I’m currently hard at work sorting through the 4,000+ images I snapped during my visit to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. However, while the final “National Geographic Standard” shots are starting to go up on flickr (view them here) I’ve been posting Instagram edits taken during the trip. For those that follow my photography, for Instagram I post unique images, a blend of dSLR and iPhone 6 captured shots and/or HDR edits of the photos you’d see on flickr in a more true-to-life format. So, without further delay, here are 15 of my favorite Instagram shots from Cambodia.
I’m currently hard at work sorting through the 4,000+ images I snapped during my visit to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. However, while the final “National Geographic Standard” shots are starting to go up on flickr (view them here) I’ve been posting Instagram edits taken during the trip. For those that follow my photography, for Instagram I post unique images, a blend of dSLR and iPhone 6 captured shots and/or HDR edits of the photos you’d see on flickr in a more true-to-life format. So, without further delay, here are 15 of my favorite Instagram shots from Vietnam.
This story begins high above the alps. It is a story of change. Of transition and of voyage. It is a story of simple contrasts, long trips, and the small details that define the world around us. It begins in the uppermost reaches of roiling clouds as they form along the border between the Austrian and Italian Alps. Casually adrift they eventually find themselves caught; snagged on jagged mountain peaks dotted by the sharp protrusions of evergreen treetops. As gravity takes hold and nature pulls the clouds downward a process as old as the earth unfolds. Water vapor rises, condenses, and crystallizes. Like a master tinkerer, the cloud crafts trillions of tiny stars. Each is an ever-so-slight variation of the star shape we picture as we close our eyes and dream of winter. These newly born stars float suspended in quasi-darkness thousands of feet above the earth waiting to launch themselves upon the world below.
With the gust of wind, a change in pressure, and a drop in temperature clouds struggle to free themselves of their mountain moorings. As they lighten their loads snowflakes begin their gentle descent. Some find themselves falling quickly, others drifting as they are tossed from side to side by alpine winds. They descend towards fallen brethren. Some revert to their watery origins – torn apart – by waves of heat. Others are thrown together, crushed within the feathers of sharp-eyed golden eagles or the furrows of an Alps-Crow’s black wings. Most survive to continue their reckless descent.
For some their trip comes to an untimely end. Extinguished by the heat of a child’s outstretched tongue. Others find themselves caught in the top branches of old trees and small spring saplings. A perch that lends a fabulous view of the valley’s white slopes and snow-covered fields, but which also offers them up as sacrifice to the sun in a way reminiscent of ancient Incan ceremonies.
Others find themselves surrounded by their brethren as they cast a thick blanket across the earth’s rich soil. It is a war of sorts. The war of seasons. In winter frozen snowflakes spread themselves across the soil’s surface, blocking it from the sun and denying it the liquid hydration it demands to survive. In summer, when the dark hues of rich humus and golden rays of the sun combine, the earth finds itself hungrily gorging itself on water that has long forgotten what it felt like to take the form of a frozen star.
As day ebbs and night descends a full moon’s white light is reflected off a trillion sparkling points. Each dreams of a life spent beside the moon in the deepest reaches of space as a small part of the Milky Way. Instead, small gusts of wind cast snowflakes back into the air, tossing and turning them before allowing them to crash back against their mates.
Morning’s early rays. Warmth. Blue skies. Sun. The shimmer of heat rising, reflected off white crystalline shapes. A reversion from tiny star to water and gas. A new voyage, this one slow but persistent. Soaking deep into the half-frozen soil. Drifting across slicked rocks. Carried along by un-melted snowflakes.
The birth of a small stream hidden beneath snowbanks. The soft gurgle of water splashing over stones as a trickle grows, freed by the sun. The promise of spring as weather warms. Tiny crystalline star after tiny crystalline star giving way to heat, sun, and the caress of water. Moments of uncertainty as the gentle onslaught of a stream slowly carves grottos beneath the snow’s smooth white surface. And then collapse as the strength of millions of interlocked snowflakes give way beneath their own weight.
Moments. Hours. Days of tentative equilibrium as stream, sun and snowflake reach a fragile balance. By day the sun beats down, forcing snow flakes to wither and drip their way toward the stream. By evening, night and early morning the cold caress of alpine winds, fresh snow, and freezing air strive to re-claim lost snowflakes.
Half-exposed segments of the stream re-discover their crystalline origins. These re-freeze on a much grander scale. Their struggle futile. Brief. But beautiful in its grand gestures. Others struggle in transition. Most of their form lost. They form pillars by gravity and circumstance that stand as bulwarks against the stream’s cold bite as they loom above the churning waters.
I captured these photos during a two-hour snowshoe hike provided by the folks at Obergurgl Ski School and the Obergurgl-Hochgurgl Tourism Board just outside the city of Obergurgl in the Austrian Alps. The weather was spectacular with blue skies and clean mountain air. As we hiked along a small stream made up of snow melt, I was taken by the beauty of the ice crystal formations. Those photos gave birth to this post. One which I hope you enjoyed. It is an incredible area full of stunning natural beauty. Photos were shot on a Canon 600D.
One of Copenhagen’s central tourist attractions, Tivoli Gardens, doubles as a regular destination for locals as well. The amusement park, which is semi-seasonal, is open between mid-April and the end of December each year. It boasts a variety of wonderful (and comprehensively decorated) themes that change with the seasons while offering a more historical amusement park experience than many visitors may have experienced in the past.
Despite having arrived in Copenhagen back in July, I’m embarrassed to say this was my first trip to Tivoli. I can’t say I have any good reason for the delay other than that due to my housing and visa woes I missed the initial trip most of my friends and classmates took when we first arrived. Now that I’ve finally made it, I’m definitely sorry it took me as long as it did to make it to the park, and that I’ll have to wait until April to return. Though, to balance out the long delay, the magical ambiance that went with the holiday decorations and firework show definitely left me with an extremely memorable first time to the park – but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk a bit more about the park and its fascinating history.
While it may be old news to amusement park aficionados, most readers will probably be surprised to learn the Denmark is home to more than just the original Lego Land. In fact it not only boasts Tivoli, which was founded in 1843 and is the second oldest amusement park in the world. It also serves as home to Dyrehavsbakken located a few miles to the north which is the world’s oldest park with a history dating back to the 1580s, and which I hope to visit (and share with you all) this spring.
As the story goes Tivoli was initially launched under the rule of King Christian the VIII as an initiative to nurture citizen’s goodwill. Initially located just outside of the city’s western gate in Vesterport, as the city has grown the park has slowly been incorporated into Copenhagen’s historic downtown. Throughout its history the park’s owners have consistently focused on maintaining the park’s ambiance and historical allure while working creatively within the park’s limited space to add modern rides and attractions. It currently boasts twenty five rides, four of which are roller-coasters. No small accomplishment for a park that takes up just over 20 acres of land.
Throughout its rich history, Tivoli has left its mark on the entertainment world. The park served as a heavy inspiration for Walt Disney when he set out to create Disneyland, inspired Hans Christian Anderson as he wrote The Nightingale, and is said to have played a central role in composer Hans Christian Lumbye’s musical career. With its fantastic charm, romantic ambiance, and rich vegetation it’s guaranteed to leave its mark on all who visit.
My introduction to the park began just after dark (which comes far too early in Copenhagen in December). The weather was crisp, but tolerable, and the sky largely cloudless with a beautiful crescent moon. It was the 29th of December, one day before the park was scheduled to close down until April. I’d arrived after dark to see the park at night, and to make sure I had the chance to see Tivoli’s famous firework show which is put on the last week of December. The plan was to connect with a classmate and her boyfriend who were both Danish and had offered to introduce me properly to Tivoli. However, eager to spend some time wandering the park on my own I arrived a few minutes early to snap a few photos and some video.
As I waited for Jonas and Margrethe to arrive my attention was immediately stolen by the rich, deep, sparkling blues of the Pantomime Theater. The theater is designed in an oriental style, and features a brilliantly colored peacock with sparkling tail. Built as an outdoor theater, it was designed by Vilhelm Dahlerup who also designed the Royal Danish Theater. While the theater is known for the peacock’s mechanical tail, which serves as the front curtain, I was immediately distracted by a large stable set up immediately in front where I presume the chairs would normally sit. In their place a rustic stable had been built served as a temporary home for Santa’s reindeer during daylight hours. Long since put to bed, a rumbling recording of roaring snores reindeer snores echoed out from the hut, serving as an amusing contrast to the pristine plumage and diamondesque elegance of the Peacock Curtain that served as its backdrop.
From the theater, I quickly wound down through small free standing shops and past Tivoli’s Moorish Palace, which serves as home to the Nimb Hotel and Restaurant. Then past little Russia with its vibrantly colored buildings, and out into one of the park’s open areas. The open space serves as home to two of the park’s large carousels: the Music Carousel and the Swing Carousel, both of which are vibrantly lit at night. It is also home to the world famous Star Flyer, and the heart tree/kissing tree.
To my delight the crescent moon fell squarely amidst the naked branches of the heart tree. Naked of leaves the large tree cut an impressive silhouette while supporting a number of large, glowing red hearts. All of which surrounded a beautiful, brilliantly bright crescent moon in the background. It was delightful, if a bit lonely – definitely one of those places and moments made for a stolen kiss, music to remember and a beautiful travel companion.
Leaving the tree behind, I quickly met up with Jonas where we mad our way immediately to one of the small concession stands for steaming cups of Gløgg/Glögg. Gløgg is a staple of winter life in Denmark. It consists of mulled red or white wine, often with almonds and raisins in it, is served steaming hot out of large cauldrons. In many cases it is further fortified with a few shots of hard alcohol. Jonas opted for the spiced rum, and I followed his lead. With blood slowly returning to my fingers, we wound into little China Town, beneath the Daemonen – Tivoli’s largest roller coaster – before pausing along Tivoli’s fairly large lake.
As Jonas explained some of the park’s history to me we were greeted by a stunning view. The lake’s water was almost perfectly still and the lit buildings, trees, and roller coasters that sit along it cast vibrantly colored reflections. Just as Margrethe arrived music began to play, the lights changed, and fog rolled out over the lake. Then, to my absolute (and perhaps slightly childish) delight a laser and fountain show began. It combined a fun mixture of fog, light, laser webs, music, and even a bit of flame for an enchanting performance that had water, and light dancing across the surface of the lake. We stood mesmerized for the length of the show, despite the cold.
I mentioned it briefly already when talking about the heart tree, but it bears reiterating. The old trees that decorate Tivoli are fantastic. Especially in winter, devoid of their leaves, and decorated in brilliant arrays of Christmas lights. The trees along the lake cast stunning reflections while simultaneously seeming to be lit by thousands of small, glowing lake fairies.
Eager to find something for Margrethe to drink, and nearing the bottom of our cups of Gløgg we made our way down and around the far end of the lake, which took us past the park’s impressive pirate ship and then across towards the aptly named Smuggler’s Row.
Smuggler’s Row has a fun, eclectic feel and serves as home to a number of permanent food stands and small shops. As the photo suggests, it has a delightful mixture of oddities and fantastical decorations.
The crowds had begun to build, and eager to warm up we ducked into a small beer garden that had liter steins of Paulaner beer and just as importantly large heat lamps. There we sat, chatted, and exchanged stories while warming up and preparing for the evening’s main event. The firework show.
As we finished our beers and made our way back towards the open space with the heart trees we were shocked to see how much the park had filled up. In the seemingly brief time we had been away, wandering the park, the entire area had filled – shoulder to shoulder – with eager onlookers. We quickly found a small spot with a great view and settled in. Now, I’m not sure what you might be familiar with for firework shows back home, but after spending the holidays and new years here in Denmark, I can promise you that regular residents take their fireworks very, very seriously. As a result the bar is set pretty high for a professional show like Tivoli’s and I’m happy to say they more than delivered. You’ll have to watch the video which is embedded earlier in this post to see them. I’m afraid I was so busy enthralled by the fireworks and recording video I failed to pause and snap a few traditional photos. The backdrop was gorgeous with little Russia to our left, old street lamps in front of us, and the colorfully lit dome at the top of the Star Flyer as the backdrop. The show rivaled anything I’ve seen the city’s put on for the 4th of July back home. The fireworks were colorful, plentiful and of course loud!
My trip to Tivoli was an evening spent in a magical fairy tale land. The park is an absolute delight and has its own unique charm which I thoroughly enjoyed. If you find yourself in Denmark, make sure you set aside an afternoon – or evening – to explore the park and all it has to offer. As an interesting side note, you have different options when purchasing tickets. There is a cheaper, non-ride based ticket which gives you admission to the park – perfect for evenings like mine. Or you can opt for a ride pass which is good throughout the park, and ideal in warmer months when fast rides and daring drops call! For more information you can view their site at Tivoli.dk.
Have your own experiences, or fun facts from Tivoli? Feel free to share them in a comment. As always, thanks for reading, and please make sure to subscribe for future updates!
It’s Thanksgiving back home, probably my favorite holiday of the year. It’s a holiday about people, about coming together, and about taking a moment to focus on all that is positive in our lives. The people, the opportunities, the friends, the family, and yes, even the challenges. As I reflect on what I’m thankful for travel comes to mind as a major aspect of my life and a true blessing. In honor of that, I’ve put together this photo post showcasing some of my favorite signature boot shots from around the world. If you enjoy these shots, feel free to check out the complete album over on flickr.
Mt. Fitz Roy near El Chalten, Argentina
Smoo Cliffs, Northern Scotland
The Grand Canyon in Arizona, United States
The National Monument and Jefferson Monument in Washington D.C., United States
Caving in Budapest, Hungary
Penguins in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
Nyhavn Harbor in Copenhagen, Denmark
Sharkstooth in the San Juan Mountains Colorado, United States
Tulum Beach, Mexico
Loch Ness, Scotland
Painted Desert in Arizona, United States
Swimming with Sharks, Belize
Tikal Ruins, Guatemala
Warehouse District in Bergen, Norway
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Wooden Stave Church in Oslo, Norway
Iguazu Falls, Argentina
Great Barrier Reef, Belize
The Old Fortress in Cadiz, Spain
Guejar in the Sierra Navadas Near Granada, Spain
Scottish Highlands, Scotland
Preikestolen, the Preacher’s Pulpit, Norway
Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
Sunrise at Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Mayan Pyramids in Tikal, Guatemala
Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins, Mexico
San Juan Mountains in Colorado, United States
Actun Tunichil Muknal, Belize
Orkney Islands, Scotland
Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
Waterfalls in the Fjords, Norway
En-route to Tobacco Caye, Belize
Bergen From Above, Norway
Sunset in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
The world is a wonderful place and travel a spectacular gift. If you’re already a veteran traveler, then I hope you’ll pause for a moment and reflect on all the gifts you’ve received from travel. If you’re just gearing up for your first trip, then I encourage you to dive in and have to admit, I’m slightly jealous of the journal of self discovery, awe, adventure, and new experiences you’re about to undertake. The majority of the photos in this post were taken on my Canon G11, though some shots were taken on my older Canon G6.
The bus was clean, modern and comfortable. The view started out fairly unimpressive. That wouldn’t last. As we cut straight across the barren desert we slid past the airport and then traced our way along the subtle ridge line that shadowed the fascinating blue-gray, almost silver, glacial waters that separated us from the Andes. The three or so hour bus ride wound up past Lago Argentino in a large lazy partial U before sliding along the shores of Lago Viedma. Eventually as foothills rose to our right and the lake blocked us in to the left we crested a final rise and were greeted with our first real view of Mt. Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and their siblings.
Contrary to what I’m familiar with, the flat lowlands didn’t give way to low foothills. They just suddenly vanished. The flat land was swallowed by massive stone Cathedrals with majestic snow covered buttresses. Even as the bus rolled along through the flat lands I realized why the few people I had talked to who had made it to El Chalten spoke so highly of it.
As our path began to gently curve away from Lago Viedma I glanced one last time and caught sight of a small stream feeding the glacier, before turning back to the front of the Bus and watching in awe as we approached Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and the tiny climbing town of El Chalten.
Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time I’ve come to realize just how lucky I was. The weather was perfect: Mixed puffy clouds, rich blue skies, gentle wind. All things I’d take for granted back home in Arizona, but in a place like El Chalten? Rare luxuries.
You’ve probably seen photos of Mt. Fitz Roy before. One of the most difficult mountains in the world to climb, it is the mountain that appears in Patagonia clothing’s logo and is a favorite photography destination among big name photographers. Though I wasn’t aware the specifics of where the photos were taken I always assumed that they had been edited due to the vibrant colors and reflective sheen the mountains give off. To my surprise that’s not the case at all. It’s actually the nature of the mountains and rocks. Those photos which seem too good to be real? They’re the real McCoy and the photos reflect their true appearance.
As we crossed the river and entered El Chalten the bus pulled into the National Park station where we were told we would need to temporarily disembark for orientation. Once inside we split into an English group and a Spanish one, were handed a brochure on the park, and a map that outlined major hiking trails, distances and times. They made a point of warning us that the region was prone to turbulent weather, high winds and storms while encouraging us to be careful.
Properly briefed we piled back on the bus and made the 5 minute drive around the corner and into the city’s bus station. The town has wide, empty, streets and squat buildings built for harsh winters and strong winds. The entire town has a newness to it that makes it clear that it’s only there because of hikers and tourists. It has that fledgling feel that suggests it’s still attempting to decide if it is willing to become a year round destination and brave the winters or content to be a tiny town that grows exponentially during the summer.
My hostel ended up being on the far side of town which constituted little more than a 4 minute walk. Once there I paused outside and collected my materials. I wasn’t sure how it would go. The reservation had actually been made by an American and Norwegian who I had met in El Calafate at my previous hostel. The town was all booked up right before Christmas and as a result they’d had to buy one of the few remaining private rooms. That meant they had 3 beds for 2 people and were eager to add a third to help with the cost. We had chatted briefly, then I’d jumped on board. Unfortunately, they were scheduled to arrive later in the evening leaving me to check in on their reservation (if i could) early in the afternoon.
Unfortunately, the girl on the front desk didn’t speak any English and my Spanish is somewhat…spotty. It didn’t help that I wasn’t positive on either of the guy’s last names. Luckily, I was able to pull out my laptop and call up Google Translate to explain the peculiar situation and why my name didn’t match the reservation. That is, we were able to use it intermittently as the wifi signal was beamed up to El Chalten from El Calafate and tended to vanish every few minutes when the wind blew. Despite a few small obstacles it only took a few minutes before I had the key to the room and a basic map of the town. The hostel was less hostel and more B&B but would work out nicely.
Eager to get while the getting was good, and itching to explore/enjoy the beautiful weather I paused at a small restaurant for a quick Argentinian steak (Bife de Chorizo) with Garlic fries then set off down one of the shorter paths. Aware that I only had 2.5 hours I set a brisk pace and tried to remain mindful of my timing.
Before long I had wound up over and between the first few hills. With music cranking away through my ipod I wound through forests of rugged, gnarled trees that stood as a testament to the harsh, windswept winters which mark the region. Initially I was slightly concerned that most of my view was blocked by the small hills between Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and I. Those concerns melted away as I was distracted by butterflies, blooming flowers and the alien beauty of a small river fed by glacial melt which wound down through the small gorge to my left.
Gradually stripping off clothing in the heat I continued to thread my way through forests, small hills and valleys before eventually finding the perfect lookout point. I was immediately both thrilled and baffled by what I saw. A truly unique cloud formation unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Blown by the wind but blocked by the mountain the clouds had formed a near identical, cone shaped, wind swept cloud thousands of feet tall which shadowed one of the main mountains perfectly. As other clouds blew by, formed, and were consumed the cloud retained its shape and position. I’ve seen similar cloud formations in the past, but always as flying saucer like clouds hovering over mountains, never behind them.
As I paused and relaxed, I took note of how perfect visibility was. Crisp, sharp, and clean the air was fresh and invigorating offering a beautiful view of the snow covered mountains, river, and glacier. All the while clouds slowly slithered their way along the mountains before being torn asunder by high altitude winds.
While there are a number of different mountains in the area, the two key ones are Mt. Fitz Roy which is the largest and tallest and the Cerro Torre. The Cerro Torre is the highest of four sister peaks which stand like sharks teeth with the Southern Patagonian Ice Fields to their back. At 2,685 meters and an elevation of over 10,000 ft it is an impressive mountain which wasn’t climbed completely until 40 years ago.
As I checked my watch and decided it was time to head back to town I paused briefly to take in a small waterfall as it joined the near by river. The multi-colored waters in the region are an incredibly fascinating and beautiful thing. One which adds a certain alien ambiance to the region.
Once back in town I met up with the other guys and caught up briefly before snagging a quick nap, food, and then heading out on the town in search of drinks and social adventures. By then the weather had started to change and strong winds had begun to set in. To our surprise the winds were so strong and harsh that they would buffet our bodies – knocking us back a few steps. By the time we reached one of the local restaurants we chuckled and debated if the roof would stay on long enough for us to finish dinner. Luckily it did.
The following morning promised grand adventure. We were heart set on hiking the long 24KM RT path to the base of Mt. Fitz Roy. Little did we know what the following day – Christmas Eve – had in store for us. Stay tuned! More to come soon.
Until then, thank you so much for reading. Please share your thoughts on this post and consider “liking” or “tweeting” it. If this is your first visit to the site please take a few minutes to explore some of my other adventures.
My shoes made a soft squishing noise as I stepped off the paved path and onto a narrow band of muddy earth which wound its way between the road and a small set of kiosks along Ushuaia’s main pier. The morning was crisp, partly cloudy and smelled fresh. The air prickled my skin and teased at a refreshing day. The sky over the Beagle Channel of Darwinian fame was gorgeous and set the perfect backdrop for the day’s adventure.
I’d be using Pira Tours which is somewhat expensive but it is the only group that has rights and access to actually disembark on Martillo Island where the penguin colonies are located. Eager to begin the adventure, I tracked down the 16 person mini-bus that would transport us out to the Harberton Estate where we’d catch a zodiac out to a small island located in the middle of the Beagle Channel.
The drive east along the coast was a beautiful one. The first 1/3 was on pavement and wound through snow-capped mountains with lush but rugged vegetation on either side of the road. The trees were green and moss-covered with foliage and moss serving as a dense carpet below. Despite the lush verdant colors everything maintained a hearty look that hinted at the harshness of winter and the brutal nature of the landscape.
Our first stop – well, more of a pause really – was near the 2/3 mark. We’d wound through rich forest and along the base of tundra-esque valleys before eventually bursting out of the underbrush and returning to the coast. The scenery had been fascinating. I noticed recent work had been done on the road and there were whole stands of trees that had been blown over or literally snapped in half. I’d later learn that the damage had happened a mere 3 days previous during an incredible micro-burst. Yikes!
Our first pause was along a stone beach covered in horseshoe muscle shells, urchin bodies and other small, vibrantly colored seashells. The view looked out over an old fish smoking/drying stand at the Beagle Channel and the Chilean coastline to the south. The water was clear, fresh, and rich with life. It made for a grand start.
Eager to continue along our way we re-boarded and watched as the forest gave way to open grassy areas, small bogs with gnarly, protruding, sun-bleached branches, and a rugged mixture of hearty trees that stood valiantly with snarled branches and a perpetual tilt as if trying to shrug off the wind.
Shortly thereafter we arrived at the Harberton Estate – a fun little cluster of buildings with an old dock, a few animals and several boats. There we were introduced to our guide – a perky gal in her late 20s/early 30s whose face was decorated almost completely by a birthmark. Her wide smile and a twinkle in her eyes oozed character and hinted that she’d be every bit the spunky guide a trip out to spend time with penguins demanded. We boarded the hard-bottomed zodiac and let out a collective sigh of relief when we noticed that a plastic wind cabin had been installed to protect us from the cold weather.
The boat ride was fairly quick and smooth. The water was calm and largely protected from the harsher conditions one might expect. Eventually, we killed the motor and slowly floated in towards a black pebble beach dotted with thousands of tiny white and black feathered bodies.
One by one we awkwardly slid over the side of the zodiac’s rubber bow and down onto the beach. There we paused and took in the incredible world we’d arrived in. The island serves as home to a colony of some 4,000 Magellanic Penguins for 6 months of the year and another permanent colony of some 50 Gentoo Penguins who reside there year round.
I’d opted to use Pira Tours because the island has a cap which only allows around 40 visitors a day. Based on the advice received at the hostel, Pira Tours is the only group in the region with the rights to disembark passengers onto the island. Standing on the beach I knew my choice had been worthwhile.
As we paused and collected ourselves our guide explained the ground rules. No chasing, feeding or touching the penguins. Stay within the driftwood outlines which have been laid out. Don’t wander off. Watch where you step and make sure you don’t collapse a penguin burrow. Easy enough right?
Our first stop after the main beach was the Gentoo Penguin Colony. This smaller, permanent colony was located in the middle of the island in a flat space and offered a cluster of small craters built up into nests by the birds. A smaller and better established colony, the surrounding grass had been ground to dirt. The penguins stood with backs to the wind relaxing and periodically running some small errand or another. Larger and more colorful than the Magellanic penguins they have a more recognizable look which one might readily identify as a staple of animated films.
As we continued to make our way across the island I couldn’t help but pause and relish the view. At times it struck me as unique. Others moments I had to pinch myself and remember that I was at the southern-most continental point in the world…not the northern-most. The landscape could have easily been confused for a bay, mountains and island in the far north and reminded me of my time spent in Alaska above the Arctic Circle.
Unlike the Gentoos who built their nests above ground, the Magellanic penguins opt to dig small burrows. The island is covered in small holes, most of which have at least one baby penguin inside. The babies were adorable, fluffy little creatures that hunkered down in their holes for safety and relaxed under careful parental eyes.
The island’s penguins have two primary predators. The first are the large hawk-like Skua pictured above with two young hatchlings. These birds will raid penguin nests for eggs if the opportunity presents itself but don’t offer a significant threat to the birds once hatched. The other main predators, though far less common on the island, are elephant seals.
The Magellanic penguins are highly social creatures which can be seen in their general behavior. It was not uncommon to see a couple out strolling along the coast, or through the grass. I couldn’t help but chuckle and think they looked like human couples out for a stroll while dressed in their winter finery. I’ll admit the mountains, bay, tress and beach made for quite the romantic backdrop.
As we neared the central part of the island, we came upon a small wooden staircase which had been constructed to ease our way up onto a large grass field. Proving that even in nature some animals are more entrepreneurial than others, several penguins had burrowed out hollow spaces underneath the stairs allowing them well-protected nests.
The grassy area served as the primary nesting ground for the Magellanic penguins. They would take advantage of the large clumps of grass and burrow under them, or near them, while using the grass to block the wind, visibility and to reinforce their burrows.
As we walked along the small dirt path it was difficult to avoid recently dug penguin burrows and not uncommon to suddenly become aware of them as they moved mere inches away from your feet. Overall they were fairly apathetic about our presence and only spent a moment here or there to evaluate us with unblinking eyes before returning to their daily activities.
From there it was back down to the coast where we paused and watched the few penguins braving the windward side of the island go about their business.
Low and flat, the island is ringed by gnarled driftwood which adds a wild, natural, rugged feel to the environment. The penguins themselves don’t make much of it, other than winding their way through the bleached wood as a castle’s defender might make his way through bulwarks and small defenses.
Once back on the leeward side of the island, I was once again taken by just how many penguins there were and how different each looked. As I sat down and silently began to snap photos I noticed that one of the younger Gentoo penguins had ventured down and was intermingling with the Magellanics.
As I sat and enjoyed the tranquility of it all, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d been transported to another world. This was the stuff of movies, of legends and of tall tales. A rare experience and one I was privileged to enjoy. I sat and relaxed and soaked in as much as I could.
…and then I was shaken from musings by the crunch of webbed feet on rocks as my young, colorful friend waddled his way towards me.
Curious, he made a casual circle down towards me, leveraging the slight incline from the hill to accelerate his haphazard waddle.
Then as quickly as he’d begun my way, he switched directions and began to backtrack. If I didn’t know better he was playing the role of a runway model.
He’d pause to stare, and made sure that he was never out of sight. Though on a pebbled beach, that’s not exactly a challenging undertaking.
Eventually he’d opt to make another quick drive-by. This time he decided to head down and take a close look at one of the women on the trip. In truth it was hard to know who was watching whom. He seemed to derive every bit of the enjoyment watching us, that we found watching him.
As our hour on the island wound to a close we let out a lament-filled sigh and then re-boarded the boat. Before long we were back on our bus and well on our way back to Ushuaia, but not before we paused for a few quick photos at the flag tree. It is one of a series of profoundly stubborn trees that have braved fierce winds and grown to embrace them. Shaped by the winds, they’ve naturally grown into wild shapes that mirror blown grass.
Even those that failed to survive the winds have continued on, adapting to what came their way. In truth, I’d almost say that the tree pictured above has not only survived the wind’s hash thrashing, but embraced it and thrived.
From there it was back to Ushuaia where we disembarked and made our way back to our respective hostels and hotels, but not before a few of us paused at a local restaurant for a delicious Bife de Chorizo (Argentinian steak).
Total cost for the tour? 285 Pesos or about 70 USD. Expensive as far as day tours go, but worth every penny.
I’ve made no secret of my general lack of passion for the desert so this series of posts will no doubt surprise some of you. Based out of Scottsdale, AZ most of the year, I don’t do a lot of hiking and seldom write posts dedicated to exploring my own back yard. We’ve got a lot of different types of cactus, cat’s claw, dirt, rocks, rattle snakes and scorpions. None of which really reaches out and excites me – a person drawn to running rivers, green mountains, moss covered rocks or sandy beaches and open ocean.
That said, A three day weekend presented itself and I decided to give Northern Arizona a chance while checking out my first US Hostel. I’ve been in Arizona for a long time. Nine years in Sedona, four years in Prescott and another seven plus in various cities around the valley. Prescott holds a special place in my heart for its fun atmosphere, history and spunky nature.
On the other hand Sedona and I have just recently begun to get re-acquainted. After leaving the city at the end of middle school we got a much-welcomed divorce. I lost any/all appreciation for the area’s natural beauty and was at constant odds with the never ending onslaught of star children, boredom, grumpy retired corporate executives and a prolific assortment of people that were…well…quite often batshit insane.
I share this with you because it underscores the often overlooked value of changing your perspective and exploring your own back yard through the eyes of a tourist. Over the years I’ve probably made 50+ trips to Flagstaff to shop or visit College friends. I can navigate my way around, am familiar with some of the popular watering holes and can readily recite local attractions. Despite all that I hadn’t ever truly seen or experienced Flagstaff until this past weekend. A realization which has only just begun to register.
The premise was simple: Drive north. Try a hostel. Be a tourist. Have fun.
I had 3 days, a hand sketched map of Northern Arizona with a few significant points of interest marked and a $19 online booking for 1 night at the Grand Canyon International Hostel in Flagstaff, AZ. From there I’d spend a day exploring the far northern reaches of the state before returning to Flagstaff where I’d crash on and old College buddy’s sofa before heading back to Phoenix the following morning.
The trip started out well. Shortly after mid-day on Saturday I packed up the car, grabbed a water, wiped the sweat from my eyebrows and cranked up the AC. I was off. Me, myself, my thoughts, and an adventure.
The drive north was great. No where near the Memorial Day Weekend traffic I expected. The weather was beautiful – sunny blue skies with a slight breeze. The Scottsdale/Flagstaff leg of the trip on the I-17 was old hat, but I tried to push myself to see it differently…to explore it as a new adventure and experience. The end result was a very pleasant drive which left me drifting along the interstate lost in my own thoughts and the hypnotic feel that goes with a long drive down open roads on a beautiful day.
I reached the city around 4:30 in the afternoon. Scratched my head and looked at my poorly drawn directions before setting off to find the hostel. Before long I found San Francisco Street and made a right turn. The road was blocked by a passing train which caught my attention and drew most of my focus. As I sat filming the train from my diver’s side window a shirtless biker paused briefly. I raised an eyebrow to which he quickly responded, “Dude, you know this street is one way, right?” I quickly muttered a curse about one way streets in Arizona, thanked him for the heads up and flipped a hasty U turn more than a little grateful that the train was still racing by blocking the wall of traffic which no doubt waited patiently on the other side. I was a bit flustered and couldn’t help but laugh heartily at myself. You don’t find many one-way streets in Arizona and yet I’d not only found one but turned down it. It would appear I was working overtime to play the part of the tourist.
After a bit of backtracking I quickly overcame the challenges posed by the one-way streets and found the right cross streets for my hostel. Parked and made my way inside. The guy at the front desk was friendly, checked my reservation and made a face. My heart skipped a beat as he muttered “Oops, looks like there was an issue with your reservation” he paused briefly, then looked up and smiled, “No worries though, your reservation has been transferred over to Dubeau hostel down the street” I grimaced, not sure what to expect and thanked him for the directions.
It turned out that the Dubeau hostel was right around the corner and a great place with a fun vibe. I’ve done dozens of hostels in Europe and Central America but had no idea what to expect in an American hostel. Would they be social? Would they be clean? Would they be youth oriented? As it turns out, the answer is yes. It would seem that hostels are hostels no matter what country you find yourself in.
The hostel was an old converted motel in the shape of a U. The rooms stretched back around a parking area while the bottom of the U consisted of the main office, two kitchens, a dining room, common reading area and activities room with free pool, table soccer and several tables.
I was given a quick tour, then sent out to find my room. The room was nice and clean. It had an en-suite bathroom, and 4 bunk-beds. I quickly chose one of the remaining free ones, and got acquainted with a Brazilian guy who was unwinding after a long bus ride from Canada. We talked about Flagstaff, things to do and see and a bit about Brazil before I set out to explore the town.
The hostel has a great vintage feel, driven home by a large sign mounted on top of what looks like an old radio tower in the front yard. It adds a very western feel which seeps into the surrounding area. The streets south of the railroad tracks between Beaver Street and San Francisco Street are alive with small shops, dive bars and old-nearly abandoned warehouses, accommodation, and apartments. Buildings are either decorated with pealing paint and old sun faded signs or vibrant wall art/graffiti which brightens up alleyways and puts a near constant smile on your face.
As I wandered through the area I found myself pausing regularly to take in entertaining little nuances. Perhaps the most entertaining was an old beat up tourism sign on what looked to be a small abandoned building framed perfectly by a sign for the local strip-club which was across a side street and right next door. The end result was a comical contrast of clashing cultures which perfectly reflects Flagstaff’s eclectic culture.
Before long I found myself crossing back over the tracks and into the city’s main downtown area. A mixture of outdoor shops, restaurants, bars, new age shops, art galleries and coffee shops the whole area is alive with foot traffic and bustling with energy. People are friendly and the sound of an outdoor music performance could be heard drifting from a public square near by. Truly, it’s a great part of town and one that I’d never seen or experienced during previous trips. The area which also holds the town’s bar district (similar to Whiskey Row in Prescott and Mill Avenue in Tempe) was something I’d only seen at night and often only in passing.
From there it was back to the hostel where I quickly struck up a conversation with two guys from the UK – one from England, one from Scotland. As it turned out there were 6 of them, all Royal Airforce/Military on a two week hiking trip out from their military base on Cypress. We quickly hit it off and talked travel, Arizona, US and Mexican food before joining a game of horse shoes (a first for them) with two girls from Durango. As we continued to get acquainted over a beer or two a French Canadian gal joined the group, along with two Germany girls and the rest of the Brits. We shared stories, got acquainted and then got several raging games of table football going before playing some music. Shortly after 11PM I geared up to head to the bars where I was scheduled to meet up with an old College friend. I set off with one of the guys from Scotland in tow. Before long we’d found our way into one of the local watering holes and set to enjoying the local bar scene.
A while later my friend arrived with several of his girlfriends. We got acquainted and continued telling funny stories while laughing heartily as the others tried to decipher Paddy’s thick Glasgow accent. As the night wound down, I shared my plans for the following day with Noelle – one of Ryan’s friends. She expressed interest in the trip and I invited her to join. To my surprise (Given we’d just met and since I’d made it clear I didn’t have a set schedule) she jumped at the opportunity. We set a time to connect in the and then said our goodbyes before heading back to the hostel to call it a night.
Stay tuned to part II of this post for photos and stories of the wild desert north of Flagstaff, Tuba City, Painted Desert, a Man on Rollerblades and Sunset at the Grand Canyon!