Posts Tagged With: travel photography

Happy New Year from the Gringo With A Green Bag!

Happy New Year 2017

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First light on Rainbow Bay

_DSC7443-web(Rainbow Bay – Eleuthera, Bahamas)

This was my first morning on my recent trip to the Bahamas, up early (5:45am). I always love to catch the sunrise on my first day in any new place. It’s my way of connecting with nature…having some personal time in my new surroundings. This is the best way to set the tone for the experience that lies ahead. Sit in silence. Get a feel for the environment. Breathe in the freshest air of the day. Listen to the earliest whispers of the wind and sea. You can’t beat it. You really can’t. (unless you brought along a rum bucket and an endless supply of jelly donuts)

#GringoWithAGreenBag  #FreedomTour

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Hello Beach…goodbye Summer!

Hot damn, Sep 1 already??? What the…?? I was just barely stocking up on SPF-50! Welcome to this month’s #TravelTuesday special feature: The ‪#‎Beach‬! I’m pretty bummed that Summer has zipped by faster than that shoe that got hurled at G.W.Bush’s head. I live near the coast, and I’m sure we’ll have a sweltry Indian Summer that lasts through October here in California, but I’m still gonna miss the Summer season of BBQ, baseball games and carefree fun in the sun…which seems like it lasted a week. So let’s get some virtual sand in our toes to last us ’til next Summer… 🙂

¡Adios Verano!

The Beach - 1(Rincon, Puerto Rico)

The Beach - 6(Cahuita, Costa Rica)

The Beach - 7(Dog Island, Panama)

The Beach - 2(Jericoacoara, Brazil)

The Beach - 3(Great Ocean Road, Australia)

The Beach - 3(Mexican Caribbean)

The Beach - 5(Molokai – Hawaii)

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New GWAGB Logo…click, click

GWAGB-LOGO Big THANKS and shout out to my buddy Vinny (www.beensentoe.com) and author of the webcomic Tako-Salad for hooking me up with the new GWAGB logo! Check out his work, he’s a true talent if there ever was one! By the way, the Gringo loves taco salads. Be sure to get your weekly dose of Tako-Salad every Tuesday.

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2015 Travel & Adventure Show in LA – Feb 21-22

Hey amigos! If you’re in the LA area on Feb 21-22 come on down to the Travel & Adventure Show, the premiere travel event in the U.S.! The Gringo With A Green Bag will be there to cover all the action, as I will be doing some travel documentary and video journalism work to highlight some of the best travel destinations and experiences the world has to offer! Come and see what’s hot in the wonderful world of travel and stay to see some of the event’s featured speakers, including Rick Steves, Samantha Brown, Pauline Frommer and many, many more! So dust off your favorite safari hat, bring your adventurous spirit and come say hi to the Gringo if you see me out there with the green bag and camera (or microphone) in hand. 🙂 See you there!

(Event sponsored by the Travel Channel)

GWAGB

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Humbled in the Jungle – Calakmul, Mexico

Calakmul - 1

What is it about trekking through the jungle that sends omenously cool vibrations sprinting down my spinal column? It’s wild, unpredictable, mysterious – kind of like walking into a strip club in Vegas on your 21st birthday – it’s just an exhilarating (and intimidating) place to be. So when I heard about this massive ancient Mayan site embedded in the remotest of remote  jungles near the southern end of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to make the trip down to check out the remains of what was once among the most influential sites in the history of the Mayan Empire:  Calakmul.

From what I understood, it was a bit of an effort to get there. There’s only 1 hotel within a 60km radius and if you Google “Calakmul” on a map you end up with a location marker that lands in the middle of absolute nowhere within a huge Biosphere Reserve just north of the Guatemalan border, several hours away from anything remotely familiar to the average Mexico traveler. This is the beauty of traveling to places like this. Only the adventurous few will make the effort, so the experience will feel unique and untainted and you’ll never have to worry about crowds, traffic jams or crying toddlers in strollers begging for ice cream while you pass through the turnstile. (No, I’m not a big fan of Disneyland, you guessed correctly.) An exit south off of highway 186, which slices horizontally through the state of Campeche, took me on a long, lonely road flanked by endless miles of a subtropical forest that has seen only the most intrepid of travelers pass through its sequestered corridor.

Calakmul - 2

After a lengthy drive deep into the jungle, with every revolving digit of the odometer reminding you that you are advancing one frame further from civilization, I arrived at the Calakmul visitor’s center/museum. Plenty to see there while killing time, but my eagerness to explore had ignited my appetite so I grabbed some Doritos and an empanada and then hopped in a van with a few other travelers to make our way down another long (dirt) road, which really reassured me of the remoteness of this ancient wonder. Upon arrival to the ruins site, I performed my typical jungle-trekking ritual of mosquito repellent-bathing, calf-stretching and a second round of mosquito repellent-bathing. There was a lovely scenic walking path leading to the actual ruins, passing through an expanding canopy of dense forest with filtered sunbeams penetrating the jungle roof like a laser light show transmitted from heaven. The environment here is raw, stimulating, overwhelming to the senses…it kind of reminds me of walking through the olive & pickle market in Spain back in the day. The deeper I get into it, the more I start salivating. I finally arrive to the actual ruins and am immediately thrown into the set of Apocalypto (“please don’t let me run into a black jaguar on its lunch break”, was my first thought). The ruins were imposingly present throughout the area and seemed in a very natural state. I climbed to the top of the first structure I saw. The view (and the 60+  steps) took my breath away.

Calakmul - 3

Calakmul - 4

Standing above the jungle canopy atop the remains of an ancient structure of a kingdom that once rivaled Tikal as one of the grandest and most powerful cities of the Mayan world will quickly halt your mind into “pause” mode – and then force you to reflect on the former reality and historical scope of your surroundings. This was the land of rulers and kings…the turf of brave and brutal warriors and conquerors (and angry little monkeys, but we’ll get to that). The view of adjacent temples popping up through the blanket of vegetation in the distance is one that your brain will quickly file into the category of “Holy Shit – Awesome!”. Several large structures were scattered throughout the area, and if each one could speak I’m sure it would have countless tales spanning centuries of discovery, war, peace, famine and wonder. (That, or it would tell me to “clean your shoes before walking on my face, jerk!”) The surrounding jungle sprawls out endlessly in all directions, and the louring echo of howler monkeys adds an eerie soundtrack to the surreal scene that quietly envelopes you. When you sit there and think about the history that a place like this has written in its fraction of existence on Earth, and the countless lives that lived and were lost here, you are humbled…and you are also reminded of your very fortunate place in the annals of time. We live in a time where science answers many of the natural wonders that the original inhabitants of this land would never understand…a time where technology allows us to connect with and discover the farthest corners of the globe…a time where you won’t get sacrificed for being on the losing side in a game of kickball. As I explored Calakmul, I remained humbly cognizant of its historical significance. I walked among symbols of great power and strolled through ancient hallways of artistry and wonder.

Calakmul - 5

Now let’s get to these monkeys that were ready to engage with me in a full-on turf war. What began as a cordial initial encounter, with the natural underpinnings of curiosity, quickly turned into a Clint Eastwood “Get off my lawn” scenario where the native tree-dwellers began to express to me just how peeved they were with my presence in their “jungle hood”. I hadn’t been briefed on the hospitality of the local monkey community before entering the area, therefore I just continued to go about my business, observe them, photograph them and proudly reinforce to them (by standing my ground) that there wasn’t gonna be any Planet Of The Apes-inspired ego flung in my direction. What WAS flung in my direction, however, was a tree branch straight towards my head by one of the two feisty little hairy bastards that I was shooting in the trees above, followed by some maniacal gestures of chest-beating and flashing of the teeth (those teeth are no joke!). This isn’t how I typically like to be received into a new place. The capuchins in Costa Rica posed for my camera like girls auditioning for a Lowrider magazine cover on Instagram. There was no “Welcome” mat on these two monkeys’ front porch. They began shaking the tree branches and beating on their chests like little King Kong wannabies. Oh, hell no. It was getting serious now. I was dealing with some bonafide bullies. As soon as that tree branch came flying towards my head, I was reminded of my surroundings in this “wild” and “unpredictable” jungle environment. This isn’t like being at the zoo where you’re able to laugh and make faces at an animal and feel safe from retaliation due to the security provided by the double-paned glass or steel cage that lies between you and the animal. This was the wild wild west of Mexican jungles – untamed and virtually unexplored – and these monkeys were the last holdouts of their village who weren’t gonna backdown from any foreign “bandits” armed with cameras and binoculars. I must admit, the intimidation tactics did work. (Again, those teeth are no joke!) I didn’t stick around too much longer to find out of they were bluffing. I wasn’t in the mood for a face full of poo that day, or a couple of jungle hoodlums trying to bully me for my bananas. Their aggressive behavior was enough for me to wrap up my photo shoot and quickly move along. Monkeys 1 – Gringo 0.

Calakmul - 6

The fact that you can visit one of the world’s most fascinating remnants of ancient times and experience the full ambience of the natural world that surrounds it makes Calakmul a “must-see” destination on anyone’s Mexico travel list. Here, you can enjoy Mayan ruins that rival all of the grandeur and scale of the ruins of Chichen-Itza, but in a much more exotic and remote (and far less manicured) environment. You’ll also escape the crowds of day-trippers and local vendors trying to negotiate the “good price for you” sale of painted jaguar masks and plastic pyramid paper weights. If Chichen-Itza is Starbucks, then Calakmul is your out-of-the-way coffee shop reserved for enjoying an authentic blend in a quiet environment. Calakmul offers its visitors a chance to enjoy some seriously impressive ruins and experience the environment the way the ancient Maya saw it – in a natural state, remotely enclosed by the very jungle that witnessed its rise and fall. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a close encounter with the modern-day native inhabitants of this exotic land…the wildlife. There is an abundance. Just watch your back. As soon as a tree branch comes flying towards your head it might be your cue to continue your tour and move on to the next structure. As I was reminded, it’s best to never outstay your welcome in the wild…a lesson I also learned in the chaotic urban jungle of Mardi Gras in New Orleans back in 1996, but that’s a story for another day.

Calakmul - 7

Calakmul - 8

Calakmul - 9

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Life’s Journey…

Life's Journey

Words to live by.

Categories: Inspiration, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Final thoughts of 2014…

So, as the clock tics its final tocs to closeout another year, I always find myself getting a bit reflective (and I’m not talking about my pasty Wisconsin-bred winter skin tone.) Like most people, I like to reflect on the year that was, and imagine the year ahead that might be. It’s an inspiring time of year for many of us. Time to remember the good, leave the bad behind and embrace a fresh start. For me, I’ve gained the most inspiration in life from the people I’ve met around the world, listening to their stories and hearing about their dreams. I’d like to share an experience that I had a few years back, one that continues to inspire me daily.

A few years ago I was hiking in the Canadian Rockies, up in Yoho National Park. I had just completed the most challenging hike of my life and I was sitting in my wilderness hostel one night, all alone, just nursing a few blisters. It was a shared room with 4 beds. Several hours went by and no one else had checked into the room, so I assumed I would have the room to myself. Later that night, while I was preparing to go to bed, an old man walks into the room wearing a headlamp and heavy winter gear and kindly introduces himself. He was layered from head to toe with backpacking attire, a bit out of breath and had an adrenaline high on his face as if he had just escaped the jaws of a grizzly bear. At first I thought he was the owner of the hotel coming to greet me, as his guest. Turns out he was a 77-year-old backpacker who had just completed the full Iceline Trail, the one I had just completed a shortcut version of a few hours earlier. This is a serious hike (at serious altitude). My shins and knees were still throbbing like teenage girls’ hearts in the presence of The Beatles in the 60’s. My first thought was to ask the man if he could spare some BenGay. It was probably the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done. A straight-up joint killer. This old man had hiked about 7 miles further than I did, the full loop, and he looked fresher then I had when I limped back off the trail several hours earlier (though he was 40 years older). As roommates for the night, we ended up chatting for quite a while. He was a very interesting person, one of the most interesting people I have ever met. He’s the type of guy who had done everything, been everywhere, and had interesting and adventurous story after story recounting memories that spanned every decade that I had been alive. He said he originally came from Hungary. As a child (from a Hungarian-Jewish family), he lived through the Nazi invasion and occupation during WWII. Lost some family members to the war and concentration camps. As a young adult, he joined the military and was involved in the Hungarian Revolution against the Soviets in 1956. He said he had traveled to over 80 countries in his lifetime. I figured he had been a nomad all of his life, getting an early start on his travels through immigration and the military, but he told me he didn’t start traveling until he was well into his 40’s, after a divorce and a fresh start in life after decades living under Soviet communist rule (and a dictator for a wife). He said he felt like he hadn’t lived until he started seeing the world and began carving out a new path in life. He told me that on his 75th birthday he made the biggest checkmark on his lifetime bucketlist, spending a week hiking through the Peruvian Andes and climbing up to Machu Picchu. He did this at 75. Two years later, as I would sit and speak with him, it was obvious that he was still going strong and chasing his next goal in life.

There’s no excuse why we all can’t have a fresh start in life. Health factors aside, time and age impose no limit to what we can achieve and when we decide to do it. The only obstacle is in our mind. Only our minds can create that illusion of expiration. I can only hope to have such fervor for life at the age of 75. To wake up and still feel that motivation, that drive, to do something you’ve always wanted to do…but just never did it. Why do we give up on our goals and dreams? When we ask ourselves why, the most common reason is fear…fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of an expiration date, fear of what people might think. Those are all just petty excuses for putting something off and avoiding change. If you think your “time has expired” to live a life that makes you happy or to pursue your next goal in life, you’re wrong. Some goals and dreams may not be attainable due to the timing of things, understandably, but if you’ve dreamed once in your life you can dream a million times more. Set new goals. Have something to get motivated for. (Like James Brown said: “You gotta have mooo-tivation!”) Who said we are only allowed to enjoy dreams while we’re asleep? We have every liberty and opportunity to enjoy and live out our dreams while we’re wide awake. And don’t let your mind conjure up an excuse for why you can’t start living the life you want today. Make a change if you’re unhappy. You owe it to the rest of your life. As the 77-year-old man with the backpack proved to me, any day is a great day for a fresh start.

Cheers to a fresh start…and Happy New Year!

D. James

Iceline Trail - Canada (Iceline Trail – Yoho National Park, Canada)

Categories: Inspiration, Life, New Year, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Puerto Rico – “Isla Del Encanto” – Sunsets

Puerto Rico sunset 01(Aguada)

One of several things you are guaranteed to find on the island of Puerto Rico (besides delightfully potent and colorful rum concoctions, fried pockets of meat-stuffed plantains at every turn and the infectious beat of Caribbean rhythms that can force even the gringoest of gringos to break into a Carmen Miranda-like hip shuffle) is an epic sunset. In order to find the best ones, however, you must leave the tourist-mousetrap of San Juan (which does offer up some rather enticing bait) and head towards the western end of the island where the final footprints of day slowly fade away behind the dreamy Pacific. Sunsets on a tropical island always seem more enjoyable than those viewed from anywhere else. They just do. Several theories here:  1) It could be the consistently dramatic island skies, which are typically filled with swirling and color-bending clouds that hover above the ocean like seagulls in search of surface appetizers, reflecting the lovely golden and pastel hues of the “magic hour”. 2) The calmness and serenity of being on a landmass surrounded by water and fringed with photogenic palms, isolated from the rest of the world and so far away from the monotonies of the “normal” life back home, which forced you to buy that ticket in the first place. 3) Feeling like you are in a privileged place at the perfect moment in time while all of your friends back home are sitting at a desk counting the tic-tocs until they can leave behind the office grind and dive into the not-so-flowing stream of rush hour traffic. 4) You’ve just consumed your fourth Piña Colada or Mai Tai, and everything you witness is “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!”. Yeah, fruity drinks injected with alcohol do have that effect on me sometimes. The only downside of that is being able to properly focus your camera or iphone as the Earth beneath you begins to spin double-time. Whatever the reason, there’s no denying that Puerto Rico offers up sunsets that can rival those found anywhere around the world. On a stage that has been set to provide much drama, beauty and inspiration to all those who come out to watch…the sunsets of Puerto Rico have played a praiseworthy role.

Puerto Rico sunset 02(Vieques)

Puerto Rico sunset 03(Rincon)

Puerto Rico sunset 04(Rincon)

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Puerto Rico – Isla Del Encanto – waterfalls

As promised, I must honor my word and bring you the best of the best from last month’s Puerto Rico adventure! I found so much beauty and diversity all throughout the island, I don’t really know where to start. So I’ll just spin the jog wheel on the mouse and see where the cursor lands. (Spinning…done) This secluded waterfall (near the town of San Sebastián) was found as a result of Doing Your Homework Before You Travel. It’s a bit of an effort to get here, but that’s the whole idea, verdad? I mean, yeah…you can take the easier roads to some of the more accessible falls right off the highway (à la Maui’s Road to Hana, where you don’t even have to leave your vehicle…but good luck getting a decent photo without navigating your lens through the human traffic jam)…or you can get your numb-from-the-car-ride buttocks off the path, trek through a Jurassic Park-like environment, get some mud on the shoes, donate to the local mosquito blood drive and reward yourself with a spectacular slice of nature that can be quietly enjoyed in the company of a very few other lucky travelers, or even alone, if you time it right. The falls were pristine and the dip in the natural pool was a (testicle-shrinkingly) perfect way to spend the afternoon. Did I mention the water was cold?

Puerto Rico - waterfalls

Puerto Rico - waterfalls 02

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