Jun 022017
 

Gwanghwamun

My favorite time to write is while on public transportation, be it on an airplane or a train. Here I am, sitting on a plane from Detroit to Salt Lake City on my way home from a quick getaway to Seoul, South Korea. And a quick getaway it sure was. I left Montana on Tuesday morning and returning today, which is Friday. That gave me a full day in Seoul. Sure, that’s not much to see the city but the whole purpose of this trip was a chance to fly the upper cabin of the Delta Boeing 747 one more time before it retires at the end of the year (United will be retiring theirs as well soon). And I also had been to Seoul before (see my previous blog post: A Stroll in Seoul), so one could say this is a continuation of my previous trip as I focused on sights that were new to me. Seoul is a fascinating and vibrant city where people are quick to smile and a dollar goes  long way (it’s still only about $4 for a one way train ticket from Incheon airport to the city and a 2 liter bottle of water will cost you less than a dollar). I confess that I didn’t go out seeking photograph opportunity on this trip, I was just happy to be there. Well, it’s not that photographic opportunities do not abound, it’s more like the light was just not the best. A sunny day will give you strong light with harsh shadows and a sunny day is what I go (but who am I to complain), so perhaps once home, as I start cataloging these new photos, I will work on some black and whites as that gives more justice to harsh lighting conditions.

I like to walk and this trip was no different than many others where I consumed the bottom of my shoes. I arrived on Wednesday night after a 13 hours flight from Detroit (and 2 other flights before that) and after dropping my small backpack at the hostel I booked by Hongik University for a whopping $16/night (breakfast included), on a direct train line from the airport, I went to explore the neighborhood and find something to eat. I really like that area, Hongik University has a fun, multicultural, night life and it’s brim with cheap restaurants, coffee shops and beer houses. I will most likely stay there again.

Namdaemun Market

The next morning I took the subway to Namdaemun Market. One could find all sort of things here, it reminded me of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. There’s an above ground section, that spans across a large area and multiple small alleys, as well an underground claustrophobic as well as rich of all sort of merchandise section. I truly enjoyed both as I walked around taking pictures and GoPro video while being greeted by the smiles of many merchants.
I wasn’t there to buy stuff (although there’s so much I would buy) but I love this city, and I think they could tell.

Library and City Hall

In one of the small alleys I found several restaurants displaying a variety of locals dishes and tantalizing smells. Letting a gracious lady lure me inside one of them I try a typical Korean dish which was still new to me:  Bibimbap (literally: Mixed rice. It’s served as a bowl of warm white rice topped with sautéed and seasoned vegetables chili pepper paste and soy sauce). I loved every bite, as it contained several flavors that perfectly married each other. I liked it so much that on my flight from Incheon to Detroit I had it again as it was one of the meal options.

Satisfied with my lunch choice I, once again, took the road to walk toward the City Hall. This is a gorgeous modern glass building that sits just across the Deoksugung temple area which I had visited on my previous trip (see past blog post: A Stroll in Seoul). I would recommend spending time in this area to anyone interested in travel and architectural photography. The harmony of the lines in those buildings just make for some great shots. Walking down this large avenue I arrived at my destination, the Gwanghwamun Gate and temple complex. I shared some of the sights with a young woman from Holland (originally from Syria) whose name is Arua, if memory serves me correctly. As we took each other’s pictures we talked a bit about world events. Of course we touched a bit on the topic of Syria, and she made me realize how hard it is for people who only have the Syrian passport to travel anywhere as most countries will not accept that passport for entry. It is sad that a whole people can be discriminated based on their nationality. I have not met a whole lot of Syrians but those I met where beautiful people with a quick smile, a sense of humor and a will to share what they have with other cultures. I hope they will find peace soon.

Hongik University area at night

After another walk to the subway station I took a train to the National Museum of Korea. Those who are museum lovers will find thousands of artifacts to entertain them for the whole day; those who are not will still rejoice from the gorgeous setting and building, the many collections inside that are worth at least a quick browsing, and the fact that admission is free.

After this I went back to Hongik University area to relax and grab some dinner. The next morning I had a 6am alarm clock to get me to the airport in time for my 10am flight.

Seoul has so much more to offer, but I’m truly intrigued by the beautiful sights advertised in posters around the subway stations. With mountains, rivers, waterfalls and lakes, as well as gorgeous foliage colors, it seems that South Korea will be calling my name sooner rather than later.

City view from the National Museum of Korea

Bibimbap

 

 

(Click on images to see a larger version in a new tab)

 

 

 

Apr 142015
 
High speed and close quarters

High speed and close quarters

What a great weekend!
Beside photography one of my passions is sport bikes. Last weekend I flew down to Austin, Texas to watch the MotoGP race at the Circuit of the Americas with the hope of capturing some good photos of this event, for once leaving behind landscape photography. For those of you who don’t know what MotoGP is, it is the motorcycle equivalent of the Formula 1 car race.
I got there before the bulk of people arrived and was able to spend quite a bit of time around mingling with the bike makers staff and exploring the grounds to find a good spot and indeed I found one. I only brought one lens with me, the Canon EF 100-400 L coupled with the 2X Extender and my Canon 7D which gave me an actual 1200mm focal (manual focus at that point).

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Marquez grabs the first place in front of Dovizioso

Photographing races is all about speed, for that reason I left the 5D Mark III home and took advantage of the 7D high frame rate. This is an exciting event and I look forward to going again next year, the one thing I would do different though is I will take advantage of the loan program of the Canon Professional Services Platinum Membership. If you are a die-hard Canon user like myself (and Canon does have a phenomenal customer service, I’m not sponsored by them so this is a honest assessment based on years of experience) you have probably collected a number of Canon cameras and lenses which have a point value toward a CPS membership level: Silver, Gold or Platinum. In Europe the CPS program works a little differently and it is not based on points but on number/type of cameras and lenses owned.

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Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati racers

Back to the MotoGP, the event lasts for 3 days (Fri-Sun) and it’s a great opportunity for speed shooters as well as those photographers who do not have experience shooting high speed subjects but want to try. In that case I recommend taking advantage of the whole three days (there are several qualification races and Sunday is the actual competition), and there is plenty to be entertain with besides the races. I was surprised to see such a high number of people supporting the Italian racers or Italian bikes and Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso took home the second place, with Yamaha’s Italian rider and world champion Valentino Rossi taking the third place. First place went, with little surprise on anyone’s part, to Honda and its Spanish rider Marc Marquez who once again used his own kind of magic to take a good 3 seconds lead (eternity!) on the Ducati. It was fun and I hope to see you there next year!

 

 

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Marc Marquez of Honda, his bike is inclined approx. 64 degrees.

 

Maverick Viñales

Suzuki Ecstar Maverick Viñales in a tight turn.

 

Mar 252015
 

I’m working on a new book that will be called “The Light of Easter Island” – it’s a photographic adventure aimed at capturing Easter Island under a wide variety of lighting conditions.

Your help is appreciated, with a pledge, or by sharing the kickstarter link with your friends.

Thank you

(Closed)

Feb 082015
 
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Hong Kong by night

If there is one place capable of capturing the collective imagination with visions of fabled treasures, unexplored jungle, ancient rituals and mysterious cultures the Angkor temple complex is certainly it. It is the lifetime dream of the traveling photographer, on par with Easter Island and Machu Picchu.

Flying over the jungle for a while with views of lakes and river and lush landscape, I stretch my neck left and right trying to catch a glimpse of Angkor Wat but our route does not take us in its proximity. The landing at Siem Reap airport is smooth and right on time. While our Cambodia Angkor Air Airbus taxis to the terminal my excitement grows, as images of stone faces and jungle covered ruins plays in my mind.
I have been traveling with my friend Michelle for a while now, and we have recently met some other friends from Wyoming down in Sihanoukville (where we just flew from). Together we hop on the Tuk Tuk that is waiting outside of the terminal to take us to our guesthouse: the Seven Candles.
I want to spend a few words on this place in case you, dear reader, end up in Siem Reap a day or another. Seven Candles (http://www.sevencandlesguesthouse.com/) is more than a guesthouse, it’s a school for rural children and part of the profits go to the education of these children. Please take a moment to read about the foundation: http://www.sevencandlesguesthouse.com/#!our-foundation.
Lori Carlson, a transplant from Austin, Texas manages the guesthouse. She has a quick smile and many helpful tips, which contributed to making our stay more enjoyable,

Way up to the Big BuddhaOur trip began in Tokyo, with a 26 hours stopover to show my friend Michelle around the city since this was her first time, and continued to Hong Kong were three days were just enough for a visit to the Po Lin monastery, a few museums, catch up with old friends and have dinner at my favorite Nepalese restaurant. From there we flew to Ho Chi Minh City (the old Saigon) in Vietnam for a quick tour of the city. We arrived at midnight and a short taxi ride took us to the hotel in the city center. Asian hospitality never ceases to amaze me: not only was the location of our hotel convenient, but our room was large, modern, had a huge bathroom window overlooking the city and the hotel had a beautiful rooftop restaurant/bar where we could enjoy a delightful meal and drinks for just a few dollars. The staff was, of course, very friendly and helpful too.
The following morning’s rain did not stop us from enjoying the city. We took a rickshaw to visit the local market (similar to a bazaar) which was overfilled with trinkets and souvenirs that made me wish I had any room in my small backpack, the only luggage I dragged. When the rain finally stopped and a bit of sun came out, we walked to the War Remnants Museum. The visit was somber, the museum was full of people but hardly any word was spoken, as the many photographs on the wall grabbed everyone’s attention. I had a sense of déjà vu, projecting myself in the Atom bomb museum I had visited in Hiroshima years before. It’s incredible to see the kind of atrocity people are willing to commit in the name of some temporary political ideology, but it’s good that we have places like this that can remind us of the past and push us to be better people to ourselves and those around us. Taking photographs is allowed in most parts of the museum, but I limited myself to a few shots of machinery in the front yard.hkg3

The good mood returned in the evening with a walk in the business district, watching and avoiding the movement of thousands of scooters, which was quite an adventure in itself. If I were asked what are the three most difficult things I have done in my life, I would say that crossing a street in Vietnam was definitely one of them. We concluded the evening with a visit of the Saigon Skydeck. Located on the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower, at a height of 178 meters, we enjoyed a night view of the city and its myriad of lights from above. A lengthy walk home and a pleasant dinner on the roof was all that was left for the day, the following morning was going to be spent for the most part on a bus to the capital of Cambodia: Phnom Penh.

Ho Chi Minh City from the rooftop restaurant

Nov 162013
 

bikeThere’s a lot more to unpacking after a trip then taking things out of a backpack. That little receipt from the amazing chocolate shop, the trail map from that steep hike. And it’s unpacking that I found myself once again in Patagonia. Paradise exists, and I found another piece of it in Patagonia, and with it, the renewed knowledge that the world is too big and beautiful to be seen in a lifetime. That seems so unfair.

Kilometers pass quickly below me as the mountains recede leaving space to the immense pampas. One last goodbye to Cerro Catedral from my airplane’s window and I’m well on my way back to Buenos Aires with Aerolineas Argentinas/Austral. It’s time for me to close my eyes and meditate on the past few days. I left more than just landscapes behind; I left new friends and a piece of myself. These people will go on with their travels, some far down to El Calafate or even further down to Ushuaia, other up north to Peru or Bolivia. We left each other with the hope that our roads will cross again in some other beautiful place.

IMG_0625One steady step after another, digging in the packed snow turned ice, me and my new hiking companion, a joyful french man answering to the name of Antoine, reach the summit of Cerro Catedral two and a half hour after leaving the base. The view behind us is gorgeous, but what we find on the other side is breathtaking in its majesticity. The rugged white topped mountains meet the deep blue sky with Cerro Tronador standing high in its authority. The narrow valleys below are of a lush green and broken only by streams that snake their way within them. This is a beauty that hurts. I cannot stop thinking how much longer will our beautiful planet resist human impact. How many places like this one have already disappeared? So far we have not found another planet like ours, wouldn’t that be a reason good enough to protect what we have? Each one of us has limited power; what I can do, and it’s what I do best, is traveling to places like this and share what I see with others so that they may understand what we have and what we shouldn’t lose.IMG_0512

 

 

 

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My next article will be about the photographic gear I took me with on this trip.

 

Nov 132013
 

 

Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires

Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires

As I flip through the pages of my Lonely Planet guide to Argentina I feel an excitement growing like I haven’t felt it in a long time. In the past few years I have traveled near and far (mostly far). Just a week ago I was strolling along the roads of Munich; before then I was in Italy just in time to witness the birth of my first nephew;  two months ago I had the opportunity to visit my old college roommate in his beautiful hometown: Stockholm. So far this year I’ve been to five new countries and about to make the sixth as well as returning to several others. Every place I see is special in its own way: be it the orange sands of Wadi Rum, an ancient cemetery in Japan where spirits seem to breathe on the back of your neck, or the warm azure waters of Palau in Micronesia. Every place has given me unique memories and wonderful emotions (I couldn’t stop my eyes from getting moist while watching the sun breaking through the clouds from below while I was standing at the top of the Haleakala Mountain in Mau; or falling into a revered silence as the clouds broke up to reveal the ancient Machu Picchu before me) but all this traveling has taken its toll, it has taken a little bit of the magic of the unknown away. It is a bit like working in a movie set after another (which I have done): you will never watch a movie the same way. You will still enjoy it, but it will be different. I’ve gone from place to place making my wishes come true, loving it, but at the same time feeling like something was missing.

Buenos Aires is a bright and lively city

Buenos Aires is a bright and lively city

This time is different, though. I feel the excitement building up and I can’t wait to be at destination. This trip was not planned; maybe that’s what makes it so different and appealing. I sat in front of my computer yesterday, on my birthday, working on some photos, when out of nowhere I thought of Argentina. I quickly typed “weather in Ushuaia” on my browser but the results were less than encouraging: I would have left a cold place for another, not in the mood for that. I switched the search to “weather in Bariloche” and the results were much better: sunny with 27C/80F.

I type this half-way between Denver and Atlanta; tonight I will be on a flight to Buenos Aires where I will meet up with some friends flying out of Houston. I’m getting shivers from this, I already know, amazing adventure that is about to start.

How Else Would You Celebrate Your Arrival in Buenos Aires?

How Else Would You Celebrate Your Arrival in Buenos Aires?

Bariloche, gateway to Alta Patagonia and home of some of South America’s most scenic National Parks is my mother’s dream place. This trip is dedicated to you, mom. Thank you for giving me the positive energy to make it happen and also thanks for never stopping guiding me: with your curiosity, your intelligence, your creativity and your compassion.

Oct 222013
 
From one church to another

From one church to another

Recently I had the opportunity to visit an old college friend in Taormina, Sicily, for a few days. This town sits atop a hill overlooking the Mediterranean sea and it’s well known and renowned as one of the hot spots for beach vacation in Italy. The architecture is what one would expect from an old Mediterranean beach town, colored buildings, churches and bell towers but there is so much more to this sunny town, that anyone could get lost in its tight streets just from walking with the nose up admiring the upper floors of old houses. Balconies here come to life with precious handmade ceramics, vases, vines and flowers. Corners of streets have more ceramics depicting all sort of scenes and shop names. With so much variety and homogeneity this is truly the traveler and architectural photographer’s heaven (parts of The Godfather III were filmed here).
Like all Italian cities, Taormina has a central square, and this is one of the most distinct and recognizable squares across the country. Paved with a checkered motif and sitting over a cliff overlooking the sea, the square offers breathtaking views of the blue-green waters below and of the Etna’s mountain, Italy’s most active volcano. This was taking a nap during my visit and I didn’t get to come home with photos of lava fountains. In all honesty I was very happy to come home with some photos at all. Because of my recent bicep surgery I have not held a camera in over a month due to its weight and the inability to move my arm properly.

Lots of art everywhere

Lots of art everywhere

While the pain still lingers, my arm’s mobility is improving a little bit every day and, although I had to take breaks often from holding the camera, and some shots were just difficult and painful to make (like those I took laying down on the ground on the square), I have been very happy with the results and the photos I took home (a little less with the portable hard drive that died last night less than two years since purchase).

Giardini Naxos has quite a bit of artwork

Giardini Naxos has quite a bit of artwork

Back to the square: the checkered tiles provide great leading architectural lines and with not one, but two churches on different sides plus two large metal art pieces the possibilities to create an original shot abound, even in a town that sees a large number of tourists every year.

Another beautiful piece of architecture is given by the Teatro Greco (Greek Theatre), from which a view of the city can be admired from above. The Theatre (probably built by the Romans in Greek style) is the second largest in Sicily and it is incredibly well preserved. Today it is still used for theatrical performances as well as concerts (think Opera, not Rock).

In Taormina good restaurants and shops are plenty, it is so nice to sit at a table outside to enjoy a granita (what Americans call “Italian Ice”) or a cappuccino while enjoying people-watching after a busy day of photo taking.

 

Pano of Piazza IX Aprile

Pano of Piazza IX Aprile

Mt. Etna, Giardini Naxos and Taormina at sunset

Mt. Etna, Giardini Naxos and Taormina at sunset

May 162013
 

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It was bound to happen. I grew up a mere two hours flight away but I had never been there. I looked left from the height of my camel saddle and there they were, all three of them, the majestic pyramids of Khufu (Cheops), Khafre and Menkaure. All history books I’ve studied in school talked about their size, of what a great feat of architecture they are, and yet, being in front of them still caught me a bit off guard. This was pure splendor of architectural perfection.
Once again I was traveling with newfound friends, quite an assorted background: United States, Czech Republic and India. Our guide, Ibrahim, picked us up in Alexandria and for the three hour drive to Cairo he shared with us his historical, geographical and political knowledge of ancient and modern Egypt until the first road sign marked “Giza Pyramids” presented itself high above the highway. We peeked through the windows of our transport to catch a glimpse of them and when we finally saw one in the distance, high above the road, our torpor was replaced by excitement. We were not out of the van one minute that quick fingers had already started snapping away at the humongous construct and after the classic, or rather cliché, group photo of us posing as ancient Egyptians on a wall we proceeded to the far end of the pyramids toward the desert from where we could get an unobstructed view. Ibrahim introduced us to our camel guides, a young bunch excited at the prospect of making some money in this disastrous tourism downfall  but also interested in us having a good time. And so here I was, a few hundred meters away from the pyramids, in the heat of the Sahara desert, standing up on a camel to bring home a memorable photo of myself and the pyramids to my family and friends. This being my second camel ride in a week it was still quite fun and exciting if not uncomfortable. Unfortunately on the way back my 7D decided to abandon me for the rest of my trip and nothing would bring it back to life. I will not have a good camera until I return to the Unites States, meaning that from that point on all photos would be taken with my cell phone. I would not give in to negativity and dismay though, and used that as an excuse to return to Egypt sooner rather than later.

IMG_0146The docile animals dropped us beside the pyramid of Khafre where our guide picked us up and together we walked toward the smaller pyramids near the Cheops one and inside one. The narrow slanted and slippery passage took us a hundred feet or so underground, not a place for the claustrophobic. There was no decorations on the walls, and as the outside light receded further and further away the sight of a chamber on the left side of the wall, at the bottom of the passage slowly came to view. No living mummies here waiting for us in the dark recess of the chamber and we actually left the place without receiving any curse from an ancient Pharaoh (that we know of). The chamber was small and empty and all was in there was just some massive stone blocks, but we sat on one of them and dreamt of a day when it was filled with beautiful artifacts and riches beyond anyone’s dreams.

The afternoon was filled with a quick visit to the papyrus museum and shop where we were shown how papyrus is made and how to recognize an original sheet from a fake (fakes are made of banana leaves); lunch on a beautiful restaurant on the bank of the Nile river after a short boat ride and also a tour of the bazaar in Cairo where shops and tents selling ordinary clothes and trinkets alternated with show of true artisanship displaying handmade and hand decorated lamps and plates. It was a wonderful experience that we all enjoyed. In the evening we returned to the pyramids for the Light and Sound show. Without the ability to take good quality photos, after taking a few with my phone I just sat back and enjoyed the show.

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This was a trip that deserved taking a second body, unfortunately having sold my 5D Mark II an not having had a chance to get my hands on the Mark III I was left with only one body. I carried a variety of lenses with me: the ever present 24-105, the 10-22 and a 100mm macro with an extension tube, all Canon. I also brought a warm/cool circular polarizer but frankly I’m enjoying less and less the look of a polarized image as I find the change too aggressive. I also recommend bringing a light tripod.

If you’re visiting Egypt and need a reliable and experienced guide I strongly recommend our guide Ibrahim Mahdy (he also speaks Italian). He is knowledgeable in the history and culture of Egypt and will provide an excellent experience at reasonable prices.
His company is G Adventures.

Mar 182013
 
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Landing Strip for Spaceships?

 

It’s been over five years since my adventures in Peru but the events that took place there, especially the night of October 29th, are burned in my memory and will be for a long time. The following is  recap of what happened after Huacachina, after we nearly lost our lives in a bus crash, which incidentally was when I stopped writing my travel diary for that trip.

The morning was filled with excitement as we got up from our small beds in the hostal found the night before. Nazca was the fulfilling of another dream for me. Lindsey only knew what I told her about this place, but to me this was the place where magic and extraterrestrials came to life. I was about 10 years old when our mailman delivered a book that my mother had bought me: The Last Mysteries of Earth. It was huge, had a shiny blue hard cover and I read all of it front to back, several times in fact. Back then I promised myself that when I grew up I would go see those places. Years later I forgot about the book, but when it finally came to mind I realized that unconsciously a good part of my life had been driven by it. Still today I’m trying to keep the promise I made to myself.

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The book had a chapter about the strange lines of Nazca, an intricate network of strategically placed rocks that only from high up in the sky reveal the most amazing figures like a spider, a monkey, a condor, and even an image known as “the astronaut.” The book told the story of Maria Reiche (1903–1998), a German mathematician and archaeologist who spent all her life in Nazca studying the lines trying to understand their secrets. My hope was to meet her one day but unfortunately I arrived in Nazca 10 years too late. As of today the mystery of the desert of Nazca, a region that has not seen rainfall in over a thousand years, is still unsolved. Theories abound but none of them is conclusive, including the mystery around who built the lines but most importantly: how did they do that. The lines are so perfect that scientists are baffled at how that was accomplished without an aerial view.
We left out lodging and called a taxi to take us to the small regional airport, the Maria Reiche Neuman Airport several kilometers out of town. I had a grin from one ear to the other, kept looking around like a child in a candy store and counted the minutes that separated me from seeing the images in the book with my own eyes. The taxi dropped us off by the General Aviation hangars and we perused all the trinkets in the small gift shop for a while waiting to be called. Not long had passed that a friendly voice called me by name, it was our pilot dressed in full uniform who introduced himself and told me: “I heard you’re a pilot, you can sit next to me.” With us there were two middle aged American ladies and a man who came here with the same curiosity about the lines. I climbed on the co-pilot seat of our six seater Cessna (a 206 I seem to recall) and felt right at home. Lindsey sat in the back. To my dismay the controls had been removed from my side, but I came here to see the lines and take photographs so I wasn’t going to let that bother me.

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Taxing to high adventure

In a short time we were up in the air heading toward the desert. The nose of the plane pointing toward a pretty big hill, when our pilot took the aircraft to the opposite side and banked it to about 45 degrees revealing a huge figure covering the entire side of the hill top to bottom which made me stare with an open jaw and a whispered “wow”: The astronaut came into view.

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The Astronaut waves at us
(Click on the photo for a larger version)

We circled a few times so that everyone on each side could see it well. Leaving the spaceman behind we flew a pattern that took us to the spider, the condor, the hummingbird, the monkey, the landing strip and many others, one more beautiful and fascinating than the previous. The same questions that Maria Reiche and many other archaeologists asked themselves came to me: who built this lines? Why? How did they reach this kind of perfection without seeing from above? Why these particular figures and geometrical shapes? What did they know that we don’t?

Our pilot said it was time to head back and told me I could take the plane home. I reached over to the controls on his side and happily took the Cessna back to home base. After a smooth landing we descended from the aircraft where I found out that Lindsey had not enjoyed the tour as much as I did since she got motion sickness soon after take off.

We crossed the street to a nice looking resort and sat by the pool on this hot day sipping ice tea. The gardens were in full bloom and several beautiful birds sang their songs as they flew from a tree to another. We asked a young lady at the reception to call a taxi to take us back to town and she asked if she could tell a trusted friend to pick us up. We agreed on $9 and waited for the driver to show up. He arrived about 20 minutes later in a tiny car that could barely hold the 3 of us (and none of us is a giant) and spoke no English, a sticker across the entire windshield bore the name of his wife. He was a young man in his early twenties and seemed very nice. He asked us if we had seen anything else in Nazca besides the lines. We had not and he offered to take us to the Puquios (the aqueducts), which have been estimated to date back to around 500 AD and built by a Pre-Columbian Nazcan civilization. Amazingly these Puquios are still fully functioning regardless of several major earthquakes and carry fresh water from the mountains to the valley. Our driver and newly-found guide told us that the ticket to the Puquios was $4 but at the gate we could buy a $10 pass which included admission to several other areas of interest as well as the museum in town and offered to take us to these places. With nothing else planned for the rest of the day we purchased the pass and were driven around the valley across aqueducts and more lines by our new friend who turned out to be very knowledgeable about the history of his region.

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Exploring the Aqueduct

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The Hummingbird (305 feet / 100 meters long)

Several hours later he dropped us off at the museum in town telling us how to get back to our hotel, which was a short walk away. He expected nothing more than the previously agreed $9 but we felt that would have been dishonest and ungrateful to a guy who showed so much enthusiasm and willingness to go out of his way to please us so we gave him a generous tip and left him speechless.

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We found a nice little restaurant for our late lunch and for $5 each we had the best ceviche to date and a large tasteful plate of rice and seafood with mineral water.

In the evening we took a Cruz del Sur bus to our next destination: Arequipa. The bus was a large comfortable double decker: first class on the lower deck with seats reclining to flat bed position and Economy class on the top deck with seats reclining to a comfortable almost flat position. A brochure onboard showed that the bus was equipped with a GPS tracking system which would alert the central office shall the bus stop for any unscheduled reason. Ten hours and we would be in Arequipa.

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Hiking in the desert around Nazca

Two and a half hour into the trip everyone was asleep while, sitting toward the back of the bus, I happily typed on my laptop logging the events that had taken place the day before. Lindsey was sitting in the front row. I felt we were going really fast in a moonless pitch black night when we came to a sudden stop sending my laptop flying in the air. I immediately stood up and reached to it within the limit of my seatbelt and was able to grab it before it flew further away. Everyone woke up screaming, not knowing what had happened as the bus flipped on its side still sliding forward and finally stopping at a 45 degree angle. People everywhere were trying to stand up and smash the windows to get out, screaming incoherently. I remember standing on my seat and yelling in Spanish to sit down and not to panic. I had no idea where we were on our journey, but I knew at some point our road went by some cliffs hundreds of feet over the ocean and I was afraid we might be there. I didn’t want anyone rocking the bus. As people calmed down a bit I moved to the front of the bus to find, with much relief, Lindsey unarmed and the large window in front of her completely shattered. A few of us were able to open the door finding out we had crashed on the side of a sand dune.

Map of the Nazca Lines (Click for larger image)

Map of the Nazca Lines at the bus stop
(Click for larger image)

People starting flocking outside as cars raced by us carelessly on the road regardless of the debris of the crash in the middle of it. We found out we had hit at high speed a large truck carrying metal scraps which was traveling in the same direction as us but at much slower speed and with no lights. The front of our bus was completely destroyed and seeing that I feared for the life of our driver. Miraculously neither ne, nor anyone else, had suffered any major injuries. A lady visiting from Italy had banged her knee and felt some pain but she would survive. An older Peruvian lady felt like she was going to have a heart attack, and a French guy cut a finger in his panicked attempt to break the window. Lindsey later would find a stone stuck in her bra. About an hour later, maybe less, the clock seemed to have stopped and ticking faster all at the same time, a police car approached. A single police officer, a large middle age man, parked halfway on the road and shut off his lights. I asked him if it was safe to have a car parked on the road in darkness and went back in and turned on his lights. Meanwhile cars and trucks kept zooming by us, uncaring.

While everyone was trying to make heads and tails of what had happened, Lindsey and I started a conversation with two guys from Sweden and a couple from France. As fate likes to play tricks, it turned out that one of the Swedish guy’s godfather was a friend of mine. Two and a half hours after the accident a Cruz del Sur bus arrived and picked us all up, our trip was to continue. I looked at the stars and wished that no other bus crash was involved in our upcoming adventures.

The inspiration to my trips

The inspiration to my trips

If you’ve missed the previous days, my dear reader, click on the tab “Travel Adventures” and find “Peru.”

bus

Our bus took an unexpected turn

What’s left of our bus
Lindsey was seating on the top right side, the driver on the bottom left side

Sep 222012
 

The Alamo

Last week I received an email mentioning San Antonio, TX and since I had not been there yet, but had been planning to visit at some point, I thought this would be a good time to take a quick trip to Texas. I had heard many good things about the city from friends so, knowing well that a two day trip (even less, once we consider the time spent on the air and in airports) would not do it justice I figured that at least I was going to have a taste of it, and perhaps come home with a good photo or two.
San Antonio, from a touristic perspective, is a city rich of points of interest and is also quite affordable. I was able to book a nice hotel just five minutes walk from The Alamo and Riverwalk for a very reasonable rate.
I wanted to travel very light, with a change of clothes in my small backpack and just my 5D Mark II and its 24-105L lens (which turned out to be a good choice), I also brought a circular polarizer which I ended up not using.

At the Alamo

The evening of my arrival day was spent taking photos of the  Alamo from outside as it was already closed. I tried to be creative in the way I included people, as the location is crowded at all times and I didn’t want to end up with photos of a building surrounded by people but rather with the people telling a story. After that I strolled around Riverwalk taking more photos, and working with some long exposures to catch the movement of the passenger boats that run up and down the river. As I didn’t have a tripod with me I used whatever support I could find. Can you tell from a photo when a wall was used instead of a tripod? I can’t. As a matter of fact, one of my favorite photos I took of the Seattle skyline was shot using a trashcan to steady the camera. Do I encourage everyone to always travel without a tripod? Would I fly all the way to Easter Island without a tripod? Certainly not, but at times, when weight and movement restrictions are the most important things to you, being able to improvise can make the difference between a good photo and a bad snapshot.

Riverwalk

Riverwalk is a vibrant, entertaining location on the sides of the San Antonio river, filled with fancy hotels and great food outlets. That alone, makes you want to go back to San Antonio. Fortunately for me it’s passed high season therefore the city was not overly crowded with tourists and the temperature was comfortably warm, rather than uncomfortably hot.
After a good night sleep I went back to the Alamo for some more photos and this time I was able to get in (free admission, donations appreciated). The courtyard is quite nice and there are many details to photograph, one of my favorite was the lone star on a metal bench. I only had two hours left before catching a bus back to the airport (with a 4 hours layover in Salt Lake City, which I would have definitely preferred to spend in San Antonio) and I wanted to see more of the city. I walked to the San Fernando Cathedral, which is the oldest standing church in Texas, beautiful inside and out. I took some photos of the nearby City Hall building, and then walked to the Market Square where good Mexican food abounds. My day in San Antonio ended with a good and abundant meal at a very low price. Perfect ending, isn’t it?

San Fernando Cathedral