Scottish Waters – A Photo Essay in Black and White

The Hermitage Waterfall, Scotland

From its music to its history and folklore Scotland has always been one of the world’s epicenters for the mystical and magical.  It is an ethereal place which seems both a part of modern times and lost in the mists of  romanticized visions of bygone eras.  Cleared of trees thousands of years ago, the Scottish landscape has adapted, evolved, and transformed into a land of wonderful valleys, waterfalls, breathtaking lochs, and mountains. Mountains that are sometimes brutal, harsh and primitive with a naked majesty and elegant beauty unlike their cousins in the ranges of Norway, the American and Canadian Rockies, the South American Andes or Europe’s Alps.  This post seeks to showcase and share a sampling of Scotland’s incredible waterfalls.  Some are small – you’ll notice that one is more a rapid than waterfall – while others are related to waterfalls such as the flowing water inside Smoo Cave.  All were taken during a 6-day solo driving trip I made in August 2013.  Enjoy!

Skye's Fairy Pools

This location was made famous a year ago by Reddit when several photos of the “Fae Pools” on the Isle of Skye were posted.  It is a wonderful spot situated in the southwestern part of Skye and sits at the base of imposing cliffs with sheer walls that look straight out of the Lord of the Rings.  This waterfall is part of a series of falls that make up the fairy pools.

Corrieshalloch Gorge - Scottish Highlands

Located about 10 minutes outside of Ullapool, Corrieshalloch Gorge is a mouthful and a bit difficult to find on the map but an incredible location. This imposing waterfall crashes down into a narrow gorge with near-smooth walls heavily laden with rich green ferns and gorgeous moss.  The suspension bridge that crosses the gorge just above the falls is free floating, allowing both an incredible view of the falls and a hair-raising experience.

Scotland in Black and White

While far less famous than its big sister in south-central Africa, Scotland’s Victoria Falls is also well worth a brief stop.  A beautiful waterfall located along Loch Maree about an hour’s drive outside of Ullapool, this lovely waterfall was ringed by blooming flowers, heather, and thick ferns.  An added perk were the fresh raspberries which could be found along the path to and from the falls.

Skye's Fairy Pools

While the primary fairy pools are located along the main stream which is fed by runoff from the area’s craggy cliffs, there is a second smaller stream that feeds a series of petite falls and cozy pools which are located just beside the start of the hiking path.

Skye's Fairy Pools

This is the third photo from the fairy pools in this series.  This shot captures the incredible power of water as a cutting tool.  Note the smooth but abandoned channel immediately to the right of the jet of water currently cutting its way into the ancient bedrock.  A simple feat of natural engineering or an illustration of fae magic?  It’s hard to say!

Scotland in Black and White

A random waterfall situated near the road on the Isle of Skye.  The water from this stream flowed down across the grasslands before winding its way through orange, gold, and yellow- hued kelp and sea moss to the nearby sea loch.

The Hermitage Waterfall, Scotland

Located just outside of Perth, there is a wonderful nature reserve and brief hike. Commonly called “The Hermitage” it is home to this gorgeous waterfall. Perched overlooking the falls is a Georgian Folly – which is to say a semi-modern building built during the Georgian period for decoration with the goal of appearing much older than it actually is. If you’re lucky you can find massive Scottish Salmon running the waterfalls during their spawning season.

Smoo Cave - Durness, Scotland

One of my favorite places in Scotland, this photo is of Smoo Waterfall situated deep inside Smoo Cave.  The cave sits at the end of a small inlet carved over centuries of wear and tear.  It is easy to imagine that Smoo Cave, situated right outside of Durness, is the source for numerous myths and stories. Of these, Beowulf comes to mind. Over the years the tides, harsh coastal winds, and the constant onslaught of nature have carved out a large cavern which opens onto the ocean.  At the same time a nearby stream has gradually cut and tunneled its way towards the sea creating a series of caves.  As the flow of water changed, the stream periodically would carve holes in the roof of the chamber which at times caused it to collapse. At other times it created stunning portals such as this one where a small waterfall crashes down into a large pool.

Inside Smoo Cave - Durness, Scotland

If the weather cooperates and the falls are not raging, it’s possible to take a small inflatable raft across to the main chamber where the waterfall is, under a low hanging stone arch, and to a human-sized tunnel that winds into the hillside 100 feet or so before dead ending at a second small pool and series of small stalagmites.  While the path stops, the water’s source does not.  Testing done on charred ash which has been found in the water dates back thousands of years and indicates that humans have likely been exploring the cave system since before the rise of the Roman Empire.

Scottish Stream

One of the wonderful things about Scotland is the wealth of picturesque streams which line the bottoms of the area’s countless glens. This photo captures one such spot along the road just outside of the tiny village of Ratagan near the famous Eilean Donan Castle. A photo cannot convey the tranquility and rich scent that permeates the air, but I hope as you look at these photos you take a moment to close your eyes and imagine.

Skye's Fairy Pools

The final photo in this series is from the fairy pools. This pinned boulder easily weighed as much as I do.  It was a not-so-subtle reminder about the potential for harsh floods and thunderous water flows that no doubt happen several times a year during the heavy rains that keep the Isle of Skye and Highlands so alive and covered in a thick blanket of rich green foliage.

Corrieshalloch Gorge - Scottish Highlands

I’ll leave you with this final photo of the Corrieshalloch Gorge situated just outside of Ullapool. There’s something wonderfully dramatic about these falls which adds a sense of grandeur to them.  Perhaps it’s the confined space they exist within and the way the gorge frames them.  If you’re a waterfall fanatic like me, they’re a must-add to any Scottish itinerary.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the black and white photos I shot during my visit.

These photos were taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera using a Canon 50mm f1.4, Canon 18-135mm, and Canon 55-250mm lens. A special thank you to www.carrentals.co.uk who partially sponsored my car rental and helped make this trip possible.

Face in the Falls – Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo

The Face - Victoria Falls - Zambia

Located in the midst of cascading sheets of water and behind a wall of thundering noise Victoria Falls boasts a variety of beautiful rock formations. A visit to the falls is never quite the same as everything from the water level to the gentle but constant erosion of the stone that supports the falls is ever present and forever shifting.  The falls have a reputation for majesty, for size, and for being truly memorable.  Most rank them as the greatest falls in the world and a natural wonder of the world often just ahead of Iguazu Falls in Argentina and Niagara Falls in the United States.   This reputation is well deserved and while I’m still torn on which is more captivating – Iguazu or Victoria – I know that Victoria ranks as one of the most spectacular natural wonders I’ve ever seen.

As I paused briefly, fighting a rainstorm of mist despite the day’s sunny weather, I noticed a face staring back at me.  A water spirit, one that emerged from the stone’s cliff face casually stared back across the ravine at me.  Can you see it?  Its large moss covered nose, voluptuous lips with gently upturned smile. Its pronounced chin jutting out of the water. The face stood there, brought to life by the water coursing over/past it and gave me pause. This was a special moment in a wondrous place.  A moment and place that the face demanded I take time to properly enjoy and reflect upon.

Victoria Falls is situated on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe and is part of the Zambezi river. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is 355 feet at its highest point (drop).  It is also 5,600 feet wide which is incredible to think about, but even more spectacular to see in person!

Have you been to Victoria Falls?  Were you there in wet season or dry?  What did you think!?

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera using a Canon IS 18-135mm lens.

My Argentina Trip in Review – Analyzing One of the World’s Greatest Destination Countries

Over the last decade Argentina has gone from quiet tourist destination to one of the world’s most sought after.  With world famous steaks, an absolutely delightful wine industry, and incredibly captivating Argentine Tango the country has stolen the hearts and minds of 20-40 something adventurers throughout the world. I have to admit, I wasn’t any different.  Hailed as the Paris of South America Buenos Aires offers a rich cultural experience and serves as the main draw for aspiring visitors.  In reality, most of the visitors I met in Buenos Aires intended to spend almost all of their time in the city chasing great dances, food, and drink.  I was initially drawn to Argentina by those three factors and in the early stages of my trip planning, envisioned myself spending nearly all of my 21 days in Buenos Aires learning Argentina tango, feasting on cheap meals, and finding grand adventures late into the morning. If I had I would have never truly experienced Argentina and would have made an egregious mistake.

Dinner Cooking - Ushuaia, Argentina

Luckily, as I researched the country in greater depth I had several close friends suggest that I leave the city to explore some of Argentina’s natural beauty.  Driven in no small part by the simple desire to get as far south as possible, I researched the southern Andes and was captivated by Tierra del Fuego, and the world’s southernmost city  – Ushuaia.  As my research unfolded I quickly realized that Argentina is home to some of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders and offers natural landscapes and terrain that can easily give New Zealand a run for its money.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

The incredible thing about Argentina is that it allowed me to go from hiking out to the middle of a glacier and sitting with thousands of penguins on a pebble beach to lazily swimming at the base of one of the world’s most incredible waterfalls situated in the midst of a massive, sprawling jungle filled with vibrantly colored toucans and other exotic wildlife.  I feasted on delicious gas fed steak, mouth watering seafood, and split lamb cooked over an open fire, all washed down with fantastic wines while relaxing after watching a heart stirring Tango. In short. I fell in love with a country I merely expected to enjoy. Sounds good right?  Ready to go?  Before you do here are a few of the surprises I ran into.

Penguin with Woman - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Surprises

The Cost – One of the first things you hear when listening to people talk about Argentina is how cheap it is. I say bullshit.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that its an incredibly expensive country, but its also not an incredibly cheap one.  With massive inflation over the last decade and an incredible surge in the tourism industry prices in all of the places you’ll probably be visiting as a tourist, even an off-the-beaten-path backpacker will still be fairly expensive.  Believe it or not Argentina was my most expensive trip to date, yes, even more so than my recent 18 day trip through Europe and Scandinavia.  In no small part, that was due to airfare, the size of the country and the pace at which I was traveling but it also had a lot to do with the general cost of, well, everything.

Street Food – I love street food. Yeah, that stuff that comes out of a cart, people are afraid will kill them, and which usually tastes absolutely delicious all for dirt cheap.  I had mental images of incredible street side vendors selling mouth watering food lining Buenos Aires’ grand avenues. Unfortunately, they don’t exist. Apparently they’re banned from operating in the city (possibly the entire country).  I was incredibly disappointed.  On the upside, the classic Argentine grills/holes in the wall do exist, typically boasting a large open faced grill covered in the meat(s) and cut(s) of the day.

Steaks – Argentinian steak especially “Bife de Chorizo” really is as good as everyone makes it out to be.  However, to really find a good steak you’re going to need to hunt for it and take care in how you order it.  I ate a LOT of steak during my trip but unfortunately I didn’t figure out how to order it until about half way in. In your standard cafe or low-mid range restaurant in Buenos Aires they will consistently do two things. Under salt, and over cook.  When you order make sure that you specify that you want it medium-rare or pink, they probably wont ask and the default is a great way to waste an even better steak.  It also never hurts to make sure the steak is properly salted to really bring out the flavor. Also, don’t assume that price means anything.  Some of the best steaks I had were also some of the cheapest. Similarly some of the worst were the most expensive.  Also, the stories of $3 steaks? They’re a lie.  Expect to pay at least $7 and usually closer to $12/meal for a decent steak in any of the main cities. 

Spices –  Sure, its a bit dense of me but I honestly assumed all of Latin/South America was powered by strong spices with a passion for spicy food.  Not Argentina. In practice they avoid anything spicy like the plague.Even the various spiced sauces they serve with meats and meals is a bland, but flavorful mixture of spices and ground peppers without any bite or zing.

Buses – I’m a train guy.  To say that I didn’t like traveling by bus before Argentina is an understatement.  That said, you don’t take the trains in Argentina.  It took me a long time and a lot of conversations to finally be dissuaded, but it’s the simple truth of the matter.  You fly, take a bus, a ferry or a taxi.  That’s the bad news. The good news is, if you spend a little extra for an upgrade and skip the chicken buses, the buses are actually fantastic.  They are clean, modern, surprisingly fast, and if you invested in a cheap upgrade you’ll find great food service and an experience that rivals a commuter 1st class on an airline. Those 17 and 26 hour bus rides you hear about?  They’re not a bundle of fun, but they’re not nearly as dreadful as you might imagine.

Distance – While this can’t quite be considered a real surprise, it bears repeating.  Argentina is large. Very large. Massive in fact and getting around isn’t the worlds easiest (or hardest) task.  The nation is also dominated by two major airlines and lacks any major budget airline presence.  So, you’re either left with long-leg, sometimes multi-day bus rides or somewhat expensive flights. It sucks.  It’s also totally worth it.

Tours & Trips – There’s a lot in Argentina you can do on your own as a traveler.  There’s also a lot that you can’t or really just shouldn’t.  For some of you jumping on a guided tour of something may be par for the course, for others it may be the last thing you want to do.  Especially if that tour is relatively expensive ($50-$200 USD).   Do your research, but when it comes down to it, if you’re doing Argentina you need to bite the bullet and do it.  Two of my favorite experiences on the trip were my Penguin adventure and guided hike to the center of the Perito Moreno Glacier.  Neither was something I could have done on my own, and both were well worth their near budget-busting price points.  I spent the extra $50 to do the on-glacier hike, which was a full $130 more than just visiting the national park’s boardwalk across the bay.  It was worth it. It was incredible.  Similarly, the extra money I spent for a guided tour out to an island with 4,000 penguins on it. It was slightly more expensive. It was guided. It was the only one that landed on the island and gave us an hour 2 feet away from the Penguins. They only allow 40 people on the island a day.  Of the places that I visited where I didn’t need a guide and can be done freestyle I strongly suggest doing Tierra del Fuego National Park, the hikes around El Chalten, and Iguazu Falls.

Language – One thing that took me by slight surprise was how difficult it was to speak English in Argentina.  Which is not to say that it was difficult to get around, only that it is fairly common that most Argentinians only speak limited English or none at all.  While this can be a slight challenge in taxi-cabs and elsewhere, I never found it to be anything more slightly surprising.  For those more familiar with traveling in parts of Mexico or Europe, be aware that you may have to do a little more work to ask questions, seek directions, or engage in conversations.  Luckily the Argentinians are delight, friendly and welcoming people.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Must See Destinations

While I feel a bit guilty in constructing this list I have to admit that there wasn’t a single stop along my trip which I would have skipped or shortened.  For the specifics of each stop along the way I encourage you (if you haven’t already) to read my blog posts on that leg of the trip. You’ll note that Buenos Aires is NOT at the top of my list despite being a required starting point for any trip through Argentina.  More on this later.

  1. Iguazu Falls – This is hands down one of the most, if not the most, spectacular place I’ve ever been.  I’m a huge waterfall guy and these falls did absolutely nothing to disappoint. Even if your skeptical about major tourist destinations, this will impress, awe and amaze. It’s a bit hard to get to but well worth the effort.
  2. Perito Moreno Glacier – The Andes are incredible, Glaciers are spectacular and the Perito Moreno Glacier combines the best of both. Accessed through El Calafate this was an amazing experience. Don’t just settle for seeing the glacier though, make sure you book a tour and hike it as well.
  3. Tierra del Fuego – There’s something magical and exciting about being as far south as you can go without heading to Antarctica. The landscape is beautiful, the weather was energizing, and the chance to see and spend time with wild penguins was fantastic. While not as majestic as other National Parks in the area it’s a great starting point (do it first) and I doubt you’ll be disappointed. Also, as the base for most Antarctica trips, be prepared to want to stow away.
  4. Buenos Aires – A great city, especially for those who love a European influenced feel and spirit.  While the city has some historical draws the main things to see are cultural and revolve around tango performances, social dancing, food, and night life.  The city never sleeps and its impossible to experience both the day and night life simultaneously.  Set aside a few days to focus exclusively on one, then on the other.
  5. El Chalten – Located just north of El Calafate the hiking around Mt. Fitz Roy is stunning. If you want nature, awe inspiring grandeur and mountains that look like they’ve been photoshopped this is a must. Make sure to hike, and to set aside some extra time in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.

San Telmo Market - Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires

I’m sure a lot of other travelers who have been to BA will disagree, but I’ve got to beat up on the city a bit.  Buenos Aires was one of my most heavily anticipated destinations. It was also the one disappointment on my trip, though I hesitate to say that as it was still delightful and I’d go back in a heartbeat.  The people I met in BA were incredible, the dancing I did and saw was absolutely some of the best in the world, and the food I found was great. The night life in BA is also some of the best you’ll find anywhere.  The real disappointment for me was the city itself.  La Boca was dirty and seemed more like a cheesy ride  at Disneyland.  People often compare BA to the Paris of the Americas. I disagree. I wasn’t overly impressed and found it to be more like a dirty, run down version of Madrid than anything.  The old districts and the San Telmo market are great, but they’re nothing special. In truth, that’s how I felt about the majority of the city. The main architectural and historical tourist draws are interesting, if nothing to write home about.  So, my final verdict?  It’s a great city with a lot to offer, the safety and security concerns are over stated, but so-too is the city’s character and personality.  Go instead for the food, the people, the dance, and the people’s culture.

Tucan in Animal Refuge - Iguazu, Argentina

Final Thoughts

Argentina is spectacular. There’s no other way to put it. If you’re a person drawn to natural beauty, rich culture, or food you need to put Argentina at the top of your list.  The language barrier can be more pronounced than in some other areas, but its never insurmountable and always worth it.   I’d go back in a heartbeat and know that for as much as I fit into my brief trip, there’s much, much more which I missed.  I highly encourage you to peruse my videos, photos and previous posts documenting my time in Argentina and invite you to ask any question you may have.  Have an amazing trip and enjoy the adventure!

Debating going? Head on over to Amazon and pick up the Lonely Planet Guide to Argentina.

Iguazu Falls, the Devils Throat and Wild Beasts: Adventure in Northern Argentina

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

View part one of this post: A Traveler’s Dream and Natural Wonder of the World – Iguazu Falls in Northern Argentina.

My legs pumped furiously.  The burn forced a slight grimace. Mossy step after mossy step I launched my 6’4″ 200 pound frame up the narrow staircase. Still damp from my swim in the falls and in a subtle supplication to the region’s tropic environment, I’d long since sacrificed my t-shirt. My jeans were darker around my waist, revealing where I’d lazily pulled them on over my still-wet boxer briefs. Pausing briefly to look up and take stock of my location, I quickly realized I was nearing the top of the island – the Isla de San Martin. A gorgeous spire of land that stands resolute against the falls. Located smack dab in the center of the river, the one-time peninsula has gradually been overwhelmed leaving a small island with steep cliff faces, a wealth of local wildlife, and incredible views of the falls.

Giant Lizard - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

As I reached the top and the narrow stairs gave way to a wider path, I found my attention swinging sharply to my right as a rustle in the underbrush startled me to alertness. As I hopped back slightly a large lizard about the same size as a fully grown iguana slowly stalked its way out of the underbrush. Harmless (to the best of my knowledge) I still kept my distance, quickly reaching for my camera and video equipment. All the while eyes locked with the creatures armored scaly flesh and piercing dark eyes. Tongue periodically flicking out, it carefully stalked across the path before being startled in turn by a passing tourist, at which point it launched itself forward and into the brush.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

What had started as a perfectly cloudless day had now evolved into something far more picturesque. Still sweltering hot with leave-you-drenched humidity, puffy made-for-Hollywood clouds had formed up and drifted in. I found myself facing a fork in the road. Two paths, each to different sides of the island and different views of the falls.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

With a chuckle at the decision facing me I quickly started to meander happily along the path to the right with a gentle hum on my lips and a skip to my step. My initial fears had been proven completely unfounded. This truly was a natural wonder of the world and a destination that I’d already realized would go down as one of my favorite experiences to date.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

As the jungle gave way to bushes, small pools, and grassy areas it was obvious I had entered the more recently cut/oft flooded area of the island. I could hear – almost feel – the roar of the falls and found my glasses constantly misted by the water in the air.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Iguazu’s charm isn’t just that it’s one of the largest waterfalls in the world. It’s the contrast of  stunning rich green moss and vegetation cut by vibrant white falls all set against incredibly blue skies. In some areas large clumps of moss and flower-covered stone appear to hover in space, suspended by white pillars of water.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

The view from the lookout was incredible. Located immediately next to and over parts of one of the major falls the sound was thunderous, the spray from the falls invigorating, and the plant life in bloom. All the while, inexplicably, a small army of gorgeously colored butterflies survived the humid river air and waterfall spray, to flutter in and around my head.

Strange Bird with Intense Eyes - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

After a few minutes spent in consideration and perhaps relaxed meditation I struck back to the center of the island where I came across the most peculiar of wild birds. Mostly black, the little creature had two vibrantly colored blue eyebrows which left it looking more like a comedian than avian predator. I slowly stalked the strange creature pausing to take several photos and enjoy its odd coloring before striking down the island’s second path.

The Falls With a Vulture - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

The route wound me along the opposite side of the island and gave me a view of the Brazilian side of the falls, as well as my first taste of what I’d later come to learn was fondly called the Devil’s Throat. As I walked I paused, once again, to capture an incredible combination of sights. A large vulture was resting in one of the branches which left a view of the falls perfectly framed. All the while one of the local tour boats – boats like the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls – rushed at, and into one of the smaller falls before being driven back by the force of the water. Though obviously modern, I couldn’t help but feel as though I’d been transported back through time to a distant, wild, and undiscovered jungle. Places such as this must have served as ample inspiration for authors writing great romanticized texts like the Lost World.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

As I wound back down, caught the small ferry back to the mainland and began my trek back up towards the top of the main falls I found the path full of wonderful delights. Small places that demand a brief pause, some to enjoy the brightly colored flowers, lazy fluttering of butterflies, and others a beautifully framed view of the falls.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

The path back towards the top of the falls offered fantastic close-up views of the falls. The amount of water, and the sheer power of the falls themselves is staggering. It left me feeling small, insignificant, and fragile.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

One of the things that makes the falls so gorgeous is the different types of falls present. Some are mighty chutes, others are long thin curtains, yet others are tiny streamers spitting out tiny trails of water.

Strange Grasshopper - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Growing a bit tired from my hike and having already burned through my entire bottle of water I was thrilled to stumble across a small store and food stand sandwiched back and away from the falls. For a relatively reasonable price I was able to buy a mediocre sandwich, new bottle of water, and small soda. As I ravenously set upon my sandwich I quickly discovered a new friend – an odd grasshopper/cricket with incredibly long legs and antenna. As we enjoyed brunch together another of the area’s local creatures, a Coati, emerged from the underbrush and began to make his rounds. The raccoon-like creatures are the size of a mid-sized dog or large cat, have long noses, large tails and tend to be particularly friendly, though I avoided trying to give him a scratch on the head.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Re-fueled and ready to renew my adventure I struck out along the path that offered an incredible look out over/along the leading face of the falls. Viewed from the top, rather than the middle or bottom, it really dawned on me just how expansive the falls were and how much water was passing over them.

Butterfly at Iguazu Falls - Iguazu, Argentina

My next destination was the fall’s main cutting edge – the Devil’s Throat. The path to it was a small adventure in and of itself. A raised metal walkway which cut out and across the massive shallow-water river. The walk spanned a number of small islands, was mostly raised over the water, and lasted some 5-10 minutes. The small islands along the route (most the size of a small house) were full of gorgeous butterflies, and the water offered the periodic sight of a large catfish or turtle lazily relaxing in the gentle current.

Devil's Throat - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

As I approached the throat I could hear it roar, and see a small plume of mist. Obscured by the smooth curvature of the water’s forward face as it gently bent before breaking completely into a churning cauldron the true size of the Devil’s Throat was invisible until I got closer.

Devil's Throat - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

A giant V, there is a semi-dry island which serves as the secure base for the raised platform which stretches along one side of Devil’s Throat offering otherwise incredible views of the falls.

Devil's Throat - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

The thunder of the falls made conversation difficult as I paused to talk to several other travelers. The view out over the falls was spectacular. With thick mist obscuring everything down river, the whole area was turned into a magical wonderland. Decorated by rainbows, birds were diving in and out of the mists. It left me feeling as though I was floating in a magical city.

Devil's Throat - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

As spectacular as the rest of the falls were, I think the most magical part of Iguazu was the view out over Devil’s Throat. The way the water was ejected out off of moss and grass covered cliffs into the mists, with bottom in sight left me feeling as though I was on one of the floating islands from the recent blockbuster Avatar, or the magical Cloud City in Star Wars. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was….dare I say it? Mist-ical.

Devil's Throat - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

My state of awe seemed to slow time and left me enjoying the sheer wonder of the falls for what may have been a few minutes, but was more than likely closer to half an hour. Even now, several months later, as I think back to that moment I can close my eyes and feel a sense of awe wash over me. Aware that I was burning, hungry, and exhausted I eventually tore myself away from the falls, made the walk back to the small in-park shuttle train, and then found the bus back to Puerto Iguazu.

The falls at Iguazu are one of those places that I hope everyone will visit in their lifetime. The weather can be problematic, the route to get there expensive and time consuming, but I can say with complete confidence that it’s all worth it. Travel always touches us and leaves us changed. There are some places, however, that go beyond that and captivate our hearts. For me, Iguazu Falls was one such place.

View part one of this post: A Traveler’s Dream and Natural Wonder of the World – Iguazu Falls in Northern Argentina.

Questions? Have your own experiences at the falls? Please share them in a comment or as a tweet and remember, you can subscribe to this blog by RSS OR get my updates delivered directly to your e-mail. Thanks for reading!

Like the photos in this post? They were shot on a Canon G11, check out the latest version the Canon G12 on Amazon.

New Videos & New Features

Hello friends, I’m excited to announce that I’ve made several additional tweaks to the site and my Thesis theme. You’ll notice that the header is now significantly better incorporated into the theme. I’ve also included a number of social media buttons and tools in the sidebar and significantly, I’ve added a subscribe via e-mail button at the top of the right hand sidebar. Moving forward you can now get e-mail alerts when I post new content or just click here!

I’ve also completed two new travel videos from my Argentina trip. While these videos will be appearing in future posts covering the destinations they capture, I wanted to share them with you as a sneak peak for what is in store! I highly suggest watching them in HD and full screen mode. You won’t regret it!

A Taste of Scandinavia’s Natural Beauty – HD Video Tour

Youtube not working? View it on Vimeo.

The above footage was shot in late June and early July 2010 during my trip to Norway and Denmark. While the majority of the footage is from the western coast of Norway, I’ve also included clips filmed in Copenhagen and Oslo.

While the footage is from a variety of locations and intermixed, several of the major/re-occuring areas are the point at Preikestolen which is commonly known as Preacher’s Pulpit, footage shot along the Flam Railway and the Nærøyfjord which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Have a question?  Enjoyed the video? Please feel free to leave a comment here, on the video, share it with friends or give it the ol’ thumbs up!  Footage was shot on a Canon Vixia HF200.

Nærøyfjord

Croatia: Zagreb & the Lakes and Waterfalls of Plitvicjka Jezera

Zagreb Market - Croatia

While beautiful, Croatia is still lacking a decent internet system. At least as far as I could tell. The connections that I did find were slow and the internet cafes were exceedingly expensive. As a result, it’s been a long while since my last update and I have a ton to catch up on. I’m currently hunkered down in an internet cafe in Florence waiting to connect with a friend. So hopefully, with a few hours to spare, I’ll be able to get caught up. At some points the post may wander a bit as its been a lot longer than I would have liked and some of the memories are not as fresh as I wish they were. I’m going to break Croatia into two posts. This one & one that will immediately follow it as I have a hunch they will be lengthy.

Zagreb Continued

After exploring the town I returned to the hostel where I relaxed for a while. During that time I socialized with one of the two owners. Our conversation roamed all over the place from the running of the hostel, the economic rebirth of the town, the war, women and travel. Eventually I mentioned that I was hungry and he was eager to show me a local eatery. He tossed up the good ol’ ‘Be back in 5’ sign and off we went through a light rain. The meal was from a small stand in a shopping center. It took a few minutes to get our food as there was a line eagerly waiting to place their orders. What we got was an odd mix between a hamburger and a gyro…or something of the sort. Tasty, different, filling… It hit the spot.

Zagreb - Coriatia

Upon returning to the hostel I relaxed a bit and met/formed a decent group to hit up the town that night. Our host recommended a few places to go to and we set off. Before long we found ourselves filing into a tiny bar that didn’t even have the space for a proper bar, but instead had an alcove full of the usual bar goodies. We piled in and began relaxing. Shortly there after three English men piled in. All in their 30s or so, it turned out they were down on loan by the British military from the Czech Republic and were working with the local police force and military to prepare Croatia for it’s estimated 2011 entrance into the EU. It turns out that while the interior borders of EU countries are very soft, they try very hard to keep a tough external border. To that end any new state joining has to significantly beef up its exterior border, which also means demolishing a lot of the crossover. From what I’ve heard and read, in preparation, countries like Croatia have to demolish many of the bridges into their non-EU neighbors in order to create more secure strong points of entry. I can only imagine the political and economic issues that causes. One of the guys in the group ended up hitting it off with one of the guys that was part of a larger group of local students in the bar. While not appropriate to share what started their conversation…our two groups ended up intermingling fairly quickly. It turned out that it had been a big student day and they were out celebrating. Most attended the local university and were studying art & media in some shape or form.

Zagreb Market - Croatia

Before long they grew restless and eager to move to a different bar. They picked us up in tow and we followed them to the other side of the square, down a side street and into another tiny basement bar. This one was mostly deserted which allowed us to all fit inside. At this point in time our group split up a bit, both the hostel and the local group were large enough, and the mixtures odd enough that we all found various sub groups we had more in common with. I ended up joining a small group at one of the tables. Three girls and one guy, who I at first had actually mistaken for a girl. They ended up being extremely friendly and a bit more down to earth than some of the others. One of the other hostelers, a tall Kiwi also joined us.

We got acquainted, ambled through conversation and drank for a bit before they got antsy and decided a club would be a fun idea. We touched based with the others from the hostel, then split off from the main group. The six of us made our way across the old town to a local nightclub. They got us in free, we looked around and left almost immediately after. The club itself would have been ok but it was packed. Not in a fun busy sort of way, but more like sardines in a tin, or perhaps even more accurately white fish in a smoker – as it was again a small basement club that allowed smoking which made it almost impossible to breathe. I continued talking to one of the girls that I was getting along with especially well – Diana was her name – as we wandered slowly back toward the center of town. We took some playful guff from the one Croatian guy in the group before eventually ending up back at the square. There one of the girls decided she was calling it a night which meant the rest were joining her and an end to the festivities. The mother hen collected her chicks (which unfortunately included Diana) and they started towards home leaving the Kiwi and I to figure out what we were going to do for the rest of the night as it was still early. As Diana trailed behind the others a bit she gave me an ALU (their University apparently) pin she’d been wearing from the days festivities. The Kiwi and I grabbed some food then retired back to the hostel and called it an early night. We had an early morning ahead of us.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

Plitvicjka Jazera – The Magic Canyon

The night before most of the others had decided upon going to a set of waterfalls located a ways outside of the city. Traveling as I do, I had seen a poster of them but was fairly oblivious. I figured it was one set of small falls that while pretty were not worth the trip. My plan was and had been to leave for Split and arrive mid afternoon – but as the others talked about it it turned out that the falls were on the way (you took the Split bus to get to them), highly recommended and some two hours south of the city (almost half way to Split). Since it was along my route and everyone spoke highly of them, I elected to make it an early morning and a long day with a 4 or 5 hour stop at the Falls before continuing on by bus the remaining three hours to Split.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

The morning was rough, I was feeling fairly decent but a few of the others were hurting. One had managed to pass out at/on the bar and the other had apparently (and quite comically) crawled out of the basement bar, curled up in a ball on the sidewalk and passed out. Both had been collected and made it home but were suffering the after affects. Up a bit early and energized I kicked everyone out of bed and we raced to get ready and make it to the bus station in time for our 8:45 bus. There were 5 of us in total. We got to the bus, got our tickets purchased and not a moment too soon.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

The bus pulled away and we were off on a new adventure. The morning was cloaked in dense fog as we made our way south. The fog lasted a good 45 minutes before it finally burned off. The drive itself was beautiful as we twisted through valleys, past vineyards and through autumn kissed trees. There were two things during the drive that truly stood out… The first was the spiderwebs in a number of the fields. These fields were that straw-gold color of dead, wet grass stalks. Within the grass the leftovers of an old crop stood up 2 or 3 feet. Stretched between these stalks were tight lightly woven spider webs perfectly formed, coated in a light dew. They caught the light and looked like giant snowflakes. The fields were covered in them and as we drove by the light caught them as if they were little stars shining out.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

The second thing about the drive that really stands out in my memory is a small town in a little canyon with a river running through it. It was perhaps, the most beautiful and picturesque village I’ve ever seen. For those of you who have seen the Lord of the Rings it was a mixture between Rivendel and Hobbiton. As we drove past it I very nearly jumped off the bus and had there been a proper stop near the city I might not have made it to the lakes for an hour or two at least. The water was a deep, crystal clear, turquoise blue.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

I cannot imagine how it deals with flood waters, but perched on the side of a hill as it was, there were small dammed areas everywhere as the water zig zagged its way down the side of the hill and through the village. It was like a tiny Venice with different architecture, quality water, surrounded by forest and waterfalls. Truly words escape me – I’ve never seen anything like it and I only saw it for the minute we drove over the bridge and past it. There were flowers, grass, the clearest, gorgeous blue water you’ve ever seen, picturesque houses, fall trees…if you don’t recall it or have not seen it google a photo of Rivendel…that’s as close as I can come to a description.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

Thirty or forty minutes later we arrived at our destination. We collected our bags and I set off immediately to find somewhere to stash my backpack while I did the tour. Luckily there was a baggage area where you could pay a small fee and leave your bag. That done we purchased our tickets and began our walk into the park which as it turns out is a UNESCO World Heritage site. After walking through the ticket area we turned a small corner and found ourselves on the edge of the canyon wall directly across from a huge waterfall.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

The waterfall was a massive white mass that crashed down over gray rocks covered in red and green moss framed by the yellows, golds and reds of the fall colors. At its base there was a mangled bit of rocks with lilly-like plants, moss, and water grass. From there the fork flowed down into the main river which wound its way through the bottom of the canyon.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

The water everywhere was a pristine blue that screamed out invitingly. We snapped some photos, took in the sights and then began to walk down toward the water. The whole path is brilliantly done, in place of an ugly winding cement path, they had selected a walkway of cut wood which created a tree house look that blended in perfectly to the natural beauty. The whole canyon is a series of lakes and waterfalls. If one wanted to walk the entire thing, even at a bisque pace, it would take a good 7-8 hours. The path we selected allowed us to see all but the highest falls in 5 or so.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

Some of the waterfalls, as was the case with the first main one, are large flowing masses that drop 20-100 feet. Some are small and crash down through the moss, lilies and grass en mass all along the small natural dams. The lakes themselves are not only crystal clear but a stunning light amethyst which allows you to see deep into their centers. The lakes also are heavily populated by large schools of what I think were whitefish. The fish are so familiar with people that they school in giant schools along the edge of the lake and behave a lot like goldfish.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

In and along the water everything is green…not just a simple shade of green…but the full width and breadth of the spectrum. In the water and the falls themselves the rocks are seldom visible. Instead they are almost all covered by fallen leaves, moss, lilies, water grass, or old pieces of trees covered in a whitish blanket of silt that reminds me of natural springs. As we wandered our way along the walkway we were surrounded by falling leaves. Eventually, we came to a fork in the path, one branch wound up and continued following the water – the other split off and worked its way up through an arch back toward the top of the canyon wall.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

We took the path on the left expecting to backtrack and eager to see the view it offered. It crossed over a finger of the lake which led into what looked like a small water grotto only accessible by boat or a good doggy paddle. We walked past it then wound up a little ways at which point we were faced by another fork. The right hand side consisted of large square blocks carved out the stone that were obviously meant to be steps…though they were more like square pillars of alternating heights that scaled the 15 foot stretch to a small cave. Legs pumping we made our way up and were dumped into a small cave that looked out over the way we came. A dead end, but well worth the climb.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

We retraced our steps and took the other fork which wound through what seemed like a small cave before zig-zagging its way up and out of the hole. We turned and looked down on the falls before returning down the way we had come and continuing to trace our way along the waters edge. Every second step seemed as if it were straight from a dream. I cannot even begin to imagine the wonder and awe that the first people to discover it must have felt. Because of the early hour, it being off season and mixed weather (it alternated between light sprinkles and mixed cloud cover) there were very few people out and about. If I’m able to upload some of the photos today you will notice the lack of people. It was a dream!

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

I’m afraid that though I could ramble endlessly about the experience it would mostly just be repeating myself. So, to that end let me just say that Plitvicjka Jazera, is truly a natural wonder of the world.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

I boarded my bus later that afternoon and napped intermittently during the 3 hour ride to Split. The ride itself was gorgeous, Autumn has been my constant companion as I head south, but during that bus ride Winter began to catch up. The higher mountains (perhaps a thousand feet or so above where I had been) had received a light dusting of snow the night before and looked incredible. From there we descended toward the water and sea level. The hills and that part of the country were rugged, treeless and consisted of crumbling stone, small bushes and the occasional river. You could see the occasional footprint of war in abandoned, bombed out, or shot up buildings here and there. At one point with the sea before us and the snow dusted mountains behind us, the sun set. The sunset was a golden sapphire, a burning orb that set red fires across the landscape and clouds casting everything in a rosy hue. The mountains picking up a blue haze and cast in that pink light were incredible. I find it a bit funny to constantly refer to the Lord of the Rings as I travel, but the reality is that in many ways I feel a hobbit traversing a great and incredible world. While many of the scenes shot in the movie were enhanced with computer generation or digitally created, what I see and have experienced is the real, raw, authentic version.