Stepping back into film photography …

Back at Christmas I decided I was getting more and more into this photo malarkey and wanted a film camera. Thankfully Katrina duly obliged and got me a Lomography Fisheye camera. It came away with me on my last trip, has been used now and then over the past few months and now I’ve got the photos back….with mixed results.

Upon seeing the results, I’ve learnt a few things:
- They’re really dark unless the flash is used
- Close up really helps, after all that is kinda the point of a Fisheye camera
- Don’t get the wrist strap or your finger in the way, I love the rainbow in the first shot but I’ve kinda ruined it

Southwark
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My little Irish niece
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Prague Pedestrian Crossing
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Prague TV Tower
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Geese in Telford
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Trabant in Budapest
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Budapest Memorial – you wouldn’t believe I took this in daylight!
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While away I got a bit addicted and bought two more film cameras for practically peanuts in Prague. One is a Smena 8 which seemed pretty archaic and temperamental but somehow works (with the exception of the winding on function, causing some blurry London shots). I have to admit I kinda like them

The Shard/Southwark
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Roupell Street
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Bermondsey Street / St Mary Magdalen Churchyard
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The other, a beautiful heavy Zenit E turned out an almost blank film. Back to the drawing board there then. To be continued ….

Instagram

Rails behind the Iron Curtain

This is a possible front runner for laziest blog ever. It’s been a while since I got back from a pre-new job trip to Belgrade, Budapest, Prague and Berlin.

To summarise, it was wet, I travelled by train, drank a lot of Pilsener, took pictures – some of which are below and others on 35mm film still to be developed. Enjoy.

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Basil Pao Photography Exhibition

A very short notice more than anything else. With some spare time on my hands and while  in London yesterday I went along to the Royal Geographic Society to check out a photography exhibition by Basil Pao.

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For those not familiar with the name, he’s a photographer and friend of Michael Palin who has accompanied him on all his big journeys, hence my interest.

It’s just a small exhibition with around 40 or so photographs, including aerial shots of waterfalls, stunning portraits of people in tribal attire as well shots of Palin on his travels. I actually found it quite good for new ideas and learning about my own photography.

It’s on at the RGS in London (Kensington) and free to visit until the 25th January 2013. I really recommend it.

The Variety of Peru

I’ve been meaning to write this for a long time but call it laziness, having too much of a good time or lack of decent internet connections has deterred me for doing so. That and part writing on an iPad and netbook leads to things getting lost in the ‘cloud’. So I’m going to make this more of a photo blog and talk a little more about a couple of specific things in Peru later.

In short, I expected little of Peru, I’m not sure why but I just couldn’t feel very excited about it compared to other countries on this trip. Wrong. In this massively diverse country I chilled at the beach in Mancora and Huanchaco, got dizzy at dazzling high altitude blue lakes in Huaraz, celebrated my birthday in Lima, saw Penguins in Paracas, sandboarded in Huacachina, rotter my teeth with Inca Cola (an excellent Irn Bru substitute), flew over mystical ancient lines in Nazca, took the lazy route to Machu Picchu and followed in Palin’s footsteps on the floating island of Lake Titicaca. More on the latter two to come later.

I’ve picked some of my favourite photos of Peru and hope they’ll encourage you to visit such an amazing country!

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Ecuador without the Galapagos

Most people think about visiting Ecuador and head for the Galapagos Islands for animals galore. Sadly on our budget we left out a visit there for a time in later life and we’ll do it the luxury way. Despite that, our trip to Ecuador was incredible and my addiction to Instagram kicked in all over again!

If you’re thinking of a trip there then you’re in for a treat.

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First stop for us was Quito, one of the highest cities in the world and it showed! With a hostel up a very steep hill, we were pretty breathless whenever we returned back to our room. However, instead of taking it easy we decided to go higher, firstly by going up a very long cable car for a view of the city and later improving that by climbing to the top of a gothic church.

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If you’re ever in Quito, find the large gothic church and scale the ladders to the top – no health and safety rules to go with the holy view!

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From Quito we headed south to take in a bit of the countryside. Firstly by mountain biking down the side of Cotopaxi through stunning scenery and later by heading up to the incredible crater lake of Quilotoa. Upon reaching the edge, not only was I breathless from the altitude but by the the scenery too. I’m sure you’ll agree.

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The surrounding alpacas were pretty cool too.

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Our next stop was Banos, one of Ecuador’s most popular local tourism spots. The hot springs from where the town gets its name are an experience. Packed full of local families with a different idea of personal space and water predominantly a sludgy green colour we didn’t stay too long.

The highlight of Banos came from renting an off road buggy to drive down the valley past tens of waterfalls until we reached the crescendo of noise from the Pailon del Diablo. Not quite as good as a Honduran waterfall that you can walk under, although the approach right up to this one left me absolutely soaked through!

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Despite not visiting the Galapagos we wanted to see some wildlife so chose to visit the next best thing, Puerto Lopes, referred to as the Poor Man’s Galapagos. For just $20 we signed up to a whale watching tour on the way to Isla la Plata, home of the Blue Footed Boobies (feathered kind, not ladies with cold feet)!

The experience was incredible, for about an hour we saw several whales jumping right out of the water. Sadly each time I tried to snap a photo I seemed to miss. In the end it was almost better to watch, and thankfully Katrina got a great shot. Here’s my best effort.

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The whales may have been the highlight of the day but there was still great wildlife to come. We saw hundreds of boobies – incredibly strange birds with no fear of people walking within inches of them.

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To cap it off as we left green turtles circled the boat to see us off back to the mainland.

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After some time to chill out by the beach (literally – Puerto Lopes is hit by cold currents from Antarctica) we started to make our way to Peru via Guayaquil, the biggest city in Ecuador. Guayaquil was just a short stop but we couldn’t visit without seeing the so called Iguana Park – yes they have a whole park in the middle of the city filled with tame and curious Iguanas!

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In all we had an awesome time in Ecuador, and I could say so much more but these are my highlights and favourite Instagrams. Don’t just visit for the Galapagos, see a great country too!

You’re going to Colombia!?

After a fantastic few months in Central America, a few people were asking if we dared go to Colombia next. Of course was the answer!

Colombia doesn’t have the best reputation in the world, thank Pablo Escobar and the cocaine trade for that! However what we found was totally different, I’ve added a new city to my all time top 5, experienced incredible scenery and extremely friendly people. Here’s a little run through of our time there.

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We arrived in the city of Cartagena following our eventful sailing trip through the San Blas islands of Panama. The first thing that struck us (apart from being back in civilisation) was the heat, Cartagena is a HOT city. Just a few yards of walking down the street and you’re ready for another shower!

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We only spent a couple of days here enjoying the old town and taking in the nearby mud volcano. Yes that’s right a mud volcano. The basic idea is a small hill that looks a little like a volcano that you can bathe in – grey, sticky mud. I managed to drop my camera in it, thankfully it’s waterproof (and it seem mud proof).

Although we were able to wash off the mud in a nearby lake, we didn’t have the opportunity for a shower before catching a night bus to Medellin. Not great.

Most people who know of Medellin associate it with Pablo Escobar, the drug kingpin of Colombia during the late 80s and early 90s. During this time Medellin was under siege by the US and Colombian governments vs. Escobar’s ‘sicarios’ who would carry out vicious murders on anyone deemed to be against him. Locals found themselves caught in the middle of this.

Since such dark times, Medellin has rejuvinated itself in terms of housing, transport and cultural buildings. I absolutely loved our time here.

After arriving we were a bit grumpy following a long bus journey and upon arriving our hostel we weren’t much happier. It’s not often a shower following a mud volcano will leave you feeling dirtier – but when the water comes out brown and you’re sharing it with a pair of giant cockroaches, it isn’t a pleasant experience. I therefore don’t recommend the Pit Stop Hostel in Medellin. For less than a couple of skanky dorm beds there we found a spotless hotel with a rooftop jacuzzi – go figure.

The perfect pick me up was however found that evening – beer – and not just the typical lager found all over Latin America. Real beer! I’d been craving a proper pint for months so when we found out about the 3 Cordilleras brewery and their weekly tasting nights we were there instantly! For about $10 you get 5 beers and a souvenir glass to take home with you. I was in heaven with their dark Porter and American Style Amber Ale – the perfect Thursday evening.

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The following day we took the chance to explore the city. Medellin has the feel of a working class city with a lot of soul, a bit like a Glasgow or Manchester in the UK, Nashville in the USA or Kaunas in Lithuania. Downtown there are huge sculptures by the famous artist Fernando Botero, as well as a museum exhibiting his paintings, in the same area as locals working and shopping.

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While cooling off with a raspado we chatted to a local guy who worked as a truck driver, learning English ‘for fun’. We also found a park for bare feet with fountains galore – one of them caught Katrina out!

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Medellin as a city is very narrow, hemmed in by the surrounding mountains on which neighbourhoods sprawl up. To connect these to the city more easily the government has built cable cars. That afternoon we rode up one to see the view and it was breathtaking. In a day it was great to get a flavour of an entire city, rather than of just one small and probably touristy part. To end it, and rest our tired feet, we retired to the jacuzzi on the roof of our hotel – bliss.

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We spent quite a while in Medellin as the city just lured us to stay longer. One day we heard of a parade through the city so went to watch, it turned out to be the end of the flower festival which is marked by the Cabalgata, a long procession of horses.

To many, 4 hours of horses passing by would be pretty dull, not in Medellin. The city has a reputation for ladies taking advantage of cheap plastic surgery, so many horses were ridden by beauties that we just couldn’t take our eyes off! Many locals couldn’t take their eyes off us and were eager to share Aguardiente (the local spirit) and ask why we weren’t back in London watching the Olympics.

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Another highlight (literally) of Medellin was paragliding, the city has a reputation for it. We drove up one of the surrounding mountains, strapped ourselves to a pilot and ran off the edge of a cliff! It’s not as exhilarating a feeling as I expected, there’s no huge adrenaline rush that I’d experienced from skydiving or bungee jumping, it’s more pleasant.

For about half an hour we floated with the birds taking in the view of the city from even higher than the cable car. However towards the end with all the circling around we did start to feel a bit queasy, though I think that has more to do with excessive drinking with some Colombian girls the night before!

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I’d been missing football a little while travelling, less so as I write this following Burnley’s poor start to another season, but had to see a football match in Medellin. We took in DIM vs. Patriotas in the Colombian Premier League which DIM won 2-0. The noise from some of the home ‘fanaticos’ could teach English clubs a thing or two about noise despite the rest of the stadium being quite empty.

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After adding Medellin to my top 5 cities list (alongside Glasgow, Shanghai, Brussels and Hanoi in case you were wondering) we left for Cali.

Now anywhere after Medellin was going to have a hard act to follow, but I just never warmed to Cali. It could have been a few rude taxi drivers or irritating hotel workers but I just didn’t such a good feeling from the place.

Despite that we did love being big kids and taking tonnes of photos at the zoo, one of the best in Latin America I’m told.

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Close to Cali is the village of San Cipriano where they have quite possibly the most brilliant railway in the world. The trains here are powered by motorbikes! There is no road to the village of San Cipriano, just an old railway line, so local people have made their own transportation service by attaching some homemade wheels to a wooden bench upon which they strap a motorbike. The back wheel sits on the track and pushes the unorthodox vehicle along the track. The experience was awesome!

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From Cali we made for the border with Ecuador stopping on the way in the pretty little town of Popayan and the chilly border town of Ipiales. Close to the latter is the spectacular church, Santuario Las Lajas, built across a gorge.

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From there we headed across the border into Ecuador. We’ve had a great time in Colombia, I’d definitely return and suggest anyone with a bad idea of the place come see such different country.

Best of Central America

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After spending an awesome few months travelling the length of Central America, from Cancun in Mexico to San Blas in Panama while taking in as much as I could of each country. I thought I’d run a little summary of my highs, lows and favourite picture from Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

Mexico

Just a small part of the trip due to cheap flights into the resort airport of Cancun. We took in Cancun and Tulum before heading to the border with Belize.

Highs
- An easy introduction into Latin America
- Gorgeous beaches of Cancun and using the pool/bar of the Ritz for free
- Scuba Diving at the Underwater Museum
- Swimming in a cenote (a crystal clear freshwater lagoon) where limestone rock has given way into an underground river
- Delicious sugar cane mojitos with free buffet in Tulum

Lows

- Cycling a very heavy bike in 40 degree heat turned out to be a bigger challenge than expected

Favourite Picture

Converted VW Beetle (an iconic car of Mexico) used to make sugar cane juice for mojitos in Tulum.

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Belize

Such a relaxed country that feels so British Caribbean. The people really were the highlight of Belize, you will struggle to meet such friendly and relaxed souls anywhere else in the world.

Highs

- Hearing people shout “You got to Belize it!”, “Unbelizeable”, “Drink but don’t get drunk” and “Woah man, it is hot today”. Really made us laugh!
- Relaxing and reading on the beach in Placencia
- Luckily finding a tubing company to float through caves and appearing on local TV

Lows

- Despite 3 attempts, not being able to dive the Blue Hole due to weather and lack of numbers to make a trip

Favourite Picture

Many a day was spent relaxing in the beach town of Placencia on these colourful sun loungers. Bliss.

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Guatemala

We popped into Guatemala as we travelled south through Belize to see the stunning Mayan ruins at Tikal before returning to the country after we’d visited Honduras. On our second stop we spent much of the time taking a crash course in Spanish, soaking up the town of Antigua and visiting Lake Atitlan.

Highs

- Climbing temples lost in the jungle Tomb Raider style at Tikal
- Cooling off in a bar in Flores watching the sunset
- Learning Spanish and attempting conversations about football with my fantastic tutor Rolando
- Staying in a Guatemalan apartment in Antigua and being able to settle in a place for a couple of weeks

Lows

- Foolishly jumping into a lake with my sunglasses on top of my head only for them to sink to the bottom
- Going from the high of speaking Spanish with my tutor with a clear accent to not being able to understand another person’s accent

Favourite Picture

I’ve chosen this as the view from the tallest temple at Tikal where you can see others poking their heads above the canopy. I also loved Antigua where I became addicted to Instagram.

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Honduras

Honduras was a strange one. It really has the highs and lows of travel. One of the main reasons to visit was Katrina taking her PADI Open Water course while I took the rescue qualification. Sadly while here we had trips to the hospital and police station but still came away having loved the country.

Highs

- Qualifying as a PADI Rescue Diver – just one more step towards Divemaster
- Taking in the La Ceiba carnival, the largest in South America
- Zip lining in the jungle followed by a massage and a dip in natural hot springs
- Climbing underneath a waterfall in the morning and spending the afternoon relaxing at a brewery

Lows

- Katrina being taken ill and going to the hospital for an endoscopy
- My wallet being stolen in La Ceiba

Favourite Picture

I’ve chosen my picture of the amazing Pulapanzak waterfall which you can climb right behind and jump around pools underneath. Great fun!

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El Salvador

Our stay in El Salvador was relatively brief. We came here for a bit of surfing and to see a lesser travelled part of the region. We turned out to be pretty poor surfers but enjoyed the chance to cool off thanks to some less sunny weather. San Salvador gave us a taste of urban metropolis for the first time in a while.

Highs

- Taking in the incredible scenery of the Pacific coast
- Sampling some great food in Juayua
- Making the most of western life in San Salvador’s malls and cinemas

Lows

- Finding out I’m not very good at surfing while getting caught in a riptide

Favourite Picture

I love this shot of a surfer meeting his match on this wave in Playa El Zonte. Watching other people fall off made me feel slightly better about my own performances.

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Nicaragua

A fertile land of volcanoes and lakes would sum up Nicaragua pretty well. We took in Leon, Managua, Masaya, Granada and Ometepe. Despite being bogged down with a mysterious fever like illness I loved my time there, so that must say something for the country.

Highs

- Climbing an active volcano, sliding down in on a sled before climbing another, sleeping on the summit and descending the next day for a refreshing lake swim
- Scuba Diving in a volcanic crater lake
- Playing ‘Quetzalympics’ with a random bunch of people we’d just met
- Getting over my paranoia of horse riding amongst the beautiful scenery of Ometepe

Lows

- Feeling incredibly ill when all I wanted to do was explore
- A strangely high number of incidents of waiters trying to exploit tourists

Favourite Picture

Upon arriving at the peak of the El Hoyo where we to camp for the night we could not see the sunset as the fog rolled in. Thankfully sunrise in the morning made up for it!

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Costa Rica

The jewel in the crown of Central American tourism, Costa Rica is where you will find many holiday makers. We spent just a week here but enjoyed the experience back on the beaten track.

Highs

- White water rafting on Class III & IV rapids near La Fortuna
- Watching all kinds of wildlife like Attenborough in Tortuguero
- Randomly finding a softball game in Puerto Limon being played by some very out of shape players gave us a good laugh

Lows

- Spanking our budget with the highest prices we’ve had so far
- Being a little disappointed by other tourists behaviour when watching turtles lay eggs on the beach

Favourite Picture

I love my photo of this lizard blending into its habitat in Tortuguero. This part of Costa Rica was like a mini Amazon rainforest.

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Panama

Central America saves the best till last. Panama has gone straight into my top 5 favourite countries. We took in Bocas del Toro, David, Santa Catalina as well as longer stays in Panama City and San Blas. A combination of stunning scenery and the buzzing capital city kept us well occupied.

Highs

- ‘Glamping’ on the pristine Red Frog beach in Bocas del Toro
- Scuba Diving with sharks, rays, eels and countless fish in Coiba, part of the same chain of islands as the Galapagos
- Celebrating Katrina’s birthday in the luxurious Trump Hotel in Panama City, the tallest building in Latin America
- Getting stuck in the paradise that is the San Blas islands while waiting to sail to Colombia

Lows

- Going to visit the Baha’i temple outside Panama City to find it closed for renovation work

Favourite Picture

I went a bit photo mental in Panama as I’m sure my Instagtram account will show. However the one I keep looking back on is this incredible island in San Blas. Will I ever see paradise quite like this again?

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Capture the Colour

Following my my last blog post I received an email from someone about a photo blog competition by Travel Supermarket called Capture the Colour. The idea is you post 5 pictures, each focusing on a particular colour – Blue, Green, Red, Yellow and White.

Here’s my selection from a variety of my travels.

Green – Lizard in Costa Rica.

This cute little fella was seen while canoeing in the waters around Tortuguero and featured in my my recent blog post. These lizards are known locally as Jesus Christ Lizards for their ability to run across the water. After taking this photo he made a speedy getaway across the plants!

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Blue – Love is in the Air in England.

Possibly my favourite photo taken in the UK during a ‘Staycation’ in 2010. While working for BAE Systems I scored some tickets to the Royal Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford. This incredible display by French version of the Red Arrows, the Patrouille de France, took my breath away. Taken on a (sometimes rare :P ) clear summers day!

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Red – Bruce Lee Warriors at the Shanghai Expo.

On a dull, grey, wet and smoggy Shanghai day during the 2010 World Expo these artistic statues depicting Bruce Lee as the Terracotta Warriors supporting iconic Chinese buildings brightening the gloom. I love art that mimics or references things. And after all, Red is the colour of China.

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Yellow – Belizean Sunset.

Another photo from my current Central and South America trip is this stunning sunset that welcomed my arrival in Dangriga, Belize. After a long and sweaty afternoon on buses it was a welcome relief to chill out with a cool Belikin Beer (“drink but don’t get drunk man”, said passing Belizeans on bycycles) and watch the light fade. A little stereotypical for Yellow, but sunsets are the best!

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White – Mini Romanian Snowman.

We all love making snowmen in the Winter right? I spotted this cute wee snowman on a short trip to Bucharest a couple of years ago. As I was walking down the avenue a little boy was killing time to make this on a bench while waiting for his mum in a shop. I snapped the photo just after he was dragged away home.

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As part of the contest I now need to nominate 5 other people to take part. So here goes.

Dollface Travel - Myself and Katrina get quite competitive about photography!

Hazell Eyes - I’m sure Hazell can come cup with some good ones of SE Asia.

The Adventures of a Dr - There’s been some amazing Latin American photos on his blog lately.

Chasing Horizons - I just love the photo on their home page.

Heather on her Travels - I’m sure Heather has a ton of cool photos and she gave one of my posts a nice mention here.

Acting like Attenborough

So I’ve made it into Costa Rica – the poster child of Central American tourism. It’s an shock to the wallet after months in places like Nicaragua and Honduras which to a northerner like me ain’t good.

However, despite a being swindled by overly bureaucratic immigration officials on the Costa Rican side of the border (more on that in a later blog post) I’ve grown to like the place.

One of the highlights was visiting Tortuguero (literally meaning place of the turtles) to see giant Green Turtles lay eggs on the beach. I actually found the experience to be a bit of an anti-climax, we saw one big turtle give birth but much of the spectacle was spoiled by too many American tourists making noise and jostling for space. I felt sorry for the turtle.

Beforehand, we headed out in a canoe with a guide to look at the local wildlife. I wasn’t expecting too much but I was sold on the idea by the guide and he didn’t disappoint. In just a couple of hours we saw 3 types of monkey, sloths, many beautiful birds, insect, turtles and caymans.

I’m not the best at wildlife photography – getting there slowly – but here are some of the better snaps. Enjoy.

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Talk about camouflage!

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Camera and cayman eyeing each other up.

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Turtles basking in some rare sunshine.

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Sea birds soaring over the jungle.

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Monkeys climbing for fruit.

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Beautiful plumage as a Python once said.

Kinda scary looking fella!

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Swallows – almost like from the movie.

Just hanging out.

If you enjoyed these you’ll find many more awesome Central America photos on my Instagram account here.

Fever Mountain

It’s been a while since I’ve written up something for this blog. Since my last post from Guatemala we’ve headed through El Salvador for surfing (it didn’t go well) and into Nicaragua where I felt low with a mystery illness.

I was recommended to head to Leon in Nicaragua by someone who’d volunteered there with a group called Quetzaltrekkers, they offer trips up volcanos with the profits donated to help street children in Nicaragua. I booked to climb Cerro Negro, Nicaragua’s youngest volcano which we would then slide down on a board before climbing El Hoyo, a mountain with a mysterious hole in it.

A couple of days before the trip we headed to the beach nearby to chill out. It was on the way I realised things were not quite right, I came down with a fever and couldn’t eat and pretty much spent all but a brief period (when I thought I was getting better) feeling sorry for myself.

By the day of the hike I felt I had to do it so loaded up on strong painkillers and went for it. Upon reaching the top on Cerro Negro it seemed so far so good. It wasn’t a particularly steep climb but carrying my ‘volcano board’ up there made it a little harder. The descent is the fun part and I was using a new prototype of board fashioned into ‘skis’ (effectively a 3 pieces of plywood coated in formica). You sit on the board and slide at speed down the side of a mountain on small volcanic pebbles of which many end up in your hair, protective clothing, ears, goggles and teeth – lovely!

Katrina’s turn to slide down Cerro Negro

As you can see in the picture of Katrina’s turn, it’s bloody good fun and gets the adrenaline pumping. Iain 1 Mystery Fever 0. There.

After a short break and some more painkillers we’re getting ready to head up El Hoyo and the fever is biting back. I’m feeling hot and shaky and considering whether this is a stupid idea. Katrina is also feeling ill now with her own mystery illness. Great.

I should mention for this hike you carry a backpack with everything you need for the next 2 days – carrying a tent, sleeping bag, mat and 8 litres of water – not to mention some food and utensils – which is a killer. Couple that with the initial part of the hike being the steepest after you’ve just climbed an adjacent volcano and you probably get the idea.

Katrina is the first to feel the strain. She looks terrible and knows it’s not going to be fun. Sensibly she decides to head back down early and get transport that’s available back to Leon. And like that it’s just me, two other tourists and 3 of the guides from Quetzaltrekkers, one of whom is on his first hike.

It’s tough. Really bloody tough. All the weight on my back, the heat of the midday sun, the fever burning me up and my throat swollen. The strain of the hill is hard but I’m keeping up with the pace and ahead of the other backpackers. Just over half way up the steep part and it’s got to me, my legs just give way when realistically I’ve gone past the point of no return. Katrina’s got more sense than me clearly.

But I keep going, just. And I admit a guide may have helped me with the bag for a few minutes. I’m still thankful – we’ll gloss over the fact it was a girl who also had her own bag OK? Eventually though I recognise the trees thinning out and we must be getting to flatter ground, which means a break and lunch. Having not eaten for several days I’m going to need some energy from somewhere even if I am managing to keep up the pace.

Incredibly, despite a painful throat and the fever reaching the most intense point I gobble up a sandwich before I even realise it’s my first real food in days. Instantly I feel a bit better and a couple more strong painkillers later with the hike flattening out and I’m charging along. All I can think to myself is “Thank god I didn’t quit”.

My mood picks up as the afternoon goes on, there’s more banter and chat with the guides and I’m enjoying myself again. The down of being ill is disappearing and I’m thinking of the view from the top at sunset.

We do reach the top. But (there always has to be a but right?) within seconds of dropping our bags the fog rolls in and nothing is to be seen. Bugger. All that effort for not a lot. Despite this, it still feels worth it to have fought my fever and won. And still, there’s always sunrise right?

Sleep comes soon, we’re all exhausted and are in our tents soon after dark.  It feels strange at the time but sunrise comes early. And it’s incredible! I’m not a morning person but I’m more than happy to be woken for this.

Now that’s a sunrise!

We scramble to the mysterious hole that tops El Hoyo before breakfast, no one really knows how old it is but it is presumed to be a sinkhole, common in these parts, but it gives the volcano its distinctive appearance.

Wild horses and the mysterious hole of El Hoyo

After breakfast it’s all downhill for most of the day to a lake where we can wash off all the sweat of the hike and dust of volcano boarding. Easy right? WRONG! It’s a steep downhill drop at first, with a pack on my back I can feel the weight pushing me down the loose rocks and my toes crushing at the end of my shoes. Who’d have thought downhill could be something to dread?

By mid morning I’m exhausted again and can tell this fever isn’t quite beat but it feels good to be keeping up the pace again. We’re at the lake early and wow it feels good to cool off. Totally refreshing. But it’s not quite the end of a tough couple of days, for we’ve got to get back to Leon and that involves one last uphill stretch to the road. It takes everything I’ve got left but I manage it, wiped out and exhausted I’ve done it!

I can’t recommend the trip enough. Despite feeling frankly terrible it’s a highlight of the trip so far. If you ever end up in Leon in Nicaragua get down to Quetzaltrekkers and hike El Hoyo.

P.S. Here’s a top travel tip. Make sure your camera is charged. Mine was dead when I tried to take a picture so the ones here were taken on a semi broken iPhone with low battery itself, which just doesn’t do the scenery justice.

Hi, my name is Iain and I think I’m addicted to Instagram

I’m a bit in love with photography at the moment and I’ve gone through phases with Flickr, Snapseed and various other iPhone camera app type things. However, one I’d always avoided was Instagram. Don’t ask me why because I don’t think I have any real or good reason for it. Maybe I’d just heard bad things.

Lately however I’ve got a bit mental with it in Guatemala. And why not? It’s an especially beautiful place in both towns like Antigua, the former capital full of historic ruins and surrounded by volcanos as well as the countryside around Lake Atitlan (though not the lake itself which is really rather dirty).

So this is me admitting I have an addiction – perhaps the first step to weaning myself off of it at the same time as showing some photos of this beautiful country.

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Lure of Alberta

I don’t know what it is about Alberta (other than having a significant part of my family living there) but I’m kinda hooked on the place and have been since my first trip there (on my own) in 1997 when I was 8 years old.

Just a wee boy back then!

I’ve visited every few years since, my previous trip before this year was in 2006 and still I can’t get the idea of spending a few years really living there out of my head.

Anyway, on this trip other than spending time catching up with family before heading off to Mexico to begin this big trip I still got to catch an FC Edmonton ‘soccer’ game, head to Banff for a quick view of the Rocky Mountains and enjoy spending time in Edmonton, probably one of the world’s most underated cities – after all it still has some attractive architecture, formerly the world’s biggest shopping mall and events such as the Edmonton International Beer Festival (a big plus for me)!

Lake Minnewanka

Canadian Rockies

Edge of the Prairies

Art Gallery of Alberta

Alberta Legislature

FC Edmonton vs Minnesota Stars

Beer Girls

I think I might be back at least in time for a Tim Hortons when I finish my this trip of a lifetime I’ve just embarked on through Central and South America – more to come on that soon!

Boston Creme

Cuba: Photo Blog

As mentioned in last post, Cuba has to be one of the most photogenic locations in the world. I became somewhat addicted to taking photos there. Here are some of my favourites from my time in Havana and Cayo Largo.

Havana

Havana Club

Fading Beauty

Capitol at Night

Scrapyard

Broken Down Car

Pushcart

Palm Sunday

Classic Car

Cars

Y Sin Embargo

Just before the splash!

Truck

Cayo Largo

Cayo Largo is a small island off the south coast of Cuba, dotted with a few hotels and surrounded by crystal clear water lapping clean white sand beaches.

Fresh Coconut

Eagle

Curious Cat

La Movida

You can find many more of my photos on Flickr.

Paddling for Paddy

Before leaving London I’ve been wanting to do something touristy as one last thing to do in such an amazing city. It’s very easy in London to forget what is around you. I often find tourists in London a general nuisance, walking slowly, getting lost, raising prices etc. which is probably pretty two faced of me given I probably do similar when visiting other places. It’s because of this I tend to avoid areas around Westminster and the South Bank despite this being a really attractive part of the city.

You can probably imagine how pleased I was when I heard about a kayaking trip down the Thames down to the Houses of Parliament. I quickly booked a couple of tickets for myself and Kat for St Patrick’s Day, one of my favourite days of the year having lived in Ireland during my childhood.

The paddle starts from Chelsea yah, and departs to coincide with the last of the outgoing tide before it starts coming back in to help you back upstream. Unfortunately the weather was looking pretty miserable when we arrived but from London in March that’s life. The instructors were super excited, encouraging us to draw slogans on the two man kayaks decked out in green tape for the day.

Once we’d got our gear on (waterproofs and lifejackets are very unflattering) along with a Paddy’s day hat and been talked through the basics of kayaking we were in the water. And very dirty water at that, as I put my paddle in I could see a party popper, empty crisp packet and a tampon …. grim. It did make a good incentive not to fall in the water, highly unlikely I’m told.

The actual kayaking itself is very easy, apart from perhaps a few steering issues (we had a tendency to go left very easily!) It’s an very different experience seeing a city from a river, the paddle took us alongside Battersea Power Station, one of London’s industrial relics soon to be regenerated into the one of the next areas of property, commerce and culture.

Paddle for Paddy's

A bit further along the river the riverbanks become more affluent with people starting to notice about 30 people paddling down the Thames in Paddy’s Day hats while the river gets busier and tourists on boats start to get their cameras out. I can’t help but think we were having a better time!

St Patrick's Day!

By the time we reached the Houses of Parliament bang on time, Big Ben was striking 4 O’Clock from which the loud chimes sent shivers down my spine It felt great to be experiencing something so many people associate with London which after 18 months in the city I had actually done. As we waited for the tide to turn and admired the scenery we noticed quite a crowd gathering on Westminster Bridge and the South Bank to take pictures of our group. Even people on the London Eye were pointing their cameras at us rather than the skyline of the capital.

The trip back up river was a little more challenging! You could feel at first the lack of tide helping you along the river making for harder work on the arms which were starting to tire in the cold. It now became more about the kayaking than seeing the sights as we had already taken most of them in on the way down. Now we were getting better at going in a straight line and were probably more confident and capable than before. However upon arriving back at the dock and after hauling the boats out of the water the Guinness was waiting for us, the perfect refreshment on Paddy’s Day!

I’d thoroughly recommend Kayaking London to anyone else. And you can see loads more pictures here.

P.S. A couple of days later it was too hard to resist a cheeky trip on the London Eye on a perfectly clear morning (shame the weather wasn’t like that for kayaking!)

London Eye

Goodbye London – Photo Blog

Gallery

After 18 months living in London, I’m packing up and ready to leave. I’ve loved living here, there’s so much to variety to the city from things to see and do, places to eat and drink and random events happening … Continue reading

Travel Photography and an Oscar win!

When I first started travelling, I never really cared about photography. I thought it distracted me from what I was actually seeing and doing. And I still think I had a point. However, now I kind of wish I’d taken more pictures (with a better camera) of some of the incredible things.

I’ve since bought a couple of decent cameras including an SLR and one for more extreme environments, partly due to my newly found passion for photography but also partly to recall the event in future years. It’s also stirred a bit of competition with my girlfriend to see who can take the best photos! You can see her best ones here.

One of my first attempts at taking cool (and slightly pretentious) pictures has just been featured by STA Travel to coincide with the upcoming Oscars. You see can it as well as the other fantastic winning entries on their website!

My Winning Entry!

A little about the photo: I took this on the Galata Bridge in Istanbul where an incredible number of fisherman set themselves up for the day. It’s surprising how much they catch given the murkiness in the water with ferries coming and going every minute of so. Just a stones throw away you can buy the best value meal in the city, a freshly grilled fish served in a baguette with crunchy onions.

As I go along I’ll try to show as many pictures as possible on here as well as on my Flickr account.