A Couple Days in Cuenca (Spain)
Jan31

A Couple Days in Cuenca (Spain)

Though I only just arrived in Madrid, I really wanted to get out and explore some of the other towns and cities.  I got a nice little break from travel in Medellin, Colombia, and I was itching a bit to get back onto the road and see some new places.  So, after doing a bit of research, I decided to make my way to a town called Cuenca, which is about an hour from Madrid if you take the fast train. Of course, I took the slow local train which is a 3 hour journey. Pretty Stoked on Cuenca After arriving in town, I headed straight for a part of town known as the Casas Colgadas or hanging houses.  Essentially, the old town of Cuenca is built on this narrow geographical feature that looks a little bit like a spine from above.  On each side of the spine, it’s sheer cliffs.  The houses in the old town of Cuenca are built along this spine with many of them built right out onto the cliff’s edge, and some of them hanging off the edge – hence the name. I was immediately struck by Cuenca.  I think it’s really easy to get a bit desensitized to travel when you do it as often as I do.  Places all start to look the same, or they all remind you of somewhere you’ve been before.  You start to take new destinations for granted a bit. However, every now and then a certain place shakes you back up a bit. It takes you back to the feeling you got in your early days of travel.  It teases at your senses and makes you want to explore.  That’s exactly the feeling I got in Cuenca.  I felt giddy, and just wanted to explore. And Then it Got Cold I was really anxious to photograph Cuenca.  There seemed to be a couple really cool shots to be had in town, and I was really looking forward to it.  Then, in the morning when I went out to shoot, it was cold.  And, I know that for many of you, especially my Canadian friends, you might laugh at my saying that -2 is cold. But, you have to remember that I’ve just come from Colombia.  Also, it’s not like I own any winter clothing. Essentially, I spent the morning freezing and fighting the cold.  The light was cool, the location was beautiful, but I just could not enjoy it as there was this biting wind hissing down the valley and hitting me on the bridge as I shot.  My hands got so cold that I actually couldn’t...

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Introducing the Google Trekker to Alberta
Sep30

Introducing the Google Trekker to Alberta

I try to get home to Alberta for at least a couple weeks each year. Ideally, I like to spend as much of that time as possible exploring, and shooting images. Somehow, this year I managed a month in the province. And, honestly, I was so glad for a little bit of Alberta time. After driving an RV across Canada, which was an amazing experience, the whole way I kept thinking, “I can’t wait to get this RV to Alberta. I can’t wait to get home”. Of course, 19 days of that was spent packing this crazy, alien looking globe on my back; so it’s not like it was a vacation. My buddy Jeff and I took on a project with Travel Alberta carrying a “Google Trekker” around the province. It was a crazy project that involved long hours, lots of physical output, and some cool photo ops. It resulted in some emotional challenges, a bit of physical struggle, and a lot of weight loss. What is the Google Trekker? Essentially, the Google trekker is like Google “street view” for hiking and walking trails. You’ve probably seen pictures of the Google car that’s mounted with the 360 degree camera on top to photograph the streets. Well, the trekker looks like that. Except, instead of having a car pack it around it goes on your back. Or in this case, it goes on our backs. There wasn’t a single person we passed on hiking trails that didn’t comment on the trekker. The questions we got asked most often were: What is that thing? The Google trekker. Are you Google? No. I’m not a webpage. How much does it weigh? 50Lbs. It’s bloody heavy! Are you trying to catch Pokemon with that? Uhm. Yes? Meet Tristan When we picked up the trekker, I put it out to the world to give it a name. As you might know, most of my gear is named. My drone, for example, is named Fido. Erin from The World Wanderer pushed the name Tristan. However, both Jeff and I weren’t fans of the name; despite the alteration (we all know how much I love alteration). I knew a kid in university named Tristan who was a bit of a pain, so I didn’t want to give it the same name. So, over the first week with the trekker it remained nameless despite having the occasional celebrity-twisted name like Sir Treks-a-Lot and Ben Aftrek. Then, in Crowsnest Pass, I climbed this mountain that was an absolutely brutal hike with the trekker on my back. When I hit the summit, I wanted to roll the trekker off the...

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Come with Me to Cuba!
Sep22

Come with Me to Cuba!

As some of you know, Jeff Bartlett and I are running a photography tour to Cuba this December. We’re almost nearing the deadline for participants to join, so this post is a bit of a reminder that if you’re interested, we need to hear from you soon. If you haven’t heard about our travel photography workshop in Cuba yet, be sure to head over to this page for information. Flights to Cuba The great news is that there are now direct flights coming from the United States to Cuba. You can fly into Santa Cruz and Camaguey from either New York or Miami now, which is fantastic. What’s even better is that the flights are extremely cheap. JetBlue, for example, has launched flights as cheap as $99. Though the tour starts in Havana, we can definitely arrange transport from either one of the cities in Cuba that the American flights come from. Can Americans Come to Cuba? Absolutely. When you leave the United States, you’ll be given a form asking for your reason for visiting Cuba. Since you’re not allowed, as an American, to be in Cuba as a tourist, you’ll need to fill one of the other categories. One of those categories is education, and since our workshop is of educational nature, you have every right to be there. Moreover, you might be asked if you will be having “peer-to-peer” activities with locals. And, you’ll be staying with locals, and even have a local photographer teaching you his skills one day. It should also be noted that since 2008, not a single American has been reprimanded for visiting Cuba in any capacity. Is the Trip Guarenteed Yes. As of right now, we’ve reached the minimum of what we need to run the workshop. Book Now If you’re interested in booking, please send us an email to brendanvanson (at) gmail (dot) com. I’m happy to discuss the next step and organize payment. For more information on the photography workshop, or others we’ll be running around the world visit here. Some Photo Teasers I thought I’d leave you with a couple photo teasers from Cuba. It’s such a wonderful place to photograph! Book Now We need to have a firm figure on the number of participants by mid-October, so if you’re interested, please get in touch as soon as...

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A Week in The Alberta Rockies
Sep14

A Week in The Alberta Rockies

I keep promising that I’m going to get caught up, but then I never do. So, I’m going to stop promising, and just roll out these posts as they come.  I’m trying to get back to the much more stress-free version of myself I was a couple years ago.  I don’t know when I became such a work-addict unable to step away from it.  But, I’ve been doing my best to do so more often lately. I really have started to feel like work has gotten in the way of my personal life. I also feel like the focus on “me” in these blogs has made me way too self-indulgent.  I don’t like that. So, it’s time to start working on me again, for real.  Travel used to be such a great tool for personal growth. But, since I left Africa I don’t think I’ve done much growth, and may have even regressed a bit. Hopefully, the realization of these things will start to put me back on the right path. But, it’s going to take time to regain the humble, positive, and thoughtless person I believe still sits within my skin somewhere. Anyways, 200 word intros are too long. Let’s get into the travel. Coming Home After our pretty incredible RV trip across Canada with GoRVing Canada, I got to show Erin (from The World Wanderer) a little bit of my home province.  I was so excited to be back. Being home has a way of grounding me.  I’m not sure if it’s the mountains, the open spaces, or the presence of friends and families, but it always seems to bring me back to earth.  I don’t think I’ll even come back to Alberta to live, my lifestyle would make it too hard to be based there, but my heart will always be there. My Favourite Places on the Planet Everyone is proud of where they’re from, I think.  I meet people in some of the most below average places on the planet, and they all rave about their home as if it’s the best place in the world.  So, I might be a bit biased to say it, but The Canadian Rockies really are home to my favourite places on the planet. We only had a short amount of time to explore them, so I really had to pick and choose the highlights to show Erin.  Obviously, I would have loved to get her off the beaten path and to some of the true gems in the mountains that so few people get to, but with only a week we stuck to the more classic locations.  One...

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Rounding Up My Fathom Experience
May08

Rounding Up My Fathom Experience

I started writing about my experience with Fathom Travel immediately when I got back to Miami from the trip to the Dominican Republic.  I got about 200 words into my thoughts when I realized that I needed to let things soak in a little bit.  I needed to take a step back and try to understand what my Fathom experience meant, and what it could mean to those looking to join a trip with the cruise line.  I think that’s important to do. In today’s world of blogging so many of our words are knee jerk, so many of our thoughts are spilled out on paper; written high on emotion.  I wanted to let my emotions come back down to earth before writing this article. What is Fathom Travel Of course, before I can get into this piece, I need to talk about the brand.  Fathom Travel is a cruise line – under the umbrella of Carnival Cruises – that has started running trips down to the Caribbean for cultural and humanitarian purposes.  In fact, Fathom became the first American cruise line to visit Cuba in nearly 40 years recently.  The idea of the trips are to use mass tourism to make a difference.  Instead of lounging on the beach, or swimming with dolphins, guest have the opportunity to take part in “impact activities” such as tree planting, pouring cement, teaching English, or making water filters. Of course, whenever there’s a really quick hit style of volunteering like this, there are critics. And some of them are justified.  I have some thoughts. Criticisms of the Voluntourism Model I’m going to start off diving into a couple criticisms not to be cynical, but because I love the idea of tourism for change and positive impact, and I want to see it succeed. Positive vs. Negative Impact: We have to try to look at the balance. Is this trip having more of a positive impact, than a negative one?  The positive impact is clear and obvious. During the time we were there, we gave 3 new houses cement floors that didn’t have them before. We planted a couple thousand trees. We gave dozens of students, and people in the community a chance to learn a bit of English. But what were the negative impacts? Did we take jobs away from other people? Did our being there have a negative environmental impact? Which way did the positive vs. negative impact see-saw sway?  I think it was to the positive side. Fish vs. Teaching to Fish: A lot of what we were doing sort of fell in the category of handing out fish rather than teaching people...

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An Introduction to Photographing Venice
Mar28

An Introduction to Photographing Venice

It might seem crazy to some people that I’ve travelled 6 continents and nearly 100 countries and had never set foot in Venice.  In so many ways, Venice is the quintessential travel destination.  A place that so many people visit within their first travel few travel experiences.  Well, I’ve obviously always been a little bit different.  I’ve chosen to go well off the beaten path, and have spent more time riding scooters around Africa, and hitch hiking in the Guianas than I have in major European cities.  But, that has started to change a bit as I’ve now started to base myself in Europe.  As such, I’ve started also to visit places, like Venice, that I’ve long neglected. My stop in Venice was a quick one.  I really didn’t have an assignment here, or any photography task I was hoping to achieve.  In many ways, I was just photo location scouting for potential future assignments or projects.  I ended up wandering nearly the entire city looking for cool angles and compositions for photography in Venice.  I definitely found a few.  I also made a trip out to the islands of Murano and Burano which were absolutely beautiful. The Challenges of Photographing Venice Venice is such a photogenic city.  It really is.  It seems like around every corner there’s a new image to be made, or a killer photo waiting to develop.  But, it’s really not as easy as one would expect.  Especially when you first arrive and see how beautiful it is, it feels like it should be an easy place to shoot.  But, these are some of the challenges I faced. No Open Spaces: Most of the photogenic parts of the city are really hard to photograph.  There’s simply nowhere to set up a tripod. There are very few bridges, for example that cross over the Grand Canal.  Thus, the best views of Venice are often from the boats.  And well that’s fantastic, it doesn’t really work well if you’re trying to shoot long exposures. Lots of Boat Traffic: Speaking of boats, they caused havoc for me as well.  When set up on bridges or view points, there was a constant stream of boats going through. And well blurring them slightly in the early evening and morning made for some cool shots, as soon as the exposure got over about 5 seconds, the boats left horrendous looking light trails in the images. Hard to be Original: Since there are only a couple really perfect locations to shoot from in the city, it can be hard to be original in your photography.  For example, I created an image down...

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