31 March 2021

Recalling My Trip to Argentina: Adventures in Ushuaia 2019


Back in January, I said I would revisit and share some more of my experiences in Argentina with you guys. I didn't talk about this part of my trip much, but I had 3 main hardships to contend with while I was there. However, I want you to understand that the bulk of my experiences were positive and my overall impression about Ushuaia is that I must do this again!

I spent two months in Argentina, October and November of 2019, flying there from Peru. Only 3 days were spent in Buenos Aires, after which I flew down to Ushuaia at the southern most tip of Argentina, in the region most commonly referred to as Patagonia. 

Though I had initially tried to avoid it, I arrived just before a late season snowstorm blanketed the area. I stayed in a bed and breakfast owned by my new friend, Javier. His place is located on the outskirts of town in the woods at the foot of the mountain. Beautiful place! It was a unique experience to boots deep in snow one day and then to have spring pop out as if it was spring-loaded the next week. One week, it's all white and the next week was luscious green. 

Problem 1- Currency Exchange Rate and ATM fees

As soon as I got to Ushuaia, I became rudely aware of one major thing. I'll put it this way. I went to an ATM in Buenos Aires to withdraw $260 in Argentine Pesos. The exchange rate and fee was so outrageous, I was certain I had just did the math wrong in my head. I accepted the fact that it might be expensive, BUT, I had to get the money. Peru was charging me $7 at the ATM for each transaction. Surely, this could not be as bad as that. 

I was wrong. Sooo WRONG! To get $260 out of the ATM, it cost me $50! I realized this the next day when I checked my bank account. Crazy!! I knew I had a problem on my hands, but then again... this is Argentina. I'll just use my card.

Problem 2 - Bank Account Hack

Upon arriving in Ushuaia, I saw 2 charges on my account for about $800. Damn. Okay. I called the bank and let them know. Instead of shutting down just the one account, they shut them all down. They apologized afterwards and got me fixed back up again. The problem came when they tried to send me new cards. It took THREE weeks. WHY? Mainly due to some misunderstandings in customs. The shipping fees should have been covered, but I never got any notices that my envelop packages with my cards were being held for the sake of $1. When I never arrived, the envelops got returned to the sender. At the end of October, my situation was finally resolved and I got my cards. 

Problem 3 - Severe Knee Injury

The Vinciguerra Glacier is a beautiful hike. I had never been on a glacier before. A few days earlier, I had taken a boat tour that dropped us off at a Harberton Ranch about 40 miles to the east. We toured the property, explored a trail, and visited the Acatushun Marine Museum showcasing several whale skeletons and that of other marine life in the area.

I've had two surgeries on my left knee from a military injury and I've been told I will eventually need a replacement. I was told to take it easy. Maybe the YOLO in me kicked in and I couldn't help myself. My knee held up fine, although much of this was easy walking, no heavy packs, and gentle slopes. This was not the case for Vinciguerra. We're talking only 700 meters of elevation, but it's STEEP! I hiked this as the temps were rising. The snow melt made the way up pretty darn muddy and quite taxing. I was a champ on the flat ground. Once we started the ascent, I was a lame billy goat ready to be put to pasture. 

Nonetheless, I was determined to make it... and that cost me. I was so weak on the way back down, there was one point near the top I had to descend on steep rocky scree. I asked God for his assistance, let everyone else go ahead of me, made my peace with my life and did my best. Oh, I forgot to mention there was a sheer cliff to my immediate left. One slip and it'd be over. All that concentration for each step to make deliberate controlled motions was also mentally taxing. My knee screamed with each step, but I had to eventually give in and just do it. 

Thank God it gave out on me when we were on the flat land near the vans and not at the top near the glacier. It just gave out without warning and without any pain. It just quit. At this point, I'm pretty sure I am done with my Around the World adventure. I had already booked a flight home for Thanksgiving. I was pretty sure I'd be staying put for the next few years to come. However, after just staying off of it, I regained some strength. I was home for the holidays and then came to Vietnam early February. I spent one month doing absolutely nothing. No tours. No walks around town. Nothing. And then Covid happened and I got even more time to chill and rest my knee. 

On a brighter note, I got to explore Tierra del Fuego National Park. The trails were beautiful! I'm pretty sure it's impossible to have air cleaner than what I experienced in this part of the world. All over the place, on anything that isn't moving, you'll see the growth of lichen. This lichen can only grow in the purest air environments. 

I spoke to a local university photography class! These guys were prepared! They had already seen my website and I was there to talk for 3 hours about my photography and give a them a foreigner's perspective on cameras, technique, and photographic art. I was unprepared. I thought I was going there for a totally different purpose. When I entered and saw the room full of students, I apologized for interrupting before I realized all those students were there for me. My next surprise was that half my time would be answering questions about my macro vulva art. They were not malicious or mean, and no one maligned me for my art. They asked questions! They wanted to know "why", what influence did I feel it had on women, and even tougher... how it reconciled with my faith (because they read my bio). I spent 90 minutes talking about vaginas to photo art students. THAT was a first. 

Javier taught me so much about Ushuaia. I saw a lot of white people that I thought were European tourists. Nope. They spoke Spanish! 3000 Italians immigrated to the other side of the mountains into Ushuaia on two boats and settled that area late 1940's. But while that is part of the history, 60% of all Argentinians nationwide also have Italian ancestry. I was privileged to have dinner with a film crew that was doing a documentary on the last living inhabitants that arrived there on the ships. 

Two other things I learned about is first, how bad the North American beaver population has exploded there and wrecking havoc over the entire region. Beavers are not native to this area and they have no natural predators to keep their population in check. They were brought in in the mid 1940's hoping to profit from fur trapping. That didn't happen. These bad boys are devastating Tiera del Fuego. Not only do they fell trees to eat the leaves and build dams, but they also kill of trees and vegetation by flooding huge areas with their dams. 

I also got a chance to try Mate, "...a is a traditional South American caffeine-rich infused drink. It is made by soaking dried leaves of the holly species Ilex paraguariensis in hot water and is served with a metal straw in a container typically made from a calabash gourd." - wikipedia. I liked that it was something I could drink that did make me want to put sugar in it. I didn't feel the need to. I'm a country boy from Texas. Our tea is cold, iced, and sweeter than raw honey. 

I hope to return to Ushuaia and also see more of Argentina. 

27 February 2021

FIVE Things You Probably Didn't Know About Hanoi

This post should probably be titled, "Five Things *I* Didn't Know About Hanoi". I have been here exactly one year as of this month. In this time, I have come to have a deep appreciation for this country, it's culture, and it's people. I have been exposed to so many different traditions and ideas, but I decided to do a post about 5 particular things I found to be quite astonishing about this city in Vietnam.

So here are FIVE things I found out after arriving:

1. Colombia isn't the only Coffee Mecca. Yep, Vietnam, too!

Okay, this one is more about Vietnam as a country than Hanoi, but it was still a huge shocker to me to learn this. Brazil is actually, the biggest exporter of coffee, but most everyone is familiar with Colombian coffee. No. 2 behind Brazil is, you guessed it... VIETNAM! Check out this article on it... => History of Vietnamese Coffee. I have NOT tried Egg Coffee just yet, and I still drink hella Americano. That's primarily because I still prefer larger quantities of coffee than just a swallow in a shot glass.

A little fancy maybe... photo by Fiammetta Mancini

2. Long Bien Bridge was built by the same company that made the Eiffel Tower.

It is a common misconception that Gustave Eiffel designed the bridge, but this is not true. The same company... yes. Daydé & Pillé of Paris designed and built it, but Eiffel was not involved. Long Bien bridge opened in 1902 at almost 2300 meters long after about 3 years of construction. It spans the Red River and was bombed 14 different times during the war. It is no longer used for automobile traffic today. Only trains, bikes, and pedestrians cross this bridge now. 

3. John McCain has a memorial next to the lake he fell into after being shot down.

This one was sort of huge for me. I had just visit the War Museum a day or two before visiting the McCain Memorial. As an Army Veteran, I grew up trained by Vietnam war vets. When I enlisted, I was issued the same gear they used in Vietnam. I saw the PRC-77 radio I used in that museum, along with the same M113 armored personnel carriers I drove. My jungle boots were in a display case there. It was eerie. 

I visited there with my British friend Richard and his Vietnamese girlfriend, Trang. After leaving the museum, he told me about the John McCain Memorial site. I passed by it at least once a week and never knew it was there. It was nearby and I visited it the next day. I wasn't sure how to think of it. The late Senator and former POW returned to Vietnam several times in his effort to strengthen Vietnam/US relations. In 2009 he visited the memorial. To me, the statue depicts a defeated, kneeling figure. I saw it as more celebratory that he was caught than honoring the improved relations, but I could be wrong in that. 

4. The Lotus Flower is not just for decoration!

The aquatic pink lotus flower is the national flower of Vietnam, but it is more than something pretty to gaze upon. I had no idea, but it is also an edible plant. The flower, the stem, the seeds, and the roots have all been part of a cuisine or recipe ingredient. A lady on a plane gave me a seed pod and I ate the seeds incorrectly at first. I didn't peel off the green casing around the seed. I had downed about 5 of them before she corrected me. But after getting down to the actual white nut underneath, it was quite good. I haven't had lotus flower any other way beyond that, however. 

5. The Coronavirus has been checked better than most any other country in the world!

Make no mistake. Vietnam has been on top of this Covid situation since DAY 1. From the very first infected citizen, they took measures to protect it's densely packed 100 million population. Aggressive quarantine and contact tracing has kept case and death numbers down better than almost anywhere else in the world. A new wave recently brought us to just over 2400 cases. Not 24 Thousand... 24 HUNDRED. There have been a total of 35 deaths that all occurred during the second wave back in July/August 2020. The preventative measures have been exemplary. The country remains on a new entry visa lockdown, but we are free to travel within the country. International flights have been allowed in under the most strict circumstances... none of which is for tourism. 

In Late March 2020, I came up as a possible exposure contact (F2) and had to quarantine. Fortunately, I had great accommodations, food, and a hotel staff that treated me respectfully.

Quarantine breakfast

Quarantine room at Halais Hotel in Hanoi

23 January 2021

Three Years in the Making and New Priorities


Vincinguerra Glacier hike, Ushuaia, Argentina November 2019

You can never ever... like EVER really know how things are going to conclusively work out. Try as you might, the world around you could give two cents about you and your "plans". Eighteen months is what I had imagined this trip taking me. All I wanted to do was tour Central and South America. But the question popped into my head... why stop there, at the end of Argentina? I had no good answer, but more than a hundred reasons to keep going. But you've probably heard this story. So instead of looking back, this time... let's look ahead!

In my last blog post, I asked the question, "What Are You Going to Do Now?", given the nature of all the changes that... essentially, the world... has been subjected to. It's a valid question! Some of you already know. You've adapted already or your current situation is built/designed already to handle these hectic times. If your business or job was predicated on working from home, count your blessings. If your business is 100% travel related, you'd better do something. 

Vincinguerra Glacier hike, Ushuaia, Argentina November 2019

As we move forward, we hear terms like "the new normal", suggesting that life as we know it has died and will forever be relegated to talk in the taverns of how we USED to do things. Sort of how we maybe discuss today of life before the internet, emails, and iPhones. Personally, I do think things will return to pre-2020, just as life did after the last severe global pandemic in 1918. It may take all of 2021 or even into next year before we see Covid-19 as a thing of the past. We'll learn from it. New regulations and oversight will emerge on how we travel. Those are the things we'll have to get used to. Just like 9/11, we got used to taking our shoes and belts off for airport security. We expect to do that now, but we still travel.

But we have to make it to that point of "normality" again. (Side note: I hate that word.) And that brings me back to that last post question. What are you going to do now? Looking ahead, I can say that I am grateful to be where I am. It wasn't by design, I can assure you. I don't take credit for riding out this pandemic in Vietnam, one of the safest places to be in the world. I'm here and it helps being in a place where living expenditures are a quarter of that in the US. I know what you're saying. My mission is to backpack around the world! I get that. Reread the opening paragraph. CHANGE! Priority number one for me is to make my opportunities here. I'm looking into endeavors that will allow me to stay a couple years here. Yuuup... YEARS. Plural. 

I can't see "normalcy" in 2021. And I don't like the idea of basing my life on waiting for it. So I will make my opportunities, seek my happiness, and do what I think is right for me based out of where I am, right here in Hanoi, Vietnam. Hanoi has a sort of hold on me. When I thought about leaving, something seemed to always snatch me back. I'm not talking about fear of the unknown. No, I've returned for practical reasons. The people, the places, the city itself. I'm gradually understanding it. Ergo, I may as well get comfortable, stable, and start finding my opportunities here. 

Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, built in 1920

I was all set to begin launching Wide World Terrell, a new content platform that would concentrate more on travel and ACCENTED with photography. It's still in development, but I'm holding on to it right now. Wide World is suspended until further notice and it's just going to be Wide Hanoi or Wide Vietnam, at most. Maybe I will introduce you to a black man's musings in the most promising locales in Southeast Asia. The important part for me right now, is that I'm committed to being here, as opposed to moving anywhere else. 

Next on agenda is getting my body right. I did not blog between November 20, 2019 and January 20, 2020. I did not cover any of my time in Argentina. Apologies. I spent the majority of October and November in Ushuaia, Argentina. I had a beautiful experience there and got some great photos. I'm going to talk about it more in the next or a future blog post. However, one particular event almost changed the course of all my travel plans. Towards the end of my trip, I chose to hike the Vinciguerra Glacier, right there on the outskirts, north of Ushuaia. I took a chance. Got some great shots, THOROUGHLY enjoyed the experience! BUT... man I ripped up my knee on the way down.

I am not really sure how much I've talked about my military injuries on this blog. Usually, I don't want to bring up those kind of personal hardships, but I think I will in the future. Maybe they can be helpful to someone. But I went home to the US for the holidays, not knowing if I would leave again anytime soon, have to get surgery, or what. I had moved from the VA hospital in Nevada to the one in Texas and getting set up in a new spot was not anything that was going to happen quick. 

Snow storm in Ushuaia, a few days after arrival. No Black and White conversion here. 

Instead, I found that I was able to walk around casually and decided that I would take a chance to travel. My strategy was to just be careful and see how I could heal on my own. Maybe come back in two years to repair it. Yeah... then Covid came. I was good for a while, but dagnabit... things changed about two months ago, where I began having problems again. So I have to make some lifestyle changes. I sort of need this knee! So I'm going to do some conditioning on my own, first. And then as I get stabilized in Vietnam, I'm going to seek care outside the VA and get medical advice here. 

So that's the plan. Get comfortable in Vietnam. Generate new opportunities. Get healthy! I'll talk about Argentina maybe next time, but meanwhile, enjoy the pics. 

11 January 2021

What Are You Going to Do Now?

My Excellent Panda, Copyright 2013 Terrell Neasley

 “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” 
– Nelson Mandela

With respect to photography... Nudes, Travel, and Change seem to be ongoing themes in my blog posts. Nudes and travel are what this blog are all about. However, the element of change works it's way in there like mortar between bricks. Change is what makes the Nude and Travel bricks in photography either stronger or weaker. Right now, I don't get to shoot nudes that much. The change in the travel industry has lessened my ability to travel. But it may be something different for you if you shoot wildlife or sports, for instance. Regardless of the genre, change will help you grow in your chosen field or it will make you quit it.

Change is not all bad. We dislike it because it robs us of options and choices. It takes away the comfortable and familiar and replaces it with "different". It can be inconvenient or it can be insurmountable and thus forces us to adjust or choose to do something else. Regardless, we are left with something unfamiliar to what we are accustomed to and no longer have the ease of routine and familiarity that we used to.

Twenty Twenty-One is upon us and brings with it Winds of Change more than any other year since any of us have been alive. Americans will soon have a new resident of the White House and if the recent course of events tell us anything, challenges indeed lay ahead. There is a vaccine for Covid-19 now, but travel still remains an interrupted and unpredictable affair. Therefore, the question I am asking is, what are you going to do now?

My Excellent Panda, Copyright 2013 Terrell Neasley

I'm not just asking rhetorically. I'm interested in knowing YOUR plans. Maybe you can impart some wisdom to me. As for me? Umm... well, I wanna continue to remain in Vietnam and work on some personal development. Taking lots of pics goes without saying. I still need to find my epic shot here. But yeah, hopefully I can get some stability. I'd like to remain for another two years and really search this place out in more depth both photographically and understanding the culture. If I get residency, I'll take some classes to learn Vietnamese. 

How do you carry on with your photographic career? Will you find something else to do for a while? Has this pandemic affected your ability to shoot, (whether you earn a living at it or not)? I know I have lots to figure out. Photo sales for me have been non-existent for a year almost. I read a recent blog post of another travel blogger whose entire income is derived from booking his guided travel tours. There are none for him right now. So what happens if the travel industry doesn't pick up this year? I wonder. He's not the only one in this predicament. How does the industry shift to something more survivable? Or hold out until it is better? 

My Excellent Panda, Copyright 2013 Terrell Neasley

It's my hope that none of us put down the camera. I pray we keep shooting. Make money at it or not, I don't think we can afford to forget the pure joy of photography. Maybe we are not selling or printing much. Maybe we aren't getting the gigs. But I think there are still things to do. I got a cousin who's on a rampage right now in Texas as she's BUILDING and becoming stronger in her photo game. That tells me there are still opportunities. But don't go flooding Texas. Be worth your salt and find those opportunities where you are. Money or no. 

Now is definitely a good time to advance your skills. Take online courses. Improve your lighting ability. If there is ONE area of photography that I KNOW people consistently neglect, it is LIGHTING! Don't give me that natural light shooter BS. I've been around long enough to know most people fear flash or think it's too complicated and expensive. EVEN if that were the case, I've still seen people misuse natural lighting. Sometimes they don't take advantage of using it at the right time or they don't know how to block or bounce light with flags or reflectors. Natural light shooters should know a little something about light direction, intensity, and color. Is the light hard or soft? How can you use shadows? Are the highlights too strong? See, it's more than just cameras and lenses and shooting while the sun is up.

There's lots to learn for everyone. I still feel so dumb about a lot of things. I hope 2021 brings a new hope for all of us. 

My Excellent Panda, Copyright 2013 Terrell Neasley