full of knives, standing on edge. Clear, crisp, unreal. Unreal and unseen from the tarmac as the heat of my airplane’s port engine sucks in the exhaust laden soup of the city, belching its own unique mix to those of us exiting the rear of the plane. Welcome to Nepal. Now please hold your breath.

I’m in Nepal to climb a little known peak. That’s not to make it sound exotic or me mysterious for trying. It’s a simple fact that most people know one, maybe two, mountain names in Nepal. And no, K2 is not one of them. Everest gets all the attention but not from a rank novice like me. I want something realistic, something practical, something doable. Kyajo Ri (pronounced Kigh-ah-zo Ree). Thirty feet shorter than Denali in Alaska but with no airlift to the basecamp.

“How long in Nepal?” the balding clerk behind the chest-high Immigration desk asks without looking up.

I know my mistake. I saw the signs plastered on pillars while waiting in line.

“31 days.”

The clerk lets out a disappointed hum, his brown eyes peering over the rims of bifocals, finally making contact with the unlucky American about to fork over $60 more than he needs to. An earnest, unhappy smile comes to his lips. “Sorry. $100, please.” If I had made my stay one day less, only 30 instead of 31, my visa would be $40. While his hands are tied, the clerk’s sorrow at my unfortunate choice of travel dates is some comfort as he covers an entire page of my passport with a colorful sticker allowing me to enter Nepal as many times as I like for the next 90 days. 60 extra days for 60 extra dollars. A bargain for most. Annoyingly expensive for me.

This is my second trip to Nepal and I know the routine. I know the heat inside the baggage claim arena, spotted with ineffectual ceiling fans, their movement a casual distraction as I wait for my checked bags. Sitting on my luggage cart, I scan the crowd. A Hindu family gathers around one pillar, excited and chatty. Businessmen in their dark suits and day-old stubble appear disinterested and their eyes dart away quickly when I return their gaze. Only to meet again two minutes later on another scan of the room. Trekkers, some giddy, some reserved, all dressed in synthetic clothes and heavy boots, reach for the first bags on the conveyor, blazoned with the same tour company name. Some confusion ensues as they check tags to find owners.

My 70lb pound behemoth pokes its nose out of the mysterious luggage room, followed shortly by its 60lb sidekick, both lurching past the eager crowd at a snail’s pace. I shove through the phalanx of travelers, reminding myself that, “excuse me” is not often used here and retrieve both bags with a clean and jerk worthy of a bronze in the next Olympics. If only Nepal fielded a Visiting Westerner’s Luggage Team.

I shuttle my heavily stacked cart around slower travelers still confused on how to exit the airport. I know my way. I’m an experienced veteran on his second trip. The heat has made my hands sweaty as I deliver my customs form to a stout agent standing in the middle of our human and luggage cart river. His pen quickly scribbles an indecipherable note that I am free to enter the Federal Democratic Republic Of Nepal and my pace quickens when I spot the one-way doors opening to Kathmandu.

Kathmandu. Not the object of my affection in Nepal. That lies beyond the smog, beyond the horns and heat and humidity. Beyond the traffic which puts LA freeways to shame and the garbage flowing over curbs and swirling on an unlikely breeze. I don’t despise the drudgery of city life in Kathmandu. But the moment I step through the airport doors and into a throng of relatives waiting for loved ones in the slow, rolling crowd behind me, I find myself desperate again for a breath of fresh air.

Do You Get That Feeling?

“Holy shit! I’m in Dubai!”

“Holy shit! I’m in the Himalayas!”

“Holy shit! I’m at Machu Picchu for the second time!”

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Do you ever have something like this run through your head, and maybe out your mouth, while traveling?

It happens to me on every trip. Even visiting exotic places for the second or third time. Or when lounging on a beach just one country from home.

I never cease to be blown away that I have somehow moved myself to a place far from home. A place different. A place others dream of visiting and post, “I wish I had your life!” on my Facebook wall.

I am not as well traveled as some of my friends who have visited 30, 50 or even 100 countries and I didn’t start traveling internationally until eight years ago. So it makes me wonder, what about you?

Do you still hold a sense of wonder, excitement or awe that you have somehow traveled to a distant land, even if it is the next country over? Or has that feeling worn off from too many airports, too many hotels or a desire to just stay home?

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In balance to the busy crowds of the tourist trail in India is this:

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This is why I travel and what I love about India. This is kids being kids, not wanting anything but a peak at the camera screen after their smiles have been captured. It was a spontaneous stop to get a picture of drying cow dung, of all things.

Just 15 minutes. Kids happy to see us and we them. On a road in the middle of empty India.

It lifts my spirits and brings balance to the crowds sure to be found in Agra tomorrow.

The Unintended Overnight Counter

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This is a post I never thought I’d be penning, errr, thumb typing on a cell phone. I have had fairly great luck with flying in the past couple of decades with, as far as I can recall, only two incidents when a flight was canceled and I had to spend an overnight where I was.

Stranded, if you will. If you count being stranded as being put up in a hotel and on a flight the next day (or in one case where we canceled our flight and instead took the train from Pennsylvania to Seattle over New Years).

But now, in the past three calendar months, I have experienced this form of stranding three times. Three! The (mock) horror. If I look closely at a calendar, and squint, it looks like two actual months. And with this, while I am sitting in a rocking chair at the B gates at Sea-Tac Airport waiting for a delayed Horizon flight, I thought I’d start a counter post, ala my friend Jodi’s Birdcrap Counter, but with less bird poo. I have at least 36 more flights to go this year and pray that I don’t have to add to the list.

1) Los Angeles – January, 2012

An icy hell in Seattle? I don't think a couple of extra days in LA is that bad.

The first delay of the year was the longest so far: two nights. I was visiting a wonderful woman who I had just started dating and, after a wonderful visit, was dropped off at the not-as-wonderful LAX airport. Sunny skies. A song in my heart. What could ruin this day?

ICE STORM ARMAGEDDON 2012 could.

It seems Seattle got some snow. This is not amazing, it happens and when they see it coming the airport does a good job of keeping operations running. At least until the snow turns to falling ice and dropping temperatures. We’re certainly not Chicago and don’t do as well with this extreme of weather with all our hills. So while the airport was managing, finding crews to fly was difficult as our freeways become instant parking lots if anything other than rain is falling.

I spent two extra nights in LA although without the company of my girlfriend. But in the nice, warm sun…before leaving on a day that saw the power fail where I had been staying, because of unexpectedly heavy rains for LA.

2) Puerto Vallarta – February, 2012

Ah Mexico. Sunshine. Beaches. More sunshine. Staying inside and writing so as to not get sunburned. Mexico.

I was in PV at the behest of Velas Vallarta to take a look at things like beaches and sunshine and, by proxy, their resorts. All went well until it was time to leave, as you may have guessed.

While standing around the waiting area I was happy to see our plane pull up to the gate. You see, no one leaves their planes in PV so you only get to leave if the inbound flight makes it down there. Good times so far. Then I look out the window to see this:

That’s never a good sign as they don’t make a habit of changing the engine oil at every stop. Waiting ensues.

They apologize. They feed us dinner. They apologize. They move us to a new gate, without our airplane. I watch a movie. They apologize and hand out a card to receive 2000 bonus miles for our troubles. Then they apologize as we get sent to the ticketing counter to collect our hotel, taxi and breakfast vouchers.

Traveling with only carry-on luggage, I was able to make it to near the front of the line and to the PV Marriott in fairly short order, grab some mediocre sushi and then send emails pretty much complaining about how crappy the wifi was in such a nice hotel. I guess you go there for the beach and sun, not so much to work.

The next day I made my way to the airport to see my plane pull up to the gate amongst a cheer from the crowd. Once on board I was told there had been a problem with the pressurization system in one engine and it was now fixed. I might have heard some grumbling but I am always happy when an airline decides to make me late rather than dead.

3) Seattle – March, 2012

What to do when unexpectedly laidover? Work on a presentation on the hotel room wall.

Yes, I got overnighted in my hometown. Why? Why not just go home? Because I was rebooked on a 7am flight an that would mean not only 2+ hours commuting home, but getting up around 3:30am to commute back. As I had flown up from LA, it appeared that I didn’t live here and I took advantage of the offer to stay at a hotel minutes for the airport. It wasn’t as plush as the Marriott. It also wasn’t at the beach. As it was, I had to shuffle my schedule and needed the extra time alone to get work done.

I was put up in the Comfort Inn and, while not fancy, it had a nice, big room and a comfortable chair with work desk to do what I had to do.

———-

That’s it for now. Half my trips his year have had a delay and I hope the trend doesn’t continue. All these flights were with Alaska Air but I don’t blame them. Things happen, I understand this. It sucks when you need to get some place at a particular time, but in my case I realize I have been extremely lucky with being able to roll with the punches.

A Block Of Puerto Vallarta As Seen In License Plates

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Wandering Puerto Vallarta, I was struck with how international areas of the town were. Up from the water, the homes become modest and comfortable. A place I would like to live. Near the beach, the highrises and hotels crowd the sun and beckon travelers to the water’s edge. The stretch along the beach can have a large variety of visitors from around Mexico and further away.

To show this diversity, I turned to license plates. For some reason, they tend to fascinate me and are something I look to in each country I visit. I wasn’t looking for exotic plates from the tip of Chile or Northwest Territories. I wasn’t looking for anything, really. I simply found the variety of plates, as compared the hills around the beach, to be interesting. Here are the license plates from just one side of one block of Puerto Vallarta I found on my recent trip.

Disclaimer: My trip to Puerto Vallarta was arranged by Velas Vallarta resort. As always, I retain control over what I post on my blog and no one has editorial input. And really, do you think Velas Vallarta flew me all the way down to Mexico just to take pictures of license plates and forced me to write about them here? They were cool, but not insane.

Photo Of The Day – Spinning Trails

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Title: Spinning Trails

Location: Point Reyes National Seashore, California, USA, North America

Description: The condensation trails of a 747 bound for Asia intertwine as the jumbo jet climbs away from the Bay area.

Shot with a Canon 7D and Sigma 50-500mm lens with settings of ISO 800, 500mm, f/6.3, 1/500th of a second

Photograph Creative Commons Copyright Non Commercial Peter West Carey

Are you interested in joining a photo tour in Nepal, Bhutan or India in 2012? Email me for more information or click here.

Playing Around With Time Lapse In San Francisco

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My last visit to San Francisco afforded me a few moments to shoot some time-lapse videos. These shots are comprised of between 70 and 240 images each and were aided with the help of a tripod and patience. Behind the scenes:  The 747 landing was one of about 30 landings and take offs I shot, crowding two 32GB cards with small images (but big enough for HD video). The images were shot with a Canon 7D and either a Canon 28-300mm L lens or a Canon 10-22mm EF lens.  Filtering through all of those images was worth finding the jet landing concept that I want to try again some time soon.

I am shooting time-lapse on almost every trip I take at this point. It’s an enjoyable, different way to represent a location. I will be stringing these images and video through my presentations with the People, Places & Patterns Project and more will be presented on this blog as well.  Enjoy!

And as a bonus, a video I shot last week at from the roof of Velas Vallarta with a GoPro Hero 2 thanks to BorrowLenses.com.

Because iPhones Are Becoming Cool Cameras

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Yeah, I know I’m a bit behind the times, but for good reason. Cell phone cameras have, traditionally, sucked. Not so with the camera on the iPhone 4s. One was put into my hands recently and I have been hooked since because it fits a niche.

It not only is ‘with me all the time’ but it also takes good photos. Not just decent, good. Not great, good. (Well, actually, great photos in the right conditions, but not on average.) I have been impressed with the images that come out of the camera. And with programs like Smugmug’s Camera Awesome, it makes sharing and playing easy as never before.

I have been thinking about how to integrate this tool into my quiver of image creation devices. For me, the images are not as crisp as those that come out of my Canon 7D, but they also tell a story more quickly and easily. What I’ve come up with, is a sidebar widget to show random images, as well as including them in posts. These images will all be hosted over at Smugmug with my PWC One The Road account and they will be quick snaps, often stamped with the location, while I travel. Not perfect, just real life on the road as it happens.

Check out the the sidebar and click through to see more photos. It will grow as my iPhone and I make our way through the world.

Photo Of The Day – Lima Cityscape Panorama Exploration

Stitched Panorama

The detail in this Lima image is amazing. I love quality optics. Be sure to zoom in on the coast and explore the colorful, compact city. The overall image is 26535 x 4486 = 119 megapixels

To use this image, simply click and drag to move around. Use your scroll wheel to zoom in and out, or use [Shift] to zoom in and [CTRL] to zoom out.  And if you want to turn things up a notch, right click and choose “Fullscreen”. Have fun!

Description: Lima Cityscape Panorama Exploration

Location: Lima, Peru, South America

Description: This image was created from 33 individual images, shot vertically to get the most foreground in as possible. I then combined the images in the computer and stitched them together using Kolor’s AutoPano Giga software which handled all the magic. I will be writing about the process I use to create these images soon at Digital Photography School. If I were evil, I’d ask you to find the man walking his dog…but I’m not THAT evil, maybe.

Shot with Canon 7D and Canon 28-300mm L lens with settings of ISO 100, 28mm, f/8 and 1/640th of a second.

Photographs Creative Commons Copyright Peter West Carey

Note: You likely won’t see the image above if you are reading this via email or some RSS viewers. Click here to be taken to a full view.

If you want to see more Panoramas like this one, click here.

Photo Of The Day – Colorado River Panorama Exploration

Stitched Panorama

To use this image, simple click and drag to move around. Use your scroll wheel to zoom in and out, or use [Shift] to zoom in and [CTRL] to zoom out.  And if you want to turn things up a notch, right click and choose “Fullscreen”. Have fun!

Description: Colorado River Panorama Exploration

Location: Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA

Description: Just off the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park are numerous view points of the Colorado River, including this isolated spot. Visiting in March, there are few other tourists and the place seems as it has been for thousands of years.

Photographs Creative Commons Copyright Peter West Carey

If you want to see more Panoramas like this one, click here.

Around Town: Los Angeles – The Griffith Observatory

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When I recently visited Los Angeles I was happy that I could actually see Orion in the night sky for two reasons: #1 It was winter and I live near Seattle, so seeing stars in winter doesn’t happen that often and #2 LA is a massive sprawl of lights, lights and more lights.

Then I found the Griffith Observatory, perched to the North of town on what surely would be a hillside covered with houses if it were not a LA municipal park. This lack of houses makes it a great site for star gazing. While the city still does its best to block the star light, the observatory itself is worth the visit. But just in case you needed convincing of the wonderful panoramas from the decks of the observatory, this image should suffice:

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On a clear night, this is what awaits you. And a walk up the hill to the observatory. And a lot of people because this is a popular site, even in on a Thursday night in January. When I arrived (15 minutes from closing, so I was able to gain an upfront parking spot instead of the parking in the overflow lots lower on the hill) the grounds were buzzing with couple and even a few kids. A few volunteers had set up smaller (but by no means small) telescopes in front of the observatory and were checking out Venus or the moon while allowing visitors to have a look.

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The place had a nice, festive atmosphere. And the park closes at 10pm, which is when people will herd you to the exits and down the hill. And the observatory is FREE! Well, except a small fee for some of the programs held in a number of halls on the grounds. Free parking and free entry within the LA city limits? It’s all true. And if you have children who are even remotely interested in what’s above us in the night sky, there are a ton of exhibits explaining how telescopes work and other mysteries of the Universe.

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Need some solid info for planning your evening at the observatory? 

  • PeterWestCarey-GriffithObservatory-20120105-215611-6722Plan to arrive early, even before sunset, to give yourself enough time to explore the grounds and exhibits. It’s a great spot for a picnic dinner.
  • Tickets for events and shows are first come, first served.
  • Parking will likely be down the hill for you, but you can drive to the top and drop off anyone who doesn’t want the uphill walk.
  • The park closes at 10pm.
  • The observatory is closed on Mondays and most Tuesdays.
  • The official site can be found here.
  • You can visit during the day time as the observatory has a solar telescope as well.
  • Public star parties are held during new moons each month. More info on the schedule can be found here.
  • Need help in finding your way to the observatory? It’s actually quite easy. Here’s info to  get you started.
  • The observatory really does beg multiple visits at various times as there are outdoor exhibits that explain the path of the sun and moon and planets.

I plan on visiting the observatory again on another visit to LA because there is more to take in. Plus, they close the 12” telescope about 30 minutes before closing and I didn’t get a chance to look at the stars up close.

A Turkish Bath Virgin No More – Getting My Scrub On In Morocco

Half way through my Turkish bath I was left wondering why anyone ever told me this was a ‘must do’ while visiting Africa. A bear of a Moroccan lorded over me, scrapping away my entire dermis with hands made of steel wool and broken glass, leaving me raw and wishing for an end. The blank tile room was a mix of obnoxious calm and clanking plastic buckets. How were the others so relaxed? The steam clogged my esophagus. And when would he deem me cleansed enough to be released into the streets of Essaouira, a refreshed and happy man, as those who suggested I take the bath had claimed to feel?

How I got here was innocent enough. I was ignorant and trusting, two things that can doom a traveler to the most abrupt of foreign experiences, as well as bring them unexpected joy and beauty. Beauty was not in the cards during my visit to this Turkish bath, or hammam, frequented mostly by local Moroccans. Perhaps you have seen a picture of a hammam?

That is not where I ended up. That is the hammam in the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. That’s a royal hammam. I, instead, visited an every-day hammam. Think of it as a YMCA type of gym as compared to the one professional football players enjoy for their workout. From my riad I was guided by a man who spoke no English (and my Arabic vocabulary is no better) to a side alley covered in dirt and broken cobblestones likely laid down about the time the Pilgrims were arriving in The New World. He dropped me off at the counter behind a battered wooden door and walked away.

I glanced around me and noted people getting undressed. Thankfully the clerk at our riad had mentioned I would keep my underwear on so I was slightly prepared. This was the only hint I had as to what would happen during my stay. I handed over 30 durhams to a blank stare behind the counter and was given a bucket in exchange. I then proceeded to undress in the small changing area which doubled as the foyer. Glancing side to side, there was a mix of ages and body types. Few people talked and most ignored me, which started warming me to the experience. When I was ready, the blank stare came out from behind his shelter and led me through three rooms, each one hotter and steamier than the one before.

White tiles covered each room’s surface, maybe 20′ on a side with low ceilings. Clanks of buckets, the splash of water and a total absence of human voice echoed through the space. I was lead past the bear who would give me my scrub-down as he was finishing with two men, both laying splayed out, arms at their sides, chests to tile floor and their heads turned to their left. He lifted his scruffy beard and swollen eyes long enough to acknowledge I was another body to be abused and went back to work, with no show of emotion. It was as if I was another wood cabinet, brought to a carpenter to have its thin varnish covering removed. Another day in the steamy, sweaty office.

Laying face down eight feet from the bear in my off-white organic cotton boxer briefs against the sweltering tiles, heated from beneath it seemed, I took advantage of my position and turned my head to see what was in store. What I saw were two bags of meat being roughed up my a man twice their size. Neither man complained and I saw no pain on their face when they turned toward me. The bear took them one by one around a corner to a spot I could not see. A splash ensued and then another. Eventually a man who used to be a bag of meat on the ground emerged, wiping his face, holding his bucket and shuffling to a corner of another room, out of my site. This amount of information was not enlightening.

After the second man from the ground emerged from around the corner, the bear set his good eye on me and tapped my shoulder, walking back to his main ‘office’ in the middle of the fluorescently lit room. He nodded his head and I laid down again on my belly, as I had been. With one paw, he rolled me over and put on a mitt. Starting with my arm, he placed a mitt on his other hand and began his day’s work. His day’s work evidently consisted of helping me get to a point where I felt like yelling, “Damn it! A bit lighter, please!? I want some skin left.” But I bit my tongue, not wanting to look the wimpy foreigner.

Scrub. Pull an appendage. Scrub. Twist an appendage.

No way out but to lay limp on the slick tile. The feeling of broken glass was taken over my entire body except for, well, there. God. I’m thankful those scrubbing paws left that one area alone. But they did exfoliate my buttocks and every inch of exposed flesh. With the mitts off, the bear attacked my scalp and it felt as if a demented weasel and a rabid bobcat were at war in my hair. Mixed in, somehow, was a fair amount of soap from a mysterious yellowed plastic bottle with the label long gone. Not that it mattered. I wouldn’t be requesting ‘volumizing’ shampoo at this establishment. It wasn’t one of the five words of Arabic I knew.

Two slaps on the back as my tormenter rose was the signal for my turn around the unknown corner. In this room were two troughs of clear water, about three feet high and eight feet long, coming out from the wall for another three feet. Would I be dunked in? Was it a ‘bath’ as I knew it? In went my bucket clasped by the bear’s talons. On went a smile to the bear’s face. His one and only emotion shown the entire time I knew him. He nodded his head down as a suggestion and I bent my head slightly before feeling the iced pins of cold water poured over my entire body. In a comical moment, I gasped out loud as if acting a line from a slapstick movie script. I’m sure my eyes bulged and the bucket went back in for another fill. Stifling the urge to bolt out of the room, I accepted another drenching and the bear’s smile began to fade. I’m glad I gave him one moment of joy in what is obviously a hard and thankless job.

Our time together done, the bear handed me my bucket and lifted his head to the first of the doors that would lead me away from the sweat and steam and ice and broken glass of my first experience at a Turkish bath.

How To Dry Yourself With Only A Hand Towel

PeterWestCarey-Peru2011-1204-2921Steve and I were kind enough to allow the three ladies traveling with us take a shower in our room before their late night departures. They had checked out of their rooms that day and we spent time wandering Lima, Peru. Before dinner, one at a time, they all took a shower in our room and we thought nothing of it. Steve and I were in a room for three people and this meant there were enough towels. Until the next morning when I went to take a shower….

Here then are my tactics for drying yourself when faced with only having a hand towel at your disposal. This list is in chronological order. Reversing this order would be very bad.

Face

Start with face. Why? It makes you feel the best when it’s dry. Plus it’s a good place to start so you can see without water in your eyes. Resist moving to the hair is the case for most of us when ample towelage is available (I’ll explain why later).

Arms

Next are arms. They present no real danger to other body parts if moved to the front of the line.

Back

Flip the hand towel over to your back. It’s one of the largest areas of your body and you should attack while the towel is not too soaked.

Chest

Move around to the chest. For hairy guys, this area can hold a log of water. Women may wish to hit the chest before the back depending on how much water ‘hides’. Yes, I plan to show this post to my daughter when she is old enough to be mortified by her Dad typing such things.

Arm pits

This is a personal preference. I prefer to go for the armpits before the legs because I have long, hairy legs, that hold a lot of water. I want my pits dryer than my legs as I often wear shorts and the legs can dry by themselves well enough. Deodorant is also harder to apply when pits are wet. My life is ruled by logic.

Legs

Moving on down, skip the crotch. Move directly to legs and feet. I prefer to only get the tops of feet, but that’s just me.

Hair

Second to last, go for hair. This is where the moisture resides and what will soak the small towel the most. We all know tricks for dealing with wet hair and that may be your only option.

Crotch

Lastly, the crotch. We’ll leave it at that.

Bonus Tip

You can flip the towel over and get a bit more use out of it. I usually employ this technique on the legs. It’s not a huge help, but it does help. Try it on the hair too.

If you’re looking for a device to help you remember the order, an acronym created from this list would be Fab Calhc. I’m not sure what that means, but it’ll stick if you say it enough.

What’s your pattern for using a smaller than desirable towel to dry after a shower?

Dealing With Loud Kids On Airplanes – Some Tips You Might Not Like

Throughout the 4+ hour flight from LAX to Miami the two year old in seat 34E barely stopped letting the plane know her disgust. She didn’t have her own seat and was sitting on one parent’s lap or another. It’s not for lack of the parents trying that she was a vocal hotspot, and there were times when she was awake, smiling and happy. Yet, I remember most my struggles to sleep in my seat being broken by her sometimes siren like screeches of complaint.

For all her vocalizing, she didn’t bother me. And I sat there wondering why. Why wouldn’t a yelling child boil my blood and make me twitch with disgust?

Perhaps part of my immunity on this flight had to do with being a parent of a ten year old and experiencing my own child going through phases like this. Two years old is a hard age to travel with because kids want to move around a lot, which usually doesn’t jive with air travel. Many times I looked over to see the Dad hoisting the child into the air or the Mom letting her stand on her lap. The parents were honestly trying to entertain the sometimes unentertainable.

Or perhaps it was because I made a conscience effort to not be annoyed. Sure, loud noises can strike a nerve, but as with most anything in life, our reaction to stimulus is entirely within our control. I’m not saying I somehow became a practiced Zen monk on that flight. Far from it. I gained only 2.5 hours of sleep the night before and had a grinder of a headache churning through the right side of my skull. But I did find I wasn’t clenching my teeth every time the girl let out a yowl.

With that in mind, here are a few tips that might help you when you find yourself across the isle from miniature-human loudness.

1. Realize It’s All In Your Head

The only difference between me being upset at a loud child and not, were the voices in my head. These are the ones that usually tell me “What the hell??! Why won’t she be quiet?!” They are the ones that honestly care about the noise level of others. When I ignore or quiet these voices, that disgust goes away.

In this case, practice makes perfect. You’ve been conditioned to hate loud noises. There are enough complaints about crying babies on airplanes plastering the Internet to make you believe you have only one way to react; to be outraged. But you don’t have to. You can react any way you like. Practice realizing that it’s only temporary and it will stop, eventually.

This is the single most important thing you can do; change your own reaction to the stimulus. You can’t make the kid be quiet any more than the parents are trying to (if they are and most sane parents don’t want their kids to be in any type of pain, comforting as needed). You likely can’t move too far away. You can’t leave. So change what you can and look at your reaction. Is the way you are reacting necessary and the only way you can react?  You might have other crap going on, like a headache, and the yelling is one more thing. But realize it is just that; one more thing. It’s not the only thing.

2. Put It In Perspective

Is the kid six inches from your ear? No? Then, while they may be loud, chances are they are not actually causing you pain, but discomfort. There’s a big difference between the two when you stop to think about it. Pain has to be stopped, typically. Discomfort can be endured until it ends, with the right mindset. As above, know that it will not last forever and find other things to focus on, like the annoying ‘simple’ sudoku puzzles in the in-flight magazine.

3. Noise Canceling Headphones Can Help

“$300!” I exclaimed when I first checked out Bose noise canceling headphones a decade ago. It seemed like highway robbery for something that was suspect. You test the headphones in their controlled environment at the store and it sure seems like they work. But what about on a plane?

Again, unless that kid is six inches from your head (ok, let’s extend it to two feet), the headphones do help. They don’t make everything silent but they will help with one aspect you might not have noticed: engine noise. That’s their specialty and you likely also don’t notice how much it adds to your overall discomfort. The time we do notice it most is when the plane throttles back after ascent and things seem quite for a second. The headphone cut down on noise fatigue which is very real.

When that fatigue is reduced, dealing with a screaming child is a lot easier. It becomes one sound and not all sounds bombarding you.

Most of all, realize all these tips center on you and what you can do. That’s the part many of us don’t like, the fact that we have to change how we react instead of wishing the kid will just be quiet.

 

Do you have any more suggestions for adjusting to a screaming child on a plane? Share them below on the comments section, please, because we can all benefit!

Monk Debates

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One skill Buddhist monks in Bhutan (and other countries) learn is the art of debate. One monk will sit on a cushion and for an hour and a half or more, other monks will stand above and start a debate. When a point is being made, the standing monk often winds up and delivers the information by stepping toward the monk while clapping their hands. While the monks are not allowed let their emotions interfere (or grow personally angry) it is often hard to tell while watching the action as an outsider.

In the end, debaters are seen smiling as they are either found wrong or make fun of their opponent.

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Wandering The Himalayas With A Camera

“Where are you heading?”

This is probably the most asked question when travelers meet each other along the trekking trails of the Himalayas.

“Everest Basecamp”

“Ranjo La Pass”

“Island Peak”

“Climbing Ama Dablam”

The likely answers swirl through the teahouse dining room air in a mix of heavily accented English. Everyone is going some place.

But not me. And not my client.

It’s one of the aspects of a photo tour that I often forget about until we are in the midst of the world’s highest peaks. People don’t understand at first when I answer, “We’re just walking around, taking pictures.” Or, “We’re here to see the mountains and have no destination.”

Most people don’t come to the Himalayas, especially the Solukhumbu Region (known outside of Nepal as the Everest Region), to just wander. They often have planned out some type of conquest, be it high, high peak or just a peak higher than they can climb back home. Some come to see what’s all the wonder about at the basecamp to climbing the world’s highest peak. Others are on a spiritual exploration and have charted out various religious stops on a well planned tour.

And this is why it confuses people and delights me to not have a set “We are going to this place” answer. We do have an expected turn around point in Lobouche. But if we don’t make it there…..ehhh. If we find a great side trip that blows our minds, photographically speaking, we’ll stay there for how many ever days suits us. If the big peaks don’t show themselves (as is becoming normal on this trip, but we are only four days into thirteen) then we focus on other aspects of the region. Such as people, agriculture, artwork, religion, geology, patterns or just endless shots of the big, harry yaks.

The fact is, there is more here to photograph than any one life time could accomplish. And the tallest peaks, or deepest valleys, or the holiest of holy sites, are often not the best place to take a photo from.

We are here in Nepal to simply explore at our pace and photograph the wonder of life around us.

Maybe when I am asked, “Where are you heading?” I should now start to answer, “Here.”

—————–

If you are interested in taking a photo tour “Here” in Nepal, or Bhutan or India, you can find more information here.

Similarities and Differences: Nepal and USA

Travel shows how different and how similar the world outside of our hometown can be. Whether it is travel to another state or another country, travel typically brings about a better understanding of how fellow humans live and relate. My limited experience in both the USA and Nepal lead me to some personal observations I want to share to help others understand both places. This is not a list of good and bad, right and wrong. It is simply the way things are as I see them and you can draw your own conclusions. I’d also invite you to visit both countries to make your own observations.

  • Kids in both countries watch cartoons and like TV.
  • In Nepal, visual pollution from motor vehicles is normal. In the USA vehicle pollution is regulated and often checked annually (along with vehicle safety in many states).
  • Most people wear helmets while riding motorcycles, except some crazies (like those in Utah where it is not required by law). In Nepal, only the driver will have a helmet if anyone does.
  • Large cities in both countries are crowded and often a location of desire to make a living.
  • Religion plays a large roll in the lives in both countries, with most people seemingly ignoring most of the basic tenants (treating people with kindness, turning the other cheek, loving your neighbor, etc…) in every day life.
  • In Nepal, both Hindu and Buddhist holidays are celebrated and often given time off work or school. In the USA primarily only Christian holidays are an occasion to take time off work or school.
  • Politicians in both countries are not trusted to do a competent job and are often viewed as corrupt individuals.
  • People in both countries want to be happy and live a good life.
  • People in both countries believe in good luck and often do seemingly funny things to accomplish it.
  • In the USA typically only straight women can be seen walking hand in hand or arm in arm in public. In Nepal both men and women walk hand in hand with the same sex without any reference to orientation.
  • Coca-Cola is prevalent in both countries and Pepsi is often called Coke.
  • Security at airports is far more strict in the USA.
  • Kathmandu has more garbage in the streets and littering is considered more normal than any major city I have visited in the USA (Seattle, New York, LA, Portland, Washington DC, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Dallas and even Tacoma).
  • Cheap beer tastes like cheap beer in either country.
  • Kids in Nepal are often taught more than one language from elementary school on. A second language is often not taught until high school in the USA.
  • I observed construction workers eight stories off the ground in Nepal working in shorts, t-shirt and flipflops while manually hauling supplies up from the ground, including 15’ long pieces of rebar. In the USA, construction workers are required to wear a helmet, long pants, steel-tipped boots, safety vests, eye protection and supplies are hoisted on mechanical cranes.
  • Houseguest in both countries are treated with respect often not afforded to other family members.
  • Fanta in Nepal is made with sugar. Fanta in the USA is made with corn syrup. *Editorial note: I believe the orange Fanta in Nepal tastes WAY better. Confirmed with tests in Tanzania, Morocco, Peru, Costa Rica and Mexico, places where sugar is used.*
  • Kids in both countries often know how to use electronics better than their parents.
  • Even simple cell phones bought in Nepal will work in the rest of Asia and other parts of the world. Only specific phones bought in the USA are “world-ready”.
  • Buying a SIM card for a cell phone in Nepal requires two copies of a passport photo and government issued ID. Buying a SIM card in the USA requires government issued ID.
  • Most intersections in Kathmandu are controlled by traffic police with very few stop lights.  Most every city in the USA has a stoplight.
  • Kids in both countries like to laugh and play.

These are just a few of the items I have found. I’m sure I’ll have many more to add as the years go by. What have you found while traveling in these two countries?

This Travel Blog Post Will Bore You

It’s 11:18PM in New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport and I’ve been here, dozing on and off in a lounge like chair, for most of five hours. I left what was my home about 48 hours ago. It’s no longer my home as I have moved out (the previous owners were foreclosed on and I was kindly given 60 days notice to vacate. I decided to leave in 30 and start travels) and currently have no permanent residence. ‘Permanent residence’ is a funny phrase and only one of those two words is ever marginally accurate.

What’s so boring about this post about traveling for two days straight to get to the far side of the world? It’s what most travel blog posts are not about. I didn’t get robbed, become shipwrecked on an island, meet the Pope or Michael Jordan or even some Hollywood star. I’m sitting in this lounge chair waiting patiently until four hours before my flight so I can check in and hand over one of my bags. I have four more hours until that time and I am listening to the Chinese girls next to me chatter on and on, endlessly it seems, while a man in white Pumas blasts his iPhone powered headphones too loud on my right.

It’s boring. But that’s not bad. I’m without internet access (gasp!) and my battery is nearly dead after lining up three weeks of guest photographer posts. That might be the most exciting thing I can subscribe to so far; that my laptop battery is nearly dead. It’s an artificially dire situation, but it beats me telling you how many laps the floor cleaning Zamboni has made in front of these lounge chairs.

My flights were mostly on time. We avoided some rough air out of Chicago. The meals were decent. I had a good selection of movies to watch. Immigration in India was simple and the line was short. My luggage showed up as planned. The bathrooms were clean. I had ample connection time in Chicago and didn’t have to run. I even had enough time to enjoy a sandwich. People let me into the aisle when it was my turn to exit the plane. The luggage carts are free in New Delhi.

Who wants to read about that stuff? It’s boring as hell. I’m well fed, have had enough to drink, TSA security in the USA didn’t suck. Blah.

Travel writing is almost always about the exciting times, and for good reason. Often they are the most thrilling and give a sense of adventure. But face it, not all travel is like that.

Some trips (so far) are a good kind of boring we often lust for but never report on. It’s often a compliment to the carriers involved when we report to friends and family, “It was a nice, uneventful flight.”

Uneventful doesn’t make headlines and grab readers though.

I will do my best to have some grand adventures and spice up future posts about this trip to Nepal, Bhutan and India (I’m here in the airport for transit this first time, coming back in five weeks for a one week inspection tour to decide if I want to offer photography tours in the country or not).

Until then you are left with this pleasant, boring, uneventful blog post without a captivating picture.

“Everything is going well.”

Fisheye Meets Delhi International Airport

In between naps and writing about how normal my flights have been, I got to playing with the Sigma 4.5mm Fisheye lens lent to me from BorrowLenses.com. Now I have all kinds of ideas rolling around in my head. It’s going to get a lot of use on this trip, I can tell. But I’m not so sure about the blue fringe around the edge. Maybe I’m doing something wrong, but I have no Internet at the moment to check.

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The View Is Worth It

You are standing on a deck.

The wood is new, a local fir with a light stain. Maybe four years old at most. It feels cool under your bare feet as summer has not arrived.

The deck rail comes up to your waist and makes for easy slouching to enjoy the view. It’s made of the same wood, flecked with fir needles. Just below the railing, fifteen feet ahead and six feet down, is where the view starts.

It’s a cascading creek pooling after a plunge under the eight foot long wooden bridge you crossed to get to the deck. After the pool, moving to your left, it drops another thirty feet over green-slick rocks, through ferns and nettles and finally empties into Doe Bay. The sound of moving water is all that fills your ears. The world’s best white noise.

Doe Bay is narrow from where you stand. Maybe one hundred and fifty feet across. You see where it opens into a larger body of water beyond a tree-covered point, but here, the shore, things are more confined and placid. Only the cascading water causes ripples today as the creek tries to push back the tide over a rock-strewn beach. It will be a sandy beach if you can wait a few hundred years.

A smell of chlorine reaches over your shoulder and you turn away from the beach, bay and creek to face three pools. Each pool is five feet on a side and set into a bench just below your chest. Stairs to the right of these pool lead you to another deck, commanding a greater view back to the bay with the three pools in front of you, at your feet, flush with the deck.

The pools are a bit like the Three Little Bears, as you dip a foot in the first, to your left, and find it’s a too cold. Moving to the far right, the only pool with jets bubbling the water into a swirl within the square. You can’t see the bottom and a toe tells you it’s too hot. The center pool, your last refuge, delivers as the nursery rhyme promises: Just Right.

The view from here is above the railing below, straight out into the bay. Calm.

You drop your towel next to the middle pool and take hold of the metal railing that leads below the surface of Just Right water.

You are alone. You, three pools and the bay.

Oh, and you’re naked.

—————–

Doe Bay Resort, tucked away in a small dent on Orcas Island in the San Juan archipelago of Washington State, is not known a world famous nudest beach, because it’s not. When I first heard of the area it was as lore, hearsay. A mystic land, inside Washington state, where existed miles of nude bodies. Lore made me think that was reality.

It turns out hearsay is just that, untrue. What is true is Doe Bay Resort, an assortment of houses, cabins and a hostel for rent, all with beach front access to the sea, does have a clothing-optional policy for the soaking tubs and attached sauna. And that’s where lore and reality meet. They are hidden from the rest of the resort, down a path, a gate, some steps and across the creek.

Somehow lore blew things out of proportion as lore can. Reality is often much more mundane.

But that’s no reason not to enjoy the tub you were about to slip into.

The Ebb And Flow That Facebook Stops

As I clean up my Facebook ‘friends’ list, I’m setting some mental limits for how I use the tool. The fact that I included ‘friends’ in apostrophes should be some indication of why I am doing this.

I’m doing it because, often in life, people are meant to come and go from your world, your sphere, your active memory. As a traveler, the tendency is to try to grasp on to the fun that was had for a few nights on beaches of Hawaii while making new friends. They were cool people, weren’t they? You got along so well for that short amount of time and you felt like you really connected as humans.

Back home (or even on the road with a smart phone or laptop) you instantly looked up these new friends on Facebook, Twitter and the like. A click here and a click there and now you guys are best of mates for life!

The problem I have with this approach occurred when I started realizing not everyone I came in contact with needed to be kept, stored, referenced. You can’t bottle time and you can’t make the good times always roll. Before the age of Facebook, these types of chance encounters had their own life and like everything in life, they ended. For the most part, that is the healthy way to handle those relationships. As a flash in a pan that is marveled at and enjoyed while in existence. But then moved on from when the time comes.

I am holding on to too many of these encounters and it’s clogging my life and Facebook.  There are people I have met while traveling who take some effort to keep in touch with. There is a couple I met in Australia who I really enjoyed sharing wine and karaoke with and who just this week sent an invite to come visit. ‘In the old days’ this is how it always was. You had to call or write a letter and eventually you could write an email (which, at the time, seemed a bit like Facebook does now). These all took remembering to make contact. You remembering why you liked that person enough to put in the most minimal of efforts to type an email. You thinking about that person and caring.

Facebook, while a cool tool, changes that dynamic. Now you like someone one day and add them to Facebook the next. From that point on, zero effort is needed to keep up with what is happening in the other person’s world, if they update often enough. But it’s not really connecting like a phone call or email can when distance divides you. It’s too easy and not deep enough for my liking. Case in point; I hiked for five days with about a dozen other people on the Inca Trail in 2008. Of course I friended them on Facebook upon returning to the States, where most of us reside. But recently I removed most of them from Facebook because, well, because we really didn’t have much in common and weren’t connecting.

Three, my tent-mate Jeff as well as Alice and Heather, I kept because over time Facebook has worked its magic and I’ve gotten to known them better by interacting. But the others that were on Facebook (not all on the trip were)? We were meant to meet on the trail and then go live our lives. Ironically, the only person on that trip I have seen since was Tiffany, who I visited in Australia nearly a year later and is the only one not on Facebook.

I know I can’t collect everything in the world and bring it back with me. Life is impermanent, you can’t actually posses things and all that jazz. It took me a while to see the value in applying that approach to the relationships I make while traveling. Some are meant to be cherished and fed. Others? Sometimes you’re meant to have a few too many Guinness in an Irish bar together or enjoy a kayak trip through pristine Pacific waters and then go your own ways.

Sometimes I won’t friend you on Facebook the day after I meet you.

Photos From Hawaii’s Fish Market

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The forecast for the day says “Highs In The 80s” as I grab my Polartech fleece jacket and wander down the hall of the Ohana Wikiki Beachcomber at 4:30am. My eyes are not fully open, even with the aid of a shower. How did I let the Nerd of Nerd’s Eye View talk me into this?

It’s the last day of my press trip to Hawaii and for once, nothing was on the docket. With a 1pm flight I had dreams of actually relaxing on the beach for once. I had seen beaches on this trip, but never had a solid two hours to just sit and people watch while grabbing as much Vitamin D as I could before heading back under the cloud cover of Seattle. But then Pam, The Nerd, mentioned the “…second largest open fish auction in the world and there are tons of fish and…” When Pam starts getting excited about something it is often infectious.

Because of her, I gave up my last morning, my last chance to sleep in, on the Islands to instead stand in a freezer for a couple of hours. I’ll admit, I was a bit excited. I was also concerned about which lens to use. I wouldn’t have a chance to switch while inside the cold or risk massive amounts of condensation inside the camera and lens. I also wasn’t sure if I’d hear the 4:30am wake up call. Packing two cameras the night before, I managed maybe three hours of sleep before my wake-up call.

What follows is a slideshow of our time at the auction thanks to Brooks Takenaka and the Honolulu Fish Auction. The photos are accompanied well with Pam’s great explanation of the auction workings. If you live on the West Coast of the USA, the tuna you eat most likely came through this auction. Notice the yellow fins of the yellowfin as well as the fogged up picture when we walked outside to the docks.

Riveria Maya’s Xplor Waterpark And Ziplines

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Xplor is a waterpark with a zipline problem.

It had a chance to be super campy. Xplor. Even the name seemed a bit over the top.

Yet Xplor turns out to be a lot of fun. The park is a newer addition to the Riviera Maya coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. While a lot of the area is growing up to cater to foreign tourists, including their own local airport much closer than Cancun, Xplor is a great spot for guests and locals alike to forget the worries of daily life and just play.

One of the things I liked about Xplor was what was missing. It wasn’t an attempt to be a super Mayan theme park or ‘authentic’ Mexico or anything other than a place to slide high across some of the most level jungle in the world while suspended from two inch-wide straps. It’s also a place to escape the dripping heat of the Riviera Maya with constant dips in the numerous pools; both on ziplines and through a fun river swim. And I have to admit I like any park that requires you to wear a helmet.

Sabrina and I started our day in the park sweating. Take a look, this is Sabrina just barely holding it together for the picture, in between bouts of complaining about the heat.

Neither she nor I are big fans of sweltering heat. But it’s Mexico on the Caribbean, live with it. Yeah, I know, it works well with kids, doesn’t it?

Our first adventure was the ziplines. Sabrina had never been on them before and was excited to try, but like a lot of kids, a bit afraid of actually doing it. After suiting up in fine Petzl safety harnesses with two checks by attentive staff, offering instruction in both Spanish and English with plenty of smiles, we’re off to our first tower. The park is dotted with these tours and there are two circuits to be traveled. We are only allowed to travel each circuit once and Sabrina chooses A.

Lined up at the top of the tower (“How much further IS it?”) waiting our turn, Sabrina is a bit fidgety. We were told kids can go together with their parent and Sabrina is bouncing back and forth between wanting the security of Dada on the zipline and wanting to be by herself. A scene I’m sure I’ll see a number of times in the coming years on a variety of subjects. In the end, she decides to start with me and, as there are over 15 ziplines total, thinks she might branch out if she’s not too freaked out.

The attendants at the top of each tour are bilingual and attentive to safety. Not only that, they seemed to care if you are having fun. Clip this, clip that, check everything and “Adios!”. A quick swing by the attendant and our feet are suddenly dangling 90′ in the air over native Yucatan canopy.

It doesn’t take long before I hear, “This is awesome!” And thus the tone is set for the rest of the day (until she starts to run out of energy, for which there is a well stocked buffet inside the park). On the next tower we again share a ride, but this time with more hesitation and an obvious desire to strike out on her own. Tower Three sees Sabrina not only wanting to go by herself, but demanding she goes first. Confidence only took two trips for a girl who admits to a fear of heights. Of course, these heights have the added feel of flying through the sky.

Our two circuits go entirely too fast. The park isn’t very crowded when we start and this helps keep us going from tower to tower, including a monolithic 150′ beast with an 80 second glide time from start to finish, covering 2300′ of jungle. Speeds approach 20MPH as the dual overhead pulleys let out a high pitched whine up until the last moment of semi-soft deceleration at the end of each trip.

In addition to the normal tower-to-tower ziplines, there are two which provide immediate relief from the heat. These end in pools of water, under a waterfall and, if judged wrong, can provide a heck of a wedgy. When they tell you to keep your knees together, do it.

The park has two other main attractions including in the price of admission: an underground river walk and a self drive through the jungle on fun fourwheel buggies.

The river walk, or float for those of you less than 5’9″, follows what used to be a natural underground water way. This area of the peninsula is dotted with all kinds of cenotes, or underground pools, often connected through the limestone walls. In this case, Xplor took an existing patchwork of caverns and pools and connected them. Part of me felt bad for man just shaping nature in this manner. And another part enjoyed getting out of the heat and being able to explore the underground world.

This is not a Disneyland ride. And it’s COLD when you first get in, especially compared to the heat above. We are required to don lifevests and our helmets never leave our heads. Sabrina is again hesitant to start. Even though the entire way is lit from above and often from below, she has some trepidation as it has a bit of spookiness to it, I’ll admit. But cool spookiness and with a bit more super-patient coaxing, we are off with a mix of floating and swimming. I liked that it was actual rock, sharp in places and not watered down. There were emergency exits available and I felt perfectly safe, yet still experiencing a bit of the earth many don’t see….while still inside an amusement park. It was an odd mix and it worked.

The path is a mix of carved stone and original stalactite formations on the ceiling. The width of the path is no more than 6′ across most of the time so it is best to time departure when not in a large group. Camera traps along the way capture photos and Sabrina loves swimming back to these over and over once I show her where the triggers are hidden in the rock.

Last on our day’s agenda are the buggies. These are a blast for those that like to zip around. Most of the time is spent above ground, but sometimes the path dips under the surface for tunnel action.

Our day came to an end all too soon. Warn and happy, we headed back to our resort before another day of exploring.

While Xplor is not the type of activity I go on vacation to experience, I am very glad we went. We both had a fun time and it was no less ‘authentic’ Mexico than water parks in the USA are any less ‘authentic’. The majority of the visitors were local Mexicans enjoying the family fun and it was nice to have a break from all the ‘have-to-see’ attractions of Tulum and Coba and snorkeling.

An excellent way to spend a day having fun on vacation.

Tips for visiting Xplor

  • Arrive early and get the full park pass if you have the energy for it
  • Make sure kids know what they are up for
  • Leave the expensive camera behind and grab a waterproof model or disposable
  • Credit cards accepted
  • There is a large heart as a rallying point for those that get a bit lost. Signs all around the park point back to this spot
  • Near the heart are lockers for gear and bathrooms
  • The buffet is decent with a number of vegetarian options
  • Cameras abound in the park to capture the fun. If you don’t bring your own, you can buy shots of yourself all through the park thanks to the numbers on helmets
  • You don’t need to know how to swim to have fun as the river walk employs lifevests and the ziplines into water always have attendants
  • You can go careening off into the jungle with the buggies. This would be bad, but makes it more fun than Disneyland. Danger is fun for boys. :)
  • Wear sunscreen!
  • Wear watershoes if you have them, otherwise you need to stash your flipflops on each zipline run so they don’t fall off
  • Bring a bathing suit or wear one there. Shorts are also handy for ladies with bikinis as it makes the harnesses less chafing
  • There is a juice bar with cookies for a quick pick me up. It’s real fruit smoothie types of drinks and yummy cookies
  • Have fun!!

Our admission to Xplor was covered by the Riviera Maya Tourist Board.