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 ….

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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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And finally….Brazil

After about 8 months of travelling we reached our final country, Brazil. This presented a problem as despite looking very similar in writing, Portuguese is spoken completely differently to Spanish!

Our main reason for visiting Brazil was the lure of Rio de Janeiro and the cheap flight back home however we took in a couple of other places along the way. First a stop in Sao Paulo before stopping in the colonial town of Paraty on the way to Rio.

Our patience for long bus journeys was wearing thin, and the thought of a 16 hour schlep from Foz do Iguacu to Sao Paulo wasn’t attractive so for the first time we booked a one way flight to Sao Paulo. The sun had not even come up as the flight took off, and having spent the night in a tent in the back garden of a hostel to save money we were already wondering if it was such a good idea.

The famed traffic jams of Brazil’s economic capital didn’t help the grogginess as the bus into the city centre crawled along the highway into the centre, I still chuckled upon seeing it was named after Ayrton Senna as we struggled to get over 15 mph at any moment. Several hours after landing we reached our bed for the night, soaked to the skin due to the torrential rain. Despite just 24 hours in the city, a nap was in order!

Fully refreshed and ready to explore we went to check out the city which although not full of sights and attractions is an interesting place to get a feel for modern Brazil. Busy, bustling and fueled by immigrant labour Sao Paulo has a very cosmopolitan feel about it. Our highlight was the Liberdade district, historically the hub of the huge Japanese population in Brazil and now home to many other Asian migrants. A huge Japanese torii or arch marks the entrance to the neighbourhood while street lamps and signs point to a world many miles from Brazil.

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Missing Asia a little bit myself we sought out some amazing food, possibly the best Katsu curry I’ve ever tasted and perused the shops and supermarkets, picking up some pork steamed buns we hadn’t seen since Panama. Perfect to cook in the apartment we had booked in our next destination.

That destination was Paraty, a small colonial town by the sea of which we’d heard many good things. Upon our visit we had found it was a national holiday weekend and every hotel and hostel in the town was booked, thankfully we booked the last two available bus tickets the night before and arranged accommodation through Airbnb.

Paraty was supposed to be our relaxing coastal town where we could relax on the beach, top up our tans and chill out before heading home. Unfortunately the torrential rain that was hitting Sao Paulo was also hitting Paraty and the next 5 days were pretty much a washout.

Even so I’m glad we visited Paraty, the old town is incredibly quaint and attractive to wander around without feeling too overcrowded as most of the tourists are domestic. Despite its colonial past the nature of the town felt very different to many colonial towns we’d visited on the other side of the continent in terms of the architecture, the food, sounds and atmosphere of the place.

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And then we come to the drinks where Brazil is the home of the caipirinha, a concoction of cachaça (a sugar cane spirit similar to white rum), lime and a lot of sugar. Drinking these from street stalls in the town square in the evening when the rain had calmed will bring a smile to anyone’s face.

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Despite the washout, we’d still loved Paraty and made the most of the time to chill out, read, eat (I’ll post my recipe for an incredible chicken parmigiana we had in Paraty on here later), sup cocktails and on our last day we bit the bullet and took a boat trip off the coast on another grey, wet day.

Incredibly we had an awesome trip despite the weather getting to know some Paulistas who were keen on a party whatever the weather! We must have been so out of touch with music while travelling as this was how we were introduced to the infamous Gangnam Style, and I’ll never forget it!

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With a touch a sadness but a lot of excitement we boarded our final bus (hooray!) and headed for Rio.

We were told the weather in Rio is usually pretty similar to Paraty and we could expect more rain so we couldn’t be more surprised to arrive in glorious sunshine! We booked a ticket on the last Corcovado train of the day for the Cristo Redentor statue that watches over the city.

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This left us time to explore the area around our hostel for a few hours as the queues on earlier trains died down but by the time we returned to the station the fog was rolling in. The statue as I’ve mentioned in a previous blog is amazing up close and the view from the top of the mountain is breathtaking, especially when you can see through the breaks in the cloud!

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Thankfully that wasn’t our only chance to take in the views of Rio and does give me the opportunity to bombard by blog with photos of such an amazing city. Just a couple of days later we were heading up Sugar Loaf mountain on the 100 year old cable car to check out the view from there.

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Sugar Loaf mountain is perhaps the most striking of the peaks surrounding Rio for its viewpoint over the beaches as it juts out over the Atlantic. From here you can check out the Botofago area and watch the planes coming in and out of the nearby domestic airport. We took a slightly different flight from the helipad halfway up the mountain.

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Ever since seeing the Idiot Abroad episode in Rio where Karl comes to see ‘the Jesus thing’ I have wanted to go in a helicopter over the city. With some birthday money from Katrina’s parents towards the cost of the flight we took off from Sugar Loaf Mountain, along the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, over the lagoon in the middle of the city and around the Cristo Redentor or ‘Jesus Thing’. I’m lost for words to describe it, but it was incredible and put our flight over the Nazca Lines a few months previously to shame.

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After Rio’s views from above we can get to the sights on the ground and for us that was on the beach. We couldn’t have been more keen to get some sun on our backs at the beach and after all Rio is famous for them. Walking down Copacabana one gets the idea how on days off most of the city comes here packed close together to relax, drink caipirinhas, show off their football skills on beach volleyball courts and generally just be cool. I’ve pretty much decided I have to live there at some point in my life!

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We spent quite a few afternoons chilling out on Ipanema beach and like to think we found the right spot. Different social scenes choose different parts of the beach, many on Copacabana will consider themselves more working class while there are sectors for the cultural crowd, gay community and very pretty girls on Ipanema, I like to think we found the latter. If you love cities with a cafe culture for people watching, well Rio tops that by a long way! Even the vendors on the beach all have their own fun character selling everything from iced tea (mate) to bikinis and inflatable balls.

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Ipanema is also where to congregate to watch one of the great South American sunsets as beachgoers congregate on the rocky headland at the end of the strip to watch the sun go down and even applaud as the last sliver disappears on the horizon.

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On our last day on the beach the sea was incredibly rough, leaving it open to only the strongest/bravest/most stupid swimmers. While cooling off I had the awkward British moment of handing a Brazilian girl her bikini top back after she was knocked over by a wave while moments later a rescue helicopter was summoned to fish out some kids who had been caught by the current.

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One other place in Rio I need to talk about in this blog is the Escadaria Selaron. These stairs are named after a Chilean artist who started decorating them over a period of about 20 years as a labour of love to the city of Rio. The steps constantly changed over time with new tiles sent from all over the world as the work gained popularity while much of the work was funded through sales of one his favourite paintings. Sadly in January 2013, the creator Jorge Selaron was found dead on these steps and it is not entirely clear it was from natural causes. I hope his work will be taken on by somebody else as the Escadaria Selaron really is a great place to visit in Rio.

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So we’ve done the sights and the beaches. Next is the nightlife. We felt we were missing out while we were there despite it not being carnival time as Rio felt a bit quiet at night. To put a stop to this we headed to the Friday night street party in the Lapa District (quite close to the Escadaria Selaron). Around midnight the streets are filled with caipirinha vendors making the biggest, best, strongest and cheapest cocktails you are likely to find in any city – ours were about £1 each for something the size of a pint.

The bars, music, dancers and drink spill onto the streets and gave a great taste of what the city must be like during carnival, a real shame I’m not there as a write my blog!

Shortly after that night and another afternoon on the beach it was time to head to the airport and home with mixed feelings. Great to end to the trip on a high and take some rest from travelling (sounds crazy I know but it is true) but really sad to end what will go down as one of the best experiences of my life.

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!