Abundance of Prayer Flags

Abundance of Prayer Flags

Traditional prayer flags are rectangular cloth squares comprised of five different colors (blue, white, red, green and yellow). They are often found along ridges and peaks (windy areas) high in the Himalayas and believed to have originated with Bhuddism, although some theories suggest they originated earlier.

Hanging prayer flags in elevated and windy places, will allow Mother Nature to slowly break down the flag, and carry the blessings of peace, compassion, strength and wisdom into the wind.

While traveling through Bhutan, my wife and I saw prayer flags everywhere. At one point in our travels, we made our way high atop the town of Paro, and could only see prayer flags seemingly as far as the eye could see. As the wind whipped across the mountain town, the constant sound of the flags flapping in the wind was as therapeutic as it was amusing.

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Posted in Travel Tagged , |

Navy Pier and the Chicago Skyline

Navy Pier and the Chicago Skyline

Late last year I went up in a helicopter to shoot some images of Chicago. My main goal for this session was to go up and get some shots of the city looking back from out over Lake Michigan.

I took a fairly early morning spin in the helicopter to have the sun on the correct side of the buildings I wanted to shoot. (I wanted the sun to be behind me, shining over my shoulder as I shot the majority of the images.) It was a chilly early-autumn day, so I hung out the side of the helicopter shooting away, while my pilot was bundled up in a sweatshirt zipping us over the long stretch of Chicago shoreline.

Later this year I’ll be going up again, but this time focusing more on the actual city and the view from above, rather the view from a quarter mile out over the water. I am constantly amazed and how much the look of a city can change from a few stories up or down, or a few blocks over in either direction.

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Posted in Scenic Tagged , |

Eating Elephant

Eating Elephant

There were so many parts of our South African safari that was, one way or another, on my bucket list; experiencing another culture, hearing the noises in the middle of the night, getting up close to animals, going to Africa, et cetera. One thing on the list, which I didn’t realize was on my bucket list until in occurred, was landing an airplane on a gravel airstrip.

No, I did not physically land the plane, however, as we came out of the clouds in our small, eight-seater airplane, I looked down through the window and saw our runway in the distance. As we got closer and closer to the place where we would be landing, I remember thinking “Why does that runway look different?”

There was something odd about the runway we were rapidly approaching. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it, but it looked a little more “rough” then most runways I’ve landed on.

Sure enough, as we were a few hundred yards from touching down, my brain processed that we were about to touch down on a gravel airstrip. I scrambled for my iPhone so I could record a video of us touching down.

It. Was. So. Loud.

Just driving on a gravel road can be deafening, but landing a plane on one seemed overwhelmingly loud. Additionally, being in an airplane, I felt like every one of the rocks “pinging” off of the wing was a little more terrifying than the rocks “pinging” off of my car’s fender.

In the end, it was a much smoother ride than I ever expected, but at the same time, it was so much louder than I ever thought it would be.

Obviously everything worked out and our plane landed and took off without issue. The whole thing took place after we left our safari, on our way back to civilization. Before leaving the wild animals that make a safari so incredible, we had spent time with the elephant above, as he enjoyed a mouthful of grass near Kruger National Park in South Africa.

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Ahu Tahai Sunset

Ahu Tahai Sunset

On a few of the days my wife and I spent on Easter Island, we woke up in the morning and jogged from where we were staying, along the ocean, and over to Ahu  Tahai. It was exactly two miles round trip. (I’d probably go running every day if I had a route like that, but alas, in my Chicago neighborhood, there is no ocean, nor a centuries-old historical artifact to run to.

Before getting ready to head to the airport, my wife and I decided to go on one last run, to really get the blood flowing before the 22-hour journey home on an airplane. One of the few times we decided not to bring any cameras (point-and-shoot, fancy DSLRs, cell phones, etc.), we started our shoreline run to Ahu Tahai under sunny skies. As we approached the moai, a looming cloud came in and large drops of rain began falling down on us.

As quickly as the rains came, they then disappeared out over the ocean. Perfectly positioned behind the moai was probably the most crisp and beautiful rainbow my wife or I have ever seen. I turned to her, she turned to me, and we both looked down at our empty hands. No camera.

Oftentimes our favorite memories from our travels cannot be documented with a camera. Be it an exchange at a small farmers’ market, or an interaction with locals. Also included in that is sometimes I want to enjoy the moment, so I don’t raise my camera and fire off some frames.

Besides, in the end, it was more fun to think of Easter Island saying its own special goodbye to just us, because we didn’t bring any cameras.

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Hot Summer Fun With a Hydrant

Hot Summer Fun With a Hydrant

Last week it was blazing hot in Chicago as temperatures were in the mid-to-upper 90s. After the heat finally broke late in the week, it was rather enjoyable to be outside. (As I write this, I’m sitting in the backyard enjoying a cocktail.)

During all of this, I completely forgot about the sequence of images from last year’s scorching temperatures.

On the first day of the summer that Chicago broke one hundred degrees, I jumped in the car and went in search of kids playing in an open fire hydrant. Technically it’s not only frowned upon, but illegal, to open up a hydrant, so I had wasn’t sure I would find what I was looking for. Luckily, I had a fairly good hunch of where to go, as several years earlier I had watched kids play in a hydrant under similar circumstances. My hunch paid off as I was only three blocks off from my “educated guess.”

There was about six or seven kids and I hung out with them for about an hour, as water gushed from the hydrant into the street. It was so hot, and looked so refreshing, I gladly wandered through the water a few times myself. As we stood with the open hydrant, a few neighbors came by to wash their cars with buckets of soapy water, while others just drove through with their cars, turned around, and drove back through soaking the other side of their vehicles.

It was a nice, cool way to spend an hour on an obscenely hot day, and no one really cared if it was against the law or not.

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Looking on at the Lennon Wall

Looking on at the Lennon WallNot far from the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic, stands the Lennon Wall. The Lennon Wall is officially owned by the Knights of Malta, but in December of 1980, after John Lennon’s death, graffiti popped up on the wall with poems and other inspiration.

After seeing the graffiti continue to grow, Prague officials repainted the wall. By the next morning, it was like they never painted it, as graffiti once again covered the wall from top to bottom.

After a couple of decades, the wall is a pilgrimage for many who come to Prague. It is a tourist destination in its own right, and since trees line the street in front of the wall, standing in the shade and slowly reading the wall is a perfect activity to do on a hot Summer day.

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Gold Coast Sunrise

Gold Coast Sunrise

I originally posted this image last week, but never wrote anything about it, nor did I share it on Facebook, Twitter or all of those other fancy places. I, apparently, had a bit of a writer’s block.

A few years back I shot this image of an early morning in Chicago, Illinois. As clear as it was that day, I moved on to take a few pictures farther into town. I needed to sun to get a little higher in the sky, so I had breakfast to kill time. While at breakfast, the clouds rolled in and the picture I was waiting for was no longer.

This picture, however, was taken before the monster clouds rolled in. It’s Chicago, Illinois‘ Gold Coast skyline, viewed from North Avenue’s Beach.

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Down The Stretch They Come

Down The Stretch They Come

Traveling to other cultures and bringing home new knowledge and experiences is always one of the highlights of travel. It is interesting to me, then, when and how some of those experiences come back to you.

A few years back, for my thirtieth birthday, some friends and I traveled across the pond to partake in one of the world’s greatest festivals; the annual Festival de San Fermin — better known as the Running of the Bulls. It was the craziest party I have ever been to and a fantastic way to welcome in another decade of living life. The drink of choice, at the Festival de San Fermin, was a calimocho.

Officially, calimocho is a mix of soft drink (like Coca-Cola or Pepsi) and red wine. In most cases it is equal parts wine with soda. So while in Pamplona, we went to a street fair and the drink stand had cola on tap, and also red wine on tap. When we ordered a calimocho, the woman grabbed a giant, clear plastic cup and placed it under the two taps, then with one hand pulled them both towards her, letting the two beverages pour into the cup.

So fast forward several years later and I’m at a local pub with a few friends. At this point in the night we’re several rounds in and all in cocktail mode. The server comes up to us and says there was a mix-up with the drinks, and they have an extra glass of red wine, if anyone wants it.

A hush fell across the table, as no one (smartly, probably) wanted to shift from booze to wine. Then I remembered calimochos. I said, “Sure, I’ll take it. But can you also bring me a half a glass of soda?” The look on her face was a quick, “Huh?” but she set down the wine and walked away. Moments later she returned with a glass of soda and said something like, “I can’t wait to see what happens next.”

When I poured the red wine into the half-full pint glass of soda, I received a number of confused looks from my friends seated at the table, as well. Suddenly the waitress exclaimed, “Calimochos! That’s right!”

I didn’t go to Pamplona, Spain to learn about mixology, nor did I go to physically run with the bulls. I went to learn about one of the world’s greatest celebrations, and all that comes with it. The calimochos are a good example of something I’d never have thought about had I ever been to the Festival de San Fermin.

Now, all of that being said, I’m guessing none of the revelers pictured above are thinking about calimochos at this particular moment in time.

Well, depending on how late they stayed out the night before, maybe their regret for calimochos is fresh on their mind.

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Patriotic Kayaker

Patriotic Kayaker

Happy Independence Day, America!

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Posted in Scenic Tagged , |

Street Scene of Delhi, India

Street Scene of Delhi, India

While traveling through India (including Delhi, pictured above), I was terrified to pull out my camera.

Terrified.

Everything I read prior to our trip went on and on about crime — particularly against tourists. I love my camera and didn’t want to be forcibly parted with it. So I give my wife a lot of credit for me finally convincing me to get the camera out.

We were in a busy, busy street scene in India (much busier than that pictured above), and she was shooting away with her camera. She looked at me and said something to the effect of “Really? You’re not taking any pictures?” Sheepishly, I pulled my camera out of my bag and I don’t think I put it back for the rest of the trip.

The people of India were, for the most part, fantastic. Sure, there were those peddling the “(anything but) free maps,” and at the train station a few men deliberately tried to send us in the totally wrong direction to buy tickets, but everything else was fantastic.

Yes, I received the occasional “wave off” from people who didn’t want their picture taken, but for the most part, people couldn’t have been nicer.

I’m glad I finally got my camera out.

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Posted in Travel Tagged , |

Strawberries

I love this time of year when strawberries and everything else start to take shape in the backyard. Our garden is coming along nicely, so hopefully we’ll also be enjoying some tomatoes before too long.

That being said, these are a bunch of strawberries from the farmers market. After washing them in the colander, I thought, “Damn, that’s pretty right there.”

And tasty.

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Posted in Lifestyle Tagged |

Traveling Moai at Ahu Togariki

My wife and I just returned from a week-long adventure to Easter Island.

Isla de Pascua, as the locals seem to refer to it, is located about 2,200 miles (3,540km) off the coast of Chile. It is the most isolated inhabited areas in the world. Well, sort of.

Apparently there is a small island, Tristan da Cunha, in the South Atlantic, nearly halfway in between South America and Africa. It’s closest neighbor, Saint Helena, is 1,509 miles (2,340km) away. The debate comes in because only 250 miles (400km) from Tristan da Canha is an island called Gough.

Gough houses six meteorologists from South Africa doing Antarctic Research. Since they don’t actually live on the island, but there are always six meteorologists, that’s where things get messy.

Some say “Since they don’t live there, it doesn’t count.” Others proclaim “There are always six. It does count.” The argument is a tough one, specifically for both islands.

Either way, Easter Island was one of the longest “travel days” we’ve ever had to endure to reach it — 22 hours — but, it was well worth it. The people are friendly, the weather is fantastic, and the history was awesome.

I’ll post more pictures as I get through them in the next few days, but in the meantime, here is an image of the “Traveling Moai” standing watch over Ahu Togariki on Easter Island.

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Posted in Scenic Tagged , |

Setting Sun In Curno, Italy

While I was in Curno, Italy visiting family I only took a few photos, but I really, really like those few I took.

My cousin’s girlfriend was cooking up a fantastic storm while the sun was dropping low into the sky. I wandered out to the balcony and shot a few images of the sunset framed against the foothills of the Alps. I never saw the cross in the bottom of the image, until I got home and imported the photos into my computer.

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Posted in Travel Tagged , |

Sunset at St. Joseph Pier

On my list of things to do for quite some time was head over to Michigan to shoot some images of the lighthouses of their Western shore. I didn’t have any other real reason for wanting to do it except, “Why not?”

So, last week I made my way along I-94 from Chicago and aimed for St. Joseph, Michigan to shoot the North Pier Lighthouse. Having never been there, and only seeing a handful of other images, I wasn’t really sure what I’d stumble upon. (Most lighthouse pictures only shoot away from shore.)

Arriving in Benton Harbor, I realized I was on the opposite side of the river from where I wanted to be. After paying the $8.00 for parking, I drove around to the other side of the river and defiantly marched from my car to the shore — avoiding the $5.00 fee for parking in that town.

Several years ago, a co-worker and I were discussing our “hidden gifts.” All of us had them. His was getting a parking spot DIRECTLY in front of where he needed to be. This discussion took place in Washington D.C., and he had driven around to all of the major sights and scored a fine spot on the street in front each monument. My “hidden gift?” I’ll travel to the other side of the world and show up to find scaffolding. (One of my favorite images from Cambodia is of the sun rising behind Angkor Wat. The reason the temple is silhouetted, is you’d see nothing but scaffolding in front of the icon.)

I felt my trip to Michigan was falling into the same category. As I arrived, I found two massive barges anchored a few yards from the lighthouse, apparently dredging the river.

I know the dredging needs to be done, but damn, after driving a couple of hours to shoot the sun setting behind the lighthouse, it would have been nice to know the barges would be there.

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Posted in Scenic Tagged , |

Wolf Point

This is Wolf Point, in Chicago.

It’s where the North and South Branches of the Chicago River meet up to form the Main Branch. It’s also where Chicago‘s first three taverns were built, the city’s first hotel, and the city’s first church. The city’s first ferry to cross the river was here, later replaced by the city’s first bridge. So there is a little bit of history here.

Now, the famous Merchandise Mart sits across from Wacker Drive. There are still a few taverns and churches in the immediate area, but no ferries.

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Posted in Scenic Tagged , |

Chicago Skyline from Montrose Harbor

Recently, the Chicago Sun-Times announced they were letting every one of their staff photographers go. The next day, the newspaper held a mandatory meeting with their reporters, handed them iPhones, then taught them Photography 101. The idea is? why hire photographers when we can make the reporters shoot the pictures to cover the stories?

While the idea of a newspaper launching their photographers is unsettling enough, I have a few questions that keep coming into my mind about it. The first is, “Wait. What?”

After going through a few more questions, a couple of others worth noting are:

“Are the reporters going to be paid more to take pictures?” Their job classifications have now changed, and with the newspaper saving all that money by not hiring photographers, surely they will reward better photography by those who now have to do it.

“What about the Associated Press (AP), Reuters, etc.?” This past weekend I was at the Chicago Blackhawks game at the United Center. The place was swarming with various photographers, ranging from the Blackhawks’ own photographer to a number of “wire service” guys (like AP and Reuters). Now, it is my understanding that nearly all newspapers contribute to the Associated Press (for example), and also use the Associated Press’ images. So in the case of the hockey game, was the Sun-Times just going to use AP images instead of using their own photographers? And if that’s the case, at what point will the AP step up and say “Um, wait. You can no longer keep taking our high-quality images and contributing back “meh-quality” iPhone images.”

Since this has been a fairly new development, it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. Chicago‘s other daily newspaper, the Tribune, has been gleefully and mercilessly reporting on the situation. It frightens me a little bit to think that, while the Tribune is happily reporting how bad this is, that some management-guy in some office in their building is also watching it  getting inspired to do the same, depending on how it plays out.

Obviously, none of this has to do with the image above, but I wanted to write about this anyway.

The image above is of the skyline of Chicago, Illinois just after sunset, viewed from Montrose Harbor.

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Posted in Scenic Tagged , |

Buckingham Fountain at Dusk

One of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, the Clarence F. Buckingham Memorial Fountain in ChicagoIllinois was completed in 1927. From that time through 1980 the water was manually operated by two engineers located on site working 12-hour shifts. A computer system was eventually brought in to automate the water flow, but the fountain still operates it’s every-hour-on-the-hour twenty minute sound and light show while the fountain is in operation (8am through 11pm daily, weather permitting).

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Boat, Tower Bridge and Olympic Rings

Several years ago I found a great couple of lines in a magazine and promptly tore it out to forever hang on my bulletin board: “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. Travel is like an investment in yourself. It transforms you and makes you more interesting, more fun, more understanding.

Damn right.

Last week, my wife and I booked flights for Easter Island. I’m particularly excited about Easter Island because it is the first time I can remember learning about some far away land. (Far away, indeed. Easter Island is 2,182 miles (3,512km) off the coast of Chile. From Chicago it is 19-hours of fight time, excluding any layovers.)

When I was in third or fourth grade, I watched one of those slow-paced National Geographic documentaries showing the ancient and enormous monumental statues, called moai. At the time and with growing up in rural Wisconsin, it was absolutely fantastic. I filed Easter Island away in the back of my head under the category of “some day.”

That some day will be coming up before too long, and I’ve very, very excited.

In kind of a weird, roundabout way, Easter Island got me kind of thinking about the first call I received about working the Olympics. Among my co-workers and me, covering the Olympic games is kind of the holy grail for a variety of different reasons. So, after getting settled on the plane to fly to London for the Olympics, I ordered a glass of wine and made myself comfortable. I remember being really excited about where I was going and what I was doing … much like planning for our next adventure to Easter Island. The island is one of the most remote regions on earth, and also one of the most mystical.

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Posted in Travel Tagged , |

New Kid in Town

The following originally appeared with Vagabundo Travel Magazine on May 22, 2012:

“If you’re not comfortable, just let me know,” said Adam Richardson, as he started the engine of our Land Rover.

Adam was our guide with a private game reserve near South Africa’s Kruger National Park and he was talking to our tracker, Pauley. Pauley was firmly seated on the front of our vehicle in an attached chair, and the focus of our attention was a young, male leopard, with a notch in his right ear, who had recently wandered onto the property.

“Because if it is that leopard, we want to try to make sure we leave him happy.”

We first encountered the leopard a few days prior on a game drive shortly after he made a kill, and it was trying to drag the carcass into a tree.  The noise of the Land Rovers and cameras clicking away spooked the apprehensive leopard, so our guide chose to pull away and let him get slowly acclimated to human interactions before trying to get close again.

Now, a couple of days later, we were on a game drive through the bush and stumbled upon a large, male rhinoceros patrolling its area.  We watched as the rhinoceros approached his dung pile and proceeded to mark its territory.  Then our guide, knowing what was developing, zipped ahead to a nearby watering hole, realizing it was probably the next stop for the rhinoceros.

After we parked near some large bushes for cover, the rhinoceros approached the scene, checked out the surroundings and plopped into the mud pit.  He rolled around in the mud, freely passing gas, while my wife shot video and I took pictures. After he was finished, the rhinoceros made his way up the small incline towards a clearing.

About 15 feet from the watering hole, the wandering rhinoceros was caught off guard by a leopard laying in wait.  The rhinoceros jumped in the air from fright, but continued his course knowing the leopard wouldn’t attack. While Adam was repositioning the Land Rover for a closer view of the leopard, he realized it was the same apprehensive animal from a few days prior.

Very cautiously the leopard watched as the Land Rover slowly crept towards it’s resting place.  At a safe distance, Adam turned off the engine and for nearly an hour he, my wife and I chatted about everything from life as a guide to the potential back-story of this leopard.

Our guide’s goal was to give the leopard an opportunity to have a good experience with vehicles and people.  Each time the wildlife on South African game reserves has a good experience with vehicles, the more likely it will allow the vehicles to get in closer next time; the sounds of the vehicle’s engine, people’s voices or clicking cameras will no longer bother it as much.  In this particular case, Adam had a new animal on the property that could use some “TLC,” plus he had my wife and I in the vehicle and we were more than happy to give the leopard all the time it needed.

It was one of those unplanned moments in life where “going with the flow” was exactly what was needed.  As a result, the whole sequence became one of my favorite moments on our safari: the skill of our guide Adam to acknowledge an opportunity ahead with the rhinoceros aiming for the watering hole; the adorable “freak out” from said rhinoceros stumbling upon the new leopard; the new leopard checking out humans, letting out a large yawn and falling back to sleep for its nap; us parking and allowing the leopard to become acclimated to tourists and Land Rovers; knowing that, potentially, my wife and I are helping a family get closer to the leopard when they come for their safari in a few weeks or a few months.

Arriving back at the lodge fairly late from our time with the rhinoceros and then the leopard, the other guests were all gathered near the fireplace swapping stories about their day’s game drives while sipping cocktails. Three women from the United States really, really wanted to see a leopard but hadn’t been fortunate enough yet, but they also knew that we had been very lucky to see a leopard every day (including an incredible kill on our first night). Because it was best for the new leopard to only have one compassionate vehicle near it — versus swarms of vehicles and tourists — other guides respectfully stayed away and mentioned nothing to their guests. As a result of all of this, it was sort of a situation that became “our little secret” with the other guides in the lodge. Showing up late, one of the women looked directly at me and said “Don’t tell me you saw another leopard today!”

I am a terrible liar, so I mumbled some sentence containing a “No” and quickly took a large gulp of my drink.

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Posted in Nature Tagged , |

Tulip Standing Tall

Hello beautiful weather. So nice to see you!

After a rather forgettable winter, our spring has been rather insane. In Chicago, we’ve gone from 40-degree days one day to 80-degree days the next. As I write this, our “normal” is somewhere near 70-degrees, but I feel like every day is about twenty degrees warmer, or twenty degrees cooler. Getting dressed in the morning makes for an interesting challenge.

Nearly two years ago, to the day, I took the above picture at the Chicago Botanic Garden, in Glencoe, Illinois. That particular spring was as normal as normal could get, which was nice for planning trips to the botanical garden. This year, however, I find myself at Mother Nature’s mercy, as I try to work in time to get out and take pictures of everything from iconic lighthouses to flowering tulips.

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