Seville, Granada, Cadiz … these are the cities that spring to mind when you talk about southern Spain in winter. Cities with rich architectural history, stunning old towns, vibrant cultural attractions and a charm guaranteed to steal your heart. Malaga? Not so much. Unless, that is, you’re on the hunt for ugly cement resorts, overly crowded beaches, shady tourist restaurants, and an old city swallowed long ago by the forward march of industry and excessive tourism. At least, that’s the Malaga I expected. My lazy Google pre-trip search did little to assuage my concerns. Photos from above showed me a modern city with beaches and a skyline marked by the jarring sight of ugly hotel elbowing its way in front of ugly hotel. A perusal of a few top 10 things to do in Malaga lists further cemented my plan to use Malaga and more specifically its airport as a cheap way-station to get into and out of as quickly as possible.…
With a glimmer of light reflected in its eye this young lion club relaxed with its brothers and sisters in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. The cubs’ mothers were out hunting and enjoying some free time away from the kids, leaving them to lounge in the late afternoon sun, chew on each other’s tails, and generally do all of the things you’d expect over-sized kittens to do.
Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.
In celebration of my recent return from Turkey, here’s a flashback to last year’s trip. I’m in the process of editing more than 20gb of photos from this year’s trip, so you can expect to see new shots later this week.
This photo was captured in the storied city of Antalya along Turkey’s southern coast as the last rays of sunset cast a golden shadow on the peaks across the bay. As luck would have it, one of the local sailing ships was in the midst of a sunset cruise, and in so doing lent its silhouette to this photo. The colors were incredible, especially as the rays of light cut between the mountain peaks and filled the valleys with a plethora of different colors, all filtered through the slight haze brought about by the cool ocean air mingling with the warm afternoon sun.
The Hoboroll – Product Review
Just before I left for my Austria and Turkey trip, the folks at Gobi Gear reached out to me and asked if I’d try out a complimentary version of their Hoboroll product after seeing a piece where I talked about using plastic bags to help organize and separate clothing inside my backpack. Somewhat skeptical that it would be significantly better than my trash bags, I decided to give it a try on my most recent trip. The Hoboroll is basically a lightweight fabric tube with cinch cords on both ends and which is divided into a series of interior compartments. It also has several straps around the outside and reminds me a bit of the bag you put a sleeping bag into. In short, it’s a simple and clever idea and a great solution to the problem most of us have. Especially those of us using backpacks that only open at the top.
After using the Hoboroll on my 23 day trip, I’m happy to say that it’s a great product. I kept and used it throughout the trip, and found it made life easier. Especially when it came to getting access to the bottom of my pack. I was able to pull the Hoboroll out, and then access large and less used items such as my snowboarding pants, sweater and spare jeans without needing to re-pack my entire bag. It also made sorting and separating things like shirts, underwear and socks much easier. I’ll definitely use it again on future trips, and the light weight nature of it and study construction makes it durable and backpack-friendly.
While it’s not a necessary purchase -you could, after all, continue to use plastic bags – it is a much cleaner and more efficient option. Depending on how you use your backpack, it may make sense as an addition to your packing list.
You can find out more about the product on the GobiGear website.
The sweat from my palms soaked the steering wheel as the tense muscles in my hip throbbed. My body was on edge and had been for the entirety of the drive south. Upon arriving in Zambia, I’d been informed by my family that I would be the one responsible for driving our rental car. Ordinarily not a big deal, but it was my first time driving on the opposite side of the road and in a non-North American country. The roads in the Luapula Province of northern Zambia did little to allay my fears. Many are paved, but in such a poor state of repair that there are no such things as lanes. In truth, you spend at least one third of most drives with one (or both) tires off the road, the car at a 25 degree angle while zig-zaging between potholes large enough to swallow a small tank. The scrape of the car’s undercarriage is a constant reminder that you zig-ed when you should have zag-ed. By itself that might not be so bad, but then add in large freight haulers and buses that race along the roads at high speed. And if that is not enough, add in head-height grass which lines many of the roads and conceals everything and everyone. My eyes constantly scanned the road for potholes with quick glance at my rear view mirror in search of large trucks bearing down on me. Then back to the sides of the road where I diligently watched for erratic movement from the veritable army of goats, small children, old grandmothers, and bicyclists who use the roads as walking paths and have a tendency to dart into traffic. Despite constant and nearly un-blinking vigilance I found myself forced to slam on the brakes to avoid people and things at the last moment.
As I turned the key off and the car stilled I let out an audible sigh of relief. Somehow I’d gotten us to a small guest house along the shores of Lake Bangweulu just outside of Samfya. As I sat in the driver’s seat collecting myself, I wiped my hands on my jeans leaving dark streaks of sweat. Finally, I allowed myself to take in my surroundings. The parallel-parking spot I had pulled into faced out onto what looked like a small sea. In reality, it was a sprawling lake.
As we settled into great little rooms that opened out onto a small sand beach and a wonderful view of the lake, we all struggled with the day’s contrasts. We had started out in my brother’s small mud brick and thatch hut. A building that is a lovely and cozy place but which lacks electricity or running water and has a small outhouse located behind it. Now, a few hours drive away, we were back on the grid with semi-reliable power, running water, and perhaps most importantly western flush toilets. It made for a powerful contrast which set the stage for the rest of the evening.
My brother David is a Peace Corps volunteer and he had brought us to Lake Bangweulu to see the sunset. I’ll confess that as a big fan of sunsets, I wasn’t entirely sure why the multi-hour drive south had been worth the pleasure of a simple sunset. Still, he was our guide, the local expert, and it was hard not to be won over by the prospect of a real bed and a cold beer.
As the sun began to set and the early twilight of late afternoon settled over the lake, it quickly became apparent why the sunset was worth the drive. Lake Bangweulu is known as the place where the water meets the sky. It is an aptly chosen nickname for this unusual body of water. More than 70km by 40km in size, the lake’s depth averages about four meters and fluctuates more than a meter between Zambia’s dry and rainy seasons. During our visit in the midst of the dry season the lake still stretched beyond the horizon.
Just beyond a small fence at the end of the beach, we watched as a group of children washed dishes, did laundry, and then set to fishing. The children, some barely old enough to walk, participated in chores. The older children kept close eyes on their younger brothers and sisters though I doubt the oldest was more than 10. There’s a certain responsibility among the young Zambian children that I found incredible to watch … a certain level of maturity that most western children twice their age lack. Perhaps the most powerful of which were the (slightly) older sisters who diligently took care of, disciplined, and watched over their 2 and 4 year-old siblings with great care and competency.
Shortly after the children finished their bath and their chores, they wandered back up the bank. A young woman and her son waded down and out into the reeds with bamboo fishing poles. With the poise, elegance, and stillness of a heron they carefully raised and lowered their poles, gently jigging and probing the reeds for fish. Their patience and control reminded me in many ways of the street performers who pose as human statues, perfectly still and seemingly lifeless before moving smoothly to the shock and surprise of those passing by.
In one last rush before the sunset stole the remaining light, a near constant flow of chitenge-clad women atop reed and dugout wooden canoes made their way past us. Some used push poles to take advantage of the lake’s shallow depths while others had rough-hewn wooden paddles attached to long poles which they used from a standing position.
The weather was perfect. The wind was still which left the lake with a glass-like surface and the air was thick with the haze of pale gray smoke from local controlled burns. By day the late afternoon sky was devoid of clouds but boasted the moon and later the bright glow of a nearby planet. The horizon itself quickly faded away, lost and indistinguishable from the lake’s smooth waters. I’ve never seen a sunset that was able to so perfectly blend water and sky. The combination of gentle smokey haze, mirror-perfect water, and clear skies accomplished the unbelievable. What was left were strange little boats that seemed to have taken flight to float among the clouds. The sort of strange and mystical spectacle that one might see in movies of far-off places and imaginary lands – but never in the real world. Then the color changed. The soft blue-gray transitioned into a multi-spectrum rainbow centered along the horizon. The sky’s dark blues re-emerged while the waves reflected the violets and purples of the next stage of the sunset.
Then as the sun approached the horizon the violets deepened and transitioned into oranges and golden hues as the smoke served as a filter that split off the sun’s otherwise harsh rays and left it visible to the naked eye as a glowing red orb.
I’m not sure how long the sunset lasted, I suspect close to 30 minutes. It’s hard to tell though, as every 5 minutes it seamed to drastically change. The colors would shift, the haze would lift, the sun would slip into a smoke bank, or one of the local fishing boats would slowly cut their way across the horizon and in so doing add a new perspective and human element.
As we sat on the beach enjoying a local Zambian beer I couldn’t help but feel an emotional connection to the area. One brought about and highlighted so beautifully by the sunset. It was a thing of contrasts, just as Zambia and Sub-Saharan Africa is a place of similarly extreme contrasts. It can be a profoundly harsh place, but it is also a warm and welcoming place with its own element of profound hospitality. A trip to the heart of Africa, one that takes you into authentic Africa, beyond the walled compounds and neatly pitched tents of safaris and large cities is a must. It will change you by infusing you with a new perspective and understanding. It will give you a renewed respect for all nature has to provide, a deep sense of awe, and an opportunity to connect at a deep level with people who live vastly different lives.
When we set out for Samfya to watch the sunset, I expected a few minutes of transient natural beauty. A wonderful thing, but something that hardly seemed likely to offset the hours of anxious and uncomfortable driving required to get there. As often happens in these types of situations, I was not only wrong but met with an incredibly rich experience that was one of the gems of my visit to Africa. I’d place the sunset in my top 5 and will forever have its beauty and the wonderful musings that accompanied it burned into who I am and how I see the world.
For millenia the Bosphorus has served as an influential gateway that has, and continues to leave a powerful footprint on human society. It has been a key actor and primary muse in the generation of numerous empires and provided a fertile trade and bread basket to the peoples and civilizations that have controlled it. The Bosphorus is a relatively short waterway which connects the Sea of Marma and greater Mediterranean with the Black Sea. It serves as a dividing line between the European continent to the west and the Asian continent to the east, and is straddled by the great city of Istanbul, formerly known as Byzantium and Constantinople.
The Kadıköy (Kadikoy) Ferry
For visitors based out of hostels and hotels on the European side of Istanbul the ferry docks located just off of the Eminönü tram station offer a budget friendly, and convenient way to see the Bosphorus. You’ll find three harbor stations (one was under repair during my visit) that offer several different routes. Having heard that the Kadikoy district on the Asian side of Istanbul was well worth a visit I opted to give it a go. I also recall that the Uskudar line leaves from the same location.
The ferries are considered part of the standard public transit infrastructure and run regularly. You can purchase tokens at the small ferry terminals for 2 TL which are good for one voyage, though you could theoretically continue to ride the ferry back and forth for the duration of its shift. The ships are large and pedestrian only which varies them somewhat from many of the other local ferries I’ve ridden in the past.
I can never quite place my finger on the origins of my love of ships. I suppose it might date back to times spent as a toddler in Puerto Penasco, Mexico where we’d spend a month every winter as a family. Boating, fishing, swimming. There’s just something about the rocking of a boat, the smell of fresh salty air, and the sound of gulls and waves that is soothing. The Turkish ferries have large open deck areas as well as cozy interior seating with big windows allowing you to get the most out of the relatively short trip back and forth. Oh, and then there’s the Turkish tea of course which is dirt cheap and a must!
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts my timing was both fantastic and dreadful. I ended up in Istanbul smack dab in the midst of the worst cold front and snow storms they’ve had in 25 years. The result was an unusually snowy Istanbul, incredible light, and very, very, cold weather. While this made spending time out on deck rather rough, it also shortened the days and resulted in visually stunning views from the ferry as the European side transitioned from three dimensions to silhouettes, and then faded into the haze as Istanbul’s famous lighthouse and the Asian side slowly emerged and became visible. The lighthouse which, is perched on a tiny island just large enough for the building and a dock, is gorgeous and has been featured in a number of movies the most famous of which was featured in The World is Not Enough, the semi-recent James Bond/007 film.
I can’t stress enough how incredible the light was. This photo highlights the deep yellow/golden color of the light as it struggled to cut through the sea haze and snow clouds. You can see a mixture of snowflakes and birds in this photo which are semi-indistinguishable. The entire trip back and forth felt as though I was somehow caught in the midst of a 17th century oil painting.
One of the things that really surprised me about Istanbul was the number of major mosques and their size. These structures are incredible. They’re gorgeous. They’re ancient and they’re massive. They also created a really impressive silhouette. From time to time as a traveler you’re greeted with moments that take your breath away. This was definitely one of those moments – the type that, if I was religious, I would call divinely inspired. For me, they resonate as the type of moments where I feel an even deeper awe at the beauty and depth of the universe, humanity, and our relationship with nature. If I could have paused and drawn out that moment, I’m sure hours would have passed without me noticing.
The Tourist Cruise
The following day I opted for one of the actual harbor tours. In retrospect I should have just gone with one of the longer ferry routes. Still, it only cost a few dollars more and was a decent enough experience that I didn’t feel like it was a waste. As we left the docks and steamed in the general direction of the Asian side, the first third of the route was similar to the previous day, only instead of heading to the right we turned left when we reached the coast.
This took us up and past a number of beautiful old buildings that included administrative structures, palaces, and the Turkish military academy. It was a fun look at buildings and areas that were considerably less touristy than the city’s historic center.
They were in widely varied states of repair and it was clear that many were used semi-seasonally to take advantage of Istanbul’s warm weather and plethora of small islands during the summer. Most featured small docks and a few had built in boat garages, which were a really cool touch.
One of the most memorable buildings along the route was the Beylerbeyi Palace which is a historic Ottoman era summer palace built in the mid 1800s. A beautiful structure, it unfortunately sits immediately beside one of Istanbul’s largest suspension bridges. Despite the jarring visual clash between the two, it does serve as an interesting reminder of how things change. I know it’s a small detail, and perhaps i’m just easily entertained, but one of my favorite parts of the palace were the series of harbor gates set up along the water. They added a certain fantasy element to the palace which tugged at my romanticized daydreams of princesses, queens, and luxurious sea yachts. Granted, of course, that this was the Ottoman Empire and the names varied. Still, it definitely had Disney-esque potential.
The final leg of the tourist cruise took us back towards the Maidens Tower. I highly suggest spending time on either one of the cruises or the ferry around sunset. Even though the skies were partly cloudy, the city silhouette was something I was impressed by once again. It’s also fascinating to see the hundreds of ships lined up south of the city waiting for permission to make their way up and through the straights, fill up on freight, or to unload their cargo.
The tower/lighthouse has been used in some capacity or another since at least 1100. At various points it has served as customs station, military installation, lighthouse, restaurant and even a quarantine area. It also seems to be a very popular destination for the local birds. While I may find my way out to it during a future trip, my hunch is that it is best enjoyed in passing as a beautiful and historic oddity.
By the time we prepared to wrap up the cruise and return to the docks the snow had returned which treated me to another gorgeous sunset. There’s something about the minaret spires and domes of a mosque that really lends itself to brilliant silhouettes. Add in diffused sunlight reflecting off of dark water, a few birds battling snow and you end up with a very unique experience. Perhaps part of what makes it such a powerful visual is the seemingly exotic clash between the two. Though I know it is inaccurate, I always associate mosques and Turkey with Arab cultures and the desert. To see it and its occasional palm trees covered in snow in the midst of a light snow storm was definitely a bizarre contrast. Yet, perhaps that is fitting for Istanbul and Turkey as a whole – a city and a nation that sits astride two continents and is caught at the center, standing astride two vastly different cultures and worlds.
We found our way to Oslo as part of a mini-cruise special. The cruise ship – and it was a cruise ship, not the ferry I expected – left Copenhagen at 4PM in the afternoon, steamed over night to Oslo and then disgorged us near Oslo’s famous opera house on a cold January morning. The deal was a fun one – $4.50 for the entire cruise. The catch? We had 7 hours in Oslo before we needed to be back aboard and steaming back to Copenhagen.
As we made our way up the final leg of the Oslo fjord we were treated to an incredible sight. Blanketed by clouds, the early morning light that surrounded us was a foggy gray. On the horizon, where the water met land and the clouds broke, golden morning rays were visible. It was one of the strangest, and slowest, sunrises I’ve seen. As the weak winter light fought against the thick, low hanging, coastal clouds the light slowly worked its way closer and closer to Oslo. A progression that mirrored our own voyage. Then, as we disembarked and wandered the city – eventually finding our way down to the harbor which is where this photo of the Helena was taken – the light finally started to fall across the city, brightening it.
Though it was now late-morning the nature of the Nordic light made it difficult to tell if it was mid-day, just after sunrise, or just before sunset. None of which really mattered to us, as the view and the sun’s hues were stunning.
While most of a polar bear’s existence is spent in relative isolation, there are times – often during their great migrations – when they find themselves cued up and provided with the opportunity for casual social interaction. Bear tea time if you will. It is in these rare moments as the bears wait for Hudson Bay’s ice to freeze over that what start as tense encounters casually transition into relaxing play time and socialization.
This photograph shows two bears engaged in the early stages of one such meeting. We were incredibly lucky in that at various points in the day as many as four bears could be found in the immediate area of the Tundra Buggy Lodge where we were staying. Watching the bears go through their social rituals, establish a power hierarchy and make friends was a fascinating insight into these otherwise solitary, but highly intelligent creatures.
There are moments while traveling that stay with you. When the magic of the experience infuses itself into the very essence of you who are. As I sat bundled beneath five layers of clothing, staring out the window of a Tundra Buggy on the rural Canadian tundra in northern Manitoba just outside Churchill I was able to experience one such moment. The evening had been mostly cloud-free, the brilliant light of a full moon reflecting off of the frozen lakes and snow covered tundra that surrounded our mobile lodge. As the sun began to work its way over the far horizon, the moon slowly began to slip away over the ocean.
It was a magical moment that lasted mere minutes. Even if it had only been a matter of watching the two orbs reflecting each other’s light it would have been a special sight to see. But, in a stroke of brilliant luck, we found a large, beautiful polar bear relaxing near the lodge. With numb noses, and half-frozen fingers we found ourselves watching the moon set behind her bathed in the soft hues and gorgeous tones of a brilliant dawn.
I’ll never forget the sight of the polar bear as she relaxed, looking at us as she debated rising to start her day. The trip was organized by Frontiers North and through the Canadian Tourism Commission as part of the spectacular trip I won at the Travel Bloggers Unite Conference. If you have the opportunity to do a Polar Bear safari I highly suggest it. They are amazing creatures and the opportunity to see them in their native/wild habitat is an incredibly special experience.