Tag Archives: travelphotography

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.

A visit to Echternach, Luxembourg

Just over an hour by bus from Luxembourg City lies Echternach, the oldest town in Luxembourg.

I picked it over Vianden Castle (another popular destination for short trips from Luxembourg City) for no particular reason. Except that I was curious about crossing the border into Germany – just a walk across the bridge over the river Sauer – and back…

Yet the main attractions here are the Abbey of Echternach, which was founded in the 7th century, and the Roman Basilica, rebuilt after World War II. The museum of the Abbey is only open during the summer, though, so I couldn’t visit.

The town itself retains a medieval feel, with its narrow streets, old churches, town walls, towers and a marketplace with a Gothic townhouse. This makes a stroll around very enjoyable.

Echternach has also been recognised at European level for its cultural value: in 2008 it was rewarded by the European Commission as “European destination of excellence”. In 2010, the famous Dancing Procession that always takes place on Whit Tuesday became part of UNESCO’s Intangible World Cultural Heritage.

For the summer, there is also a lake and lots of opportunities for outdoor activities. Unfortunately a cold day wasn’t too suitable for that.

A lot going on for such a small place – really worth adding it to your to-do list for Luxembourg!

Discovering Luxembourg City

The capital city of the small landlocked country of Luxembourg (the only Grand Duchy in the world!) is a mix of old and new. Easy to walk around and with enough to keep you busy for a day or so, it is a good destination for a European city break.

I certainly didn’t expect I would find it so interesting!

My visit wasn’t blessed with good weather, though. Heavy rain and freezing temperatures were my companions during my discovery of the city. Less than ideal but that didn’t stop me!

The UNESCO-listed Old Town (especially the part called the Grund) is the most picturesque area of Luxembourg City. You could wander around for hours exploring the alleys, walking along the corniche – by the riverside – and discovering the old fortress. I must admit that, because of the weather, I quite enjoyed adding cosy pubs to my sightseeing list!

Unfortunately the Casemates, underground galleries used as refuge during military attacks in the past centuries and one of the main attractions of the city, are closed in winter so I couldn’t visit them.

The medieval town core of Luxembourg City is in the Ville Haute. This part of town is home to many historic buildings such as the Palais Grand Ducal and Notre-Dame Cathedral, as well as famous squares like Place d’Armes and Place Guillame II.

There are also some interesting museums. I spent almost two hours wandering around the National Museum of History and Arts, which is spread over several floors and dedicated to displaying artwork and artifacts from all times of Luxembourg history. Another museum hosted an unusual exhibition about football seen as a religion of modern times (“Football Hallelujah!“). Although unrelated to Luxemborg itself, it was quite good to visit.

Tired of sightseeing? Why not stopping at Chocolate House for some sweet treats?

Luxembourg "Ville Haute" "chocolate house"
Chocolate House

A visit to the country of Luxembourg would not be complete without heading out to the countryside and the villages. Look out for my next post for this!

Isla Mujeres – part 2

What can you do in Isla Mujeres once you are tired of lazing around at the beach and going shopping?

A popular attraction is the Tortugranja, a turtle farm run by the Government in partnership with private funding that can be easily reached by taxi or bicycle. The centre was established to protect the sea turtles and increase their population. Accessible to visitors, in addition to the indoor and outdoor turtle pools there is also a small section with other marine life like fish, crabs, seahorses.

Not far from Tortugranja there is a beautiful hidden cove that was indicated to us by a local lady. Most tourists go instead to the beach and restaurant area by the Playa Tiburon restaurant. It is still interesting to walk around there and watch local fishermen on their boats or preparing seashells for sale. And don’t forget to try the Tikinxik, a local traditional fish dish!

I also recommend anyone should hire a bicycle and go around and explore Isla Mujeres this way.
Cycle to the island’s southern point, where you will see the ruins of a tiny Mayan temple as well as an open air art exhibition. You may also come across a few iguanas enjoying the sun along the walking path.
Wander around the streets outside the main tourist area for a more authentic feel of the place. Have a fresh conocut from a stall by the side of the street. Enjoy riding in the sea breeze.

Then return to the main town for a drink and meal in the warm evening weather.

 

Isla Mujeres – part 1

mexicophotogallery_062
Statue of a woman in Isla Mujeres

The Island of Women. This is what the name “Isla Mujeres” means. Half hour by ferry from Cancun, this small island (7Km in length) has become in recent years a very popular tourist destination for those who are not so keen on the Cancun party scene and prefer a quieter environment.

mexicophotogallery_066Yet for me, arriving from quiet Bacalar and largely undeveloped Caye Caulker, it was like being in Las Vegas by the sea. I hated the crowds that packed the beaches during the day and the streets/restaurants/shops/bars in the evening. Too many tourists, not enough authenticity.

But there are reasons for the crowds: the island is beautiful.
Playa Norte (North Beach) – with its crystal clear waters and white sand – is amazing. I spent a lot of time in and out of the water, also to cool down from the heat.

The Malecon (esplanade) offers opportunities for leisurely walks. It was especially busy with families on Christmas day, everyone enjoyed the waves and the sea breeze. A section of the Malecon gets busier towards sunset, when fitness-addicts  appear for jogging and a varied range of outdoor gym-related activities. After dark you will also find people sitting for a relaxing end of the day in front of the sea.

The main town is certainly full of tourist shops but if you just wander away from the crowds and explore the streets further away from the main pedestrianised area, you will find interesting sights, including lots of beautiful murals painted on the house walls.

And if you want to buy souvenirs, avoid the overpriced shops along the main drag and head to the Artisan’s Market just off the town centre. Nothing is better than buying something that has just been sewn in front of you! And how about those old Singer sewing machines?!

More on Isla Mujeres in my next post…

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:

Flying over the Blue Hole, Belize

 

Being someone who rarely splurges money when on holiday, preferring cheap or free activities, the US$200 for the 1-hr scenic flight over the Blue Hole in Belize seemed the result of a moment of madness.
Yet I had chosen this option because I had heard that as a snorkeller, and not a diver, the Blue Hole would be a disappointing experience and not worth the 2+ hour one-way boat ride. Plus, we only live once hey!

What is the Blue Hole, though? It is a giant submarine sinkhole (like a cenote in the ocean) off the coast of Belize. The hole is circular in shape, over 300m across and 125m deep. The world’s largest natural formation of its kind, the Blue Hole is part of the larger Barrier Reef Reserve System, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The tour agency I had chosen for this teamed me up with two other female travellers – a minimum of three people is required for a scenic flight to be arranged and I had contacted the agency via email prior to my arrival.

The small 4-seater plane picked us up at the Caye Caulker airstrip, at the southern end of the island. The pilot, very friendly Mr Hoy, briefly ran us through the security basics and the itinerary. Twenty minutes to get to the Blue Hole, fly twice around the Hole from the left, twice from the right, twice across the middle, then return. All so exciting!

I sat in the cockpit, next to the pilot. And we took off.
The view of Caye Caulker and its reef from above was amazing but it was only when we got to the reef around the Blue Hole that my jaw dropped. The pilot kept tilting the aircraft to a 90degree angle and my stomach started suffering. But the view from above was spectacular! The Blue Hole stands out within the reef because of its dark blue colour and its circular shape. We went round it a few times, descending very close to the water at times. It felt as if we could almost touch it. Such an incredible feeling!

On the way back we circled around a shipwreck stuck in the reef. The photo opportunities certainly didn’t lack.

When I saw the straight line of the Caye Caulker airstrip appearing in the distance I was sad that the flight was over. But it had indeed been worth every cent spent on it!

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.

Getting from Chetumal to Caye Caulker: a story from Latin America

I wanted to go to Caye Caulker, the small Belizean island everyone was talking about. The “go slow” island.

To get there I chose the water taxi route via Chetumal. Two companies cover the international transfer from Chetumal to Caye Caulker and its larger neighbour San Pedro and they run one service a day, on alternate days. I traveled with San Pedro Water Jets and booked my tickets online (US$120 return!) a couple of weeks before travelling. I must say that I wasn’t particularly impressed by the lack of data and payment security in all transactions involved – hey this is the 21st century, why do I have to enter all my card details on an Excel spreadsheet that I am then expected to email back?! I had no choice though, either that or you have to turn up at the ferry terminal on the day and hope that there are seats available.

At the ferry terminal in Chetumal everything ran smooth, though, all was well organised albeit slow. Reservation checked, tickets picked up, luggage taken care of, speedy immigration checks to exit Mexico (leaving my wallet MEX$390 lighter!).

Then an army van arrived. Three officers in camo uniform and carrying machine guns got off. What the heck is going on, I thought. Luggage inspection! A slow process of checking our large bags, all lined up by the boat, started. The sniffer dog did the job. Three times. When done with the large luggage we were asked to line up all our hand luggage on the ground and stand behind it, at a distance. The dog walked up and down sniffing all small bags a few times. We were all curious and slightly nervous at the same time. No matter how certain you are that you are not carrying anything of concern, three Mexican army officers with machine guns are not your preferred sight… When one of the rucksacks was identified by the sniffer dog as potentially suspicious and the owner had to walk forward and open everything for further inspection, we were all watching on tenterhooks. It was like a movie.

Eventually we departed. 1.5hrs later we reached the island of San Pedro where we got off the water taxi and waited to have our names called one by one to create a line (it felt like being back to primary school…). Inside the immigration building we had our passport stamped and the customs form taken, and paid US$1.5 for entry fee to Belize. It took forever but eventually those of us who were continuing to Caye Caulker got on a smaller speed boat and after another half hour we reached our final destination. The sun had already set.

So all in all everything ran smooth but the system seemed very old fashioned and extremely slow…and I thought that crossing the land border between Cambodia and Thailand had been snail-paced!

A few days later the return from Caye Caulker to Chetumal was done more or less in the same way, with an exit tax from Belize of US$20 and an entry tax to Mexico of MEX$390. Quite an expensive part of my whole trip… But it was all worth it. And you’ll see why in my next post!