Tag Archives: photography

Santorini was more impressive than expected

Europe trip – a photo story

It’s been a dream of Susan’s to go to Europe for ages and it’s also been a dream of mine to walk the Camino de Santiago across Spain, so in late July we caught a Saudia Arabia Airlines flight to Paris to start a 4 and a half month journey that would include a 780km walk, a camel ride, several cable car rides and hundreds of kilometres of hitchhiking. It was an incredible journey.

On this trip I used my dSLR even less frequently than ever before and my iPhone became my everyday camera. I think learning how to edit photos a bit better on the phone has really tipped the scales for me as the process with a dSLR is so clunky. For me, the benefits of using a big old beast of a camera are diminishing by the day.

So here is 4 and a half months of travel in photos.

The Louvre
The Louvre

There’s a lot to love about Paris – hundreds of galleries, monuments and museums plus incredible cakes! I love cakes!

Sunset in Cologne
Sunset in Cologne

We went to Cologne because we found a car share heading that way from Amsterdam where we had become trapped due to the gay pride festival. Luckily for us we caught a fantastic sunset across the river.

Fancy dessert in Budapest
Fancy dessert in Budapest

Budapest was great for many reasons, but this dessert was one of them funnily enough.

Budapest was a highlight of Europe
Budapest was a highlight of Europe

With cheap lodgings, good cheap food, plenty of things to see and do and a more gritty feel than much of Europe, Budapest became a favourite stop on the trip.

Venice - total tourist trap, but you have to go
Venice – total tourist trap, but you have to go

Venice was both disappointing and exciting. Strange really. It’s a wonderful old city filled with maze-like alleys, historical buildings and those famous canals. The problem with Venice is that it is a full on tourist town. You pay a lot of money for absolutely rubbish food, after about 10am you have to fight your way through the alleys with all the other tourists and you end up feeling like a walking cash machine. I’m glad I went, but never again unless I win the lotto.

Cinque Terre - beautiful towns on a rocky coast
Cinque Terre – beautiful towns on a rocky coast

Cinque Terre is another one of those famous Italian towns which can be chockablock full in summer and empty in winter. Unfortunately for us we went there in Summer and it was full — totally. It was great, however, to walk up the mountains and look back down on the coast. Most tourists prefer to swim at the beach rather walk which made life away from the ocean quite nice.

The Camino de Santiago - someone got lost early on
The Camino de Santiago – someone got lost early on

After a whirwind month through Europe, it was time to walk from the French side of the Pyrnees all the way across to Santiago in Spain, 780km away. This was definitely a trip of a lifetime and a totally different travel experience. Something I’d like to do again.

There wasn't much to do on the Camino except walk
There wasn’t much to do on the Camino except walk

One of the great things about the Camino is that there is nothing else to do. You just walk. It was nice not to have any pressures (such as the transport pressures we’d had in Europe during the first month).

A 500 year old bridge on the Camino
A 500 year old bridge on the Camino

Much of the infrastructure on the camino such as roads and bridges has been around for centuries as this route has been popular for over a millennium.

Free food
Free food

You get a sense of entitlement on the Camino so I stole a few bunches of wine grapes while in the famous Rioja wine-growing area – they were surprisingly delish!

Sunflowers as far as the eye can see
Sunflowers as far as the eye can see

Sunflowers were everywhere and people liked to make funny faces and signs in the faces of the sunflowers — something to keep things interesting as you walk. (and walk)

Towards the end of the Camino it's all about walking through rainy sodden forests
Towards the end of the Camino it’s all about walking through rainy sodden forests

The last 5 days of the Camino has a reputation for being extremely busy and usually rainy. We got both and it was a battle to keep positive as we trudged through this forest.

Porto was a relief
Porto was a relief

Getting to Porto in Portugal was a relief as it changed up the routine a bit. Luckily for us Porto is a fabulous city.

The wild seas off Porto
The wild seas off Porto

There’s something about the ocean when it gets angry — I love it.

Chefchaouen was an impressive start to Morocco
Chefchaouen was an impressive start to Morocco

Chefchaouen is a wonderful town in Morocco and it was a great start to our time in the country. Sadly, it all went down hill from there because we were harassed by so many hostile men. For that reason alone, I recommend people just go somewhere else where the people are friendlier. Why bother with hassle when there are over 200 countries to visit?

The oasis around Todra Gorge
The oasis around Todra Gorge

Todra Gorge was a bright spot in Morocco. We hardly encountered another person in our time there and that made for a less stressful experience.

Obligatory Bedouin selfie
Obligatory Bedouin selfie

We didn’t know it at the time, but it seems that most people go on tours from the big cities to the desert towns fringing the Sahara. We got to the end of the line as far as roads go under our own steam and it was a truly rewarding experience. In the end we got our guesthouse owner to take us out into the desert for a night on some camels. Definitely worth the hassle of riding buses at awkward times over long distances — stunning scenery, great food and the real Morocco.

Sand dunes as far as the eye can see
Sand dunes as far as the eye can see

We chose not to visit the places that had the biggest sand dunes for fear of running into loads of other people. In the end we got medium sized dunes to ourselves – incredible!

Santorini was more impressive than expected
Santorini was more impressive than expected

After Morocco it was time to head back to Spain and then onto Greece. I feared Santorini would be yet another tourist trap as most of Europe had been, but we got lucky. The high season had ended by the time we got to Santorini, it was cool, accommodation was cheap and tourist numbers were down. It was genuinely enjoyable to stroll the streets of the island.

One of the best sunsets ever
One of the best sunsets ever

Santorini sunsets are famous and the one we saw was up there with the best I’ve seen. It really was that red.

Setting sail enroute to Selcuk
Setting sail enroute to Selcuk

We headed to Turkey after Greece and it was a complete surprise. These birds followed our ferry as it carried our bus across a large body of water enroute to Selcuk.

Ephesus was impressive, but this guy didn't seem to think so
Ephesus was impressive, but this guy didn’t seem to think so

Ephesus is one of those cities named in the Bible and it is remarkably in tact for such an old place. A Turkish highlight for sure.

Pamukkale - pretty cool place, heavily touristed
Pamukkale – pretty cool place, heavily touristed

I was a little disappointed with Pamukkale — it was certainly something different, but we stayed a guesthouse with a shitty owner and the pools weren’t as natural as I had expected. On top of that the number of independent travellers vs tour bus travellers was about 100 to 1. It was overwhelming and unpleasant. Still, it was worth a visit.

Cappadocia was truly marvellous
Cappadocia was truly marvellous

I was a bit suspicious of Cappadocia. Places that people rave about so much don’t usually suit me (can you see the theme here?). But Cappadocia was a truly special place despite being a typical tourist destiantion. Plenty of places to get decent food at reasonable prices, decent acccommodation, nice people and… Stunning scenery. And it’s all about the scenery really. People lived here a while back in the caves that dot the landscape and they’re all open for you to explore.

Mount Nemrut - world heritage and totally empty
Mount Nemrut – world heritage and totally empty

Mount Nemrut was another Turkish delight. (good joke). It’s World Heritage listed, but there was no one else there. Not even a ticket person. A guy did turn up later to take money, but he seemed like one of those dodgy guys that hangs around tourist sites collecting money “on behalf of the Government”. Nemrut is definitely worth a visit. It didn’t even snow despite being over 2000m above sea level and at the end of November.

Ani - so stunning
Ani – so stunning

Ani. Incredible.

How can a place so incredible be so empty?
How can a place so incredible be so empty?

Another empty place. Why? Where are all the backpackers? Too busy on the Thai islands I suppose.

A great introduction to Georgia at Vardzia
A great introduction to Georgia at Vardzia

Georgia impressed from the very first encounter with a Georgian person – a border guard. Vardzia was one of our first sites in the country.

Davit Gareji - just go
Davit Gareji – just go

Davit Gareji is not too far from Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. It was an easy day trip and definitely worth visiting — it was absolutely sensational.

Kazbegi is an incredible place - it gets cold, so rug up
Kazbegi is an incredible place – it gets cold, so rug up

There were 3 other foreigners on the bus to Kazbegi on the day we went meaning we practically had the entire town to ourselves as far as tourists go. It’s up in the mountains near the restive border with Russia — it gets bitterly cold in winter. This small town was one of the highlights of the entire trip due to incredibly warm hospitality from our homestay owner and…

Possibly the best setting for a church ever
Possibly the best setting for a church ever

…the stunning scenery all around the area. You can even walk past this church towards Mount Kazbek and see a glacier (apparently — you need to be fitter than me).

Armenia is full of old school cars (with gas tanks on their roofs)
Armenia is full of old school cars (with gas tanks on their roofs)

After Georgia it was time to visit Armenia, another one of those countries that you know nothing about. That’s what made going there so fun, I think. You just went with no expectations. What we got was fantastic hospitality.

I got my ruski on in Armenia
I got my ruski on in Armenia

So hospitable were the people that every time we stood on the side of the road wondering how to flag down a bus, someone would stop and pick us up — and that’s how I got this military hat.

These buses were so fun to ride on
These buses were so fun to ride on

Still, when hitchhiking a bus would sometimes come past and we’d jump on that. These bus are so old school, but so fun.

Armenia is bleak, but beautiful
Armenia is bleak, but beautiful

I took this photo after being dropped off by a guy after hitchhiking. We had to walk the next 2km into town and it was so bleak. But I felt alive!

Massive apartment blocks plonked in the middle of fields
Massive apartment blocks plonked in the middle of fields

The strangest thing… I thought Hungary and Czech Republic would feel like ex-soviet states, but they didn’t. Not a bit. Armenia did. Totally. 100%. Ex-soviet. Mad! Love it!

Istanbul is as good as everyone says
Istanbul is as good as everyone says

After zipping through the Caucasus, it was time to head back to Turkey and linger in Istanbul for a few days. It is wonderful.

Walk across Galata bridge at sunset and just absorb the atmosphere
Walk across Galata bridge at sunset and just absorb the atmosphere

The best thing about Istanbul was getting your bearings and then just walking around the place. You don’t have a lot of choice anyway as the public transport system isn’t integrated and can be confusing.

Petra - a massive disappointment
Petra – a massive disappointment

To cap off the 4 and a half month journey, we hit up Jordan. After seeing all the glowing blog posts from people who went there for free as part of the #VisitJordan campaign, I wanted to see it for myself. I really enjoyed the low-key nature of Amman, but Petra was tourist hell. Expensive hotels, expensive eateries and… an $80 entrance fee to the site. It’s the most I’ve ever paid for a place like that and it certainly tarnished my experience there. If I had gotten it for free, I’d be raving about Petra. Just like everyone else. For a budget traveller, Petra is just not worth it. Go somewhere cheaper instead.

So that’s 4 and a half months of ups and downs, praise and criticism. I’m really starting to understand what I like and what I don’t like and I think it’s time to start travelling accordingly. Slow travel. No tourists. Short stints in cities unless they’re marvellous. Genuinely nice people. I’m just not interested in the rest.

Laos: An instagram photostory

In the past when I have posted up a bunch of photos from a trip, they’ve generally been photos from my dSLR. But as time goes by and I find taking glamour shots with the dSLR time-consuming and cumbersome, my iPhone has started to take its place. Many people hate those filters they see used so liberally in Instagram photos, but I think photos with these effects look much better than photos without. And with my dSLR, I have to go back to my computer and manually alter a bunch of sliders just to make a photo look half decent. I know many bloggers go to the extent of manually editing thousands of photos in programs like lightroom. I can’t think of a bigger waste of time, to be honest. I’ve got better things to be doing like drinking coffee, sleeping in and laughing at grumpy cat videos.

So with that off my chest, here are some of my favourite instagram shots from my 4 months in Laos. You’ll notice food shots aren’t included and that’s because they’ll come later.

Buffloes on a boat in Laos - perfect travel companions
Buffloes on a boat in Laos – perfect travel companions

It all started on a buffalo boat in September and was the perfect introduction to my worst month of travel ever. We slept little more than a couple of metres away from these beasts overnight on a remote stretch of the Mekong, bugs by the score.

Mekong sunset near Xieng Kok
Mekong sunset near Xieng Kok

But the Mekong never looked so good as it did while bedding down next to those buffaloes.

Sunset in Luang Prabang
Sunset in Luang Prabang

The Mekong has a charming quality as seen here in Luang Prabang…

Sunset in Vientiane
Sunset in Vientiane

…and here in Vientiane where it dries up in parts due to its immense width.

Sunrise on Don Det
Sunrise on Don Det

Down in the southern reaches of the Mekong the river becomes a delta of sorts and thousands of islands pop up out of the river much to the benefit of the local backpacker crowds on Don Det.

Phongsali from above
Phongsali from above

In far northern Laos near the Chinese border is a small provincial capital called Phongsali. Few tourists bother making the trek here due to the arduous bus journey involved, but those that do are rewarding with an atmosphere not found elsewhere in the country and certainly a million miles away from anything experienced down south in Don Det.

Lao woman in traditional clothing - not a tourist in sight!
Lao woman in traditional clothing – not a tourist in sight!

In the northern parts of the country you are more likely to encounter people who still wear traditional clothing and not merely for the benefit of tourists.

Prince Souphanouvong Bridge
Prince Souphanouvong Bridge

There are some quirky attractions in Laos…

Grumpy Dog
Grumpy Dog

…and some quirky animals such as Grumpy Dog.

Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng

But one thing that endures is how beautiful this country is. The mountains…

Blue lake on the Tha Khek loop
Blue lake on the Tha Khek loop

…the lakes…

Twin waterfalls on the Bolaven Plateau
Twin waterfalls on the Bolaven Plateau

…the waterfalls…

That Luang, Vientiane
That Luang, Vientiane

…the temples…

Back of nowhere on the Tha Khek loop
Back of nowhere on the Tha Khek loop

…and the desolation during the height of the dry season.

Laos truly is a wonderful country that deserves more than just a passing visit. Most people zoom along a well-trodden route that includes a 2-day slowboat ride along the Mekong, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane. But Laos is so much more than those places and the true colours of this magnificent country are only seen when you step away from those places with the thickest of tourist veneers.

Take your time and soak up all that this fascinating country has to offer.

Wat Phou, Champasak
Wat Phou, Champasak

 

 

Turtle hatchlings in Ujung Genteng

I went to a place called Ujung Genteng last month. It’s an awesome and remote place on the south coast of West Java where only very tourists make it. Among the great things to do there such as snorkelling, eating fresh fish and laying around is the possibility to see turtle hatchlings running down to the ocean. So I took a video as the sun set of those cute turtles. Check it out.

Bali Photo Essay – Culture

So once upon a time, I got all enthusiastic about showing people some awesome Bali sights… And I did that by posting a few photo essays about People and Animals, Food and Beaches. But then I started a new adventure and events overtook the Bali one and here I am, with a bunch of Bali photos that need to see the light of day some 9 months after I took them.

So today I show to you Bali’s culture. Before visiting this small island which is a speck in the vast Indonesian archipelago, most people have visions of an exotic culture of bare breasted women carry offerings to temples, men tilling verdant ricefields and kids playing joyfully with archaic toys. Well, of course that’s fallacy, but a similar feeling can be experienced if you try hard enough – albeit of the more modern kind (ie no boobies).

Rice Offering
Rice Offering

So this is one of the small rice offerings put out by Balinese people at the start of each day from the rice they have cooked. A thanks to the gods for the food.

Rice Field Temple
Rice Field Temple

These “temples” are placed all throughout rice fields for purposes that are too complex for me to understand. Probably something to do with the rice goddess, Dewi Sri.  Needless to say, they are everywhere.

Pura Melanting
Pura Melanting

Pura Melanting is a large temple near the coastal town of Pemuteran in northwest Bali. When I was there, it was decorated coloufully and looked fabulous.

Balinese Penjor
Balinese Penjor

Penjors are used for a variety of reasons, but most tourists will see these around Galungan – a 10 day period of great importance to Balinese. Usually lots of pigs are slaughtered as well and made into lawar and sate. If you get a chance, eat the raw blood version of lawar – it is an experience.

Human Skulls at Trunyan
Human Skulls at Trunyan

Skulls are cool. Especially when they’re on a black flag and you ponce around with a peg leg and an eye patch. Better still, you can get up and personal in the village of Trunyan where local people don’t really bury their dead. Well not all of them anyway. Some of them just decompose above ground and the resultant skulls are placed on a wall for all to see. Cool!

Carved Temple Box
Carved Temple Box

Balinese have quite a few artistic specialities. They carve, they chisel, they weave and they paint. Sometimes all on the same piece. This temple box is similar to many you will see all around the island.

Balinese People Praying at Pura Lempuyang
Balinese People Praying at Pura Lempuyang

Finally, Balinese people pray. A lot. And it’s not uncommon to see scenes like this when you get out of the main tourist centres. The settings are usually unbelievably peaceful and the devotees completely focussed. Bliss.

So there you have it. Bali really does have culture in spades and many people fall in love with it. Wanna go to Bali?

 

 

Bali Photo Essay – People and Animals

This is the second in a series of shameless posts with a lot of Bali photos. Click here for Bali Beaches & Food!

I think I’m getting the hang of this photo essay thing. Easy! Just chuck up a few photos with a bit of commentary and you have yourself a blog post! Might have to do more of it. Anyway, this one is about people and animals in Bali. Why are both people and animals in the same post? Some might say that I’m seeking to draw the viewer into recognising the commonalities between humans and other animals and begging for there to be a greater understanding of the plight of animals in Indonesia which are often deprived of even the most basic living conditions. Others might just say I didn’t have enough photos to do two separate posts. I have no comment.

 

Important Balinese Man
Important Balinese Man

I was inspecting a hotel near Lake Tamblingan when a man in the distance was motioning for me to come over. It was a little awkward, but he had the most glorious smile, warm spirit and wanted to shake my hand forever. We had a little chat in Indonesian and he then wanted me to take his photo. After snapping a few shots, I showed him the results and he thanked me profusely. Of course I felt humbled by the kindness of one of the most incredible spirits I’ve ever met.

Sad Monkey For Sale
Sad Monkey For Sale

 

Photography experts often talk about how people’s eyes are what make or break a portrait photo. Judging by this photo, the same can be said for all primates. This monkey was chained at an animal market in Denpasar and gave an incredible look of sorrow.

 

Fisherman in Pemuteran
Fisherman in Pemuteran

We can talk about warm spirits all we like, but it means nothing until you experience it. In Bali, there are many of these warm spirits – I met this man after he just hauled in a bunch of fish for his family from the local reef in Pemuteran. He was very humble, gracious and a little bit bemused as to why I would care to look at his fish!

 

 

Fresh Fish in Jimbaran
Fresh Fish in Jimbaran

Bali is overfished – to the point where protected reefs are now the target of fishermen in a bid to keep up with ever-increasing demand. To be fair to Bali, large portions of Indonesia are overfished and waters outside those of Indonesia’s own are now the target of fishermen. The array of fish on display at the fresh fish market in Jimbaran is bewildering and a great reminder that the fish you have for dinner may well have been a spectacular juvenile reef fish caught illegally.

 

 

Young Boys in Rural Bali
Young Boys in Rural Bali

These young boys were running amok as young boys normally do. Except in Bali, the world is your oyster with the freedom to roam around and get up to mischief without fear of speeding cars, the stranger next door or an overly critical community. These boys puffed out their chests when they saw my camera and galloped away to continue their reign of terror in no time at all.

 

 

Baby Monkey with its Mother
Baby Monkey with its Mother

Baby monkeys also have much freedom from an early age although their mothers keep a protective eye out for them at all times. It’s not unusual for a baby monkey to scratch around in the bushes while a dozen metres away its mother snacks on bananas stolen from panicked tourists. A great place to spot this sort of behaviour is the Ubud Monkey Forest, although it can be heavily touristed in the middle of the day. The Monkey Forest at Sangeh is also a spectacular setting for primate observation.

 

 

Ploughing the Rice Field with a Cow
Ploughing the Rice Field with a Cow

Man and beast work together to plough the fields near a guesthouse 7km from Amlapura. Many Balinese farmers still use old-fashioned techniques to plough their fields despite the explosion in motorised transport over the past two decades. Preparing a ricefield for planting is a multi-stage process that has not changed significantly over hundreds of years. Scenes like this are played out across the island and outside of the main tourist towns, it’s possible to have a room with views of glorious terraced ricefields such as this one.

 

 

Duck in Rice Field
Duck in Rice Field

An important aspect of preparing a ricefield for planting is allowing hundreds of ducks to forage in the muddy field for spilled rice and unwanted insects. During the process, ducks also add nutrients to the soil which is then mixed through during the ploughing process. I saw this duck chasing its friends across the sprawling fields immediately north of Ubud at the end of Jalan Kajeng – my favourite place to walk in Ubud.

 

 

Monkey on the Beach in Pemuteran
Monkey on the Beach in Pemuteran

These is no human counterpoint to this photo – this animal is pure evil. I think monkeys are cute, but they’re mischievous little critters that are entirely unpredictable. This particular cutie was fossicking in the shallows when I thought it’d be a splendid idea to take a few shots. Maybe I should have asked for permission first, but it took exception to the candid shots I was taking and charged me, teeth all over the place.

 

What a fantastic place Bali is. Ever been? Going soon? Want to go? Do you need more convincing?

Bali Photo Essay – Beaches

This is the first in a series of shameless posts with a lot of Bali photos. Click here for People and Animals & Food!

I don’t even really know what a photo essay is, but everyone seems to be doing one so I thought I’d finally get around to putting up some Bali photographs from my recent sojourn.

For many, the beaches of Bali are a disappointment. The main reason is that people dream of an idyllic paradise – palm-fringed white-sand beaches with bare chested beauties bringing fresh coconut juice and pina coladas at the snap of your fingers. OK, maybe that last part was just me. But really, it’s nothing like that. Perhaps they were once like this back in the 70s, but those days are gone.

The best beaches nowadays are off the main tourist trail, but are still popular enough to attract people with an entrepreneurial spirit willing to build decent hotels, provide delicious food and generally make you feel like you’re not roughing it. The beaches in the tourist areas are OK, but places like Australia and the US have better ones. Each of the photos below look better when you click on them as they expand to fill more of your screen. Lucky you!

Kuta Beach
Kuta Beach

The first beach most visitors to Bali see is Kuta Beach. It’s an impressive stretch of sand that is now developed to the point where it’s no longer pleasant in the middle of the day when all the other tourists are around. Harrassing beach vendors, sometimes dirty water and loads of people. Still it’s a great place to stroll in the early morning before most people wake up and it has a chilled vibe in the evenings.

Sanur Beach
Sanur Beach

When looking at the 5 or 6km long Sanur Beach, it’s easy to be torn. Sections of it are beautiful with trees shading raked sand and turquoise water lapping at your feet. Other sections are an eyesore with dated hotels shadowing unpleasant swimming areas. Overall, however, it’s a more family friendly area than Kuta and less hectic. It can be a good spot to relax with a beer and a nasi goreng.

Padang Padang Beach
Padang Padang Beach

Get away from the main tourist areas and everything changes. Padang Padang Beach is one of the best in Bali and is not visited anywhere near as frequently as those in Kuta and Sanur. It’s also small giving you the feeling that it’s a secret hideaway that the masses haven’t yet discovered. Much like the other beaches on the Bukit.

Sunset at Yeh Gangga Beach
Sunset at Yeh Gangga Beach

Yeh Gangga is one of my favourite places in all of Bali because it is so secluded. The beach stretches for kilometres in both directions and there is hardly another tourist to be seen – just locals playing football and the odd family paddling. What tops it all off is that you can watch an endless stream of ceremonies which arrive at the beach to complete the scattering of ashes of the recently cremated.

Amed
Amed

Amed beaches are different from those of the south as they are generally tainted black as a result of volcanic activity plus they are  home to coral reefs. Loads of them. And they’re easy to snorkel. The place commonly referred to as Amed is in fact a series of fishing villages which starts in the west at the actual village of Amed and finishes in the east at Aas. Amed is a top spot that is relatively empty outside of the Christmas period and the European summer. Cheap food, cheap accommodation and unlimited snorkeling. Could this be the Balinese Paradise that people are searching for?

So there you have it. Beaches in Bali. You like?