Travel Reflections

Travel Reflections

 

Turning 50 seems like a great time to recommend some of my favorite places and share a few travel reflections and some lessons learned from my travels.

 

Here’s my number one travel tip:  travel as light as you possibly can.  Go with just a carryon.  I’m down to 20 liter backpack that weighs less than 8 kilograms when it’s fully loaded that will fit in the small overhead bins of  the regional airlines.    As a good friend told me years ago, all you really need to travel is your passport, a credit card and a little cash.  I’d add that you must have a camera, too.  But I’m a photographer : )    Here is a little known secret: other countries have washing machines and dryers.  Better yet, drop it off at a full service laundry and pick it up the next day.  All you really need is enough clothes for a week or so no matter how long your trip is.   Having a bunch of luggage with you is like carrying a millstone with you on your travels.  Be free!

 

Favorite completely touristy thing I love to do in Paris:

Climbing the Tower of Notre Dame in Paris.   Something amazing climbing up stone steps that are worn down by 500 years of foot falls.   And the view?  Stunning.   I do this every time I'm in Paris.

Climbing the Tower of Notre Dame in Paris. Something amazing about climbing up stone steps that are worn down by 500 years of foot falls. And the view? Stunning. I do this every time I’m in Paris.

 

 

Most Important Travel Lesson Learned…

Don't let the wine run out!

…don’t let the wine run out!

 

 

You can work out anywhere!

Even in the jungle in the middle of nowhere in Haiti!

Even in the jungle in the middle of nowhere in Haiti!

 

 

The best part of the journey is often just relaxing and taking it easy.

My buddy Tim shot this of me relaxing during our backpacking trip in Glacier National Park.

My buddy Tim shot this of me during our backpacking trip in Glacier National Park.

 

 

My favorite place in the world is still the North Shore on Kauai.  

Hanalei Bay, Kauai.  The incredible hiking, snorkeling, awesome beaches, and laid back vibe make the North Shore of Kauai a pretty amazing place.   And no snakes...did I mention no snakes?

Hanalei Bay, Kauai. The incredible hiking, snorkeling, awesome beaches, and laid back vibe make the North Shore of Kauai a pretty amazing place. And no snakes…did I mention no snakes?

 

 

Teenagers are similar the world over.

Hmong girls checking Facebook in Sapa, Vietnam.

Hmong girls checking Facebook in Sapa, Vietnam.

 

 

Havana is the best place to experience a time warp.

All the American cars from the 1950's make for a surreal vibe in Havana.   Cuba is one of my favorite places to visit for the photography, the people, and laid back vibe.

All the American cars from the 1950’s make for a surreal vibe in Havana. Cuba is one of my favorite places to visit for the photography, the people, and laid back vibe.

 

 

Angkor Wat in Cambodia is the most surreal place I’ve visited.

If I had to recommend just one place in SE Asia to visit, it would be Angkor Wat.  The ruins are amazing.

If I had to recommend just one place in SE Asia to visit, it would be Angkor Wat. The ruins are amazing. And if you get started before sunrise, you can beat the crowds to the outlying ruins.

 

 

But if you want to watch the sunrise over the main temple at Angkor Wat, you may have company.

I hate crowds but it was actually kinda cool being with so many people excited to take the same photo.

I hate crowds but it was actually kinda cool being with so many people excited to take the same photo.

 

 

Venice is the best city in the world to get lost in.

Even when Venice is crazy busy with tourists from the cruise ships, you can take a turn off the main streets, take another turn, and it'll just be you and the locals.  Stay lost for a few hours.  And when you're ready to get back to your hotel, just ask a local for directions.  Or better yet, flag down a water taxi.

Even when Venice is crazy busy with tourists from the cruise ships, you can take a turn off the main streets, take another turn, and it’ll just be you and the locals. Stay lost for a few hours. And when you’re ready to get back to your hotel, just ask a local for directions. Or better yet, flag down a water taxi.

 

 

This is what D Day and WWII are about for me…

...a French child flying his kite on one of the D Day beaches.

…a French child flying his kite on one of the D Day beaches.

 

 

The best gift I give myself before I travel is learning just a bit of the local language.

I met these two ladies in Moduli Village in Tanzania.  They got a kick out of my attempts at speaking Swahili.  And I got a cool photo I wouldn't have gotten if I'd been speaking English.

I met these two ladies in Moduli Village in Tanzania. They got a kick out of my attempts at speaking Swahili. And I got a cool photo I wouldn’t have gotten if I’d been speaking English.

 

 

“Strange Days is playing on the jukebox, the Amsterdam bar cat is waiting and the beer is great…where are you?”   This was the message letting me know my kids had arrived in the Netherlands and were inviting me to hang out at a local bar they’d found.   Evenings like that are the reason I travel.  The perfect moment you can’t possibly plan.

The Amsterdam bar cat.

The Amsterdam bar cat.

 

 

And the Honfluer collie…

Not as compelling as the Amsterdam Bar Cat but what a cute collie.

I shot this in Honfleur, France last year.

 

 

Cinque Terra – my fav place in Europe to hike, eat amazing food, drink tasty wine and relax.

Vernazza was my favorite village in Cinque Terra.   It's the perfect base to hike to other villages.

Vernazza was my favorite village in Cinque Terra. It’s the perfect base to hike to other villages. And if you have too much wine with lunch, you can just hop on a train back to Vernazza.

 

 

Hallstatt is the Austrian version of Cinque Terra.    Which means it’s cleaner and more orderly and the beer is awesome.  But the wine and food…well, it’s not Italy.   The train ride from Salzburg to Hallstatt is stunning and the hiking above the village is steep and beautiful.

Hallstatt

Hallstatt

 

 

Favorite National Parks.   Yellowstone and Grand Teton are my favorite national parks.  Killer mountains, grizzly bears, buffalo, wolves…no shortage of reasons to love YNP and GTNP.   YNP can be crazy in the summer but once you’re a few miles into the backcountry there is plenty of solitude.   And as stunning as GTNP is, it gets only a fraction of the visitors as it’s neighbor to the north.

Mustang  in the Grand Tetons.

Mustang in the Grand Tetons.

 

 

Elephants are amazing…

...and volunteering at Elephants World in Kanchanabari, Thailand was a wonderful experience.

…and volunteering at Elephants World in Kanchanabari, Thailand was a wonderful experience.

 

 

An African safari is even more amazing than you might imagine.

I was shooting a non-profit in Tanzania and I almost didn't go on a safari because I was so focused on the work.  I'm glad I did it.  Nothing like flying into the Serengeti and seeing elephants and giraffes below us.  And lions and tigers, oh my!

I was shooting for a non-profit in Tanzania and I almost didn’t go on a safari because I was so focused on the work. I’m glad I did it. Nothing like flying into the Serengeti and seeing elephants and giraffes below us. And lions and tigers, oh my!

 

 

St John is the best Caribbean island for snorkeling, hiking and killer beaches!

Kauai is still my fav island in the world but it's tough to beat St John's combination of perfect powdery sandy beaches, hiking and snorkeling.

Kauai is still my fav island in the world but it’s tough to beat St John’s combination of perfect powdery sandy beaches, hiking and snorkeling.

 

As much as I love to travel, it’s tough to beat Colorado in the summer!

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my fav places in Colorado for hiking!

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my fav places in Colorado for hiking!

 

Posted in Africa Travel, Asia, Caribbean Travel, Cuba, Europe Travel, Humanitarian, USA Travel

Wild Basin

Wild Basin

 

As much as I love to travel, it’s always wonderful to spend the summer in Colorado.   And for me this means hiking and climbing mountains at least three or four days a week.   Unlike traveling, where I’m almost always in the photography groove, when I’m on the trail my focus is on enjoying nature.   And I love it that as popular as RMNP is in the summer, there are still lots of trails where solitude abounds.

 

Wild Basin in RMNP still has lots trails to get away from the crowds.   Just like every National Park I’ve been to in the States, once you get 3 – 4 miles down a trail in RMNP, the crowds dissipate.  Add a few more miles to that and you’re almost guaranteed to be alone for stretches of time.    The loop I was on this morning is just six miles, and first two miles of that are on the popular Ouzel Falls trail but I only saw a couple other hikers on the trail because I got started at 7am.   It’s a beautiful loop: stunning waterfalls, beautiful views of the Continental Divide and wild flower filled meadows.    Here’s how to get there.   Park at the Ouzel Falls trailhead in Wild Basin.  It’s a fairly small parking area so get there by 9am to get a spot.  Head down the only trail and follow the sign for Calypso Falls.  From Calypso Falls there are a multiple forks in the trail but it’s well marked and all you need to do is follow the signs that says “Ranger Station”.   This will take four miles to the Finch Lake trailhead.   Head west (or left for you directionally challenged folks) down the dirt road and you’ll be back at the Ouzel Falls trailhead in about five minutes.

 

Feel free to message me with any questions on hiking in RMNP.  I always love chatting about hiking and photography.

 

All images were shot with the Sony RX100 III.  It’s my main hiking camera.  Super light and pocketable.   It’s the camera I most recommend to folks who are looking for a small camera with great files.   The autofocus is super fast.  The only thing I don’t love about the Sony is that the menus are convoluted and not very intuitive.    Otherwise, it’s the perfect travel camera.

 

On the trail in the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park

On the trail in the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park

Looking across the valley at Mt Meeker in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Looking across the valley at Mt Meeker in Rocky Mountain National Park.

On the Fitch Lake trail in Wild Basin.

On the Fitch Lake trail in Wild Basin.

Calypso Falls in Wild Basin.

Calypso Falls in Wild Basin.

Finch Lake Trail in wild Basin.

Finch Lake Trail in Wild Basin.

Posted in USA Travel

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres

 

I shouldn’t love Isla Mujeres.  There’s not any hiking.  There aren’t any long stretches of isolated beaches.   Locals are trying to sell you stuff when you walk through town.  It’s a tiny island.  Less than 700 meters wide at it’s widest.  And it can’t be more than four miles long.   So there not much exploring to be done.  But I absolutely love Isla.  It was the ideal place to spend a week relaxing on our way back home from Cuba.

 

Isla Mujeres is the perfect, do nothing, lay on the beach vacation.  And there are 15-20 great restaurants, most of them located in the historic old town.  Another plus for Isla is there is no need for a car.  Get off the ferry.  Walk to your hotel.  And then just walk from your hotel to the beach.  From the beach to a restaurant.  Go take a nap.  Grab a few beers and walk back to the beach to watch the sun set.  Repeat daily.

 

Getting there is easy.  Fly into Cancun and take the twenty minute ferry ride from Gran Puerto in Cancun to Isla.   Ferries run every thirty minutes and only take about twenty minutes to reach Isla Mujeres.

 

I recommend staying on or near Playa Norte.  It’s the best beach on the island and most of the great restaurants are within an easy walk.  And no need to ever rent a golf cart or take a taxi.   We’ve stayed at different places on all four of our visits but our current fav is Elements of the Island.  They have three studio apartments and the best breakfast place on Isla is right there, too.  And they have yoga classes on the rooftop deck.

 

A part of my soul will always be in Hawaii, but Isla, you are a pretty awesome respite.

 

Don't drop the camera, don't drop the camera...

Don’t drop the camera, don’t drop the camera…

Love on the Malecon.

Love on the Malecon.

The beachs on Isla Mujeres have that perfect Caribbean sand.

The beachs on Isla Mujeres have that perfect Caribbean sand.

The sunsets are pretty awesome.

The sunsets are pretty awesome.

DSCF4133

Woof!

Woof!

I love the chill vibe on Isla Mujeres.  A mom playing with her kid while working at a store.  Why not?

I love the chill vibe on Isla Mujeres. A mom playing with her kid while working at a store. Why not?

Even when it's a downpour, Isla rocks.  Mogogua is our fav coffee shop to chill out in.

Even when it’s a downpour, Isla rocks. Mogogua is our fav coffee shop to chill out in.

Mural Cat.   Isla is covered with tons of awesome murals.

Mural Cat. Isla is covered with tons of awesome murals.

isla-mujeres-twenty-twoisla-mujeres-ninetten

I love the illusion that the peacock is standing on the motorcycle.

I love the illusion that the peacock is standing on the motorcycle.

I've always loved this mural of Che.  But it wasn't a cool photo until I could add a human element connecting with the mural.

I’ve always loved this mural of Che. But it wasn’t a cool photo until I could add a human element connecting with the mural.

isla-mujeres-sisteenisla-mujeres-twoisla-mujeres-three

Sunset on the Malecon on Isla Mujeres.

Sunset on the Malecon on Isla Mujeres.

Posted in Caribbean Travel

Impressions of Havana

Impressions of Havana

 

I loved Havana.  It’s photographer heaven.  The classic American cars, the colonial architecture, the Malecon, and the people make Havana one of my favorite cities to photograph.   And the music, the cigars, and the rum…something about sipping on a mojito and listening to a local band a few meters from where Hemingway used to hang out that is just magical for this history and literature geek.

 

When President Obama expanded the General License requirements, and I could visit Cuba legally, I started packing.  I couldn’t wait to see this island that had been off limits to Americans since before I was born.   I say “Americans” because everytime I said the “United States” when a Cuban asked me where I was from, they always replied with, “Oh, America.”   So much for me being politically correct.

 

The biggest surprise to me was all the capitalism I saw going on in Havana.   I stayed in a privately owned B&B, I hailed taxis that were owned by individuals, there were folks selling flowers and produce from their own carts,  and I ate in privately owned restaurants.  And I was offered the opportunity to buy “authentic” Cuban cigars at least a couple times a day by touts.  Talking with locals in Havana, it was clear that life is still hard for lots of folks in Cuba.  But I’ve travelled to places that are suffering economically and the vibe is usually heavier and there’s an air of hopelessness.  I didn’t get this feeling in Havana.  Most Cubans seemed to be enjoying life.  And there was a palpable sense of community.

 

A small business at Plaza de Armas  in Havana Vieja.

A small business at Plaza de Armas in Havana Vieja.

A produce vendor in Havana Vieja.

A produce vendor in Havana Vieja.

Cruising the Malecon in a classic American car is popular with tourists.

Cruising the Malecon in a classic American car is popular with tourists.

A pretty vibrant restaurant scene in Havana Vieja.

A vibrant restaurant scene in Havana Vieja.

Sipping a mojito, listening to live music at a cafe on a historic square..sort of the perfect afternoon.

Sipping a mojito, listening to live music at a cafe on a historic square..sort of the perfect afternoon.

Listening to the band on his break.

Listening to the band on his break…

...and the band was awesome!

…and the band was awesome!

I really liked most of the Cubans I met.  While economic hardship is a fact of life in Cuba, it's not the focus of their lives.

I really liked most of the Cubans I met. While economic hardship is a fact of life in Cuba, it’s not the focus of their lives.

I have to love a country that loves dogs.

I have to love a country that loves dogs.

 

 

I was struck by how the Revolution is not in your face in Havana.   I expected to see propaganda at every turn, but it was rare, and most of the murals commemorating the revolution were faded.   The Cubans I spoke to were proud of their country but I never encountered any animosity directed at me because I was from the USA.

 

A mural of Che in Havana Vieja.

A mural of Che in Havana Vieja.

 

I expected to see more murals like this in Havana.

I expected to see more murals like this in Havana.

A faded Che mural in Havana Vieja.

A faded Che mural in Havana Vieja.

Che was everywhere.

Che was everywhere…

...and in ways I think he would have found abhorrent.

…and in ways I think he would have found abhorrent.

Che on the Ministerio del Interior building by the Plaza of the Revolution.

Che on the Ministerio del Interior building by the Plaza of the Revolution or, as we started referring to it after seeing it, “The Parking Lot of the Revolution.”

I only saw a few in your face billboards in Havana about the US embargo.

I only saw a few in your face billboards about the US embargo in Havana .

When my meal comes like this, I'm not not sensing much communism.

When my meal comes like this, I’m not not sensing much anti-USA sentiment.

 

 

I researched the usual places, TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet, to get ready for the trip.  My impression was that the touts would be over-bearing and the food wouldn’t be very good.  I was pleasantly surprised on both fronts.  The food was mostly good and the touts weren’t bad.  If you’ve been to SE Asia, Cuba’s touts will seem mild.   If you’re considering visiting Cuba, just go.  See my travel tips on Cuba here to help you plan your trip.    And please feel free to email with any questions!

 

It will be nice when someone lets US Immigration at Denver International Airport know about the change in requirements.  Nothing like being interrogated by an officer who has no idea about US travel policy in regards to Cuba.   Rude and ignorant.  Not a great combination.   Maybe take a cue from  Cuban Immigration and treat people with professionalism and courtesy.

 

Posted in Cuba