Posts Tagged ‘travel log’

Back from Croatia

In the last couple days since I’ve been back from my fantastic trip through Croatia, I’ve been busy enough that I haven’t even had the chance for a quick blog post. Sure, sometimes I’ve been busy winding down from the trip, but it still counts!

That said, I also haven’t had a chance to go through the images from the trip, but those are coming. I promise. I’m looking forward to pulling the pictures up and seeing what I was able to capture of that wonderful region.

The trip started in Dubrovnik and progressed north through Bosnia with a stay in Sarajevo along the way. From there, it was more northward travel before turning south again and working a path down the coast back to Dubrovnik. Along the way, the magnificent Plitvice Lakes beckoned. They were one of my favourite spots on the trip. I’m convinced that, if there’s a heaven, a corner of it looks just like Plitvice. So beautiful.

So, stay tuned to relive some of the finer memories from the trip as I aim to start having some Photo of the Day posts devoted to the trip in the coming days.

Two Weeks in Croatia

The largest item looming on today’s to do list is packing for a two-week trip to Croatia (and a side trip into Bosnia). Batteries are being charged and memory cards collected to fill up my camera bag and I might just take some clothes too.

I’ve been looking forward to this trip for a while as I haven’t done as much travelling this year as I would have liked. It will be good to get away, see some sights and and plant my tripod on the ground in front of something foreign and beautiful. I’m eagerly anticipating that feeling you get when you have arrived at your hotel, dropped of your bags and a whole new country awaits.

I’m not quite as keenly anticipating the journey there. A six a.m. flight from Liverpool means leaving Manchester at stupid o’clock, so I expect to be a little bit sluggish on my first day, but the excitement of a trip usually perks me me right up when I arrive.

I aim to bring back a bag full of lovely images, so stay tuned for some shots of Croatia in a couple weeks!

Back from Morocco

Three weeks and a whole lot of memory cards later, I’m back from my trip to Morocco, and I’ve enjoyed the laziest of Sundays.

Being a photographer in Morocco is sometimes like being a kid in a candy store except that you have no spare change. You’re surrounded by people with incredible faces full of character and interest, but the majority of them are so resistant to having their picture taken, you miss a lot of opportunities for wonderful portraits.

But of course, Morocco has more to offer than just portraits. Landscapes and cityscapes, deserts and mountains, wildlife and life in general.

Really, it has more to offer than just opportunities for photography. It’s a place known for its bombardment of the senses and it surely does assault your eyes, ears, nose, tongue and for those visitors interested in a visit to a hammam, the sense of touch. They all get a workout

Hopefully I was able to capture some of it and I’ll be able to start sharing photos sooner than later. It may, however, be a busy week with getting back into the swing of things here in Manchester, so for right now, there’s a couple more Photo of the Day posts from Prague yet to come. After that (possibly next week) I’d like to be able to start cranking out some fully-processed shots from Morocco.

Three Weeks in Morocco

This coming Saturday, I’ll be dodging the English Autumn and heading for the warmer weather of Morocco for three weeks. From November 7th to the 28th, my camera gear and I will be darting around the map of the North African nation.

By all accounts, I should expect a diverse range of environments: deserts, mountains, oases, coastlines, and of course labyrinthine cities. I look forward to them all and to having some new adventures to share.

Until I arrive back with gigs of photos in tow, I have scheduled a photo of the day post to occur for every weekday. Starting this Tuesday, every weekday will see a new image from my last trip to Prague will pop up in the morning. Constant photoblog freshness and I don’t even have to be here!

Once back, I’m sure I’ll be spoilt for choice for what photos to share from Morocco. Until then, enjoy the daily photos of Prague!

Back from Cape Town

And thus ends a month of jet setting. I’m now home in the UK from Cape Town after participating in some great work out there. We had a fantastic team whose personalities gelled perfectly and whose knowledge and ability got the job done efficiently and effectively. Thanks to everyone out there for a great time. I genuinely enjoyed the experience.

And that was just the work! The rest of the trip that wasn’t spent behind a computer was highly enjoyable as well. Though there wasn’t a lot of time for sightseeing and slacking off, I did manage to take in a few sights including Table Mountain, Cape Point, the waterfront, the Christmas marching bands and the tourist market. Then there was the numerous drives and stops around the city and beyond that afforded great views of the picturesque mountains and bays, or the calm respite of the beaches and wineries.

Really, my impression of Cape Town is pretty different from what I would have if I had travelled there simply as a tourist. For one, I wouldn’t have been staying in a hotel that nice. I’ve been spoiled and I will now miss that little chocolate that appeared on my pillow every night!

I suspect that most travellers are also not touring the mansions and swanky homes of the area. For each of the locations on our shoot, we ended up at some palace of a home that usually had a incredible view of a mountain or overlooked the sea via an infinity pool. They were the kind of place you couldn’t afford to buy and maintain even if you won the lottery. I don’t know how these people do it.

Contrast that with the glimpses we had of the townships from the road, or the wilderness that exists beyond (and in some places within) the city’s borders and I suspect there a few different experiences to be had in Cape Town. My experience of the place was that of some rich European, not of a traveller visiting Africa. Of course, that means I’d love to go back in a different capacity sometime to explore those other paths.

With Christmas rapidly approaching, I now have to squeeze in a trip to the shops to get some presents. Rather than buy carved, wooden giraffes from South Africa that wouldn’t fit in with everyone’s decor in the UK, I’ve decided to try to find gifts that suit their recipients a bit more than stereotypical tourist trinkets. Not sure when I’m going to get to do it though!

There’s also plenty of photographic work to be done. I do have a few photos from South Africa that need processing, but more dauntingly, a massive pile of them from my recent trip to Spain. Plus, my outdated portfolio site is in dire need of an upgrade. And those are just a few of the top priority items on my long to do list, so I might find myself wandering away from Christmas festivities from time to time to do some of the work I love. But for my family’s sake, I’ll keep that to a minimum!

A Brief Stop Home

The reason I haven’t posted much lately is that I was just on holiday in Spain. Preparations were hectic enough that I didn’t even get a chance to mention it here. Oops. But the trip was great and all the cities I visited (Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid, Zaragoza) were lovely. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to process some shots sooner than later.

Part of the reason preparations were rushed is because, tomorrow, I’m off to South Africa, Cape Town specifically. I’m heading down there as part of a team doing a catalogue shoot, so I likely won’t get a chance to see much of the city other than the locations we’re using for the shoots.

I’m told, however, that I absolutely must visit Table Mountain at night. From the little bits that I’ve seen of Cape Town’s geography, I can imagine it would be quite a view. Fingers crossed that I get a few hours spare while I’m out there.

This stop home was all too short and I will barely have time to settle back in here before Christmas, but happily I will be able to be back here in Manchester before the holiday season has passed. I may even have the chance to buy a present or two!

A Month in Portugal

Tomorrow, work will be shipping me off to Portugal for four weeks of Southern coast living. Everyone on the team I’m going with is eager to get away from the damp Manchester weather and out into the bright sunshine. My schedule out there should be pretty busy, but I may have time for some updates while I’m backing up files and such. Hopefully, I’ll have enough fun stories that you’ll want to follow along.

Now where did I put my sunscreen?

Baltics Photos Trickling In

Between addressing mysteriously non-functional contact forms on this site and pulling my hair out because of a massive amount of corrupt image files, I’ve managed to upload a group of galleries of photos from Vilnius Lithuania. There is plenty more where that came from and sometime tomorrow (depending on where in the world you are), there should be a complete set of my photos from that beautiful city.

For those of you who are curious, those corrupt files of mine are, in fact, my Baltics photos. All the RAW files that I had sorted seem now to have corrupt headers and Photoshop won’t open them at all. All these RAW files are saved elsewhere, but they are unsorted and unprocessed, so this glitch is more than a little bit irritating. What’s strange about it though: All the files still open in Lightroom. I guess I’ll be learning that app pretty quickly! So, the data is all there – it’s just some messed up header or something that’s preventing the files from opening.

The files seem to have gotten corrupted when I (and apparently, this was a foolish mistake) renamed my folder from “Baltics” to “Baltics sorted.” After that, every RAW file in there got sick.

I don’t know if this is related to the problems people are experiencing with OS 10.5.3 and Photoshop CS3, but it seems like it might be the case (even though I wasn’t saving remotely). Either way, for all you users out there who have this combination of OS and software: back up now! Now!

To top it all off, since the forms on my site aren’t working, (cross your fingers for a good reply from my host!), even if someone goes to my contact page and mails me a miracle fix, I won’t get the message! Best to leave it in the comments. Any happy thoughts are welcome too.

Update: Why didn’t anyone tell me to update my Camera RAW plugin? That fixed it all up. No corrupt files, just a messed up plugin. Too bad I panicked when I saw my files wouldn’t open and immediately assumed they were corrupted. Rookie mistake.

Oh well. All’s well that end’s well!

Briefly Home in Manchester

I’m back from my trip to the Baltics and I had a blast. My backlog of photos to be processed just got that much bigger…

But of course, I’m not here in Manchester for long. Tomorrow, I’m heading off to Calgary, my former home. I have a week there where I anticipate a much more relaxed than my trip to the Baltics. A lot of putting my feet up and visiting with family and friends is on the agenda.

In between heavy doses of relaxing, I probably won’t be able to resist the lure of my new photos and I’ll start working on them. Hopefully, they’ll start trickling onto the site sooner than later.

Just wish my ailing back luck on the long trip over the ocean! It was bad enough today to keep me off work, so I’m a little bit angry with it and it has to do some kissing up to me. I’ve asked it to play nicely while I go on holiday and I will reward it by not lifting anything heavy for a week (except large quantities of food into my mouth).

Off to the Baltics

As of May 3rd, I will be away from home and travelling through the Baltic states. I begin my journey in Vilnius, Lithuania, then I head North through Latvia and, last but not least, I visit Estonia. I will depart from Tallinn and return home to Manchester on May 19th.

Once home, however, I won’t be staying long. After days after returning to my current home, I will be visiting my former home, Calgary. From May 24th to June 1st, I’ll be doing some catching up with friends and family and maybe even relaxing a little bit. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to both trips.

With these trips in mind, if you are interested in licensing any images from me, responses will be slower than usual and I expect I won’t be able to deliver digital files until I’m back in Manchester. If your project is on a tight deadline, you can find a large amount of my images through Alamy.

I hope your month of May looks as promising as mine!

Happy Manchesterversary to Me

One year ago today, I left my hometown of Calgary, Alberta, Canada to move to Manchester, England. It’s a Maniversary! I’ve made some great new friends, had some fantastic times and learned a ton. I’m happy to be entering another year here in sunny Manchester.

Cheers to everyone who has made this a good year. And another cheers to those friends of mine spread around the world – I miss you all and we’d be happy to have visitors in the Sawchuk manor.

Moving to Manchester

Today’s the day I head off to Manchester to start a new chapter in my life. I anticipate being offline for a few days while I get my internet access sorted out, but when I’m up and running, I’ll be providing new contact info and new writings on my adventures in the UK.

I look forward to sharing more experiences with you, this time from England and beyond!

Back from SF

That was my first US Thanksgiving ever and, in terms of fanfare, it surpassed most Thanksgivings I’ve experienced here in Canada. My family was invited to share in an enormous banquet where, apparently, turkey grew on trees. Fortunately for me, Thanksgiving vegetables were equally as bountiful (including the 10 pounds of mashed potatoes my sister, mom and I made). And pies! Don’t forget the pies and their excessive delisiousness. And the whipped cream! And the ice cream! Ah, so much food to be thankful for…

My mom sister and I made the obvious error of wandering towards Union Square for a shopping trip on Black Friday. Though it could have been worse (I don’t think there were any Best Buy stores in the area), the whole area was caught up in a stampede of shoppers. But we managed to navigate the currents of people and pick up some Christmas presents while also filling out bellies again (and by the way, Calgary needs more burrito places – someone get on that please).

No sooner had any space cleared in our stomachs, we were off again for another dinner, this time with some friends of my sister. Any open space inside us was quickly filled with more great food and fun. I haven’t checked a scale since I’ve been home, but I think I might postpone that bit of self-torture until I get the chance to work out a bit.

On an odd note, I didn’t take a single photo in the couple days I had there. One of my cameras came along for the trip, but apparently I always had too much food in my hands to operate it. It leaves me feeling a bit strange to visit somewhere and not shoot anything there, so I think, next time, I’ll make a point of taking at least a few food photos!

Back to San Francisco

Thursday’s US Thanksgiving will see the Sawchuks have a mini-family reunion. The Calgary branch of the troop will flee the rapidly-approaching cold front for the relative temperate climes of San Francisco. I’ll be happy to trade in the chilly weather for something a little warmer (even if perhaps some dampness is included). But aside from the weather, the bigger attraction is just spending Thanksgiving with my sister and her husband. I’ve never experienced Thanksgiving in the States before, so it should be fun.

For any US readers out there, have a happy holiday and enjoy your turkey (or tofurkey?).

A Weekend in San Francisco

This weekend, I will have the good fortune of being able to go visit my sister in San Francisco. Originally, she and her husband were going to head up here to Calgary to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving, but her husband will be on a business trip and my sister has to stay home with her new puppy, a cute little black lab named Alice.

The plan was then that my Dad and I might head down for a visit while my Mom stayed home and took care of the Calgary puppies. It turns out it will just be me making the trip, so it will only be a sibling affair.

Years ago, I travelled through San Francisco on my way to play a show at Gilman Street in Berkeley with my old band, but we saw almost nothing of the city. A trip over the Golden Gate Bridge was about all we could muster up for sightseeing. So, needless to say, I’m excited to see a little bit more of the city. I only have a couple full days down there, but that should give me a taste of what San Francisco has to offer.

Even if it’s only for a few days, I’m happy as could be to do a bit more travelling.

Planes, Some Including Snakes

Last night, my friend Kara told me that for as many hours time difference as you have changed, it will take as many days to recover from the jet lag. That means I should have another week or so of this lethargy.

Fortunately, it’s not hampering me too much. I can crank up a burst of energy when I need it for, say, a job interview or the first chance I have had to see some of my Calgary friends in more than seven months, or of course, for some snakes, on planes.

But first, my journey here, because it involves planes as well. And considering how miserable one of my flights was, I would have probably preferred to have some pissed-off venomous snakes on board.

My flight to Singapore was uneventful. My time in Singapore’s Changi airport was as good a time as one can have in an airport. With an early check-in under my belt, I got to wander the busy terminal to browse the stores, taste plenty of food and even watch a free movie in a small theatre. The flight to London was as pleasant as an 11-and-a-half hour flight can be with a good selection of movies to choose from on the Qantas flight.

I stopped in Frankfurt for a transfer of planes and then touched down in London where I promptly squirted through the overwhelmed Heathrow airport and into Chelsea to see Caroline for a day. We mostly lunged the day away and went for a wander in her neighbourhood where my fondness for London and the UK burned bright and bid me to return to the country as soon as I was able.

The next morning, I headed off early to Gatwick where a flood of people stood shoulder to shoulder waiting in endless cues and sharing in a collective exasperation at the scene. Though no one was moving any faster than a tectonic plate, everyone seemed to be in decent spirits and we were all able to laugh at the absurdity of the situation.

Since I couldn’t take all my camera gear and laptop onto the plane with me as I would normally do, I headed over to the oversize and fragile luggage line and said goodbye to my precious cargo. When I asked the attendant if he was going to slap a ‘fragile’ sticker on my bag, he reassured me that everything would be taken care of. I worriedly left it behind and headed through security and to my plane.

On board, I soon discovered that there was a misbehaved infant convention soon taking place in Calgary and all the delegates happened to be sitting in the rows ahead of me. A lot of moaning, crying and stomping filled up the next nine or ten hours of the transatlantic flight. Combine that with having coffee spilled on my by a flight attendant (who promptly wiped my seat then scurried away), and the flight wasn’t the happiest way to return home.

When I arrived in the baggage claim area, I immediately began my search for my camera bag. When I couldn’t find it at the oversize carousel, I hoped that it was yet to arrive and headed over to the normal carousel to retrieve my other bag. There, to my horror, I witnessed my camera back tumbling down the ramp towards the carousel. In a panic I charged towards it through the crowd to catch it before it went slamming to the base of the conveyor belt. Fortunately, everything in it seems to be functional.

The final absurdity came when, having exited the plane, all passengers had to clear immigration. But since no pens were allowed on the flight, there was a sizable bottleneck as we all lined up for the use of the three available pens to be able to fill out our immigration cards.

Since then, I have mostly been unsuccessfully trying to get into a sensible sleep pattern while reacquainting myself with Calgary (and overcoming a bit of reverse culture shock).

But yesterday was a bit more interesting since I had my first job interview for the position that drew me home. I thought it went well and the job seemed like something that would keep me more than content. I really have my fingers crossed for one and I’ll be pretty disappointed if I don’t get it. I did, after all traverse a few continents to get here for this job. It really is perfect for me, so if anyone out there happens to have any good luck they aren’t currently using it, I will happily accept it. Thanks!

After the interview, I wandered downtown and found myself soon gravitating towards Chinatown. I miss Asia. As I wandered the Calgary streets, no tuk-tuk drivers offered me a ride. No sleezy suit salesmen suggested I might look better if I was wearing their wares. No durian smell met my nose. And yes, I actually missed all that.

But Chinatown here has a fantastic little restaurant called Veggie House that caters very much to both my vegetarian side and that part of me that pines for the Far East.

With some veggie dumplings happily swirling in my stomach, I decided to walk across downtown to pay a surprise visit to Mark and Kara. I like surprises (both giving and receiving), so I reveled in the confused look on Mark’s face when he opened the door. Few people knew I was going to be home, so the word had not spread to Mark’s ears yet.

We went for a drink then hopped over to Brian and Janice’s place for a barbecue. Later, Kara showed up after a CPR course and I got the chance to surprise her too before we set off to see Snakes on a Plane.

And despite the astronomical Internet-fuelled hype, it did not disappoint. Though I suspect, if you don’t see it on opening in a busy theatre, you may miss out on a lot of the fun. Our Friday-night trip to the film included plenty of patrons donning plush snakes on their heads and a large group of rowdies tossing out rubber snakes to every member of the audience.

With every ludicrous death scene we waived our snakes above our heads in salute to the makes of this magical film and when Jackson uttered the film’s climactic line, we all shouted along to the line that we, the citizen’s of the Internet, helped to pen.

I giggled all the way home reminiscing about cobras, anacondas, chihuahuas, the mile high club, the rest of the totally ridiculous spectacle I had just witnessed. I only wish my flight from London had been so entertaining.

Evolving Away from Darwin

In my writings, I have been unfair to Darwin. It’s not that I have criticized this city, it’s that I haven’t written about it. But I have the somewhat legitimate excuse of being rather busy.

During my first week here, I hunted for jobs. That was pretty much all I did. Tracking down leads here and there, visiting temp agencies and tracking down more leads was my introduction to the Northern Territory’s capital. And all that had us get off on the wrong foot. (Although the offer I got to work on a fishing boat for a couple months was intriguing.)

When I arrived, I was staying with some generous residents whom I met online and their place was a good half hour walk out of town along the Stuart Highway. Each morning, I woke and ambled into town along a long stretch of road that keenly reminded me of the smaller cities of Alberta, and that’s not exactly a compliment. Used car lot after used car lot lined the highway and drilled a heavy message into my mind as I passed: “You are no longer in Asia.”

At the time, that was not a reality I was eager to face. I’ve grown accustomed to Asia and its many weird ways. The first world now sometimes feels like a second home. But, being that I was in Australia and not my real home, it was all the more confusing. “This is a lot like home. Canada home. But then again, what’s with all the didgeridoos?” Job hunting, used car lots, tourist-marketed didgeridoos, and a wee bit of culture shock welcomed me to Australia.

While job hunting, however, I happened to make a strange discovery: back in Calgary, my true, first home, there was a job opening that would be perfect for me. When I passed along the web page to Sarah to note the irony of having to come to Australia to find a great job in Calgary, she remarked, “You could do that in your sleep.” But the thing was, I wouldn’t want to sleep through this job – if I did, I would be missing out on a lot of fun and education.

I won’t go into the specifics of the job here, but I genuinely thing that it was made for me and I for it. The mutual benefits of uniting the two of us would be almost obscene. So, I decided, why not? Let’s throw a resume their way and see what happens.

Strangely enough, the next day I was offered a job in Australia. A much less interesting job to be sure, but a job nonetheless. Given the emaciated state of my wallet and a potentially long-term stay in the land down under, I jumped at the opportunity.

By this point I had moved through a couple hostels. I happened to be homeless in Darwin on the busiest weekend of the year and finding a bed for a night proved to be a challenge. Finding one for consecutive nights proved to be just plain silly. Anyone making such demands had to have been the product of an upbringing that neglected to instill the dangers of greed. But my avarice for sleep pushed me on and I was fortunate enough to find a place that would house me and keep me well fed on a diet of feet stink (one of the main food groups of the dorm resident).

During the nights, I fought the snorers, but the days started to pick up. I got to explore the Mindil beach market and enjoy some genuinely refreshing air. Compared to my previous destination, Bangkok, the air of Darwin is a lot less brown. Darwin is to happily flowing blood as Bangkok is to malignant, festering tumors in your lungs. I wish I had the opportunity to explore further afield of Darwin to see the Kakadu and Lichfield, but I will just use that as a fantastic excuse to come back.

I did get to explore the city a little but not nearly as much as I would have liked. The hopping Mitchell Street and the quiet Esplanade both made for a decent walk. I headed up to the East Point Reserve in the hopes of sighting a wallaby, but they remained elusive. But that stroll took me along the comically named (for Brits anyway) Fannie Bay. Oh, and sunsets on the beach that would make even Dick Cheney weep (engine oil of some kind I’m sure).

And I met a few fine folks and had a few good chats. I played pool with a couple of charming girls from Japan. I got in on Australia’s national sport of teasing with my roommates. And I whiled away the workdays with some fun co-workers.

Speaking of co-workers, they were the only genuinely enjoyable part of my temporary job. I was doing data entry for a call centre that was busy taking technical support requests for the telecommunications troubles all over the Northern Territory. My role was to make sure each job was logged properly after it had been resolved. Make sure this box is filled out and that box is checked. And so on. Forever. Until the end of time. And the forever again.

But I made the best of the stultifying work and very much appreciated the chance to make some cash.

Interestingly enough, midway through the week, I received an email from the potential employer in Calgary that I mentioned before. The one with the job I would step over dying old ladies for. They were interested in chatting with me and wanted to know when I would be back in Canada.

Well, I had already been considering making my way back home, so I pretty much told them it would be as soon as I was able to book a ticket. And off I went to sort out my way back.

With all the possible routes back home, it turned out to be going the long way around the world that was the most economical and that would get me back in Calgary the earliest. Busy, expensive flights prevented me from going the more direct route over the Pacific. Instead, I am now headed through Singapore, then London, then home. Yes, London.

Had I only known that at the very time I was booking my ticket, terrorists were being arrested in the UK, I would have happily paid more to steer clear of a trip through England. But as you travel, you get behind on the news. Tragically behind.

And so, with a London-bound itinerary in my pocket, I now sit in the overly-airconditioned Darwin airport waiting for my 3:30 am flight to Singapore. And I’m feeling remarkably cogent for this time of night (considering how bad the snoring has been in my dorm). I have no idea for exactly how long I will be travelling. It’s Friday night here. It will be Monday afternoon when I get home. Factor in some time zones and I think it comes out to way too bloody long.

If there happened to be a chicken I could sacrifice or some nearby idol I could supplicate, I would do it in the hopes that I will have such peaceful flights that they lull me to sleep for their duration. Thankfully, my stop in London includes a visit with Caroline whose home will provide me with a much-needed rest stop before I embark on the final leg of my trip.

A fellow traveler recently reminded me of a dear, old poem by Robert Frost whose conclusion reads, “And miles to go before I sleep…” Both its literal and metaphorical meanings seem appropriate right now as a begin another journey. Look it up, it’s a good one.

I’m Not Dead

Just thought I would let you know that I am alive and well in Australia. I’m here in Darwin where I have been suffering from a bit of sticker shock after being in Southeast Asia. Internet access, for example, costs four or five times as much here, so I haven’t been online nearly as much. Once I work my way back into first-world prices, I’ll be more content to post a bit more.

The last week has mostly been spent job hunting and adjusting to all these white people speaking English to me. For the former, I’ve found a temp job that starts next week and for the latter, the quirky Aussie accent is sometimes weird enough that I can pretend people are speaking a foreign language to me, so it works out well enough.

After departing my lovely little private room that I obtained through some contacts I made before coming here, I now have been relegated to the land of dorms when other house guests took my spot. After last night’s endless snoring competition, I’m hoping that the fatigue I have saved up will let me sleep through the worst of the din tonight. I’m at a new hostel and I have fewer people in my room, so I’m hoping I may serve as a participant in the contest tonight and not just a listener.

Continent Number Six

Since I forgot to mention it before, I shall now: I’m going to Australia! Though this was no secret before, it wasn’t official. But since I now have my flights booked and a place to stay once I arrive, I’m going to call this one a done deal.

On July 30th, I depart from Bangkok to Singapore to Darwin. Yup, Darwin. I’ve heard entirely mixed reviews about it. I’ve met some Australians who think it’s great and that I need to make an effort to travel around in the are. I’ve met others who think I’ll just be bored. I suspect the ease with which I am capable of amusing myself might stave off any potential boredom, so I should be okay on that front.

The little bit of reading I’ve done on Darwin suggests it’s one of Australia’s most multicultural cities and serves as a gateway to Asia. Perfect for me since I’m now rather used to Asian ways of doing things that I’m going to want to ease into the Aussie way of working. I mean, how will I get by walking down the street without someone offering my a tuk-tuk ride at every two paces? I just won’t know what to do with all those extra, uninterrupted thoughts in my head when I don’t have to ward off swarms of predatory drivers.

I just realized that out of the last 24 months of my life, about 21 of them will have been spent in Asia. That’s a good while to spend on this weird and wondrous continent.

But it’s time to move on to a new continent. Australia will make it six out of a possible seven. Now when am I going to get the chance to go to Antarctica…

Kites Make Right

For most of my time in Bangkok, I’ve been lamenting the less-than-perfect weather and lighting conditions. Two days ago, however, the clouds dissipated and blue skies dominated the air above. Shocked at this fortuitous development, I grabbed a camera, stuffed it into my smaller bag and took it hunting.

I headed towards the vast open park of Sanam Luang that happened to be surrounded by tents where Buddhist monks and worshippers were performing rituals and, well, watching TV. The festive atmosphere extended into the park where more worshippers could be found circling what looked like a temporary shrine. But of more interest to me on was the large number of people flying kites in the windy air.

Adults and kids craned their heads to the skies where dozens of kites danced in the blue skies. Vendors had kites staked down so the ground was covered in colourful streamers. Families sat on mats on the grass and happily watched the ballet above them. It was a great scene.

I didn’t hesitate to bring out my camera. But when I raised it to my eye, composed my first shot, then hit the shutter, I heard a click. That’s all fine and good, but really I should have heard two clicks. The first is the mirror flipping up, the second should have been the mirror flipping back down.

Ever since shooting the water fights of Songkran, the Thai New Year festival, this camera hasn’t been itself. This issue with the mirror sticking up has happened before. Once it has flipped up, I can press the shutter again and it will flip back down (with no image recorded of course). And after a couple times, functionality went back to normal. I could take pictures without a problem. It was like it just needed to warm up.

But no amount of warming up could get my camera going under the kites. It was over thirty degrees out after all. I clicked and clicked, but it just wouldn’t do what it was told. Disheartened I returned to my room, dropped off my defective gear and went to the Internet cafe to search for camera repair shops here in Bangkok.

The next day, the plan was to go out to the shop and see about putting things right inside my camera. The one thing I was worried about was that the shop might be closed – they didn’t list hours on their site and it was, after all, a Sunday. But, I thought I might get lucky. Wrong. Not only was it a Sunday, but I found out later that it was also a national holiday here – there was no chance it was going to be open.

I eventually found my way back to my room where, undaunted by an irritating previous 24 hours, I willed the skies to stay blue. I summoned all the kite fliers back to the park. And with my other camera (yes folks, take a backup!) I headed back to the park where I had a lovely time shooting everyone who once again had their heads happily craned to the skies.

Bangkok Bollywood

You know those impromptu dance routines that seem to break out at the drop of a hat in every Bollywood movie ever made? Whenever I see these silly spectacles, in the back of my mind, I’m always hoping that their elaborate choreography and coordinated steps and notes are all improvised, but that a certain Hindu magic keeps the whole thing together. The many arms of Vishnu guide the players like marionettes and no strings ever get tangled.

Unfortunately, that not-totally-believed illusion of mine was shattered last night amidst the Khao San Road Friday night party. Out for a wander, the usual bizarre bohemian hubbub of the road had additional participants. With a crowd of onlookers surrounding them, a somewhat bedraggled man and better-kept woman were learning dance steps from three choreographers. The Indian man wore a black patterned shirt that was presentable enough, but then his jeans were ratty and full suggesting that they may have only been shooting him from the waist up.

But given the footwork they had to learn, I’m guessing a full-body shot or two would make the cut – why learn to wriggle your foot a little bit if no one will see it? The woman wore more traditional Indian garb and was causing a lot of folks to stop and stare. When the cameras weren’t rolling, she looked hot and bored, but when the director counted down, she beamed and took on a zealous, flirty smile shot straight into the camera.

I haver no idea why they were shooting on Khao San Road at the busiest time of the week or if I was watching Indian film history in the making – maybe this was going to wind up being India’s Citizen Kane… the musical version. Really, I know next to nothing about what was going on here and I suspect I never will. That doesn’t dampen how silly it all was.

Watching take after take of a three-second dance move, (many of the predictably ridiculous), just ruined that image of India being a land where you better be prepared to participate in an extravagant dance pageant at any moment. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a bed in Mumbai while hauling two big backpacks around – when the feeling hits, you’re going to have to drop everything and strut your stuff.

No, watching two practiced actors attempt relatively simple moves only confirmed that dozens of Indians never really do suddenly communicate with each other in improvised dance and song. If they tried to, carnage would ensue. The papers would speak of the piles of broken bodies. The government would run public service announcements warning against the dangers of spontaneous cabaret shows. The people would live in fear that the song in their hearts would reach their feet and all those around them would be doomed.

The Cleaner Side of Bangkok

The last two days have been a holiday of sorts. Caroline, an old travelling friend from my time in Peru was in the area and her time in Bangkok overlapped with mine for a couple days. With three years between encounters, we had plenty of catching up to do and with the recent news about Arthur’s passing, it was good to have a friendly ear around.

As an added bonus, we spent none of our time on or near the bohemian madness of Khao San Road. In fact, the other side of Bangkok, over in Siam Square and along Sukhumvit there is a whole separate country. It’s a place where foreign people don’t outnumber the locals and when they are present, they aren’t wearing those horrible braids or dreadlocks in their hair. It’s a place where shopping doesn’t mean walking along the road and having suspicious-looking men slyly ask, “Hey buddy, you want nice suit?” at every pace. Nope, over there, they have malls.

Caroline and I spent a good amount of time at Bangkok’s malls indulging in all-too-many food court offerings and chatting up a storm. When our gums got tired of flapping, the movie theatre was only an elevator ride away so we caught both Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and Superman Returns. For the latter, Caroline decided to splurge and we went for the VIP tickets where you get a nice reclining chair, pillow and blanket to make your movie experience that much more cozy.

But now with Caroline gone, I’m again friendless in Bangkok (poor me!) and I have to get back to working on photos. And one of these days I may even take some new ones. Maybe the sky will take some pity on me soon and serve up some good light.

How to Not See Bangkok

I still haven’t seen Bangkok. I’ve been here a few days now and I haven’t wandered too far from my guesthouse. And I’m okay with that.

I have as much time here as I want, so I’m biding my time, waiting for the weather to cooperate. It has rained every day that I have been here, though certainly not all day. It’s been those tropical storms that charge into the city hoping to catch unsuspecting vendors off guard so that wares might be blown away or soaked.

When it’s not raining, it’s threatening to with spitting drops randomly reminding you that the sky is boss and you better pay attention to it. Combine that with the overcast clouds that still manage to let enough sun through to harshly light the scenes on the ground and my camera just doesn’t want to come out to play.

So, I’ve worked and I’ve wandered. The processing of my backlog of photos is progressing nicely as I sit in a room free from distractions. No Internet, no TV, no people. Just me plugging away at images I shot long ago. Until I go out to shoot new ones, I have plenty to keep me busy.

Back to Bangkok

My damp shirt combined with the air-conditioner in this internet cafe are conspiring to make me forget that it’s 30-plus degrees outside. The rain tried to soak me, but only splashed me a little. So, I’m now killing time while the clouds pass.

My overnight bus from Ichinoseki to Tokyo was a relatively restless affair. I lack the ability of most Japanese citizens to fall asleep like a narcoleptic. They can pass out anywhere, anytime. Me, I need a bed, silence, total darkness, no movement and no one around me and even then it’s a dodgy affair. I’m like the princess and the pea, but you’re not allowed to call me princess.

The flights were fine and China Airlies did a fine job on today’s meals including some spanakopita, so that was a nice surprise. Remember to always order the vegetarian meal on flights folks – it always gets served first and the food seems to be a bit better than the usual airline fare.

And now here in Bangkok, just off the ever-popular Khao San Road, I’m feeling a little bit lonely. I’ve just made the transition to solo traveller again and I’m not quite used to it after being surrounded by so many good friends in Japan. Plus, the last time I was here, I had Sarah’s lovely company and we could laugh at the hippie backpacker stereotypes together.

But, since I haven’t seen the city at all really, this will be my chance to check out what will surely be a few impressive sights. They ought to put some travel energy back into my solo traveller feet.