Just add Mountains

AN ADVENTURE TO THE SUMMIT OF MOUNT BIERSTADT AND BACK

 

Waking up at 2am sounded like a good idea that Thursday Madison invited me to hike Mount Bierstadt. To reach the top of the 14'er (mountain whose summit is between 14,000ft and 14,999ft) for sunrise on Sunday, we would have to leave the trail parking lot by 3am so that we would reach the summit in time. To my amazement I was up at the drop of a hat when my alarm went off. The evening before our hike, I stayed in Dillon - one hour west of the front range where Bierstadt was located - at a friends condo. It put me 30 minutes closer than had I stayed in Breckenridge, where I had spent the days leading up to our hike, mountain biking and boating with friends.

I met Madison and her friend, Amy in the parking lot of a Valero in Georgetown and followed them through the winding mountain pass until we arrived at the Mount Bierstadt trailhead at 3:30am. Madison had brought her brothers dog, Fin, and Amy brought her dog, Ranger. We were a few minutes behind schedule by the time we struck out, but confident we could make that lost time up. 

The first mile of the trail took us through a long flat valley before starting the ascent. Just long enough and easy enough to give us a false sense of confidence. This whole hiking thing was going to be easy, I was beginning to think that I had finally developed "high altitude" lungs - capable of scraping every nanogram of oxygen from the air and efficiently running the well oiled machine I called “my body”. Seconds into the ascent I found myself doubled over and cursing the fast pace I thought I could keep. Maybe we could go just a little bit slower.

In the pitch black dark with only our headlamps to illuminate the way we continued our ascent. We found a comfortable pace and started to make up some lost time, until we made the mistake of letting Ranger off his leash - he bolted. When I say bolted I mean he took off down the side of the mountain at quite a quick pace, in the wrong direction and out of sight. Amy made her way back down the path call his name, Madison made a bee line in the direction Ranger went and I stood lookout up top watching for any movement that might be the dog. After a solid 30 minutes of panic and searching, Ranger was captured and re-leashed. He was banished from free-range of the land the rest of the hike. 

Since Amy had captured the fugitive quite a ways down the path from Madison and I's location and since we still wanted to hustle to the summit to try and make it for sunrise, Madison and I made an executive decision to continue hiking to the top with Amy trailing a few minutes behind.

The further up the mountain we got the seemingly steeper the incline and larger the boulders became. Our hike had gone from a gradual decline at the beginning, to flat valley, to slight incline, to steep incline and then in an attempt to thwart our efforts of ever summiting, the trail became a steep incline with journeymen bouldering skills required.  The icing on top of the cake was the slick snow that frozen, then melted, then froze again to create patches of snow-ice or what I like to call "not so sn-ice". Slick and steep, the sn-ice was like trying to walk up greased stairs in roller-skates - slow and steady.

Madison and I finally reached the top at 6:30 am, one hour after sunrise. Through our trials and tribulations we were happy to have made it to the top where the wind was gusting and the temperatures felt almost freezing. Madison brought signs to hold up to wish our dad's a happy Father's Day and once Amy arrived we popped a bottle of champagne, passed it around and laughed about all of the mishaps that happened along the way, which included me almost getting taken out by the champagne cork on its maiden voyage.

The hike was a great time and an awesome excuse to spend a Sunday morning with good friends. I was back in Breck by 10am and immediately passed out from exhaustion for two-and-a-half hours. I now have two out of fifty-three 14er's in Colorado under my belt - Quandary, and Bierstadt - and already have plans to knock a few others out before the snow hits in the winter. With a little more planning and hopefully less mishaps, we will summit our next mountain before sunrise and get to witness the beautiful surroundings as the sun pops its head up from behind the beautiful colorado scenery to start another day to be thankful for.

Long way round to Denver

AN EPIC TWO WEEK ROAD TRIP HOME

It all started with a dream and a lot of spare time. Jobless and homeless - I sold my house in Houston just before leaving - I took what little belongings I had and packed them into my car and began what would be a 3673 mile journey through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and the home stretch of Colorado. The road trip would take 15 days in total, 10 of which I would be accompanied by my friend and co-pilot, Marisa. Her expertise - She was a great Airbnb booking agent, yoga instructor, and and gifted gabber. She would make it as far as Vegas before flying back to Houston. As much as she would want to move to Denver, Houston is still home for her. After dropping her off I would continue on for few more days until I reached my final destination Denver, Colorado - My new home. The whole purpose of this road trip was to move to Denver but not just make a beeline for the city. Rather explore and take in some of what the western United States has to offer, in the process.

After weeks of planning we were ready to roll out of Houston on May 16th, Marisa and I were only going 3 hours the first day, to CANYON LAKE to stay the night at my parents lake house. Uneventful, but fun, the drive was a good test as to whether Marisa and I would make good travel partners.

The next day would be our longest day of driving. We were going to put in a solid 8 hours from Canyon Lake to an off-the-grid home we rented on AirBnB, near Big Bend and Terlingua. On a recommendation from my dad, we stopped by the Gage Hotel in Marathon for a drink (pictured) at a table under the famous white bison shoulder mount (not pictured), struck up a conversation with an Australian couple who were on holiday, then meandered our way to the worlds smallest Target. They had no inventory, no employees, not even a door, but was a great photo-op.

At every turn, or rather along every mile of the hundreds of straight miles through WEST TEXAS, I was amazed at how little of Texas I have actually experienced in my life. I had never been in this area, and yet is probably the most beautiful and serene part of the state I had ever seen. So often we are in such a rush to travel somewhere far and "exotic"  to take a picture in front of some tourist infested attraction, that we forget to see what is right in our own backyards, I'm just at guilty.

The evening of our second day we arrived at our off-the-grid house. I was a little nervous in part because this was the first time to use Airbnb and also there seemed to be a lot of rules associated with being off-the-grid. Three minute long showers, max, because the water is filtered rainwater that runs off the roof and into storage tanks and it doesn't rain much in the desert so there isn't much water. There is no plumbing so everything goes in a bucket - everything. And all those buckets had to be emptied before we left the next day, by yours truly. Also, the house is 100% solar powered so no using the A/C for more than a few hours a day which was fine because it was still cool in the evenings.


We hit BIG BEND on a perfect day, there was hardly anyone in the park and the weather turned out to beautiful. The day started off a bit foggy but it cleared up shortly after noon. We spent the day hiking and driving the scenic route through the park. On our last hike of the day before leaving Big Bend, we were stopped by park rangers a few hundred yards up the trail. Sadly, someone had fallen off the switchbacks that lead up the mountain and died. The person's friends were all separated in the trail parking lot filling out incident reports individually. We waited around for a while to see if the trail would open back up - I built cairns (stacked rock tower) in the Rio Grande River and Marisa did yoga stretches and talked to strangers . The trail never reopened, so we took off to Terlingua Ghostown.

TERLINGUA is southwest of Big Bend and 80 miles from the closest hospital. It is home to a murder mystery documentary called "Badlands, Texas" on NatGeo. It's based on the murder of our Portland neighbor’s, brother who was killed at his bar, La Kiva, in Terlingua. We visited the bar that evening for a drink and saw the group of women Marisa had been talking at Big Bend while we were waiting for the trail to open back up. There were five of them and they had all been friends since grade school. Now living all around the U.S. they try to get together yearly for a girls trip. We had so much fun with them. They invited us to join them for dinner at the Starlight, just down the street, that evening for live music and food. It's those kind of unforeseen encounters that make traveling so much fun. The paradise you find is created by the people you meet.


MARFA was the stop I was looking forward to the most on our road trip. For one, we booked the last available teepee for months at the El Cosmico. When Marisa and I started planning this trip, glamping (glamorous-camping) in Marfa was on the top of my "bucket" list. Marfa is a very unique town of  2000 people. It’s like most other small Texas towns - feed stores, town square and small boutiques - but what makes Marfa different is the heavy influence of contemporary art. People come from all over the world to visit the plethora of art exhibits and installations. Ultra modern, Swedish designed art galleries next to a tractor supply store is a common sight of the yin and yang that gives Marfa such character.

The town’s biggest draws are the Marfa Lights and Marfa Prada. The lights are small  mysterious glowing orbs in the flats just east of the town. They shimmer and fade in and out. The night we went to the viewing center, the lights were active. It was a lot of fun to see and especially to speculate where they were coming from.

The following morning, on the way out of town, we stopped by the Marfa Prada to take photos. Its an art installation 30 minutes outside of town that doesn’t sell any product but is just fun to visit and explore. I got some of my favorite photos from the trip in front of it.


I'm a huge Breaking Bad fan, so when we were planning the road trip I had to make a stop in ALBUQUERQUE to visit Walter White’s house and the Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant (where Walter met Gus for the first time) which is actually Twisters. Breaking bad was the inspiration for the label for the beer andrew and I brewed. We called the batch "Brewing Beer".

Have you ever thought to yourself "boy, I sure hope I get yelled at and harassed today"? If this sounds like something you would like to experience, dress up in a yellow hazmat suit and stand in front of the old Breaking Bad house, the owner is a real charmer. She knew the house she bought was the scene of a cult tv show, but she insists on sitting in a folding chair in her garage everyday and yell at people to "GET A LIFE!". I took a few pics, thanked her for peppering of insults and went on my way. 


PAGE was our next stop, it's a small town located on the western side of Arizona on the Utah/Arizona border and served as our base camp for visiting the GRAND CANYON, HORSESHOE BEND, and the beautiful ANTELOPE CANYONS. Our drive from Albuquerque took us by FOUR CORNERS, where we busted our best yoga moves in an attempt to touch all four states at once - Utah/Colorado/Arizona/New Mexico - I call mine the sleepy starfish.

We spend the rest of that afternoon in MONUMENT VALLEY, which turned out to be my favorite scenic stop on the trip because it was so majestic. The three monuments have stood the test of time over thousands of years like stoic soldiers vigilantly watching over the valley. They were quite a site to see.

To get everything in that we wanted to around the Page area we spent two nights, minimum. The first day we spent hiking the Grand Canyon. The thing you don't realize about about hiking there is you descend into the canyon the first part of your hike - the easy part. The second part of the hike - back up - is where you hate yourself for being so confident and going so far down into the canyon in the first place.

That same evening Marisa and I tried making it back to catch Horseshoe Bend for sunset, but when I wasn't paying attention and took us in the wrong direction for 15 miles we ended up showing up after the sun had gone down. I was determined to get a sunset/sunrise photo of Horseshoe Bend, so the next morning we woke up at 4:15 am to make it out for the 5:00 am sunrise. Trekking in the dark to the edge of the canyon bend, I thought we would be the first people out, but there was already four people standing around as close to the ledge as possible, with their cameras set on tripods. The things photographers do to capture "that image"...

If you are ever in the area of Page, Arizona and can only do one thing, first off you're an idiot. Why did you only book enough time for one thing in Page, Arizona? Secondly, you want to go to Antelope Canyon. There is an Upper and Lower, they are near each other but are not the same tour. I hear Upper Antelope is stunning, but so is low, and lower is cheaper. There is roughly a billion people queued for tours of the canyon. It is quite crowded when you first descend into its depths, but soon after the different tour groups thin out and you can get some pretty amazing photos. The tour guides are all local Navajo teenagers for the most part and were very knowledgeable about the canyon and where to stand to get the best photos!


After Page, Arizona the original plan was to tent camp in ZION NATIONAL PARK in Utah for one night before heading to LAS VEGAS to see Marisa off on her flight back to Houston, but we had to cut it a day short so she could make it to an interview back home. She still wanted to drive through the park, and to keep her from throwing a fit in the cereal isle, figuratively speaking, I set our course northwest out of Page (Vegas is southwest), where we spent the afternoon sightseeing before ending her tenth and final day of life out on the road. I would be lying if I said we had a night similar to the movie "The Hangover". Vegas consisted of In-N-Out Burger - animal style - a drive down the strip and comatose sleep.

The next morning my wolf pack..it shrank by one. Ten days and 2500 miles into the road trip, I was going to be a loner for the first time.  On the way to the airport we played a few of our favorite road tripin' songs - Roger Miller, Johnny Cash and John Denver - then said goodbye. Any skepticism I may have had as to whether  we could tolerate being in close quarters together for that many miles had long gone out the window before we had ever arrived at Canyon Lake on our first day. Marisa and I made a great travel team.

The one man wolf pack made his way back to Zion where I tent camped for three nights in a site just outside the park. I applied for a permit to do a few backcountry hikes but didn't win the lottery. The park only lets a certain number of people on the backcountry hikes each day. Your name get put in a lottery and whoever wins get a permit to hike and camp in the wilderness of Zion.

Since I didn't win, I did a few unrestricted hikes like Angel's Landing. Which has you basically hanging off the side of a 1000 foot cliff holding onto a chain with a 1000 other people. All well worth it for the view at the top.

The last photo in this series below, may have you thinking I'm a wizard. Actually I was doing a hike called the Narrows. You hike up the middle of a river for about 4 miles before it get over head deep and impassable - that picture so happens to be on the only section of the hike that has a patch of dry land.  The local outfitters just outside the park rent water hiking boots and wizard staffs to paying customers. I didn't come across any dragons so I repurpose the staff as a walking stick, which helped a lot with stability in the rushing waters.


On the second to last leg of my journey I found myself tent camping in the MOAB area and ARCHES NATIONAL PARK on Memorial weekend. I met up with one of my best and oldest friends - Jacob - and his crew to raft, hike, and mountain bike the holiday weekend. He brought down my new bike that I bought from him and we blazed a few trails.

Our campsite was along the Green River which wasn't so green as it was brown. We made a new friend we named Bertha - a dead cow that washed up near our campsite, coming to the conclusion that she died in a hand gliding accident off the top of one of the mesas in the area, she was our stinky camp guardian.

After an eventful weekend of trying everything to send Bertha on her maiden voyage down the river, rafting rapids, and trying to corner goats in a canyon, we all parted ways on Monday to head back to Denver. I stuck around the area for one more night to bike a few trails in Moab. One called the Whole Enchilada, which was an 18 mile ride that you caught a shuttle to the top of a high mesa for a 3 hour ride down. The ride took you along the edge of the mesa and offered amazing views of the surrounding area below. Halfway through the ride I had a flat and no repair kit. I waited around for about 20 minutes for another rider but no one came by, so I decided to carry my bike down the trail until someone, much wiser than me with a repair kit, came by. About 20 minutes into my walk with my bike slung over my shoulder an older dude came blazing down the trail and offered to help me out.

Inconveniences such as a flat tire and no repair kit or a smelly dead cow at camp are always scenarios that I want to avoid in life and especially while traveling, but they so often are the stories and memories you recall the most years down the line. I've come to embrace those mishaps and enjoy the moment. They always turn out for the better and often times not only do you get a story out of the situation but you end up better off than had it not happened.

My flat tire turned into a gathering of riders hanging out and talking bike stuff while I fixed a flat and made new friends. I will most likely never see those people again, but the time spent talking to strangers from other parts of the U.S. and bonding over a love for cycling is way more cool than had I rode my bike the entire 18 miles without mishap into town and packed up.

My last night on the road, I had another mishap that cost me a pretty penny. I left my campsite on my last evening to shoot sunset and night photography of Delicate Arch, in Arches National Park. It is probably one of the most famous landscapes in the United States and I think is even a default background for Windows PCs. I arrived in the parking lot and made the 45 minute, tourist infested hike to the natural amphitheater where the arch resided. The arch looks like it was placed on the edge of a cliff by magic, it defies gravity and yet has been around for thousands of years.

I walked around, shot a few photos and waited for the crowd thin as the sun began to make its descent behind the mesas. At one point I sat down and opened my bag to pull out my phone to check the time, when I did my 50mm lens jumped out of my bag and began its descent down the barren sandstone hill. Picking up speed and passing tourist as it descended, all I could do was watch. I heard someone yell "grab that" to the people below but no one got the message in time to react. I stood there in shock, not believing that was my camera lens making a run for it like an escaped convict on death row. As it neared the bottom it was catching more hang time than a skateboard at the X-Games and in an attempt to leave no mysteries as to whether is would be operable when I finally retrieved it, the lens made one more jump that would could have won an olympic gold in pole-vaulting and in slow motion as if to mock me even further, it blew up like fireworks before landing in the foliage below. I was stunned - in the back of my mind I heard a cash register cha-ching - this mishap was going to cost me.

I spent 15 minutes at the bottom looking for all the pieces, but was only able to locate about half. Once I got back topside I was the talk of the arch. I cut my losses made friends with fellow concerned photographers and captured some amazing photos with my other lens that evening. It's not how I expected my evening at Delicate Arch to pan out but I'll never forget the memory of my lens rolling down the hill every time I look at my photos from that night. Better it catching air and exploding, than me.


The day after my lens mishap, I packed up my campsite and started on the 6 hour home stretch to Denver. When I finally rolled into the driveway of my new house the trip odometer I had set in Houston rolled over to 3673 miles. My 15 day road trip was over, but the memories and mishaps will live on.

I'm fortunate to be in a place in my life where I could do such an amazing trip for 2 weeks right after having traveled Southeast Asia for a year, and blessed to have the opportunity to move to Denver and start the next chapter in my life. I'm excited for what the my new city has to offer and optimistic in my search for a new career!

Exploring an Abandoned Skyscraper - Ghost Tower, Bangkok

Rumor had it that for a few hundred baht bribe ($5-$15USD) the security at Ghost Tower will let you in to climb the 49 flights of stairs to the top. My brother and I showed up to the gate of the fenced off Ghost Tower about an hour before sunset.  I was determined to get some amazing panoramic photos of Bangkok like the ones I had seen online, apparently 10 other backpackers had the same idea. Although this was not an adventure you would find in any tour guide book, Ghost Tower is a well known legend amongst backpackers in Southeast Asia.

Ghost Towers official name is The Sathorn Unique Tower. It is an unfinished skyscraper in Bangkok, along the Chao Pharaya River in heart of the city. Construction of the building was halted in 1997, during the Asian financial crisis, and never resumed afterwards. It is 49 stories high and offers the best views of the city. Until recently, only the stairway was gated off under padlock and key. That is where you would pay some shady local to undo the padlock and go up. Because of recent events, the owners built a 10ft corrugated metal fence around the entire property. To gain access you now have to make it inside the fence gate and the stairwell gate.

After standing outside the fence for more than 30 minutes with no sign of getting in and the number of backpackers doubling, I was beginning to lose hope. I had done this same thing about 6 weeks earlier with some South African friends that lived in Bangkok. That evening we stood around for a little bit, but patience ran thin and we bailed after about 15 minutes, this evening was different, I was determined to get in.

My heart began to race when a local guy showed up to the gate with a key, opened the gate, but immediately closed it after he had gone through. Our only chance had just walked through and didn't look to be in any mood to deal with a bunch of grungy, sweaty backpackers. A few minutes later though, one of our friends heads popped up on the other side of the fence where the guy had just walked in. Apparently, our friend Dutch and a few of his buddies had gained access via one of the restaurants that backs up to the Ghost Tower property. The restaurant wouldn't let anyone else through, but at least we had someone on the other side.

Our friends talked to the guard (with the help of a girl who spoke Thai) then would relay the message back to everyone outside the fence. The gist of the conversation with the security guard was that he thought that one of the people in our group outside the gate was an undercover cop and he wasn't willing to let anyone in fear of getting busted.

The guard was going to let everyone who was already inside the fence through the padlocked stairwell for 500 Baht ($15USD), everyone standing outside the fence, like ourselves, was S.O.L. 

Dutch relayed the bad news to us, all hope was lost. But just like in the movies, luck was on our side. Just before he ran off, to start the climb up the stairs, Dutch noticed that the guard - either on purpose or by accident - never locked the padlock back on the fence gate. He threw the lock off the gate and let us all in. Over whelmed by the rush of people and the money making opportunity the guard had no other option than to take our money. We queued at the stairs to pay our 500 Baht and began our assent up the 49 flights of stairs to the top.

That evening I took one of my favorite photos of my entire trip. The light painting of the word "BANGKOK" with the hotel from the movie, The Hangover in the background.

I started off taking long exposure photos and running around with my phone light in hand in front of my camera, capturing the light trails the phone gave off. Within a few minutes there was a gathering of people behind my camera watching what I was doing. My brother had the bright idea of spelling "BANGKOK" instead of doing the light trails. I asked for a few volunteers and we were off. After our first attempt everyone ran back to the back of the camera and there was a bunch of "oohs and ahhs". We only needed a few more attempts before we nailed it.

If you find yourself in Bangkok and looking for an adventure, I would highly recommend Ghost Tower. A word of warning, It is not for everyone. Climbing 49 flights of stairs is not an easy feat and If you are afraid of heights I would steer clear.

If you do decide to go, below are a list of recommendations for your hike up:

  • Wear closed toed shoes, not flip-flops.
  • Bring a bottle of water.
  • Bring your camera.
  • Go with a friend. It is possible to get lost or hurt, so going solo is not recommended.
  • Bring at least 500 Baht. That is how much we paid per person, I've heard people being charged less, but that was the going rate to get in when I was there.
  • Show up and expect not to be let in until the sun is setting or has set. The night photos of Bangkok are just as amazing as sunset, so don't be disappointed if you don't get in until after sunset.
  • Be smart. Don't do anything that would put you or others in danger. We don't want the owners of the building to permanently close access to the building because a tourist did something avoidable and dumb.
  • Most of all, be in the moment, put your phone or camera down every once in a while, take a deep breath and enjoy the stunning views!


 

11 Days in New Zealand

New Zealand was not part of my original travel Itinerary when I left Texas in May. Then again I really don’t know what my travel plans are more than a week out. I jump from country to country, city to city, only to book flights at the last minute arriving in a town without accommodations or an itinerary. Its easier, more flexible, and a bit of an adventure showing up without a place to stay.

New Zealand came across my radar when I was contracted for a few days of work in Wellington.  I was in Bali at the time and and didn't want to leave, but making money on the road is a blessing that I can’t pass up on. 

Once work was done in Wellington I had 11 days to kill and a country to explore. This is the story of my whirlwind travels through the North and South Islands of New Zealand.

NewZealandMap.jpg

WELLINGTON

With two days of work and one day of play in Wellington, I hit the ground running on my only day of exploring the capital of New Zealand. I have been on the road for the past three months, in that time I have always opted for cheap or free forms of entertainment. I spent a few hours at the Wellington Museum (free), explored the boardwalk along the bay (free), and ended my day with a ride up the 102 year old cable car overlooking the city (cheap), which offers the most amazing sunset views.

TRAVEL DAY: WELLINGTON TO CHRISTCHURCH

I started my day of travel at 6 am, hiking to the Bluebridge Ferry that would take me across the treacherous Cook Strait, separating the North and South Islands of New Zealand. The Cook Strait is an extremely deep subsea trench, and because of the nature of this trench over 200 vessels have sunk since recorded history, Including the one I learned about at the Wellington History Museum named the Wahine. The Wahine ferry got caught in a 100mph wind storm in 1968, made it into the port of Wellington but not out of danger. the ship ran aground and more than 50 people died before the seas subsided and a rescue team could be safely sent out. 

After making the Strait crossing without issues, I hopped on a six hour bus ride to Christchurch, with a few bathroom and food breaks along the way. 

CHRISTCHURCH

In September of 2010 Christchurch was struck by a crippling 7.1 earthquake. Six months later in March 2011 another 6.3 magnitude quake practically leveled the city. Four years later most of the city is still under construction and many of the residents have moved out. I spent my only day walking around shooting pictures of crumbling buildings. Much like a crippled dog, It was hard not to feel bad for the Christchurch.

The evening before I left someone forgot food in their oven in the hostel, and the fire department was called. There was no fire, just a lot of smoke. I had flashbacks of my dad's 60th birthday earlier this year when the restaurant/hotel we were staying in caught fire. This time I made sure to bring all of my valuables with me as I left the building, just incase. 

QUEENSTOWN

Looking back, Queenstown was my favorite city in New Zealand, hands down, and I wish I had spent a few more days there. I snowboarded two days at Remarkables Ski Mountain, where I bruised my tailbone (I've fractured it snowboarding a few years ago, lucky it was only a deep bruise this time). Then took a day off to explore the town and play a game of frisbee golf with my buddy I met at the hostel at the park overlooking Lake Wakatipu. If you visit Queenstown, you have to stop by the infamous Furgburger. Words can't explain how good their burgers are. Everything is made on location, and they even have breakfast burgers. 

AUCKLAND

The rain and wind had been chasing me ever since I left Wellington, it never quite caught me even as I left Queenstown. But once I landed in Auckland there was no escaping it. I spent my first day in my hostel reading and working on my computer while it poured outside. The next day the rain let up just enough to walk around the city. 

The total population of New Zealand is around four million, a third of which live in Auckland. I explored the streets with friends I had met at the hostel and that evening a group of us went to Mount Eden to watch the sunset and get pizza afterwards. It was a great way to spend my last day in beautiful New Zealand.

Bali, Indonesia

To create a cohesive story about my photography in Bali over the past 6 weeks would be like trying to heard cats.

Since I arrived here things have been moving a bit slower and I have really pushed the envelope of the true meaning of the word “relax”.

I rented a room in an absolutely amazing villa in Canggu, on the western side of Bali for a month and began a routine of surfing, crossfit and keeping a journal that I updated daily. I have found myself straying away from the typical exploring of temples and other touristy sites that I have been doing in the other countries. I have made friends with Expats from all over the world who now call Bali home, and I have really began to feel that I can call Bali my home away from home, myself. 

There is no where else like this island anywhere in the world. The rich culture is its own twist on the Hindu of India and no other island in Indonesia shares its Hindu beliefs. Someone told me once that “the women of Bali are either preparing for a ceremony, performing a ceremony or cleaning up from one”, and I have found that to be absolutely true. From the offerings that are placed in front their home and businesses every morning to the big yearly celebrations like Galungan, The locals of Bali always have a reason to dress in their traditional garb and celebrate.

I will do my best to put a story behind each photo to help make sense of what would seem to be photographic randomness.

A little boy and his father on their way to the beach after worshipping at the temple.

On Sunday evenings the locals descend upon the beach to watch the sunset. The parents sit in the sand and talk, watching the children play in the water and build sandcastles while vendors peddle food from their makeshift carts.

The guy on the right is Wayan. A funny story about Wayan. If I was to walk into a market, temple or anywhere else you would tend to find a lot of locals, and yell out the name Wayan, half of, if not all the men in the place would turn around.  Wayan is the name usually give to the first born son of the family. That name in Bali is more common than all of the Michaels, Johns, and Aarons put together in the United States. Everyone is named Wayan in Bali.

Wayan saw me walking down the beach on my way to take sunset photos and just wanted to talk. He is a school teacher born and raised in Bali, and he has two sons that go to college, that he is very proud of. He and I walked and talked for a while, in the end I thanked him for his company and asked to snap a photo of him. 

The locals here are the nicest people I have ever met. I think that is a part of what gives Bali its charm.

My Partner in Photography Crime, Dewi. She is an amazing street photographer that has taught me everything I know about shooting photos of strangers on the streets. Check her out on Insta @forasiacheers.

My favorite tours are the ones that you won't find in any tour guide books. Dewi and I pulled over in a rice field to shoot photos and I ended up doing a bit of free labor, harvesting rice. The farmers found it quite entertaining to watch me work.

On one of the first days living at the Villa in Canggu, my roommate Dustin invited me the the northeast side of Bali near Kubu. This side of the island is very dry, only receiving rain 3 months of the year. Dustin designs and oversees the building and maintenance of water storage tanks for some of the most poor villages in Bali. The tanks collect water runoff from the roofs of the houses during the 3 months that it rains, and safely stores it all year when it is dry. On this day we went to check on some of the tanks and pay the villages who did the construction. While there, we shot tons of photos of the kids that live in the village. They absolutely loved being in front of the camera.

Adventures with Dewi and Lyndsey, shooting street photography near the fish market in Jimbaran.

Shooting with my Norwegian friends Yan, and Kristian. It's winter time in the southern hemisphere, that means the days are warm and the evenings are just cool enough to wear a light jacket when riding my motorbike.

My trip  to the Gili Islands for my 28th birthday to go snorkeling.

The kid in the first photo on left side - I don't remember his name - rode his bicycle from his home in East Java to Bali then hopped on a ferry to the Gili's to snorkel for two days. The trip took him three to get to the Gili's. He told me that when he is done snorkeling, he is going to ride his bike back home. He is another one of the amazing people that I have met in my adventures out on the road.

It isn't a blog post about Bali unless I include a few sunset pictures. Above is a quiet beach near Uluwatu, the most southern point in Bali. 

I've only scrapped the tip of the Indonesian iceberg. Besides Bali, I still have Java and Sumatra to explore. In Sumatra, some of the best waves in the world can be found. It is a long ways away, but I hope to make my way that direction in the coming weeks.

Myanmar (Burma)

Myanmar is the most "off the beaten path" country in both Reid and I's travel itinerary, so we decided early on in our planning that we wanted to explore the country together. We had set aside a month for Myanmar with no itinerary or place to be in that time. Our meeting point was Yangon because our family friend, Tim, would be in town on holiday. Tim lives in Houston, but is originally from Myanmar and has a house in Yangon. He comes back every other year for a month with his family, and Reid and I timed it so that we could meet up with him. 

YANGON

Tim picked me up from the airport and took me to his house just down the road. One of the first things I noticed when the car started rolling was it was right hand drive (like England and Japan) and we were on the right hand side of the road (like America). I think that kind of sums up Myanmar perfectly. It is a country that marches to the beat of their own drum. 

Reid had already been in Yangon a few days and was waiting for my arrival. He started his backpacking trip two months before me, and I hadn't seen him since. I was excited to finally meet up with my little brother. We spent the first evening with Tim and his family and met with him a few times during our week long stay in Yangon to have have lunch or dinner.

While in Yangon, Reid and I did a lot of walking around to the local markets. We visited Shwedagon Pagoda, which is over 2600 years old. The main gold-plated dome is topped by a stupa containing over 7,000 diamonds, rubies, topaz and sapphires. There is little wonder that the Shwedagon is referred to in Myanmar as "The crown of Burma."

 We also rode the circle train around the country side of Yangon. It is a slow moving, tired train that the local farmers ride into town to deliver their goods to the market. It cost us around $0.50 to ride and took 4 hours to ride it all the way around.

The last thing we did before moving north to Bagan was try betel nut. Its a nasty habit that many of the older locals participate in. Its a natural concoction of betel nut, limestone paste, a dab of tobacco and nutmeg all wrapped in a betel leave that you chew. It looks like you have a dip in and when you spit, its blood red. The streets throughout Myanmar look like they are covered in blood, and there is a betel nut stand on every corner where you can pick up a "made to order" bag of 10 for about $0.30.

BAGAN

Reid and I took an over night bus from Yangon to Bagan, land of a million pagodas (feels like there is a million, but actually, there is around 4000 in and around the town of Bagan). All the pagodas were built between 10 A.D. and 13 A.D. and most of them have been restored after a large earthquake toppled some of them a number of years back. For a week we explored the pagodas on our electric bikes battling the dry desert like heat to see as many as possible in a short time.

One of the evenings after toasting in the sun all day, we took an hour taxi drive to Mt. Pope with with a couple we met at Ostello Bello Hostel. There was a lot of really angry monkeys that didn't like the camera being pointed at them on our assent (see below photo of one trying to attack me). One of them even stole my water bottle that was strapped to the outside of my backpack, bit a hole in the side and drank the water all the while just outside of reach. At the top of the mountain there is a temple with a great view for sunsets. We all snapped a few pics then made a mad dash down the 700 steps back to our taxi before it got dark and the monkeys descended upon us like the flying monkeys of Wizard of Oz. I'm certain they would have tried to hold us captive if we had not escaped the mountain before dusk.

INLE LAKE

The town of Nyaungshwe on Inle Lake was our next stop. As the crow flys, it was not far from Bagan, maybe 100 miles, but because of the primitive winding roads that lead into the mountains and back down again it took us 8 hours to get to our destination. Inle Lake is a shallow lake famous for its fisherman who use a unique style of paddling with one foot, serpentine, on the bow while working their nets with their free hands to catch fish. Since Inle Lake is in the mountains it was considerably cooler than Yangon and Bagan . During the day it would usually be around 85 degrees and 70 degrees in the evenings.  One day we hired a long boat that took us on a tour of the lake which included the local market, where many of the surrounding villages and tribes come down from the surrounding mountains to sell their goods such as tea, spices and fruit. A silk making business where they hand wove silk to make sarongs, scarves and headbands. We also toured a local business that hand made cigars by hand, and to finish up the tour we visited two women from the Kayah State in Myanmar. They are the tribe that wears the gold rings around their neck that it makes it look like they have long necks. The rings don't actually lengthen their necks, rather they push their collar bones down giving the effect that their necks are being stretched out like Stretch Armstrong. Many of the Kayah State people have fled their homeland and can also be found in Thailand as well. The two women we met came to Inle Lake and make silk everything by hand.

A few days later Reid and I met up with some friends and did a bike ride around the lake. About an hour ride outside of town we paid a local fisherman to take us across the lake with our bikes. Once across we started making our way back towards town, but not before stopping by a local winery. 

Reid and I voted to stay at Inle Lake a few extra days as to avoid the heat at our next and final stop in our adventure through Myanmar, the city of Mandalay.

MANDALAY

In the two days we spent in Mandalay we rented motorbikes and toured around the outskirts of the city, stopped by a few pagodas and met the coolest monk in all Myanmar. His name was Tiloka. He took us in, gave us Sprite, taught us the meaning of Buddhism and showed us around his temple. After that Reid and I watched a gang of motorbike riders doing tricks on a newly paved road. The guys saw my camera and instantly upped their game to standing tandem wheelies, for us. We ended our last day in Myanmar watching the sunset at Taung Tha Man Lake drinking Mandalay Beer and eating our last bowl of shan noodles. 

Myanmar has culture like nowhere else on earth and was an eye opening experience that I will never forget. 

Saigon & Vung Tau, Vietnam

I only got to spend a total of 10 days in Vietnam, but in that short time I worked, hungout with locals, drank lots of Vietnamese coffee and  taught english to a class of Vietnamese students in the park.

My trip started in Saigon for the weekend. In the two days I was there I visited the Vietnamese Notre Dame Cathedral, their colorful and bustling post office and spend the afternoon with new friends, exploring the Vietnam War Museum.

Sunday night I was picked up by car and taken two hours east, towards to coastal town of Vung Tau for work. I spent my week in Vung Tau training an awesome group of guys on how to refurbish and repair personnel transfer devices (transfer men and equipment from oil platform to crew boat and vice versa). One of the days I rode with one of the guys on the back of his motorbike to a beach where only the locals hangout. Even though he spoke little english and I only knew how to says "cheers!" (nung li) in Vietnamese we had great conversation. Its amazing how much is understood from hand gestures and smiling. afterwards we grabbed some local street food, then hopped on his motorbike to take me back to my hotel overlooking the ocean.

Most of my nights after work, I hungout with Mrs. Oahn (my chaperone and HR person for the company I was working for) and her husband (a supervisor for a furniture making company in Vung Tau). They had me over for dinner, took me to the top of the mountain over looking ocean to watch the sunrise, and on an hour motorbike ride into the country side to see their families farm in the middle of nowhere Vietnam. I picked jack fruit, banannas and eat the most delicious mangos right off the vine.

When it was time for me to head back to Saigon after my week of work, I was reluctant to leave Vung Tau because of all the friends I had made, but they all wished me farewell and I promised I would be back in a few months to visit with my brother.

Once I got back in Saigon I met with a family friend named Sam. He showed me around the city and took me two hours north on a tour of the Cui Chi Tunnels. Cui Chi is a network of over 250 kilometers of underground tunnels about three feet high inside dug by the Vietcong over a 20 year period. These were used during the Vietnam War to attach the US forces. After touring Cui Chi, Sam and I went to the Cui Chi gun range and shot a few round with an AK-47 and a few other guns.

One of my last nights in Vietnam I was sitting at the the park in Saigon, people watching, when I was approached by a gentleman who looked local and spoke good english. he asked where I was from and if I was interested in helping his students learn english in the park that evening. I spent the rest of the night reading to the students while they repeated after me. After class they invited me to their temple the following night where they have their regular nightly english class. We ate a vegetarian dinner and I had one-on-one conversations with the students at the front of the classroom. Afterwards the students and I all went out for fresh coconut juice and I answered questions about America.

Vietnam is an experience that I will never forget. I can't wait to go back later in the year, but now I'm headed to Myanmar to meet my brother and travel the country for the next month.



Bangkok, Thailand

26 hours and over 7,000 miles after leaving Houston, I have arrived in Bangkok, Thailand (Houston to LAX to Narita to Bangkok). I have been exploring this culture rich city for almost a week and have fallen in love with the people and their food. Street vendors pedal food on almost every corner and in-between so if you truly wish to experience Bangkok then thats all you eat. Meals usually cost from $1.10 to $1.95! You can eat like a king for pennies a day.

Hostels are almost as common as the street vendors here in Bangkok, and there is always someone to go exploring with if you wish. All the backpackers are in the same mindset: explore, experience and meet new people.

The only official touristy thing I have done so far is visit Wat Po, which is one of the oldest and largest Wats (temples) and is located on the Chao Phraya river in the center of Bangkok. To get there I embarked on a 20 minute walk from my hostel, then a 20 minute water taxi from Sathorn  to Tha Tien station. 

Wat Po houses the famous reclining buddha and is home to more than one-thousand buddha images, 91 chides and a maze of cloisters that I kept getting turned around in. At one point I gave up trying to find my way out and started contemplating life as a monk if I never found the exit. In the end I did find the exit and left with some amazing photos of the temple.

I continue to do crossfit and have met some really interesting people at the box I go to, Ten500 Crossfit. Amongst those people is my Kiwi buddy, Scott and his girlfriend. He lives in Australia while his girlfriend, Cam live here in Bangkok and teaches english. We have spent some amazing sunsets on top of her 28 story apartment shooting photos and having drinks and I cannot thank them enough for their hospitality.

Next stop is Vietnam for a week to make a few bucks training guys on refurbishing personal transfer devices that my dad's company makes. I can't wait to see what Vietnam has to offer!

Brandi & Adam's Wedding

Brandi and Adam had one of the most beautiful weddings that I have shot to date. Held at the picturesque Barr Mansion in Austin, Texas, the bride and groom could not have asked for a more perfect day to have their wedding on. Throughout the week and the days leading up to the wedding, we had been getting a lot of rain, but the day of the ceremony the skies cooperated and everything went perfectly. I co-photographed with a very good friend of mine, Maigen [maigensawyer.com] and photographed the groom and his men, while Maigen photographed the bride and her maids.

Tina & Ryan's Engagement

I met Ryan at Crossfit in 2012, we have been best friends ever since. A few years later Ryan and Tina started dating and after a year they were engaged. I have never seen a couple so perfect for each other and when they asked me to shoot their engagement photos I was honored. Ryan is a pilot for a private company based here in Houston, so for our first location for their engagement photos we had special access to the hanger to take photos with the plane he flies. A few weeks later when the bluebonnets were in bloom and the weather was nice, we shot at a few popular places inside the loop. The photos turned out great, and I can't wait for their wedding in December!