Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Back to Nature

Wild Flower

Another week has passed and it’s time again to sit down and write a blog post, which also includes editing some of my favorite photos from the past week! I look forward to these days for an entire week, thinking about possible ideas to write about, and always keeping an eye out for the beauty that is all around us. 

The upcoming weeks are so full of excitement that sometimes it is a bit hard to think about what is behind me as I keep focusing on what’s to come. But, with a long weekend behind us, thinking about fun events should be a breeze!

By far, my favorite part of the weekend was how in touch with the world I feel I was. This involves both nature and people. After all, we are all an important part of our world, even if sometimes we fail to realize it, or choose not to think about it. Nature and people are very interconnected, I think. We are all part of the same cycle of birth, death and living.

More wild flowers
Anyway, after a few crazy weeks and weekends, Joe and I finally got to go out of the city for a long hike. When we lived in Santa Barbara, we would hike the Santa Ynez Mountains once or twice a week. The trails there were not only amazing, but they were so well connected that you could choose between going on a 4-mile hike or a 20-mile hike without having to really do much research. On top of that, all trails in Santa Barbara are dog friendly, which is probably why we didn’t think about checking if the trails in San Francisco were dog-friendly or not before adopting Bomber.

It is true that San Francisco does have amazing trails, but very few of them are dog friendly. Yes, you can find a 4 miler no problem, but if you want to set out for the day on an 8+ mile hike, you have to look really hard to find trails that allow dogs.  The reason for this is that many of the trails traverse critical habitat where many bird species nest. When a dog walks on the trails, he leaves his predator’s smell on the trail, a smell that could potentially discourage birds from coming back, affecting their habits and putting the species at risk.

amazing wild flower
Talk about us humans being interconnected with nature, or having an impact on it!

So, we looked hard for a new dog-friendly trail, and we found a trail south of the city, by the city of Pacifica. The 8-mile trail went up Montara Mountain and back with an elevation change of 1,800 feet.

We reached the trailhead early on Saturday, on a cold and cloudy morning. Bomber was pumped when he realized that he was in a new territory and he set off to explore the path.

red in nature
Along the way up to the peak, we saw an incredible variety of wild flowers and we enjoyed the gorgeous views of the Pacific for as long as we could before entering the clouds. Yes, about two thirds of the way up, we reached the clouds and were walking in them. We could hardly see what was in front of us, or below us, which made it all the more fun!

About 2 hours into our hike we reached the top, where we looked for shelter from the gusty winds and sat down to eat our lunch. Joe and I had chicken sandwiches (my mom’s recipe!), and Bomber had a peanut butter treat. Once we were all refueled, we started our descent back to the parking lot and into our warm car.

Walking on Clouds
We got back home feeling totally reenergized and happy to have been out in nature, smelling the flowers, feeling the moisture of the clouds touch our skin, and the soil cover our legs with every step we took on the dusty path.

Only nature can make you feel cleansed while getting down and dirty with you!

That was the first part of our weekend, the one involving nature’s beauty. Sadly, I do not have photos that document the second part of my weekend, the part that involved people, but I still thought I could talk about it a bit.

My loves going in the clouds
As a little bit of background, Joe and I left Minnesota a couple of years ago when we both completed graduate school, and we moved to Santa Barbara for one year. Because we knew we were going to be there for a limited amount of time, we did not put much effort into meeting people or making friends. We all know that making friends takes energy, at least if you are trying to form relationships and bonds, right? Well, once in San Francisco, we were looking forward to developing a community and, happily, we are starting to form one.

On Sunday we attended a BBQ at a friend’s house. I met my friend at the park, when we were both sitting there, watching our dogs play.  After several weeks of many park encounters, I finally decided I was “ready” to make a move and suggest grabbing a drink together at some other time.

A Fabulous sunset in SF
Even though we are still due for a drink, we see each other every week now, and we take our dogs to the park to run and play while we hang out with each other and with other people. And this past Sunday we were invited to her home to celebrate her birthday along with some of her fabulously fun friends! After 6 hours of lovely chatting and hanging out, we left her house feeling happy to have shared such wonderful time with a group of people.

Police force for the Turkish President
Now that I think about it, it’s funny how Bomber, who has sort of become an obstacle when it comes to choosing good hikes in the area, has also become a great way to meet lovely people around the city. I mean, I know at least 4 people on my block (I’m proud to say that I know both the person’s name as well as the dog’s name!) and it’s all because of my cute 12-pound bundle of energy. To some it may sound silly to say that my dog has brought a sense of community and neighborhood to my life, but the reality is that he has, and I love him all the more for that!

Montara Mountain
Other than that, this past week we witnessed a great police display when the Turkish President, who was in San Francisco, stayed about 2 blocks away from our apartment! Sometimes, when I see all 40+ police motorcycles, officers and patrols, I want to ask them if they don’t have any real crime to work on… oh well…

Tomorrow we go to Chicago for 2 days and then to Iowa for the rest of the week to attend a wedding. I have big plans for Chicago, in terms of photography, and I’m hoping to be able to realize them. As for Iowa, I know it will surprise me with its simple beauty.
Lovely fog and clouds

Flowers and Colors along the path
Poppies on the path

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Quick Day in the Wild West

Wow, it’s been over a week since I last sat down to write a post, which is way longer than I would like. The problem is that I was sick all of last week. It all started two Fridays ago with Roger Waters’ The Wall Concert. The concert, which was awesome, was at AT&T Park and, as the concert went on, the air temperature lowered, and you could really notice that the stadium was right next to the water. Despite wearing a thick poncho, I got cold, my throat was sore, and the next day I was feeling sick.

Being the active person I am, last week was a bit of torture, mixed with the obvious pleasures of staying at home, all bundled up on the couch, watching TV and eating delicious cookies baked by Joe.

Fun on the Reno Waterfront
Fortunately, I was feeling better by the end of the week as I had to go to Reno for a test. Just with a bad cough left, Joe, Bomber and I got in the car around 2:30 and started the gorgeous drive to Reno. The start was a bit rocky as it took us about two hours to get through downtown SF and over the Bay Bridge to the East Bay. After that, it was smooth sailing all the way to Reno. 

The drive through the Sierra Nevada Mountains was simply amazing. There was still snow on top of these beautiful giants, but the air temperature was warm.  We saw the sun set behind us while making the coniferous trees glow with its light.

River bridge
As we approached Reno, we thought about the fact that this was Bomber’s first time going across state lines. We also realized that exactly 3 years ago, we did the exact same drive, only that we were going the opposite way, for what was going to be our first time living in San Francisco.

Once in Reno, we settled in for the night—with a very excited puppy with us—and started getting ready for the next day.

My test was scheduled to start at 1pm on Saturday, and to last for 3 hours, so we decided to spend the morning exploring downtown Reno and, of course, taking photos. It’s funny how nowadays I see every trip, every outing, every hike, everything in general, as an opportunity for taking photos. I don’t know if they are the best photos taken of those places, but I sure know that I love the process of discovering a place through the lens of my camera, and of capturing those moments that are unique to me, to us.

Downtown Reno
I was really happy we took the time to walk around Reno. The city has done such a lovely job making the river a great place for people to walk around, play in, practice water sports in, and it has created areas that are just plain inviting for people to gather and socialize. Sort of like their own version of the Spanish plazas, but with a US twist.

After walking on the riverfront and on our way to the Reno Arch, we walked to the area where old casinos like El Dorado are located.

The heat warmed up our skins and almost made us dread going back to the not-too-warm-not-too-cold city of San Francisco. Bomber, with his Chihuahua mix, was all happiness feeling the warm sun on hit coat!

One thing I really loved about Reno is that it truly felt like the Wild West. One of my best friends spent part of her life in Reno and she always talks about the West, and now I can really see what she means. Thinking about the West evokes images of cowboys, the Gold Rush, gambling, saloons, and ghost towns. In Reno, I feel like I got a bit of all of that.

Even though we didn’t visit any ghost towns, being in Reno reminded me of one of the ghost towns we visited during one of our land travels across the West and Southwest of the US: Calico. Calico was founded in 1881 as a silver mining town and today it is open to the public. We ended up in Calico by accident on our way from Las Vegas back Los Angeles. The town appeared on the map and we simply decided to take the detour to go check it out—yes, we still use good old maps when road tripping!

Calico became a ghost town when the mineral resources, that had initially driven people to settle there, became harder to find, and eventually disappeared.  No longer a lively town, Calico is now California’s Historical Landmark #782! Looking at geography that surrounds it, it’s hard to image how a town was able to survive in the middle of the Mojave Desert. I mean, nowadays people living in desert areas make use (sometimes without even thinking about where the water is coming from) of modern ways to take water from other places (think Colorado River, watering the Southwest of the US and making it to Mexico as only a stream), but what did they do then? Wells, I suppose.
A Sample of Truckee's Charms


Back to the present and back to Reno. Once my test was done we got on the car and started heading west, back to San Francisco. On our way back, we stopped in a small town, a very lively one this time: Truckee, Nevada. With 16,000 inhabitants, this small town was named after a Native American Chief, and is currently a historically rich mountain town full of charms. A great place to set out camp while exploring the beauty of the area, right in the Sierra Nevada Mountains!

Roses in SF
We walked down the main street and encountered lots of friendly people, and lots of friendly dogs who showed Bomber a great time! It’s so fabulous to travel with your pet. It makes it more likely for you to meet other people, and to have interactions with people that you would not normally have otherwise.

Door in SF

Back in San Francisco we finished our weekend with a lovely walk almost from the Bay, all the way to the Presidio. The funny thing is that yesterday, Sunday, was Bay to Breakers, a race (and citywide party) that starts at the Bay and ends at Ocean Beach on the Pacific Ocean (the “Breakers”), so I guess we did our own version of it, but just avoided the madness that comes with it!
Fun entryway in SF

We walked along Pacific Ave., one of the rare flat streets in the city (it is more like a ridge, so you do have to climb up to it). The sun was shining, the flowers were dancing, and everything was good with the world. Finally healthy, after a week of TV therapy, I was out again, exploring my city and discovering amazing new things all around!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Simple Beauty

Urubamba Door

This past week was very interesting. There was a bit of everything: beach, sun, super moon (!), realizing that we could let Bomber off leash at the park without him trying to run away, Cinco de Mayo celebrations, and I also sold another photo on my Etsy store!

Every single event was unique in its own way. I strongly believe that the universe has its own ways of communicating with us and that it is up to us to pay attention to the signs, and to understand what the message is.

Cinco de Mayo at Dolores Park

This past week I was also a bit overwhelmed by a sense of doubt. The same that tends to appear every great while and that makes me evaluate if what I’m doing is right, if the path I’m taking is the one that will lead to my dreams. I want to think that every person goes through that same self-evaluation process and that it is a helpful way of redirecting your life, if needed.  As this week comes to an end, I have realized that the path is right and that what I’m doing is also right. Selling a photo less than 24 hours after posting it, was the little push I needed. It was the sign that made me think of Winston Churchill’s words: Never never never give up.

The photo I sold is of a teal door framed by a half-yellow, half-red wall. I took the photo while traveling the Urubamba Valley in Cusco, Peru.

SF door
Street Art

Street art

The Urubamba Valley is also known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas, probably because it encompasses the heart of the Inca Empire. Within the valley there are several well-preserved Inca ruins and temples such as Ollantaytambo and Pisac. Like most Inca constructions, these ruins speak of the architectural genius of this civilization. Of course I was impressed by the ruins and structures I saw while visiting the area but, when it came time to select what photos to edit and post for sale on Etsy, I did not choose the ones of the majestic Inca temples, but  instead the one of a random door I saw around town.
Found a snail!

Simple beauty comes in many shapes and colors and, very often, it challenges your eyes to look more closely at what surround you. It makes you divert your attention from what is obviously beautiful to focus on the simple details around you.

I’m happy this photo sold. The main reason I posted it on Etsy was that I had printed it to use as a model for an acrylic painting. That’s how much I like it!

Pretty gate
Anyway, let’s rewind to last weekend. With a big Cinco de Mayo celebration and a larger than normal moon coming our way, last Saturday was a very eventful day, and it was also a great day to go out to try to capture both moments.  However, like in the Urubamba Valley, I was once again drawn to the simple beauty around me.

Someone is watching me!

Some of the buildings in the city have very intricate details on their facades, and I think sometimes it’s hard to notice those details because you get lost in the overall beauty of the houses and their unique style. If you look at some windows, you see small details that, I think, have been put there for the outside world to notice. Everywhere you look, there are gorgeous flowers blooming. If you pay close attention to gardens, you realize they house elves and colorful stonework. Some iron gates around the city are also works of art on their own.  Art is also on the sidewalks and benches around the city as people have taken time to liven them up with images, colors, and messages of peace. In some instances, what appears to be a moldy wall is actually the perfect ecosystem for snails to thrive on.
Yes, if you look closely, there is beauty everywhere. Whether it is a truck that got spray painted, or a beautifully framed door, art seems to be all around us. We just need to open our eyes and pay more attention to it.

And then there is also the beauty that our universe gives us in nature. Last Saturday the moon was supposed to be 14% bigger than normal and Joe and I set out to try to see it and, hopefully, get a photo of it. We walked to the top of a nearby hill and could see the light that was coming from the super moon. After climbing a bit more, we finally saw it and it was simply beautiful.

For more simple and not-so-simple photos, visit my Etsy store. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Photos from Faraway Places

There are some names that come to mind when you think about faraway places. Some of them are mystical places like Timbuktu that evoke images of ancient cities that are hard to get to. Other places you don’t even recall having heard about but, when you see their name written somewhere, or you read about them in a book, your mind immediately tells you that you should go there on your next adventure out in the world.  I have a few places like that in my travel history and all of them have been worth the over 2 days of traveling to reach them.

Woman selling fruit in Yangshuo, China
The first time Joe and I traveled to a remote place was back in 2007 when we headed to Yangshuo, a small town in South Central China. We had not originally planned to go to China on that trip but ended up deciding to cross China overland, rather than buy tickets straight to Hanoi, and we ended up “discovering” Yangshuo along the way, and staying there for 4 days.  To get there we had to catch a train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, and then an overnight bus to Yangshuo. The trip took a bit over a full day and we were kicked out of the bus at around 4 in the morning.

Karst Mountains on the Li River, China
My favorite photos from Yangshuo are from the many bike rides we took, and from the 25 km we walked along the Li River. All of our excursions were done without a guide or a map, but we just decided to trust our instincts, and people’s good nature and willingness to help us out if we needed it. Yangshuo, as you can see in the photos, is surrounded by karst mountains that tower like giants everywhere around the town. Some of them have magical names like “The 7 Supernaturals Crossing”, and some have plain descriptive names like ”Fishtail.” I love the photos from Yangshuo because they show the same formations that are usually featured in classic Chinese art. We were so lucky to be there and see those gorgeous formations that are pretty unique to the area—I think you can see something similar in Vietnam’s Halong Bay, with the difference that there, the formations tower from out of the ocean.

Biking around Yangshuo
In fact, we liked our Yangshuo photos so much that we printed 2 of our favorite in black and white (the ones I included here) and put them on our fireplace mantel. I had found 2 gorgeous solid wood carved gold frames at a second hand store and the photos look simply beautiful in them. We were looking for a Zen-type of d├ęcor for the mantel and those photos sure accomplish that!

The next stop on the faraway places list was in 2010 when our 16-person plane landed on Zanzibar. Zanzibar is an archipelago made up the Zanzibar and Pemba Islands, and several islets. It is located in the Indian Ocean, about 25 miles from the Tanzanian coast, and 6° south of the equator. I vaguely remember having heard of Zanzibar when I was little and I heard its name once again during my grad school years when several of my classmates were going to different African countries to do their field research and work. All of a sudden, Zanzibar was on our radar and we decided to get there.

Man and Bicycle in Old Stone Town, Zanzibar
In Zanzibar we chose to stay on the eastern side of the island, on Jambiani beach. Getting to our beach of choice in Zanzibar took also a bit of time. We started our trip in the city of Arusha, but if you are coming from the US like we were, you must first get to Dar Es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, and will very likely have a connection somewhere in Europe. Anyway, after a 2-hour flight we landed in Zanzibar. After spending a couple of days in the Old Stone Town, we took a bus that dropped us off at in Jambiani after about 4 hours.

Zanzibar is a photographer’s paradise. Old Stone Town is dotted with buildings that show their multicultural influence. Around town you can see churches, mosques and Hindu temples, all mixed together. It’s quite fascinating! The island, known as a place of religious tolerance, used to be on an important trade route several years ago, and due to this trade, it was influenced by Arab, Indian, and African cultures.

Jambiani beach, Zanzibar
My favorite photo from Zanzibar is of a man walking with a bike in front of an intricately carved door in Old Stone Town. I liked the photo so much that I turned it into a 16x20 pencil drawing. My first one, and the one that caused me to start choosing one photo from each trip to turn into a pencil drawing!

But not all is history and architecture in the island. The beaches here are also a beachgoer paradise. The water is crystal clear and the sand white and fine. Several times we walked to sand dunes, left our clothes on them, and went swimming in the pristine waters of the Indian Ocean.

Women harvesting seaweed in Zanzibar
Some of the beaches in Zanzibar are also used for growing and harvesting seaweed. Women are in charge of doing this work and, everyday, they walked into the ocean waters, dressed in bright color dresses, and they worked their parcels. Once their work was done, they carried the very heavy bags filled with seaweed out to the beach. Whenever people say that women are not strong, or that it takes a man to do the heavy work, I think of the women in Zanzibar. Not only they did all this hard work, but they did it looking beautiful and always with a smile in their face. Is that explained in terms of culture? Or is that a woman’s thing? Who knows?

Our photos from Jambiani convey so much peace. We love them!

View from our cottage in the Togian Islands, Indonesia

The last place on my list of faraway places I’ve been to is another archipelago of islands known as the Togian (or Togean) Islands.  Getting here is a huge challenge, but one that is completely worth it.

We started our trip in Singapore. A 5-hour flight brought us to the city of Manado in the island of Sulawesi in Central Indonesia. From Manado we took a 10-hour bus ride to Gorontalo and, from Gorontalo, we took a 14-hour ferry ride to the island of Wakai, which is the main port in the Togian Islands. The last leg of our trip included an-hour long motor boat ride to Fadhilla Cottages, the lovely family-run place where we stayed.

Our days in the Togians were very similar overall: we read, we snorkeled, we hung out, we relaxed, and we admired the gorgeous scenery that surrounded us. It rained a few times and the rain was followed by one, and sometimes two, rainbows.

Sunset from the dock at the Togian Islands, Indonesia
As if it were a sacred time in the day, we (as well as the other very few guests on the island) showered and dressed up for the sunset, and then sat on the dock to see our day come to an end with an explosion of oranges, red, yellows, and pinks all over the sky. Occasionally, a canoe or small boat would go by and it would make our view all the more picturesque and beautiful.

Like our guidebook said: It might take a lot of determination to get to the Togian Islands, but it sure takes a lot more to leave. I could not agree more with that!

So, why do we choose to travel to faraway places? I don’t really have a clear answer to that. I guess I like the peacefulness that you find in places that haven’t been “discovered” by tourists or that are not in the main route. These places tend to be more low-key, less expensive, and people tend to be more welcoming, both travelers and local people.  I think all of that makes the incredibly long (and often uncomfortable) journey totally worth doing.

Where will we go next?
In fact, I think that it was going to places like these that made me be even more interested in photography. And, I think these are the places that have allowed me to capture some of my best photos. At least that is how I feel about them! 
Enjoy them and don’t forget to check out my Etsy store for more photos from around the world!