Archive for December, 2010

A Christmas wish

Posted by Arlo on Dec 24, 2010 under Postcard Valet, Website

Postcard Valet iTunes logo
I have a favor to ask.  A Christmas wish, if you like.

As you probably know, we have a video podcast on iTunes.  One of the best ways to advertise a podcast is to get it to “float to the top” in the iTunes directory.  In order for that to happen for Postcard Valet, we need to have a few ratings (more than 25, I think.)  Now, we have no illusions that Postcard Valet will top the charts or anything, but it sure would be nice if it were to show up on the first page of search results in the travel podcast section!

So, if you’d like to give Oksana and me a wonderful – and super simple! – Christmas preset, head on over to our iTunes page, click “View in iTunes,” and rate our podcast for us!  I’ll bet it’ll take you under a minute (maybe five if you want to leave us some constructive criticism, too)…

For those that take the time to do this for us, I would love to send you a South American thank you postcard in return; just email me your address afterwards and I’ll get right on it!

A couple notes:

If you don’t have iTunes installed, it’s a free download from Apple.

After installing iTunes, you’ll have everything you need to subscribe to our podcast.  New episodes will be delivered to iTunes as soon as we post them – you don’t even need to have an iPod or anything like that!

After iTunes is installed, subscribing to our podcast is as simple as clicking the following link:

( If, for some reason, that doesn’t work, follow these directions:
1) Open iTunes
2) Click on the Advanced menu and select “Subscribe to Podcast…”
3) Copy and paste the same link into the box:
4) Enjoy! )

And finally, you may have noticed a new Facebook widget in the sidebar over there on the right.  The Postcard Valet Facebook page is Oksana’s new project and if we can 6 more people to “Like” the page – we’re at 19 now – it’ll unlock a few features (such as a custom URL) that she’s eager to implement.  A click there would also be much appreciated!

PVX: Diving in San Cristóbal, Galapagos

Posted by Arlo on Dec 20, 2010 under Postcard Valet, PV-Podcast, Videos

View the same video in high-definition (720p) on Youtube.

After we finished up with our Galapagos excursion, Jeff, Oksana, and I found ourselves with a few days to kill in San Cristóbal. Our original plan was to go to Santa Cruz and look for diving excursions out of Puerto Ayora, but being on hotel lockdown for a day (during the Ecuadorian 2010 Census) left us a little short on time. We decided the best thing to do with our remaining days would be to simply dive out of Puerto Bazquerizo Moreno again.

We asked around at a few shops and figured out which dives were in the area. Kicker Rock has to be the hands-down best, but we’d already done that a couple days before. We opted to save a little money (and time) by doing two dives closer to town. We found the Dive and Surf Club who offered us a 2-tank dive for $85.

The next day, we discovered there would be one more person accompanying us. Tim, a fellow traveler who was just 6 dives or so away from his Divemaster license, was coming along, too. In fact, it was Tim who sent me an email about a week after we returned to the mainland, asking if any of our underwater footage came out…

This video is for you, Tim!
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Galapagos Hawk

Posted by Arlo on Dec 17, 2010 under Photography, Postcard Valet, Travel

Galapagos Hawk

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We were walking back from a “power hike” up over the flooded crater called Darwin’s Lake on Isabela Island.  The plan was to get back to the pangas for a quick ride around the outer coastline before the captain picked us up with the Evolution for a brief whale watching trip before sunset.  We were sort of in a hurry, spread out along the trail.

A few meters in front of me, someone looked up and said, “Oh!  Wow!”  There, perched on a branch directly over the trail, was a Galapagos Hawk.  He was on the lowest set of branches, low enough that you could reach up and ruffle his feathers.  In fact, he was so low, I have no idea how the first few people in our group, including our naturalist guide, managed to miss him!

The rest of us, of course, clustered around the hawk and started taking pictures.  At first, we moved slowly and stayed a comfortable distance away from him, but then, as it became apparent that he wouldn’t fly away, we stepped closer.  Eventually, we were all arrayed almost directly underneath him.

If a hawk can be said to have a personality, I would label this one “curious.”  As we aimed our lenses at him and clicked away, he peered down at us, rotating his head this way and that.  Toward the end of the encounter, I stood directly underneath him with the long barrel of my lens practically up against his talons.  He never seemed bothered, never even flinched.  I would swear that he was as interested in me as I was in him.

When people ask why the Galapagos is so special, I think of moments like this.  There’s no other place on the planet where the wildlife are so comfortable around human beings.  It’s not just the hawks; it’s the sea lions, the iguanas, the birds, and the tortoises.  In the Galapagos, anyone can be a wildlife photographer and some of their best shots will come from a wide-angle lens!

Canon 5D Mark II
Date: 4:55pm, 25 November 2010
Focal Length: 105mm
Shutter: 1/1250 second
Aperture: F/4
ISO: 100
Photoshop: Slight crop, Auto color, dodged shadows very slightly, increased saturation very slightly.

Galapagos Hawk and its photographers

A funny thing happened today…

Posted by Arlo on Dec 16, 2010 under Life of Arlo, Postcard Valet, Travel

Today started out like any other day…

Does any story starting with that line ever finish with, “and then it ended just like any other day?” No.  No, of course not.

Today started out like any other day.  Oksana got up early for her four-hour, one-on-one Spanish lesson and left me sleeping in bed.  I woke up an hour or so later and went about my normal routine.  A few pushups, a few sit-ups, I grabbed a quick shower.  I was out the door at 10am.  After a week of classes, I had finally been invited to meet her instructor.

The streets in front of the language institute were crowded because today was a big day for all the local boys and girls.  School after school paraded their children in front of the judging stands set along the parade route.  The girls, no matter how young, were decked out in provocative mini-skirts and cleavage-bearing tops, while the boys were sharply dressed in 3-piece suits.  Hundreds (if not thousands) of drums and xylophones played the same song, mostly in synch, as the boys and girls marched, mostly in step.

I didn’t so much meet Oksana’s instructor as say hello and then stand behind her for 40 minutes.  It was impossible to talk over the marching music.

Afterwards, Oksana and I went back to the hostel to check our email before lunch.  The women that run the rooftop cafe during breakfast were rendering sugarcane syrup on the stove and, like magic, dozens of bees had found their way into the glassed-in room.  While uploading some photos to Facebook, one stung me on the Achilles tendon.  It was a completely unwarranted attack; I was sitting perfectly still!  I flicked the bee off and removed the stinger within five seconds.  It throbbed for 10 minutes or so, but that was about it.

We decided to leave the beehive and go get some lunch.  We walked the four blocks to Cafe Pan Rico and sat down in the empty cafe.  I had a banana batido (basically a warm, banana-flavored milkshake) and a nice fruit bowl, covered in yogurt and granola.  Oksana opted for just a blackberry batido. We stopped by the market on the way back and bought a couple of deep-fried banana and cheese empanadas, too.

I was feeling sleepy, so I convinced Oksana to take a nap with me.  She agreed, so we stretched out in bed and tried to ignore all the street noises coming from beyond our window.  The maid hadn’t cleaned our room yet, so we knew that we’d be woken up by a knock at the door before too long.

And, an hour or so later, that’s exactly what happened.  There was a knock at the door and I jumped up to get it before she had a chance to barge in on us.  Oksana stayed in bed, awake, but feigning sleep.

I answered the door; there were two cute maids looking up at me (I stand a full head taller than most women around here.)

“Would you like your room cleaned?” she asked.  Or at least it was something very similar to that, just in Spanish.

“No, not today, I don’t think.”  I reached around to the hooks on the wall and put my hand on two wet towels. “But maybe we can just change the…”

I guess that’s when I passed out.

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PV012: The Ecuadorian Jungle

Posted by Arlo on Dec 11, 2010 under Postcard Valet, PV-Podcast, Travel, Videos

When we finished our boat excursion in the Galapagos, we had to plan out the rest of our time there.  Our friend, Jeff, only had a week or so left with us, so we deferred to him.  What would he like to do?  See more of the Galapagos or, perhaps, something else in Ecuador?  He wanted to see the Amazon jungle.

This was an interesting video to put together.  Because of the rain, for most of the day trip we only ever hauled out Oksana’s tiny little point-and-shoot camera (a Panasonic Lumix TZ5.)  It doesn’t even compare to the other cameras we had tucked away under our raincoats, but I was surprised to discover its 720p HD video mode and marginal microphone were more than capable of telling that day’s story.

The day before Jeff left (Dec 6), we sorted through our footage, pounded out a rough outline, and shot our voice-overs on the roof of Plantas y Blanco, our hostel — which accounts for much of the background noise in the final edit — all in about 3 hours.  While not perfect, I do like how most of the video turned out.

What do you think?  Does the image quality stack up to some of the previous episodes we’ve done?

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