BLUE RIDGE IN THE DUSK

I first came to know about the Blue Ridge Mountains from the lyrics of the John Denver song “Take Me Home, Country Roads”. Growing up in the Philippines, this was totally an entire world away from me, an insignificant part to the lyrics of a famous song. But life is indeed full of surprises and I found myself immigrating to the United States and suddenly all these places I once heard in songs are now just a drive away.

Two years ago, my better half and I went on a road trip to Pittsburgh, a drive which actually took us through the very heart of this legendary mountain range. Since it was my first time in the area, we decided to stay for a few days in Asheville, North Carolina to explore the city and the surrounding mountains. We booked a stay at the luxurious OMNI Grove Park Inn, which sits on the western slopes of Sunset Mountain within the Blue Ridge Mountain range. One of best things about this resort is the breathtaking and unobstructed views of the Blue Ridge Mountains across the valley where the city of Asheville sits. We then splurged a little bit and got a room with endless views of the mountains.

On our last day at the resort, we decided to watch the sunset from one of the many viewing decks while enjoying a few cocktails to celebrate this leg of our trip. Unfortunately, it was a bit cloudy so we failed to see the sun go down behind the mountains. Although, the clouds filtering the last of the sunlight created this pinkish sky which perfectly complemented the hazy blues of the mountains. I also love how the shadows came in varying shades of blue further emphasizing the multiple peaks that make up the mountain range. The photographer in me immediately saw the need to capture the beauty before me so I rushed back to our hotel room to grab my camera.

I took dozens of shots of the mountain range before me zooming my lens in and out to capture multiple perspectives. I do love how dreamy the photographs turned out to be. Finally, the Blue Ridge mountains are no longer just a line from a song. They now evoke beautiful memories of our brief stay in Asheville as well as of our lovely drive through it on our way to our next adventure.

WATERFALL IN THE CITY

Before I decided to become a full time clinician I was working as an executive for a healthcare company. When the office stresses became overwhelming, I would take short walks around the building’s neighborhood to relax, although, I wish there was a green space for me to sit and refocus. The only green space available for me back then was in the logo of the neighborhood Stabucks. So when I visited Hong Kong last year, I was excited to know that my hotel was right beside the Hong Kong Park, a green landscape in the middle of a busy commercial center. It was constructed so people can commune with nature to relax from the stresses of work. In the middle of the park was a man-made waterfall where one can sit and listen to the wonderful sounds of the cascading water. This was where I spent most of my time in the park…to enjoy the sight and sound of water crashing into the pool. Although I didn’t visit Hong Kong for work, it was still nice to have found a spot where I could sit and just enjoy nature right in the middle of a bustling city. How I wish there was a space like this where I used to work. I probably would be sitting there more often than inside my office. 😬 Here are some of the photos I took of that man-made waterfall in the middle of Hong Kong Park. I took these photos using a much longer exposure to create the cotton candy effect on the water.

SLICE OF HEAVEN ON EARTH

One of the highlights of my Alaskan cruise was sailing on Glacier Bay all the way up to the Tarr Inlet where the Margerie Glacier slopes majestically. It was a day of cruising only but I thought what a relaxing way to enjoy the breathtaking views at the comfort of my stateroom’s balcony. We arrived at the mouth of the bay around 7 in the morning and to everyone’s dismay we were greeted by this thick curtain of fog and couldn’t see anything beyond 30 feet with just total whiteness as far as the eyes could see. My first thoughts were…there goes my photography. However, Mother Nature sure has many ways of surprising us as after half an hour of cruising, in the middle of total whiteness, the fog slowly started lifting itself up allowing for us to take a peek at the beautiful scenery along the narrow bay. I started playing with my camera capturing slivers of beauty sandwiched between the water and the rising fog. I thought the whole scenery was ethereal and mystical transporting me to a magical place and time. After another hour of sailing the fog eventually disappeared allowing us to enjoy the many magnificent fjords, inlets, cliffs, forests, waterfalls, islets and glaciers, which makes Alaska’s Glacier National Park truly a slice of heaven on earth.

SOARIN’ OVER LANTAU

Lantau Island is one of the largest islands in Hong Kong and is home to the 32-meter tall Tian Tan Buddha, which I featured on a previous post. The shrine is accessible in two ways, by car or via a scenic alternative using the Ngong Ping 360 cable car. During my visit, I took the cable car and even paid extra for one with a glass bottom for an added thrill. I’m not a big fan of heights but surprisingly I enjoyed the ride very much. I believe I also got so engrossed with my photography that the lofty heights didn’t bother me at all. The cable car took me across the bay, over lush mountains and into the Ngong Ping Village where a Starbucks, a monastery and the statue of Buddha are located. The ride took about 25 minutes and you get to see the Hong Kong International Airport at the start of the ride then the giant Buddha sitting on top of the mountain at the end part of the ride. I took a good number of photographs while inside the cable car and here are some of my favorites. The top photo was taken using my iPhone 7Plus while the rest below were taken using a Canon Rebel T6s.

MISTY SUNSET

It was a beautiful summer afternoon in New England and I was on board a cruise ship sailing out of Newport, Rhode Island when I noticed these breathtaking sceneries before me. The sun was close to setting and everything around was turning golden orange. It rained briefly that day so the warm summer air created the perfect recipe for some afternoon mists. From my stateroom balcony I could see the curtain of clouds shrouding the many magnificent beach mansions lining up the rocky shorelines just like the opening scene of a mystery film. I knew as soon as I saw it that I needed to photograph the beauty before me. I had to do some tweaking with my camera settings in order to perfectly capture the mists, the afternoon lights and the shadows. I also intentionally kept the photographs a bit darker to evoke a sense of mystery and suspense.

BAYON: THE TEMPLE OF MANY FACES

Bayon is an ancient Khmer temple located in the middle of Angkor Thom, which is the last capital city of the Khmer empire. The temple’s most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and smiling faces carved on the roofs of all the towers in the complex. Interestingly, all the faces look similar and our guide told us that scholars suggested it was a representation of King Jayavarman VII. This ancient city is now part of the modern city of Siem Reap, Cambodia. I arrived in Cambodia on the last days of the rainy season and during my visit to the temples, the skies were leaden with overcast. Although, the sun trying to break through the clouds created a golden haze making the colors of the temple richer. The temple is every photographer’s dream destination from the carved facades, the stone statues, the towers with faces and the bas-reliefs on the galleries, there is just a bounty of subjects to photograph. I took hundreds of photographs in all available angles and these are some of my favorites. Hope you all enjoy looking at them and maybe they will inspire some of you to visit Cambodia in the near future.

THE BRIDGE TO BAYON

Angkor Thom is located in the Kingdom of Cambodia and is the last capital city of the Khmer empire. In the heart of this ancient city is the temple of Bayon, which is known for the multiple carvings of serene and smiling stone faces on its many towers. The city is surrounded by a moat and on it’s south gate entrance is a bridge lined with statues of gods and demons. Thankfully, our guide decided to have us walk through the bridge instead of driving by it so I was able to walk up to the statues and took as many photographs as my memory card can accommodate. It was such a thrilling and magical experience.  I can just imagine the sense of awe people felt as they walked across this bridge many centuries ago.  I’m glad they were able to preserve these archeological sites for us and for future generations to appreciate. Here are some of the photos I took of the bridge, the statues and the entrance gate to the ancient city of Angkor Thom.

THE LIONS OF THE BEAGLE

During our cruise to South America in December of 2018, our ship docked at the southernmost city in the world…Ushuaia, Argentina. The city is located in the banks of the Beagle Channel and we were told that Charles Darwin sailed on this very channel with Captain Robert FitzRoy on the HMS Beagle and saw a glacier for the very first time. Along the channel are hundreds of islands teeming with life, which can give any wildlife photographer plenty of photogasms. LOL!

We took an excursion that sailed around these islands and one of the stops was at a sea lion colony.  The water was rough that day and our small tour boat was rocking like crazy I had to cling on the rails for dear life. Despite nature tossing me around I was able to capture a good number of photos although there were also a lot of blurry shots.  It was amazing to see all these sea lions in their natural habitat as I’ve only seen them before in zoos. Here are some of the photographs I took and I hope you all enjoy looking at these lovely creatures in such a wild yet magnificent environment. If by any chance you decide to go somewhere wild and exciting, I highly recommend going down to the southern tip of Argentina.

BENG MEALEA

The temple of Beng Mealea in Angkor, Cambodia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the many temples built around the Angkor Wat period. After I was told by our guide that we were visiting multiple temple ruins for four straight days, I was worried I’ll eventually get tired of them. To my amazement, every temple we visited was as magnificent and unique as the other. For Beng Mealea, I like that they kept the forest that encroached on the temple complex. They didn’t uproot the trees and the stone slabs were still covered in moss. It felt like we were discovering the place for the first time. This was one of the many archeological sites we visited that I really enjoyed photographing. Aside from it’s beauty, the place was also almost deserted allowing me to take photographs minus the crowd of tourists. Here are a few of the many photos I took during my visit. Enjoy them and I hope you can take time to leave a comment. Thank you.

MEN IN ORANGE

Buddhist monks have always fascinated me…their meditative and simple lifestyles require them to abandon a life of pleasure in order to reach Nirvana. Based on those basic requirements, I obviously am not going to become a monk. LOL! Their orange robes are also very eye catching and mystical at the same time. I saw a lot of them during my trip to Thailand and Cambodia and always wanted to photograph them. I was instructed not to come too close but it was okay to take their photos from a distance. I had so many opportunities to photograph them during the trip but decided not to until I photographed them by accident. I was in Angkor Wat taking photos from across the moat when these two monks walked past in front of me just as I was clicking on my camera. I photographed them by accident and the photo turned out perfectly. It sure was my lucky day. The other photos were taken after the one above during the tour around the Angkor Wat complex. 
I call this photo the Orange Phantom…again I tried to keep my distance when taking their photos but this monk walked too fast and so I ended up with a photo of his back. I do like the mood of this photo with the all the shadows and spot lighting…very mysterious.
These last two photos were taken while driving out of the Angkor Wat complex. There was a brief traffic jam and these monks were patiently waiting for their tuk tuk to start moving.

ANGKOR WOW!

Angkor Wat is located in Siem Reap, Kingdom of Cambodia and is one of the most magnificent archeological sites in the world. The complex was built in the early part of the 12th century then neglected around the 16th century resulting to the jungle recapturing the complex. Visiting this architectural wonder, which is listed in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, is both a breathtaking and fascinating experience. My jaw got sore saying “wow” multiple times while exploring this humongous temple complex. If ever you get the chance to visit this place, spare an entire day to explore it as there is so much to see.  I took hundreds of photographs clicking on everything from panoramic views to close ups of the intricate carvings on the walls. Here are some of the photos I took during my visit a few months ago.

LADIES OF THE MOAT

I’ve always wondered what my initial reaction would be when I see Angkor Wat for the first time. Would it be a jaw dropping moment? Would it take my breath away? Or would it be a disappointing experience? My anticipation was further built up as the sunrise experience I signed up for was cancelled due to inclement weather. I was able to go later in the day, once the rain stopped, however the sun just made a very brief appearance that day. I was looking forward to photograph every nook and corner of the temple that day but the gloomy weather made photography a challenge resulting to less vibrant shots. The moment I stepped out of the van, my heart started to beat insanely, and got wilder the closer I was to the temple. For a moment, I thought my heart stopped beating when I stepped up to this flatform and saw the Angkor Wat complex rising majestically across this body of water, which I initially thought was a river but later found out was a moat. It was such a magical moment…an experience I would cherish for the rest of my life. In the moat I noticed this boat with four women scooping what looked like reeds out of the water. I got riveted to what they were doing including the pile of reeds on their boat, which I thought made an interesting shot. I immediately pulled out my camera to photograph them while at the same time captured a reflection of Angkor Wat in the water. I was there for less than 10 minutes and I already got myself these magical shots. Angkor Wat is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen and I made sure I took as many photographs as possible, all of which I would feature in my next few posts. For today, photos of these ladies cleaning the moat stole the show from Angkor Wat and will be the main feature of this post.

STUNNING ACADIA

The Acadia National Park is located near Bar Harbor, Maine and is the only national park in the northeast. It’s magnificent coastline featuring granite cliffs, sandy and cobblestone beaches as well as crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean is every photographer’s paradise. These photos were at a rocky cliff with amazing views of the water and the rugged shoreline. In retrospect I wish I gathered enough courage to climb these rocks for more panoramic shots. But since I’m not much of a risk taker I just stood on even grounds and allowed my zoom lens to take these photos without me falling off a cliff.

ANGKOR IN ROUGE

The Banteay Srei is a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva located in Angkor, Kingdom of Cambodia. The temple was built during the 10th century and is smaller in scale compared to other temples around the area but it features the most elaborate carvings making this one of the most beautiful temples in Cambodia. It’s unique color is due to the red sandstone used as primary construction material. It was raining during my visit and the wet walls enhanced the redness of the sandstones. This temple complex is about two hours drive from Siem Reap but is a must visit due to its beauty and unique color. Here are some of the photos I took during my visit using a Canon Rebel T6s.

TA PROHM

The ancient temple of Ta Prohm was the first archeological site I visited in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The complex was just breathtaking with the roots of trees growing out of the ruins. In fact, this temple looks exactly in the same condition in which it was found. During this leg of my Asian trip, I hired a tour guide to show me around for five days and he was very informative about the places we visited. Unfortunately, I was too busy taking photos that I immediately forgot the trivias he told me as soon as we left the ruins. Yikes! The only thing I remember about Ta Phrom was it being used as set for the film Tomb Raider. Here are some of the hundreds of photographs I took around this magnificent complex.

MARCH OF THE WATER BUFFALOS

These photos were taken in Siem Reap, Cambodia from inside a moving van on my way to one of the many temples outside the city.  I was playing with super fast shutter speed and was amazed to have captured clear photos despite the speed of the van. I thought they looked cute marching down the street like they exactly know where they were headed. These animals are commonly used for farming around Asia and in the Philippines, we call them “carabao” and make white cheese out of their milk.

SUMMER IN GOLD

It was rather confusing to see leaves of gold along the coastal areas of Maine right in the heart of summer. Coming from a state where fall is just as green as spring, I reckoned this was regular occurence in this part of the country. Maybe those of you who live up north can clarify me on this. I took these photos during my New England cruise last June while the ship was sailing out of Bar Harbor, Maine. I thought the leaves were gorgeous while the rocky shorelines looked fierce. I would love to visit this part of the country again during the peak of autumn…and will most likely do it by land, not by sea.

VELVETY CASCADES

Two years ago I joined a hiking tour outside of Juneau, Alaska and found myself trekking inside a rainforest crossing rivers filled with bright red spawning salmons. The tour was guided by a photographer who took us to places for photography opportunities and one of the stops was a white water cascade running from far deep in the forest. I wanted to try a long exposure shot to create the cotton-water effect to achieve a flowy and velvety look but was initially hesitant as I didn’t bring a tripod. I decided to be resourceful and mounted my camera on a pile of rocks then used my remote control so as not to shake the camera while taking shots. Some shots, however, were taken handheld with me holding my breath for a few seconds to stay still. Here are some of the photos that turned out well and worthy for a feature on this page.

MISTY GREENS

The OMNI Grove Park Inn is one of the best hotels in Asheville, North Carolina and it boasts of breathtaking views of the city and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. This historical resort hotel features an 18-hole mountain golf course designed by Donald Ross and during my stay my room had an amazing view of the golf course, the city and the mountains. One morning, I woke up to this thick blanket of fog rolling down from the mountains slowly enveloping the golf course with its whiteness. Also to my amazement, I noticed people going about with their early morning round of golf despite the poor visibility. While these early birds were busy playing I also got myself busy shooting the misty greens before me.

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BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS

It was my first time to go on a long duration road trip (10 days) and everyone I know who knew where I was headed insisted that I drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway and check out the Blue Ridge Mountains. I decided to include Asheville, North Carolina in my itinerary and booked myself at the historic and luxurious Grove Park Inn for 4 days although I will talk about that fabulous hotel in another post. In Asheville one can see the mountain range in the distance but to enjoy the amazing views, one will need to drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway for a closer look. The Blue Ridge Parkway is known as one of the most scenic drives in the United States and with a speed limit of 35 mph, this allows you to take your time to indulge in nature’s magnificence. Thankfully, the drive is spotted with overlooks where one can stop to enjoy the view or in my case take photographs. You may also notice the bluish color of the mountains and according to my research the trees release isoprene into the atmosphere resulting to this distinctive bluish haze and thus the name…Blue Ridge Mountains.

WHALEBACK FALLS

The first thing our tour guide taught us was how to identify a poison ivy. Apparently, there was an abundance of them in the area we were visiting so imagine my horror when we trekked through a narrow trail surrounded by a dense and lush vegetation with every leaf and branch touching me. Suddenly everything around me looked like poison ivy as I went into a panic mode waiting for the itch and rashes to begin. Thankfully it was just a short trek so I had my sigh of relief when we stepped into the clearing by the waterfalls. Fortunately for us, it had been raining for days prior to our trip so all the rivers and falls in the area were in full force. True to our guide’s primer, the Whaleback Falls did not disappoint. It may not be as grand as the Looking Glass Falls but the layered rocks created multiple mini falls that were awesome subjects for photography. Again I used the long exposure technique to create the cotton effect on the water but not long enough to capture more details, which emphasized the movement and direction of the water over the rocks. This falls was named Whale Back due to the large rock in the middle of the pool that looked like a whale’s back. It was not visible the day I was there due to the high water levels. This was the last of the three waterfalls we visited during our hike around the Pisgah National Forest at the Appalachian Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. Thankfully no poison ivy touched me that day so I made it back to the hotel itch free. Check below other photos I took of the waterfalls.

FALLINGWATER

The Fallingwater House in Mill Run, Pennsylvania was designed by the legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright for the Kaufmann family who once owned the Kaufmann Department Store in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This weekend house was built on top of a waterfall and is considered one of Wright’s most notable works. I was visiting the area before heading to Pittsburgh so I booked a tour that allows photography inside the house although it meant waking up very early to make it to the 8:30 AM schedule. The great part of that tour is you get to enter the compound first and take photographs without the throngs of tourists filling up the house. The compound also has a viewing area where you can photograph the house from a distance. It was raining hard that day so I was a little worried how the weather will affect my photos or that I may not be able to hike to the viewing area without my camera getting soaked. Thankfully the rain finally stopped and the dark and gloomy weather allowed me to play with long exposures for that cotton effect on the waterfall that I love.

Photographs below were taken from the viewing area using a Canon Rebel T6s.

Photographs below were taken inside and around the house using an iPhone 7 Plus

LOOKING GLASS FALLS

Two days ago I joined a hiking tour of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina and imagine my joy when the guide mentioned he was taking us to three waterfalls that day. Before I could finish rejoicing disappointment landed on my lap upon realizing I didn’t bring my tripod. I always prefer to photograph a waterfall using a long exposure technique to create that cotton effect but without a tripod the photos are most likely to come out blurry. Anyway, resourcefulness is one of my few good traits add to that the right camera settings so I was able to capture these photos much to my desired results. The reason why I love the cotton candy effect is that it enhances the power of the falling water aside from it drawing the viewers immediate attention to the waterfall. By the way, the haze in the photos are mists created by the force of the falling water into the pool while the light curtains are actually sunlight filtering through the forest trees. The tour also took me to other breathtaking parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains where I took dozens of photographs which will be featured next on this page including those of the two other waterfalls. Meantime, please enjoy these photos I took of the Looking Glass Falls.

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.

INTO THE WOODS

I grew up in a small town in Southern Philippines where the main industry was paper and timber so trees were a predominant part of my daily life. I can still remember, like it was yesterday, the refreshing scent of leaves as well as the woodsy aroma of tree trunks especially after a rainy day, which was a frequent occurence in my sleepy hometown. During my senior year in high school, I was president of the InterAct Club (Rotary sponsored club) and on Sundays we would drive to the mountains and teach classes to the children of a native tribe. The village was situated in the middle of a rain forest and I always look forward to the long and rugged drive past giant trees along rough gravel roads. All these childhood memories were stirred up while on a trek in an Alaskan forest a few months ago. It was raining during the trek and the scent of the damp forest transported me back to my old hometown evoking wonderful memories of my childhood. I immediately pulled out my camera to take a shot of the forest before me. Unfortunately, I no longer have any of my childhood photos after my parent’s house got burned down a few years ago. This photo will be for now my new window to the past…

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!

ALASKAN SPEED

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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.

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.

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