Archive for May, 2011

Spot Nate?

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Spot recently came out with this new GPS tracking device called the Spot Connect.    It’s a small hockey puck looking GPS receiver/transmitter that can sync with the iphone. Being the gadget freak that I am I picked one up to test out. One of the functions is an option to track your progress and send near real time updates via satellite to a webpage.  No wifi or 3G signal needed.  I’m heading out to the black hills in South Dakota so I’m going to give it try. If it works as expected you will be able to track my progress via the map above link here.

You can also use it to send short e-mails, update your facebook and twitter accounts and activate an SOS signal to have somewhere come rescue you if need.

Here is static page that will have my latest location… if this thing actually works.  Spot Nate!

At some point I’ll figure out how to integrate my latest location to the google map at the top of page showing all our travels.  Haven’t been able to figure that out yet so if anyone knows how drop me a line.

The arduous process to get a Russian tourist visa

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

The process to get a Russian tourist visa is a complicated one.  Even more so if you are an American.  Here is what we had to go through in order to get tourist visas for our long weekend trip to Moscow and St Petersburg.

Step 1) Get a tourist voucher from the hotel.  This is an official document that needs to be issued by a hotel or travel agency inviting you to visit Russia.  It’s pretty easy to get but did take a couple days for the hotel to issue it.  There wasn’t any cost as long as you stayed at the hotel.  Travel agencies will also issue it free of charge as long as you do a tour with them.

Step 2)  Download the visa application forms.  Visa form for US, UK, and Canadians here.  Everyone else can download the one here.

Step 3) The form for US citizens asks for an extraordinary amount of detail.  Some of the things they ask for are:

  • List EVERY educational institution you have EVER attended.
  • List EVERY professional, civil and charity organization which you are / were a member of or cooperated with.  Really?  I asked for clarification on this one and the visa officer said that even if I donated money to a charity that needed to be listed.
  • And my personal favorite, list ALL the countries you have visited in the last ten years and indicate the year of visit.  I’ve been to about 50 countries and the visa officer made me list them all out on a separate piece of paper with the year of visit.

How many people would actually remember of all these things and what would happen if it wasn’t accurate?

If you aren’t a US, UK or Canadian citizen then the form is very simple.  It’s the standard stuff like name, address, trip duration, etc.  None of the details that were required for americans.

Step 4)  Take all these forms and a passport sized photo to the Russia immigration office and wait for a week for them to issue your visa.  Americans need to pay about $150 USD and others need to pay about $50 for the standard processing time for a single entry tourist visa.

Ok… so maybe it wasn’t all that arduous but I did spend more time getting a visa to get into russia than any other country I visited.  It was worth the trouble.  A trip review for our long weekend in St Petersburg and Moscow will be posted shortly.


Antarctica Expedition – Video Slideshow & trip summary

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

It took me almost 6 months but I finally got through all the pictures and video from our trip to Antarctica.  We did take over 10,000 photos and several hours of video.  It takes a while to parse that down into a 9 minute video slideshow.  Enjoy…

Don’t forget to check out the previous posts from our Antarctica Expedition.

Also check out the web galley of the best pics from the trip here.

New Years Eve in Rio de Janeiro – soaked in champagne and almost trampled to death

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

New Years Eve concert in Rio

It's hard to describe how many people were actually on the beach in Rio. Even helicopter shots of the crowd couldn't capture the scale.

Several minutes before midnight on New Years Eve over 3 million people on Copacabana beach in Rio shifted their focus from the concert on the main stage to the water where the fire works were going to take place.

Massive New Years Eve crowds in Rio

The scary part was many of the revelers didn’t just shift their focus… they started to move.  Miki and I had the unfortunate position of being between the massive crowd and the water.  Beach chairs started to get trampled, barricades fell over, security guards lost control, people (including us) started to panic.

Luckily, 2 brazilian guys with their girlfriends were also standing next to us so us 3 guys formed a sort of protective triangle around our significant others.  It worked.  We moved with the flow for about 5 minutes keeping our girls protected and then as quickly as the madness started… it all stopped.  One of the guys said with a kind of embarrassed proudness, “welcome to Brazil”.  We popped the champagne and toasted to avoiding death and to a happy new year.

New Years Eve in Rio

We captured some of the madness on video.  Check out the concert, crowds, fireworks, and the throngs of people in the short video below.

More of our trip to Rio after the break…


Top 10 Essentials For Making Better Travel Photos

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Doing the Polar Plunge in front of the National Geographic Explorer

We liked our trip to Antarctica on the National Geographic Explorer so much we booked another trip on the same ship to the Arctic this summer.  In preparation of the trip to Arctic, they had National Geographic photographer Ralph Lee Hopkins give a webinar on the Top 10 Essentials For Making Better Travel Photos.  These tips don’t just apply to trips to the arctic.  They are very useful tips that will help you take better travel photos wherever you go.  Click on the link here to watch the webinar.

Here are the top 10 tips that Ralph covers in his presentation.

1. Get organized

2. Aim and Create

3. White balance

4. Control ISO

5. Shooting modes

6. Holding steady

7. Master exposure

8. Think composition

9. Dare to experiment

10. Power of moment

India Tiger Safari – Video Slideshow

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

Our Indian Tiger Safari produced some of the best wildlife photographs I’ve taken to date.  This video slideshow showcases the best of the best along with some amazing video footage of tigers and other animals of india.

A gallery of the best photos from the trip can be found here.

Don’t forget to check out the previous blog posts about this trip.

New Delhi – was that a holi water balloon?

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

The "holi" gauntlet

As our tuk-tuk driver led us on foot down this seemingly innocent looking alleyway to go see a temple, the people that occupied the alley when we entered had disappeared when we were walking back out.  I didn’t think anything of it at first but then as I was walking ahead of Miki with our guide, I head a loud noise and then an ear piercing scream.  I instantly turned around and saw Miki had stopped dead in her tracks and was looking skyward.  She wasn’t hurt.  No one was near here…

What happened, I yelled.

I was hit by a water balloon she replied.

What?  A water balloon?

Our tuk-tuk driver interjected with a big smile on his face and said, “don’t worry… it’s holy”

Huh?  A holy water balloon.  The balloon is filled with holy water? That makes it’s ok that Miki got hit by a water balloon that someone threw off a 4 story building.

No, no our tuk-tuk driver replied.  It’s for the festival called holi (with an i not a y).  The kids are just practicing.

Still confused as ever we shrugged it off and kept on exploring the market in the old part of Delhi.  We later found out that India had a festival coming up where they throw colored powder and colored water at each other.  The main day of the festival was 2 days from now and kids were already honing their water balloon throwing skills on unsuspecting tourists.  There weren’t many other tourists around so we became high value targets and had multiple attacks during our short walk.  Those kids are very quick and this was the best picture I could get of two of them.

2 holi attackers

We had to leave Delhi the day before the festival which is to bad.  I would have like to prepared myself for battle and gotten some revenge :)  Lot’s of people were getting ready for the festival and the street vendors were there to help.

Street vendor selling colored powder for holi

Colored powder for the holi festival... it gets everywhere.

Our tuk-tuk driver continued to take us around the old delhi markets.  The sights, sounds, and smells you experience are what travelling is all about.  This was a different planet.

Old Delhi market tour

Drivers in India are some of the craziest yet most skilled drivers we’ve had the experience to ride along with during our travels.  Our driver could easily talk on his cell phone while a motorbike was speeding past a truck that was heading right for us.  Our driver didn’t flinch and mildly steered out of the way continuing his conversation as our knuckles turned white hanging onto the railings for dear life.

Delhi's crazy drivers

The best part of visiting markets around the world is mixing with the locals.  Miki is an expert at that and always love trying her hand at new professions.

Miki the vegetable seller

Miki the tricycle driver

Miki the nut and spice merchant

You know those immigration cards you need to fill out when you enter back into your home country.  There is usually a check box that says have you handled any livestock during your trip abroad… or something like that.  I wonder if this counts.

handling livestock?

A final panorama of Delhi…

Our hotel concierge, taxi driver, and even a few blogs recommended to stay away from this area of Delhi because it’s too dangerous.  I’m glad we went and explored a little even though we had a few scary moments with some water balloon attacks.  All part of the fun of travelling.

One last thing, you know what a mid western, meat and potato boy craves after eating nothing but indian curry for 2 solid weeks… a Big Mac.  Luckily there was a Mc Donalds close by so off we went.   We entered the golden arches and I stood patiently in line waiting for my turn to order.  While waiting I took a look at the menu and…. WHAT… no Big Mac.  No double quarter pounder with cheese.  In fact, no meet at all.  Duh… cows are sacred in India which means no beef.  Not a problem though.  The Chicken Maharaja Mac to the rescue.  Not as good as beef laden Big Mac but it still hit the spot.

Chicken Maharaja Mac

Bandhavgarh and Kanha National Parks… more than just tigers

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

Bandhavgarh Landscape

Bandhavgarh and Kanha National Parks have much more to offer than just tigers.  The tigers are the main tourist draw and it was the main reason we came here but they aren’t the only attraction.  Both parks are different and I’ll go over some of the best non-tiger things that Bandhavgarh has to offer first.

The most obvious non tiger things to do in Bandhavgarh is to photograph the many other animals.  My favorite pictures came from the plethora of bird sightings which I posted about earlier but there were also plenty of deer, wild boar, and langur monkeys to search for.  Sometimes you didn’t have to search that hard as was the case in the langur monkey roadblock.

Langur Monkey Roadblock

There is also the Bandhavgarh fort which makes for a nice afternoon hike (or a extraordinarily strenuous climb if you asked our guide Talat).  You can have your guide arrange to visit the fort in between your morning and afternoon game drives.  It can get pretty hot in the middle of the day so be prepared.  Also have you lodge pack a lunch for you because the views from the top of the hill are the perfect backdrop for a picnic.

View from Bandhavgarh Fort

Talat struggling on the long way around to Bandhavgarh Fort

The climb to the top of the fort wasn’t that bad but it was a little bit of hike.  For my marathon running wife she bounced up like it was nothing.  However, if you’re an out of shape photographer that spends most of his time sitting in the back of jeep taking photos of tigers then it could be a bit of a challenge.

If you hire Talat from Wild Life Photo Tours for your India safari make sure to say Nathan recommended to hike to the top of the Bandhavgarh fort.  He’ll think that its a great idea :)  If he doesn’t thank you then I’m sure his wife will thank you for giving him som exercise… sorry Talat… I just had to mention this.











Talat passing out after finally making it to the top

The views from up here were great.  There was also a vulture nest on the side of the cliff I tried to take a photo of.  Unfortunately, it was just a little to far away to get a decent shot with the lens I brought up with me.

Nathan at the top of Bandhavgarh Fort

There were also some pretty cools ruins to explore on your way up to the fort.  The first one is a big statue of Lord Vishnue reclining on a seven headed serpent.  You can see the pics of the others below.  All in all, it was a nice break from the game drives and I recommend a trip to the top of Bandhavgarh Fort.

Read more about Bandhavgarh and Kanha after the break.