Travel Photography

There are lots of tiny people in the desert ....

Do you ever have one of those travel destinations in your mind that is almost mythical?  It's like you've seen it a million times over the years in peoples pictures and have always wanted to go but it just always seems out of reach.  That has always been Death Valley for me.   Close enough to drive to but just far enough away that it takes some effort - combine the distance with the extreme weather and the window of opportunity to visit can seem kind of slim (unless you are the type that is into hiking in 105 degree weather)

Before I went I felt like I had seen a million pictures DV but now I feel like I haven't seen any pictures of it at the same time.  I've been pondering this for the last few months trying to figure out why that is.   I've concluded that it is because DV really looms so much larger than any photo could possible ever capture.   I was there for 2 days and left feeling disappointed because I felt as though none of my images really capture the magic of that place.  

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I've been to the desert before (my last post was about the desert in Baja) but DV is a special place.  Even after visiting I still can't wrap my mind around the size of the land and how small I felt when I was there.    There were a lot of tiny people in Death Valley!

 

Baja Travel Vibes ..

When I travel, I’m not looking for a place that feels familiar. I crave otherness. I look for destinations where you are so far removed from your daily routine that you can lose your sense of self and focus entirely on the experience in front of you.

Baja was that sort of place.

I traveled to Mexico with nothing in mind but surfing. When I arrived, I found the Pacific flat. The sand was inviting. The waves? The waves were nonexistent.

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No matter. I swapped the surfboard for a camera and went wandering.

I have to confess something to you, now: I’m a lazy traveler. I book a flight and jump on board without doing much research. In fact, I avoid it. Knowing what I’m walking into isn’t what I’m searching for. I’m seeking the unexpected.

The first unexpected thing I stumbled on was the terrain.

I came to Baja for the openness of the water, and I found myself drawn to the unlooked-for serenity of the dessert. It’s vast and barren, and yet it’s packed with cacti—so strange when you have become accustomed to the lush land of Redwoods.

A cactus is an odd plant in every way. It’s even odder when you don’t expect it to be there and then, on a morning drive out to the beach, there it is with hundreds of its brothers, standing taller than you are and looking far more at home than you and your rental car.

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You may have guessed that I’m not much for itineraries and guidebooks. I’m not sure what they would have been able to tell me about the little town I landed in. So, I can’t rattle off the history of Todos Santos, and I can’t tell you its five most popular tourist attractions or which hotel has the best rating.

What I can tell you is how blinding the light is at noon in the market. It cuts around the storefronts and the shadows they cast, which vendors and makers have settled into for the day. The sun-bleached streets spotted with shaded havens create a peculiar oasis in the middle of town. It’s the sort of dichotomy that puts you on the spot. “Are you going to buy something? Well? Hurry up, then!”—that’s what I can hear it saying as I snap.

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It’s a bright place, Todos Santos. Its walls are splashed in jumped-up pastels and its goods are beaded and embroidered and woven by hand, stacked in lines for tourists like me to meander past, hands cupped over our eyes against the sun.

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Todos Santos is one of those small towns that feels tiny. It has a wholesome sensibility to it. When you walk through the streets, you feel like you’re walking through real life—not your real life, but a life lived by those you spy through windows and garden gates. There are traditional papel picado banners linking stores to homes. They might be leftovers from a festival. I like to imagine they’re the remnants of a neighborhood celebration, a quinceañera, perhaps, or a wedding, but I’m probably being a bit dreamy.

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It’s the light that gets me.

As a photographer, it’s the first thing I notice about a place. As a traveler, it’s essential to what I remember about a trip. My memories are keyed to how Mother Nature lit a certain moment. The light is transformative. It’s moody. It tells the story of the place, and it does it all in a snapshot. A weak ray cutting through fog? Just the beginning of a cactus-strewn morning. A sunset piercing the rim of a margarita glass? The precipice between a day in the sun and a tequila-soaked night out in Todos Santos.

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The color of the light in Baja is different from what it is at home. Here, it’s hot. The temperature is balmy—comfortably in the mid-70s—but the warmth of the light makes it look like the sun is beating down on you. It makes the oranges more vivid and the blues appear ready to melt.

And that does feel so very much like Mexico, doesn’t it?

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It's 98 Degrees!! No, not the boy band - Beyond Granada

A couple of days in Granada and it was time to head to my favorite place.. THE BEACH!  It's hot in Granada.. I love heat.. so when I say it was hot you know it was stifling hot.  It was time to be rescued by a cool ocean breeze and some surfing fun in San Juan Del Sur (SJDS) !  I'll warn you in advance that I did not take any surfing photos (you try shooting after 4 hours of surfing and see how motivated you are)

SJDS is your quintessential surf town filled with lots of surfers and yogis and a fair share of expats. This is not the best place if you are looking for an authentic Nicaraguan cultural experience.  It's a great place to enjoy a few days surfing your face off or just laying by the beach at one of their many wonderful beaches.  A great place for a lazy few days.   When you aren't being lazy head out and explore the town on foot and make sure to wear some sunblock!

 

Desert Magic in La Guajira

Colombia is a magical country.  It has so much to offer any traveler;  jungles, cities, snow capped mountains,  architectural gems and amazing food!.  I recently spent 6 weeks traveling in this wonderful place. Colombia is my birthplace and this was my first time visiting since leaving when I was about 2 years old! 

When initially started researching my trip my mother told me of a region called La Guajira…. A quick search on Google produced an array of stunning images of this desert region.   I was hooked.   I knew that I would hit all the usual suspects like Medellin, Bogota, Cartagena during my visit but La Guajira would be the crown jewel of my trip.   Perhaps I was drawn by it’s remoteness and stark beauty.    I had to get there.

While staying a hostel near Tayrona Park I met two fellow travelers; a Frenchman and a Dutchman.  We had all read about the fabled La Guajira (I suspect that Lonely Planet had a hand in that).  We quickly decided that we would make the journey together.  So we departed early on a Friday morning not quite sure how to arrive to the Northern most tip of South America.   Getting there is probably just as you imagine it in your minds eye…. There was a bus, a cab and a 4wd vehicle involved and 8 hours of bumpy, dusty, hot roads.    The final destination was worth ever bit of effort.

La Guajira is a travelers dream. It’s the kind of place that reminds you of why you travel. There is open sky as far as the eye can see. The colors of the golden sand set against the jewel tones of it’s salty sea form an impossible contrast. As you drive through it’s expansive landscape you see small house used by the native Wayuu people. Their colorful dresses dot the landscape like desert flowers. Wayuu Children are so curious about strangers.  The set up “candy” Road blocks for your car as you travel through the desert.

 

The northern most point of the region, Punta Gallinas, is a place where giant sand dunes lead to warm aqua blue ocean waters. Bring some cardboard and you could slide down the dunes right into the ocean!

 

This place is for a certain kind of traveler…. if you like the idea of sitting undisturbed with nothing but the blue ocean and a good book while eating fresh caught lobster…. this is the kind of place you will enjoy. It truly is the end of the earth.

Homecoming ...

You know that moment when people ask you where you are from ?  I have to confess that I'm never quite sure how to respond.   I think when I was younger I used to just tell people that I was from Florida because it seemed like the easiest thing to say.  However over the last few years that response started to seem really weird.  I think it must have happened when I was in grad school.  During all those moments of wondering if I had made the right choice to leave my cushy corporate job to follow this crazy photography dream,  I began to question other things .... mostly related to identity and roots.    It was the first time in my life I really sort of began wonder about the place my parents had left behind when the emigrated to the United States all those years ago.   I knew it was time to finally make a trip back to Colombia.  

It took a couple of years to actually make the trip happen but this past January I finally went "home" for the first time in 36 years.  I traveled for 6 weeks why my family, by myself and friends I met along the way.   The trip was truly life changing.   There were relatives that I hadn't seen since I was 12 and there were ones I had never met.   There were things that I never knew about our family ; my grandfather had been a coffee farmer, my 80 year old uncle still has a ranch and rides horses everyday,  my mom and her sisters used to get in trouble for playing in piles of coffee beans!   My aunt Amanda (who I lovingly call the midget because she is a very tiny woman) is 70 years old and an unstoppable force of nature who wears heals no matter where she goes (even on hikes up a mountain).   She was my tour guide for the majority of my family time and she left very few stones unturned in an effort to show me every corner of Colombia.

I returned with close to 5000 images (and that was after some initial editing!)  I wasn't quite sure where to start with editing so I turned to Wonderful Machine and together we came up with the Down South gallery.    The gallery contains images from all over Colombia including Medellin, Cartagena,  Villa de Leyva,  Santa Fe de Antiquioa,  Cali, Salento  and the remote desert region of La Guajira (one of my personal favorites... check out the blog entry specifically about that part of the adventure)

My trip with unforgettable!  I really wish I could pack all my friends on a plane and take everyone together.  In the meantime,  I will have to share the good ole fashioned way... photographs!