Archive for June, 2009

The Devil’s Throat

Posted by Arlo on Jun 18, 2009 under Photography, Postcard Valet, Travel

The Devil's Throat, Panorama, Iguazú, Argentina

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La Garganta del Diablo: The Devil’s Throat.

To get to the highlight of Iguazú, you have to take a short train ride through the upper reaches of the park.  Above the waterfalls, the jungle gives way to long flat stretches of river.  Even though the water spreads almost as far as the eye can see in every direction, the mind can’t reconcile the raging torrents of the waterfalls below with the calm expanses of the water above.

A metal catwalk stretches just over a kilometer from the end of the train tracks to the platform above their featured attraction.  Oksana and I let our fellow train passengers rush past us while we took pictures of butterflies and birds.  We were in no rush and we realized that if we didn’t have to catch the very next train back, we could have the end platform almost to ourselves before the next gaggle of tourists arrived.

The view, when you finally reach it, answers any questions you might have about the naming of “The Devil’s Throat.”  Water comes out of the jungle from three directions, finds every edge of the semi-circular cliff, and plunges over the edge.  Clouds of water vapor periodically explode out of the white abyss, forming rainbows in their wake.  Tiny swifts flit everywhere, in and out of their nests in the small caves hidden away below.  The railing is perched right on the edge; in certain places you can lean out and look straight down into the maelstrom.

Oksana and I made the trip out to La Garganta twice, making a mental note to visit in the late afternoon after the sun fell behind our backs (and our camera lens).

We must have taken dozens (if not hundreds) of photos from different areas on the platform.  This one is, again, a stitched panorama from about 15 actual photos.  Some of the rainbows we captured were much more vibrant, but of course that was because the mist was in full effect and obscuring the waterfalls.

The building hidden in the trees on the other side of the falls, only a few hundred yards away, is a part of Iguaçu, the Brazilian side of the park.  In the full-resolution version, you can actually make out the swifts in the mist.  Also, I cropped a significant portion of the panorama out, but I left in just a tiny piece of water cascading over the edge in the lower left-hand corner.  It’s an almost subliminal hint of just how close to the edge we were.

Canon Digital Rebel XT
Date: 13 November 2008
Focal Length: 18mm
Shutter: 1/1000 second
Aperture: F/7.1
ISO: 100
Photoshop: Stitched 15 photos in Autostitch, cropped, cloned out arm and water bottle from railing

Just for fun, I’ve included the un-retouched version of what I cropped out after the jump, plus a bookmark in Google Maps for a sense of scale… Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by Arlo on Jun 12, 2009 under Postcard Valet, Travel, Website

Points of Interest in South America

When Oksana and I got serious about planning our year-long trip, I started bookmarking all the intriguing travel sites as I came across them.  I mean, of course, we’ll see the pyramids in Egypt, walk along the Great Wall of China, and visit the Taj Mahal… assuming we find ourselves wandering anywhere near those places, that is.  But what about those things that hardly anyone even knows about?  The fireflies of Thailand that blink in perfect synch, the starling congregations on Ot Moor, or the Darvaza crater in Turkmenistan?  The things you’ve never heard of are so easy to forget…

While we’re traveling, I want to try to update a map of our progress around the world.  Ideally, some combination of a GPS unit and the Google Maps API would automate the process for us, but at the very least, I’ll update the website myself just to let people know our current location.

This week, I’ve been playing with the Google Maps interface, just to see what I could whip up without any real work.  The results are pretty cool and I liked them enough to go ahead and create a new page on my website.  There’s a permanent button up above on my navigation bar, but here, let me make it easy; Check it out: Destinations.

It’s a good start; there are already a few dozen entries on the map, and I still haven’t quite depleted my store of travel bookmarks.  Go ahead, click around.  If your sense of wonder about the world is at all similar to mine, you’ll probably end up following a few of the handy links.

Already we’re visualizing how best we can use this map.  Oksana has recommended that we change the colors of the pins to green as we visit each site – a great idea that will very quickly show what we’re up to.  Also, as more pins are put on the map, I can’t help but notice when they start to cluster.  I imagine that whenever we face a fork in the road, we’ll take the path that travels towards the biggest group of pins!

If you have a minute, take a look at the map, down Argentina way.  See how we’re using different types of pins already?  We’re going to use the “person” icon to remind us where we should go to visit friends and family, the “film” icon to point towards our own video podcasts (I used the Transient Books video as an example), and the little “camera” icon to share the photos we take.  Google makes it easy to embed YouTube videos, image tags, etc.  This could be a pretty neat document when we’re done.

As I said, right now we have a couple dozen points of interest already saved on the map.  I’ve got enough ideas – mostly common one, but a few more  “off the beaten path” ones, too – to round out the first hundred or so, but I hope to have at least two or three hundred before we set off.  We don’t want to pass right by something cool just because we forgot to write it down!

If you’ve been somewhere really neat, heard of a place that sparked your imagination, or even if you simply come across something on the internet and it reminds you of our upcoming trip, please, please, please, send me a link!  I’d love to consider it for one of our Destinations!

Iguazú Falls

Posted by Arlo on Jun 7, 2009 under Photography, Postcard Valet, Travel

Iguazú Panorama

It’s hard to describe nature’s power on display in Iguazú.    Any one of the waterfalls in the park is worth seeing and the views where a good portion of them are in sight are simply staggering.  Before visiting Argentina, I’d read somewhere that the average amount of water plunging over the cliffs in Iguazú is triple that of Niagara Falls.  I’ve never been to Niagara, so I didn’t know what to expect.

If you like anticipation and escalation before your reveals like we do, I think Oksana and I happened upon the perfect way to see the park.  Early on our first day, we decided to walk along the isolated Sendero Macuco, hoping the quiet of the morning would reveal more wildlife.  It did.  Besides the ever-present lizards, butterflies, and biting insects, we also glimpsed a couple of rodents (small capybaras or perhaps cuy), a monkey, and a rather large and intimidating snake.

From there, we hiked back into the park, took a few pictures of the Coatis among the tourists, and embarked on what they call the “Lower Trail.”  Huge waterfalls intersected the trail, raging white water often directly under the metal catwalk beneath our feet.  With their twists and turns, intermittent spray-rainbows, and deep booming bass, they were impressive enough… but they were also just solitary streams.

And then, as we continued along the Lower Trail, we spotted the towering falls in the distance along the Brazil side of the park.  Our wonder increased alongside the number of photos we took, but it was only when we rounded the next corner, came up against the Argentine view you see above, that we thought we had witnessed the best Iguazú had to offer.

We waited patiently while the ebb and flow of camera-bearing tourists passed and finally, when we had the short balcony to ourselves, I took a series of photos in burst mode, expecting to stitch them into a panorama later.

It wasn’t easy to select the first photo to show of Iguazú (I have a folder of 452.)  I do like the foreground elements here, they lend a sort of frame to the composition, but as we kept walking through the park, along the Upper Trail, we found views from the tops of those same waterfalls that rivaled this one.  And we were wrong about this being the climactic view of the park.  It was bettered twice again: Once when we took a boat right into the spray coming off one of these behemoths, and then again when we stood on the edge of La Garganta del Diablo: The Devil’s Throat.

Canon Digital Rebel XT
Date: 12 November 2008
Focal Length: 18mm
Shutter: 1/400 second
Aperture: F/7.1
ISO: 100
Photoshop: Stitched from 4 images, cropped, minor color correction

Oksana and I have decided to do our first podcast video on Iguazú.  Hopefully we’ll have something to show by the end of June.

Around the World in 365 Days

Posted by Arlo on Jun 3, 2009 under Life of Arlo, Postcard Valet, Travel

Arlo and Oksana on their first solo trip together, Costa Rica, 2003

This is an announcement I’ve been looking forward to making for a long time:

Oksana and I just quit our jobs!

Okay, not really. I just wanted to get your attention.

But actually, really! It’s just that our last day of work isn’t going to come around until next summer.  That’s right; we’ve put in our one year’s notice!  Next June, all our crap goes into storage and we set off on a long-planned, round-the-world trip.

This is something we’ve been talking about since before we married.  Before we could commit to such a bold move, we had to make sure we were in a position of security – with our finances, our education, our work experience, etc.

(Funny thing we learned about financial security: Once you’ve got it, it’s surprisingly hard to let go.)

This is why we haven’t settled down.  It’s why we were so anxious to stay out of debt, why we haven’t bought a house, and most definitely one of the reasons why we haven’t yet entertained the idea of having kids.

So, as excited as we are to shoulder a backpack and set off for the ends of the earth, we’re also a little bit freaked out.  Will our jobs be waiting for us when we get back? (Magic 8-Ball says: Outlook Good.)  Will the economy implode while we’re gone?  Do any of the big security questions even matter if we’re off having the experience of a lifetime?


Where are we going?  No idea.  We don’t have (and probably won’t ever have) an itinerary.

Caminante no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.
Wanderer, there is no path; the path is made by walking.

Read the rest of this entry »