This was my very first SLR camera (Nikon F50). Got it in 1997 (still have it today). It was through this lens and viewfinder that I really started “seeing” the world for the very first time…nearly 25 years ago. Long before social media platforms and algorithms ruled people’s lives, I was out there documenting this planet on 35mm film in some of the wildest environments on Earth…and having to make prints if I wanted to share any images (yes, the Flinstone era). It’s been quite a journey and an incredible education. This year, I will reflect greatly on the past 25 years of exploring, experiencing, learning and, most importantly, discovering who I am and what this world is all about through the wonderful mediums of travel & photography. #GWAGB25
Author Archives: Damian James
25 years of “seeing” the world…
New Year, New Style…
“So, what’s up with the mask??”
I’ve gotten that one often, so I’ll explain.
I grew up a huge fan of pro wrestling and martial arts. My Saturday mornings as a kid were dedicated to WWF and Kung Fu Theater. I also became very entertained with Mexican “lucha libre” wrestling, where the combatants all wore colorful masks.
I got myself a “luchador” mask in Mexico back in the day, one that had the Green Bay Packers “G” logo on it (as I am a proud native “cheesehead” of Wisconsin). Once I started the Gringo With A Green Bag brand, I began to incorporate the mask into my travels, just for fun. It was a no brainer, as I traveled often through Mexico and Latin America, was an avid wrestling fan, and the mask had a “G” on it (which represented “Gringo” and was an opportunity to represent my team as well).
The “conquistador” concept that I playfully integrate comes from my time living in Spain, where my travel interest initially took root. It was the first country I had ever traveled to. The very first independent (solo) trip I ever did was to a remote region of Spain called Extremadura. It is a semi-barren and sort of “off the radar” part of the country, sharing a border with Portugal. For some reason, that really enticed me. I wanted to go where others weren’t going. The Spanish and Portuguese were arguably among the greatest explorers and navigators the world has ever known, so I knew there was some compelling history there. Extremadura is significant because it was the home and breeding ground of Spain’s infamous “New World” Conquistadors (Hernán Cortés, Francisco Pizarro, etc.). This is where the travel bug really bit me for the first time. I remember looking at the statues of these figures and meandering through Old World corridors and ancient Roman ruins. I started thinking about the history and significance of these lands, and how the native voyagers from this little corner of the world changed and shaped the course of history through their “conquests”.
For me, the “conquistador” label, as I like to utilize it, is not a tribute to the brutality of their pursuits, nor to the men themselves. Rather, it is to the idea of voyaging to distant, unknown lands…not knowing what to expect. To discovering new places, people and unfamiliar cultures. To interacting with people of different backgrounds and languages, and to sharing such “discoveries” with the world. I treat each voyage as a personal “conquest”. A conquest of gaining experience and familiarity with a new, often foreign, part of the world…and to properly telling its story. A conquest of a different type of riches. A conquest to enrich the soul. The “conquistador” label is a tribute to that same storied land I visited at a very young and curious age, the one where the inspiration of my “conquests” first began.
I can’t really explain as to how the disco ball in this photo ties into it all. I just thought it might look cool and compliment the new mask. 🙂
#FutureRetro #GringoWithAGreenBag #GWAGB
Day’s end, Puerto Vallarta
As the frosty, lime-tinged rim of my first Modelo cerveza graced my eager lips, I was greeted by a lovely silhouette of gently waving palms just beyond my reach, officially welcoming me to this spectacular seaside retreat. Ominous thunder clouds and distant patches of rain on the Pacific horizon began to yield to the glowing warmth of a persistent sun, now calling it a day. It was instant confirmation of the primary purpose of a passport stamp.
I love it when a destination transports me into a natural painting with a fluid canvas of tropical hues, especially on my very first day of the trip. Puerto Vallarta definitely did not disappoint during my recent visit, and the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa provided the perfect ambience and stage for a highly dramatic close of the curtain to day 1.
Introducing the COOK ISLANDS & TAHITI EXPLORER – by Air Rarotonga
Hello travel amigos!
In partnership with Air Rarotonga (the airline of the Cook Islands), I’m happy to present the ultimate in travel escapism to a remote PARADISE ON EARTH like no other, recently filmed in the exotic South Pacific islands of Tahiti and the Cook Islands. My feet are still screaming to be reunited with that silky white sand, and my mind is still encapsulated by those dreamy and intoxicating Polynesian environs…please don’t wake me anytime soon!
Check out the adventure on YouTube:
For more info about these travel packages and to devise your “escape plan” to paradise, please visit: http://cookislandstahitiexplorer.com
Protected: Manihiki – “Pearl” of the Cook Islands
Exumas, Bahamas – drone escape
“What the wybe is?” (Translation: “‘what’s up?”) Fresh off the Bahamian turf, and I’m still rockin’ that island lingo. My favorite word is “tingum”. Basically, if there’s a word you can’t remember, you just say “that tingum”. Worked for me. 🙂
I’ll be sharing much more about my experience in Exumas, Bahamas in due time…but for now, here’s a little aerial “breather” from the G-Bird drone. Those Exuma beaches, man I’m tellin’ ya…”gumma dat all day”!
The pursuit of glow – California Sierra Nevada
29° and dark was the biting forecast just outside my tent at the base of the California Eastern Sierras a few frosted high desert mornings ago. Because I was nestled in the comforts of a toasty -25° Kelty sleeping bag designed for an Arctic field surveyor, the cold hadn’t bit me just yet. Aggressively nibbling it was, as the winter chompers of that eager morning were on alerted standby. My goal was simply to catch the morning glow as it would creep upon the highest mountain peak in the contiguous 48 states, Mt. Whitney. At 14,505 feet, this colossal point among hundreds of lesser-known across the freshly powdered Sierra Nevada was within a short 10 minute drive from my campsite. In order to witness the lovely thulian-and-rouge-hued “magic hour” light casting over these majestic peaks, which was scheduled to make an initial appearance around 6:20am, I had to bear the inevitable and mentally excruciating sound of the un”zip” and force my thermal-layered buns out of that cozy tent. With a pocketful of chilled Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies as my motivating breakfast, I hit the road to a scenic viewpoint overlooking the bumpy and barren Alabama Hills.
6am arrival. Twilight slowly stalking the Sierras like a bobcat moving stealthily towards an unsuspecting desert cottontail rabbit. Gloves off. Ice cold tripod the reminiscent temperature of the 3 Weihenstephaner Hefeweizen beers I guzzled down 8 hours earlier. Camera mounted. I set up my shot and waited patiently in the soul-numbing silence of desert dawn. The cheek-numbing cold was omnipresent as well, but mostly ignorable due to the epic scene that was unfolding before my stretch-deprived eyes. Like the sun melting beyond an ocean horizon, the first light of day emerges quickly. A blanket of magenta-colored clouds hovered over the jagged mountain tops, acting as a quick cue to position the finger on the trigger.
Not more than 20 seconds later, boom…and there it was. Ideally, my first instinct is to admire such a scene with eyes wide open panning a full 180° panorama. But in order to provide visuals along with my story, my default view must come primarily through the small square prism of my cropped camera viewfinder. I clicked away with an overwhelming awe. The “magic hour” light usually peaks and begins to fade within a window of a few short minutes, so you have to make efficient time of your shot selection. I photographed as much as I could while I was rewarded the most beautiful light of any morning I had witnessed throughout the trip, while framing the rugged contrast of the peculiar Alabama Hills in the foreground of the towering and magnificent Eastern Sierras.
If there was ever a confirmation of my long-standing claim that the most beautiful time of the day is to be experienced at first light, this was a universal, unanimous jury. You can deprive me of hand-warmers and cookies all you want, but you can’t deprive me of the desire to witness this Earth at its most captivating and inspiring hour (or minutes) during its steady revolution around the big “glow”.
Manihiki – Cook Islands
Here’s a video I filmed recently in partnership with Air Rarotonga and Cook Islands Tourism. One of the most remote islands on Earth, Manihiki, is an idyllic and naturally stunning South Pacific atoll, and is home of the legendary “Black Pearl” of the Cook Islands. Hope you enjoy the paradisal journey through the “Island of Pearls”! 🙂
Lost Kingdoms of the Maya – Bella Guatemala Travel
My latest journey with Bella Guatemala Travel. Get to know one of the most fascinating civilizations and cultures on Earth, as they take you on an intrepid expedition to discover the “Lost Kingdoms of the Maya” world! (Filmed on location in Guatemala and Honduras)
Lost Kingdoms of the Maya – El Mirador
I just peeled off my sweat-soaked mask and kicked off my mud-caked hiking boots upon returning from a 2-week expedition through Guatemala, exploring some of the “lost kingdoms” of the ancient Maya world with Bella Guatemala Travel. One of the highlights of the tour, which is, as aptly advertised, called “The Lost Kingdoms of the Maya” tour, was an adventurous visit to the remote jungle region of Petén in the northern part of the country to explore the Pre-Classic site of El Mirador, the largest Mayan archaeological site ever discovered. Accessible only via helicopter or a mud-slushing 3-day trek through an uber-dense forest, which is home to the feared fer-de-lance snake and the highest population of jaguars in Central America (I took the helicopter), El Mirador was one of the earliest and most powerful of the ancient Maya city-states, dating back to over 700 BCE. Pictured here is La Danta pyramid, the tallest pyramid in the Americas (230 ft). It is part of the most massive Mayan complex ever built, and one of the largest manmade structures of the entire ancient world (even larger in volume than the great Egyptian pyramid of Giza). Construction of La Danta dates back to 300 BCE. Though most of it is still buried beneath the jungle, El Mirador is one of the most significant discoveries ever made throughout the Maya world. Recent discoveries that researchers are making here are forcing archaeologists to rethink Maya chronology and rewrite chapters in the history books of these fascinating “Lost Kingdoms”.
Stay tuned for more about my recent adventures with Bella Guatemala Travel!