Tick

Protect yourself while travel in South America

Latin America is huge and diverse – and seemingly full of health hazards. Take heart though – your biggest risks will be road accidents and (especially in the warmer parts) a short-lived upset stomach. However, it pays to be prepared, so here are some of the hazards that travellers to South America face.

Montezuma’s revenge

The tropical parts of Central and South America have high hit rates for travellers’ diarrhoea. The worst countries in the New World are Mexico and Peru. Along with the ‘simple’ kind of gastroenteritis that burns itself out in 36-48 hours, there are nastier pathogens that spread in the same way – unhygienic food production. These diseases include typhoid and paratyphoid (capsules now protect against both), and bacillary and amoebic dysentery.

In Bolivia, for example, fields may be fertilised with ‘night soil’ (human faeces) that effectively recycles parasites. It’s worth adhering to the ‘peel it, boil it, cook it or forget it’ rule. Raw fish – including ceviche – has been blamed for outbreaks of profuse watery diarrhoea but fish that’s well marinated in lemon is least risky. To avoid tapeworms and worm cysts in the brain, order your steak and pork well-cooked.

Piranhas & candiru

Piranhas and candiru fish are infamous among travellers to South America. Although piranha feeding-frenzies do happen, they are unlikely unless they’ve become trapped in a tiny body of water that is drying out.

Candiru are pencil-lead thin and parasitise other fish; on very rare occasions they try to enter the urethra of male humans taking a swim. Where these fish are common and small boys swim with them, local women are good at winkling them out. Stingrays inhabit the rivers too so watch where you wade.

Chagas disease

This infection may have been the death of Darwin but is more commonly spoken of than experienced. It’s transmitted in the rainforests by assassin bugs, which hurt when they bite. Sleep in a hammock with attached mosquito netting.

Scorpions & spiders

Bark scorpions are particularly dangerous – despite the availability of an antivenom, there are 1,000 fatalities every year

Bark scorpions are particularly dangerous –despite the availability of an antivenom, there are 1,000 fatalities every year

Bark scorpions are particularly dangerous but there is an antivenom so fatalities should be rare and partially depend on getting to a competent clinical facility promptly. There are over 1,000 deaths from scorpion stings in Mexico annually; those who die are mostly local children. Widows, browns and sac spiders should be treated with respect – if they bite, there is usually an area of skin and subcutaneous tissue death.

Ticks

Tick

American ticks come with special health warnings – potentially they can give you one of nine dangerous infections, and American Lyme disease seems to be more malign than the European variant. Keep ticks off. If you find one feeding on you, remove it as soon as possible (pack a tick-removal tool) and flood the wound with pisco or some other strong spirit alcohol.

Leishmania

Tiny biting sandflies can squeeze through mosquito nets and spread an illness that starts as a painless ulcer-like skin lesion. This looks as if it should be itchy or painful but isn’t. It grows and may disappear spontaneously after a month or so. Depending on the form of leishmania, up to half of victims will go on to have a nasty parasitic infection that requires extended hospital treatment.

Prompt diagnosis allows a simpler, more effective cure. Odd ‘sores’ can also turn out to be skin cancers, so show any weird lumps and bumps to a doctor. Keeping covered, wearing repellent and sleeping under an insecticide impregnated net will protect you.

Malaria

Sleeping in a mosquito net to protect yourself

Malaria is a problem in much of the northern part of South and Central America – read up on your destination. Although the most dangerous forms aren’t present, malaria pills are recommended for many rural destinations. Malaria is only one of many insect-borne diseases on offer in South America so take precautions to avoid bites at all times.

Yellow fever

Yellow fever is a disease that simmers in forest animals and breaks out unpredictably. During outbreaks in South America the authorities sometimes react by instigating mass vaccination, including stopping busses and immunising everyone on board – you’ll need to wave a yellow fever certificate to avoid being stabbed along with everyone else.

Consult the web (eg, www.who.int) to check the current status of your destination. There have been some deaths reported in Brazil (in May 2015) due to yellow fever and there have been nine cases in Peru in the first three months of 2015.

Chikungunya & dengue

Chikungunya now seems to be a big problem in South and Central America and the Caribbean. It’s spread by mosquitoes and causes a disease akin to ‘breakbone’ fever or dengue, which is also a problem locally. Wear repellent at all times.

Snakes

Snakebite is a significant problem in South America but the scale of the problem is hard to gauge. People most at risk are agricultural workers clearing vegetation. Antivenom may be available at some clinics.

Vampires

The Americas are home to real vampires: bats that bite mammals, instil anticoagulant and lap the blood; a significant proportion carry rabies. Anyone sleeping out should consider this risk; arranging pre-trip rabies immunisation would be wise. Evidence is growing that a full course of rabies vaccine with a booster gives lifelong immunity. Dogs are less of a rabies risk than in the Old World, but even so there was a rabies death in Chile in 2013 following dog bites.

NEW YORK I Could Never Get Enough of You

NEW YORK: I Could Never Get Enough of You

New York City will always be one of my favorite travel destinations. The diverse culture, and fast-paced lifestyle never fail to amaze me. I have been to NYC a lot of times, and I could never get enough of it. The colors, the lights, the places to visit, and the food choices are just so vast, I have always felt that I do not have enough time to explore this big city.
My visit this year was again too short for my enjoyment. Again I stayed over at my cousin’s house – he had always been very generous and had always made me feel at home. My first day is usually spent with him and his family. As usual, they welcome me with a gastronomic feast that would leave me wondering if I was really in New York. This is because I get to eat a great home-cooked meal that transports me back to our home town.
After a lot of catching up I doze off and prepared for my itinerary for my second day in NYC. Although I want to keep things free flowing, I figured it would be nice to have an informal plan about the places I would want to visit, so that I could make sure I would get to go visit them during my trip.
I started off visiting old friends living in the Queens area. They brought me over at this restaurant they have been raving about which is Don Peppe’s. Well, food was really outstanding there, with lots of choices and huge portions, perfect for sharing! The restaurant has a great ambience and pleasant wait staff. I couldn’t have enough of their linguine with white clam sauce, mozzarella with tomato and roasted peppers, and of course their Tiramisu. Truly one happy tummy for me there.
The next day, I decided to go for a run in Central Park. Running there was just so relaxing for me. I just love the view, the trees, the smell, the sights. I am so enamored. Everything about Central Park actually will always be fun for me, including the Whole Foods Market right across. And yes you guessed it right, I stopped by to fill up. In all my trips to New York I never fail to stop by this Whole Foods branch in Columbus Circle. It is just a happy place for me, and why not – every inch of the store is filled with delicious and wholesome food.

NEW YORK I Could Never Get Enough of You

I could never get enough of the Big Apple. (Photo Credits: Aurelien Guichard, cc: Some Rights Reserved)

That night, I got invited by an old classmate to watch a Broadway show. Honestly, I would rather go on another food trip, but I figured this is a great cultural experience I should not miss. And I did not regret it.
The next day was one of my most-anticipated days in NYC. I carried on with my quest to find the a welding helmet, and it led me to another New York location, this time in Syracuse. I was lucky enough to be accompanied by one of my good friends in heading over to Haun Welding Supply’s Retail Store. I was like a kid in a candy shop, when I entered the retail store in their office headquarters. I just had to continue my search for the best welding helmet over at their outlet.
The welding supplies found at their store are just so vast, I was so excited to peruse everything there. It is a welder’s paradise!

Not a trip to NYC without strolling at Central Park. (Photo Credits: Nancy Smith, cc: Some Rights Reserved)

Not a trip to NYC without strolling at Central Park. (Photo Credits: Nancy Smith, cc: Some Rights Reserved)

Anyway, I was glad to know that they also offer free one-day training seminars in there, and that they likewise offer training courses in their Syracuse branch. That is one thing that I may try in my next visit to the Big Apple.
Of course while in Syracuse, I did not pass up the chance to eat over at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. As a fan of the show Man Vs Food, I made a mental note of visiting this restaurant the next time in New York. And boy was I not disappointed! The ribs were just oh-so-succulent, finger-licking, and to-die-for. The Beer Menu was also very diverse that I had a hard time choosing! For those with allergies, it will be also great to note that they have a gluten-free menu to boot.
The next item on my to-do-list at New York is to, of course go shopping. I figured it would just be weird to go home with only a new welding mask so I headed over at Woodbury Commons and ticked off my shopping list. Again, shopping at this outlet is not for the faint of hearts and those who do not have self-control. I purposely left my credit card at my cousin’s house to make sure I would not go over my shopping budget and my airline’s luggage weight limit restrictions. I do not want to get something there that I could not pay for, so in this particular shopping trip, cash is my mode of payment.
I could say it is one of the best decisions that I ever made because at least, I was limited to just buying what I really needed – new pairs of denims, a nice laptop bag to replace my old one, a wallet, and the dark glasses I have always been wishing for.
Well, as I have always felt every time I am in New York, my stint in the Big Apple was again too short for me to totally enjoy the city. Like I could never get enough of it – its lights, its energy, its people. Before I headed over to Washington to visit another friend, I made another mental note of the places I would want to visit and restaurants I would like to check out the next time I am there. I am certain, that i will be back again.

snowdonia (2)

Snowdonia skyline

FROM CONWY TO NEBO over the Carneddau, Glyderau, Snowdon and the Nantlle Ridge, the route I’ve called the Snowdonia Skyline is one I’d wanted to try for years. Last summer, during a period of settled weather and on a night with a full moon, I finally set out to walk it. Head west then south-west out of Conwy, keep Anglesey to your right, the rest of Wales to your left and carry on climbing those lovely ridges until you get to the other end of the National Park… sound simple? In principle, it is. But this is also one of the most rewarding 24 hours available to the British walker. Starting in the early evening, I blundered westwards from Conwy town centre. Strangely, although Conwy has a direct path out onto some of the most scenic territory anywhere, the route is positively hidden. But after a couple of missed turns I finally found the route onto the open hill. In front of me lay one of the great concentrations of spectacular mountain ridges in Britain.

snowdonia (1)

Adam and Eve, Tryfan summit, sunrise

Conwy Mountain may be less than 250m high but it feels like a mountain alright, with views down and out to the shimmering Lafan Sands and Anglesey floating above the sea, all in soft evening sunlight. The next five miles or so contain no summits, just a gradual gain of height up to Tal y Fan, the first 2000-footer. But the scenery is magnificent. Sections of the early route reminded me of the first miles of the Lyke Wake Walk, with widening views to town and country as the sun set. Tal y Fan is a curious summit, a rocky spine running east-west above the heathery moor. After that there is a heathery trundle over Foel Lwyd followed by a disconcertingly deep bwlch – the first of many – and the long pull to Carnedd Y Ddelw and then Drum. Anglesey had also now landed again; very quiet.

The ascent of Foel Fras is a dull, long grass slope, so mindless that I counted to 600 plantings of the left foot. You know you are close to the top when you encounter the designers’ only acknowledgement of it as a 3000-foot mountain: a rash of boulders. But the next miles are the easiest on the whole trip, grassy uplands leading to Carnedd Gwenllian and then on to the stone shelter on Foel Grach. By now, I had moonlight, which was reflecting brightly off Yr Elen, a tempting top, but not on the Skyline.

I spent the three darkest hours of the night in my bivvy bag and then moved on as the cold started to seep through. Ahead lay the easy ascent to Carnedd Llewelyn, far left for the summit, then the long tramp to Carnedd Dafydd. From here I needed light and I got it as, slowly, dawn organised itself from somewhere north of Merseyside. I remembered to watch for the steepening ground from Pen Yr Ole Wen, into that gully above Afon Lloer and remembered also to replenish my water supplies. But I had forgotten how slippery the next bit – all wet and dewy grass – could be. I even saw another torch, briefly, but was soon concentrating on trying to use my feet rather than my backside to progress. By the time I reached the track I was thoroughly relieved to be sprain-free, although I now possessed two very wet feet. This was a very low bwlch, but, in front of me, emerging into daylight beyond the A5, was Tryfan. It was 5am and I already had 18 miles and 6000ft of ascent under my feet but in front of me was 2000ft of infinitely varied scrambling on sound rock: the north ridge of Tryfan, served up with a blazing sunrise. My watch told me I ascended in 90 minutes but looking back, it felt like 19. And at the top were Adam and Eve: the best piece of summit design anywhere. Then the swift descent to Bwlch Tryfan and Bristly Ridge… of which I made a pig’s ear, straying left and emerging from there into Great Pinnacle Gap. The presence of discarded tape slings was disconcerting but, in the absence of skeletons and the like, I trusted in the pattern of Snowdonia scrambles: that if you wave your arms about long enough a jug hold will usually appear. Soon the Cantilever came into sight and then – surely the designers put these two on the wrong plinths – a pile of discarded dinosaur torsos at the true summit of Glyder Fach. Castell y Gwynt is another rock feature that looks to have been designed for a summit and then plonked somewhere temporary, so I climbed it. Glyder Fawr lay beyond, a less spectacular summit but a great view to Snowdon. From here, there is a mystery. Pen y Pass is one of the great honeypot sites and Glyder Fawr one of the significant summits. And yet the connecting path, although marked by the odd red paint splash, is a bit scatty. At the bottom a path did coalesce, just in time to run into a fenced-off building site.

From Glyder Fawr, a view of the continuing Skyline, over Snowdon

From Glyder Fawr, a view of the continuing
Skyline, over Snowdon

I picked up a coffee at the cafe and, with my eye on my watch and my mind on my 24-hour target time, carried it up the PYG track. It was just about cool enough to sip by Bwlch y Moch – maybe I exaggerate – but then the adrenaline rush of Crib Goch provided its own stimulation. At the top I encountered the first mists, which eventually lifted at Crib y Ddysgl, where Snowdon (and its hordes) came back into view. I downed a juice at the summit cafe then headed of towards Yr Aran, realising pretty quickly that I needed to turn and hit the path that descends gently to Rhyd Ddu, the lowest point on my watershed. Rhyd Ddu was pretty quiet but, again, there were provisions available (you don’t need a long-suffering support driver to walk this route). Ahead of me lay Snowdonia’s best kept secret – the fantastic landscapes of the Nantlle ridges. But first was the purgatory of 1500f of grassy staircase to ascend Y Garn. It didn’t help that I now met the single happiest school group I have ever seen, gambolling down the steep ground with shared noisy glee. By contrast I was by now the possessor of that crazed hollow stare of an addict reaching the end of the fix, the sort you see eyeing up the last pint of a bender or putting the last coins in a Vegas slot. Eventually the slope slackened but I had acquired company. Yes, I had a voice in my head, a female companion who was convinced that we would finish this together, even if we had to run the last bit down.

As I later read, one of the local Welsh poets had written of this area: “T ere are voices and phantoms throughout the place.” Spooky? No, comforting, really. Y Garn is a fantastic viewpoint… but I cannot recall appreciating it on this occasion. Soon enough, the route became really interesting again, with care required to negotiate the bouldery staircase up to Mynydd Drws-y-Coed, and a view down one of the cleanest of vertical drops in the whole of Snowdonia. And from here on I met not a soul. No-one else was there to admire the ridge curving perfectly round the cwm to Trum Y Ddysgl, or the upland grass promenade – with that short rough gap – to the obelisk on Mynydd Tal-y-Mignedd.

The next bwlch is one of those disconcertingly low ones, but my female companion kept pointing out a path that struck out half right from the low point. Her judgment was perfect as I took it and it led me round the crags on the ridge, to the summit of Craig Cwm Silyn. More great views and, at last, no more major ascents. I could sense a nearing of journey’s end, complete with its metaphors for life itself; the going easier, everything more rounded and the sea nearer. Garnedd Goch was easy up but bumpy down and looked unexpectedly huge in retrospect. From a level bwlch I picked up the thinnest path to Mynydd Craig Goch. It was all downhill now and I had 40 minutes left of my 24 hours, much of which I wasted by straying too far to the right. ‘She’ – the voice in my head – was right, I reflected, as I hobble-ran down the hill on a path that led unerringly to a new fence. Down towards Llyn Cwm Dulyn I lurched, to a stile, which led in turn to one of those mysteries of the countryside, a one-in-five grass slope that somehow holds ankle-deep water. When I eventually reached my target, the National Park boundary, the only sound I could hear – splurch, splurch – was that of water sloshing around in my runners. The time was 5.36pm. I had been going for four minutes short of 24 hours and can have rarely felt worse; then again, I had just found a fantastic route and have rarely felt better. So, there is the challenge: keep the sea to your right, Wales to your left and climb the skyline in front of you. You might want to wait till the wind’s in the east. Then enjoy.

  1. The route has a single theme: the skyline.
  2. The best views in Snowdonia are looking west, and they are in front of
    you throughout.
  3. The route includes several outstanding scrambles and all bar one are
    used the best way, in ascent.
  4. The route has a continuity of line; there are no ‘out and back’ elements.
  5. The route is navigationally obvious, with no temptingly daft options.
  6. Each of the major descents are on gradual slopes or civilised paths.
  7. The route includes two areas which deserve greater attention: the
    northern Carneddau and Nantlle.
  8. The start and end points are on the road network and readily connected
    by public transport.
  9. There is comfortable accommodation at both ends.
  10. The start is at the start of the mountain skyline and the end….is at the other end of it.
San Blas Panama

Top five getaways: Seeing killer views like this doesn’t require a second mortgage

  1. PHILIPPINES

    Philippines-Busuanga-Island_05

    Philippines Busuanga Island

    No need to be a billionaire to claim your own private island in the Philippines. Just hire a local fisherman to ferry you out to any one of thousands of islands (5,000 of the 7,000 are uninhabited) and plant your flag. Some food and a few simple camping supplies are all you’ll need to crash for the night (specifically, mosquito nets, rum and something to open coconuts).
    The sea turtles never ask for tips, and cool, starry nights are free. If camping cramps your style, a stay at a beachfront resort like Camiguin Action Geckos Resort costs less than a Comfort Suites back home. The priciest part is getting here, but interisland flights are cheap and plentiful (though not always online), as are cold beer, local rum and simmering street foods such as the delicious noodle bowl called pancit bihon . All you need now is an insignia for your flag.
    WHEN TO GO Avoid typhoon season, July through September. Deals can be had year-round.
    SPEND WHAT YOU SAVE ON A guided climb up Hibok-Hibok volcano on Camiguin Island. — Nathan Myers.
    HOW TO GET THERE: PHILIPPINES Non-stop to Manila for less than $700 on lower-cost airlines like China Eastern or AirAsia. Book as early as possible. The cheapest seats are always available first.

  2. TORTOLA, BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS

    tortola cane garden bay

    tortola cane garden bay

    There’s nothing fancy about Sebastian’s hotel on Tortola. But each of the 26 rooms does put you within a 30-second walk (weighed down with a cooler and a few towels) from a pretty beach in Little Apple Bay on the quiet north shore (the cruise ships are 9 miles away in Road Town ). Do breakfast and lunch at the on-site Seaside Grille (the conch salad is wonderfully unchewy), and for dinner venture to local spots like D’Coalpot, where chef Evelyn arguably makes the island’s best roti — it’s enough to split.
    WHEN TO GO Shoulder season (May and June) means the best weather for the best price, but don’t disregard low season (June to November) . Since 1944, a hurricane has hit the British Virgin Islands only once every 11 years , and the last one to cause significant damage was Hurricane Otto in 2010.
    SPEND WHAT YOU SAVE ON sailing. Plan day trips from Tortola to the surrounding islands: flat, remote Anegada for the biggest, cheapest spiny lobster ever; mountainous Virgin Gorda for drinks and 360-degree views at Hog Heaven; and tiny Jost Van Dyke for the whitest sand and strongest cocktails around. Rates start at $89 per person for day sails. Ferrying between islands is a more wallet-friendly option. — Audrey St. Clair.
    HOW TO GET THERE: No nonstops from the U.S. to the BVI. Fly to San Juan from
    NYC for $200, but it’s at least $300 for the next short leg. Once there, island hopping by ferry is easy.

  3. SAN BLAS, PANAMA

    San Blas Panama

    San Blas Panama

    The native Kuna Indians govern the San Blas Islands, still traveling among the 378 isles by hand-carved canoes with sails. Still catching fresh fish and gathering fruit. Still sleeping in hammocks and building shelter with bamboo and thatch. This no-frills escape looks much like it did 1,000 years ago, and a stay at Kuna-owned Akwadup Lodge in one of seven overwater huts feels like it, save for a few welcome comforts such as ordering lobster from your private balcony (under which it was likely just swimming). Views of rainforest and ocean and a blanket of stars are unlike any you’ve seen.
    WHEN TO GO These isles lie in hurricane country, so early spring is ideal.
    SPEND WHAT YOU SAVE ON Traditional rainbow-hued fabrics called mola made by hard-bargaining Kuna women. The best have smooth edges and stitches so small they could be the work of Lilliputians . — AS
    HOW TO GET THERE:  Flights from LA to Panama City hover in the $400 to $600 range. Book the interisland flight ($50 to $100) to El Porvenir as soon as possible. Those 20 seats go fast.

  4. BONAIRE

    Washington Slagbaai National Park, Bonaire

    Washington Slagbaai National Park, Bonaire

    No other Caribbean island offers a greater variety of DIY-style snorkeling and diving (first purchase the required $10 snorkeling pass; $25 for divers). Bonaire’s leeward coast, all 24 miles, is dotted with yellow rocks painted with numbers, each marking one of 60-some named reefs, home to sea turtles, squid and yellow-spotted moray eels. To see them, just park the rental car (Caribbean Club Bonaire includes a pickup truck in the room price), walk to the shoreline, don gear and go. Not a water baby? Mountain biking through Washington Slagbaai National Park means snuggling with donkeys or spotting flamingoes near the salt ponds.
    WHEN TO GO Bonaire is outside the hurricane belt, so summer deals can be even cheaper given you can forgo travel insurance.
    SPEND WHAT YOU SAVE ON a 90-minute lesson alongside pros at Kiteboarding Bonaire. — Brooke Morton
    HOW TO GET THERE:   Nonstops also depart from Atlanta, Charlotte and Houston. CheapAir says to plan Caribbean travel about 100 days in advance. From NYC to Bonaire, $500 is a great deal.

  5. BIG ISLAND, HAWAII

    Hilo, Hawaii

    Hilo, Hawaii

    Walk the beaches of Kona and it’s like the rocks have eyes. That’s because those coffee-table slabs atop black sand are actually honu — green sea turtles. To see them elsewhere requires snorkeling or waiting till the wee hours when they nest, but here, when the sun shines, they’re everywhere. What’s not, though, are low-cost hotels and cheap eats. The Pineapple Park Hostel is a bit of a misnomer. Although mostly young people choose it, the place does have private rooms for $100 in the heart of town on Route 11, where free islandwide buses stop. Take one to Kailua-Kona and hit up Da Poke Shack for cubed raw tuna topped with avocado aioli, but don’t eat it there. Get it to go and walk 10 minutes south to Pahoehoe Beach. Poke (pronounced poh-KAY) is the perfect light lunch, so you can ignore that rule from Mom about waiting 30 minutes before swimming.
    WHEN TO GO November to March is ideal — migrating humpback whales think so — and thus prices are higher. Summer brings better deals, so long as you don’t mind higher humidity.
    SPEND WHAT YOU SAVE ON stand-up paddling. Invest $40 for a trip in Kealakekua Bay State Park and paddle among spinner dolphins. — BM
    HOW TO GET THERE: Lower fuel costs could mean lower rates in 2015, with West Coast flights starting around $300, East Coast and Midwest about $600. Book three to four months out.

Infinite potential the source of creative energy

Infinite potential: the source of creative energy

When I first read the book Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach, I was enthralled. A close friend had given it to me as a gift as I was leaving the UK for a one-year sabbatical to Australia. I read it on the plane, and again on my fi rst night in Sydney. I was 21 years old and unaware that I was reading a book that would change my life forever.

On a Monday morning 11 years later, a quote from Illusions floated in front of me, causing me to quit my job and follow my passion for wildlife photography (Part 1, OP190). Little did I know then that another quote from the same book would cause a similar revolution in my life several years later.

Imagine it’s already there

It was the winter of 2014 and I had been in Yellowstone National Park for two weeks. I had seen the usual wildlife suspects – ice-encrusted bison, lolloping elk, coyotes, eagles and swans – but I was desperate to see Yellowstone’s most famous inhabitant, the wolf.
Despite being one of the best locations in the world for spotting wolves, this apex predator is still a rare sighting. I had seen wolves only twice before in Yellowstone and things weren’t looking too positive on this trip. None of the guides had seen any signs of wolf – no tracks, no scat, no kills – and the spotting boards (notice boards on which visitors write down wildlife sightings) were blank. Even so, my mind was open to the potential.

The wolf-majestic animal of the nature

One morning during my trip I climbed into the front cab of the snow-coach as usual. As we began the journey into the park – a long, quiet road swathed in the cloak of twilight – I closed my eyes. And there, in the darkness in front of me, I saw the words, ‘To bring anything into your life, imagine that it’s already there.’I recognised them from the book Illusions, although, like many of the teachings described by Richard Bach, I didn’t fully comprehend them or, more accurately, I didn’t fully understand how to make them real.
Despite that, with my eyes still closed, in my mind I visualised an image of a wolf standing amid the tall lodgepole pines that define the Yellowstone landscape. The snow-coach trundled on.

Manifestations

About half an hour later, I was making some final checks of my cameras, when there was a commotion on the road ahead. Large numbers of vehicles – vans, snow-coaches and snowmobiles – were lined up and people were wandering about excitedly. We pulled over and I climbed down, grabbing my camera bag. In the distance, I heard someone shout, ‘wolf’ in explanation of the ruckus. I scanned the ridgeline, seeing nothing. I walked ahead without knowing why, other than it felt like the right thing to do – instinct overpowering hesitation. My eyes were glued to the ridgeline when, out of the corner of one eye, I saw a flicker of contrast. I turned my gaze and there, among the trees, regal in its confi dence, was a lone white wolf.
He was walking intently, slightly above me, and I followed, parallel to his path. He was always a step ahead. Then he stopped and turned his head towards me. I lifted the camera and he gazed straight down the barrel of my lens. A silent acknowledgement passed between us and then, as quickly as he’d arrived he was gone.

Two fighting bisons in the park

Two fighting bisons in the park

Back at the snow-coach, the chatter between the guides was energetic. It was their first wolf sighting in weeks, but the real reason for their excitement was that it was the first white wolf they’d ever seen. By the end of my time in Yellowstone, 10 days later, he hadn’t been seen again. I kept my own thoughts to myself. I didn’t really manifest a wolf by ‘imagining it was already there’. My morning epiphany and the appearance of the wolf was coincidence – surely?

Anything else was simply too ‘woo-woo’ to consider. I have a scientist’s mind, and there is nothing in any of the classic sciences with which I’m familiar that could explain conjuring a wild animal from thought alone. I am also a bit of a romanticist, however. And although my mind demands the rigors of science when understanding nature and the world around us, the idea of being able to manifest images at will was a fun illusion that was worth playing with.

The power of thought

For the rest of my time in Yellowstone, I set aside my usual approach to image-making (my back-to-front theory of composition, explained in last month’s article) and simply spent time truly connecting with my environment. Rather than chase light and pre-determined ideas I sat in a single spot, letting my senses be caressed by nature and trying to envisage my next image. And the strangest thing happened.

A bison by the lake

A bison by the lake

As I imagined each new image, by some twist of light and magic, immediately it would appear in front of me. I imagined a coyote – a coyote appeared, cool and inquisitive. I imagined an elk surviving in the harshness of winter – an elk appeared, forlorn in its isolation. I imagined bison in a crystal landscape – bison appeared along with rays of sparkling light.
I have had similar experiences in the past. I remember an occasion in India, watching a leopard hidden in some bushes. I imagined the leopard waking out of the bush, crossing an open area of grassland in front of me and settling at a nearby pool of water to drink. Ten minutes after seeing that picture in my mind, the leopard did exactly that. On another occasion, I imagined a grizzly bear snorkelling for salmon in a crystal- clear pool. That thought led to some quite remarkable GoPro footage of a fishing bear. But these were isolated moments that might also be explained in part by knowledge of animal behaviour, and nothing at all like the consistent fl ow of images that occurred in Yellowstone.

A closed up bison

Sadly, after days of thoughtful experimentation, my time in Yellowstone was up and playtime was over. I had to get back to the office and serious work. Still, in the volcano-like centre of my mischievous mind, a thought bubbled away.

Another unexpected journey

A couple of months later, I was in the car with my partner, Monique, travelling back to Switzerland from the south of France. It’s a long journey from the Mediterranean to the Alps, and we were both tired and conversation was slow. To fill the silence, Monique asked if I wanted to listen to something, suggesting some music or an audio book. Normally I would choose music because I have little auditory awareness, which means music is about all I can cope with. On this occasion, however, for reasons I can’t explain, I chose the book option, picking one at random. At some point, I don’t remember exactly when, I started to tune in. Here and there the narration would penetrate my auditory barrier and ping around my head as if my mind was the play zone of a pinball machine. I heard words and sentences such as ‘consciousness’ and ‘quantum domain’ and ‘mindfulness’ and ‘mind is the maker of reality’.

A lonely wolf

A lonely wolf

Something inside my psyche was beginning to put two and two together and coming up with an answer. I asked Monique to grab a pen and write something down so I wouldn’t forget: ‘The science of quantum mechanics asserts that in the beginning was potential. Potential was followed by chaos and chaos was followed by order. Photography mirrors the quantum world: photography starts with the potential for an image (the visualised idea), which is followed by chaos (the visual objects presented by nature), which is followed by order – composition.’

I then asked her to write down the question, ‘What does quantum physics reveal about our individual creativity?’ In answering that question so this journey, this great new adventure, begins. In next month’s chapter of A photographer’s guide to life on Earth: ‘Everything is connected to everything else’.

azores

Azores-the Lost paradise on Earth

As someone constantly in search of new playgrounds to explore and photograph, I first noticed the name “Azores” mentioned in weather bulletins. I was intrigued by a place where anticyclones—which create constant fair weather—are born.When a seafarer friend, who had once landed there during an Atlantic crossing, mentioned that each island was covered with lush forests, pristine waterfalls, and sunrises and sunsets to die for, I knew I had to go. “Be prepared to be amazed,” he said.

The items I carry in the trip

  • Fujifilm X-T1* and Fujifilm X-Pro1 bodies
  • Fujinon XF 10-24 mm f/4 R-OIS*
  • Fujinon XF 14 mm f/2.8 R
  • Fujinon XF 35 mm f/1.4 R
  • Fujinon XF 18-55 mm f/2.8-4.0 R
  • Fujinon XF 55-200 mm f/3.5-4.8*
  • EF-42 TTL and EF-X8 flashes*
  • Gitzo GT 3541 tripod
  • GoPro Hero4 Black
  • GoPro Hero4 Silver

Sitting at 2351 metres atop Mount Pico, the highest point of Portugal, I contemplate the fiery light slowly invading a deep blue, inky sky. The orange-popsicle-coloured glow stretches above the horizon to reveal the serrated edge of the five-hundred-metre-wide crater and the stratovolcano’s imposing shape.

Inside the dead volcanoes of Azores

Inside the dead volcanoes of Azores

Volcanoes of Azores Island

Emerging from the dark lava, volcanic fumaroles dance devilishly, backlit by the morning star. I grab the widest lens I have— a 10-24 mm Fujinon—and, once the aperture is set at f/5, I steady the camera on my backpack. “You know, you’re incredibly lucky!” says my guide, Sonia Mendes, as the sunrays settle in and warm up the ambient air. “Most of the time, when I make it here with clients, we’re either above or below the clouds and we rarely see a clear sunrise.” We had started our climb in the wee hours of the morning at the visitor centre, now nestled far below at 1200 m. With the vigour of an Alpine infantry officer, Sonia, a sleek, tall woman from Pico Island, led me in total darkness to the summit. Even now in semidarkness, it’s easy to frame a picture that captures my guide’s salute to the sunrise, thanks to a large high-resolution viewfinder and OIS. The silence is uninterrupted.

The road leads to the ocean on Flores Island, near Fajã Grande.

The road leads to the ocean on Flores Island, near Fajã Grande.

Testing my camera for scenic views

Photographing a spectacular sunrise gives me serenity, but it also triggers a creative desire for the day to come that I can feel slowly percolating in my mind. I had recently switched systems, going from a full-size DSLR to a more compact Fujifilm APS-C. Having lugged bulky cameras and huge lenses around the world for years, I thought it was time to lighten the weight on my shoulders and rediscover the joy of photographing. Yet, I was concerned about working with a different sensor size, since it seems that, at least as far as sensors go, size matters. Would the 16.3 megapixels keep their promises? I certainly enjoyed the lightness of being DSLR-free on the way up. With two compact-system cameras, a flash and five lenses packed in a small Lowepro Photo Sport 200 AW, I was able to go fast because I wasn’t weighed down. My adventure began five days before and three hundred kilometres away from Pico, on the island of Flores. Along with her nearby sister Corvo, Flores is covered with rich, densely woven vegetation. Both are included on the UNESCO list of biosphere reserves.

Ancient volcanic formations such as the gigantic caldera of Lagoa do Fogo (Lake of Fire) on São Miguel Island can be seen everywhere in the Azores.

Ancient volcanic formations such as the gigantic caldera of Lagoa do Fogo (Lake of Fire) on São Miguel Island can be seen everywhere in the Azores.

Visitors are lured here by a year-round humid subtropical climate with 24 cm of yearly precipitation.“It’s time to put the weather seal of the X-T1 to the test,” I thought while climbing the Morro Alto, near the island’s centre. A dense cloud was surrounding the various calderas—ancient craters now filled by lakes fed by the many streams of the central plateau. However, the wind was on my side, pushing the gigantic white masses away from the volcanic landscape. I was certainly glad I could hang my bag on the central column hook of my Gitzo tripod to weigh it down! When shooting landscapes, I still rely on a grey card from time to time. But with a camera that offers 256-zone metering, the quality of exposure rarely disappoints, and an occasional slightly underexposed image reminds me of the good old feel of richly saturated Velvia film.

azores

Vegetation is abundant on most of the islands, including here on one of São Jorge’s most beautiful trails, going from Serra de Topo to Fajã do Santo Cristo.

Walking around the moutains

After spending the day hiking around the Branca, Seca, Comprida and Negra calderas, my 16-GB card was already half filled with images having the most intense greens and hues of blue that I’ve ever seen in nature. The light seemed polarized by the cyclical movement of clouds. I thought the afternoon would be ideal for a view of Poço da Alagoinha Grande, a series of panoramic cascades falling from 300 metres into a Lost World-like scene, but the clouds eventually won out. The next morning, after a pleasurable and productive ferry ride, I reached the longest island of the archipelago to shoot some hiking images. With a 53-km coastline, São Jorge is dotted by numerous fajãs, fertile pieces of land created by the accumulation of debris from landslides and ancient lava flows. The landscape was stunning and my guides were keen to share the best of “their” island, so we decided to hike to Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo. The hike to reach the remote village was steep but offered plenty of arresting views. We entered the dense vegetation through dark tunnels created by the interlocking tree canopy and thick ground bushes.

azores

On the sevenkilometre trail from Miradouro das Lagoas to Poço de Bacalhau, there is a spectacular point of view overlooking the mall village of Fajã Grande, on Flores Island’s west coast.

The challenge of balancing the contrast between light and dark areas was nearly impossible, even with the help of the tiny dedicated hot shoe EF-X8 flash, which otherwise is fantastic. I was ready to give up on my nearly three-stop difference when I grumbled, “If only I had a collapsible reflector!” Dina, my guide, was not familiar with photographic equipment and asked me what I meant. When I explained the action of a reflector disc, she simply said, “Oh, but I think I have one!” She pulled out the survival blanket from her first-aid kit. In two minutes I cut some bamboo for a frame. We stretched the aluminum blanket on it and secured the makeshift light bouncer with some medical tape and voilà! With the sun’s help, I had two more stops and the shot was in the bag. We left the forest, and the ocean invaded the horizon again. After a week spent outdoors and in rural villages, Ponta Delgada, the capital of the Azores, feels like a bustling metropolis.

I’m here to photograph a religious procession—an interesting transition from landscape photography to photojournalism. I dig out my second camera, an X-Pro1, from my bag and select an 18-55 mm f/2.8-4 zoom and a 14-mm f/2.8 fixed lens. I wander through the old city streets covered with flow ers placed there by neighbourhood associations to commemorate the Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres, a religious Easter veneration dating from the 1500s. The crowd is dense with the Brotherhood, robed in red and black, and the faithful, ranging from children to older folks.

The light grey sky acts like a gigantic softbox, so there is plenty of light but no contrast. I dial down the ISO to 200, underexpose my images one- to two-thirds of a stop, and throw in a little fill flash. The colours are strikingly vivid. Frankincense perfumes the air, and the crowds slowly move into the streets behind the statue, while devotees, clad in black, pray aloud. I shoot late into the night, strolling the streets until my feet are sore. Slowly, the noises and fumes fade, but there is still plenty of light in the cobbled streets for a few last architectural images.

As the jetliner takes off, I take one last look at the archipelago. From way up in the sky, the Azores look like a small fleet of ships lost at sea. These remote volcanic islands are really as far off the beaten path as islands could be. The visit has filled up my soul and my memory cards. Whether you’re a sailor, an adventurer, an airline captain or a photographer, if you make it to the Azores by sheer luck or by good planning, you should indeed be prepared to be amazed.

bletchley park

House of games

BLETCHLEY PARK is one of the world’s great survivors.

The mansion, 50 miles northwest of London and dating to the late 1870s, was almost lost to the British nation twice. In 1938 a local builder was eyeing the parcel as a development site when the government stepped in, buying the property from the Leon family to house a Code and Cypher School.

And in 1992 bulldozers loomed again until local historians barred their path. Forming the Bletchley Park Trust, advocates saved the complex, where a secret wartime operation broke the German Enigma code, and recast the Park as a museum. Now appreciation for that act of preservation is reaching beyond Britain; of the site’s 150,000 yearly visitors, more and more hail from overseas. Those ranks will only swell thanks to The Imitation Game, the Oscar-winning movie about code-breaking genius Alan Turing.

The Imitation Game Poster

If you love The Imitation Game, be sure pay a visit to Bletchley Park where all the real events happenned here

During the 1920s and 1930s, the Park had been a country idyll, popular with shooting parties, until that 1938 purchase began the estate’s transformation into a hub of Allied counterintelligence work during the Second World War.

I visited on a raw December day with my father. Born in 1938, Dad grew up five miles away; he found it moving to return to a place he had not seen since leaving for Oxford University in 1956. As we neared Bletchley station he noticed through the railway car window a parking building on the spot where, during the bitter winter of 1947, he told me excitedly, had sprawled the coal yard to which his mother would send him to fetch household fuel.

The government chose Bletchley Park as a code breakers’ perch primarily for its location. With war against Germany imminent, Whitehall wanted its code wizards away from London and Luftwaffe bombs. The manse sits at a safe distance from the capital city, but within 200 yards of a railroad station. Nearby are the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, in the late 1930s fertile environments for recruiting the brilliant minds required for high-level intelligence analysis.

Entering the estate, one at first sees only motley brick-and-timber huts, splayed at odd angles like drab dominos. The bleak, utterly authentic scene makes it easy to picture streams of extremely bright young things, male and female, arriving hurriedly by foot and on bicycles three-quarters of a century ago.

bletchley park

The tour begins in the Visitor Center–wartime Block C, where clerks, mostly women, indexed the details of decoded messages in a giant cross-referencing system. The assignment was painstaking, a point made clear in footage of reenactments that runs continuously.

“To be successful,” an instructor tells newcomers, “you must be an enthusiast because there will be times when the work seems monotonous.”

Monotonous, yes–but vital. Eventually, Bletchley Park and environs employed 10,000 people. Some intercepted, some deciphered, some translated, some distributed, but all the intelligence they winkled out of myriad enemy radio signals mattered critically to the Allied cause.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called the Bletchley Park team “the geese that laid the golden egg.” In July 1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower sent a message to British Major General Stewart Menzies, who headed the operation. Describing the intelligence gleaned there as “priceless,” the Supreme Commander said the Bletchley Park workforce had “saved thousands of British and American lives and, in no small way, contributed to the speed with which the enemy was routed.” The museum displays a copy of Eisenhower’s communique.

Visitors depart the center bearing an easy-to-use audio device that directs them around the rest of the grounds–another mark of the museum’s thoughtfulness. I, for one, am not blessed with undue mathematical competency, and would be lying if I suggested that prior to my visit I wasn’t a bit apprehensive. Ultra, Enigma, Bombe, Lorenz … Would I be able to keep up or would the topic’s complexity befuddle me?

Fear not. All is explained in lay terms, and old-schoolers can sign up for a comprehensive tour conducted by one of the site’s knowledgeable guides. We went with the talking machine, but did cross a guide’s path in Block B. Standing before a replica of Alan Turing’s Bombe, he explained to his companions how the computing mechanism worked.

“Turing,” the docent concluded, “is one of the great unsung heroes of British history and were it not for him we might be here speaking German.”

There is much to learn about Turing in Block B. The centerpiece is the Bombe, a functioning model of which testifies to its inventor’s genius. The mechanism is seven feet tall and six and a half feet wide. The original had 108 drums, each vertical set of three representing a German Enigma encoding and decoding machine. Early Enigmas had three rotors (later the Reich would add a fourth). A sender scrambling a message could set each ring at any of 26 positions; in effect an Enigma machine had 17,576 (263) settings. The Bombe’s drums could drive through every potential setting in about 12 minutes by electrically performing a chain of logical deductions based on a portion of plain text. Turing’s device rejected combinations that produced contradictions–as the majority did–supplying the code breakers with a small number of possible Enigma settings. If that sounds complicated, don’t worry–interactive touch screens and straightforward diagrams help “decode” Turing’s achievements in smashing the enemy code.

More personal exhibits illuminate the man behind the genius: Turing’s Swiss wristwatch and his teddy bear, Porgy. Perhaps that tatty stuffed plaything more than any other artifact at Bletchley Park affords a glimpse of Turing’s human vulnerability. And the secrets keep coming; recently during a renovation workers uncovered notes of Turing’s stuffed between the walls of Hut 6 as insulation, along with the only known examples of Banbury sheets–forms that the mathematician devised to speed decoding.

The visit ends in the mansion, an elegant Victorian building that overlooks the Nissen huts and a lake aggregated more than 200 years ago from the remains of medieval fishponds. Entering “The Main House,” as wartime workers called it, is a pleasing step back to the Old England of yesterday and recreated BBC memory. The red brick mansion fuses Tudor and Dutch Baroque architecture, with an eye-catching array of bay windows, tall chimneys, and crenelated parapets. One enters through a Gothic-style inner porch to encounter an interior of mahogany paneling, decorative plaster ceilings, elegant carpets, and whiffs of yesteryear. To the right of the porch is the lounge hall, on whose elaborate stone and marble chimneypiece stands a bust of Winston Churchill. A timber staircase leads to the first floor; the highest story is the attic, a century ago quarters for servants.

BLETCHLEY PARK

Bletchley Park House

Until November 2015 much of the mansion’s interior will house an exhibition featuring The Imitation Game. In the billiard room are the costumes worn by actors Benedict Cumberbatch (Turing) and Keira Knightley (the mathematician’s colleague, Joan Clarke). The ballroom holds the bar depicted in the film, and my father yelped with delight as he recognized brands of beer and soft drinks he had last seen 60 years ago. The exhibition also reveals that among the film’s cast of extras was a great nephew of Turing’s. How delighted he must be at his great uncle’s rehabilitation in recent years: Britain’s official apology in 2009 for hounding him to his death and, four years later, a posthumous royal pardon. Pardon for what? For the now-banished crime of homosexuality. In 1952 Turing’s country prosecuted him for being himself, driving him to suicide two years later, a stain on the British establishment well documented in The Imitation Game.

It’s taken 70 years and $12 million, but Bletchley Park offers Turing and company a fitting memorial.

As Her Majesty said in 2011, unveiling a sculpture at the estate honoring the code breakers: “This was the place of geniuses such as Alan Turing. But these wonderfully clever mathematicians, language graduates, and engineers were complemented by people with different sets of skills, harnessing that brilliance through methodical, unglamorous, hard slog…. You were history-shapers and your example serves as an inspiration to the intelligence community today.”

WHEN YOU GO

Only an hour by train from London Euston–one of the British capital’s central stations–Bletchley Park Is a stroll from the local train station. The Park Is on Sherwood Drive, Bletchley, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England; 44-1908640404, bletchleypark.org.uk

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT

Hut 4, where clerks decoded German naval messages during the war, houses the museum’s restaurant. Expect traditional British food-such as fish and chips, stew, sausages, a wide selection of sandwiches, and a choice of soft drinks and beer–at reasonable prices. Four miles away, Milton Keynes, the nearest big town, has plenty of budget and mid-range hotels, and someone staying in London easily can manage a day trip.

WHAT ELSE TO SEE

The National Radio Centre and the National Museum of Computing are In close proximity to Bletchley Park (admission to the former Is Included in the price of visiting Bletchley Park) and are well worth a visit. The Computing Museum houses a rebuild of Colossus, the world’s first programmable electronic digital computer.

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