Photo Friday: Catedral de Santiago (Guatemala)

International Travel, Photography

Antigua Guatemala is one of my favorite cities. It is a wonderful blend of colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, and assorted ruins left after centuries of earthquakes and other natural disasters. One of the city’s most striking ruins is Catedral de Santiago. The original church was built around 1541, but suffered through several earthquakes throughout its history, and the first church building was demolished in 1669. The cathedral was rebuilt and consecrated in 1680. By 1743 the cathedral was one of the largest in Central America. Unfortunately, the devastating Guatemala earthquake of 1773 seriously damaged much of the building and it has only been partially rebuilt.

The remains of the cathedral feature massive columns, tall arches, and underground crypts. If, like me, you’re into texture and light and shadow, these ruins provide for a photographic dream.

Photos taken December 26, 2012.

Alaska Haiku

International Travel, Poetry

My father was not a traveler. For one, he feared flying, meaning that the few vacations we took in my youth were long crawls across many states in whatever second-hand car he owned at the time.  We’d stay in whatever motel was cheapest and pack in as many miles as possible the next day. He didn’t have a passport until my mom persuaded him to take an Alaskan cruise when they were both in their fifties.

My mother was an avid traveler. Her travels included the UK, Mexico, Canada, and sailing on the RMS Queen Mary in her youth. She often traveler with my grandmother, her mother, but after her unexpected passing, was left to either stay at home or talk my father into travel. She thought she could do it with an Alaskan cruise, and thought it would be easier if I came along.

I’d never been on a cruise before and it wasn’t high on my list, but I hoped it might spark something long absent in my father and that they would begin to travel together afterward. So I tagged along, heading off on my own excursions that included rappelling down a glacier, driving a 4×4 in the Yukon territory, and feeding salmon to soaring eagles on an abandoned island (my parents were content taking city tours or walking around the port town). I’d recently returned from a trip to China where I’d written a haiku every day and decided to keep up the tradition during this trip. Below are five from this time:


No day no night just
Hours passing through hours
Days turning to years

Into mist and haze
Snow clinging to ancient rock
Trees toppling over

Ice and rain and snow
Form the heartbeat of nature
Too much to absorb

North territory
Filled with dead horses and gold
Miles still to go

Ground soft beneath me
Jagged shore less pliable
Eagles soar with food


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Photo Friday: Little Petra (Jordan)

International Travel, Photography

A main draw to Jordan is Petra, which one can spends days to fully explore. However, fewer know about Siq al-Barid, better known as “Little Petra.” It is believed that Little Petra was an important suburb of Petra, the entry and exit point for the trade routes to the north and north-west. Here the caravans from the Negev, Gaza, Jerusalem, Egypt and the Mediterranean coast arrived, had a rest and engaged in trade. The trail through Little Petra culminates in rock-cut stairs which lead through a narrow gap out onto a wide flat ledge. One the day we visits, there we rested here and had some tea with a Bedouin woman who had set up shop there.

Little Petra is located 9km north of Wadi Musa, so it’s a quick taxi ride if you’re staying in town. Although it sees its share of tour buses, Little Petra retains an atmosphere and calmness that are much harder to find in Petra proper.

Photos taken March 20, 2013.

Hybrid Travel

International Travel

ImageThere will always be a debate over which type of travel is best. Some will argue for the type of travel that involves a one-way flight and a backpack, while others prefer the fewer hassles of an organized tour. Personally, I have travelled on my own, in small groups, and in large groups and have found that each has its strengths and weaknesses.

However, one area few talk about is what I would call hybrid travel—combining organized tours with do-it-yourself.  My wife and I did this two summers ago. We started with an organized, small-group tour of Nepal and northern India, followed by independent travel in Beijing and Cambodia, then another organized, small-group tour of northern Thailand.  While Thailand can certainly be explored on one’s own, it was nice to let someone else worry about the details after a few weeks of doing that ourselves.

You can also do hybrid travel within one country. This December we’re heading out to Colombia. We found a small group tour that we liked, but it didn’t include a region we really wanted to go to (well, that I wanted to go to as Colombia was my idea). So, after our organized tour, we’re flying from Bogota to Medellin to head out to Guatapé and El Peñón on our own. We’ve only allotted one day for this, so here’s hoping Mother Nature plays along.

Another variation is to travel on your own but with a few organized day trips thrown in. We did this while traveling in the western Balkans. We’d rented an apartment in Dubrovnik, near a major hotel. I’d found a local tour company that would pick us up from this hotel, so after exploring a few days on our own, I booked some day trips with them, including one that took us into Montenegro and another taking us to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We then went back on our own, hopping on a public bus to Sarajevo then, after a few days there, another bus back to Croatia (and another apartment) to explore Split in the north of the country.

There is nothing wrong with traveling entirely on your own or entirely with an organized tour. It depends a lot upon your temperament, budget, and organizational skills. However, nothing says you can’t blend the two now and again.

Photo by Jesse Edwards (originally posted to Flickr as passport stamps) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Friday: Casco Viejo (Panama)

International Travel, Photography

Casco Viejo (Spanish for “Old Quarter”) is the historic district of Panama City. Completed and settled in 1673, it was built following the near-total destruction of the original Panama City, Panama Viejo, in 1671. Panama Viejo was founded in 1519 and it lasted one hundred and fifty-two years. In January 1671, the Governor Juan Perez de Guzman had it set on fire, before the impending attack and looting by the pirate Henry Morgan. Casco Viejo was then constructed on a peninsula completely isolated by the sea with a defensive system of walls. Today the area preserves the first institutions and buildings of the modern Panama City.

Casco Viejo is not far from Panama City and is well worth a visit. A taxi is recommended, as there is an area between the two that was bombed during the 1989 US Invasion that has yet to recover and is rather seedy. Casco Viejo itself is recovering from a time of disrepair, so there is an interesting blend of renovated future and a derelict past to be found in its streets.

Photos taken March 21, 2010.