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
Posts Tagged With: adventure
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
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!
Back at the LA Travel & Adventure Show!
Gringo With A Green Bag is heading back to the LA Travel and Adventure Show this weekend to get some fresh travel inspiration, feed the celebrities and showcase some new tricks on the Segway. Bring your can openers and keep your hands on the handlebars at all times kids! #GWAGB
In the Shadows of Paradise
The vog was thick on this day. Usually one can observe some detailed contours of this large, rugged rock in the middle of the ocean from either of the neighboring islands of Maui, Oahu, or Lanai. But my eyes struggled to focus on anything beyond the fuzzy layer of cyan-reflected atmosphere blending into the still horizon. This vog I speak of is a form of fog-like air pollution created from the sulfur dioxide emissions of an active volcano. (“Volcano” + “fog” or “smog” = “Vog”) The Big Island of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano (located 135 miles southeast) would be the culprit of my trammelled view. I suppose the vog was synonymous with my mental approach to visiting the island of Molokai for the first time. Hazy, at best.
I had first heard about the island over a decade earlier from some locals I met on a beach on Oahu’s west side. What I learned from them that day was that all there was to do on Molokai, in their words, was “hunt, fish and smoke weed…dat’s about it brah.” Hmmm…that’s it? Unlike the way many people have a clear picture of how they envision their “Hawaiian paradise” to be, the idea of what Molokai was like was never very clear to me. It was still Hawaii, but you never heard anything about it. I had seen some images, read some pretty redundant travel reviews and had talked to a local there who described it as “insanely beautiful” with a “3rd world country vibe”, or maybe a “3.5 world country” (since it is still the USA). But my mind couldn’t paint a clear picture of the place even if I had been gifted the canvas and talents of the late Bob Ross. Information about the island is relatively scarce, as it has been over-looked ever since the Hawaii tourism boom really began to explode in the 1960’s. Almost every Hawaii guidebook that you’ll find dedicates 50-100 pages to most other islands, yet barely even gives Molokai a CliffsNotes worthy 10. Some texts even mention that you might get a healthy dose of “stink eye” there if you are any shade lighter than a koa canoe. I had a feeling this was a dubious statement. Sure, the Molokai natives have put up a successful resistance to any development leading to mass tourism, but “stink eye”?? Come on, Molokai is known as “The Friendly Isle”. How could this be true? None of that really mattered though, because I was well on my way and wasn’t set to return for another 4 days. I was determined to gain a better perspective of this island beyond the lone image that had been dwelling in my mind for the past 11 years…a vision of some tattooed bruddahs sharpening their knives to skin some wild pig and lighting up doobies on the shores of the local fishpond.
After 90 minutes aboard the Molokai Princess, the island finally began to reveal itself in its true color and form. At close glance, there seemed to be nothing intimidating, or revealing, about this mysterious, multi-hued peak emerging out of the still Pacific. It looked like some sort of monument of nature frozen in time, untouched by modern influences (or concrete). I could barely make out any signs of development at all, or any inhabitants for that matter. It wasn’t long after we pulled into the harbor and I first set foot upon the main town of Kuanakakai that I really began to feel this infectious pulse of relaxation creeping down my spine. This place is as low-key as it gets. No traffic lights, no fancy hotels or beach bars, no buildings taller than the coconut palms. Just a small old-western style town with a few blocks of mom-and-pop shops, some eateries, a supermarket and just enough basic amenities to support its anchored population of 3500. This was definitely not the picture that Elvis painted in his Hawaii-inspired hit soundtrack of Girls! Girls! Girls! where he sang about “girls in bikinis a walkin’ and a wigglin’ by…”. Not here. This is Hawaii how it used to be…and Molokai sure seems to be set in its ways.
After chatting with some friendly locals on my way to get my rental car at the airport, I picked up and ignited my Chevy Spark and headed towards the eastern end of the island to meet up with my local guide, Kevin, who would be my host during my 4-day island stay. I didn’t put 2 miles on the odometer before I would initiate a compulsive habit of pulling the car over every few minutes to snap a photo and fill my nostrils with the flower-and-sea scented air. My eagerness to get out and “feel the vibe” definitely got the best of me. The calming scenery and pastoral island rhythm will dictate your pace here. Like the sign posted at the airport says: “Aloha. Slow Down…this is Moloka’i”.
There is one feature that stood out above all on this island: Silence. Wow. A totally unfamiliar sensation to this city boy. This was the sound of total and true silence. What I was hearing was most likely my heartbeat, which had been truncated to a sedated-like 50 bpm under a skin-tingling breeze, simply numbing to the senses. You could hear two birds whisper to one another from across the tree tops of the island’s historic Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove. It was the calmest sea I had ever seen…flat and glossy like a layer of saran wrap over a freshly polished marble desktop. A fringe of beautifully skewed and intersecting palms lines the shore in a setting so intensely perfect you would swear it was a movie set for a Cast Away sequel. This place felt like a world away from the tourist-seducing island of Maui and it’s lively port of Lahaina, just across the “pond”, from which I had just departed less than two hours earlier. If this was the “real Hawaii” that people often speak about, why had I only been familiar with the “dreamed up” version for all these years, centered around luaus and Mai Thais? Why isn’t this advertised by travel agents worldwide? I didn’t really need the answers to these questions at this point. I was just happy to be standing there, breathing in the intoxicating air of this veiled island and peeling away layers of its mystery that had simmered in my mind for all these years.
My directions to meet my host took me along a wonderful coastal road that runs from the main town to the east end of the island, passing ancient fish ponds, rural homes scattered along the quiet shoreline, spacious ranches with beautiful white horses and slices of beach so perfect, and surprisingly untouched, you might question whether they are open to the public or reserved as some sort of island exhibit to lure Oprah Winfrey over from her upcountry Maui mansion. Native Kukui blossoms and Plumerias line the roadside like children awaiting the start of the Christmas Light Parade (which is held in the main town every year, drawing nearly half of the entire island population). Anytime you pass another person along the road in Molokai (which isn’t often), you immediately feel an impulse to raise your hand off the wheel and exchange in a mutual waive that translates into something like “Aloha my friend, good to see another face out here.” Unlike the pineapple industry, which was once an economic mainstay for Molokai for most of the 20th century, the “aloha spirit” is very much alive and thriving on this island. There was no “stink eye” here, only curious eyes that seemed delighted to see a fresh face. I felt very welcome…and very lucky.
I met up with my host Kevin at his home in Ualapue and after a quick carb load of Loco Moco and Chicken Katsu, we headed out to explore further along the secluded eastern coast of Molokai. After stopping at a few seriously scenic lookouts and mapping out some inland views of the “heiaus” (ancient burial grounds), we wound our way around the island’s lush east side via a dizzying road that slithers like a copperhead all the way to the entrance to Halawa Valley. This is the original settlement on the island and one of its most sacred regions to this day. There’s a classic view of the valley from a point just off the road, but I wanted a different view from the cliché one I had seen so many times during my internet Google searches for “Molokai images”. Upon knowing this, my guide Kevin springs like a bushman hot on the trail of an axis deer onto a not-so-obvious path leading through some nasty Keawe trees towards the end of a peninsula overlooking the valley. Keawe isn’t the kind of terrain you wanna go trailblazing through in shorts and flip flops. I knew the view would be worth every scrape and drop of blood I was about to shed from these thorny shrubs as we paved a fresh path, so I followed him without hesitation. Fifteen minutes and about 25 shin-to-calf cuts later, we reached the end of the peninsula, parched and wounded, and stood over a miraculous view of the coast in all directions.
The postcard-famous Halawa Valley inlet is a mosaic of emerald blue-green ocean and fertile valley which runs inland to patches of taro farms, native homesteads and an abundance of tropical flora that one would certainly need an expert nature guide to truly appreciate. With a perimeter of green mountains framing the valley on either side and flowing waterfalls in the distance, it’s understandable why the residents have fought so hard to protect this storied land from any development leading to mass tourism (as you must have a local guide to enter the valley). Standing above this scene, I listened to the gentle waves tap lightly across a bed of rocky shoreline, merging together with the calmness of a White House butler placing dinnerware on the President’s dining table. (Yes, I did just finish watching Lee Daniels’ The Butler about 45 minutes ago.) The ocean around Molokai is the same body of water surrounding the neighboring islands of Oahu and Maui, but you’d seriously have to convince me so if I wasn’t aware of the other islands’ close proximity. There is a calmness and silence here that one would be challenged to find in other parts of Hawaii. You can’t describe it. You have to feel it. Time begins to stand still from the moment you arrive to this island and one could easily feel teletransported to the pre-Polynesian era, long before the first boats arrived and brought the original settlers ashore. A place like this should be teeming with tourists. The fact that it’s not reinforces that special feeling you get when you first arrive. You are one of the lucky ones who have made it to see Hawaii in its truest form.
The next day, we joined some locals for a hike to a rarely visited area on the island’s west side (though most areas of Molokai can be classified as “rarely visited”). Our backpacks loaded with Spam musubi, Gatorade and lilikoi, we headed out on a trek to a “locals” beach – a place well beyond the end of the road – called Kaupoa. Along a 45 minute hike through what looked and felt like the Australian Outback, we passed several empty beaches (that would make any resort developer absolutely salivate), eventually arriving at our target destination. If you’ve ever dreamed of an oasis at the end of a long, hot and dusty road, Kaupoa is the reality of this dream. Fluffy golden sand and that tropical water a perfect shade of piercing Hawaiian blue had us all mesmerized at first sight. Bear in mind, I was witnessing this with 3 locals who have lived in Molokai for years, and their jaws were just as wide open as mine in the presence of this untainted scenery. We were like 4 kids in a Toys ‘R’ Us for the first time, not another shopper in sight…and it was all ours for the taking. We couldn’t wait to dive in and indulge. With every footstep sinking deeper into the marshmellow-like sand, I eagerly made my way to the ocean to feel this glimmering water on my heated skin and lose myself in a dreamlike setting for a day…or perhaps a month if no one were to wake me up. I could tell that my companions had gained an even greater appreciation of their homeland upon seeing this place. We spent the day swimming and walking along the tide pools and lava rocks, enjoying the sights of a variety of marine species such as eels, crabs, opihi shellfish, bat rays, colorful butterfly fish and even an undisturbed monk seal that was basking in the sun like a retired Arctic field surveyor. It is one of those unique corner pockets of the island that Molokai seems to somehow casually keep secret.
Behind the beach there is an abandoned campground hosting a collection of retired bungalows and lonely palms that appear to have not seen a visitor for decades. This is partially true, as Kaupoa was a former tourist hot spot in the late 90’s-early 2000’s that was sadly shut down and left abandoned and is slowly becoming swallowed up by the scraggy coastal vegetation. It’s a fate difficult to wrap one’s mind around, being that this is the perfect paradise getaway for those seeking such a refuge. Pride-fueled politics and disputes between the locals and the Molokai Ranch, who own the property, have resulted in a resort ghost town (home to presumably some of the most relaxed ghosts in the world). The tipping point: the natives refusing to allow further development at La’au Point, a sacred site just south of Kaupoa, resulting in the Molokai Ranch shutting down operations. It is a paradise lost, but still able to be discovered by the curious traveler. We were such on this day, and we did just that. What people once would pay a handsome sum of dollars to enjoy, we had all to ourselves, all for the simple price of a sweaty 45 minute hike, some muddy flip flops and a little sunburn on the neck. It was the perfect escape.
There was a mutual disbelief among us that places like this can still be found in Hawaii after all the decades of mass tourism and global marketing of this island chain to the world. This site is an ironic example of how Molokai works. A once booming resort complex that feuled future commercial development ambitions couldn’t survive the forces of nature and its native voices that defy anything that threatens the traditions that this island so proudly protects. Had money won over pride, Molokai might not be too distinguishable from its neighbors. Far more important than selling its soul for cash is the Molokai community’s deep-rooted values of “aloha ‘aina and malama ‘aina” (love and care for the land). Their true wealth is measured by the extent of their generosity and the preservation of these values.
It’s hard to imagine myself standing on a crowded beach like Waikiki again, surrounded by rows of sun-baked tourists courting their umbrella-dressed cocktails (with the famous golden arches of Mickey D’s just a few yards away), and feeling that I’ve arrived to experience any semblance of the real Hawaii. A trip to Molokai will change everything you’ve ever known, thought you knew, or ever imagined about the phrase “getting away”. Though I had 4 full days in Molokai, all it took was a few hours there to convince me that this was the Hawaii many people seek, but rarely find. It feels like a lost piece of time…like a classic vintage recording stuck in pause mode, just waiting for someone to come along and push the play button. For those who do, its timeless harmonies and pacifying melodies will loop in your mind long after you leave…as the dusty reels continue to spin at their own speed…as they always have, and most likely, always will.
Happy New Year from the Gringo With A Green Bag!
A “Running Man” in Puerto Rico
Amigos, it is my pleasure to introduce to you a whole NEW way of travel! This is Puerto Rico…as the world has never seen before… 🙂 #GringoWithAGreenBag
Gringo With A Green Bag takes on Puerto Rico
Just wrapped my latest travel video folks! Next week, get ready to see the island of Puerto Rico live you’ve NEVER seen it before! 🙂 I think the cows are still scratching their heads at what they witnessed…
Midas Resort – BELIZE!
Some resort destinations just have that perfect touch. I had the pleasure to experience this recently, as I filmed a promo piece for Midas Resort, located in Belize’s fascinating jungle interior in the town of San Ignacio. Any trip to Belize MUST include a journey into the Cayo District, which is the country’s most prominent nature, eco-adventure and Mayan history region. The exploration opportunities here are endless…just like the tropical serenade of the native green parrots who frequent the resort grounds. Next time you’re in Belize, be sure to pack some nature-trekking gear along with your swimsuit, crack an ice-cold Belikin and come see what the “Midas Touch” is all about! www.midasbelize.com