It is hard to believe that it has been over ten years since my last around the world, year long trip. As today is new years eve, I am naturally reminiscing about the last year but also thinking about what the new year has in store for me. And sometimes you need to look back at your past before you can look forward to the future. So, with that in mind, the following blog post is an article which I wrote for Digital SLR Photography magazine back in 2008.
The atmosphere that greeted us in Buenos Aires was electric. After months of planning and preparation we had reached our first destination on an around the world trip that was going to take us to twelve countries over an eleven month period.
After a couple of days exploring the Argentinean capital, we took an internal flight to the Iguazu Falls World Heritage Site where I explored the virtues of using a medium telephoto lens to isolate elements of this spectacular series of waterfalls. From the heat of the tropics and the sounds of the jungle coming alive at night, we took another flight far south to Ushuaia – The self proclaimed southernmost city in the world.
We were literally carrying everything we required for the years trip on our backs. This meant that alongside the required camping gear, clothes and personal articles, I had to somehow make room for my camera gear. I was trying to travel relatively light although in reality once I had packed my Canon Eos 5d SLR body, 24 – 105 IS L Lens, 70 – 200 L Lens, extension tubes, assorted filters, Manfrotto tripod and my MacBook it was never really going to happen!
From Ushuaia our next port of call was to be Chile and the Torres Del Paine National Park – home to the stereotypical Patagonian peaks that grace the pages of numerous books and magazines. We stored some of our excess gear at a local guesthouse and proceeded to undertake the Torres circuit track – A circular track through some of the parks most spectacular scenery. Wind was the photographers’ enemy here with gusts strong enough to shake a camera on the sturdiest of tripods. Luckily the image stabilising function on my lens helped, as did using a higher ISO setting to help ensure a faster shutter speed consequently reducing the chances of camera shake.
Onwards from the Torres our route headed northbound as we alternated between both sides of the Argentinean and Chilean border, taking in such diverse locations as the Perito Moreno Glacier, Fitz Roy, Chloe Island and the Lanin National Park. We had traversed the entire Patagonian region and I had consequently amassed a large collection of yet unprocessed images.
Considering the logistics of our trip it is hardly surprising that I had to have a strict workflow routine. In the first instance all captured images were transferred from my compact flash cards to the laptop and then subsequently burnt onto two DVD’s, one of which Lynette then carried in her backpack whilst the other one was sent back to the UK and transferred to an external hard drive on another PC. Once the DVD’s were burnt, all of the images were imported in Iview MediaPro, which was then used to sort and organise the files. Rejected images were then deleted from the laptop to help conserve hard drive space.
Upon reaching San Pedro de Atacama in the Atacama Desert, Chile, we took a three-day excursion over the Chilean border in the Southern Altiplano region of Bolivia. I am not normally a fan of guided tours as I generally find that the best light of the day will clash with meal times and that the use of a tripod is virtually impossible, although in this instance there really was not another option. My fears were justified in some ways, with my only saving grace being my image stabilising lens and the fact that the final day of the tour included a sunrise trip to the world’s largest salt lake – The Salar de Uyuni.
The harsh terrain of the Bolivian Altiplano caused problems for both my camera and me. The extreme altitude made physical exertion difficult and in some instance even the slightest activity left me short of breath. As for the camera, the amount of dust and wind meant that the changing of lenses without gathering dust particles on the sensor was virtually impossible. I often resulted to the old tested method of placing the camera under my jacket and trying to change the lenses with the body facing down. This helped but was by no means 100% effective.
After the heat of the mid day desert sun, the temperate climate of New Zealand was a welcomed relief. Having lived in New Zealand for a year back in 2000, we both knew exactly where we wanted to visit and more importantly, the tracks that we wanted to walk. At the top of this list was the infamous ‘Dusky Track’. Traversing a distance of 84 kilometres through a remote area of the Fiordland National Park, part of the Te Wahipounamu – South West New Zealand World Heritage Area, the Dusky track has gained its reputation as a challenging trail due to its terrain and the fact that large areas are prone to flooding. The ‘Dusky’ has claimed the life of numerous trampers in the past and as such required a certain degree of preparation before we could attempt it. With this in mind, we carefully chose the time of year to undertake the tramp, opting for the autumn months when on average the levels of rainfall are lower and the hours of day light sufficient enough to complete each days hike.
The remoteness of the track dictated that I had to carry less camera equipment, opting for the Eos 5D, 24-105 lens and tripod, to make way for essential safety gear including a locator beacon. The landscape encountered on the track was incredible and the biggest problem we actually had was balancing the time spent walking alongside photography. Luckily, we always made it to the next hut before dark and avoided a cold and damp night in the bush.
The New Zealand winter provided amazing photographic opportunities although it was a bit chilly sleeping in a self converted campervan without power! I can wholeheartedly recommend the MacBook regarding its performance in extreme conditions. It handled the heat and dust of South America impeccably and whilst it did survive New Zealand, I did have reason for concern after a particularly cold night. Upon ‘booting up’ the laptop, what I can only describe as a spiders web of coloured lines appeared across the entire screen. Somewhat distressed, I turned off the Mac and tried to distract my thoughts with breakfast and a cup of coffee before starting it up again. By now, and with great relief, the screen had started to return to normal and I can only presume that the LCD screen has started to freeze – not unimaginable as we had ice on the inside roof of the camper van that night and the outside temperature reached -10°c!
From New Zealand we headed to Australia in search of sun. However, Tasmania is not renown as the warmest place in Australia and after our first nights camping in the Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park we awoke to about 10cms of snow covering our tent! As we were planning to hike another classic walk, The Overland Track, we were forced to sit out the weather for a couple of days before heading over the mountain pass. These few unplanned stationery days however allowed me to get close to the wildlife foraging for food in the winter conditions, and to return with some intimate images of a Tasmanian Pademelon.
Our next port of call, Borneo, has always been a dream destination of mine. We visited the Sabah Malaysia area of the region and once again put on our hiking boots (although this time I left the tripod in storage) to ascend Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in South East Asia at 4095 metres above sea level. This involved reaching the top in two stages by hiking to base camp the first day and then a 2am start to reach the summit for dawn. A few days later after we had rested our weary legs, we spent a couple of days at the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre where the local Orang-utan population were more than happy to pose for the camera. In fact they were so un-fazed by the tourists and camera flashes greeting them that one of the Orang-utans actually came to close for my 70-200 mm lens to focus. They were fascinating to watch and I was really moved by the good work of the centre and the volunteers.
We arguably had now kept the greatest adventure for the final leg of our trip, a classic overland journey from the Thai capitol of Bangkok to the ChineseSpecial Administrative Region of Hong Kong. We left Thailand on a basic but clean bus heading towards the Cambodian border. After the necessary checks were completed at the border, we found ourselves being loaded onto a somewhat rustic bus that was to take us to Siam Reap along what can only be described as the road to hell – if I can describe it as a road at all! It has been rumoured that a certain Asian airline has paid a large amount of money to the Cambodian government to ensure that the road is not developed or even surfaced, presumably to ensure that visitors to Cambodia’s mystic gem choose to travel by air rather than a rustic dirt road.
After a day at the mesmerising Angkor Wat, we found ourselves back on the road and then by boat on the mighty Mekong River as we headed north to the laid back lifestyle of Laos. After a few days relaxing in the Mekong Delta we continued our adventure as we entered Vietnam.
Vietnam certainly was hard work and kept us on our toes but like our other destinations it provided numerous photographic opportunities. Our time spent in the north of the country took us to the mountainous village of Sapa where we passed a few days exploring the town and hours of endless fun haggling with woman and children from the local hill tribes. Back down at sea level, we enjoyed the picturesque Halong Bay and I discovered the benefits of a seaward facing hotel balcony as I captured images of the harbour at sunset from an elevated position of some eight storeys!
Heading 10 hours north on an overnight train we arrived in South East China. The Chinese architecture and evening illuminations in the city of Guilin offered yet more photographic opportunities as did the karst landscape of Yangshuo with towering pinnacles dominating the landscape surrounding the town. A somewhat scary overnight bus journey took us to our final destination of Hong Kong. The skyline of the city was particularly impressive whilst the evening lightshow was a fitting urban finale to our worldwide travels!