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Growing up as an army brat I always had the chance to travel.  We moved homes usually every two years and when you are in the Army that sometimes mean more than just changing states – we changed continents. 

I’m lucky my parents introduced me to the lifestyle.  And that they also trusted me to get an early start with traveling on my own.  By age 16 I was already off traveling to other countries. 

Nowadays I’m working online and it gives me the freedom to continue to travel.  Mind you I picked my job knowing that it would give me this freedom. I didn’t stumble into it.  And for those of you are stuck in the wrong job, it really is a choice no matter how many excuses you might give yourself.

It’s not easy.  I’ve given up on having a fixed residence.  I don’t own anything of any real value.  But I also don’t have any debts.  And it means I have the freedom to go virtually anywhere.

I travel with my wife and two year old daughter.  It’s amazing how much stuff you can travel with.  Most airlines are very liberal on how much free stuff you can bring for babies.  When we first started our around the world adventure we were lugging along a baby crib, stroller and baby seat in addition to our baby’s must need stuff:  food, clothes, diapers, etc.  You can imagine the scene just bringing along her stuff. But also keep in mind I like to take pictures and I work online.  It means for me a lot of electronics including a drone and underwater gear for diving.  My wife never likes to wear the same outfit twice.  Now you are probably really beginning to imagine how much luggage we travel with!!  But we pull it off.  Also we drink our breakfasts which are a mix of special cow friendly whey protein and a mix of green grasses.  This usually means we have an entire luggage just filled with our breakfasts.  Crazy and insane.  And completely the opposite of what most of the professional travel bloggers say.  They usually encourage you to only take what you can get in your backpack.  I’ve done that before too.  And am not sure what the point of that is.  But I guess if you are single, on a short trip and you want to avoid waiting for your luggage to come off the plane it might make sense for you.

In the past 18 months we visited 18 countries and I worked the entire time.  We went to some remote locations but everywhere we went we had at least some form of internet.  For example, we went to the outskirts of Iceland to see the Northern Lights.  Pleasantly in the middle of nowhere there was high speed internet.  More recently we went to the tiny island nation of Tonga in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  We were there to swim with Humpback Whales.  Our island got the electricity fed off of generators powered by solar panels and yes we had internet 🙂

Now we’re back in Brazil and while we rented a place for a year we still plan to travel significantly.  We’re hoping to get to these spots:  Dominican Island, Mexico, Indonesia, Alaska, Italy and Norway.

December 29, 2016 0 comment
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Kuala Lumpur is a surprisingly modern city.  It’s the capital city of Malaysia and at one time it could claim ownership to the tallest buildings in the world – the Petronas Towers.

If you are coming to Kuala Lumpur, locally known as just KL, you probably have it on your list to see these building beautiful buildings.

And you might have already found out the two hotels with the supposed best views are the Traders Hotel & the Mandarin Oriental.  I just finished a short stay at each and can tell you the hotel with the absolute best view of the Petronas Towers is the Traders Hotel.

What makes it the best view?

The Mandarin Oriental is located literally right next to the Petronas Towers.  You can easily get a room with a view. But being so close you can’t take in the whole buildings.  Your view will be dominated by just a small portion of the towers.

The Traders Hotel is located about a ten minute walk southeast of the Petronas Towers.  The hotel is facing squarely to the towers.   It’s just enough distance that you get a full view of the towers from many of the hotel’s available rooms.  The SkyBar restaurant located near the top of the building also offer spectacular views of the towers.

If you are spending more time in Kuala Lumpur you might also consider staying at the Fraser Residence which offers large apartment style 4 start hotel rooms at very reasonable prices.  There’s a great view of the towers as well.

And finally for a view of KL from an infinity swimming pool the private residences at the Regalia Residence can’t be beat.  These are privately owned condos and many are offered for rent on a daily basis through the website:  www.AirBnB.com

I’ve recently stayed at all four and if you have only one choice and you are on a short term stay I’d recommend the Traders Hotel.  Best Travels!

December 14, 2016 0 comment
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The best equipment can help but it won’t make your shot. That being said there are situations where the right equipment can give a definite advantage.  As an example, drone photography is giving a whole new angle on photography that you simply can’t match without wings.

Thanks to Ebay and the ease with which you can buy and sell camera equipment for nearly the same price, I have bought and sold dozens of professional lens and many different cameras over the past ten years.

One thing I’ve learned is that going overkill on equipment can make it harder to get the shot. For example, when I owned the extremely large Canon 500mm 2.8 lens I found it was not practical to hike long distances carrying the lens. But if I couldn’t have it with me all the time it didn’t make sense for me to own it. I bought and sold that particular lens two times fighting myself over the idea of using it. And in fact during the two times that I owned this lensI never got any images that I thought were keepers. It was a terrific lens to use under the right circumstances but it wasn’t going to help me get the images I was after.

I started out as an Olympus owner back in 2005.  Shortly after I switched to the Canon Rebel.  I’ve used Canon brand up until last year.  Unfortunately last year I had an amazing camera combo stolen while traveling by train in Europe:

  • Canon 5d Mark iii with 24-70mm f2.8 and 70-200mm f2.8 L lens – total cost for this setup is about $7000

After losing my prized camera setup and mostly due to a lack of money but also for other reasons, I decided to switch back to Olympus and went with the Olympus EM-1. Aside from being a fraction of the cost ($1200 with lens) the new setup would bring several advantages. The EM-1 is a micro 2/3 format. It effectively doubles the focal length of the lens. A 50mm lens effectively becomes 100mm.

The camera is also smaller and lighter than traditional DSLR cameras like the Canon I was using before. It’s so small that it takes some time to get used to the difference in size if you are accustomed to using a full size camera.  The smaller size would prove to be a lot easier to travel with.

The lens that are available to use on the Olympus EM-1 are top notch and in my opinion are very much comparable to the L professional lens series from Canon.

For landscapes I am usually shooting with the 12-40mm lens with a 2.8 aperture. This lens on my EM-1 gives an effective focal length of 24-80mm.

For portraits I am usually shooting with a 40-150mm lens with a 2.8 aperture. It gives an effective focal length of 80-300mm lens. It’s a really fun lens to shoot with.

Between these two lens I can easily cover a wide variety of shooting conditions. It’s given me even more options than I had with my previous setup. And it does so at a fraction of the cost and in a much lighter package.

The EM-1 is also a fantastic camera for underwater photography. I use the Olympus underwater housing and ports. When I need to go super wide I have the 8mm lens from Olympus. But in reality I have found that it’s too wide. Even for big critters like whales I wound up getting my best images using the 12-40mm lens. I also don’t like the odd effect that super wide angle lens have on the shape of your subject. The 60mm macro lens is incredible and allows me to make full size images of tiny creatures in the sea.

Last year I bought a drone.  With it I can capture the angles from the sky that you just can’t get unless you are flying.  It’s also a great way to do mid-day photography without the worry of  sunlight destroying your shots.  In my opinion it’s even better to do most of your drone shoots during the day instead of the normal sunrise/sunset intervals that land photographers are accustomed to.  If you are shooting straight down you can even shoot at 12 PM and get a beautiful image!

My main camera setup:

  • Olympus EM-1 Micro 2/3 Camera
  • Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 lens
  • Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 lens

For underwater photography:

  • Olympus EM-1 Micro 2/3 Camera w/Olympus Underwater Housing
  • Olympus 60mm macro lens
  • Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 lens
  • Olympus 8mm f2.0 lens (rarely use)
  • 2x Sea & Sea YS-03 Flash Strobes

For above land arial photography:

  • DJI Phantom 3 Professional Drone

For accessories I keep a travel tripod, lens cleaner, polarizing filters, extra batteries and a remote trigger for taking selfies with the family.

 

December 13, 2016 0 comment
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We were going to Bali in a few weeks.  Our tickets and accommodations were booked and in the meantime we were enjoying absolutely perfect weather in nearby Phuket, Thailand.  I say Phuket is “nearby” because on a global scale these two tropical paradises were neighbors in my mind. But the reality is over 3000 km separates them.

I had also assumed that the dry season in Phuket also meant the dry season in Bali – big mistake!!

Bali Rain Season

Our Villa had a Private Pool! Nice!!

After leaving Phuket, we came to Bali on January 18 and stayed for 30 days.  It rained for 29 of the 30 days.  And on many days the rain was a constant downpour for hours.

I had read on blogs that Bali was a great place to visit year around. After spending a month during the rain season I’d have to say I don’t recommend. 

Unless you like cloudy skies, mosquitos and wet clothes you should avoid Bali during the rainy season. 

Bali has six months of dry weather. 

Plan your Bali trip between May and October. 

Those are the best months with July & August being the best. 

More reasons to come in the dry season:Bali Rainy Season

  • This also happens to be when waves are the best for surfers
  • Visibility for snorkeling and diving is best

We had a chance to go back to Bali in May.  The weather was so much better and we had a great time on our second visit.  

Bali is amazing destination.  We just visited 18 countries in 18 months and Indonesia strongly stands out as a place we are desperate to get back to. And in particular Bali and the islands close to it.  But we will be making our third trip there during the dry season!

December 13, 2016 0 comment
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I’m certainly not a professional and my technical skills & knowledge would make most professional photographers laugh. But I have taken enough photos over the years to offer some ideas for aspiring photographers to make their images better.

Tip #1 – Start by making photos of compelling subjects.

I can’t imagine anything more important than this. If you want a great photo put something in your viewfinder that is going to excite people.  Here’s a start:

Parliament in Budapest

Parliament in Budapest, Hungary

Two compelling subjects in the same shot is even better:

Chain Bridge in front of Parliament

The Chain Bridge with Parliament in the background

And another example:

Parliament from Fisherman's Bastion

Sexy & Parliament – oohlala!

An average shot of something special is still going to excite a lot more than a technically great shot of something boring.

Tip #2 – Take photos of amazing things at the right time!

Most everyone knows sunrises and sunsets are some of the best times to make photos. But just before sunrise is an interesting time.  You have enough light for your camera to make a great capture:

Torres del Paine at dawn sunrise

Torres del Paine at dawn El Chalten, Argentina

And just after sunrise you can catch a sunburst if you shoot with your lens closed down (smaller aperture like f16 or higher):

Triple Falls in Glacier National Park

Triple Falls, Glacier NP
Montana, USA

Tip #3 – get close enough to fill your image with your subject

It means finding the right angle and position so that what you frame is truly the best part of the scene. Cut out the rest!

Grizzley Bear in Katmai NP

Grizzley Bear in Katmai NP Alaska, USA

My friend, David Bank of London England, is a professional photographer.  He took this outstanding daytime image of Rio de Janeiro:

Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro

I took a similar image standing at the same spot but at dawn and focused on the main part of the city with Sugarloaf Mountain in the center:

Rio de Janeiro at dawn

Rio de Janeiro

 

Equipment is not going to make or break your images. I’m currently using an Olympus model camera that was made in 2012. If you want a full run down on the equipment I use and why see here:

Hope you get some great photos!

December 13, 2016 0 comment
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Patagonia Travel Guide

PatagoniaAfter three trips, I can give some solid advice for others wanting to travel to this area for the first time, especially for those who want to see Torres del Paine National Park in Chile and Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina.

…..

Just say the word Patagonia and it conjures up images of majestic mountain peaks, gigantic glaciers and enormous landscapes. But ask most people where Patagonia is and few know. Some even respond – isn’t it a country?

Patagonia – Where is it?

Patagonia is in Argentina & ChilePatagonia is a region in the southern end of South America; part of it is in Argentina and another part is in Chile.

It’s a vast region of over a million square kilometers. To give perspective, it would take two Californias to equal one Patagonia.

While most of the region is dominated by steppe plains, the Andes Mountain range also stretches its southern end into Patagonia.

It is here on the southern end of the Andes Mountain range where the most famous parts of Patagonia are:

  • Torres del Paine National Park in Chile
  • Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina

When is the best time to visit Patagonia?

If your goal is to see the glaciers or the national parks they are open year around.  There is so much wind that snow rarely accumulates to deep depths — even in the winter. The strongest winds are during the summer season. And we are talking strong winds of up to 120 kilometers per hour (74 mph). The strong winds can sometimes be an advantage as they can help clear the mountain peaks of clouds.

Torres del Paine waterfall at Salto GrandeYour biggest obstacle when visiting Patagonia is going to be the weather. And it’s not uncommon for famous peaks like Fitz Roy to be engulfed by clouds for weeks at a time.

There’s no perfect season. Summer (December through March) has the highest number of visitors and also the best chance for warmer weather and clearer days. But don’t be surprised if you get blanketed out by clouds on your trip. It’s happened to me on at least a portion of all three of my trips, and I visited at or close to the peak times for good weather.

Some people also consider Bariloche to be part of Patagonia. This is an area most famous for its ski areas & lakes. If you want to go for skiing/snowboarding, the best time is July to September.

If you are hoping to see Orcas, go in late February to late April.

Los Glacieres National Park (Argentina)

There are two main reasons visitors come to this park:

#1 Perito Moreno Glacier

#2 The famous peaks of Mount Fitz Roy & Cerro Torre in El Chalten

The main base for visiting Los Glaciares National Park is the town of El Calafate, Argentina. You can fly in from connecting flights through Buenos Aires (Argentina) as well as Santiago, Chile. From El Calafate, you can drive north about 75 km and arrive in approximately 80 minutes to Perito Moreno Glacier. The fantastic trekking town of El Chalten is about a 2.5 hour drive from El Calafate.

El Chalten, Argentina – an Amazing Town for Hikers

El Chalten with Fitz Roy mountain above

Fitz Roy above the town of El Chalten, Argentina at dawn

If El Chalten had high speed internet and better weather, I would probably live there. I love to hike, and it boasts a half-dozen trails that start right from the town itself.

For mountain climbers, it holds two of the most difficult peaks in the world to summit – beautiful peaks Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre.

Speaking of Cerro Torre, it’s a mountain I’ve never been able to get a nice photograph of. In each of my three trips, the peak was hidden behind clouds. And you can’t photograph what you can’t see. Very frustrating! So again I’m mentioning it here – if you go to Patagonia with the idea of seeing all the famous mountain peaks in just a few days, you might want to prepare yourself for disappointment. You might get lucky, but the norm is clouds.

The front doors of the Visitor Center in El Chalten, Argeninta

These are the front doors of the Visitor Center in El Chalten, Argentina. The mountain scene reflecting off the front doors are the famous peaks Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre

When you arrive to El Chalten there is a visitor center at the start of town. There you can get local info on trails and campsites.

One of the cool things about hiking and camping in the area is you do not need any kind of reservation or permit. You just go. The downside is you might not get your favorite campsite if you don’t arrive early, especially during the high season (December to February).

You won’t see Guanacos around El Chalten or on the trails.  If you are hoping for that, go to Torres del Paine in Chile.

The internet barely functions in El Chalten. It’s better in El Calafate but that puts you 2-3 hours away by car. When weather was bad on my trips, I kept myself in El Calafate. And when I thought there was a chance for good weather, I stuck it out in El Chalten waiting for the perfect moments. Patagonia requires patience and longer itineraries. Or luck!

Perito Moreno Glacier:

Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the few glaciers in the world still growing in size!Perito Moreno is the most famous glacier in South America and maybe the world. It’s one of the very few glaciers that is still growing in size. You can go there by car or bus. Most people go by one of the many tour buses leaving from El Calafate. You can also get an up-close view of the glaciers crashing into the water by boat tour. Many people go to Patagonia just to see this beautiful glacier. For more info see this:  http://www.alongdustyroads.com/posts/2015/11/29/perito-moreno-transport-entry-costs-bus-el-calafate

Perito Moreno Glacier near El Calafate

 

Also sticking to our theme of clouds in Patagonia, Perito Moreno is normally clouded over but in this case it’s a good thing! The cloud cover makes the amazing colors of the lake and glacier pop out. On sunny days, the colors are much more bland. So plan to go Perito Moreno when the weather is bad.

Torres del Paine National Park (Chile)

Torres del Paine is one of the best spots to see GuanacosAn amazing place for hikers and photographers. You can get to the park from Puerto Natales, Chile in two hours by car. The advantage a car gives is you can pick which spots you want to stop for photos. Most visitors go by one of the many tour buses leaving each morning from Puerto Natales.

Day trips on a perfect day might give the casual visitors enough of the park.  But there’s so many great things to see that you could easily spend a week or more.

Torres del Paine is arguably the best place in the world to see Guanacos in the wild. And with the abundance of Guanacos, it is also naturally one of best places in South America to see Pumas. The Pumas of Torres del Paine are known for being the biggest in the world. But seeing a Puma is very rare! I came across their hairs and scat on hikes but never got the chance to see one.

If you like to hike this is easily one of the top ten places in the world to do it. The “W” trail is a multi-day trail usually done in 5 days (100 km). More info here:  http://www.back-packer.org/trekking-guide-how-to-hike-the-w-in-torres-del-paine-patagonia/

You can also stay in the park itself and elect to do small trails rather than an overnight. But as a warning, the hotels inside the park are not cheap. And they fill up fast during the high season.

Torres del Paine mountain in ChileThere is internet available at some of park hotels but expect speeds that will barely open emails.  Do all of your researching before you arrive to the park as you’ll be very frustrated if you hope to use the internet while in the park.

The most famous part of the park are the three towers themselves for which the park is named: Torres del Paine (Paine Towers in English)

There are some okay views of the Torres that don’t require any trails. But the absolute best way is to view them from the official viewpoint that requires a hike up to get to. The best time to see the “torres” are early morning at sunrise. We started our hike at 2:30 a.m. to arrive before sunrise. The image here shows the towers on a clear day just before sunrise. I think sunrise was around 5:30 a.m. So we booked it up 3500′ or 1000 meters in less than 3 hours!

Icebergs floating in Lago GreyYou can see some of the most amazing blue colored icebergs floating at Lago Grey (Grey Lake).  Kayaking is a popular way to get an up-close look.  A boat tour operates during the high season that takes visitors near the icebergs, and they also offer day trips to Lago Glacier.

There are even wild horses that roam the park.  Here is some great information about the horses:  https://www.cascada.travel/en/News/Wild-Horses-Patagonia-Interview-Victor-Moraga

The main base for visiting Torres del Paine National Park is Puerto Wild horses in Torres del Paine National ParkNatales, Chile. It’s about a two-hour drive to the park from Puerto Natales. Most visitors go by bus and do an all day tour. A rental car gives you the freedom to pick your favorite spots on your own schedule. Again, I’d recommend staying in the park for at least a few days. And keep in mind if bad weather rolls through, as it often does, you might get a stretch of clouds hiding the parks mountains for your whole trip. Patagonia is a love/hate relationship!

How to get between the parks in Patagonia

Pink Flamingos in Patagonia

You can get from El Calafate, Argentina to Puerto Natales, Chile by bus. The trip will be around 4 hours.

Or you you can drive yourself in about 3 hours. You’ll need  to cross the border and show identification as well as the legal papers for your rental car. The drive is a bit boring but occasionally you might see Guanacos, Flamingos or other wildlife so keep a close eye on your surroundings. Also keep in mind there are few places to stop for gas. And sometimes the gas stations themselves are without gas for stretch of days. Start with a full tank!

I found that rental cars in Chile are slightly cheaper than renting one from Argentina.

El Calafate versus Puerto Natales:

These are the base towns for exploring the two main parks in Patagonia. If you plan to visit both parks, it’s likely you’ll base at least part of your trip in each town. But if you are planning to visit only one town, my own experience is that El Calafate offers a little more than Puerto Natales. My reasons for that are the food is a little better, the shopping is a little better, and the vibe is a little better. I’m not trying to make any enemies here and some people might prefer Puerto Natales! 🙂

Where to Start?

Paine-Grande

Paine Grande is the tallest peak in Torres del Paine N.P.

To get to Patagonia you’ll most likely connect through either Santiago (capital of Chile) or Buenos Aires (capital of Argentina). Either city makes a fun stop for a few days. From either spot you can fly into El Calafate, Argentina. Alternatively, you could fly to Punta Arenas and then drive or bus up to Puerto Natales, Chile. I personally think El Calafate is a lot more fun, and you save yourself the drive from Punta Arenas. But there’s a lot of variables. If you are coming from North America and don’t want to see Buenos Aires, then Santiago is going to be the best connecting city. From there you can easily connect to Punta Arenas and then drive or bus up to Puerto Natales. I’ve always gone to Patagonia from Brazil and hence Buenos Aires was more convenient. Also, having spent enough time in both cities, I’ll give Buenos Aires a slight edge for culture. Both cities make a worthwhile stop if you have the time.

How to see Orca Whales in Patagonia:

Ever see Orcas snatching seals off a beach? Yes Patagonia is where it happens. The area where you can see this, Valdez Peninsula, is nowhere near the parks I was interested in seeing. Patagonia is huge! And the logistics of seeing the Orcas never worked out. But I hope to do it someday. I do know the best time to go is between end of February till end of April. More info here:  http://eco-lodge-en.blogspot.com.br/p/orca-season-in-punta-norte-peinsula.html

Ushuaia: The End of the World

Many people go to Patagonia to get to the furthest reaches of South America. For that, Ushuaia is the unofficial capital dubbed famously as “The End of the World.” It’s an interesting area that many people go to. For more info:  https://www.outsideonline.com/1857106/ushuaia-end-world

Bariloche – is it really Patagonia?

I’m not even sure. Some say it is. Whether it is or not, I can only say I have never been to Bariloche. But I’m not discounting it. There’s mountains & lakes and it looks beautiful. Not beautiful like the southern part of Patagonia, but still ok. If you want to ski/snowboard, it’s the place to go. If you want to hike or see beautiful landscapes, the national parks in Southern Patagonia are much better.

After 3 Trips Would I go Back to Patagonia?

Mount Fitz Roy in El Chalten, Argentina

Mount Fitz Roy at sunrise

I never did get a great photo of Cerro Torre and with it being one of the most beautiful mountain peaks in the world, it’s a great desire of mine to get that photo.

Plus I’d love the chance to see the Orcas in Valdez.

Jeremiah Thompson PatagoniaIt’s never easy to visit Patagonia. It requires more money and more time than many places you could visit. The weather can be terrible and often requires longer trips and patience to get the right weather. The hotels, food and everything else is only ok at best — especially compared to other places you could visit. If you go to Patagonia, it’s to see nature. Few places in the world can match the beauty of this area. And yes I would definitely make another trip and hope to soon!

 

November 15, 2016 0 comment
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