Cruising the fjords of Patagonia:
Bernardo O’Higgins National Park
The famed ‘fjords of Patagonia‘ – Bernardo O’Higgins National Park. This is the land of Magellan and pirates and National Geographic documentaries. Towering glaciers and mountains on the far edge of the world, home to dolphins and condors and maybe even the fabled ‘City of the Ceasars’. And yet, despite the hundreds of thousands of tourists passing through the nearby Chilean town of Puerto Natales each year, only a small fraction will set sail for a visit.
More than 300,000 visitors are expected to visit the famous Torres del Paine National Park annually by 2025. Yet aside from the brief river trip up the Rio Serrano to the southern entrance of Torres, spend any time on the waters surrounding the Southern Patagonian Ice Field and you’re more likely to see seals and cormorants than you are to find another boat. The world’s 2nd largest extra-polar field (nearly 17,000 square kilometers) sees very few visitors and the reason, of course, is accessibility. You can visit by helicopter, you can visit by boat, or in theory I guess you could walk in via several weeks of crossing difficult and dangerous glacial ice. Don’t do that.
A Weekend Of Not Skiing:
Kyrgyzstan’s Karakol Ski Base
Karakol Ski Base. Everybody says it’s the best. In the country for sure, in the region perhaps. It’s certainly the highest elevation of any in Central Asia, at 3040m. If you’re a skier looking for good runs and comfy hotels for a winter sports trip in Kyrgyzstan, Karakol Ski Base is where people will point you to.
Which is exactly why I didn’t ski there, you understand.
Because there’s a lot to see. A lot to photograph. And not enough time in a weekend to see it all AND make time to actually ski it. Which makes me, I suppose, amongst the least qualified to be telling you about how the skiing is. I hung out for a while atop the kiddie slopes, taking photos back towards the excited riders on the first of several lifts and the far-away mountain tops on the border with Kazakhstan across the lake. I spent some time off-piste to the east of the main runs, tramping through deep piles of powdery snow that even with snowshoes sunk me down to the knees at times. All the time waiting (and waiting, and waiting…) for somebody to ski past and play the impromptu model for the camera.
Shymbulak – Skiing in Kazakhstan
The Shymbulak Ski Resort, high above the city of Almaty and tucked deep into the mountains that stretch beyond the Medeo Ice-Skating Rink, is an area seemingly unknown to outsiders but may well be one of the best spots for snow-sports in all of Central Asia.
Exploring the Vienna Woods:
Mayerling, Seegrotte, and Heiligenkreuz Abbey
The ‘Vienna Woods‘. Rising to the northwest of Vienna atop the very first foothills of the Austrian Alps, the Wienerwald is a beautiful green belt and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve actually within the city limits of Vienna. With over 500 square miles of forest to wander through, it also makes the perfect day trip to get out of Vienna proper and do some biking or light hiking. Indeed this is one of the planned uses for the Vienna Woods, with 39 mountain biking trails and 12 hiking routes. Not feeling quite so ambitious? Vienna is ALSO the only city with proper vineyards inside the city limits as well, and you can sample the fruits of these vineries at the Heuriger restaurant/taverns in the small communities that dot the woods.
As a traveler in Vienna, there are really two ways to make a daytrip out into the Vienna woods.
The first (and easiest) is a day wandering through the trails that connect the small villages immediately ringing the northwest of Vienna. Some of them, like the village of Klosterneuburg with its monastery/winery/museum offerings, justify a whole day in their own right. Others, like Cobenzl and Kahlenberg, serve more as convenient stopping points in between long walks than as destinations in themselves. These points are all connected to Vienna by public transport and by fairly bike-able roads and trails, so if you want an independent freewheeling day out of the city this is the way to go.
Istanbul Belly Dancing Dinner Show
An Istanbul Belly Dancing Dinner Show, I hear you asking? I was just as surprised as you are. Of all the cities I’ve worked as a photographer on these tour gigs, nowhere do I seem to end up exploring the ‘nightlife’ options as often as Istanbul. Istanbul by boat cruise, Istanbul dinner shows, and of course Istanbul dinner shows on a boat on the Bosphorus – there are agencies to organize it all and I’ve been sent out to take photos of most of them in their various mutations.
Of any of these various dance shows and Bosphorus cruises, easily the most memorable is the 1001 Nights Istanbul belly dancing show and dinner. I’d been to a belly dancing cruise in Istanbul before and a number of similar shows since, of course, but this time was somehow different. The crowd on this round was somehow WAY more into it, and to be fair the dancers were a lot more talented (ahem… and attractive) as well.
Kyrgyzstan Ski Resorts – ZiL Ski Base
There are a number of ski bases within just a few hours drive of Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek. For some skiers in Bishkek, ZiL seems to be one of the favorites of local skiers for both the quality of facilities and the number of runs available. For others the place is anathema, the place where ‘the masses’ head each weekend in winter to clog up lift lines and zip perilously quickly down crowded pistes. Which meant, of course, that I had to check it out for myself!
Year in Photos: 2015
The past year in photos: 2015. What a year it was. Funerals on the ghats of Varanasi, a bit of a long chat with the tourist police in Jordan, getting just a touch stranded in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, taking my first helicopter ride over the skyscrapers of Dubai, and of course a death in the family that prompted an emergency turnaround after having just left the US a day before.
I’ve chosen below not necessarily my favorite photo from a given month, but the one that most captures at a glance the tone or activity of that moment in time. Some positive, some reflective, one sort of embarrassing story. (If you’re just looking for pretty pictures I took this year, you can also see those on my Instagram or Facebook Page as I put together my Top 10 for the year.)
Before the photos, however, a few stats from 2015. Travels in 11 countries (2 of those new to me – Jordan and the UK), 151 nights in my own bed (which must actually be a record for the past few years?), 54,000 miles flown on 12 airlines (with more than 30,000 already on the books between now and mid-April of 2016), 27,536 photos taken (of which only 4,469 made it into the archive and an even smaller sliver of that have seen the light of the web), and 7 trips to Karakoy Gulluoglu for that sweet sweet baklava goodness over 4 visits to Istanbul.
Oh right, and one more thing. Most of these photos are linked to a blog post, photo gallery, or other goodies that are worth have a look at if you want to know more about the photo or the trip that brought it to life. This was my year in photos. Give ’em a click, see if you find something you like.
Food in Dubai:
A Traveler’s Guide
Dubai is not traditionally a backpacker favorite. Despite perceptions of being overpriced and obscenely flashy, though, I’ve come to find myself looking forward to infrequent passes through the Emirates for exactly one reason: the FOOD in Dubai.
The wealth of cuisines available in the Emirates, from to home-style US and surprisingly-good camel chocolate to the vast and delicious arrays of India and SouthEast Asia. Of course, often-neglected but actually quite good, there’s also the Emirati food option. I’ve listed a couple of my favorite cuisines in the city below, with a specific recommendation for each. Branch out and explore as well though, as there are far more types of food in Dubai than you’ll have days as a tourist in the city.