Tag Archives: photography

A photo from my archives: Umeå

Umeå, Sweden, 2004.

This is another shot from my trip to Sweden several years ago. Umeå was my last stop before returning home. After 2 weeks in semi-remote areas in Lapland, I was invited to spend a couple of days in this city and I had the opportunity to visit the lake nearby at sunset. As you can see it looked so peaceful  and the colours were amazing!

A photo from my archives: Abisko

Abisko, Sweden, 2004.

My trip to Swedish Lapland came to mind yesterday.

Abisko – a small village about 250Km within the Artic circle – was the northernmost point I reached during my trip, and the most isolated one.

Travelling, as I did, at the end of the summer tourist season brought a different perspective to the area. Apart from the locals there was hardly anyone around, I was the only guest at the hostel on one of my nights there, the large convenience store at the end of town had almost a surreal feeling.

What I loved the most there was the lake. I walked down to the shore on my first evening in Abisko, it was very cold (around 4C, I had to buy gloves and hat) but the peaceful and serene atmosphere was what I wanted. When I look at this photo, with the red wooden hut by the shore and the mountains behind, I still find it very calming and it reminds me of my short stay there.

The people of Caye Caulker

My first impression of the people of Caye Caulker was: everyone looks Jamaican and is a rastafarian. A striking difference from mainland Mexico, from which I had arrived.

In my few days on the island I got to know a few locals, most of whom hung around the crafts market along Playa Asuncion.

There I met Coco Loco, with his Santa hat. He sells giant seashells. He refused to have a photo taken until I mentioned that I could put the photo online and make him famous. At that point his attitude changed and after eagerly asking “Are you going to put me on YouTube?”, Coco Loco was more than happy to pose. So here’s to you, man: it’s not YouTube but only my humble blog, yet you are now on the internet!

Then there were Debra and Rootsman. They live in the north island and sail to the south island everyday (10 minutes or so) to set up their stall at the crafts market. Debra makes jewellery out of shells, seeds and motherpearl. She explained to me her choice of material and added that most pieces she makes are unique, all different from one another. Rootsman handpaints t-shirts. I had a long chat with them about their crafts as well as Caye Caulker. They expressed their fears about the island becoming increasingly touristy and heading towards what nearby San Pedro has become. It will be very sad if/when it happens.

There was a guy from a stall advertising diving/snorkelling who had spotted me because of my camera and my photography activity around the market, and had therefore nicknamed me “the photographer”. He’d call me everytime I walked past so I’d always greet him in return.

belizephotogallery_064Another artist asked me to have his photo taken, then complained that he looked like his brother!

As a woman you also get a lot of unsolicited  attention from the local guys. As they walk past you they will greet you with “Hello beautiful”, “Hi baby, come over here” and so on. After a couple of days on the island, most of these guys will know you and remember you, they will greet you by name when you bump into them. Because you will, and many times: Caye Caulker village is very small. It can be annoying or fun, depending on your mood. I chatted to a few because I wanted to hear stories about Caye Caulker but always walked away quickly if they became annoying.

One last interesting fact is that there is a high presence of Chinese/Asian people on the island: they run all convenience stores and cheap supermarkets in Caye Caulker village. Quite unexpected for me to be honest!

I didn’t take as many photos of people as I would have liked, for various reasons, including the fact that many refused. Here’s some more random shots though:

I fell in love with Caye Caulker

 

I fell in love with Caye Caulker the moment I got off the water taxi, in a mild December evening.
White sand under my feet as I walked down the street looking for my guesthouse, houses in pastel colours, locals cheerfully welcoming the new arrivals to the island, music everywhere, a strong Caribbean feel.

Go Slow

Belize "Caye Caulker"Go Slow is the motto here. Everything is relaxed, very laid back, no one rushes. There are no cars in Caye Caulker. Everyone walks or cycles everywhere. If you want a taxi you’ll hop into a golf cart.

There isn’t much to do on the island, and there is a lot to do at the same time. Plenty of tour agencies offer diving, snorkelling, kayaking, paddleboarding, scenic flights, boat tours. Or you can hire a bicycle and explore this tiny island (about 8Km long) on your own. Or just sit by the beach and relax.

Everyone seems to go to the Split and the Lazy Lizard bar during the day and to the Sports Bar in the evening. The local guys will tell you about the Sports Bar as soon as you arrive.

I fell in love with Caye Caulker. Small but with a lot to do if you are curious.

Explore the tiny island with a curious eye and an open mind. Enter the shops. Talk to the local people. Walk barefoot. Buy a fresh juice from a grocery stall. Eat fryjacks. Take a yoga class. Hang out at the Split during the day. Swim in the clear Caribbean waters. Eat seafood. Watch the sunset. Enjoy the sea breeze.

But most of all Go Slow and savour every moment in Caye Caulker. Because when you’re gone you will miss it. And more than you think.

Discovering Bacalar town

The name “Bacalar” most likely derives from the Mayan b’ak halal, which means “surrounded by reeds”. The town was named a “Pueblo Magico” in 2006 because of the magical experience it offers thanks to its natural beauty and historical relevance.

So when you are tired of trying outdoor activities, go for a walk around town! The highlights are the main square and the Fuerte de San Felipe Bacalar (the fort), which was completed in 1729 and is open to visitors. But don’t miss exploring the streets, with their shops, restaurants and food stalls. The town comes alive at night, when most of the eateries start serving food.

A 10-min walk from the centre is the municipal market. If you’ve been following me for some time you’ll know how much I love markets! I love the vibe, the colours, the people, the interactions that develop in what is often a loud and chaotic environment. The market and the little grocery stores in Bacalar were quieter than I expected. But the colours and the people didn’t disappoint.

La laguna de Bacalar

If you are planning to spend time in the eastern part of the Yucatan peninsula (Quintana Roo state) but are not keen on the tourist crowds of places like Cancun and Playa del Carmen, why not heading south towards Bacalar? The ‘laguna de Bacalar’ (Bacalar lake) is located about 5-6 hours from Cancun by bus (40 minutes from the nearby Chetumal), close to the border with Belize. Not as popular as the rest of the peninsula, it is an absolute jewel and deserves a few days’ visit.

When I quickly researched online info about the area before travelling, what really attracted me were the amazing colours of this “laguna des siete colores” (lake of the seven colours, because of its different shades of blue). And the opportunity for lots of outdoor activities.

Crystal-clear waters and white sands characterise the lake, which is about 42Km long and no more than 2Km wide. It looks amazing even on a dark sky day. You can imagine the feeling of watching great sunrises and then jumping in the lake for a very early morning swim!

You could spend the whole day just sitting by the shore and relaxing and going for a swim every now and then. But there is more to do around the Bacalar lake. Here is what I did:

Boat tour
I joined a catamaran tour arranged by my hostel and we sailed up and down the lake for three hours. One  of the stops was at the Canal de Los Piratas (Canal of the Pirates). 34Km-long, its mouth is characterised by sulfur mud that can be used as skin exfoliant. We did indeed have a bit of a body scrub there, hehe. The water was crystal clear and you’d think you were in the Caribbean sea, not in a freshwater lake. We also went to the Cenote de las Brujas, one of the many cenotes (sinkholes) in the area. Snorkelling at the edge of the cenote was a way to see some fish but don’t expect anything extraordinary. Yet the experience of floating in the water over a hole that is about 110m deep is not to be missed!

Kayaking
Whether you join an organised tour or just rent a kayak from your hostel or guesthouse (if they offer the service), I strongly recommend this activity. I rented kayaks with friends for 2 hours and we crossed the lake to reach the Canal de Los Piratas again. Great paddle in the late afternoon and it was so much fun!

Cycling
Thought about renting a bicycle? This is a great way to explore the area. I cycled to the Cenote Azul, the most popular in the area because of its diving opportunities and easy access from the road. The 6.5Km ride (each way) on up-and-down roads on a heavy and old fashioned bicycle was a bit of a struggle at times. But jumping into the cenote water at the end made it all worth it.

Tired of being active and just want to relax? Well, you can explore the town of Bacalar. Watch out for my next post for that!

A Troodos mountain adventure

I had hoped to go trekking in the Troodos mountains but my hopes were soon shattered: no tours were available on my dates (no one wants to go trekking when it’s so hot, I was told).
And now?!
I decided to look online to find adventure tours that explored the area, then contacted one of them, was redirected to another one who was running a jeep tour on one of the dates I was interested in, and ended up joining a tour run by EcoTour Adventures.

Andreas (the guide and driver, and owner of the business) picked me up very early in the morning. Four more people were part of the same tour. And the jeep adventure began!

The day was spent exploring the Troodos mountain area, checking out semi-abandoned villages, waterfalls, streams, monasteries, wineries, driving off-road as often as we could, enjoying the ever changing landscape, noticing how Cyprus not only has beautiful beaches and semi-desert vegetation but also thick pine forests  that you wouldn’t expect in such climate.

Our first stop was the Asprokremmos reservoir and dam, the second largest in Cyprus. We paid attention to the surrounding barren landscape, before heading to the deep forest of the Troodos.

Cyprus Asprokremmos reservoir
Asprokremmos Reservoir

We then stopped in the village of Salamiou, where we had Greek coffee before heading to the gorgeousTzelefos Venetian bridge, which is located deep in the forest. This is only one of the medieval bridges in the area, but is meant to be the most beautiful. The whole area is quite scenic and we enjoyed going for a brief walk in the forest.

We couldn’t miss a visit to the Agios Ioannis Lambadistis monastery, located near the Kalopanayiotis village and now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This monastery is considered one of the most interesting byzantine sites in Cyprus and displays some amazing paintings dating back to different historic periods (11th to 19th century).

Cyprus Troodos "Agios Ioannis Lampadistis monastery"
Outside the Agios Ioannis Lampadistis monastery

Driving higher up the mountains we then reached Prodromos, the highest village in Cyprus at 1,380 metres above sea level. Here we stopped at a local family-run restaurant for lunch and I had souvla, one of the traditional dishes in Cyprus. Souvla is basically large pieces of meat cooked on a long skewer over a charcoal barbecue (not to be confused with the Greek souvlaki, apparently). Delicious!

How about the Chantara waterfall? Said to be the most beautiful of Cyprus, it’s located in a stunning and peaceful forest area. I cannot really comment much on the waterfall itself as water was a bit lacking at the end of September. Rain would only start later in the season.

Our last stop consisted of a visit to the Nelion winery for a quick tour of the wine-making facilities and a wine tasting session. The view from the main house was beautiful, rolling hills and vineyards everywhere around us.

The day flew by. If/when I go back to Cyprus, I will definitely plan for some trekking in the Troodos (picking the right season this time…). The area is definitely worth spending more time in it!

Around the Akamas region

If you are into the outdoors and wilderness and are looking for something more rugged than the standard touristy beaches, the Akamas region is the place for you! This beautiful and still relatively wild part of south-west Cyprus is characterised by desertlike scrubland and stores some amazing secluded beaches, nature trails, and gorges.

Public transport in this area is limited, though, and you will need your own wheels or you must join one of the many adventure tours that depart from Pafos.

Here’s a handful of places not to miss in the Akamas:

Lara Beach:
Beautiful and semi deserted beach, famous for its crystal clear waters as well as the turtle hatcheries scattered on the shore. The wind was quite strong when I visited, yet the sea was relatively calm and a pleasure to swim in.

Avakas Gorge:
This is a popular and easy hiking excursion, with lush vegetation and towering rocks all along the way. Given the time of the year of my visit there was little water in the gorge but there appears to be a real stream there.

Sea Caves:
Created in the limestone rocks, these fascinating formations cover an extensive area mainly around Peyia. Although some of the caves can be reached by land, hopping on the rocks and then descending into the caves, the best way to visit them is by sea kayak. I took a half day sea kayaking trip and really enjoyed paddling in and out of the caves, experiencing the amazing environment in what I consider the best way. Truly recommended!

Do you want more amazing beaches and sea? Next post then ;-)

Magical Lantern Festival in London

The Year of the Monkey is here!

According to the Chinese calendar, Monday 8th February 2016 is the first day of the New Year.
London’s annual Chinese New Year celebrations are the biggest in the world outside China, and usually revolve around a main parade between Trafalgar Square and Chinatown.
This year, however, an additional event is having a huge success around town: the Magical Lantern Festival!

Set in the gardens of Chiswick House, in West London, this huge installation is described as an extravaganza of lights and illumination, and will entertain you for well over an hour.

Giant hand-sculpted lanterns are scattered along the exhibition trail, with subjects ranging from animals to plants and flowers, to fairytale scenes. It is totally amazing and you will feel like a child in a magical playground!

And when you reach the end, all you want to do is to turn around and do it all over again…

A daytrip to Buenos Aires

My Uruguay trip included a short stint in Argentina too. Too tempting to take the ferry across the Rio de la Plata for a visit to Buenos Aires (and my old friend living there, click here) from Colonia del Sacramento.

I was in Buenos Aires only for a few hours, and of course this was nowhere near enough time for a visit. So I will definitely go back at some point.

Argentina "Buenos Aires"
Tourist bus stop

When you only have a few hours in a big capital city, the quickest way to see the main tourist attractions is to use a jump-on-and-off tourist bus. The Buenos Aires ones have 24 stops and the whole tour takes just over 3 hours. That is if you never get off the bus for a closer look at the sites! Click here for the full itinerary.

What really struck me about Buenos Aires is the shocking road traffic and the modern skyline, full of high rise buildings and skyscrapers. London, you’ve got a competitor here!

I wish I had had more time to walk around the main historic buildings and the colourful La Boca area,  but unfortunately my superstrict timeline (I had to cross over to Uruguay again in the late afternoon) limited my options.

So I will definitely return to Buenos Aires for a longer visit!

For now here’s some photos (it was a grey and very cold day so all a bit dull-looking):