Southeast Asia – What I Expected vs. What I Experienced

I felt the grinding sound of the landing gear lowering below my feet. That hydraulic rumble that reminds me you’re most of the way through your descent and about to return to terra firma. The palms of my hands were starting to sweat and I felt a rock in my stomach.  Despite previous trips, my last foray into a wildly different culture had been a couple years previous and done with family. This time, I was alone and couldn’t help by second guess my decision.

Exploring Koh Lanta

As the ground raced up to greet me, I looked out over Ho Chi Minh’s skyline.  It was strange…dry….brown…it almost looked familiar.  In fact, it reminded me of landing in Mexico. The buildings, their angularity, their coloration and the semi-organized chaos.

The Four Island Tour

Then with a bump, we made contact. The fear and second guessing subsided, replaced by excitement and acceptance. No matter if I’d made a good choice or not, what would follow would be roughly 19 days of exploration, wandering, and discover.

Lost in Bangkok - Thailand

Though elements of Ho Chi Minh continued to remind me of parts of Mexico – in no small part due to the mixture of humidity, heat, and oft-present sun – Vietnam quickly differentiated itself.  In this post I’ll share a few random observations that stuck out for me as I made my way through the trip, tasting Vietnam, skipping through Cambodia, and swimming just off the beaches of Southern Thailand.

The Almost Brave Warthog – Weekly Travel Photo

Warthog Meets Elephant - Chobe Safari
The banks of the Chobe River in Botswana were home to a rather amusing series of events.  As we floated along and watched things transpire, we watched curiously as a rather bold warthog casually strutted in the general direction of what I believe was a young male elephant.  Full of swagger and strut the warthog marched right up in the general direction of the elephant, who at first ignored the approach and then as the warthog neared, turned a more attentive eye.  After a brief pause and standoff in which the two stared each other down, the elephant’s ears flared out and the warthog did a shockingly quick 180 before setting an energized pace for a hasty retreat.

Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo – Horsing Around the Little Colorado

The Little Colorado - Horses

Though its bigger brother the Grand Canyon gets all the attention, the Little Colorado, located just around the bend, has its own beauty and allure.  Today’s Friday photo was snapped at one of the overlooks along Highway 64, the Cameron to Grand Canyon ring road in Arizona.

The photo was taken as I paused at one of the small Indian jewelry stands that decorate the area.  Stiff from a few hours of driving I got out of the car to stretch my legs and check out the Little Colorado.  As I did I was greeted by these two curious individuals enjoying the view from their horse trailer. It would appear that these two horses found me even more interesting than one of Arizona’s natural wonders.  To think – I didn’t even get a chance to try out my, “So a horse walks into a bar…” jokes.  Perhaps it was for the best!

Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo – Big Cats in Denmark

Copenhagen Zoo

Now, when you hear Denmark you probably don’t think “Lions”. I know for my part that I definitely didn’t. Which is why I was surprised during a visit to the Copenhagen Zoo to find a large, open enclosure full of a rather large extended family including a veritable army of small cubs. As the rainy day gave way to a beautiful fall day I snapped this photo of Dad and one of the moms relaxing in the sun together. I just love the colors in the photo, and that he appears to be sticking his tongue out at me.

The Danish Animal House! Photos From A Day at the Copenhagen Zoo

Copenhagen Zoo Mother Cat

In my effort to round out my Copenhagen introductory experience I quickly realized that the Copenhagen Zoo was a must visit.  With a reputation for being one of the best zoos in Europe it boasted stellar review after stellar review online. Eager to try and catch the 1PM feeding I pulled up the zoo’s website, glanced at a map and set off.  Unfortunately the trip to Fasanvej St. station (which I felt was the closest and easiest walk to the Zoo) took slightly longer than expected….and then I goofed. Instead of heading south, I accidentally began heading north and didn’t realize my mistake until I’d gone 3 or 4 blocks.   At which time 1PM was 5 minutes away and a light rain had begun to fall.  No longer on a strict timetable I ducked into a corner kebab shop and ordered lunch hoping the rain would pass in the 20 or so minutes it would take me to eat.

Copenhagen Zoo Tower

It didn’t and unfortunately it may have even picked up slightly.  But, un-perturbed I stepped out into the light rain and began backtracking towards the station before blazing a new southerly path.  The rain was relatively light and left me damp but lacked sufficient strength to send me running for cover. If anything it added a slight skip to my step as I found myself humming Singing in the Rain and splashing my way through a beautiful, sprawling palatial garden. After getting slightly lost I stumbled onto an open viewing area where the park opened up onto the back side of the zoo’s Elephant enclosure. In place of the high walls you’d expect blocking out non-paying visitors there was a low electric fence, moat, and railing.  From there it was only a matter of a few turns before I found myself standing in front of the Zoo’s entrance.

Copenhagen Zoo

Then I faced a small quandary. It was still raining, gray and showed no sign of letting up.  But, that’s how the weather had been the previous three days, and each time after an hour or so the clouds broke, the rain stopped, and the weather transitioned into beautiful afternoons.  I had the entire afternoon to wait it out, was reading my Dad’s book and had little desire to rush, so I opted to risk the 140 DKK ($28 USD) entrance fee and went for it. Once inside I quickly found my way to one of the Zoo’s small cafe’s where I secured a quiet corner table and began reading. Before long the rain stopped, clouds broke, and as one the animals and I left our dry hiding spaces to enjoy the sunshine and fresh, crisp, clean post storm air.

Copenhagen Zoo

After a quick stop in the Flamingo enclosure I found my way to the Lion’s den.  To my absolute delight the entire pride was out and active wandering the enclosure, playfully relaxing and from time to time babysitting the pack of small cubs.

Copenhagen Zoo

I couldn’t believe my luck.  Not only were all of the lions out and active, the enclosure itself was extremely conducive to viewing them with the usual close up cement walls with smeared and fogged up glass windows only taking up a small portion of the viewing area. The rest consisted of a large, long, and open railing wrapping around 1/3 of the habitat. With the lions out and about it offered an incredible view.  It was hands down the best chance I’ve had to view lions – normally in Phoenix and the other Zoo’s I’ve been in the view has consisted of little more than furry lion’s paws sticking out of the grass, or a long tail dangling from one of the enclosure’s small caves.

Copenhagen Zoo Monkey

From there it was on to the monkey enclosures where most of the monkeys were relaxing, nibbling on food and enjoying the sun’s warmth. You’ll note that the little guy in the image above seemed to have it all figured out.  What better way to spend an afternoon than outside taking a nap in the sun?

Copenhagen Zoo Sunbather

Speaking of sunbathing, even this turtle in one of the internal butterfly and bird enclosures seemed to have it all figured out. Stuck inside? Can’t enjoy the sunlight? No bother – bring the sunlight to you! Personally though, I have a hunch he’s going to have a pretty difficult time getting a tan through that shell, it’s probably a smudge stronger than SPF 45.

Copenhagen Zoo

Attached to the butterfly enclosure was a large dark hallway lined with individually lit frog, insect and snake aquariums.  One of the largest served as home to a small army of brightly covered jungle frogs. While no doubt terribly poisonous to touch, their rich colors and vibrant markings make them some of the most attractive amphibians I’ve ever seen in person.

Copenhagen Zoo

A little further down the hall, however, was this lovely couple.  Closer to what one might expect these guys possessed a certain dinosaur esq look struck quite the pose. Quite the couple, relaxing and enjoying their vibrantly colored flower bed.

Copenhagen Zoo

From there it was on to the Chimpanzee enclosure which was completely inside and housed a surprisingly large chimpanzee population including grown males, females and young children.  I’m always torn on Zoos. On the one hand I love them for the opportunity to see amazing creatures up close and for the opportunity they present to protect endangered, injured, or domesticated animals. On the other hand – well, this photo sums it up pretty perfectly. There’s the sad sense of the jailhouse blues seeing some of the animals locked away in man-made enclosures.

Copenhagen Zoo

After winding my way out of the Chimpanzee enclosure I found myself entering another building.  This one, it turned out, was actually the back side of the outdoor monkey enclosures I had visited earlier and offered a mixture of in-door extensions of the enclosures as well as several smaller, entirely indoor areas for some of the smaller and incredibly adorable monkeys.

Copenhagen Zoo

From there it was on over to the Tiger enclosure where three of the large cats were relaxing and enjoying the sun…until, that is, this little guy woke up from his nap and got a bit bored.

Copenhagen Zoo Tiger

After a hearty yawn – at least I’m hoping that’s what it was – and a bit of stretching he did what any good natured cat would do.  Decided to stalk prey.

Copenhagen Zoo

On massive padded paws he slowly stalked his way towards his sleeping cage-mate…inching forward slowly….then eventually pouncing on his sleeping target who was, as you might imagine, not entirely thrilled at rude awakening. Oh, and have no fear. The above photo is completely innocent.

Copenhagen Zoo

The unamused cage mate quickly woke up and let his (or her) general disapproval be known – though you can tell by the provocateur’s ears that he was still finding the reaction absolutely entertaining.

Copenhagen Zoo

Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever ambushed a friend or family member in their sleep knows, while hysterical to watch, they do tend to be a bit grumpy after. This was no exception, but after a quick chiding the two collapsed to the dirt and returned to their lazy afternoon lounging, no worse for wear.

Copenhagen Zoo

Around the corner I quickly came face to face with the Leopard enclosure. As with the rest of the spaces in the Zoo I was shocked at how many animals the enclosure was home to as I counted four, possibly five leopards in their sprawling and thickly shaded cage.  Seeing the animals in such a social environment, many with young children or nurslings in tow really gave me a lot of added respect for the Copenhagen Zoo team and their approach.

Copenhagen Zoo

Located just around the corner from the leopards was a small otter enclosure.  These three goofballs had found the perfect perch for staring at passing tourists, often at eye level.  Their playful antics as they huddled, drying off in the sun’s warmth reminded me of the three stooges and one of their comedy routines.

Copenhagen Zoo

From there it was up, past two lounging red pandas to the sea lion enclosure. Not to be outdone by the otters the sea lion enclosure was in the midst of a feeding/show when I arrived. After barking on command, shaking hands, waving, and a plethora of other adorable tricks the sea lion’s trainers would send them off to one of the corners before calling over a new performer.

Copenhagen Zoo

The sea lions were extremely responsive, playful, and as you’ll note in the image above quite talented. On more than one occasion I was surprised to see them leap out of the water to touch nose to suspended ball, or trainer’s finger tips.

Copenhagen Zoo

As the sea lions performed, the penguins in the partially attached enclosure immediately next to them fought for attention. Several forming small groups before waddling their way in front of each other where they proceeded to honk and peck at each other. Who knew that penguins rolled in gangs when imprisoned in the big house? From there it was on past a small pack of beautiful wolves enjoying mottled shade and into the bear section of the Zoo.

Copenhagen Zoo

There I was immediately greeted by this goofy little guy who spent the majority of his time lounging in the pool, looking guilty and playing with toys while his mother and two younger brothers wandered the enclosure causing trouble.

Copenhagen Zoo

While mom waited for dinner, and kept an eye on things from an interesting perch in the middle of the structure, two of her cubs entertained them selves as boys will…

Copenhagen Zoo

…in a playful, clumsy, and utterly adorable bear face-off. Nose to nose. Paw to paw. Standing as tall as they could they’d grapple before one would break away, racing a large circle around the enclosure before pausing to have at it once again.

Copenhagen Zoo

As time drifted by and I watched them play they eventually all gathered to wait while one of the zoo keepers rustled around behind the enclosure. Though it looked more like they were taking standing and walking lessons than waiting for anything in particular.

Copenhagen Zoo

Located a stones throw away from the brown bear family was the polar bear enclosure which serves as home for two large, gorgeous polar bears.

Copenhagen Zoo

Full of character one was kind enough to pose for me briefly, striking a classic pose which you might recognize from music videos and malls all over America.  After a quick pose he turned, sticking his tongue out at me and looking generally pleased with himself.

Copenhagen Zoo

As I’m sure you may have noticed by now, it seemed like every one was in the best of moods. Both animals and humans alike.  After watching him mime for the camera a bit more and shooting several more shots I set off past the leopard seal enclosure and towards the tunnel which winds under a road and into the second half of the park.

Copenhagen Zoo

The second half of the park is home to a number of animals, including this gorgeous and slightly ferocious mother caracal which you may recall from the start of this entry.  Let me tell you, few things stand out in my memory quite like making eye contact with her, perhaps 8 inches away from each other, face to face, as she stood on top of a barrel and expressed her annoyance with  my proximity to her little ones. After snapping two quick shots I respected her wishes and backed off giving her a bit of space.

Copenhagen Zoo

Her two little ones were adorable kittens with captivating eyes and pure, adorable, kitten innocence. They found their way to the floor to ceiling glass and playfully rolled around attacking small bugs, sticks of grass, and anything that happened to be in range, which included attempts – despite the class – to nibble on a few small children’s fingers and my camera strap.

Copenhagen Zoo

The far side of the Zoo contained a large giraffe family, several hippos, birds, zebras and to my surprise a large petting zoo and domestic exhibit including highland horses, several cows, pigs and chickens.

Copenhagen Zoo

The Copenhagen Zoo was absolutely incredible. I was blown away by the layout, the treatment of the animals, their general energy, and the magnificent way the day turned out. I truly couldn’t have asked for a better day at the Zoo. I’m absolutely thrilled with how my gamble turned out and hope to revisit to zoo again sometime soon. I already miss all of my new furry, feathered and scaled friends!

The photos in this post were shot on a Canon Powershot G11. Learn more about it and the Canon G12 here.

Animals in Spring

We often think of visiting the Zoo in the summer months.  Times when it’s hot outside and the escape to a small oasis with wild animals, great  palms and more sounds particularly alluring.  Yet the animals themselves feel that same urge to avoid the heat and crowds, particularly here in Phoenix.

On previous trips to the Zoo I’ve mostly encountered Giraffes huddled in the shade, Monkeys sequestered in small shady corners, and the occasional lazy Lions paw dangling haphazardly out of a cubby.   Taking advantage of a warm week in early spring, I opted for an off season visit. To my delight the animals were out in fine form enjoying the weather and providing me with an opportunity to record a bit of video. Enjoy!

The Phoenix Zoo Trip Number Two!

This past weekend I felt the urge to once again make the trek across the valley to the Phoenix Public Zoo. Though mainly there to see how well I would be able to blend in with the wild life I decided to take along a camera or two for kicks. It was a beautiful fall day and just cool enough that many of the animals were out and about for a leisurely stroll.

While some of you may not particularly care for the Phoenix Zoo and prefer its larger cousins to the east and west I’ve always found it to be rather enjoyable. There’s something about animals at play that brings mirth to the soul while relaxing the mind and body.

Beyond that, I’ve always found that animals give some rather spectacular advice.  Like the photo above for example.  A wonderful illustration that two heads and corresponding ideas can blend near seamlessly if only you take the right approach and spend a bit of time together.

Or, as this Giraffe was so kind as to illustrate, perspective really can change everything.  I know for my part, I’ve had days where this shot pretty much summed everything up.  It’s a bit like a Giraffe’s version of the whole Ostrich with its head in the sand thing.

One should also remember that Quacks…

Really do come in all different shapes and sizes.

As a final note, I suppose I should also point out, that with stalwart resolve and enough gall you can climb to any height.  Just remember, that there is almost always another branch above or beside you.  The trick is being willing to jump for it.

I suppose at this point that that’s enough monkeying around.  So, without further adieu I invite you to view the rest of the 100+ photos from my latest Zoo trip and higher resolution versions of the shots included in this post over in my photo gallery starting on page 4 of the Zoo Album: View them.

Dance Videos & Zoo Pictures

Bamboo - Phoenix Zoo - Alex Berger

It’s been a busy few weeks with school ending for many of my good friends, the election dragging on, temperatures soaring, and life’s adventure in full swing. Two things to share with you all.

Zoo Pictures

Sunday 5/4/08 on a wild hair I decided to spend the afternoon doing a bit of urban tourism. I recently purchased two replacement Lithium-Ion batteries off e-bay for my camera and was curious to see how the generic brand batteries would hold up. The price difference was amazing – $10 for two 1800 rated batteries, compared to the $60-70 official price for one 1300 rated name brand battery through a major outlet. For those curious the batteries worked out great with over 3 hours of battery time each. Quite an improvement when compared to the dwindling 2-30 minutes of active time I’m currently getting out of my old battery.

I shot off a few quick texts before taking a power nap. As expected most of the people I contacted were busy or lacked interest in the Zoo. It was actually almost a relief. By and large I was eager to go and wander at my own pace, taking photos, enjoying the animals and generally spending some time as a tourist in my home city. It’s always one of those funny quirks – the way in which we travel hours and thousands of miles to explore foreign destinations and then forget to take even the smallest amount of time to explore the area around our own city.

After having a little trouble locating the Zoo (google maps showed a non-existent street) I eventually arrived a few minutes before 3 which gave me a full 2 hours of wandering before the zoo closed. All things considered the Phoenix Zoo has a lot to offer. It’s definitely not the largest Zoo out there, nor is it the nicest. It is, however, ideal for a lazy Sunday afternoon. If the 90+ degree weather left me wondering if it was still spring the blossoming flowers assuaged my doubts. The Zoo grounds were alive with the buzzing of pollinating bees and splashed in the reds, yellows, and golds of blooming flowers.

Phoenix Zoo - Alex Berger

Despite the heat I was surprised to find that a lion’s share of the animals were out and about enjoying the late afternoon sun…Though the lions and tigers themselves were holed up in the shade and all but invisible. The beauty, power and majesty present in some of the animals is truly amazing. A photo can express a lot, a great photo can leave you feeling like you’re there, but it never truly compares to being present in the flesh…Seeing, smelling, feeling and hearing the animal’s presence.

I spent my two hours lazily wandering through the Zoo before winding down shortly after 5. I’ve uploaded the photos from the trip here.

After catching a quick dinner with a friend as he passed through town I tightened up my laces, drank a hefty glass of water and made my way to Shall We Dance for the Sunday night salsa dance social. Nate and I have started recording some of our dances both for our own reference, and as a way to share with family and friends.

Dancing at a salsa club is vastly different than performance salsa. It’s dirtied, random, and lacks any sort of standardized routine. It’s fun, fast-paced, shoot from the hip style dancing that is both extremely enjoyable and always a unique experience. The following is a video of Michiko and I dancing next to Chris and Andrea:

The following is another sequence shot late last month of Mitchiko and I:

Here’s a third of Ashley and I dancing:

If you’d like to see more videos I’ve added a number of them to my Youtube page. Most are salsas but several are other dances (rumba, etc.). In addition to videos of me dancing I’ve also posted a number of videos of Nate and other members of our dance group dancing. View It.