My Evolution As A Photographer

This photo, taken in Wadi Rum, has been one of my most popular
This photo, taken in Wadi Rum, has been one of my most popular
A few days ago was the second anniversary of my first daily photo. Since then, I’ve put a photo on my website for over 730 consecutive days. It was originally just a way for me to put something up every day without having to write something. I was just being lazy. Somewhere along the way, photography has become the signature feature of my website. So much so that some people consider my site to be a photoblog, which I something I do not consider it.

When I first started traveling, I didn’t know my ISO from my aperture. I literally was so ignorant of the basics of photography, I’m embarrassed to talk about it. I purchased a camera which was way over my head in terms of my ability that in hindsight I should have been prevented from buying it by the store owner. My initial goal for taking photos wasn’t to put images online, it was to one day be able to decorate the walls of my home when I was done traveling. I envisioned the walls being covered with photos of the places I’ve been. I still might do that, but things have gone in a totally different direction.
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Princess Cruise Recap

A gigantic screen above the pool on the Crown Princess
A gigantic screen above the pool on the Crown Princess
I’ve been off the ship now for almost two weeks, and that has given me plenty of time to reflect about the experience I had on the Crown Princess. This was my first ever experience on a cruise, so that is where I am coming from. Also, it was a media trip sponsored by Princess Cruises, so keep that in mind as well. My experience wasn’t 100% what an average person would have on a cruise ship.
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13,311 Miles, 85 days, 25 States and 17 Heritage Sites Later

During my road trip I saw the buffalo roam...
During my road trip I saw the buffalo roam...
My three month North America road trip is over.

This was by far the most driving I’ve ever done in a single period in my life. The final tally for what I saw and experienced was more than what I initially expected. It was a busy three months and in the end it was something I was very glad I did.

There were two major reasons why I decided to undertake this trip. The first, is that I would always meet people who were interested in visiting the United States and many of the places I suggested they visit were places I myself had never been. I figured before I set off to travel around the world again, I should take the time to explore my own country. The second reason was so I could meet in person many of the people I only knew from online. On both counts the trip was a success.
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Road Trip Update – The Home Stretch

After two and a half months, I’m entering the last leg of the road trip. Today I’m just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee where I’ll be visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and taking photos. Tonight I hope to be in Nashville, then on Saturday I’ll be visiting Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and driving up to Indianapolis. From there I go to Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Illinois, up to Chicago and back to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving.

Since I got back from the cruise on Monday I drove from Dallas through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and a sliver of Georgia to get to Tennessee. It was my first time ever in the deep south and I found the drive to be pleasant. Given my schedule I didn’t have any time to explore the area, but I did leave me with the desire to go back.

All of my long haul driving (entire day behind the wheel) should now be behind me. Everything should be shorter trips of now more than a few hours with more stops. I’m ready to stop driving for a while. I’ve made up for all the driving I didn’t do when I was outside of the US.

If you are in Nashville or Chicago and would like to meet up, let me know.

Aboard the Crown Princess – Day 5, Roatan, Honduras

Girl in Roatan School
Girl in Roatan School

My original plan for Roatan was to go diving, but after Grand Cayman I didn’t really feel like diving anymore. Moreover it was raining hard and despite the fact you are going underwater, diving in the rain really isn’t that fun. It makes visibility poor and you can never dry off once you get on the boat. Instead I decided to join Kim Mance and the girls from who where going to deliver school supplies to a local grade school. I figured I’d crash their party and act as photographer for the day. It also gave me an excuse to test out my new flash for my camera as well as see parts of the island I’d otherwise not get to see.

The three Galavanting girls, Brett (aka Amtrekker) and myself all got off the ship, piled into a van in the pouring rain and set out for the school…..which was empty because all the public schools in Honduras were out of session. Evidently, the schools were let out because of all the political problems they were having in the country. The teacher, Darla, was there to meet us and she talked to Kim and the other Galavanting girls. I just sort of hung out in the background and took photos and Brett did video.

The Galavanting Girls and Darla the teacher
The Galavanting Girls and Darla the teacher
Eventually some kids started to show up just as we were about to leave so we stayed a bit longer so Kim and the girls could give them their supplies in person. They did some songs and we found out that some of the kids have to walk 90 minutes to school each day…and it had been raining all day long. We took two of the kids that had the longest walk back with us in the van to drop them off closer to home. We then spent the rest of the day driving around part of the island, looking at sights and soaking in as much as we could in a few hours of pouring rain.

I should also add that I found roadside stands selling rambutan, which is my favorite fruit in the world. It is almost impossible to find in the US, but they had mounds of it you could buy for cheap.

Me getting a facial treatment
Me getting a facial treatment
Back on board the ship I had my spa treatment. I’m not really a spa guy, so I just a shave and a haircut as my spa session. It was the first and only time in my life that another person has shaved my face. I was sort of anxious about it. I assumed that it would be a shave with a straight edge razor, but the woman doing the shave just used a Mach 3, which sort of disappointed me. Once the ship started moving, however, the logic of not using a straight edge razor became obvious. Ultra sharp object near someone’s throat on a moving ship is just an accident waiting to happen. In the end, the shave really wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t any better than what I could have done myself and in a few days it was totally undone.

We had another great meal that evening, but I honestly can’t remember what it was because the two previous evenings totally dominate my food memories of the cruise.

Aboard the Crown Princess – Day 4, Grand Cayman Island

Welcome to Grand Cayman
Welcome to Grand Cayman
We finally got to visit a real port of call, Grand Cayman Island. Given the problems with the weather, there were five boats in the port at Grand Cayman. Three Carnival ships, the Crown Princess and a Celebrity ship. My shore excursion was SCUBA diving, which is something I haven’t done since I dove the ruins of the Lighthouse of Alexandria in March. I signed up for the only certified dive option which was available, so I had no idea what sort of dive we’d be doing.

Considering there were five ships in port, you wouldn’t have guessed it from the crowd on shore. It didn’t seem that busy and the dive boat was only half full. In fact the dive sites we visited didn’t have any other boats nearby.

The first dive was sort of lame. The location wasn’t anything special, they limited us to 30 minutes and a depth of 80 feet (24m). The water temperature was 85F (30C) and was some of the warmest water I’ve ever dived in. The reason why the dives were so short and shallow was because of constraints, as told to us by the dive masters, by the cruise ships. Lesson: don’t use a cruise ship for a dive holiday. If you really want to dive, go on a liveaboard.

The second dive was sort of odd. With most multi-tank dives I’ve done, you have lunch on the boat while you do your mandatory surface interval. (When diving, you have to decompress for a certain length of time depending on how deep and long your previous dive was). Our second dive was 20 minutes after our first dive. We went to a place called “Stingray City” which was only at a depth of about 15-20 feet, which explained the short surface interval.

Swimming with stingrays was surreal. Yes, these are the same things which killed Steve Irwin, but they aren’t really dangerous. The accident he had was really just a freak occurrence. The stingrays in this area are so used to people they will swim all over you. The females were about 4-5ft across. We had a tube of squid for feeding them, which was also weird. Their mouths are more like vacuum cleaners. They will suck stuff out of your hand. Just after feeding one, it moved up my arm and sucked my forearm. It hurt like hell and left me with a massive hickey. Stingrays freak me out.

We were dumped off in Georgetown with a few hours left before we had to get back on the boat so I had lunch at a local place, avoiding the Hard Rock Cafe and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.

Executive Chef Giuseppe and Maitre D Hotel Francois
Executive Chef Giuseppe and Maitre D' Hotel Francois
Back on the boat, it was our day to eat at the chef’s table. I thought that dinner I had on Monday would be the best meal I’d have on the boat. I was wrong. The dinner started out with a tour of the galley (kitchen). We had to put on lab coats and wash our hands before the tour. The kitchen was surprisingly clean and orderly. I’ve never worked in food services, so it was all new to me. In the kitchen we were given several small appetizers: a crab and avocado salad, a truffle tart, caviar on sour cream and a small pancake, and a small cheese tart. This was served with champaign.

At the table, the food just kept coming. We had a risotto dish, an amazing flaming meat main course, bloody mary sorbet with vodka, and an over the top plated desert of spun sugar and chocolate. The executive chef did the tour and also came out to the table several times, as well as the head pastry chef. We were also given signed copies of the cookbook made by the executive chef. This meal was on a par with meals I’ve had which cost several hundred dollars.

The Chef’s Table experience is available to anyone for $75, which I honestly think is a deal compared to what you’ll pay for shore excursions, which usually run over $100. If I had to choose, I’d walk around for a day in a port and not pay for a shore excursion and put down the money for the Chef’s Table. It is worth it.