Posts Tagged With: photography

Winter Wonderland

“A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight…Walking in a Winter Wonderland”.  It is my favorite Christmas song (the Tony Bennett version).


So, Happy 2013 my friends, family, fellow bloggers and curious travelers!  Hot diggety Mayan damn…we made it!  This is my first blog of the year (only 15 days in, kicking that “no procrastination” resolution’s ass!)…and this one is a tribute to my homeland:  Wisconsin, U.S.A.

I’ve lived in California for most of my life, but my roots, native pride and sports enthusiasm will always reside with Wisconsin…the state that welcomed me into this world, made me a certified cheesehead (google it if you’re not familiar with the term) and gave me enough awesome childhood memories to last a lifetime.  I got to spend the recent holiday with my family up there, and finally got to make a huge, long-awaited checkmark on my over-flowing bucketlist…going to a Packers game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay!  Gringo With A Green Bag In Green Bay…now doesn’t that just sing awesomeness! It was a lifelong dream…and it was realized. I hope 2013 brings lots of dreams to life for all of us 🙂

Don’t let that sun fool ya. It was painfully cold out there.

Couldn’t feel my hands or face at this point. Snot frozen to my lip. Feet like icebergs.


Brats and brew on ice in Green Bay before the Packers game…it doesn’t get much better folks! (photo by Todd Thoune)

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Full Circle

It all began in 1996. 19 years young. As a Navy serviceman, I was offered the very fortunate and life-changing opportunity to get stationed overseas…destination Spain. I had never traveled outside of U.S. borders. The next 3 years of my life would define my purpose, my passion and my tolerance for second-hand smoke, crazy mopeds, loud locals, rum & coke, pumping music all night at the discos, being lost in translation and transport…etc., etc.  It was here where my curiosity came to life, my passion for travel and culture was rooted and my very first travel photos were snapped.  It was also the first place I had seen a topless beach…(still looking for those photos).

When I left Spain, I was 22. I remember that feeling that I had when I first departed, like I had just been given the keys to the world.  It was only a matter of time before I would be wishing to unlock the next door.  So after 13 years of living a life that was propelled by my experiences in Spain, I finally got the opportunity to return to the land that had made me the person I am today.  My friends kept telling me that Spain had changed a lot from our Navy days back in the late 90’s…but to me it was all too familiar upon arrival.  A little confusion with the Madrid airport terminal/arrival set-up and lack of helpful communication from the rental car agents had delayed my meet-up time with my sister and brother-in-law by 2 hours.  Not the best start to our trip. But, I had to heed my own advice, which I had wisely given to my travel companions:  “When you get there, you have to leave convenience behind and just go with the flow”.  What I was really thinking was:  “Where’s the nearest bar?!”

Besides that initial setback, what was also familiar to me upon returning to this country was it’s ability to transport you to a magical, Old World and almost surrealistic place while traveling within it’s borders. There is an expression I read recently:  “When you travel to Spain, you must surrender to Spain”.  This couldn’t be more true.  Spain will demand all of your senses.  You must oblige in order to understand what this country is all about…and what it’s people live for.  It’s traditions are strong, deep and wonderfully shaped by the many cultures who once descended on this land and left their mark.  There is the powerfully captivating, gypsy-influenced music and dance of flamenco and Sevillana…the spirit of bullfighting and it’s legendary matadors…remnants of a glorious past from the days of Columbus’ explorations to the New World…the serenity of the pueblos blancos…wine perfected to please anyone’s taste…and some seriously delicious food (don’t even get me started on that heavenly Jamón Ibérico, that’s a whole other blog!).  There are constant reminders of the Roman, Moorish and Catholic Monarchy eras throughout the country…and a history, scenery and architecture of unimaginable splendor and abundance. You must taste it, feel it, smell it, hear it, see it and let it work it’s way into your soul…(and your wallet, unfortunately…damn that Euro!).

Now there’s some things about Spain that will never cease to leave their earnest impressions upon it’s visitors. Follow me.

First, the Spanish are the loudest human beings on planet Earth. Call it passionate speech, pure corporeal expression…whatever.  They talk louder than an angry mob of Italian brokers with dysfunctional hearing-aids at the NY Stock Exchange.  Maybe since there’s so many old people in the country everyone thinks they have to speak at +20 decibels louder than the normal human speech level.  I don’t know, but you will swear everyone you hear on the street who is engaged in a public conversation is ready to punch the lights out of whoever they are talking to.  Their speech is rhythmic and distinguishingly Castilian, yet can often sound angry and irritable.  But, from what I’ve learned, it’s just the unfiltered passion of expression that runs deep in the Iberian bloodline.  You hear it in their music, you see it in their dance and you definitely taste it in their food (oh, Gazpacho Andaluz, how I miss you dearly…).  I just bring earplugs along so I don’t have to hear the neighbors screaming to each other about how the peaceful the baby looks while sleeping.

Second, you will often find yourself lost as a traveler in Spain. Let me repeat, you will be lost and will be frustrated and will curse the fools who forgot to post the sign pointing you in the proper direction after your umpteenth roundabout u-turn to get back in the right direction.  Just accept it.  Like I told my travel companions, it just makes the beer and food taste all the more better once you finally get to where you are going.  No one is on time anyway, so you’re never late.

Third, you will eat the best olives you have ever eaten in your life, and you will dream about them once you are gone.  You will try to order olives at your local Mediterranean restaurant when you return home to try and get the “authentic” Spanish variety…but you will be disappointed and soon realize that you will never eat olives anywhere in the world like you will in Spain.  You will become an addict, like I did, and will want to brush your teeth with olive oil every morning just to remind you of those perfect little savory Mediterranean delicacies.

Fourth, you will say “Holy Shit!” on numerous occasions while sightseeing throughout the country.  I’m talking about seeing stuff that you won’t even believe you are looking at.  Towering Roman aqueducts over 2000 years old, beautiful castles straight out of a fairytale novel, medieval towns that will take your breath away (and your side rearview mirrors if you try to drive through some of their impossibly narrow streets), inspiring landscapes that will transport you to the days of Don Quixote, cathedrals and mosques of impossible beauty, scale and grandeur, and monuments and plazas of such artistry that will instantly drain your camera battery.  Yes, you will curse at the sight of these things.  No worries though, there is a church at every corner for you to confess your sins.

Finally (to sum up my thoughts), you will leave Spain knowing that you have traveled to one of the most vibrant, impression-lasting, inspiring and history-transforming countries the world has ever known.  Chances are, you will be back for more.  After 13 years away, it wasn’t so much that Spain had changed.  But I sure had, all for the better….and I have Spain to thank for that.  It made my new experience there that much richer.  In the words of Ernest Hemingway:  “If you travel to only one foreign country in your lifetime, be sure to travel to Spain.”  I’d have to concur.  Although, he also said “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk”….and that didn’t work out too good for me.

Gracias, España

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Earth Day 2012

Today is a great day to celebrate the beauty of our planet.  As the world keeps turning and providing us with the resources we need to survive, we should all take the time to appreciate our home in this vast universe and re-focus our efforts on living a more sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle.  Before I head out on my hike today to soak up some oxygen, sun rays and enjoy the sounds of the birds…I’d like to share a few of my favorite nature spots from around the world. Happy Earth Day 2012 my friends!

“Let us to permit nature to have her way. She understands her business better than we do.”  –  Michel de Montaigne

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High desert fashion…Bolivian style

People often ask me, “What’s your favorite country that you’ve visited?” I always find it to be an impossible question to answer. It’s like comparing your children, I imagine. They are all unique, and you love them all (some more stressful than others) but there’s always that one that you like to brag about. For me, Bolivia is that one I ALWAYS brag about. What do I love about it? Simple, it’s like no other place you will ever visit in your life. Sadly, Bolivia often escapes the travel radar of most people. Mountainous, rugged and landlocked between the Andes and the Amazon, it’s not the easiest place to navigate. It doesn’t have the stunning coastline and international flair of it’s neighbors Brazil, Argentina and Chile. It’s also the poorest country in South America. But what it does have, thanks to its isolation, is a world of exotic landscapes, deep-rooted indigenous traditions, and some of the most interesting and fashionable natives you’ll ever come in contact with. For the intrepid explorer looking for a one-of-a-kind travel experience, you best mark Bolivia on your bucket list!

In the Bolivian Highlands, market Sunday in Tarabuco is especially colorful, as Bolivians love to put on their Sunday best and hit the town to buy, sell and barter goods with their fellow countrymen and tourists. This all-day swap meet begins bright and early (like 4am early) for many of the local Yampara people who walk 4 to 6 hours up and over the mountains from their ranches and homes to participate in the weekly market. Though my bartering with Red Vines didn’t work too well here, I did get a nice deal on a wooden flute and a bag of coca leaves. I really wanted to buy a charango (Andean stringed instrument) but I spent all my Bolivianos on tips for the locals who granted me some awesome photo opportunities. (Work that scarf baby!)

So let me just tell you about the Bolivians up here. As a photographer, my senses always ignite when I see raw life, tradition and color blending together in a visual concoction so fluid that my eyes struggle to keep pace. I’ve never seen a more fashion-conscious indigenous people…especially a tradition of dress that extends to the men as well. Women are pretty universal when it comes to wanting to look nice, but the dudes up here take “superstylin” to another level. Their traditional Yampara outfits not only preserve their identity, but they also advertise their location of origin to others. The men here sport colorful ponchos called “unkus”, many with horzontal stripes and regional colors. Scarves, patterned sweaters and woolen caps called “chullas” are also common threads among males. The women, known as “cholitas”, are typically seen in an outfit consisting of an apron over a layered skirt (“pollera”), a blouse, sweater and a rainbow-colored shawl used for everything from carrying babies to firewood. Their signature hats and braided hair seem to be a critical accessory to their look, along with those striped hand bags you see everywhere. It all works together quite nicely. In the words of my Aunt Cheryl, their style is “casual, yet smart…self-assured and oddly elegant”. Now let’s talk about those hats…

The one feature that is undeniably “Bolivian” is their hats. They love ’em! They rock those cool hats like breakdancers rocked Converse in the 80’s. They come in all styles, shapes, sizes and colors…straw hats, bowler hats, cowboy brimmed, alpaca wool beanies, crazy turtle shell looking things…quite an impressive variety. I offered to trade my baseball cap for one guy’s dusty Clint Eastwood looking Stetson, with no success. (Hard to find a Brewers fan in the Andes, let alone anywhere outside of Wisconsin). For women, the choice of hat frequently signals marital status. (Must be nice for the dudes!). Single women wear wool hats and married women wear leather. Among the most popular for women is the bowler hat (“bombin”), introduced by British railway workers in the 1920’s. There is a common saying about the bowler hat: “Born in Britian, perfected by Bolivia”. Some wear it straight up, some to the side. Hat styles change every year:  color, height and width of the brim. I can just picture the cholita gossip around the local market…”OMG, look at her…that 2 inch brim is SO last year!”

The Bolivians don’t dress to impress one another, they dress in a way that represents where they come from and their pride of being indigenous. It is important for them to keep tradition alive. Tradition is at the heart of their culture…and they protect it well. Not to mention, they look pretty damn good doing it! And that’s just one of the many reasons I love Bolivia. It’s probably a good thing that it has been over-looked by mass tourism over the years. There is an old world charm and purity here that is untainted by the outside world. I highly recommend a visit. Just remember to ditch your coca leaves at the border!

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Nikon SLR training in indigenous Argentina

ImageThese kids had awesome haircuts and a great time seeing their world through the Nikon lens!

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