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PASTEL PARADISE

I was on a cruise to the Western Caribbean last week and our first port of call was the southernmost point of continental USA…Key West, Florida. I’ve been to this island multiple times and for me the best part about visiting Key West is the scenic drive through multiple keys (islands) and seeing the beautiful blue waters on both sides of the highway. Since I only had a few hours to enjoy Key West before we set sail to our next destination, I decided to limit my walk around town to a few of my favorite stores. Unfortunately, my favorite soap store, Fantasea, along Duval Street closed business a few months ago. I also planned to eat lunch in Blue Heaven but the wait time for a table was more than an hour so I ended up eating somewhere else. The only itinerary that I actually got to experience was the Key West Butterfly Museum where I was able to take a lot of photos that were featured on this page a few posts ago. I decided to return to the ship earlier than planned and found myself on my stateroom balcony staring out at this resort island across from the ship. I also noticed a pinkish haze in the atmosphere, which contrasted well to the blue waters of the sea, reminding me of the pastel colored soaps I used to buy at Fantasea. Key West is magical when seen on land but I was amazed how magical this island looks as well from the air.

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STARRY STARRY NIGHT

One of these days I’d like to gather enough courage to drive somewhere far from the city and photograph the Milky Way in the darkness. In my case, the Florida Everglades would be the best place to escape the city lights. I am currently on a cruise somewhere in the Caribbean Sea and last night I attempted to capture some heavenly bodies from my stateroom balcony. My tripod was unavailable so I rested my camera on the balcony ledge and held it firmly to keep it from moving. Unfortunately, the ship was rocking so I wasn’t able to keep my lens open for longer than 15 seconds otherwise the stars would have looked like tiny lines instead of dots. I included the bridge of the cruise ship as my foreground subject and the sky as background to emphasize that the photo was taken out at sea. In the distance you can see the glow of the city lights of Cozumel, Mexico adding an interesting touch to my composition. I also opted not to adjust the brightness in order to prevent the photo from looking too grainy. Below are my attempts to photograph the Milky Way from the aft of the ship. It’s a little grainy but I think good enough for a first attempt.

BORDERLINE

I was going through my old photographs when I came across this one I took during my very first cruise back in 2013. We just sailed out of Miami and the sun had just set creating a majestic glow in the horizon. Up in the sky was this expansive cloud creating a border above the horizon while sandwiching the fiery sky in the middle. As I focused my gaze out to sea, I got captivated by the poetic silhouette of a cruise ship created by the glowing sky. Thankfully I brought my DSLR with me so I was able to photograph the magnificent view before me. I can also still remember the slow rocking of the ship and the smell of the salty ocean breeze as we sailed steadily towards our destination. It was a totally new experience for me and I’m glad I did it because after that trip I became a cruise fanatic having been on 9 cruises since and looking forward to my 10th in the next few days. I have cruised the Caribbean a number of times, the Mediterranean, Alaska and across the Atlantic Ocean and I’m looking forward to more cruises in the future. My goal is to keep cruising until I can eventually claim to have cruised around the world.

EMERALD FOREST

Green is supposedly the most relaxing and calming color as it is the color of nature and it evokes a sense of comfort and peace helping reduce stress and anxiety. During my cruise in Alaska last summer, the ship sailed through straits and inlets flanked by islands of lush forest of pines so it was a glorious feast of green for my eyes. It was truly relaxing and calming sitting on my stateroom balcony while watching an endless parade of nature across the water from where I was seated. The view also provided me a lot of photography opportunities and I specially liked how the trees were reflected on the water creating a beautiful mirror effect like the photo above.

SCARY HEAVENS

When people think of Miami, Florida the first thing that comes to mind is sunshine…and lots of it. Unfortunately during my cruise last month, Miami was covered with dark clouds and rain was pouring like crazy all over the place. The sail away was probably disappointing for a lot of out-of-towners who were all looking forward to a breathtaking sunset as we sail out to sea. I stood by my stateroom balcony ready with my camera but didn’t know where to point its lens. As we sailed farther out to sea I suddenly noticed these really ominous and black clouds with streaks of sunshine filtering through them. It looked both scary and beautiful and I thought it might come out nicely in a photograph. I started working on my framing and captured more of the clouds to emphasize its ominosity and to create a looming effect. I very much liked how the photographs turned out with the one above being my personal favorite as it effectively exudes a sense of dread in a beautiful way.

CHICHÉN ITZÁ IN PHOTOS

Chichén Itzá in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico has always been on my bucket list and my determination to see it was further reinforced when the archeological site was declared as one of the New7Wonders of the World. When I visited Cozumel in 2014 it was a choice between Chichén Itzá and Tulum, which was another archeological site located right beside the Caribbean Sea. Tulum was a shorter ride from Playa del Carmen making it the obvious choice for a visit at that time. However, during my return to Cozumel, Mexico two weeks ago, I decided to take the long trip to Chichén Itza to finally see the famous Maya city. Walking around the archeological site was truly an experience of a lifetime making the six hour trip (3 hours each way) worth it. The architecture was more impressive and the complex larger than Tulum. Below are the photos I took around the complex:

Platform of the Eagles and Jaguars

El Castillo/Temple of Kukulkan

Temple of the Warriors

El Castillo/ Temple of Kukulkan

Skull Platform

Platform of Eagles and Jaguars

Temple of the Jaguars

Temple of the Bearded Man

Top of the El Castillo

Skull Platform

Platform of Venus

FROZEN

Alaska was never on top of my bucket list as I, to this day, am not a big fan of freezing temperatures. Last summer I found myself booking a cruise to America’s last frontier not because of my desire to visit the place but because of the amazing deal I was getting for a junior suite stateroom. Hey! Isn’t it all about the journey and not the destination? 😜 Anyway, my trip to Alaska was quite an eye opening experience that can only be understood by someone who has also visited this mystical place. During the ships’ port calls, I made sure to find time to reconnect with nature and the experience was mind blowing like a spiritual homecoming. I would also most definitely consider the stop at Glacier Bay where nature showcased it’s beauty, strength as well as its fury as the highlight of my cruise. The photo above was taken at Lampugh Glacier where every line of the glacier has a story to tell…and we are talking millions of years worth of frozen stories to tell. Unfortunately, the ship didn’t dock so we only got to view the glacier from a distance. It would have been awesome to be able touch and walk on the glacier although by the look of it, I’d be frozen into history the moment I step on it. I guess it was more than enough appreciating it from a distance.

By the way, below is the photo of my junior suite stateroom…enough reason to bear the freezing Alaskan temperatures.

BEYOND THE MIST

As we traverse this journey we call life, let us all remember that nothing is definite and as always surprises awaits us in every turn. Just like this new year we are about to ring in, all we can hope for are wonderful things to come our way although road bumps are quite inevitable. These bumps are there to remind us to slow down but never to stop driving. The photo above, which was taken during my cruise in Alaska a few months ago, seems to remind me of what it’s like looking forward to the new year. It’s misty all around making everything less visible and uncertain, however, as we move closer to where we are headed the view becomes clearer allowing us to appreciate what lies ahead. We were headed to Glacier Bay that day and I thought I will never see anything due to the thick mist. To my amazement, a few hours into the cruise the mist lifted and we glided into Glacier Bay with an unobstructed view of the most magnificent sceneries one could ever imagine. Life is full of surprises so don’t fret too much because beautiful experiences await us beyond the mists of life. Happy New Year everyone!!!

PITCHFORK FALLS

I always wondered how cotton candy effect on moving water is captured so thanks to Google I learned how to program my camera settings correctly. It is highly recommended to use a tripod when attempting this style of photography but in this case, I broke the rule and captured this handheld. I was on a rush to capture the Pitchfork Falls in Skagway, Alaska as I was on a tour plus it was starting to rain so I had to rush back to the bus before me and my camera got soaked. One technique I read somewhere is to exhale while capturing a photo to further limit the shake. I have a few more photos taken using this technique and will post them soon.

RAYS OF LIGHT

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and we were sailing out of Vancouver, Canada towards Ketchikan, Alaska for a week of cruising in “America’s Last Frontier” when suddenly the skies transformed from bright blue to gloomy gray. We were aware of the weather forecast expecting rain throughout the cruise but didn’t expect the change to happen two hours after we left the port. So I headed for the Crow’s Nest of Holland America’s Noordam ship where I thought I would find the best remedy to a gloomy weather…alcohol! As I quietly enjoyed my White Russian while staring out at sea, I noticed the rays of light filtering through the clouds reminding me of those curtain lights they use in the theater.  It suddenly dawned on me that nature’s spectacle was occuring before me so I pulled out my ever reliable iPhone 7Plus and took multiple shots. Had it been a regular sunny day, the scene would have been a plain and simple view of the sky, islands and sea but thanks to bad weather, I captured a hauntingly beautiful photo of the ominous clouds filtering the sunlight and casting dark shadows on the water. On that day I learned how bad weather surprisingly turned out to be the best thing to happen with my photography.

FLIGHT OF THE ALBATROSS 

I always envy how birds can just soar freely into the horizon and visit exciting destinations without worrying about pricey plane tickets, uncomfortable seats, lost luggages or nasty flight attendants.  I on the other hand had to work around my limited vacation days at work and patiently await for dollar-saving deals before I can start packing my bags. How I wish I was a bird so I’d be able to explore distant places to as far as my wings can take me. Just like the Albatross in my photo above, it was instantly headed towards its next adventure by just a flap of its wings.  The most I could do was enviously photograph it as it soared towards me with its gaze focused on my camera as if reminding me how I was unfortunately stuck in my stateroom’s balcony. What a cocky bird (uhm!)!

SOUND OF SILENCE

The Slide Cemetery near the ghost town of Dyea was one of the stops of the photography tour I joined in Skagway, Alaska. When our tour guide announced where we were headed, I froze in fear at the thought of being in a cemetery in the middle of a forest with 4 complete strangers.  While hiking towards our destination, I immediately recalled the movie Blair Witch Project and started feeling goosebumps. I have to admit I was petrified that the sound of twigs snapping as we walked towards the cemetery made me jumpy.  The most peculiar thing about this cemetery is that everyone has the same date of death except for four. Apparently, the casualties of Palm Sunday Avalanche on April 3, 1898 were laid to rest here. In Alaska, they call avalanches as slides thus the name Slide Cemetery.  The place was totally eerie but I decided to focus on my photography and made sure I stayed close to everybody throughout our photoshoot. This was the only time I discarded my curiosity and didn’t attempt to wander around. Thankfully, my photos turned out well minus any weird reflections, orbs or unwanted photobombers. LOL!

GELID PEAKS

We were sailing slowly down Glacier Bay in Alaska towards the Johns Hopkins Glacier when I noticed these massive snowy peaks majestically reaching up for the cotton white clouds in the sky.  I also noticed a long white swath of cloud floating across the middle as if dissecting this monstrosity into an upper and lower half of a mountain.  All this time I was standing at my stateroom’s balcony freezing yet determined to brave the icy temperatures for the sake of my photography. The frosty wind was blowing into my face freezing my expression of awe over the wondrous beauty in front of me. I took multiple shots and this one is my personal favorite having captured so much detail…from the silvery waters of the bay and the lush green, red and browns of the island in the foreground to the steel blues, purples and whites of the snow-capped mountains in the distance. By the time I finished taking these photos, I could barely feel my skin that I thought I was suffering from frostbite.  Aaah! The things we do to capture the best shot.

ALASKAN SPEED

IMG_0016
In Skagway, Alaska, I joined a photography tour that brought me to a ghost town, a cemetery where everyone but four had the same date of death and an inlet teeming with Alaskan wildlife.  The fourth stop was the most exciting and supposedly a surprise…we sped up a mountain and parked on the side of a cliff overlooking a waterfall.  I immediately noticed a railroad track right above the cascading water and from a distance saw this train speeding up the mountain.  I finally realized the surprise and impressed that our tour guide timed it perfectly.  I hurriedly adjusted my camera settings and took a few test shots to ensure the perfect photograph. By the time the train rolled above the waterfalls, I was perfectly positioned to capture as many shots as I can. Here are four of the many photographs I took of the White Summit Pass Train speeding above the majestic Pitchfork Falls.

BEAUTIFULLY RUGGED 

Having lived my entire life in a tropical climate, the Alaskan wilderness was quite a significant change of scenery for me, add to that a major change in temperature as well.  From tree lined rocky shores and rugged mountain ranges to snow capped peaks and majestic glaciers, it felt like I was in another planet…an enchanting and magical planet.  The Alaskan terrain also drew out a deep sense of adventure in me…I found myself trekking alone inside a rain forest just to see a glacier. I did realize much later what a stupid thing I did, I could have encountered a bear and that could have been the end of me. Anyway, I never saw any bear, moose or deer until the last day of my trip when my ride to the airport dropped by an animal conservation center. So yes, I was in Alaska for 8 days and only saw wildlife inside a mini-zoo.

PLACID 

It was a calm afternoon at sea and my cruise ship was sailing steadily towards our first port of call…Ketchikan, Alaska. The air was a bit chilly but that didn’t deter me from stepping out to my stateroom’s balcony to check the view.  It was foggy earlier in the day so I was excited to see the fog finally lifted and the islands visibly clear from where I was standing.  From a distance, I saw this tiny boat slowly glide towards us while staying close to the island obviously trying to maintain a safe distance from the behemoth of a ship it was encountering. As both vessels got closer, I noticed how still the waters were creating a mirror effect of the boat and the island so I immediately got my camera busy to capture as much as I can of the magical scene.  It was such a treat to photograph the boat as it carefully sliced through the silent waters and gently stirred up the serene reflection of the lush Alaskan forest in the distance.

TALE OF TAILS

Last week I found myself in foggy, rainy and chilly Alaska for a 7-night cruise in America’s Last Frontier. When one thinks of Alaska, nature and adventure immediately comes to mind as well as its hostile environment, which can be frightening and exhilarating at the same time. One of the cruise’s excursions I signed up for was a photography tour in a rain forest, the Mendenhall Glacier and some whale watching. My post today will feature photos I took during the whale watching, which was quite an experience in itself with the rain and fog providing an additional challenge. We were herded into this small boat (big enough to sit 14 of us) and was brought to an inlet where other boats were already stationed waiting for the next sighting. Apparently, when one boat sights a whale, the other boats get radioed on the location so everyone gets to view the whales. Otherwise, we get a refund if no whale is sighted during the tour. Our guide/instructor taught us how to capture the flukes (whale’s tail) by observing how a whale dives down. He told us to focus on the dorsal fin stating that once a whale dives and exposes its dorsal fin, the tail will definitely come out for a wave. True to his words, we were able to witness and capture a good number of whale tails. I’m sharing below five more of the many tail photos I took that day.

Note the dorsal fin above as the whale attempts to dive…the tail came out after this.

ANCIENT REFLECTIONS

img_0663The highlight of my trip to Granada, Spain was a visit to an ancient palace called The Alhambra. This gigantic complex of walls, palaces, courtyards, gardens and pools was created in the mid-13th century around the end of the Muslim rule in Spain. Alhambra literally translates “The Red (Female)” in reference to the red clay used for the construction of the buildings.  The complex is also filled with jaw dropping Islamic art and architecture reminiscent of the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace, both of which I visited in Istanbul, Turkey a few years ago. The photo above was taken at the Court of the Myrtles, named after the myrtle bushes surrounding the pool. At the center of the photo is the northern chamber, a portico with 6 beautifully decorated arches and a tower all magnificently reflected into the pool. The tower is actually part of the Comares Palace, which was the official residence of the king. I tried taking photos of the courtyard at various angles but I realized the best way to capture the courtyard was from the middle at the end of the pool. I used my iPhone 7 Plus to take this photo using the Pano Mode for a wider capture. A friend insisted that I visit the Alhambra while in Granada and I’m glad I listened to her.

A NEW BEGINNING

I have been on creative hibernation for more than a month now thus the absence of new posts on this page. Apparently, I’ve been struggling to find the right words to effectively describe my photos and it seems like the year ended and so did my writing skills. To my defense,  I did mention in my profile that I am not much of a writer so I hope you guys understand.  Anyway, I am giving myself, my photography and this page another chance, which is why I decided to use this photograph I took of the sunrise somewhere in the Atlantic as my feature photo for this post. Sunrises mean new beginnings so I thought the photo best represents my return to this page.  I’m back and looking forward to hearing from you all again!

MORNING HAS BROKEN

It was my first Transatlantic cruise and I was prepared for a rollercoaster ride in the Atlantic Ocean on board Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas. The trip took 13 nights from Barcelona, Spain to Fort Lauderdale, Florida with only two stops…Palma de Mallorca and Malaga. A friend cautioned me that during her crossing last year, she experienced 25-foot waves so I had my prayers ready. I was a little bit confident though knowing that I was on the largest cruise ship in the world…although, we all knew what happened the last time somebody bragged about being the largest ship in the world. To my amazement, we had the smoothest sailing with the ocean so calm it felt like we were crossing a lake. Being in the middle of the ocean, my only photo opportunities were sunrises and sunsets aside from taking photos of the ship. One morning, I decided to wake up earlier than usual to witness the sunrise from my balcony. I was astounded by the fiery glow of the cloudy skies that I thought we got transported to an enchanted sea and was waiting for a pirate ship to appear from out of nowhere. I grabbed my iPhone and snapped this photo before the lights could change as the sun rose higher and higher. This happened during the fifth day of our cruise and was never duplicated again. I tried waking up early to catch the sunrise but we never had one as beautiful as this. Thankfully, I woke up that day just in time to witness and capture that beautiful moment.

SUNSETS ON CRUISES

I never anticipated I would enjoy cruising considering my first experience was quite an unpleasant one. However, despite my nauseating initiation into cruisedom three years ago, I eventually learned to love it and have been on five cruises so far and looking forward to my sixth in a few months. The photo above was taken on the top deck of the Celebrity Reflection during my cruise in the Mediterranean two years ago while we were tendered off the shores of Santorini, Greece. The sun was just setting behind this world renowned Greek island when the sky suddenly turned into a beautiful canvas of pink and gold splashes. I always enjoy walking around the top deck of a ship at sunset with the hopes of witnessing a beautiful celestial phenomenon for my eyes to enjoy and for my camera to capture.

THE WALL

The thick walls of the Fort San Cristobal in San Juan, Puerto Rico protected this former Spanish settlement for centuries from foreign invaders.  This once military complex is now a museum under the United States National Park Services and is one of the most visited heritage sites in Old San Juan.  Last February, the Eastern Caribbean cruise I was on made a brief stop at this US territory giving me ample time to explore the neighborhood close to the port.   The fort was conveniently located a few minutes from the ship so I braved through the humidity and found myself standing in front of this behemoth of a wall. At the gate, I noticed the golden light of the setting sun casting geometric shadows while making the walls glow creating an interesting photo opportunity for me. The rich blue cloudless sky also made the golden yellow walls of the fort pop out in this photograph. Unfortunately, my cruise only stopped for a few hours so I never really got to explore much of Old San Juan. I hope to visit again someday and maybe include a visit of the El Morro for more photo opportunities.

THE LIGHTHOUSE

While cruising out of Nassau, Bahamas, our ship sailed past Paradise Island before heading out for the Atlantic Ocean towards our final destination. At the tip of the island before the open ocean was a lighthouse standing in solitude as if sadly bidding  us goodbye at the same time wishing us a safe sail home. Upon further research, I discovered its name as Paradise Island Lighthouse although it is more commonly known as the Nassau Harbor Lighthouse. This piece of architecture was built in 1817 making it the oldest lighthouse in the Bahamas and the oldest surviving lighthouse in the West Indies.  I took this photo 2 years ago using my iPhone 5 and is quite impressed by the color quality and sharpness. I can’t wait for the release of the iPhone 7 with hopefully a better camera as it comes very handy on days when I feel too lazy to carry my DSLR around.

FIERY SKIES

One of my favorite photography subjects is the sunset as it always bring out a multitude of rich colors creating a kaleidoscopic sky that can inspire the lover, artist, writer, poet and dreamer in each one of us…or in my case, the photographer in me.  The beauty of a sunset is further magnified by the presence of cloud formations as they add depth and dimension to the multihued sky. This photograph is one of my personal favorites as this made the sky look like a painting creating a moment that was worth capturing and cherishing.  I took this photo somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea while cruising around that part of the world during the fall of  2014. Rarely do I encounter sunsets as visually stunning as this so I’m glad I was there to capture that polychromatic moment. 

ISLAND OF THE WINDS

The island of Mykonos in Greece is famously referred to as the island of the winds but in Greek mythology, it is also known as the location of the great battle between Zeus and the Titans as well as the site where Hercules killed the giants after luring them out of Mount Olympus. I visited Mykonos two years ago and fell in love with this beautiful and mystical island. This photograph was taken at the town’s main section facing the Aegean Sea where this little boy was running around driving a flock of sea birds out into these beautiful blue skies. Luckily, I was about to snap my camera to photograph the town in this angle so the birds in flight came as an added bonus.

LIVIN’ ON THE EDGE

img_4850In the Greek island of Santorini, low-lying and colorful cubical buildings cling on the side of the remnant of a volcanic caldera hundreds of feet above sea level providing an unobstructed view of the Aegean Sea.  The island also boasts of  its beautiful sunsets and due to the layout of the buildings, you get a front seat view of the sunset anywhere you sit. Tourism is the island’s major industry and it has been ranked as the world’s top island by travel magazines and websites. When I visited this island more than a year ago, I exhaustingly maneuvered myself for hours through narrow alleys with sharp turns and steep climbs in order to truly experience the essence of this ancient municipality. Unfortunately, my feet started killing me way before sunset so I decided to head back to my cruise ship and skipped the chance to witness one of the world’s most beautiful sunsets. I guess I now have a good reason to revisit Santorini in the near future so I can finally photograph its famous sunset.

SUNNY MIAMI

The photo above was taken from the top deck of the Celebrity Reflection cruise ship before we sailed out of Miami for the Caribbean. This multicultural and dynamic city is known to the world for its sun, sea and surf lifestyle…although, there is more to Miami than that.  This megacity is also recognized as the cruising capital of the world and as the gateway to the US for South America and the Caribbean islands. It wouldn’t come as a surprise that the city has so much Latin and Caribbean vibe.

Miami also happens to be my first home in the United States and my old neighborhood is in that cluster of buildings on the middle left of the photo. It’s pretty awesome waking up in the morning and stepping out into the balcony then seeing the beautiful waters and the sun rising from the horizon. It was like a dream…but I’m truly glad to have lived that dream.

This photo was taken using my iPhone 6 in panoramic mode.

PLANET CHORA

  With the Star Wars film hitting theaters just a few days ago, I thought this photo would be a nice tribute to one of my favorite films as this interesting looking building reminds me of one of their sets.  This is actually a church in the island of Mykonos (town is also called Chora) in Greece. I love the contrast between the blue sky and the white-washed walls…very Greek flag indeed!  But going back to Star Wars,  I can picture the robot C-3PO walking out of that door and happily blurting out “May the force be with you”!

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