Tag: travel (Page 1 of 3)

Dogs Around the World

First, a big wag of the tail for this week’s team of #frifotos hosts who came up with the (travel-related) theme of DOGS, giving me a great excuse to finally post these dogs shots from all over the world in one place. Question is….where to begin on a Round-the-World photo journey of dogs? Since all journeys start at home, we’ll start here, then we’ll continue throughout the US and on to Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and back home again.

One man’s travel destination is another’s backyard – the same may be said for dogs, of course. So I will begin with one of my Surf Dawgs photo series taken at a favorite local beach right here in my (dog’s) own “backyard”, Del Mar Dog Beach, California:

Moving out geographically, and back in evolution, coyotes and wolves are great examples of canine wildlife. These beautiful “dogs” were photographed in Arizona:

Coyotes of the American Southwest

  Mexican Gray Wolves
 
Still in the southwest, I will always love this moment when these pueblo dogs came to greet me in New Mexico, making for a truly iconic capture of Native American pueblo life:

Dogs of San Ildefonso Pueblo

Now I’m not going to drag you through every state via dog pictures, but there is one more state deserving mention, as it is well known for hosting the annual Iditarod sled-dog race. A few years back I had the pleasure of taking my daughter Dog-Sledding on a Glacier in Alaska,  and gave her the video camera (listen to the interview/commentary!):

Getting to visit all the sled-dogs and puppies in training after the ride resulted in plenty of wonderful photos, this one being my favorite:

Blue-eyed girl and blue-eyed husky 

And on the subject of girls and puppies, let’s travel to Guatemala, where this woman was selling a basket full at the Chichicastenango Market:

Chichicastenango Market: Puppies for sale

Next stop, Peru, where this dog and his buddies enjoy the scenery:

Dog & Donkeys overlooking the Sacred Valley and Andes of Peru

Some of the happiest dogs I’ve ever seen during my travels are found in Chile:

Pair of dogs and pair of lovers in Puerto Varas

….where they also have jobs that they love, such as this….

Little guard dog with big attitude in Puerto Natales

or this…

Rancher and his dog herding sheep in Patagonia

Ah yes, the sheep herders. What better segway to hop over to Europe?  Landing first in Ireland:

 
Satisfied Border Collie watches his flock

Then on to London, UK, for this canine appearance in the Lord Mayor’s Parade:

Dogs on Parade

And to Spain, where these dogs enjoy shopping the avenues of Barcelona:

Dogs and Shoppers in Barcelona

Enough of the domesticated dogs for a bit, let’s head down to South Africa, and to my personal favorite wild animal to spot in the wild, the African Wild Dog:

African Painted Wild Dog

African Wild Dog of Madikwe

It is such a thrill to watch them in the wild, and to get them in good light, I even shot a video and blogged about the Wild Dogs here: Madikwe is for the Dogs.  A must read for dog/wildlife lovers! Oh what the heck, here’s the video too:

Before we leave Africa, Here’s a shot from Namibia which illustrates the difference a dog makes – without the dog, this scene would be, well, depressing.

Scene of daily life in Katatura Township

Now, from a land where few children have shoes, to a land where few dogs don’t.  I’m talking about Japan, where the dog is a fashion accessory and Tokyo department stores have entire floors dedicated to canine fashions. I’ve blogged about how these little dogs are Big in Japan, but here are a couple of the more blatant four-legged fashion victims:

Proud owner poses her fashionable toy dogs

The men in Japan are not immune to dogs as fashion accessories


Little Dog, Big Attitude. Kyoto, Japan.

Finally, Asia is home to what I consider to be the happiest dogs anywhere in the world, living an even better life than their human counterparts. They reside in the tranquil Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.

Dog enjoying best view in the world, Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan

Dog Amongst Prayer Flags, Punakha Bhutan

Of course, this is a case where a picture speaks a thousand words. I’ve seen plenty of happy dogs, and plenty of sleeping dogs, but this blissful dog was truly in an elevated state of consciousness:


The ultimate meditative state – doggie nirvana

When it comes to travel, truly, the most important dogs anywhere are the ones who wait at the door and greet me with enthusiastic wags and slobbery kisses when I return home from my travels.  It’s not so easy for my older dog, Jambo, to jump up and rush to the door anymore, but bless his heart, he always makes the effort when I come home, always. And there’s the younger dog, Java, who jumps like a circus act and whose tail never stops spinning.  They bring so much joy and love and laughter, and home would never be home without them.

Jambo
Java

And thus ends my Round the World adventure by dog photos.  Hope you have enjoyed, and if you are on twitter, be sure to share your own dog pics and follow the hashtag #frifotos!

Our African Wedding Story

November 25 marks the anniversary of a dream come true. This is the story of our African wedding as it unfolded in the pages of my hand-written travel journal. 

November 24, 1999     Ngorongoro Crater.  Full Moon.

Fur blankets drape a king size bed in the Kimba Suite with glass doors overlooking Ngorongoro Crater. The moon is full and bright, and the lake below glows silver in her reflection.  We are on the rim, 8,500 feet up, and below is a vast caldera crawling with wildlife. This place is spectacular.  There are simply no other words to describe it.

[Earlier in the day, we had stopped at a rest point overlooking the crater. As I took in the view and held back tears of joy that I was actually here, my fiancé informed me that this is where we will get married. Not next year…..but tomorrow! He left only one small detail of planning up to me. What time. Since we had a full day wildlife safari scheduled and I didn’t want to miss one moment of it, my decision was easy. Sunrise.]

November 25, 1999     Ngorongoro Crater.     OUR WEDDING DAY!!!

As the sun rose and crept over the opposite rim of the crater, we were whisked off escorted by Shawnab, Francis and Shaibu. The moment we emerged from our room, Shawnab took my camera bag and handed me flowers. The other cameras flashing as we walked through the lobby was the sign of a very special event, which I soon came to realize was our wedding.  I don’t think either of us had any idea just what a production this would be. Apparently we were the first non-Maasai to get married at Ngorongoro Crater, and the first wedding of any guests to the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge.

We were escorted out to the jeep with colorfully dressed hotel employees following and surrounding us, then we all piled into jeeps and drove by caravan to the beautiful large fig tree which stands tall and majestic on the rim of the caldera. Visible from most parts of the crater, this tree would mark the location of our very special event.

We arrived at the spot which was still embraced in fog. As the gentle early morning winds nudged up the crater wall, the fog lifted and revealed the incredible setting for our ceremony.

For the wedding party, I was accompanied by three beautiful women in colorful Swahili dress, and my groom was accompanied by three handsome men also in traditional Swahili attire. Waiting at the site to welcome us with song, the local Maasai villagers!  We were introduced to the magistrate – a small man who had traveled by foot from his village to officiate our wedding. Knowing we were westerners, he had dressed in his very best western attire for the occasion – denim blue jeans, a red holiday sweater, and a Reebok basecball cap.

It all happened so quickly, full of colors and sounds and songs and smiles.  And languages! The magistrate first spoke in his tribal language, which Killian then translated to Swahili for our witnesses, and then in English for us.  As he handed us the certificates, he explained…

“There are three types of marriages: one that is monogamous, with one; one that is polygamous, with many; and one that is potentially polygamous, the first of many. You must declare which type of marriage you are making here today.”

Giggles and laughter ensued, as we gave considerable thought to “potentially polygamous”,  just for kicks, knowing that it would only translate into one type of marriage back home. We marked the box, signed our names, exchanged vows, kissed, and toasted with champagne. All the while the cameras flashed and every one in attendance seemed to have a Swahili blessing to shout out! But the recurring word “paparazzi” strewn throughout the Swahili words was unmistakable, followed by buckles of laughter – apparently the hotel manager took great pride in being asked to take pictures with my camera for us.  Had we understood more Swahili, we’d probably have been laughing a whole lot more, but as it was, we could not keep from wearing ear to ear grins. My cheeks are still hurting.

After the signing, vowing, and legalities were done with, we were presented with gifts from the Maasai guests. I was adorned with a beaded bracelet, and my husband a beaded necklace to wear, indicating he is married. Then I was handed a stick which only married women can carry. My husband was also given a stick, more of a beaded club, which he was to use for cattle raids. Then I was presented with a gourd, decorated with beads and a leather handle.  They explained that this is used to hold blood and goat’s milk to “nourish little ones.” Thankfully, I was not expected to drink it until “later….when it is time…..”

The cake arrived, and we managed to cut small pieces to exchange…but chewing it was another feat. Then a breakfast buffet awaited, with the hotel chef preparing eggs to order, and everything from cereal to fresh fruits to coffee. We could barely eat with all the excitement, not to mention everyone watching our every move and taking pictures…our wedding paparazzi party.

After breakfast, the Maasai continued with celebratory song. The men wore red kangas and had elaborately decorated earlobes and necklaces around their necks. The “elder”male leading the group had tinges of red henna in his hair. For the most part, they all stood around leaning on their sticks. The females were much younger – it seemed only the unmarried girls were allowed to attend. They sang beautifully; it was as if the melodic voices rang out from their hearts, as their faces and lips barely moved at all. They wore around their necks wide beaded disk necklaces, which flapped up and down to the beat of the men’s drumming. Strings of beads adorned the girls’ foreheads.

I felt truly honored that these were our wedding guests, who had allowed us to marry on their sacred land of the Ngorongoro Crater next to the giant ancestral fig tree. We were, in fact, their guests. And what an honor it was. A very special honor for which we were extremely grateful.

The wedding party escorted us back to our jeep, which they had cleverly decorated with a “JUST MARRIED” sign on the back window.  Brilliant. They all squeezed into the back of the jeep with us, on laps and in bundles, singing a traditional wedding celebration song, including each of our names in the verses.  A few remaining staff chased the vehicle waving palm fronds, singing, and laughing. It was so joyous, we were surrounded with music, smiles, and positive wishes and energy.

Upon arrival back at the Serena Lodge, EVERYONE was standing outside to welcome us as husband and wife. The Maasai danced again, creating a directional path for us to walk while onlookers cheered and took pictures. We felt like royalty.  After a few steps I could no longer contain myself, and the tears began to flow – tears of overwhelming happiness and gratitude. 

We were lead, escorted, and followed by the bouncing Maasai, the singing hotel staff, and the colorful wedding party attendants to the lobby, where even more hotel guests watched and congratulated us. We sat to sign the guest book as “Mr. & Mrs.” while the young Maasai girls bounced and sang behind us. Then the entire party lead, escorted, and followed us back to our Kimba Suite, bouncing so heavily that there was concern the board planks of the walkways might break! At last we reached our door, where we turned and thanked everyone with hugs, teary eyes, and endless “Asenteni” (thanks). 

What happened once we closed the door was just priceless. A split second of silence, broken by a giggle, joined by some snickering, growing into roars of laughter, then bursting loudly into song.  It seemed the ceremony was to involve one more element, for which they felt thundering song, drums, dancing and voices RIGHT OUTSIDE THE DOOR would be most conducive…..

We looked at each other and burst out laughing. Who knew that changing batteries, loading rolls of film, cleaning lenses and packing filters for a full day safari in the crater would be such a festively celebrated activity?! 😉

[The End of the story…the wedding story, that is. But the heartfelt gratitude endures and grows with each passing year. I never lose sight of the blessings in my life and my travels, and though years may fade the pages of the journal, they add glue to the binding.]

THANK YOU for reading my story, and sharing in the joy, wonder, and appreciation of a dream come true, a dream made possible by people in a far away land.  Gratitude means counting my blessings, big and small, extraordinary and ordinary….and I have far too many not to pass along, share, and give back in whatever way I can.

This year,  I will again be participating in the travel blogger’s fundraiser event, Passports With Purpose. The funds we raise are going to make a big difference to the lives of people in a far away land, with the building of two libraries in Zambia through a partnership with Room to Read. Full details are forthcoming, meanwhile….

Here’s wishing you a heart full of gratitude for blessings big and small, on Thanksgiving Day and every day. Asante sana.

Andean Skies

Could the skies possibly get any more blue? I’m wondering about this as I have just returned from another part of the world where the skies took my breath away, and where I was awed and mesmerized by looking up.

I’m certain that the high altitude has something to do with the deep clear blues of Andean skies, but a blue sky on it’s own is just that, a gorgeous blue sky. What makes the blue skies of the Andes all the more interesting to photograph are the clouds that float through, changing shapes and transforming the scenery as they pass. Sometimes the clouds form dark ominous storm fronts, other times they dance through as puffy white “happy” clouds. Both are stunning against the backdrop of the Andes mountains and plateaus.

As a follow up to the popular post African Skies, I present here the Andean Skies, showcasing new images from my recent journey through Peru from Cusco to Puno aboard the Andean Explorer Train.

My 7 Links – a retrospective of words and images

What is My 7 Links all about, anyway?

The goal of the project, as outlined by Tripbase, is:

To unite bloggers (from all sectors) in a joint endeavor to share lessons learned and create a bank of long but not forgotten blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again.

Thanks to photographer Kirsten Alana, I have been nominated to participate by sharing my own 7 links. My blog has been around since March, 2006, but my readership hasn’t. So I’m pleased to present to you now…

My 7 Links

Most Beautiful Post. Namibia – by Dune, Full Moon, and Hot Air Balloon

Most Popular Post. Landslides & Leeches: a Trekking Journal, Nepal
Transcribed from hand-written journal pages, this is my personal experience of a trek where the forces of nature took over and lives were lost. Additionally, this post is popular with Google and any search term involving leeches.

Most Controversial Post. Probably this one. Published in the Rough Guide to India!
None of my posts thus far have resulted in any sort of commentary debate or backlash. I’ve regretted the instances where I’ve participated in some controversial comment strings on other blogs. I really don’t feel good about insulting or offending anyone; when I have, it sits on my conscience like a thorn. Sometimes I’ve hit “send” in the heat of the moment, and have thrown words like daggers. I’m truly sorry to those who were ever at the receiving end of some of my sharper words.
That said, the choice for my most controversial post is purely subjective. It was an issue which wreaked havoc in my mind; so I felt I should try to make right of it in a blog post. Here are the facts:
a) I photographed someone, without their knowledge, in a very personal moment of practicing their faith.
b) 10 years later, I scanned and uploaded the image into an online portfolio at the now defunct Digital Railroad (DRR), ticking the licensing box making it available strictly for editorial use, which means, among other things, that I had no model release (permission).
c) Digital Railroad quite suddenly fell apart and left thousands of photographers high and dry without receiving commissions earned from images licensed through their website, or even knowing which images of theirs had been purchased or downloaded.
d) a former DRR employee and mentor/friend with a good heart helped me out by providing a list of what he knew of my DRR downloads and sales, finalized or not, paid for or not.
e) a record showed this particular image had been licensed, and the payment status was “pending”.
f) I contacted the publisher who eventually replied that they had already paid DRR for the image license, but failed to send me any record for proof. Because they were a big name and reputable, I took them on their word, thanked them, and asked if they would send me a tear sheet or copy of the book. They did neither.
g) So, when the Rough Guide to India was published, I rushed to the bookstore and thumbed through it. I quickly found my image occupying a full color page. My first sigh of relief came upon seeing that the image use was not in any way derogatory; in fact, I couldn’t have asked for more appropriate context for putting this image in a guidebook. I bought the book, brought it home and confirmed that I was properly credited for the image. Indeed I was, a second sigh of relief.
h) Because the image and context touched on the delicate subject of religion and faith, and the person in my image was expressing his own, I felt it only right for me to expose something of my own faith. I did just that in my post (don’t be fooled by the SEO-driven title): Published in the Rough Guide to India! The photo:

Most Helpful Post. Samantha Brown and Rick Steves – the Best in the Field
This post provides helpful insight for anyone in the business, or desiring to be in the business, of travel writing, publishing, and presenting (that includes you, my fellow travel bloggers!). It is especially helpful to anyone aspiring to host their own travel show someday. Apparently, I’m not alone in having that ambition.

A Post Whose Success Surprised Me. Stand Up Paddle Surf Safari…in China?

I penned this humorous little piece because I was fed up with the Hawaiians getting credit for anything and everything to do with surfing. The ocean spans the entire globe, you know, not just the Hawaiian islands! Many forms of surfing have taken place in many different parts of the world throughout history. I really didn’t think people would take this too seriously, but based on traffic and search terms, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find SUP board rentals set up along the banks of the Li River some day.

A Post I Feel Didn’t Get the Attention it Deserved. Chile: Spirit Dreams

If you read only one link from this post, please make it this one. This was my debut blog post back in March, 2006. I didn’t know where to start, but I knew that every picture has a story, right? So I picked a random photo taken on my travels and then opened up my journal from that trip. Turns out I have some pretty cool travel stories tucked away in these journals, and it was time to bring them out. This is one of my favorites, which I think only my web-designer-mentor/friend has ever read.

The Post I am Most Proud of. Listening With the Lens – Filming a Documentary

It’s not so much the post itself, it’s finally being able see my work come to fruition (thanks to incredible editors) in my first foray into documentary film-making, so that I could share this inspiring story with others. For me, this was a profound experience, a chance to use my talent to give something back. It is a beautiful story of inspiration, which I am both proud and humbled to share with you.

Thank you for visiting, and if you were even moved to follow some of the links, I am especially grateful. Please comment so I know you’ve visited!

Now here’s the tricky part – nominating 5 more bloggers. My first choices had been previously nominated, so I had to reach beyond the obvious….in fact, why not reach for the stars!

Here are my 5 nominations for the next participants in the My 7 Links project. They are all great sources of inspiration, and whether or not they have or take the time to participate, they are definitely worth your time to check out:

Travel:
Robert Reid
Andrew Evans
Pauline Frommer

Photography:
Art Wolfe
Gavin Gough

Enjoy the journey!

5A Reasons Why I Love the Window Seat

Flight over the Andes of Ecuador

“A or F, please, preferably not over the wing.”

This is my standard request when flying most commercial flights with a seating configuration of 3 and 3. I just don’t get why people (without extraordinarily long legs) would choose to be bumped and climbed over in the aisle seats rather than enjoy the amazing perspective of our planet from above in a window seat. Perhaps they need easy access to the toilets? Fine, I’ll grant them that, and I’ll count my blessings that I can, for the most part, wait. I’ll cross laps when I absolutely have to, but I’d sooner just cross my legs…especially while crossing over the Andes, the Rockies, or the Himalayas.

I love the window seat. And here are just a few reasons why:

#1A. It’s my happy place, my comfort zone, and my zen place – where I can feel completely insignificant and gain a new perspective – a wider lens, if you will – on whatever trivialities seems important in my life at the time. Did I pack the right shoes? Did I remember to pay that last phone bill? From the window seat I can simply look down and think “oh yeah, there’s our planet, isn’t it amazing and awesome and…does anything else really matter?” Sigh.

#2F. I’m a geographoholic (dibs on wiki credit for coining that one)

– Throughout my childhood, I collected the map inserts from National Geographic, and my first dorm room in college was decorated in nothing but maps. And postcards.

– In jr. high I excelled at geography, a dreaded subject amongst my peers but not for me. There was a time when I could draw Europe freehand with all the borders in all the right places, including a two-part Berlin. Funny, I had no interest in doing the same with my own country’s states – it all became a blur east of the rockies, kind of like those early cartography renderings of anything that wasn’t Britain or India. There’d be California drawn with complete precision, then a few straight-lined geometric shapes to the right, then, oh who cares, just doodle some scary sea serpents instead. But, given the right circumstance I will still occasionally draw a map on cocktail napkin (and pen an entire article on a cocktail napkin too), particularly when the napkins are accompanied by caipirinhas…

– Perhaps being a native Californian and living just west of the San Andreas fault line accounts for my abnormal fascination with plate tectonics; and islands, which my part of the state may become if the rumored predictions are accurate. When I was young I actually got pretty excited over the thought of breaking off from the rest of the state to become an island nation. I’ve got a drawing of that somewhere too, I think it’s in a box of my treasured 4th grade art projects. A waterproof firebox no doubt.

Flying over the Great Rift Valley in Africa – plate tectonics nirvana!

– Coastlines intrigue me. I’d often sit on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific with my best friend and we’d contemplate life while perched on “the edge of a continent.”

Then, a year and some rains later, that perch is gone, washed away or tumbled into a rockpile on the beach below. The coastline has forever changed; and it continues to change, every year, all over the planet. Never take a coastline for granted.

#3A. It’s really all just one big ocean. Kinda mind-blowing to think about when you’re on a trans-Atlantic flight…or a trans-Pacific…or crossing any oceanic body of water. They all look the same from 35,000 feet. Mind blowing how that makes perfect sense.

Reefs of Bora Bora in the South Pacific

#4F. Let’s be practical for just a moment. Sleep. You might actually want to sleep. Just because you’re in sardine class doesn’t mean you enjoy having to remain upright while your jaw drops open and drool trickles down your chin. Well, when you start to doze off and your head flops over onto the shoulder of that poor soul in the middle seat – if you’re in the aisle seat, you’re out of options. The best chance you’ve got is to take advantage of the fact that they are probably too unassertive to say anything (after all, they did end up in a middle seat). But if you have the window seat, you also have a wall, an alternative place to prop that ridiculous excuse for a pillow. And there’s a bonus! The wall serves as support reinforcement should that middle seat occupant flop their head, along with their entire upper body, your way. Don’t panic. You’ve got that wall – use it to leverage against as you flick your elbow with a whallop and send the startled soul flying toward, you guessed it, the now-regretful drooling dozer in the aisle seat.

#5A. Back to me. I do a great deal of writing while I’m in flight, and when I look up to compose my thoughts, I find it difficult to source my inspiration from tray tables or tv screens. I need open space – emptiness – to watch my ideas swirl around, bounce off puffy clouds, and settle…gently…like snowflakes….somewhere on the crust of that great planet below.

Roof of the World – The Himalayas

Some of my “thoughtflakes” will top majestic mountains…others will melt away into the deep blue sea. Some will run the meandering course of a river…others will stumble over skyscrapers and land with a “flakeplant” on the pavement. No matter where my thoughts settle, they start in the nothingness of space. And that’s often the only thing I see when I look out the window – a perfect blank canvas on which to paint a picture with thoughts and words.

Picture? Did I just say picture? What a convenient segway into sharing more photos! Okay, so that’s really a rather abrupt transition – more like turbulence. Please remain seated with your eyes on the screen until it is safe to move about the internet again. And here, I’ll even let you have the window seat.

More reasons why I love the window seat (in pictures):

Visual Co-Piloting:

How close the pilots navigate downtown  on approach to SAN
The harrowing sharp bank upon take off from Paro Airport, Bhutan

Gaining a better perspective of what the shipboard naturalist gets excited about:

Amazon River “Meeting of the Waters” from above

Including parts of plane for context of place:

Nature Air flying over Costa Rica

Southwest Air flying over Arizona

Observing Patterns of Man:

Rice Terraces near Chongqing in China

Observing Patterns of Nature:

Fairy Circles of the Namibian Landscape

Which brings me to another segway. The above photo was actually shot from a Hot-Air Balloon.

Sometimes you get a nice aerial view from a balcony:

Balcony View from the Kahala Resort in Hawaii

Or from a gondola!

The Great Wall of China at Badaling

And no aerial blog post would be complete without mention of helicopters. So, before landing, here’s a small selection of aerial images from helicopters to enjoy:

Helicopter Flight-seeing in Alaska allows for landing on glaciers!

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

St. James, U.S. Virgin Islands

The ultimate perspective of Iguacu Falls, by helicopter:

What’s next? Some day I hope to add to my aerial image collection from this perspective:

The ultimate aerial window seat!

Be sure to check out the full gallery of aerial images to see more of Namibia, Costa Rica, South America, and more from above!

Happy Flying!!

Travel Photography Nirvana (illustrated with images from Bhutan)

Buddhists in Bhutan believe that when a circle appears around the sun, an incarnation of Buddha is born.

Nirvana is a destination for some, but not a specific place. It is loosely defined as a state of being free from pain, worry, and the external world. I have never reached nirvana, and frankly, I’m quite happy not to. I LOVE the external world – the “sensual world” that I can smell, touch, taste, hear….. and see through the lens of my camera.

Colorful prayer wheels line the public square of Thimpu.

So why do I use the word nirvana? Because in all my travels, there are these moments…moments that simply take my breath away. Moments when nothing else matters – when worries and pains all disappear – and all that matters is being present in that moment. Sometimes I don’t have a camera…or I forget I have a camera…and those moments are etched in my soul and preserved in the rich vivid kodachrome of my mind’s eye. But sometimes I do have my camera…and I remember to use it.  When I can capture that moment, and immortalize it to share it with others, well, that is something I like to call travel photography nirvana.  

Young boy monk runs amongst the prayer flags at Chimi Lhakhang.

For a travel photographer to find these moments, there isn’t a map, a compass, or a GPS. There isn’t a schedule to keep. There isn’t really anything concrete and obvious about exactly when and where these “moments’ will pass through one’s consciousness and in front of one’s lens.  The point is to be ready.  Be aware of all of the senses. Be completely in the moment. And boom, next thing you know, time has stood still long enough to push a button and capture a slice of it. That’s what I’m talking about. 

Traditional Bhutanese dancers leap effortlessly high off the floor.

I suppose traveling in Bhutan is perhaps more conducive to such experiences for a few reasons:

* the geography of the country – it lies in the Himalayas, averaging in elevation around 8,000 feet above sea level. 

 
Above: Snow-capped mountains greet morning light. Below: Taktsang Monastery perched in a cliff high above Paro.

* the religion – Bhutan is a primarily Buddhist society, and it is filled with monasteries and monks on a spiritual path to enlightenment. 

 Nun at Sangchen Lhuendrup Cholin
Buddha Dordenma Statue

 Monks going to puja at Punakha Dzong.

* the politics. Politics? Yes. The government of Bhutan, which is headed by a King, has specific branches whose job it is to develop and monitor the Gross National Happiness of the Bhutanese citizens.  

I met a Planning Officer of the GNH Commission, and that was literally his job, to monitor Gross National Happiness.  Can you imagine having that for your job title? Wow. I wonder if they have an official photographer whose job it is to document the Gross National Happiness with a camera…carrying a GNHC Press Pass….that would sure be enlightening.

Furthermore, there are four pillars against which Gross National Happiness is measured:

1) promotion of sustainable development

Farm Fields of Paro

Bhutanese Farm Owner

Locally grown produce at market in Wangdue

2) preservation of cultural values

 Bhutanese Traditional Arts and Culture – Tangka Art, Weaving, and Archery



3) conservation of natural environment

Buddha Dordenma

4) establishment of good governance

Bhutanese men pay respect to Royal Kings of Bhutan

Given all these parameters, unless you are a photographer immune to spirituality, culture, and happiness, then you are bound to experience some sense of travel photography nirvana in Bhutan.  It can happen anywhere – I’ve experienced these moments in other iconic settings such as Machu Picchu in Peru, Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, and at a calving glacier in Alaska. But I chose Bhutan because that’s where I experienced the moment when those three words just escaped from my mouth, one after the other. Travel..Photography..Nirvana. That moment was upon reaching the final leg on the hike to Taktsang Monastery.

The picture of the Monastery is nothing special – it’s the same picture everyone takes who makes this journey.  But it’s that moment of arrival, that moment when nothing else matters and you say to yourself, I made it it. I’m here. I’m in heaven on earth. And I remembered to take the picture.

That is simply…travel photography nirvana.

For more from Bhutan, please visit the Bhutan Image Gallery.

Calcutta the Beautiful

When you think Calcutta, do you think slums, poverty and filth? Or do you imagine art, joy and beauty? A visitor to Calcutta will see what they want to see, but the camera never lies. It’s all there. Open your eyes.

              
Children of Calcutta

Upon landing by air in Calcutta, I couldn’t help but notice the lush green surroundings – a rather surprising twist on my preconceived image of a sprawling, polluted, crowded city in West Bengal.  I was whisked away by a comfortable air-conditioned vehicle to the luxuriously comfortable and air-conditioned Taj Bengal, where I looked out over a green landscape dotted with purple bougainvillea and bright red flame trees. I was further enchanted by lovely tweeting birds nesting in the plants of the window box.  I grabbed a few quick shots with my iphone….

…before pulling out my camera gear to charge batteries, change memory cards, wipe lenses, and do all that not-so-glamorous maintenance work of a travel photographer.

So this is Calcutta. Through the window….it looks like a beautiful dream.

While it’s certainly more comfortable to sit in an air-conditioned room or vehicle watching everything from behind the glass, you’ll barely scratch the surface.  And it’s easy to be bothered by the heat, groaning every time you step out into it and focusing only on how uncomfortable you are. I’ve seen it happen, I’ve watched, and listened to, others do this. Three words: Get over it. The people of Calcutta live in this heat every day, with no A/C in their homes, cars or rickshaws. Your body will acclimate, you’ll adjust, and you’ll be glad you made the effort to accept it and immerse yourself into everything that is Calcutta.

Once you’ve successfully crossed over into the realm of being completely at one with the hot sticky humid environment of Calcutta, you’re home free. You’re no longer just a visitor…. you’re a part of life….

The afternoon was dedicated to visiting the “must-see” of this off-the-beaten-tourist-track city, Mother Teresa’s Ashram.  No words can describe the overwhelming emotion of visiting not only the Ashram itself, but the nearby orphanage established by Mother Teresa.  In her words, it is a refuge for…

“The hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” — Mother Teresa
 
To step into a room where knee-high children with big brown eyes hold their arms up to you, longing desperately to be held and carried, and to be told “please don’t pick them up” was a real test of my maternal heartstrings. But I found an agreeable compromise by sitting on the floor to read a book while the kids climbed onto my lap and leaned over my shoulders and watched my face as I was able to engage and love them without too much emotional bonding.  This was an undertaking not for the weak of heart, and all I could think about was finding my strength in compassion and focusing on the power of love. Pure love. The Mother Teresa kind of love – love for all, and attachment to none. I somehow made it out without adopting a dozen children – although not without shedding a dozen tears. Photography was not permitted in the orphanage and I would have left the camera anyway. Some things are to be experienced with only the widest aperture of heart, not lens.

The next day, Calcutta revealed even more beauty than I could ever have imagined, with a visit to the Calcutta Flower Market on the banks of the Hooghly River.  I always make a point of visiting local markets wherever I travel, for purposes of both cultural immersion and photographic opportunities.  To simply walk through snapping pictures does not the experience make – the photographer must engage all the senses, listening and smelling and touching, in order to capture the image that tells the story.

I’m not so sure I succeeded in just one shot, and I really wish cameras were equipped with a scent-mic, in order to record smell.  Sound, however, can be shared in a video clip, which also gives a good sense of the pace of activity in the flower market.

Now, what the video doesn’t show, and the camera can’t really capture, is the temperature. It’s hot. The outdoor temperature is in the upper 90’s (and it’s early).  As if the heat in itself weren’t enough, it’s humid too. Like, candle-wax-dripping-wet humid. Now imagine that heat and humidity while under tarps in a crowded space, where you can’t walk more than a few steps without brushing, or being brushed by, a hot sticky body of someone else. And there’s your sense of touch put into words.

Still with me? Good. I spent way more time exploring this market than I had anticipated, and I savor every moment of that experience. The hustle, the bustle, the voices, the sounds, the scents, the odors, the feel, the life…..oh, the life.  At times it was like walking through someone’s hot tired breath, but with wafts of freesia and roses.  I was fascinated by vendors who spent hours of their market day just sorting and picking through flowers – imagine, doing that for your living.  Working with flowers, nature’s beauty, and never taking a single one for granted.

                                Calcutta Flower Market – Images by Kymri Wilt

As it turns out, there are flowers and art everywhere in Calcutta, sometimes obvious, other times, not so obvious.  Here, a streetside tattoo artist creates flower tattoos on the arms of a young man, which are then dusted in bee pollen to prevent infection.

A trip to the northern quarter of the city called Kumartuli, also known as the potter’s village, revealed more arts and more body parts. Here sculptors and artisans work to create clay idols of Hindu gods and goddesses, for use in shrines and festivals all over India…and the world.

               

So now, if the thought of Calcutta conjures up images of joy, beauty, and art, then I have succeeded in shedding light on this amazing and wondrous city of India… with my images, with my words, and with my heart and lens wide open.  Namaste.

View more:

Calcutta Flower Market Gallery

 India Image Gallery

Favorite Guidebook for India

Puerto Ricotecture

The Caribbean island of Puerto Rico is a popular cruise destination with many national historic sites as well as interesting architecture of the capital Old San Juan, which I call “Puerto Ricotecture”.


USA – Puerto Rico – Images by Kymri Wilt

What most cruisers don’t realize is that the sites are quite accessible without boarding a large tour bus and elbowing your way amongst 50 other visitors struggling to get on and off and rush through according to a schedule.  Delightfully, San Juan is an easy place to stroll around on your own and visit sites in your own time. 

AAA magazine cover shot: Machu Picchu

So I finally got my digital hands on a digital version, and here it is!

The current JAN/FEB 2011 cover of AAA Home & Away magazine (Ohio edition):

Like it? You can find this image

and many more available for licensing at:

Mira Terra Images Travel Photography & Services

Or, take a look at my Danita Delimont collection. Many thanks to Danita!

So if you wish to simply appreciate the image for what it is, read no further. And if you’re hoping to find the inside scoop on the technical details of exposure, ISO, focal length, and all that, look away now…you won’t find it here.

Still curious to know how this image came to be? Read on.

You see, my preferred camera to shoot with is the Canon 5D Mark II, backed up by the Canon 50D. But I also carry a small Panasonic Lumix which I’ve had forever, before the 5D came along, simply to shoot video clips for quick’n’easy web posting. It just so happened that when I saw this moment – the solo traveler in the mist overlooking Machu Picchu – I had been shooting video with the Panasonic. No matter where I am, I am constantly composing everything I see in my mind’s eye. So I snapped a couple of stills with the Lumix before switching the lens on my Canon 5D Mark II to get the same shot. Well, by the time I had done so, the person moved on, or was joined by a crowd, or the mist moved in, I forget exactly what changed, but the “moment” was gone. So this was it. And here’s my big secret. The above magazine cover was shot with an everyday point and shoot Panasonic Lumix.

It just goes to show that the camera doesn’t really matter all that much. The camera is simply the tool with which a photographer composes and records a moment in time. Had I not shot the moment with the Lumix I had in hand, and instead only fumbled around to grab the right lens on my Canon SLR, then there would be no cover shot, no license, no sale, and no point in this blog post.

Recognize the moment, compose, create.

Finally, before you scream “dumb luck”, here’s a moment that I did manage to capture with my Canon 5D Mark II which got it’s turn in the print publishing spotlight, featured in National Geographic Adventure magazine 2008/09, and re-licensed for National Geographic magazine (France’s publication) in 2010:

Various other versions and images from this shoot have also been published by Destinations & Adventures International, Wilderness Travel, and a few others. Here’s my favorite frame as it appeared in a 2-page spread in Cathay Pacific‘s in-flight magazine “Discovery”:

There’s no question that Machu Picchu is a special place for me…and my camera. If you’d like to experience it for yourself, perhaps even with me, here’s information about two trips Ill be leading to Peru in October 2011:

TRAVCOA’s Galapagos & Machu Picchu – October 5
TRAVCOA’s Peru & Bolivia – October 12
*note: the dates overlap and you can combine both itineraries into one comprehensive journey of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. How’s that for convenient?

Both of these journeys include an overnight at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, allowing for early access to the citadel before the buses and crowds arrive. No matter who you travel with or how you get to Machu Picchu, fork it out and DO THIS. You’ll be so glad you did and you’ll thank me later!

I’m very much looking forward to returning to Peru again this year. No matter how many times I’ve been, I’ll never tire of Machu Picchu – it’s always a new and wondrous experience. I hope you can join me…and be sure to bring your camera (any kind)!

Remembering Egypt – Part III

Continuing Preface: Much has happened in the few days since I posted Parts I and II. If you haven’t yet, please read them here:

Remembering Egypt – Part I
Remembering Egypt – Part II

Mainly, I got news that my upcoming February assignment in Egypt has been cancelled, for obvious reasons. I heard from my colleague who described in great detail the ordeal they underwent getting out of Egypt mid-tour, and I count my blessings. But now it’s a few days later and things seem to be settling down over there. Call me crazy, but if I weren’t a mom, I’d probably still get on that plane. It is my nature to project positively – that there be a smooth transition, that there be peace on the streets and in the hearts of all Egyptians, and that soon we will again be visiting the land of the Pharoahs, welcomed with the gracious hospitality of the locals… Insha’Allah (God willing!) إن شاء الله.

This was my favorite picture, and favorite memory, of the entire journey – when watermelons became the favored source of drinkable water.


In the lower left of the photo is the top of a jar of TANG which we used to make the bottled water more palatable. I couldn’t tolerate it and was so grateful for watermelons, although watching the young boy wielding a machete to split them open was unnerving.

Remembering Egypt – (journal series, part III)

Day 5

Hello Nile. Hello felucca. Here we go, sailing down the Nile.

Of course, the felucca we were shown yesterday was twice the size of this one that we are actually sailing on. I’m irritated, but I’m just too hot and relieved to be getting out of Aswan that I don’t even bother complaining. Good riddance. Of course, the dudes had to have their hooka smoke before we set off.

There were 8 of us total: Marie and myself, the two Danish dudes, two Swedish girls, our captain Kimo, and a small boy of about 7 or 8.

We headed out in a nice wind, but it was blowing up river, so we had to tack. This meant shifting from one side of the felucca to the other in order not to slide off. There was no getting used to this, especially having to hang on to all our belongings (cameras, backpacks) as well as keeping ourselves on the boat! But on we went in this manner – just as all 6 of us got comfortable on one side, we’d have to shift again, back and forth, from one side to the other, and try to get comfortable again. It was impossible to just lay down flat because then the blood would rush to your head (I tried this, just take my word for it).

We sailed down and I waved goodbye to that terrible place Aswan. I never want to go there again. It was such a relief to watch it grow smaller off in the distance.
The lights of the city began to twinkle as the sun moved down over the desert-y west bank of the Nile. It was a beautiful sunset, the sun sat on the horizon as a big red ball.

As we drifted away from the city we began to hear many different noises coming from the banks of the river. The crickets were a constant buzz, and above their hum sounded the frogs. There must have been millions, big ones at that, as their croaks were most prominent! An occasional donkey cried, and the cows, bulls and camels could be heard settling into the night.

The moon was already high in the sky when the sun slipped over the horizon. The silhouettes of the palm trees against the orange sky were the only visible signs of life. But the air was full of sounds and noises, reflecting all sorts of life happening along the river banks. It seemed all the villages were alive with celebration. Drumbeats were faint in the distance, but as we sailed along the drumbeats grew louder and were accompanied by many chanting voices.
“What’s going on?” we asked our captain. He told us they were celebrating because there was a sheik from the village who would be traveling to Mecca the next day.

We drifted ashore and tied feluccas together for the night. While the night was calm, the air was full of noise and it was hard to fall asleep. Or stay asleep. Or get comfortable.

Day 6

This morning our felucca was joined by a New Zealander from the other boat. I was in a terribly crabby mood as I’d not slept well and I wanted only to stretch out flat. Any time I settled somewhere, it seemed everybody on the boat decided to crowd around me, Jeff in particular, with his bad snoring and bad breath. Then when I was finally in my own space, the little Egyptian boy decided to make house and had to rearrange all the blankets on the boat. Which meant I had to move. Again. I gave up sleeping at all and sat up writing in this here journal.

Today was a long, hot one. We had to drift a great deal because there was scarcely any wind worth putting up the sail. With their Third World tape player, the Egyptians played Arabic music nearly the whole day. At first it was bearable, almost interesting even, but then it quickly got irritating. Especially when the tape was ejected and turned over several times and the rhythms were forever scratched in our eardrums.

We seemed to stop at every shore for one reason or another, and some of us were getting impatient. Eventually we set sail, and did a few hours of the shifting routine throughout the afternoon.

Our Egyptian crew prepared us a meal. It was hardly edible for our systems, but we were soooo hungry and we needed to eat something. The utensils and vegetables were rinsed in the Nile river, and I kept thinking “if they can handle it, so can I, we’re all humans, right?” As for Marie and the Europeans, I think they preferred to stay in denial (de Nile…haha).

I began to take interest in the Kiwi dude, Joost. He was really quite nice, and funny too. He had a great way of making me laugh out loud even as I tried so hard to continue being p.o.’d at the whole situation. Yes, I really wanted to cling tenaciously to being irritable and moody, but he somehow got around that and broke through to the point where I was actually having FUN. I figured he’s nothing short of a magician, and I was intrigued by what might be up his sleeve.

We were talking a lot about people. And mosquitoes. And the fact that there were flocks of mosquitoes along the river just hovering and waiting to prey on sweet-blooded people like me. At one point Joost offered to share his sleeping bag so I wouldn’t get bitten (by the mozzies). It sounded like a good prospect because he was genuinely nice and didn’t seem the type to try anything (maybe even gay, not sure, but that would explain his ability to have me in stitches).

But as everyone on the felucca began to settle in, Marie and the tall Danish dude Henry rolled out their full length mat/bed around which the rest of us had to conform, and she kept bitching that there was no room on our boat even for a Kiwi (haha, but humorously rude). He heard her no doubt, and felt unwelcome enough that he went back to the other felucca to sleep. I was beyond upset, so angry I couldn’t even speak, and just had to sleep with only Marie’s skirt as a cover to protect me from mosquitoes.

Day 7

When I woke in the early hours from a sound sleep, both my legs were numb. I had fallen asleep laid out flat, but I woke up with Marie and Henry sprawled out flat and and my legs squished and curled up tight with no room to stretch out. How did that happen? I swear Marie was next to me when I fell asleep, but I rolled over to find Jeff right next to me in my face breathing like a horse. Enough. I got up and moved to the front of the boat and just crashed out on the deck, no covers, nothing. Alas! I had discovered the most comfortable place to sleep on the entire felucca! Too bad everyone woke up only an hour later and we began to move.

This was our last day on the felucca. Eventually we reached Edfu, where we got off. We took a taxi to Luxor and immediately got sold by an Egyptian “friend” to stay at his brother’s hotel. I remember Marie saying the rooms were ok, but then later refusing the sheets. I was wishing we had just gone to stay where we planned, but everyone was tired and lazy and just slept from the moment we got there. I really wanted to go out and see some sights but no one else was interested. I listened to tapes on my Sony walkman (King’s “Alone Without You”, OMD, the Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry” and some early U2).

Eventually our “lunch” was ready at 4:00pm, so up we went to the roof garden cafeteria and looked at the food in front of us. Ugh. I guess the felucca Nile meals did me in, as I had to force myself to eat something.

Days 8 – 12

We finally motivated ourselves to go somewhere, so we took the hotel’s “special service taxi” (which was, of course, another brother’s old car). We visited Luxor Temple, which I found extremely interesting.

Then we went to Karnak for a few hours, most of which were spent outside drinking cokes. I was never a coke drinker but in Egypt the glass bottled coke was safer than plastic bottled water, and ironically coke became the most nutricious meal I could swallow, and only one to stay down.

Editor’s Note: Yep, I was most definitely getting sick, and sicker with every day. I think the technical medical condition was “pharoah’s revenge”. In fact, my journal stopped blank after the above entry.

My ticket stubs and pictures remind me that we went to sites of Deir-el-Barhi (which I had really wanted to see based on a b/w picture in an ad), and the Valley of the Kings, where we wandered into a few tombs, one of which belonged to King Tut. It was anti-climatic. It was also hot and dry. I think my failure to appreciate the history stemmed from the bug wreaking havoc in my guts forcing me to always be here and now (and mindful of the nearest pitstop).

Eventually we got back to Cairo. I don’t remember how. But I remember staying in a hotel with several beds in a large room, and windows looking out over the square across from the Mohammed Ali Mosque.

I remember looking out the window after dark and watching a whole black market taking place right outside – men selling knock-off t-shirts and knives and other things that you don’t see by day. It looked extremely dangerous with lots of shady characters, and I understood why we were told not to leave the hotel after dark. Then in the early hours of the morning they disappear, and as the sun rose I would look down to see people waking from their slumber on rooftops and patches of grass. I remember the guy selling shoes never left, day or night. I remember staring out this window endlessly as I recovered from my bug. And I remember questioning religious faith – theirs, and my own.

I vaguely remember at one point (during daylight) I decided to venture out into the souks to try to shop, feeling dizzy and faint, and refusing beckons to “come inside to my store in back”. I was lost. It was hot, I was severely dehydrated, and only by a miracle did I somehow end up back at the hotel without any trouble. Beyond the gastrointestinal one.

The next journal entry is several days later:

Finally, back in Greece. I never thought I’d be so happy to see Athens! Now I’m back on Ios. The day is Tuesday the 22nd, and I somehow spent my 22nd birthday in Cairo, but it’s not even worth mentioning. So here I am, having walked across the beautiful Milopotas Beach to Dracos Taverna – my home sweet home away from home…away from home. Oh it’s good to be alive! How lucky am I.

This concludes my “Remembering Egypt” journal. Rather abruptly, I’m afraid, but there you have it. I did fully recover by the time I was back in Greece, and I’m certain the river water was at fault. The food itself in Egypt was excellent, and the entire experience was not so bad that I wouldn’t go back.

I have, in fact, returned in recent years, and took my husband and daughter (who was almost 3 at the time) to see the Pyramids.



It was a very different experience, and too short, with time only to visit Cairo and Alexandria. My daughter still has memories of our trip, but not of the Pyramids or the Nile or the other amazing sights we saw.


What she remembers, with great vividness of senses, is nothing more than…the sounds of the burping camels!

We all still have the dream to return and cruise the Nile together in much better circumstances, and I am certain this won’t be the last of my Egypt blog posts. I will return. Some day.

Thank you for coming along on my journey through the archives of my travel journal. If you would like to share a link of your own travels to Egypt, I welcome you to do so in a comment below!

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