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This story is made up from memory, a journal entry and a few notes from a recent little adventure.
The plan was this. Take a bus on Friday morning from where we live in Rangjung, stay over in Bhumtang on the first night, and arrive in Punakha early Saturday afternoon. Pretty straight forward.
Preparation for my trip to photograph the Bhutan International Marathon started a few days before.
The town was preparing for the up and coming Losar (Tibetan/Chinese New Year) and there was a sense of anticipation in the air. I was on my way home from walking Megan to school and planning to purchase my bus ticket when I was met by a man in town who started chatting to me asking if I was new to the area. Tashi Namgyal and I stood in the street and chatted about photography and when he used to work as a photo journalist for almost an hour. Tashi is currently a writer and researcher for the Dungse Garab Rinpoche’s autobiography. Read more about the Rinpoche here. About two hours later we were joined by two of his friends and were still chatting over Maggi Noodles, Bhutan’s ‘Fast Food’, and tea in a local restaurant. I mentioned that I needed to get my bus ticket sorted out and they seemed a little concerned as with the new year celebrations approaching. I might have left the booking too late. Sure enough, when they took me to the little shop that sells the bus tickets Pejor Kuenley (one of Tashi’s friends I had just met) came out and informed me that the tickets have already been sold out. The bus was full. I still don’t know what Pejor said to the shop keeper but a few minutes later he came outside letting me know that a ticket has become available! Fantastic! Pejor, you legend!
I was sitting at the bus stop waiting for the bus to arrive ready for my two day journey to Punakha. According to my ticket the bus would depart at 6am. There is a concept here called “Bhutanese Time” and sure enough the bus arrived on time at 7:00am. After packing everyones luggage on top of the bus we were on our way.
Friday 20-02-2015: Almost a year since my previous journal entry.
It’s 11:05 and I’m on a bus driving through the windy roads in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan on my way to photograph a marathon. I can’t believe this is my life now. There is a monk sitting next to me and he is dozing off on my shoulder every now and then. Handwriting is crap due to the roads out here. My bus driver is a short man and often needs to stand up on the break pedal in order to push it down far enough . He is on his cellphone using his free hand and his elbow to navigate the bus around the sharp corners along the side of the mountain pass. They should really put barriers on these roads. He hoots (‘honks’ for all you non South African’s) when approaching a corner to warn possible on coming traffic. The road is too narrow for two cars to pass each other so when that needs to happen one car will pull over to the side allowing the other to drive past. The hooter sounds like it is inside the bus. Each hoot makes my eyes blink and my neck twitch. His teeth and lips are read with the Doma he chews. I think it keeps him focused, almost like drinking a couple of Red Bulls. The bus feels a lot more ‘used’ than the one we arrived on when all the teachers got dropped off at their placements. Oh well, onward on upward!
The bus pulled over in a village and the driver yelled the words “Breakfast!” with a little laugh behind it. Three monks, two small children and the rest of the local passengers left the bus to walk down to the restaurant. Feeling confused is something I’m getting used to here. This is the first time I’m traveling without someone constantly explaining what is going on, what to do and how things work. After a quick stretch I walked down to the restaurant and everyone seemed to be just standing around and not really doing anything. I sort of walked in and looked inside. Everyone looked at me looking confused. Hmm… what am I meant to be doing? No idea. I’ll just stand here looking awkward for a while.
A hand holding a plate of food suddenly appeared through a small square hole in the wall and people started collecting food. Oh okay, that’s how this works. I wasn't really hungry but I could do with a cup of tea. I walked to the hole in the wall, looked inside and asked the lady for Ja (tea in Dzongkha). They laughed and I got some tea. I returned to the hole for a second cup, handed my mug back and asked for more tea. The lady looked very confused and pointed back inside the restaurant. I repeated what I had said and again she pointed back inside. I had no idea what was going on. I looked over at some of the passengers with another look of confusion and asked what she meant. Then I remembered that no one spoke any English. I tried asking for tea once again. The woman and the passengers exchanged a few words, everyone laughed again and I got my mug refilled.
We headed through the next main town, Mongar, and started the fantastic ascent of Thrumshingla Pass. When driving from Eastern Bhutan you drop down to an altitude of 650m before starting the climb to reach 3800m. The ever changing vegetation is incredible to see. Farmlands, semi-tropical orange producing valleys, alpine forests. This is Bhutan’s second highest pass.
“Lunch” the bus driver yelled again as we pulled over. It was 17:15. We had been driving a lot slower than I expected and we were far from where we should have been. We were meant to be in Bhumtang at 20:00 and that was still 5 hours away. Oh well. Running a bit late I guess. I looked down at my watch - 3000m altitude. It was a lot cooler than the last time I got outside the bus.
This time I felt a bit more confident about what do to at the restaurant. I walked inside waited for the food to be passed out the hole, got my food and ate. Rice, Kewa Datsi (potatoes with chillies and cheese), Dhal and tea.
Back on the road things started getting significantly colder. Snow started to appear on the side of the road and the clouds got thicker. The bus also seemed to be driving a lot slower.
Fumes start filling the bus. We are close to the top of the pass at about 3600m now. The driver has pulled over and everyone gets off the bus for a toilet break. No one seems worried and a few people started helping the driver sort out the problem. One hour later and we’re still here. It’s getting dark now and I’m walking around taking photographs of the events unfolding. I met Dorji Gyeltshen while standing outside and he is able to speak English which is great.
We are called back to the bus. It is pitch dark now and really cold. We start off and things don’t look good. There are more fumes in the bus than ever before and it’s going along at a snails pace. Surely we can’t carry on like this? About an hour later we reached the top of the pass. It was a bit of a catch 22 - stick your head outside the window and freeze your face off or sit inside a bus full of exhaust fumes. I chose the cold. I had a beanie and hoody on my head with my buff covering my face. With my head out of the window I was freezing. We were still about three hours away from Bhumtang. I was wondering if I could handle this the rest of the trip. To my relief we pulled over again about 1km after the top of the pass. Everyone go out and started gathering firewood to make a fire. I asked Dorji what was going on and he said that the bus driver was going to try and fix the problem properly and that it may take a while. They made the fire so we could keep warm until then. The driver was working with a torch is his mouth so I offered him my headlamp to make things easier for him. “Thank you, sir!” he said smiling.
If you travel to Bhutan as a tourist you have to join a guided tour. It’s not possible to travel around as you please. Dorji asked where my guide was. I explained that because we work in Bhutan we do not need a guide and was met with an humbling response, “That’s great! Now you can have a real adventure and experience the real Bhutan”. We are extremely privileged to be experiencing this country the way that we are!
Everyone sat around the fire for the next few hours with the bus driver and a few guys helping him in the bus. I noticed after a while that the lights in the bus were off. Eventually I asked Dorji if he knew what was going on. He said that the bus driver probably got tired and went to sleep. As a westerner I seem to struggle with this concept. We always seem to want to know what is going on. The bus pulls over…Why? What’s happened? How long are we here for? When are we leaving? Etc. Everyone here just seemed content with whatever was happening and didn't seem to question it. They just started sorting things out and made the fire, went with the flow.
There was a lot of laughing around the fire. Two of the monks seemed to be causing most of it. They’d say something and everyone would crack up laughing. I found myself laughing too just because everyone else was. Even though I had no clue what anyone was saying. One time Dorji told me they were talking about my “tea incident” at breakfast. That also caused a lot of laughing although I still have no idea why.
Two women appeared out of the darkness carrying two large pots of tea. It was the best tea I have ever had. I’m sure it was due to the fact of the freezing situation I was in. There is something about drinking a hot beverage that just makes you feel like everything is going to be okay . The women lived just up the hill, heard about us being stranded and decided to bring us some tea. They had also come to tell me that they had a place for me to sleep inside their house. Dorji told me that I should go with them and I would be much more comfortable. Unfortunately this was something I would never agree to. As a foreigner, people here go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. I really don’t like the special treatment and would much rather be treated the same as everyone else - we are all in the same situation so why should I get special treatment just because I’m a foreigner? It was a very kind gesture but I respectfully said that I would much rather be with everyone else. They seemed a bit confused that I didn’t want to go but finally seemed to laugh a bit and repeated what I said in English “It’s okay, I want to stay” .
It was too cold to be away from the fire. I remember the outside of my hands feeling cold while my palms were facing the fire. The spirits where high amongst everyone and they laughed and chatted until it became light.
I heard from Dorji that the bus driver had said that another bus would be coming in the morning to help him fix the bus and that we should be off again soon. The women from the house nearby came by again, this time with tea and breakfast. Breakfast was Maggi and they did not have utensils to eat with so everyone broke two small twigs off a tree and used them as chopsticks. I remember a tourist bus driving past us around then and I can only imagine what they must have been thinking - there’s a group of people on the side of the road by a fire with snow everywhere, mostly locals with three monks and one random white guy using twigs as chopsticks to eat their noodles!
The kindness of strangers is incredible. The woman who made the food for us took it upon herself to make all 20 or so people breakfast and bring it down. And didn’t expect anything in return. In fact before we left I asked Dorji where she was as I wanted to say thank you and contribute towards her expenses but he said that she had already left. “She knew we where in trouble so she helped us. She did not want anything in return”. I hope one day to go past there again and somehow repay her.
We were back on the bus and still 3 hours away from the Bhumtang, where we should have slept the previous night. I remember chuckling to myself thinking that at least I had saved on accommodation costs. Things with the bus seemed better but it was still pretty slow. There were no fumes and I was very grateful. The bus driver’s hands were pitch black from working on the engine.
I tried to get some sleep with my head against the window but the road was so uneven it was difficult to keep myself from falling over. This is a skill I’ve yet to acquire as some of the local people seemed to sleep while preventing themselves from falling off their seats exceptionally well!
I realised things weren’t going to be on time again when we reached Bhumtang about 5 hours later - a trip that was meant to be just 3. The bus was driving slowly. And I mean really slowly. The fumes started again when we began to climb up the next pass. It seemed to be coming up from below my feet and outside the window next to me. My head had to go outside the window again. As we drove up this pass I had two ‘firsts’. I saw my first Yak and I was snowed upon for the first time in my life.
Everyone in the bus seemed relaxed. They all held some sort of cloth over their mouth. One of the small children were fast asleep which worried me due to the amount of fumes that was filling the bus. I pointed this out to his dad and said “Is he ok?”. He seemed to know what I meant and shook his son awake. The boy just seemed annoyed to be woken up for no reason. Thank goodness.
Dorji and another guy didn’t have seats and they had to stand for the duration of the trip. Dorji and I had a few conversations outside the bus as we drove. My head was out of the window and he stood with the bus door open we chatted driving up the pass. “This trip must be very difficult for you and you must be very tired” he said. This was coming from someone who had to stand the entire journey so far! I just laughed.
We reached a town called Trongsa. At this stage if all was normal, we would have reached Punakha. The driver said we where about 5 hours away from my drop off point and would leave again after having something to eat. Trongsa is a bit more modern and has restaurants that have menus which makes things a lot less confusing for me. This was Dorji’s stop as well so I greeted him and he said “This trip will be a a great memory in your life” I laughed and agreed fully.
We left Trongsa in the dark and started the climb up Pelela Pass. From the bottom of the pass we were already crawling. Fumes filled the bus but this time it was worse than before. My eyes burned even though I had my head out of the window again. The drive to the top of the pass took 6 hours.
We reached the top of the pass and I could not have been more grateful. Driving downhill meant that there was no fumes so that was a relief. Just after we started descending the bus pulled over to give the driver and passengers a break. An old man got out of the bus and I saw him cutting some branches off a tree… Are we camping here again?! Not this time. He took the branches and gently tapped the bus with them while saying some prayers. He was praying for a safe trip down the icy pass which lay ahead. I was thinking about what he had just done when I felt the branches hit me over the head. The man was now going through each of the passengers and was giving everyone a blessing!
About two hours later we were still driving down the pass. We pulled over once again at a restaurant which was closed. The driver hooted a couple of times until the people inside woke up and opened up for us. We were staying here for the night I soon found out. Everyone went inside and sat around the Bukari - a local wood stove. One of the women came to me laughing and pointing at my face. The fumes from the bus had made everything black. My face, hands, everything! It was obviously a lot more noticeable on me and they found that pretty funny. Oh well,what can you do hey!
The people in the restaurant started making everyone dinner and we all sat around the fire to keep warm.
I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore and went to sleep on the floor next to the bukari. Once again they had arranged a mattress and bedding just for me, and once again I would not accept it. I suggested that they let one of the older women use it instead. Two hours later and we were up to get ready to leave again. I was feeling pretty crappy at this point with the lack of sleep, being hungry and looking like a coal miner. I went outside to get some fresh air. We arrived during the dark so I didn’t know what the area looked like and when I went outside I saw the most spectacular view. It’s amazing how fresh air and a beautiful view can just sort everything out for you!
Feeling refreshed I got back onto the bus again and headed down the mountain for the last four hours of my trip.
I learned so much on this trip. Mostly about myself. Just let go and enjoy the ride - no matter what happens. There is no point wishing you are somewhere else. Just live for now. It is the only thing that is real.
“I’m just going to let go and trust the process, practicing non-attachment every day” Thanks Judy!
It's been a little over a year since cycling a BMX 1650km across the Himalayas and I've had itchy feet for a new adventure since the day I came back from it.
This year I've decided to keep the single-speed, but trading my 20" wheels for 26" and I'm cycling a Beach Cruiser about 1800km around Costa Rica.
Why a beach cruiser?!
I found this question hard to answer when I cycled the BMX last year too. Why would I want to make something so much harder for myself? I think I have a few reasons.
- I want to prove to myself I can do it. I love coming up with challenges for myself and doing it.
- I also want to encourage people that adventures are accessible to anyone. You don't need specialized expensive gear to have an adventure. Just take what you have and go! *Obviously at some point gear is really important like in really cold conditions or rock climbing, but there are adventures out there that don't need much.
- To encourage the thinking that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. You CAN do it.
- Lastly - don't take life (and yourself) too seriously. There are adventurers out there who do extreme things and portray themselves as a real 'Adventurer'. And I'm sure they can steal a salmon from a grizzly bear, walk solo to the North Pole, or start a fire by striking a rock against their beard, but to me there always seems to be this 'ridiculous' aspect to an adventure. I mean, they are all ridiculous aren't they? Chris Bertish is currently SUPing across the Atlantic Ocean - that's pretty bad ass! But its also totally ridiculous right?! Good on him!
What's new about this adventure
Other than the different bicycle, I've also decided to take a tent and cooking gear with and not make use of any accommodation as we did last year. It was not really possible to order in, or carry the gear needed in Bhutan on the BMX so we needed to rely on local accommodation, but this year, I can make it work in Costa Rica.
Guess who is joining me?
A few things have changed since last year: We have moved from the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan and now live in Costa Rica. And we have adopted a rescue pup here named Charlie. She has really been a little blessing in our lives and is really part of our family.
I'm also really excited that Megan expressed an interest in joining me this year and a friend of ours was kind enough to let Megan use her bicycle which we are really grateful for! After reading the cycling touring blog Long Haul Trekkers , a couple who are cycling all over the world with their dog, we realized that taking Charlie with us would be possible too!
After taking Megans bike and the trailer for a test ride, I'm not sure who has it harder - a single speed beach cruiser , or pulling Charlie in the trailer! Hat's off to Megan - she is super brave!
Winning an Adventure Grant!
The lastly, I just want to say a huge thank you to Tim Moss and everyone who contributed towards The Next Challenge Grant. I'm was so excited to find out I was one of the recipients of the grant towards my adventure idea and other than cost of our gear, the daily costs of the trip is being covered by them.
Do check out their website (www.thenextchallenge.org) and if you are planning an adventure and would like to apply for a grant, keep an eye on their site as they offer grants annually. Super cool!
Follow our Adventure
I woke up with a darting light over my tent. What was that? A torch? Maybe they didn’t see the tent. Then I heard voices, and the light hit my tent again. This time it was fixed on it - they found me.
We recently travelled from Montezuma, Costa Rica to Granada in Nicaragua for a few days. Here is how to do it.
Take the local bus from Montezuma, to the Ferry (1500 CRC). Don't take the San Jose Direct bus because it will cost you 7000 CRC as you have to pay for the full trip.
Take the ferry across to Puntarenas (810 CRC)
When you get off the ferry, you can either take a taxi to the Barranca bus stop (11000 CRC), or walk down the main road until you see a local bus drive past and pay about 400 CRC to take you to the bus stop.
Google Maps link from Puntarenas to Barranca HERE.
Once you get to Barranca, there is a guy there who will sell you a a ticket on the TransNica bus to Nicaragua. The bus goes across the border and all the way to Managua, but you can get off in Granada. The ticket costs about $28 (15000 CRC). You can also take a local bus to Liberia, and then another one to the border - not sure those costs but then you need to do all the border stuff yourself and find another local bus on the other side of the border etc.
The TransNica bus is awesome - AC, WIFI (didn't work on our bus), toilet, tv, and seats that can go back further than in an airplane.
They stopped at a restaurant for 20min to get something to eat.
Once you get closer to the border, the guy on the bus comes around to get your passport details and gives you the exit and entry forms into Nicaragua. You need to pay a $14 fee to exit Costa Rica which you give to him. They only accept USD.
When you get to the border, everyone gets off the bus and walks to the building to pay the tourist tax (4500 CRC). After that, you go to a different building to get the stamp to check out of Costa Rica. Just follow everyone from the bus. There is an ATM there and you can draw that $14 for the bus driver.
When you get back on the bus, the guy collects everyones passports. The busy company handles the entry into Nicaragua and you'll get your passport back later.
Back on the bus, you drive to the entry into Nicaragua side of the border.
You get off the bus here, and take your luggage out from under the bus. Then you wait to get the contents of your bag checked at their ‘customs’ table. Which is really, just a long table where the guy opens your bag, looks under the first thing in it, and closes it again.
You can put your bag back in the bus and wait for them to finish the passport process. There are lots of people selling food, cool drink, sim cards and offering cash exchange here. I've read people say they harass you here - those people have obviously not been to India before - it's really not that bad!
The bus usually then moves about 100m away and you can just wait around near the bus.
Once they are finished with the passports, the driver stand by the bus door and reads out the names on the passport and gives it back to the person.
The total border crossing (Exit and Entry) time took us 1h45. It was a very busy time of the year though as we crossed during the easter break.
Back on the bus, its about a 2hr drive or so to Granada.
The bus stop is about a 1km walk from the town centre where all the hostels and hotels are. You can either walk or take a taxi which charged 4 of us $2 each.
Google Maps link from the bus stop (more or less) to the street where hotels,hostels and restaurants are HERE.
For a Hostel I'd really recommend Hostel De Boca en Boca. (Google Maps Link) Really chilled vibe. Free Coffee all day. Breakfast included. Clean dorms. Hammocks bar, kitchen and WIFI. Close to everything.
For tours in and around Granada I'd recommend Tierra Tours. Really friendly and knowledgable guides.
Going back to Costa Rica is relatively the same process - just remember when you enter Costa Rica, you need proof of exit again. See this blog post for how to do that without needing to buy proof of exit.
Here is the total Cost Breakdown
- Local Bus to Ferry - 1500 CRC
- Ferry - 810 CRC
- Local Bus to Baranca - 400 CRC or Taxi to Barranca 11000 CRC(you could also share a taxi with someone : this is the total cost of the taxi)
- TransNica Bus to Granada 15000 CRC (Alt option would be local bus to Liberia, Local bus to Border)
- Lunch on the way (+-2500 CRC)
- Exit Visa Cost $14 (7400 CRC)
- Tourist Tax 4500 CRC
- Taxi from Granada to Town Centre $8 (4200 CRC) or walk 2km for free.
Best option : 32000 CRC ($60USD)
We have done quite a bit of traveling in South East Asia, but traveling in South and Central America can be a little different. Here is some advice for South African's travelling to Costa Rica.
Searching for Flights
I usually use www.cheapflights.co.za to find out the cheapest route . At the time of our trip, it was cheapest to fly the following:
- Emirates Airline : Cape Town - Dubai - Orlando Florida, USA
- Delta Airline : Orlando Florida, USA - San Jose, Costa Rica.
USA VISA Required even for a Connection Flight
What we only realised 3 days before our trip was that as South Africans, we need to apply for a US VISA even if are just doing connection flight in the USA. This is really important to remember if you are traveling somewhere and changing flights in the USA! The application can take about 3 weeks. You need to set up an appointment at a US Embassy and then wait for the VISA to be approved.
We didn’t have enough time to apply for the VISA, so we needed to change our flights to go through South America instead. Megan and I spend almost the whole weekend trying to sort out the problem and thankfully, with help from our friend Nicci Hayden from Travel Counsellors , we sorted it out! This was the cheapest route we could find and only valid route for us at that stage.
- Emirates Airline : Cape Town - Dubai - Brazil - Argentina.
- Avianca Airline : Argentina - Peru - San Jose.
This route cost almost twice as much as the USA option. We didn't have a choice because Megan needed to get to Costa Rica in time for work.
Yellow Fever vaccinations
If you fly to Costa Rica via many of the South American countries, you need to have a yellow fever vaccination to enter Costa Rica. Scroll down to point #6 on this list HERE. There are some exceptions and you can find them HERE.
We got our yellow fever vaccinations done at MKEM in Tygervalley for about R750 each.
Proof of Exit from Costa Rica
When we have travelled to countries in South East Asia, they were very lenient on proof of exit of the country. We could really just write down any flight number on the entry form and they never asked for proof. From what we have found in South and Central America, it’s much more strict.
Because Megan can only apply for her Work Visa while in Costa Rica, we had to come on a tourist visa and needed proof of exit. We had return flight booked out of Panama when we booked our flights. We assumed that would be enough - the plan would be to exit Costa Rica by land to Panama, and then fly home from Panama. However, when we wanted to check in on our flight out of Argentina, they said we needed to have proof of leaving Costa Rica - even if it was by land. We had to deal with this problem at 3am, with an hour before our flight left. The airline was very helpful and let me use their computer in the office in the back to book $150usd bus ticket out of Costa Rica to Panama. It was a still pretty stressful and would much rather have avoided that whole situation.
Getting around the Proof of Exit issue.
It may be hard to have proof of exit booked you don't know exactly when you want to leave Costa Rica. Maybe you just want to explore for a few weeks and then make a decision later to which country you want to travel to next. You may also not want to have to book an expensive bus ticket or flight just to have the proof. Yes, you can just cancel the flight, but you are still going to be charged a fee to do that.
When we booked our bus ticket out of Costa Rica, the 'proof’ that we got as an email confirmation from the bus company - which is really easy to change dates and names.
So what we do now if we enter on a tourist visa is just edit the dates on the bus booking. Here is an example you can download and use for yourself. (Microsoft Word : Pages) Just fill in all the missing info and change the date to when you exit. Your exit date must be within the tourist visa’s 90 days.
Or, the other way of doing it is to create your own exit flight ticket here - http://returnflights.net
You need to enter as much valid info as possible so go through the process of searching a valid flight out of Costa Rica to get the price, date, flight number etc and fill in that form.
This is all done at your own risk of course. First prize would be to just have a booking out of the country, but in some situations that is really hard to do.
- South African’s get Visa on Arrival in Costa Rica - you just need a passport still valid for 6 months.
- The main airport is Juan Santamaria Airport (SJO) in the Capital San Jose, or you can also fly into Daniel Oduber Airport (LIR) in Liberia, Costa Rica.
- You get a 90 day tourist visa.
- No fee to enter, but you pay tourist tax on exit of Costa Rica. (About $8)
- Vaccinations may be required depending on the country you have come from.
- You need proof of exit of Costa Rica before to check in on your flight.
All the above info was valid at the time I wrote the blog. There are also other ways of doing it but this is really based on our experience.
Let me know if you need anymore advice about traveling to Costa Rica from South Africa and if you have any tips to add comment below!
This past week, I used the Abstract Black and White theme for my Seven Series project. I also wanted to take it a little further and simulate a film camera as much as possible. So I shot on Manual, fixed the ISO to 400, setup a Monochrome setting on my camera and did basically no post processing. Really stoked with the results of the BW setup in camera so if anyone wants to know what I set it to, let me know. I also only shot with a 35mm prime lens.
Here are my 7 top shots from the week.
A lesson from Bhutan
It was our first week in our village Rangjung in Rural Eastern Bhutan. The town was having its annual Tsechu (Buddhist Festival) and the whole village gathered together at the monastery. Being a photographer, I was extremely excited to document this festival. Tourists hardly ever go this deep into Bhutan and perhaps only a handful of foreigners have ever had the privilege to witness this.
Megan and I met up with her vice principle and we joined the rows of people sitting on the ground in the courtyard. Just then, a group of Black Hat dancers started walking out to perform their dance. I took my camera out of my bag, and I looked towards Megan’s colleague and asked : “is it okay if I take photos?” .
I assumed she would say yes but to my horror she shook her head.
What?! No?! I can’t ? I’m all this way in deep Bhutan and I can’t photograph this unique event happening right in front of me?
I didn't want to be disrespectful and start taking photos regardless as I was new there and didn't know all the customs. It kept nagging me that it would probably be fine and maybe I should just walk away from them and then start taking photos from somewhere else. Id seen photos of these festivals online so I’m sure it would be fine to photograph it.
My heart sank when I saw a local guy with a camera walking around and taking photos! Surely she will see him taking photos and realise she told me I couldn't and then fix it? Nope. At one stage he walked right past us taking photos and she didn't say anything. I looked up at the clouds in disbelief .
And like a light switching on, I suddenly had this overwhelming realisation. I was there. Here. I’m here. I can witness this event first hand through my eyes. Even if I couldn't take any photos, it doesn't take away from the fact that I’m here right now experiencing this. Why was I so eager to take photos - so that I can get likes on Instagram or post it on Facebook and get lots of comments? Have bragging rights? Would I think when I die one day, “Ah I just regret I didn't take photos at that festival?”
How strange it was to see the pointlessness of it all, all at once!
I realised that the only thing that matters is being present. Just be. I can only think I would regret not being ‘awake’ during the festivals. Sure, I can’t show anyone what it looked like. But I was there and really enjoyed it . I will cherish that memory and lesson for the rest of my life.
*Side note lesson : “Rather ask for forgiveness than permission”
Written on the 17th of Feb in a coffee shop in Montezuma, Costa Rica. It sure is beautiful here.
In between my work photography I'm starting a few personal photography projects.
#SevenSeries is a one week themed photo project. The idea is to take a photo each day according to the theme. This weeks theme was 'Sunrise' and these are my seven favourite shots from the week. Let me know in the comments below what you think and if you have any suggestions for a #SevenSeries theme.
I took a 7km walk down towards Playa Grande (Big Beach), near Montezuma town early Monday morning. There were a few herons walking on the rocks by the ocean and I caught this one just as the sun caught its head and neck.
I woke up late this morning! Rushed out of bed, put some clothes on as fast as I could and went for a short walk around our house. We can’t see the actual sun rising from our house as we are quite deep in a forest, but we can definitely see the effects of the sunrise on the sky and trees around us.
This morning I woke up and took a few shots around our house. I didn't really get anything I liked so I thought I would take the walk down to Montezuma Town and see what I could get down there. The road to Montezuma is very dusty, and if a car comes past its always followed by a huge cloud of dust.
I noticed the sun shining between the trees and due to the dust, you could see these beautiful sun rays shining through. I waited for a motorcycle to drive past and took this shot.
Around this part of Costa Rica (and possibly others), we have Howler Monkey’s living in the trees all over. They make this (quite scary) howling sound which sounds something like what you would imagine the monster that lives under your bed would make. I’ll post a video sometime of them too.
I took this photo just outside our house with the golden light of the sunrise hitting the leaves.
Yesterday evening I went for a jog to explore a little around where we live. I found this spot just down the road from our house and you can actually see the sea over the forest. So this morning I thought I would go back to this spot to see what the sunrise looks from there.
I set my camera up on a tripod and used the intervalometer on Magic Lantern to take this photo.
So in this shot, I’m actually standing in almost the same place I was in yesterdays shot, but I took the camera down the hill to get a different perspective.
I set the camera up on a tripod again and ran like mad to get to up the hill before the sun moved from the spot in the trees
If you come into Montezuma town, just to the right of it, there is this pool of water on the beach. To be honest, the water doesn’t smell that great, but it makes a decent photo!
I walked down this morning and I was setting up my tripod to try a few photos when this lady walked across towards the bus stop. I wasn't really ready yet but I quickly took this photo anyway. I took a bunch more other photos on the beach after, but this turned out to be my favourite of the morning.
Hope you enjoyed this weeks #sevenseries project! Any suggestions for a theme to use in the future?
It's been two weeks since we left our home in the Himalayas. This evening I took a short drive to take some photos of the light falling on this beautiful mountain and had a bit of time to myself to think.
I am struggling.
I am struggling with all the rules. I’m struggling with all the signs, directions and instructions. There are so many signs. Stop. Left turn only. No parking. No entry. Keep off. No parking. Trail closed. How do we feel free in this place? Are we even free here?
I am struggling with all the advertising. Buy more. Buy buy buy. Can’t buy anymore? We’ll loan you money. And then store it in your house. But build big walls around it and put electric fences on so no one can get the stuff you bought.
I am struggling with all the packages. Everything is packaged. Fruit is in packages. Dead animals are in packages. People live in packages. Peoples’ lives are packages. Plants are packaged.
“Plants for sale” That really got me. It feels so weird. Its like buying air in a bottle! You can’t own air! How can you own a plant? “Oh that tree there belongs to James.” Has someone told the tree that it is in fact owned by James? How can we think we own a tree? How can we think we own anything living, or anything at all?
I am struggling with people. Everyone seems to live to collect things. Everyone has so much but I hear so much complaining.
I am struggling with entertainment. So much exists to entertain us. Can’t we entertain ourselves? Do we have to buy something to entertain us? Does everything have to result in us buying something?!
I am struggling with how instant everything is. Everything needs to happen now. I want to be entertained ‘click’. I’m too hot ‘click’ . I”m too cold ‘ click’ . I want Asian food ‘click’. I want Italian food ‘click. I want to laugh ‘click’ I want a new phone ‘ click’ I want . I want . I want.
I am struggling with all the choice. Shops filled with so much stuff yet I hear people say there is nothing at Pick n Pay today. Nothing at PNP? Have you been there? Everything is there!
I am struggling with all the fear. You can’t do this because someone could rob you. Don’t go there at night its dangerous. Lock the doors. Lock the car. Hide your wallet. Hide your phone. Hide everything.
I am struggling that when Megan says she doesn’t eat meat it causes some kind of discussion. It’s the first time in a whole year (a whole year!) that she has ever had to explain and justify her reasoning behind why she does not.
I am struggling that I need to drive somewhere else to be in nature. Nature used to be right here, but now its not. Now I drive 30km to get to a place where nature is. Sometimes you even need to pay an entrance fee to see nature.
Take me to the mountains. Take me to the oceans.
I am struggling.
You don’t need to quit your job to do proper expeditions!
I love articles like this! Articles that make you question what really is possible! You don’t necessarily have to quit your job to do a a proper expedition. You could put in a request to take unpaid leave for a few weeks. Or instead of taking that vacation to the beach this year, you could use save up your annual leave for an expedition. At the end of the day, it really is about what you choose to do! It's as simple as that - decide what you want to do and then make the necessary plans around it to make it happen. What are you waiting for?!
Take a look at this cool article by Tim Moss.
Compiled on Sunday 27 December, in Megans parents house in Cape Town, South Africa
For the past few years I've often been inspired by Alastair Humphreys and his adventures. He has cycled around the world, walked across the Empty Quater and rowed across oceans to name a few. He was also a big inspiration behind my 1700 By BMX adventure.
He came up with an awesome concept called Microadventures to show that everyone, no matter if you have a day job, a family, or just really busy, can make the time for some awesome adventures. Take a look at this video to be inspired!
Compiled on Sunday 20 December, in Bangkok airport on way way to South Africa from Bhutan.
I'm starting a weekly blog post called #BeInspired where I want to share stories that inspire me in the world of photography, adventure and life! Besides sharing stories I come across, I will also be putting together my own stories of people I have met who inspire me.
For a start though, check out this inspiring interview with YouPic did with Martin Hartley, an expedition and adventure travel photographer.
"The worse the weather, the better". Love it!
Compiled on Thursday 10 December, in our house in Rangjung, Eastern Bhutan.
A group of us went to deliver some books to the patients at Thimphu's Long Term Patient Home. Some of the patients have been there for more than 8 years as they have no family to look after them or they need daily care and their family is unable to give that. Some are not able to leave their bed due to their illness. There are at least four people sharing one room.
The children in the next images are the children of those patients. They live in the home with their parents. They have no toys and spend the day playing with one another and anything else that can be used as a toy - like a wheelchair.
It's not necessarily toys that these children need. It's love. Company. Someone to play with and give them attention. Even just someone to hold their hand.
If you live in the Thimphu area or know of a similar type of home in your area, go give these kids a visit and spend some time playing with them. You'll make their day :)
A big thanks to the guys at MyBhutan for starting this initiative in Thimphu and opening my eyes to the importance of it.
"The most precious gift you can give someone is the gift of your time and attention"
A few days before we left South Africa I bought my dad the film camera he started out photography with as a gift - the Pentax K1000. He was going to visit us in Bangkok on our way to Bhutan so the plan was to give it to him there. I really wanted to give it a go before I gave it to him as I’d never shot a roll of film before so I took it for a spin in Bangkok the day before he arrived.
The camera came with a 50mm F2 lens and I bought a roll of Fuji ISO400 film for it as it was the only film I could find in the short time I had.
Everything is manual on the camera - the shutter speed, aperture and the focus so it was great to test out my photography knowhow! I was still pretty relieved to see I managed to get some shots that where in focus and more or less exposed correctly.
Until I am able to get my own film camera, I thought of simulating that feeling with my DSLR every now and then. Switch the display off. Shoot on Manual. Manual focus. Fix the ISO to either 100/200/400. Then go out and only shoot 36 images and only look at those images on your computer later that evening/day. A photo challenge perhaps?
Long story short - We quit our jobs, sold all of our possessions, and decided to travel to the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan and live here for at least a year. Fantastic!
The Real Story. (Accompanied by some of my work from 2014)
From the outside it may seem like it all worked out so easily. The truth is its taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to this point! Countless evenings I would come home from work and vent for hours to Megan about how unhappy I was in my Software Development job and how I just wanted to do something I loved. I remember after the first 2 years, every year I would say..."Next year I'm going to quit. This will be my last year in an office job". Six years later and I was still there - although by then I was doing something about it.
How did I even get into IT?! I mean I grew up on Nature Reserves all over South Africa. I was extremely active. I loved the outdoors and adventure. I may come over as quite an easy going, happy go lucky guy and I am at heart. But I actually take life too seriously - way too seriously! I think way too much too. I even have a quote... "I think I think too much" - Dylan Haskin. haha
From when I finished school I started stressing about the fact I need to have enough money to pay for kids school fees. Seriously! That sense of responsibility got me to the mindset of "Go to college, get a good job with a stable income" etc etc.
Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with an office job. I was very grateful for my job and the opportunities my salary brought were great. I liked the people I worked with and the company treated all the staff well. It was just not me. And the longer I did it, the more I felt it was not me. I felt like the life and the passion I had for life was being drained. My boss at the time had been working in IT for over 30 years. He had come out of an early retirement and worked for 2 years without being paid to start his company. He had a real passion for what he did. That's how it should be - It shouldn't be about the money!
"Follow your passion and the money will come"
I remember driving home from work and listening to an interview with Braam Malherbe and Pete Van Ketz about their race to the South Pole. Something that Braam said that really stuck with me was "Follow your passion and the money will come”. That statement was immediately added to my mental motivational playlist.
In late 2011 I realised more and more that photography was fast becoming my main passion. I had been shooting for fun for the past couple of years and then made a conscious decision to start giving it everything I have. Two years later, after working in what turned out to be two full time jobs and many Life Coaching sessions, I found myself in a helicopter flying along Transkei's wild coast shooting trail runners as they completed the 112km of their 3 day journey of the Wildcoast Wildrun. I almost pinched myself to check if it really was happening!
“You’ll never know if you don’t try” Goofy (from one of my childhood books I remember reading)
Things didn’t always work out as I hoped. In the beginning of 2013 I applied for Getaway’s ‘Travel Photographer’ position. I filmed myself talking (nonsense mostly :) ) about my previous experience in the hope it would stand out from the 100s of applications I expected they would get. Getting the call to come in for an interview blew me away! Out of the 200 odd applicants I survived all the way to the last round of interviews. Unfortunately though, the 1 in 4 chance I had was not meant to be and I didn’t get it. I remember saying during one of the interviews that if I didn’t make the cut it would only motivate me more to up my game and make sure I am able to do this as my career one day.
“Never, never, never give up” Winston Churchill
After telling people what we are doing we received so many different responses. "Wow thats so exciting!" "Where is Bhutan?!" "That's incredible, I would love to go there!" "Why would you want to go there?" "Isn't there malaria everywhere?" "Oh my friend has also been there. He said it was terrible. It’s in a big city - Bangkok I think"
"I wish I could do something like that!" That one always got me. The thing is you can - Just do it! We didn't fall into this situation. We made a plan. We thought about what we wanted to do, planned how to, and started doing something about it. It wasn't always easy...but it wouldn't have happened if we just wished it.
So where are we now? Well we did quit our jobs. Sold everything and left behind our comfortable lives. And we are now in Bhutan - The Dragon Kingdom. A small country nestled in the Himalayas. We didn't actually know where it was when Megan applied for a teaching job here. After some Skype interviews, tons of paperwork and a police clearance check, she got placed in Trashigang in eastern Bhutan. Me? Well before we left I had emailed some event organisers about possibly shooting some MTB, trail running and trekking expeditions. Everyone sounded very keen and would meet up with me when we arrived in Bhutan which sounded too good to be true. Everything was still quite up in the air until today. Today I met with Karma from the Bhutan Olympic Committee and well yeah… it looks like I’m going to be working with them on the media side of things!
I am so incredibly grateful for everything I have in my life - for my supportive family, friends and most importantly wife who have made the challenges far less daunting.
Here’s to a new chapter.
All made possible by the Grace of God.
PS. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is such an awesome movie!
Just came back from the Natgeo Wildlife photographer of the year exhibition in Cape Town and one idea that got reinforced again is that is it's not about what camera you shoot with. It's about your eye. I saw some shots there shot with a good old Canon 550D. At the end of the day your camera is just a tool, and what makes your images special is how you see things. Your eye. So don't get too caught up in gear hype - Canon vs Nikon vs Fuji. Mirror less vs DSLRs. Cropped vs full frame. F2.8 lenses. Just go out and shoot what you enjoy shooting.👌It also reminds me of a quote by Jim Richardson "If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff" 😊
I have had the X100T now for the past two weeks. It's been with me pretty much the whole time while shooting live bands, downhill skateboarding, hiking, visiting my nephew, walking around Cape Town etc.
This is not a review, but just quick post of some of my favourite shots I've got from this camera so far. Most of the images I copied to my phone via the WIFI and edited with VSCOCam. The others are straight out of the camera, All JPEGs.
I seriously love this little camera and have really enjoyed the experience I've had so far! If you have any questions about functions on the camera please feel free to send me a message or comment below and I'll do my best to answer.
I’ve always wondered what it looks like behind the scenes when shooting from a chopper - so since it was my first time I figured I’d take some GoPro footage while I was shooting the Wildcoast Wildrun.
This is one of my fav shots from the first day of the race. I love the contrast - grass texture vs the rocks - the green vs the grey.
Gear wise, I shot it with a Canon 5D MKIII and a 24-105 F4 L, loaded with a 32GB 800x Lexar CF card.
To put things into context, here is the GoPro footage of the shot been taken. Filmed it with a GoPro 3 Black Edition.
A while ago Mark asked me to shoot some images for his new album which is coming out soon. I've worked with him before on a music video project as well as some of his personal photos and it's always good fun! I joined him during a session in studio and then we headed off to find some golden hour goodness. Take a look at some of my fav images from our shoot - Well done Mark for not dropping your guitar in the last shot!
To check out some of Mark Haze's rocking music check his work out here
- Canon 5D MKIII
- Canon 35mm F2 IS
- Canon 50mm F1.4
- Canon 17-40 F4 L
- Canon 70-200 F2.8 L
- Canon 430EX II Flash