A 7 Day Road Trip Through Rural Scotland – The Final Leg

This is the conclusion to my series documenting my road trip through Scotland’s remote rural areas. Start at the beginning (highlands), jump to part II (Skye), or see Part III (Ullapool to Durness). 

The crisp morning air made it difficult to drag myself out from beneath the mound of heavy down blankets the hostel had opted for in place of heaters. With a groan and a roll I pulled myself upright and then wormed my toes into my boots. It didn’t take long before I started to come back to life as I noticed that beyond the nearby windows, the weather looked pleasant. A revisit to Smoo Cave with its subterranean waterfall chamber had been one of the primary draws which had pulled me towards the northwestern tip of Scotland. With a yawn and a stretch, it was time to hurry down for one of the first cave tours of the day – all in the hope that I would beat out the inevitable flooding that came each afternoon as the Scottish summer rains dumped their load on to the rain-drenched hillsides of the rugged Scottish glens situated a few miles to the south. Inevitably, when the rains found their way to already damp creek beds it would quickly flood them and turn each into small rivers racing gleefully, like highland sprites, towards the coast.

A Cold Beach - Northern Scotland

The evening before had been uncharacteristically dry by the time I reached Smoo with naught but a gentle rain earlier in the afternoon. In the fading light of the late afternoon, I had paused to capture the beautiful colors and otherworldly visage of the waterfall from a wooden platform carefully constructed just inside the chamber long ago carved out by the falls’ hammering fists. Both that evening and the following morning found the falls relaxed, gentle, and calm. Nowhere near the raging torrent I’d encountered some years back during my first visit.  At that time, even to approach the railing left us with water in our eyes and our jackets soaked through.

The Portal to Smoo Cave - Durness, Scotland

To my delight there were only a couple of us waiting to commence the quick tour. With 4 GBP in hand I donned my hardhat and kept myself busy wandering the grand chamber that serves as the mouth to the cave. The chamber, carved by the sea, is a wondrous thing and the type of place that has shaped and inspired the greatest of stories through the millennia. From a dragon’s fossilized maw to a dark and treacherous home to trolls and sea sirens, Smoo Cave could easily serve as inspiration for it all.

Cambodia in 20 Instagram Photos

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.

 

An old Cambodian gentleman resting in front of Aangkor Wat.

A photo posted by Alex Berger (@virtualwayfarer) on

A UNESCO Filled Return to Hamburg – Come Follow Along!

In the midst of a beautiful hot, humid and record setting July in 2010 I found myself sitting on a sweltering train (inside a large ferry) headed across the channel from Denmark to Germany on my way to Hamburg. What followed was a very pleasant whirlwind tour through a city that struck me as being far more charming and rich in history and culture than I had expected.  In my preliminary post back then about Hamburg, you get a sense for the positive opinion of the city I was left with and what, I believe, will be an exciting insight into how much the city has changed in fun and exciting ways in the past five short years.

In truth, I’m shocked when I consider that it has been five years. I’ve often toyed with a return trip to Hamburg, but have only recently started re-visiting and exploring the areas close to my home-base here in Copenhagen.  Over the last year I’ve run into Hamburg repeatedly.  It all started with a NYE trip good friends took last year, which I was unable to attend, but which left me listening to grand stories of amazing adventures. Then once again as friends re-located to Hamburg and sang its praises.  Then even more recently during a series of events here in Copenhagen that touted the many exciting things going on in Hamburg. At the event I was reminded that Hamburg has now progressed fairly far into the construction of their fascinating Elbe Philharmonic Hall project, a captivating project that was only beginning to take shape during my initial visit. Even more importantly, earlier this year, the city’s Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus were named as UNESCO World Heritage sites. While I brushed up against these parts of the city in my initial visit, as a bit of a UNESCO World Heritage addict, I made a mental note that I’d definitely be heading back for a more in-depth exploration.

Pure Beauty in Berlin – Weekly Travel Photo

Berlin - Beautiful Marbles

One of my favorite things about Berlin is Museum Island. It embodies the type of cultural dedication to art and history that I wish all cities, cultures and nations shared and emulated. For those unfamiliar with it, it is essentially an island in the heart of Berlin which has a number of Berlin’s finest museums situated on it. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Each has its own architecture, collections and focus.

This photo comes from the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) and is of one of my favorite marble statues. Not just favorite from the collection, but favorite among all of the various marbles I’ve seen around the world. There’s just a beauty and elegance to her that I find enchanting. The piece is titled the Seated Victoria, Throwing a Wreath and dates back to the early 1830s. The sculpture was carved by Christian Daniel Rauch.

If you make it to Berlin, definitely set aside a day or two to explore the island completely. There’s a lot to see and it is well worth the time!

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 55-250mm lens.

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.

Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo – Reflecting at the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon - Exploring Arizona

One of the perks of living in Arizona for years was relatively easy access to the Grand Canyon.  This shot was taken during a weekend trip from Phoenix, up to Flagstaff and then on to the Grand Canyon where I relaxed until the sun set.  This photo is from the south rim where we paused and relaxed soaking up the afternoon’s warm rays. The Grand Canyon is considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World – and rightfully so.  In all of my travels I’ve never seen another natural formation quite like it. When you have the opportunity to visit I highly recommend arriving in the afternoon and giving yourself time to watch the sun set over the canyon.  It is mystical.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos?  View past travel pictures here.

Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo – Kronborg Castle Caretakers Hut

Kronborg Castle - Caretakers Hut

Located just behind Kronborg Castle, the fortress that inspired Hamlet, there is a small caretaker’s hut built alongside the castle’s outer wall.  This cute extension of the fanciful stonework that decorates the castle serves as a fascinating contrast between royal opulence and the humble lifestyle of the common man (or woman).  The building, with its oddly aligned walls, cute doorways and faded paint has an intoxicating charm, which made it one of my favorite parts of my visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site, which is located in Helsingor, Denmark.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos?  View past travel pictures here.

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.