Patagonia: El Calafate, Santa Cruz, Argentina

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Flamingoes on Lago Argentino

6 January 2011

El Calafate is the largest town here at Parc Nationale de Glacieriares but it is still a small town with tens of thousand inhabitants. It is named after Calafate berry that is close to blueberry and make very good jam and sorbet. I know because I’ll be on a lookout for it at every meal. This is where the airport is, a port of entry for most tourists to this region of Patagonia. As you would expect, tourist shops and fancy restaurants with Argentinian themes are all over the main street and once you step off one block away it dies down to the feeling of a small sleepy town. There is even a casino, just in case tourists are sick of the mountains and decided to go back to something more “exciting”.

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Welcome to El Calafate, I guess.

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The Casino

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The drinking hole…

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… and some local souvenirs…

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Not to mention some shopping places.

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Old trucks

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Lago Argentino

Outside the western end of the city is a nature preserve with flamingoes standing on one leg. They looked pretty far away, even with a 600mm telephoto you’d probably get just a pink speck. The water is not deep at all and i don’t think it is worth wading in it to get close to the flamingoes. They would just fly away anyway. But there is probably nothing much more to do other than to look at the tourist shops and buy a fridge magnet or some artisanal chinese-made souvenir, so the best thing to do would be to take a good walk to the lake. It is, after all, a place for some R&R.

It is a pretty long walk. A few kilometers at least, and takes me through the heart of the tourist El Calafate. The main street is full of tourist memorabilia and outdoor shops, parilla-style and italian restaurants plus a casino smack in the middle of it all, clearly intended to be the centre of attraction. The prices of the restaurants on the main street is comparable to the ones that you find in Buenos Aires, which is normal I guess. Off the main street the prices seem to drop somewhat. There are pockets of area where the shops seem a little more upscale, kind of like the place where rich tourists would visit. I don’t get the idea of looking for a quaint shop in the middle of a town that is obviously not quaint. Its like looking for local hamburger in the provinces in China. It just doesn’t fit in, but you see that in every tourist town. Perhaps that’s how you tell a tourist town from a real functioning town with its own economy that doesn’t really bother with tourist dollars.

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Parilla, how could I resist…

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Saying the people here are carnivores is an understatement. This is a platter for 2. 2!

The cars here are a mix of old and new. The old cars here are pretty old and badly maintained. It’s probably not such a bad thing since this town is so small people don’t drive faster than what is required with a first gear anyway. I did see some speeding along a secondary road but most cars were going 20kmph at the most. Even at that speed it takes 15 minutes to get from one end of the town to the other end. Then on the other end of the spectrum are the fast cars, and I have no idea where they are planning to go in such a hurry.

We get to the nature preserve and noticed that while there is no man made barrier between us and the birds, one would have to go over marshes and mud to get close. And don’t let the distance fool you, it looks quite far away, but in actual fact it is even farther than that. So I’m happy enough to stay close to the main road and hope to get some shots of the flamingoes from there. There are some birds around closer to the main road as well, so I take those as easy prey. The flamingoes get to escape from my camera this time. I figured out if I could get close enough and getting mud all over me from doing so, there is no guarantee that it will not just decide to all fly off at the same time. I think flamingos could fly.

Generally there is not much to do here. But considering there are not too many towns in the vicinity, El Calafate would make a good base with Moreno glacier less than 2 hours to the west and Cerro Torre and Fitzroy 3-4 hours drive away around Lago Argentino and Viedma to the northwest. Next, bring on Chile!

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Waking up to sheeps outside the hotel window!

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Southern Lap Wing

Proceed to Torres del Paine National Park, Chile…

Fujikawaguchiko, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan

What a hectic weekend. Saturday morning flight to Haneda airport followed by a drive to Fujikawaguchiko and the rush back the next day to catch the last flight from Haneda. This trip was supposed to take place the week before (31st October) but was delayed because of Typhoon Chaba, which would have caused non stop weekend of rain. And there would be no way Mount Fuji would be visible from the town located 10km away to the north.
If you have followed this site quite a bit, you would have noticed that this is one of my favourite sites to shoot Mount Fuji. I could wake up early in the morning and walk 30 mins to the other side of Kawaguchiko across the bridge and set up my tripod before 6am. And in the last 3 times I have been here, Mount Fuji would always be visible in the morning along with a calm lake to catch some reflection. Kawaguchiko is large enough not to be perfectly calm, and the wind does kick in about 7-7:30am. So get there early. I will not detail too much how to get there, the easiest would be via the Keio Express bus line from Shinjuku just opposite Yodobashi Camera. And as a primer, Fuji 5 Lakes regions composes of… of course, 5 lakes. From the right to the left, there’s Yamakako, which I have never been, and since I have not heard too much about the view there, I have no plans to visit since it is also out of the way. Kawaguchiko is arguably the easiest one to access, as it is just situated by Fujikawaguchiko and the northern shore is littered with attractions like a monkey show and a music box museum. The views here are one of the best accessible without long hikes and a car, and Mount Fuji looks symmetrical from here. The only possible issue is that the town would be visible in your picture of the famous mountain. Only an issue if you’re after the mountain sans civilization. Just next to it would be Saiko, where Mount Fuji is not visible at all, obscured by a close by hill. News has it that Saiko is a good fishing place. Next to it, a little drive a way is Shojiko, which I think rivals Kawaguchiko. Cars could drive to the lake bank facing Mount Fuji, and you could get down to water level. What you would see on the opposite bank on the foot of the mountain is just pure nature. However, Shojiko is not that easy to reach without your own car. The public buses don’t run regularly, so you may have 1 hour there and if you do not get on the returning bus, the wait may be quite long. No buses at night the last time I checked, so night time shooting by bus would be impossible. One could camp by the lake side though. The last one is Motosuko, a relatively large lake, with an elevated vantage point at the far side of the lake. It is even more remote than Shojiko. This is also the view of Mount Fuji that could be found at the back of a 100 yen note.

Lets see what we have here…

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Shoji-ko: This is one of the first shot of this Autumn season for me. The EXIF reads 5:30pm and it was already dark. Exposure reads 30 secs at f5.6 on a 28-70mm. It was already dark when I got there, and the long exposure lights up the mountain a bit. I kept the foreground dark to convey the evening mood. You could see car lights on the right at the bottom of the mountain, and some faint lights at what could be the mountain 5th station. AT this time of the year, the snow cap is starting to grow, but obviously it is still early.

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Shoji-ko: This is one of my favourite picture of the shoot. Exposure reads 4 minutes 30 seconds and f8. I did another one that was 20mins long but came up to almost a blank shot. I had a ND8 on the lens and I would have to stretched it to 1hour exposure if I was to get something like this. What I wanted to do with this shot was to have a long enough exposure to catch the star trail. You could also faintly notice a line of a passing aircraft. I would have wished to have more time here, I guess I will explore the possibility to camp here the next time. Would have been great to catch an hour long star trail.

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Kawaguchiko: This was taken at very close to 6am. Note the vapour on the lake surface. This morning was not what I hoped for, with cloudy skies in the morning. When I got to the lakeside at 5:30am the mountain was covered in clouds, but almost always it clears at close to 6am when the faint trace of sunshine appears. You also notice that Fujikawaguchiko town is quite prominent in the foreground. This is a 4 sec exposure at f8, at about 40mm, and I cropped the top and bottom of the original frame. You also noticed that the view from Kawaguchiko is a little different, with the long gentle sloping sides of the mountain visible from here, while at Shojiko, the slope is quite strong.

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Kawaguchiko: Looking at the east at the rising sun. The only good thing about a cloudy day is that the morning red sun glow is quite strong.

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Kawaguchiko: With the sun starting to appear in the morning, Mount Fuji starts to glow a little shade of red. This scene only lasts not more than 10 mins. In fact I think it might have been shorter than that. So this is where an ergonomic camera comes in, when you switch from one scene and light type to another. The controls has to be easily found and you do not have the luxury of diving into the menus to change something.

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Tochigi, Japan: Return to Senjogahara Plateau

Chuzenji-no-taki: Chuzenji waterfall
You could say Tochigi is my playground. I just love the place. Take a long slow train over to Tobu-Nikko station and there are many options. Most tourists would spend the whole day at the temple complex, Toshogu, Rinnoji and of course, snap photos of the stable with 3 monkeys. But the hidden gem of Nikko is the many hiking opportunities like Chuzenji to the northwest and Kirifuri area to the northeast.I’ve been to Senjogahara and Kirifuri before, and the links are embedded in the two names in this sentence.

Senjogahara Plateau

Senjogahara is in the northwest just further up from Chuzenji. Chuzenji is, of course, synonymous with a waterfall, not just a normal waterfall, but one that drops hundreds of meters. The lake that feeds the waterfall, Chuzenji lake, is relatively large, and on a plateau in the highlands. On a summer day, there are anglers spaced evenly along its banks. I don’t have proof, but it does look like you need to have permit to fish there and you are probably assigned slots. They do look spaced out a little too evenly to be random!

Fly Fisherman on Yukawa River

... And more fly fishing...

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Travels: Nanxiang, Shanghai, China

Pavillion at Guyi Garden, Nanxiang
Shanghai is famous for this little dumpling with thin skin and soup inside. Bite it and if still hot off the steamer, it guarantees a scalding where it hurts.

The most famous restaurant in shanghai that sells them by the bucketloads, figuratively speaking, is Nanxiang Restaurant over by that tourist hole, Yuyuan Garden right in the middle of the city. Its not too far from where I stay and on weekends, I sometimes take the walk over, and stand in the half and hour queue (if I’m lucky). Its not the best in Shanghai though and its quite obvious it’s famous because it’s famous, no more. Nanxiang Restaurant also starts to expand with branches overseas.

Shanghai Bus, encountered on the way looking for that bus that will take me to Nanxiang

So not to dwell too much in stories, I found out during a chat with a colleague that the xiao loong bao, what this tasty dumpling is called, was first invented in a town called Nanxiang. Just tens of kilometre from downtown Shanghai so close that a public bus (actually many from all points) runs there from the Shanghai railway station, so we found out after browsing the chinese languaged internet. So quickly this became my mission for the coming weekend.

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Travels: Sichuan Province Part 4, Jiuzhaigou National Park, China

Cotton-like plants are found all over Jiuzhaigou Park, with one of the colourful lakes forming the perfect backdrop
Jiuzhaigou is one of those places in china where it is said you can never miss and you have not been to a certain place if you have never seen it. It has definitely appeared many many times in pictures. First time I heard of it was a few years back when it was said it was very difficult to get to. I don’t know when they went or heard about it, but I see there are airports near the park, and there are official tourist buses going from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou with daily bus (yes, singular) and in the parks are roads going to all sights and mini buses plying the route. Surely not in accessible, but nevertheless, still a place not to be missed. We shall see if this is a boast or truth.

16 November 2008: Taking the 8 am bus to Jiuzhaigou from Chengdu’s Xinnanmen station. The bus station looks like a special station for tourist areas, but on the inside other than the metal detectors and xray machines, it looks like any other station. The buses look newer and the windows are fixed, so naturally I was afraid of the species known as the smoking chinese. But looks like the locals going to tourist places are a special type. During the whole trip, the guy in front of me had a half burnt cigarette in his fingers for hours but kept the urge to light it. In fact, no one smoked on this trip in the bus. Amazing show of patience. The only two things that irritated me were some passengers playing their songs on their mobile phone speakers and a guy eating process meat that smelled like coffee flavored chicken and a hint of chloroform. Smells nauseous. Overall, the trip was a lot nicer than the 12hrs bus to Xiaojing in part 2. Bearable.

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Travels: Overnight in Hangzhou West Lake, China (26-27 October 2008)

This marks the first time I’m taking a train from the new Shanghai South train station. I have been here a couple of times but it is impossible to get train tickets to Hangzhou on the day itself, especially for weekend trains. When that happens go to the back of the station and take the long distance bus instead. It is a little more expensive and takes longer to get to Hangzhou. But what matters is that it’s the train today. Plan this trip is to spend a night at the west Lake in Hangzhou and shoot morning at the lake. Too bad weather will be bad this weekend but lets see what comes out of it.
Hangzhou should look better in spring and one of the equinox days, but I’ll treat this trip as a scouting trip. Found a hostel (Mingtown Garden Hostel) on the west bank of the lake, strategic for morning pictures on the lake. Lenses I brought goes from 12mm to 50mm on DX sensor, and a rangefinder for night shots. I’m rather self sufficient this trip. I have a towel, and change of clothes. Packs quite small into the backpack. Will be using primarily this E71 for GPS duties, but I just can’t leave the Garmin behind so that is in the bag as well. I really need to think about leaving things behind and not duplicate for the duties I will be performing during trips!

Packed quite heavily for a weekend trip. Normally I’ll just bring a small pack for a night, but I’m trying to simulate my next medium duration trip next month. Going with a 30 litre pack with external attachments. On the left side is attached a gitzo 1541T tripod and my mont bell jacket attached on the right. In a small bag inside the pack is a leica M2 with 35mm f1.2 Voigtlander and in the second think tank speed demon belt pack is a Nikon D300 with 2 lenses. This is quite a heavy setup. Will need to lighten up for the longer trip. The backpack balances quite well, but definitely no room for a sleeping back if I need one. Will be travelling with the ipod touch and just a phone/blog machine this time. No blackberry. That will stay home.

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Travels: Okutama, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan

View from Okutama Dam (Ricoh GR Digital)
Okutama is an area of wilderness in Tokyo prefecture, lodged on the western end of it, looks close to Tokyo but according to schedules, takes almost the same amount time to get to as Nikko. The plan would be to hike from the train station to the lake and then back. Figured 4-5hrs hike to get there.

Okutama Forest  (Leica M2 + Summicron 35mm ASPH)

Traveling light today. Only cameras are the Ricoh, which comes along with me everywhere and a Leica M2 with 35mm Summicron ASPH lens. Weather is 50% chance of rain, which in my experience means sure chance of a drizzle. Whether or not it will get me wet is another story. This trip sees my old GPS tagging along, fresh from its stint in New Zealand last week and a newly charged battery to boot. Shouldn’t have the urge to buy overpriced batteries anymore.

Something about this pile caught my eye, has to be the neoprene suit  (Leica M2 + Summicron 35mm ASPH)

0804hrs: On the Chuo rapid line to Tachikawa station before switching to a train that hopefully ends up at Okutama. This rapid train seems to stop at Musashi-Kagonei. A swith will be required to get to Tachikawa.

I should be going to Okutama now (Ricoh GR Digital)

0844hrs: Train change at Tachikawa. Surprisingly large train station this. Chuo line is on platforms 3-6 and Ome line that goes to Okutama in on platform 1-2. Only problem for me is that the first train i see on the platform goes towards Okutama but stops short in Kabe. looks like another stop is in order here.

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