13 December 2018

Ecuador, Peru, and ...Patagonia?

Mucho rain in the La Candelaria district of Bogota near Parque de Periodistas (Journalists Park)
First, let me say, Thank you Colombia. You've been impressive, inspirational, and just what I needed when I needed it. I'll likely be back later again before I leave South America. More on that later. I fly to Ecuador in the morning.

Alright. Here's a few things I'll address, since inquires have been made on the matters.

Nope... I haven't been taking any pics lately. Neither of my cameras have been out of the bag since I've returned on my journey. I've tried. I took a city tour and posted some graffiti art from my phone early on and maybe some selfies. But I've realized I've needed to take some time to process everything from this past Oct. Oct was a bitch. The holidays coming up won't be easy either. I'll be on an Ecuadorean beach for Christmas and in a treehouse for New Year's. Perchance, those locations could inspire me to shoot, (if I don't get rained out) but as far as I know, I'm gonna hold tight til I get to see my daughter and son-in-law mid-Jan. I have to make a choice to be fine after that. My brother wouldn't want me weeping or holding up my life over his passing. I know that much about him. He and I are alike in that regard. We both hate being a bother to anybody. So, 2019 will be a little different than this past year. I have to focus more on my money and my business coming up. I have work to do.

Bandeja Paisa, one of my favorite meals.

I think, late March/early April, I'm going to head to Patagonia and see what Fall pics I can get down there before it gets cold. If I stick to my regular course and continued on south through Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, and so forth, I wouldn't get down to Patagonia until Jun/July which is when their winter begins. So instead, I think I'll head  there right after I get done with Peru sometime in March. Now here's the real kicker. It would be cool if I had a model to work with down there. Yes...that means it will be cold and you'd be naked. Not all the time. But definitely for 3 main locations and then opportunity shots that present themselves. It will involve multi-day hiking through Tierra del Fuego and Torres del Paine. In addition to that, I have one other location in mind that I'll keep to myself for the moment, but it'll take a bit to get to and could be slightly arduous, but will make for some great shots.

Ajiaco, a hearty soup
I wonder about 3 things down there. One, making reservations. From my initial research, I hear you can't just expect to show up. You must plan well in advance. I have to figure out what that means in more specific detail. Two, I need to refit. I have clothing that I'd wear to the beach and tropical climates right now. Down there, even in the fall, I'm going to need cold weather clothing AND camping gear. Three... CAMERA GEAR! I am fairly certain I have to get some fast glass. The Sony 24mm 1.4 is on my mind right now, due to its lighter weight and more versatility over the Sigma 20mm 1.4. The Sigma is less money, but its heavier and you can't use filters on it. On top of that, I think the Sony 24-105 f/4 would serve me better than my 16-35 f/4. I'm not keeping tow of 4 lenses! (I also have the Sony 55mm 1.8. I'm not going anywhere without THAT!) So, one would have to go. Three is the max. Hell, I'd even consider medium-format if I could swing it. Yo...FUJI!!

Bogota Beer Company! Good eating!

After I'm done with all that down there, I'd make my way up north again through Chile and into Bolivia. Depending on what's going on with the Amazon River, I could re-try to do that again, but ultimately I'm going to make my way back here to Colombia. I very much would like to retrace my steps that I took in Northern Colombia (September) WITH a model. I'd add to it, the 5-day hike to the Lost City since it was closed during all of September. I love Colombia. Bogota is the first capital city that I really came to adore. I have not had the best time in any capital city I've ever been in. I had no expectations for Bogota. I only booked 3 days here at the end of September and realized by day 2 that I had made a mistake in my expectation. This is why I decided to return here in November and spend at least a month here.

Well, that's all for now. More later.

Long walk looking for a Duncan Donut shop one morning. 

29 November 2018

What Exactly is a Hostel?

One of my favorite spots in Leon Nicaragua, Hostel La Tortuga Booluda
on a 3 month Central American trip with my, then girlfriend, Tracie, Spring 2015.
Is there a difference between a hostel and a hotel? Yep. There's a difference. Hostels are one thing and Hotels are another. That being said, you still come across some that are both. They usually start out solely as a hostel, then open more locations, but are able to maintain an "upscale" hotel feel at each new location, but keep a hostel vibe. Selina is a good example of this. I've hit them in Cartagena, Bogota, I'll miss them in Quito, but see them in Lima, Peru and La Paz, Bolivia.

I don't think I have to spend a lot of time telling you what a hotel is. If you've never stayed in a hotel... well, write me off line and we can talk. For the rest of you, you already know what you are getting. Not all are the same, of course. Big difference between a Hilton and a Motel 6, but you know you want something private, safe, clean, and affordable.

Isla Verde, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala 
Here's the thing with Hostels

Hostels are not the backpacker's paradise with noisy dorm room accommodations; not all of them anyway. They do aim to cater to travelers, though and they are often much less expensive than a hotel. They are often a Mom and Pop enterprise who don't really get rich off their business, but they can have a comfortable living to say the least.

Here are the different hostels I've run into during my travels. I've done plenty. When Kristi and I set out during the month she was with me last Jan, I think we did close to 10. In 2015, my girlfriend, Tracie (in all these photos) and I traveled for 3 months. We hit about 20 places throughout 5 countries. I stayed at my first ever hostel in 2012, La Terreza in Antigua, Guatemala. I have been gone almost a year so far I've stayed in plenty, to say the least. Here's what I've run into during my research and travels.

Tracie at Chaltunha Hostel, Flores, Guatemala
Party Hostels
This is one of the top things people know about hostels. Party-time. And they do exist everywhere. You'll likely see a much younger European crowd. I avoid them! Nope, not doing it. They may have "Backpacker" somewhere in their name. There will be loud music. Not for me. I'd be out of place there. I'm old enough that I like my peace and quiet at this point in my life and I've had my fill of drinking games. Nonetheless, these tend to be a bit cheaper with a focus on dorms... $6 to $15 a night.

Boutique Hostels
If I see the term "boutique" in the title, I'm usually going to check it out. It depends on the theme of the place or what exactly they mean by boutique. I find these are a bit more pricey, but if you have a model with you, they can be interesting interiors to shoot in. There will be some attempt at interior design with a focus on an art, modern or antique themes, or some feng shui concept that may be be beneficial to your energy/spirit flow or whatever they call it.

Tracie at Chaltunha Hostel, Flores, Guatemala
For those concerned with the environment, Eco Hostels are they way to go. If they are not implementing solar power of some sort, they I don't think they can call themselves Eco anything. You may see them advertise a low carbon footprint, use organic, locally harvested materials and food, ask you to help with water conservation, etc. These will not usually be a budget place unless they also get you to help in their gardens or to do volunteer work with the locals.

Homestyle Hostels
Simply put, homestyle hostels will be virtually that... a hostel in someone's home. The owners may build on additional rooms or remodel a large house with several rooms into rental spaces. Chances are, they live on the premise. Prices will can range from down right cheap to the upper limits, probably no more than 5 rooms and some will need to share a bathroom down the hall.

Waking up at Paradise Cabins, Tobacco Caye, Belize
These are those that are going to be a little different than anything you'd come to expect and in some cases they may not call themselves hostels. Case in point... Island bungalows made of driftwood and recyclable materials. The term hostel doesn't lend itself to the unique island experience nor the inexpensive connotation that a hostel name may garner. Nonetheless, by definition, they are hostels and can usually charge much more. I've paid upwards of $100 a night and would gladly do it again.

Yeah...these hostels can usually provide a more complete experience with not only accommodations but a bar/restaurant, more private rooms, BETTER private rooms which usually mean larger with a view, and come closer to the hotel experience. Sometimes its just worth it. I've paid maybe $150 a night for the most expensive I've had the pleasure to visit.

If you can remember Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book", okay...or the several films based on his book, then you'll recall the most perfect analogy of the budget hostel. If you can "look for the BARE NECESSITIES, the simple BARE NECESSITIES and forget about your worries and your strife... that's why a bear can rest at ease with the simple bare necessities of life". If you can literally keep that mindset, you'll be fine and pay $100 for a week's stay someplace. I've done about $13 a night for a private room and private bathroom once in Xela, Guatemala.

Tracie, outdoor shower, Farm Peace and Love, Little Corn Island, Nicaragua 2015

So here are a few things you may have to compromise on.

1. Accommodations can be basic. Likely no TV!

2. It might be a bit noisy at times. Walls may be thin or there's a party hostel close by. Couples...keep that in mind! Just saying...

3. You may or may not have hot water...depending! In tropical areas you'll be grateful.

4. You may have to share a bathroom.

5. The wifi may suck.

Hostel Holistica, Antigua, Guatemala 2015
On the PLUS side

1. You're usually going to have a more personable experience. Yes, HOTELS can be experienced in hospitality with managers and staff being educated and trained. But how often do you get invited to the owner's kid's birthday. Or going to dinner at THEIR house and meeting the whole family.

2. You'll likely meet many more travelers from varies countries just like yourself with whom you can swap stories and experiences.

3. Hostels, in my opinion, tend to be more grateful that you chose them and thus will go out of their way to make sure your stay is comfortable, safe, and enjoyable. This has been my experience in particular where the owners are running the show and the staff is family.

4. You're going to save a ton of money that can go towards doing tours and experiences which is the reason for your visit anyway.

5. Personally, I think there are overall more stories, good and bad, that get rolled into your journey. Nobody returns home talking about hotel stays. But I can tell some hostel tales about a busted bed in Belize; bringing back an ineffective itch cream from the pharmacy, til Ismael advised me that it was made for vaginal itch in Guatemala; or being awoken at 6am by Dona Lucia for breakfast in the morning even though she knows you came in from drinking all night at 4am in Nicaragua.

Busted bed, Resort in Hickatee Cottages, near Punta Gorda, Belize.
Oh...never drink shower water no matter now nice the accommodations are!
In more cases than not, it's usually going to be what you make it. I listened to a chick at the front desk in Cartagena complain that there was a blond hair in her shower. She was pissed. Now me, I'm easy. I came across a tarantula in my shared bathroom. Yes, I screamed like my little niece, Courtnee when she sees a tiny spider. I did momentarily jump on the toilet seat. BUT, I took a second to compose myself. Walked up to the front and advised them of the situation. I didn't ask for my money back or demand to see the owner. I did insist they not kill the thing. We took it outside and released it.

Asleep at Chaltunha, Flores Guatemala after a full day
Just do your research. Read the reviews. Check the pics of the rooms. You'll be fine. As I mentioned in the last post, I do most of my research and reservations through Booking.com. I usually find everything I need there and have only had maybe 2 or 3 problems with a booking. To date, I'm just over 50 bookings. Stay as long as you want. I've been here in Bogota at Hostal La Candelaria for a month now and its costing me right at $500. That's just over $16 a night. The owners and I sit and talk every day. They help me with my Spanish. I help them with English. I get advice about the city of Bogota and Colombian culture and cuisine.

So what are your questions about hostels?

Labeha Drum Center Cabins, Excellent place, Hopkins, Belize
Another Big Fave, Hotel Anahuac, (its a hostel!) Juayua, El Salvador

18 November 2018

TWO Types of Backpacking

Interior of a chicken bus... not as crowded, though

When I tell people I'm backpacking around the world, it can sometimes be a bit confusing as to what a picture of that actually looks like. In these confusing situations, the picture most people imagine in their minds is that I am traveling through the wilderness, desert, or some far off wasteland while avoiding bandits, outlaws, or wild animals. So let me paint a more accurate perception of my reality while I am venturing around this planet.

Coach buses are much more comfortable for long trips. As you can see.
Courtesy of Art Model, Kayci.Lee this past January when she accompanied
for a month to Nicaragua and up to Guatemala.
While there may be several different types of BackpackERS, BackpackING is usually divided into two distinct categories. First, there is WILDERNESS backpacking. This is usually associated with, as the name suggests, backpacking in the wild. While day trips can fall into this category, I'd say the norm is going to consist of camping and thus the packing choices will reflect this. Ergo, sleeping bag, and plenty of food. Much will depend on the availability of water, distance and the duration of the trip will dictate the remaining needs to sustain you. It goes without saying that you'll be hiking all this gear around, as opposed to throwing it in your vehicle. Otherwise you're just car camping.
Guatemala Chicken Bus 
This could be a backpacking trip to simply go camping, rock climbing, hunting, or you could be trekking to a specific destination like a log cabin or over the river and through the woods to grandma's house. Regardless, you'll need to be prepared with good hiking boots and weather dependent clothing, and everything you need to protect yourself from environmental concerns, threats from the wildlife, and basic safety. This is not my primary mission.

If I can't take it on my back, it can't come. 
As for me, I do TRAVEL backpacking, which can also be defined as a type of adventure travel. I have the same type of backpack that a wilderness backpacker might have. Getting one that fits properly, allows for great weight distribution, comfortable waist, chest, and shoulder straps, as well having convenient pockets and straps for gear that needs to be secured, but readily available on the outside of your pack. I use a Osprey Aether 70, with and empty Osprey Porter 30 strapped to the back of it. The Porter is my day pack for use when I venture from my hotel. Why do I like Osprey bags? Because of their All Mighty Guarantee! So yeah... no roller luggage here.

Sometimes ya gotta hitch a ride on an old commercial fishing boat when the seas are too rough for anything else.
So I travel with two bags (well, three, but one is kept empty while traveling between destination). I have my backpack(s) and then my camera bag which is a large Thintank Urban Disguise 60. I am usually traveling around via public transportation. Sometimes I take international and regional planes, but mostly I am on a local bus for short trips or a coach/tour bus for longer ones. I pack pretty much everything I need for my daily life. I average maybe 5 change of clothes. I say average because sometimes I may throw away a shirt or buy one from the local thrift stores that in Central America are referred to as PACAs. They are named so because they usually arrive from the US in huge baled bundles. So Paca is spanish for bales, not packages, as I recently learned. I can easily get a shirt for a buck or two and change out my clothes periodically, or dependent on a place I visit. I've been all along the Caribbean coast here in Colombia where T-shirts and flip flops are practical. Next thing you know, I'm in the mountains of Bogota at an elevation of 8000+ feet and temps of mid-40's at night.

I also pack camera accessories and gear that I use to produce videos, clean sensors, and extra things that make photo and video more convenient. Along with that, I have my toiletries and sundries, prescription meds, flashlights, knives, etc that also go in my backpack. I try to keep my weight from my backpack under 35lbs. I was 10 pounds over on my venture back to Bogota. I need to lose some weight!

Caught a horse-drawn wagon to the beach
As for city travel and accommodations, I can take public transpo which is usually pennies in any direction. Chicken buses are popular in Central America. You are not riding with a bunch of chickens. You are just packed into them as if you ARE chickens. That's how they make their money while fares stay cheap. Volume! But they are fun to ride on, just not over great distances or if you are a tall person. Your knees will suffer. They are usually very colorfully decorated re-purposed US school buses that traditionally have religious display art of some sort on them wish flashy lights. You must experience this a few times if you are ever in Central America. Otherwise, I take a cab or even an UBER which are available here in Colombia. Its good to be safe and let your hotel or restaurant hail a cab for you, unless you're told its safe to do so yourself off the street.

Or sometimes just catching a $20,000 Andalusian horse...more easily done nude, I guess
I stay in hostels mainly. Sometimes, I book a hotel. Hostels are much less expensive comparable to the same accommodations in a hotel. Not all hotels are the same, by any stretch of the imagination and that goes for hostels as well. A hostel will usually be much smaller with basic amenities. You may not have a TV for example, and in some places you don't even have hot water. I book through Booking.com for about 90% of my reservations. Just because you are in a hostel does not automatically mean Dorm Room! I only do private rooms. After that, I'm checking whether or not the room has a private bathroom, good wifi, good security, and I compare it to other hostels with respect to location and amenities. Sometimes airport pick-up is important. Other times, it may be policy issues such as do they have a good cancellation policy or whether I an pay on site or do I have to pay in advance. Some make you pay everything at time of booking and other's just secure a deposit equal to the first night's stay. You'll have to decide what's right for yourself. I'll be doing a post on hostel stays soon enough.

Regional flights are sometimes necessary, too. This time within Nicaragua.
A typical visit for me my cost me $30/night, but I often find good places where I am spending $20/night. If I know I'll be in an area for an extended time...such as a month, I'll rent an apartment for $400-$500 when I can. But once I'm there, I'm living out of my backpack and checking out the local scenes. Ordinarily, I'm in a particular city because there is something there I want to shoot nearby or just because I think it will be a good experience. Right now, I'm in Bogota, Colombia. Its the 4th largest city in all of the Americas. I felt this would be a good experience, even though my interests photographically are in more nature environments. I don't shoot as much in metro or urban places. So for me, the experience is worth my stay.

When I leave here, I'll pack up my backpack and camera bag, and choose the best transportation to get to my next location. I have no clue where that will be right now or even when I'll leave Bogota. Possibly by mid-December...who knows? Chances are, I'll hop a bus out of the Bogota to either Ecuador or one more city, likely coastal, in Colombia. It's entirely possible I may stay longer and take a flight to the Colombian-Ecuadorian border and then bus across. Why? Because many of these countries have a thing (or at least the airline does) where you can't board a flight without a ticket going out. Busing in is different. They leave it up to you to not overstay your visa, typically 90 days...30 in others. Sometimes, you need to apply for a Visa in advance of your trip, like Brazil or Paraguay.

Finally reaching those meager but welcome accommodations.
I'll continue to do this throughout all of South America, with the exception of Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana, (all on the East Coast). Venezuela isn't a safe or stable place to travel to at the moment and I don't feel the same calling to the other countries I mentioned. So, I'll be taking a plane, bus, or walking across country borders trying to see where I can get some great shots and life experiences.

07 November 2018

Saving Brazil and the Amazon for Another Time

Me and my brother, Greg last year.

I did not make it to Brazil as planned for October 1st. I had my hotel reservations, two flight tickets (one to Rio and one to Manaus), and my eVisa for Brazil. I even had my boarding pass downloaded to my phone. I was all ready to leave later that day to Rio de Janeiro for a few days and then fly up Manaus to being my Amazon River trip. The only question was whether I wanted to take a boat into Peru and Ecuador, or head back to Bogota, Colombia afterwards. All that changed in the blink of an eye. Looks like I will have to try to do the Amazon River another season.

Why? Well, early that same morning I got a message about my brother who was found unresponsive after somewhere between 24 and 36 hours alone in his apartment. 'Nuff said. The Brazil tickets were now useless to me. I booked a flight to Texas and was on a plane within hours. I got back and my brother, Greg was in ICU, but stable. I thought he was good to go at that point, only to realize my hopes were lost the next afternoon. An aneurysm from complications with high blood pressure took out my brother at 47 years of age. The whole experience seemed unreal. My sister, Camille was on top of things. She's a nurse and her training was definitely indispensable in helping my mother and family understand what was happening. Beyond that, she was hugely helpful in organizing the arrangements for my brother's funeral and cremation. I'd have needed a couple of weeks before even thinking about contacting a funeral home. And if that wasn't enough, my grandfather died two weeks later. Even though it was not that much of a surprise at his age and condition, the reality of it still took a toll on all of us. October was the worst month of my life. But I'm not going to get into a bunch of "Woe is me" rants. Its done.

My Grandfather's burial site, next to that of his beloved wife who proceeded him.

I spent the entire month in Texas and then I flew back to Colombia on November 3rd. I am currently back in Colombia's capital city, Bogota. I decided to come back here and give this city some more time. I have never really appreciated capital cities that much, so I only scheduled 3 days here on my original visit in September. I quickly deduced that I was wrong. My stay at Selina Hotel was excellent. I met 2 or 3 new people that quite frankly, were very impressionable. And then I took a walking tour of the area I stayed in and learned some more about the city's history as well as where it all fit into Colombia's history as a whole. I may just take that tour again. Fernando Botero is from here and his museum is just down the street! And its free. That was something he was insistent on. No charge for exhibiting his work here.

I re-booked the same Selina Hotel as when I was here in September, but I got the upgraded, Rockstar room for my first 3 days. Its was a beautiful room, but I honestly think the last room may have been preferred. Sometimes it works out like that where the best room on the property actually isn't. Possibly, that's just me, though.

Four balconies (one behind the bed)
That is a stairway to the left that leads to the downstairs living room and bathroom

I wanted to stay in the same district area of La Candelaria, which is the oldest  (500 years old) section of the city. So after leaving Selina, I booked a week at La Candelaria Hostel, near Parque de los Periodistas, or Journalist's Park. Its much more of a basic room compared to my room at Selina, but its also more typical of the hostels I stay in to save money. It's also close to Monserrate, which is another thousand feet of elevation that I'll hike for its excellent views of the city. I'm going to stay here in Bogota for at least a month, but I'm not certain exactly when I'll head out or exactly to where. I know I'll go through Ecuador and see the Galapagos Islands, but I don't know how much I'll see of the county in all. I have to be in Lima, Peru in January. That much I know. My daughter and her husband, along with my cousin and her hubby are coming to meet me there.

So the adventure continues. I'm back on the road and continuing with my journey. So when will I do Brazil and the Amazon River? Good question. The rainy season is well under way there now and flooding is soon to follow. I'd much rather not boat up the Amazon on such flooded currents with the banks overflowed. So possibly, I will likely pass through Paraguay and head into Brazil stopping in at Rio de Janeiro, by next March or April...that's a guess. As for boating up the Amazon River, I can't say for sure. The only possibility is maybe after I am coming back UP South America after Argentina and Chile. Its an option and I'll just have to keep exploring them.

30 September 2018

First Month in South America - Colombia

"It's ludicrous that this place exists and everybody doesn't want to live here."
~ Anthony Bourdain speaking about Colombia

Faro Punta Gallinas, the most northern point of South America Very remote and desolate area.
Heading into Cartagena, Colombia from Guatemala, City felt like jumping into a pool of cold water. I knew I was going to do it, but I was highly nervous about it. Colombia represented an entirely unknown for me and while you can research as much as you want, there's nothing like stepping off a plane and feeling that air of a totally different country. What did I notice first? The fact that there were a ton of black Colombians and therefore more people that looked like me. So, like Belize, I wasn't the only black person around. Probably the next thing I noticed was that the only dogs on the street were on leashes being walked by their owners. In several places in Central America, you can expect to see stray dogs in various stages of health.

Ojos de Agua
I was a day late getting to my hotel due to a missed flight. I stayed in Cartagena for two days before heading north to my hotel at Eco Hostel Yuluka near Tayrona National Park. Yuluka is a beautiful property and I had one of their larger and better rooms with an open air shower. It was quite gorgeous. On day two, the weather opened up and so I left for Tayrona just down the street to see what shots I could get. Its definitely wise to bring water as this is about a two-hour hike to get to the main beach at El Cabo. The sun was fierce that day and the return hike was toughest coming back. Its a good thing there are several places to get water as I definitely ran out on the return trip. Awesome hike. Great scenes. Beautiful beaches. Be sure to check out the links because its definitely worth the visit. Consider an over night stay.

Outdoor shower and bath, Guacamaya Room at Eco Hostel Yuluka, Santa Marta, Colombia near Tayrona

I was extremely disappointed that the trek to Ciudid Perdida was closed for the entire month of September. I heard different explanations as to why that was. One was that recent heavy rains destroyed the trails, but I also heard that some of the facilities at the overnight stays were in need of desperate repair. But I got over it. My highlight of Colombia came a week later when I headed further north into La Guajira, and well beyond Uribia.

Tayrona National Park

I took a 2-day 4x4 tour with Alta Guajira Tours up to Punta Gallinas which is the most remote and northern point of South America. My thoughts were to try to do this on my own and I was told by Victor at Yuluka that it was not safe. He was correct. The idea was not only dangerous but also not safe. A single vehicle breaking down out there is not a good position to be in. We passed a broken down tour truck and before long, there were about 4 other trucks there to render aid. Turned out to be nothing serious and we were all back on the road, but imagine 4 tourists stranded out there.

Local native girl of the Jusayan Indians of La Guajira

The first day concluded at Cabo de la Vela which is a small village on the coast were we spent the night in hammocks in an open cabin on the beach. We locked our belonging up in a secure building or left them in the vehicles and then took what we needed to our hammocks. Myself and my other 4 cohorts watched the sun set and called it a night.

Waking up with my cohorts after a night on the beach at Cabo de la Vela

The next day found us continuing our journey with a four hour back-country drive to Punta Gallinas with a few stops to sight-see along the way. These were different beaches and dunes where we were given a few hours to take pictures and enjoy the water. We reached Punta Gallinas right before sundown along with a few other trucks in the convoy that followed. Our lodging for the night was nearby, again in hammocks under a covered pavilion. Out here, though it was dark. The night sky with a new moon was lit up by stars from horizon to horizon. Some saw the Milky Way for the first time in their lives. About 10 of us sat out under the stars and fellowshipped together, represented by countries from Austria, France, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands. I was the only American.

Night under the stars near Punta Gallinas
We talked about a gamut of subject matters, including the suspicious alcohol content in the mysterious whisky-rum type concoction that we were drinking. We definitely discussed what was going on in America with this administration. You might be highly surprised at the world view of the US lately. There's not a place I go that I'm not confronted at some point about the state of our politics. In a discussion with a Canadian couple, I felt the strong impression to apologize on behalf of my country and to reassure them that all of America does not feel the way this administration does.

The last two weeks have been spent in Cartagena, where I got to do some work for a local restaurant, Medellin, and a few days in the capitol city of Bogota. I got to explore these cities, but only a bit. Much of my time was spent editing photos and getting some organization efforts done. Those first two weeks north of Cartagena was probably the busiest two weeks of my entire trip. On October 1st, I fly to Rio de Janeiro and begin the Amazon River trip that I'm looking forward to. So, stay tuned. What I know for sure is that I will have to return here to Colombia. I want Punta Gallinas with a model, spend more time in Cartagena, do Ciudad Perdida, explore some of the islands out this way, and push further through Colombia past Bogota, like Cali. I could do a full 90 days here exploring this country.

UPDATE: This just crossed my mind. I may indeed do the Amazon River gig and then right at the border where I was thinking of crossing into Iquitos, Peru. Well, possibly scratch that. I'm giving serious consideration to crossing into Leticia, Colombia and returning to Bogota. Its only $100 for a flight back here. Who knows? Find a spot to live for a month. Take some Spanish classes. THEN head to Ecuador, by land...do the Galapagos Islands, and slide on into Peru by Christmas. We'll see.

25 September 2018

Canon and Nikon Mirrorless - My Thoughts Plus Some

Art Model, Kayci.Lee, ©2018 Terrell Neasley

"Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse." 
 ~ Winston Churchill

Mirrorless has been around since 2004, but hit mainstream in 2006 when Leica went digital with the M-Series rangefinder, the M8. Was it perfect? No, but that moment was the writing on the proverbial wall.

I felt like that was the new evolution of cameras...going electronic and that it should have been explored more thoroughly by Canon and Nikon. Nikon did jump on it after a few years with Nikon 1 system. I thought it was cool, but still a bit half-hearted attempt. In my opinion, Nikon had the opportunity to become an industry leader here instead of continuing to follow behind Canon. A more serious attempt/commitment would have been an APS-C sensor in the Nikon 1 bodies instead of the 1-inch CX sensor with a 3x crop. I suspect they didn't want to cannibalize DSLR sales, but I'm sure they look back in hindsight and wonder if a more bold move would have blocked Sony from claiming the No. 2 spot in camera sales and reviving their brand.

Art Model, Brittany Vipond @2008 Terrell Neasley

So now, Nikon and Canon are getting into the game of full-frame mirrorless. I want to do this post without sounding bitter. I shoot Sony. I'm not a fanboy of anybody. Sony does the job and I applaud their vision and willingness to innovate so spectacularly. Everybody talks cliche-ish about Sony's innovation, but its the truth. When they came out with the QX-system a few years back, basically a bluetooth lens with a sensor that could be utilized with your phone... I knew those boys were , hungry and wanted to compete. Nobody asked for this. It was just an idea and they took it to market.

For years I've been knocking Canon for incremental improvements and riding on the power of market share and a failure to listen to that market. They let Sony do all the market testing and gauge public response to mirrorless tech. Now that its way more than obvious that mirrorless is indeed the future, The two major camera manufacturers want to get serious about the game. I confess, I do have a little bit less respect for that lack of vision. But also, their entry into the full-frame market is only just that... an entry. They still have a long way to go in developing their cameras and lens line-up. They still played it safe. Albeit Canon has Auto Focus tech that likely rivals anything out there, its revolutionary, but not a game-changer. AF is already pretty damn fast in many systems. How fast do you really need to be? How much of an incremental speed upgrade and thereby increase in effectiveness does it offer? In addition, the sensor on this new camera is not new. Its basically the a 5DM4 without the mirror. I will give them props for the LCD flip out, as opposed to Sony cameras that only tilt.

Art Model Melissa, ©2009 Terrell Neasley

Now, here's the kicker that was just reported today regarding another full-frame entry. I can absolutely respect the collab from Panasonic, Leica, and Sigma! Panasonic has been in the mirrorless market for years and steadily putting out great systems in the Micro Four-Thirds arena. The GH5s is one of the best systems out there for video. AND NOW...it was just announced they too are entering the full-frame market with TWO full-frame cameras. I can definitely get behind this. They actually come out of the gate with a new S1R and S1 system that can rival Sony systems and even possibly surpass them in video capabilities. Neither of Nikon's systems nor Canon's new cameras can come close to this.

I have been a fan of Fujfilm mirrorless for years who have made some of the most superb APS-C sensor cameras on the market. They have categorically jumped over the full-frame sector and dove headlong into Medium Format when they came out with the GFX-50s 50MP system about 2 years ago. Now they have double-downed on that commitment with announcement today of the affordable rangefinder style Medium Format GFX-50R 51.4MP system. AND...AND... Listen to this.... They ALSO announced the development of another (presently unnamed, but likely GFX 100"x") flagship Medium Format 100 megapixel system. Its not entirely "affordable" per se, but at the expected $10,000 price point is still a third and fifth of the cost of the Hasselblad or PhaseOne 100MP systems, respectfully. And with all those Photokina announcements, let me also add in Leica who is also putting out the Leica S3, a 64MP Medium Format system, expected to come in at about $20,000.

So, I'm all for Sony having some competition. All companies will get complacent if they don't have a reason to change, innovate, or otherwise better serve their customer base. I think it'll be at least 3 to 4 years before Canon or Nikon have matured into the full-frame world. Sony systems are now utilized in every aspect of photography when they came out with the a9 and a lens line-up for sports. I would guess Panasonic will make this transition is much less time, as they already have the mirrorless background and the advantage of Leica's current full-frame mounts.

Art Model Viki Vegas, ©2011 Terrell Neasley

21 September 2018

My Prediction Four Years Ago on Mirrorless Cameras vs the DSLR

***REPOST from 08 June 2014**

In light of the new Canon and Nikon mirrorless systems that have just came out, here is a repost that I talked about 4 years ago. I was definitely off on point number 4 with the Lytro systems. They didn't make it. While the number 2 point on "no shutters", electronic shutters come in these newer cameras now to increase frame rate and faster shutter speeds. So, I'm going to just drop it right here and talk about it tomorrow. 

What Will the Future Pro Camera (DSLR) Look Like?

Art Model Katherine and Hades, ©2008 Terrell Neasley
"Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything."
George Bernard Shaw

This is one of the debates that spawn rumors about the demise of the DSLR. Every since the Mirrorless systems have been on the market and gaining steam, the question has been on whether or not the DSLR will survive. But I pose a different question... WHY do we CARE??

I guess the people who care most about this question will be the DSLR loyalists who can't make the transition to something new. These will be the Canon or Nikon users who swear by their larger full frame systems and large fast glass. The DSLR has been around since the mid-1930's and has been successful since the '60's as the go-to system over the rangefinder. Its transition to digital in the early 90's has spawned an out of control evolution, dare I say REVOLUTION in the field of photography. But the main feature of the DSLR, which gives it its TTL benefits, is the MIRROR. The mirror sits in a mirror box and reflects the image the camera sees into a pentaprism that bounces the image up to be seen through the viewfinder. This mirror box accounts for the size of the DSLR, even though technology has allowed many of them to be smaller than the cameras they replace.

But here are a few things I think the pro camera will have in the next 6 years and the DSLR will go the way of the twin lens reflex. Sure it'll be around, but it will not be mainstream.

Art Model, Mary ©2006 Terrell Neasley
1. No Mirror Box
Well, I think this is first and most obvious. Current mirrorless systems are gaining ground fast. 3 things that kept DSLRs above the Mirrorless systems this same time last year were Speed WITH auto focus AND metering between shots, full frame resolution, and again with speed with respects to frames per second. Well, we now have full frame mirrorless systems with the Sony A7/A7R systems. The A7R boasts a sensor pretty much the same as what's in Nikon's 36MP D800E. In fact, Sony MAKES the sensor for the D800's. They are also gaining in frames per second since the Olympus OM-D EM-1 will shoot at 10fps, but the problem is that is can only do this at a locked AF and exposure. Trust me, somebody's gonna be promoting that feature within the year. By proving the mirror box as an antiquated system, I predict most cameras being sold in 6 years will not have one.

2. No Shutter
I think this too will disappear before long as tech improves. Cameras are quickly becoming computers that take pictures. Firmware updates come as about as frequently as ones for your desktop, (although not quite as much for iPhones). So how will we take pics? Simple...the sensor will soon easily turn on and off in blinding speeds and eliminate the restrictions of an 1/8000 shutter speed. You'll be able to get 1/128,000 shutter speed on your new pro camera and stop a bullet in flight as it is discharged from a firearm, provided you had enough light. But who's shooting above 1/8000th of a second shutter anyway? The main gig the faster shutter will be used for shall be frames per second. With a sensor that cuts on and off with blinding speed, you be looking at sports photographers who'll be able to shoot 100 frames a second. Yeah, media capacity will have to increase as well.

Anonymous Art Model, ©2006 Terrell Neasley
3. Video Capture will be much more common
Every single camera made these days will do 1080p video. Well, except for Nikon's Df. The Canon 70D has features more attuned and designed for video use even more than photo. Video quality will improve and in 6 years, pro-level cameras will likely shoot 6K video. It might just be easier to shoot video instead of attempting to capture that decisive moment photographically and then pulling a single hi-res image from the video file. But I still believe video is gaining in popularity. Therefore more people will want to learn video capture the same way people are flocking to cameras and photo. Technology has made it easier to capture, edit, and share images. Vids will be no different.

4. Lytro Tech in Mid-Level Systems and Above
If you hadn't at least heard of the Lytro system, you're wrong. Lytro uses revolutionary tech to allow post capture focus points. Basically, with shallow depth of field compositions, you can elect to change the point of focus and chose something in the foreground or change it something in the background AFTER you've already taken the shot and are editing it in your post work. I'll let you read up on it instead of getting into a bunch of details when all I want is a paragraph for this post. But suffice to say, the company just announce its latest version of its light field capture camera. But I have a feeling that a major manufacturer will buy the company out and integrate its tech into its own systems. [Just came across this article about an MIT team using this same technique for cell phones.] Nikon hasn't shown this type of innovation in recent years and Canon tries to play it to safe stay traditional. I see Sony picking up this company in the next few years and integrating it into their mirrorless systems. Watch and see what I tell you.

Art Model Viki Vegas ©2011 Terrell Neasley
5. More Wireless Options
Wireless options will be the norm for any new camera coming out in about 3 years. Pro level systems will be no different. It will be a standard feature, but they will do more. Your camera will essentially be a phone that takes pictures instead of making calls with a 4G, LTE, or whatever they may be calling it in a few years. Simply put, it will have its own IP address and be able to connect to internet at will with wireless speeds that will be able to transmit directly to the cloud no matter the file size. Wireless capabilities will, before long, reach speeds and capabilities that far outpace the camera files sizes and it will be seemingly instant. Cameras will likely still have high capacity media cards, SD or otherwise, but images will have the ability to download straight to a cloud storage source instead of just to your phone or tablet.

Art Model, Tiffany ©2008 Terrell Neasley
6. Cameras with Apps and Touch Screen Functions
Menus are being simplified big time. Sony and Fujifilm have camera controls that are becoming more similar to App controls and it will continue. The Leica T is probably leading the pack in this regard. Our Leica rep for B&C Camera came by to update us on some Leica training. He introduced us to the Leica T system that has just hit the shelves. There are FOUR buttons on this thing. Everything else is operated via touch screen and app functions. In fact, let me just say that this system is probably the prototype for the rest of its systems. Likely the M-series will be modeled after this same tech in a few years. Its been Samsung who has been the spearhead in this regard, though. They started it with the Galaxy point and shoot cameras which has not evolved into their NX systems. The NX-30 is, in all likelihood, the camera that will most likely meet all of my predictions if they don't falter or get knocked out by competition...again, I'm thinking Sony.

In any case, I don't see the DSLR being in the picture in its present form anyway. But back to my original question. Why do we care? Cameras and photography has been in a constant state of evolution. The DSLR replaced the Film-based SLR. They are still around, but less and less people are shooting with them and manufacturers aren't producing them any longer. Prior to the SLR, pro photogs used entirely different systems. This link depicts early sport photography cameras that weighed in at 120 pounds. The thing looks like a howitzer. But my point is that technology drives change and cameras cannot stay the same. So why do we care whether or not the DSLR will still be here in 6 years. The DSLR is a tool in order to do photography. IMHO, its the photography that matters. How its captured, doesn't concern me as much as long as its good quality per my standards and looks like what I imagined it to.

29 August 2018

Last Days in Central America

El Delfin Hotel and Restaurant. Salute!
Tomorrow, I leave Lake Atitlan (still in Guatemala) and head to Antigua (also still in Guatemala) for a few days. These will be my last few days in Central America for a while. To be cliche, it seems like only yesterday that I arrived in the region with my model, @Kayci.Lee in Nicaragua and explored a few countries with her in January before she left early Feb. Then, I thought I'd be in Xela for only a few months, but that turned out to be six months instead. I thought I'd head up through more of Central America and make my way down into Colombia. I chose however stay put in one spot, save some money, and fly to Colombia.

So in September, I fly to Cartagena, Colombia and start a new adventure in places I have never been. Never been to South America at all. I've been throughout Central America quite a few times. I started out in Panama (twice) in my Army days and then for the first time as a civilian for 6 weeks with my friend, Heather in 2012. I came back in 2013 for 3 months alone and then again for 3 months with my girlfriend, Tracie in 2015.  This makes my 4th civilian visit here and also by far the longest I've traveled alone. No girlfriend. No model. Just solo. Eight months and its still taking a bit to get used to that.

Many thanks to my new friend, hotel and restaurant owner, Delfin (left) who took me up the mountain for sunrise pics.

So now it's off to new places. I don't expect Colombia to be terribly different from Central America, but I know it's not the same. Culturally and climate-wise, I can only assume similarities but I've been told many things about Colombia and its beauty, so I'm excited. Even today, in a barber shop, eyes widened as I corrected some assumptions that I was headed back to the states with this being my last day here in Lake Atitlan. Stories in English and Spanish poured out in abundance at the mention of Colombia. Once guy was disheartened when I confessed that I would not see the more southwestern city of Cali on this trip. My travels will keep me more northern this time around. I won't likely get further west than Bogota. From there, it's onto boating up the Amazon River in Brazil, up through Peru, and into Ecuador.

I think I have most everything I need going forward. Most importantly having a laptop I can finally edit on was chief concern. I left my macro lens back home in Texas. If I need macro work, I can use my 55mm with the extension tubes. I'll have to wait til this December for the Sigma 20mm 1.4 for Sony cameras. It finally became available right as I left stateside because, of course it would. An option could be to replace my Sony 16-35 f/4 with that and travel only with the Sony 55mm 1.8 and the Sigma 20mm 1.4. Yes, I know I forfeit anything telephoto, but you can't bring everything when you have to carry it all on your back. I can't say I'm still sold on the drone option, but I'll likely pursue it anyway. Again, weight is of primary concern. The drones are lightweight, until you consider everything else you need with it like spare batteries, spare parts, etc. Then  combine that with all the other "spare" stuff you already have for all your other systems. Traveling as a photog gets heavy real quick.

Lake City of San Pedro la Laguna sitting at the base of the San Pedro Volcano

For now, I have been here in San Pedro, Lake Atitlan for the last 10 days and I have to get some packing done. Tomorrow afternoon, I should be in the old colonial town of Antigua. All eyes are on Colombia at this point. In the next blog post, I think I shall touch on the new Nikon Z-systems and my feelings on them and Canon picking up the mirrorless banner.

Central Park, San Pedro la Laguna Lake Atitlan