Wednesday, November 20: Angkor Wat

Our guide here in Siem Reap, Sunny (1), picked us up this morning at 9:00am for our first tour here, to Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat, November 2019

Angkor Wat is reputedly the largest religious structure in the world at 400 acres. It was originally constructed in the eleventh century as a Hindu temple, and then transformed into a Buddhist one later in the century as a new king and the population moved to Buddhism.

He has a future coaching in the NFL, November 2-19

We spent almost three hours at Angkor Wat. Sunny didn’t accompany us; rather, we were introduced to an archeologist and expert on the local temples who proceeded to give us the survey course in Angkor Wat. Neither Sally or I could understand his name, much less remember it. But he was earnest, intense and extremely knowledgeable. He was also completely relaxed with any questions we asked, no matter that he just got finished explaining that fact to us.

Dancing girls, myths and warriors, November 2019

Pretty much all of the walls – thousands of feet worth – are covered with engravings that tell the various stories of old Khmer myths and the king’s victories. They are the usual stuff you see in old buildings – dancing girls, warriors, animals real and mythical.

Hard to appreciate the scale, November 2019

Although it was crowded, we didn’t feel it was too crowded to enjoy. I was able to get many pictures with no one in them, but then you miss the scale of the place.

Monks, scholars and dancing girls, November 2019

And many of the people themselves were interesting.

Our oasis, November 2019

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was hot and we were tired. We went for lunch in the restaurant, then spent some time by our pool.

Sunset at the oasis, November 2019

The Phum Baitang has a great afternoon tradition. The guests (or at least some of them) gather on the porch outside the bar and sit facing the sunset. A Mai Tai, a G&T and comfortable chairs at sunset – what more do your need?

(1) We’ve had at least one other guide named Sunny on this trip, in a different country. Maybe two.

Tuesday/Wednesday, November 19/20: A few hours in Phnom Penh

We entered Cambodia yesterday, Monday, and arrived at our dock in Phnom Penh around 7:00pm. The cruise director had announced earlier that we were free to leave the ship after dinner for a couple of hours, as long as we respected his 11:00pm curfew. While some of the other passengers planned to walk over to the nearby night market, we had a different plan with our little (1) group.

Sally & friends, November 2019

At someone’s suggestion (not mine), we decided to go to a rooftop bar for cocktails. Never mind that we had no idea where a rooftop bar in Phnom Penh was to be found, or even if there was one.

Is there a rooftop bar in this town?, November 2019

We never found a rooftop bar.

Albane and Andy decided that they could figure it out, so we all (!) climbed into a tuk tuk and they somehow got the driver to go to an address they found on the internet. The address turned out to be a nondescript building at the end of a dark alley, so we got back in the tuk and started driving again.

Every time we saw a tall building with bright lights, Albane would decide that was the rooftop bar and direct the driver – who spoke only Khmer (2) – in that direction. We finally disembarked in front of a place packed with people, some in cocktail dresses, and went in, certain it was our destination. After being led to, and walking through, an underground shopping center, we realized it was simply a casino, and there was no rooftop bar to be found.

We had our cocktails in the bar back on the Jahan.

The next morning we said goodbye to our Swiss friends and the Jahan. As our flight wasn’t until 2:30, we were able to fit in a short morning tour of Phnom Penh. We were picked up by the usual guide-and-driver team and went off to see the sights.

The Royal Palace and tomb, November 2019

The royal palace was pretty impressive. Cambodia still has a king, although he is apparently just a figurehead. The palace complex, where he actually lives (3), is a number of quite beautiful buildings.

Another temple, and the museum, November 2019

From there we went to the national museum, which housed a lot of old Hindu and Buddhist statues, and which took us all of 15 minutes to walk through (4). And then a temple. The last part of the tour was to be the local market, but we’ve already seen too many local markets.

The poor side of town, November 2019

We prevailed upon the guide to show us some non-touristy things, and he finally lead us through some small alleys in a poor section of town. From there we went to the airport to fly to Siem Reap.

(1) In addition to Elizabeth & Andy, Sally befriended another Swiss woman, Albane. Also lovely.

(2) Khmer is the language of the Khmer people, who are what we call Cambodians. We had English, German, French, Italian and Japanese amongst us, but no Khmer.

Friday, November 15: More better massage

After yesterday’s sidecar tour and lengthy lunch, we deliberately planned nothing for today. We’ve been on the road for 18 days already, and sightseeing and hitting schedules needed a pause. So we slept in (relatively speaking), lounged around our spacious room apartment, and had a late breakfast. Which led to a late lunch.

Not quite a house, but an apartment, November 2019

Some of you may know that massages and massage parlors are very prevelant in Southeast Asia, far more than in the US or Europe. They’re also pretty inexpensive, again compared to the West. And it doesn’t get any cheaper than free: Sally’s had five massages so far, and I’ve had four (1). And all we’ve paid are the tips. Which probably totaled less than $50 for both of us, and we were generous (2).

Park Hyatt spa, November 2019

Today, for instance, we each had a 30 minute foot and leg massage that was an amenity associated with how we booked our room. We both really enjoyed them (3), and both dozed off during the session. The two cost VND 1,260,000, or about $54. If you’ve ever checked out the pricing for massages in fancy hotels or resorts, you’ll know that is dirt cheap.

And just as the price at your local Massage Envy is much better than that at the Four Seasons Hotel, the price for a massage at a small place on the street is better than the Xuan Spa. You could pay as little as $10 or $12 for a 60 minute massage. Of course, the environment is unlikely to compare, and I can’t speak to the quality of the masseuse, but still.

Ho Chi Minh, November 2019

Given our late lunch, Sally wasn’t up for dinner and just had some of the fruit in the room. Rather than try and get a recommendation from the concierge (who seemed to have a limited set of recommendations anyway), I went out and wandered around. I found a large concourse, sort of like a park only completely paved,

Large portion of G&T, November 2019

Dinner was at a restaurant on the concourse that served western food. And G&T seems universally available.

(1) Not all have been a full hour, but still.

(2) We think.

(3) In contrast to the disastrous massage session on the Ginger.

Thursday, November 14: Bikers

In between our evening arrival here in HCMC (1) on Wednesday and our morning departure on Saturday we have two full days and only one scheduled tour: a motorcycle sidecar tour.

Sidecar Sally & Biker Bassman, November 2019

We were met at our hotel by Henry (2) who explained the process: we would ride with a driver (3) on the motorcycle with a sidecar attached, one of us in the sidecar and the other riding pillion (4). Guess who got the sidecar?

Riding in traffic, November 2019

I had pictures of motorbike riders in earlier posts, and you undoubtedly noticed the face masks. The air in Hanoi is pretty bad, but it’s much worse here. A significant portion of bikers wear them. I saw people get out of cars and put on masks before walking away. I saw people working at their sidewalk stores wearing masks. So we were offered masks by Henry and took them. I’m not sure they are anything more than a placebo, although they probably help with the larger particulate matter. We only wore the masks while riding on the bike.

Henry followed us on his scooter, and gave us radios with earbuds so he could talk to us while we were riding. Although we were in the traffic, we really didn’t have the same experience as if we were riding a motor bike or scooter in the city. The sidecar bike is big, heavy, loud and not nearly as maneuverable as a normal bike. Still, we were in the thick of things, in the bike lanes, surrounded by the bikes swarming like flies around a discarded fruit.

But this was more than a ride, it was a tour. When he picked us up, Henry asked what we wanted to see. We pleaded ignorance, so he took us on his favorite itinerary. The first stop was the remnants of Saigon’s floating market. Like Bangkok and the other large cities in the region, the government doesn’t like these markets for lots of reasons, including health concerns and their generally unsavory appearance. The people live on their boats and spend a few days in Saigon selling, then they sail back down to the Mekong delta where they spend a few days buying product. Among other things, it means their children don’t get much of an education (5).

Wholesale market: need 10,000 hats?, November 2019

Chinatown in Saigon is huge. Like in many other countries, the Chinese here are merchants. Years ago they built a massive market, which caters primarily to wholesalers.

Sally engages with Tim, November 2019

Our last stop on the bike was the neighborhood where Henry used to live. Sally engaged in a conversation with a little baby nam Tim who’s mother was teaching him a bit of English, and we stopped for some refreshments on the obligatory low chairs and tiny table. I was chided for finishing my Vietnamese coffee too quickly; apparently, the socially acceptable way was to spend an hour or two on two ounces of coffee. Sally enjoyed some locally authentic Lipton tea.

Ambassador’ s Residence, November 2019

At this point it was lunchtime, so Henry and the driver dropped us off at the former home of Henry Cabot Lodge, who was the US Ambassador to South Vietnam during the war. The house is now privately owned and occasionally used for various events. We were treated to a tour of the house by our guide They (6) and the owner’s father, an elderly man. And then we sat down to a five course meal in the formal dining room under a portrait of Lodge.

As we finished the delicious meal, They joined us and Sally had a lovely conversation with her about tipping, the Ginger Cruise, her children and her time in America.

The Bassman Blog, November 2019

It was mid afternoon by the time we got back to the hotel. I spent the afternoon catching up on pictures and blogging. Hope you enjoyed my work!

(1) “HCMC” = Ho Chi Minh City amongst the cognoscenti. Not amongst the locals; they usually use Saigon. In contrast, the northerners in Hanoi almost always use Ho Chi Minh City.

(2) Again, not the name his mother gave him. He declined to say his real name, telling us we couldn’t pronounce it anyway. His English was excellent, btw, which he attributed to YouTube.

(3) I never got the driver’s name.

(4) A pillion is a secondary pad, cushion, or seat behind the main seat or saddle on a horse, motorcycle, bicycle or moped.

(5) Schools are not free in Vietnam. Most poor children only go through primary school, and then the money runs out.

(6) Pronounced more like “tway”; she told us to call her Tree.

Wednesday, November 13: Happy Birthday to me, and welcome to Saigon

Fifty years ago this week I went down to my local draft board to register. I had turned 18 and that’s what we all did (1). The Vietnam War was in full bloom, Nixon had been elected the year before, and they were drafting about 3/4 of all the eligible men every year. I was a college sophomore in good standing, so I had an S-1 student deferment. That meant I wouldn’t be drafted until I graduated or flunked out, whichever came first.

A draft registration card, c. 1964, November 2019

For me and of of my friends, staying out of the army, and therefore staying out of Vietnam, was a high priority. It meant staying alive. What none of us realized at the time was how many men who survived and came home would be injured and damaged in many ways that would persist for much of their lives. Or that many of the lucky ones, who were never injured, had careers or education interrupted and never quite got back on track.

Birthday meal, November 2019

So I find it unbelievably ironic that I’m spending my birthday, exactly 50 years later, traveling from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. I never wanted to come here. Certainly not during the war, but not as a tourist either. It’s all Sally’s idea, and we’re both having a great time (2). But I can’t stop thinking about what might have been.

(1) Not the girls, of course. Getting blown up was men’s work back then.

(2) Despite the Ginger Cruise.

Monday, November 11: Street food, and more food

Monday’s scheduled activity was a walking tour of the city after noon, with an emphasis on trying street food.

$65, November 2019

But I started the day with a much more mundane activity: tips. Asia is often thought to have less of a focus on tips than the US or Europe, but the places that cater to Western tourists seem to be moving into the hands-out-at-every-turn strategy. While we could tip in dollars, the recipients would most likely convert it all to Vietnam Dong (VND) anyway. So we decided to buy some dong. The exchange rate is ~23,000 to the dollar; $100 gets you VND 2,300,000. We have three more stops in Vietnam after Hanoi, and ATMs won’t be accessible in two of them. We laid out what we thought we might tip for these stops, and I went to get 8 million dong.

Mo’ models, and taking a break, November 2019

After breakfast, I did the walk-about for a bit. Although breakfast was later than I would normally eat, I was concerned that we wouldn’t find any food during our street food tour that this picky eater would like.

You use what you have, November 2019

We met Sunny at noon and took off to find lunch.

Food choices, November 2019

I have to say it was very interesting. We would go to a small shop and Sunny would explain the food choices, how they are made, and what they contain. Then he would buy a few, and we would eat. We had rice things, stew things, rice-paper wrapped things, and donuts (what we call donut holes).

Not sure I want to try everything, November 2019

Along the way we walked through interesting streets in the old city, watching shopkeepers go about their business, people manufacturing things on the sidewalk, and shoppers.

Working, November 2019

All the time we were dodging motorbikes. As I mentioned yesterday, motorbike observance of traffic rules appears lax. They often will run red lights. And because it’s inconvenient for them to stop for anything (1), they tend to not do so. On the other hand, there is a certain rhythm and flow to the traffic, and I felt myself getting used to it and able to cross busy intersections.

In fact I noticed yesterday that Southeast Asia has started to feel “normal” to me. I still can’t read the signs or labels (2), and the food mostly looks unappealing, but the sense of different-ness which hit me every day last week seems to have disappeared.

Coffee time, November 2019

But back to the food. The last stop took a bit of cajoling from Sunny to get us to go. A well-known specialty in Hanoi is “egg coffee”, which sounds anything but appetizing. But in the spirit of the day, we consented to at least look at it. We walked over to a building and climbed two flights of steep and narrow stairs to a room where a dozen or more people sat on small stools at tiny tables. He ordered our drinks, and when they arrived, we realized that egg coffee has a custard-like confection on top, made with egg yolk, condensed milk and sugar. Underneath is strong black coffee. Like any fancy cappuccino, a pattern is etched in the creamy top.

Sally loved it. The Bassman found it very tasty.

Having spent a few hours eating, we proceeded back to the hotel for afternoon tea. Can’t have too much food!

It’s always pizza time, November 2019

By the time evening rolled around, Sally wasn’t hungry anymore (LoL). However, I seem to need to eat every mealtime so I went out and found a gourmet pizza place nearby, completely by accident. I didn’t have a reservation, but the hostess said I could sit at the pizza bar as long as I left within 90 minutes – that seat was reserved later. No problem.

All in all, a very successful and filling day.

(1) They fall over when stopped. Unless you put a foot down.

(2) Unlike Thailand and Laos (and Cambodia), Vietnam uses the Latin alphabet. So we can mostly read the signs, although we have no idea what the words mean.

Friday, November 8: Waterfall

Natural colors, made from plants and roots, November 2019

Another day, another tour. Oudune picked us up at 9:00 for a drive in the country. Where the cruise yesterday took us north, today we drove south to the Kuang Si National Park. But not without making a stop where you can buy stuff (of course).

Weavers, and a tourist taking a class, November 2019

Our stop was at the Ock Pop Tock Weaving Centre, where we got to watch six or so woman weaving on hand looms, making intricate patterns. A guide showed us around, and we saw the different plants that make up the all-natural colors that they use in their yarn.

We continued on to the Kuang Si Waterfall, located in a national park. The park also houses a bear sanctuary, where bears are housed after somehow being “rescued”. I have no idea what that means, and we only saw one bear sleeping.

The waterfalls, however, were quite cool (1).

Cold cold water(falls), November 2019

You walk uphill along a path, passing waterfalls of increasing size. There are pools below each set of falls where bathing is allowed, and hardy souls were going in. There were also areas with lots of “No swimming – Danger!” signs, where stupid souls were going in.

Quiet little table for two, November 2019

The over-the-top piece of this day was when we saw that they had set up a lunch table for the two of us – just Sally & me – by a quiet little pond, away from all the other tourists. We had our staff of four – guide, driver, waiter and busboy/cook – taking care of us. Pure decadence.

In the afternoon, hung around the room house for a while, and then we took an afternoon walk through town. Dinner was at the Amantaka again. Food here in Laos is extremely reasonably priced – the hotel meal was under $50. Of course, it’s still cheaper outside the hotel: my lunch in a real restaurant with a drink was about $12, and street food is far cheaper.

(1) Actually, very cool. The water was freezing.

Tuesday, November 5: Toodles to Thailand

It’s hard to believe that we’ve finished a week already, and it’s time to leave Thailand. We spent the morning relaxing, packing, reading. And then we rushed through lunch because we misjudged how long our order would take.

Mug shots, November 2019

Anyway, we made it to the airport in about 15 minutes (1) and were, as expected, met by our escorts who expedited our passage through passport control and got us to a lounge. The same process repeated itself in reverse when we arrived in Luang Prabang, Laos. While Thailand does not require a visa for US citizens, Laos does, and you typically get it when you arrive at your port of entry. They take a picture of you with their camera, and they also want a hard copy passport photo which goes somewhere in their files. And US$25 per person in cash, clean unmarked and un-torn bills. So Sally & the Bassman are forever on file here.

Our backyard, November 2019

Our accommodations (2) here at the Amantaka are pretty amazing. The place only has 24 rooms, and we apparently got an upgrade for some reason. We have a bedroom, an office, a large dressing room, a room just with a tub, a bedroom of course, and a giant pool.

Bed’n’Bath, November 2019

Office and living room, November 2019

While we were checking in, Tom, the GM, came by and we chatted. Turns out he was either the GM or a manager at two of the camps and the two city hotels we stayed at on our trip to South Africa and Botswana.

The dinner setting was much better than the food, November 2019

Because we had no better idea, we had dinner at the hotel. I had a mediocre piece of salmon, while Sally had mediocre gnocchi. Perhaps it will improve as we go along.

(1) Take that, any big city in the US.

(2) Sally refers to this as our “house”.

Monday, November 4: More (Chiang) Mai

Editor’s note: I started writing this on Wednesday, November 6, and looked back on my calendar to remind me what we did two days ago. Turns out that the umbrella factory visit was actually not Sunday, but was Monday. So you’re not imagining you already read about the umbrellas.

They come in colors everywhere, November 2019

Monday was a light day until late afternoon, when we were scheduled to be picked up and taken to a Thai cooking class outside of town. After talking with June last night, we decided to leave a bit early and stop along the way in an area that has a number of craft businesses. But not the tourist-focused things you see on sidewalks; rather, commercial-grade enterprises that sell to other businesses as well as to consumers.

Tangled up in blue, November 2019

The most interesting was an umbrella factory. The public space had a dozen or so workers making umbrellas of different sizes and shapes, along with a retail shop. Sally was very tempted, as they were very pretty, but the difficulty of carrying them for the next three weeks and getting them home ultimately dissuade her.

Sally’s silver, November 2019

The next stop was a building that housed a silver jewelry and decorative items store, and a fabric and clothing business. The salesman in the fabric place was pretty pushy, which is a sure-fire way to get us to not buy anything at all. The silver place was much more pleasant, and Sally ultimately bought a necklace.

Pea teaching Bassman (lol) & Sally to cook Thai, November 2019

The cooking class was just for the two of us in a large teaching kitchen at the home of Pea, our teacher. Her English was excellent, she was very animated and she had a very nice way about her as she tried to get us to pound our ingredients properly with a mortar and pestle.

We each made five dishes and ate more food than we needed to. I’m not a Thai food fan (1), but I ate all of my creations and finished a couple of them. After dinner, Pea collected our email addresses and by the time we got home we had all the recipes. I’m sure I’ll never use them, but perhaps Sally will. In any event, it was fun.

Night Market, Chiang Mai, November 2019

After driving back to the city we went to one of the night markets. Much like Walking Street, this is a huge expanse of small booths occupied by vendors selling all kinds of stuff. Much like craft fairs in the US, a fair portion of the merchandise is not really local; much is imported from China. But it’s still fun.

Sally bought some elephant pants. But she overpaid, spending 120 baht vs. the 100 baht they cost in Bangkok (2).

(1) But you knew that.

(2) 120 baht = ~$4; 100 baht = ~ $3.30.

Friday, May 24: Back to Santa Fe

Our trip back to Santa Fe from Vermejo was much simpler than the other drives we’ve taken in New Mexico: 45 minutes out of the Vermejo River Valley, and then 2:15 straight down I-25 to Santa Fe. I-25 runs along the western edge of the Great Plains and is lightly traveled, so I put the Caddy on cruise control at the speed limit (75) and, well, cruised.

Once in Santa Fe we dropped our bags at the the hotel and I went to return the car – we won’t be needing it this weekend in town.

Inn of The Anasazi, May 2019

We’re staying at the Inn of the Anasazi, located right off the central Plaza in Santa Fe. It’s very different than our other accommodations ; actually, all of our hotels have been very different from each other.

Holiday Inn Express (Alamogordo/White Sands) – your basic Holiday Inn; clean, a bit tired, excellent staff. I never actually took a picture there. Not even on my iPhone.

Inn of the Five Graces (Santa Fe) – exotic, colorful furnishings, large suite, attentive staff, but run as a hobby by the owner of a furniture store (1).

Historic Taos Inn – a motel dressed up in adobe and old school wooden furnishings; cramped even though we had a two room suite.

Vermejo Park Ranch – an early 20th century mansion on 600,000 acres with luxury pretensions operated by a bunch of amateurs.

Inn of the Anasazi (Santa Fe) – a Rosewood Hotel, luxurious and well run, but the room is smaller than you might like for the price (picture shows the hotel library).

Overlooking the Plaza, May 2019

Anyway, we’re here for two nights before flying home. We spent the afternoon wondering around a bit, and sat in a 2nd floor patio bar overlooking the main Plaza for some beers. Dinner was at the hotel (courtesy of a credit from our travel agent) and quite nice. There was a cocktail hour for guests before dinner, and we spent time talking with the GM, the Executive Chef, and the Food & Beverage Manager. The wine was nice, and the dinner was tasty.

(1) Sally disagrees with this characterization, and she’s the hotel maven in our team.

Thursday, May 23: Inside / Outside

Vermejo is all about outdoor activities. This time of year, the most popular activity is fishing – most of the other guests here seem to be doing that for part or all of their stay. In season, one can go hunting. There’s horseback riding (as I mentioned yesterday), hiking (which I did yesterday), mountain biking, archery and both rifle and shotgun shooting. This morning Sally and I tried clay shooting, which she had never done and I did once many decades ago (1).

We were with a young couple from southern New Mexico; he had shot enough to be semi-competent and she had not shot before.

Sally was – understandably- a bit nervous about this whole thing. We both are appalled by the level of gun violence in the country and the whole public debate about gun ownership. We grew up in an environment where guns were just not present (2). I was merely nervous about not hitting a single clay during our session.

Sally Shoots, May 2019

So we both exceeded our expectations. Sally fired a number of shells successfully, hitting her target a couple of times. I went through the introductory shooting and then the Five Stand “competition” (3) and hit a number of clays (4), which was satisfying enough.

After lunch in the restaurant (as opposed to the PB&J sandwiches in the truck drive yesterday), we split up. I went for a walk/hike (5), while Sally engaged in one of the only indoor activities here (6): a massage.

The Iog before the storm / muddy pants, May 2019

Her massage turned out well. My walk/hike, not so much. I did have time to take a couple of images before a wind-swept rain came on, forcing me to pack up and head back to the lodge. I didn’t feel that bad about getting wet and muddy, but was frustrated at having my outing cut short (7).

At least my pride wasn’t hurt, May 2019

When i was cleaning up, I discovered that the shotgun had left its imprint on me. Literally.

(1) I did rifle target shooting a number of times at Boy Scout camp, most recently probably 55 years ago. Sally had never touched a gun before.

(2) I had NYC cops as next door neighbors growing up, and never saw either of their guns. And then there was Boy Scout camp.

(3) Five Stand is a competition where you each move across five shooting positions, and shoot at clays thrown from a variety of locations and in different trajectories. There were four of us, and no one was keeping score. But the New Mexico guy won.

(4) My instructor told me after every miss – without fail – that I was very close.

(5) Remember, you can’t really go anywhere far away without a guide, at $350 for a half day. So I stayed pretty close to the lodge.

(6) The other appears to be cocktails in the afternoon.

(7) As I’m writing these words later in the afternoon, the sun is shining through the windows and the glare is making it difficult to see my screen.

Wednesday, May 22: Exploring Vermejo

Today was split in two parts.

Heading uphill, May 2019

In the morning, I went for a hike with my guide, Lee. I’ve never been hiking before with an actual guide, but Vermejo is pretty touchy about guests getting lost or hurt while wandering around their 600,000 acres. Pretty much all of the outdoor activities here: fishing, hunting, hiking, biking – require that you book a guide. Lee works at Vermejo full time, mostly doing light construction and general maintenance. He acts as a guide when there’s business.

It really is spring, May 2019

As we started the hike, I realized why a guide is a good idea – there aren’t any trails. We drove about 30 minutes on dirt roads and barely-roads and then started walking uphill across snow-covered meadows. As I wrote the other day, it snowed on our way up here and looked heavier on the mountain peaks. The ranch buildings are about 7,500′, but we started the hike around 9,000′. So despite having been in New Mexico for a week now, the air still felt thin to me.

Stunning view, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, May 2019

From time to time deer or elk would run across the open area, presumably spooked by us. And the views were stunning.

After climbing for about an hour, we turned back downhill. I set a new personal best, having hiked at 9,602′.

Lee, antlers and another stunning view, May 2019

On the way down Lee started finding elk antlers. They shed them in the spring, and are collected for sale. The value is pretty low, since they’re pretty common. Sally is considering having a pair shipped home for installation somewhere (1).

Wild elk, feral horses, May 2019

After cleaning up, we collected Sally and took a four hour tour of Vermejo Park, with Lee the guide driving. I know I keep repeating myself, but four hours doesn’t get you close to covering the 600,000 acres. But we did see a bunch of great scenery, elk, deer and turkeys (2). We also saw a herd of ferrel horses that are descended from horses freed after a flash flood on the ranch 100 years ago.

Wanna play?, May 2019

After we got back, I took a walk over to the stables. The horses there are fully domesticated and (obviously) available for riding. Today they all seemed to be in the coral, some munching on hay. They were quite friendly and all came over to inspect me.

(1) Update: we decided to not hav them shipped. They would just be clutter.

(2) Elk are fairly exotic to us. Deer and turkeys, not so much. They’re all over our town.

Tuesday, May 21: On the road to Vermejo Ranch

Sally built the centerpiece of this trip around our stay at Vermejo Ranch. Vermejo is a 600,000 acre ranch in northeastern New Mexico, as well as a small bit in southern Colorado. It’s the largest of the properties owned by Ted Turner, whose 2,000,000 acres make him the second largest private landowner in the US (1).

But first we had to get there.

Rt 64 north of Taos, May 2019

The road to Vermejo from Taos goes over the mountains and through narrow canyons. Waze, my preferred GPS navigator, said it would take more than 4 hours for the 135 miles. Quick math tells you that equates to about 30 mph, implying a set of very slow roads. And the first couple of hours met this expectation; narrow, twisty roads snake though the mountains and canyons north and east of Taos.

Storm at Angle Fire, May 2019

At one point, it was snowing lightly on us and quite heavily in the distant mountains we could see. After we came out of the mountains at Cimarron, we could see the Great Plains stretching off to the east, while the foothills of the Rocky Mountains were to the west.

We arrived in Raton, NM with Waze still projecting about 2 hours to complete the remaining 36 miles. So we grabbed a “meal” (2) at Micky D’s while I checked Google Maps for its estimate on the travel time. It showed 1:20, which meant we would be averaging about 30 mph rather than Waze’s implied 18 mph.

Turns out that Google Maps was also estimating our projected speed way too slow; it took us only 45 minutes to cover the ground. I’ve never seen these two navigation systems differ by so much, or be so wrong.

Vermejo Ranch main buildings, May 2019

The main buildings at the ranch are expansive, to say the least. As is the suite apartment mansion Sally reserved for us. It’s three rooms, including a huge sun room, a living room and a bedroom. Plus a two room(!) bathroom.

Bed, bath and beyond, May 2019

Living room and sun room, May 2019

Sun room, May 2019

After we settled in for a bit, I went for an easy hike. Tomorrow, I’m planning a more involved one with a guide, so this was a warm-up.

Afternoon walk in the woods. May 2019

Finally, we spent an hour chatting with Will the bartender, who carefully questioned Sally before preparing a heavily customized Mai Tai. My bourbon on rocks was much simpler. We both had onion bisque and bison for dinner, which was yummy. Much better than MacD’s.

(1) John Malone of Charter Communications is #1 with 2.2m acres.

(2) I actually got a Happy Meal with Artisan Chicken. It’s still McD’s.

Monday, May 20: They say it never rains in Sunny New Mexico

Wrong, Bucko. The National Weather Service says 0.94″ of rain in an average May. We got a bunch of that allotment today.

We left Santa Fe under cloudy and breezy conditions for the shortest travel day of our trip, less than two hours to Taos. There are two routes to Taos: the High Road, and the Low Road. The High Road is reputed to be more scenic, so that’s how we went. Unfortunately, the clouds, wind and generally lousy weather killed most of the views. But it was a pleasant enough trip.

Historic Taos Inn, May 2019

Our hotel in Taos, the Historic Taos Inn, had our room ready when we arrived around 1:00, so we dropped our bags and went for some lunch. The hotel is a collection of adobe-style buildings, and looks nicer than it is.

We then went up to the Taos Pueblo, a traditional Native American settlement just outside of town.

Catholic Church and graveyard at Taos Pueblo, May 2019

The Pueblo has homes for over 1,000 people, but only a few dozen live there full time now. Other members of the tribe live in modern homes on the 120,000 acre reservation.

Taos Pueblo, May 2019

We paid for admission, and went to wait for a tour, but the guide never showed. We waited 20 minutes for the next scheduled guide, and started the tour, but it began to rain and blow shortly after she arrived. So that was pretty much a bust. And we had planned to walk around and visit some of the art galleries clustered in town near our hotel, but that didn’t look like a lot of fun in the cold, blowing rain.

Open mic night, May 2019

The hotel was having an open mic night in the lobby, we we watched a bit before dinner and then I went back after dinner again. As with all open mics, some of the performers were good, while others needed work. By the time I went back to the room, the rain had stopped. But it was pretty cold.

Kit Carson’s Taos, May 2019

The next morning I went out before breakfast just to see what the town looked like when it wasn’t raining. It’s a pleasant little place, but once you get away from the very center near the Taos Inn it devolves into strip malls designed like adobe buildings. What I learned is that Kit Carson, the famous frontiersman and guide, settled here and lived the last 25 years of his life in Taos. His home is now a museum.

Sunday, May 19: Art, Cars and GoT

One of the freebies we got from our travel agency was tickets to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum here in Santa Fe (1). As many of the shops and galleries are closed on Sunday, we planned to hit the museum today. A very nice museum.

Ram’s Head, Blue Morning Glory, May 2019 (2)

And a very impressive woman. In an era when women were not expected to have independent careers, she became a commercially successful fine artist. By age 40, the Brooklyn Museum held a retrospective of her work. She profited from the support of her husband, the art dealer and photographer Alfred Stieglitz, but clearly was her own woman, living apart from him for much of each year and creating an abstract style all her own.

Horse’s Scull With White Rose, May 2019 (2)

Her most famous work was based on objects and landscapes she found in and around Santa Fe, although she also worked in New York City and Lake George, NY and painted what she saw there. Yet while her work was based strongly on reality – her bones, flowers, mountains, skyscrapers all had origins in what she saw – she said that the first time she saw the actual images she painted was after she finished painting them.

Clouds 5 / Yellow Horizon and Clouds, and sketch, May 2019 (2)

By way of making the point, the image above shows the ink sketch she made of a landscape in the lower right corner, and the finished work. Those studying her work have found sketches and preliminary works under the paint on many of her works.

Petunia No. 2 and Gerald’s Tree I, May 2019 (2)

Her florals were, and continue to be controversial. Many believed that her pictures had sexual overtones, which she strenuously denied throughout her life. Sometimes, a flower is just a flower.

Replacing a broken table, May 2019

After the museum, we went and finalized the purchase of the table we looked at yesterday. This will replace one on our patio which I broke 20 years ago, but didn’t fall apart until recently.

VW, Dead Camero, and Ford Pickup, May 2019

After spending some time looking at jewelry and a late lunch, we wandered around a car show right outside the jewelry store and restaurant. More than 50 cars of varying eras and in varying condition were on display around the Plaza, Santa Fe’s central square while 60s music played on the PA.

Chrysler Roadster and Hot Rod, May 2019

Tonight we’re going to stay in. I don’t usually watch TV on vacation, or much when home, but it’s the Game of Thrones final tonight. Can’t miss that.

The end, May 2019

And it’s also the American Idol finale, which Sally will watch. So we picked up a nice bottle of wine and we’ll share that and eat in the room.

(1) $13 each, but I’m not one to sneeze at $26.

(2) Copyright is claimed for my photographs of O’Keefe’s images, not for her paintings.

Saturday, May 18: Downtown Santa Fe

Our plan for today was to stroll around sunny Santa Fe, looking at art galleries and some of the shops in the Plaza area which forms the major tourist/shopping area. Sally had found out that the colorful furnishings in our hotel – Inn of the Five Graces – were from a local store, so she wanted to take a look there.

Seret & Sons warehouse and stone tables, May 2019

We didn’t have the complete story: the hotel was owned by Ira Seret, the founder and owner of Seret & Sons, a renowned furnishings store and supplier which specializes in Central and South Asian goods. Ira, it turns out, was born and raised first in Queens and then Nassau County before spending ten years in Afghanistan, which is where he and his wife started importing goods to the US.

As we had need for a table, we spent some time in their chaotic storage area and Sally wound up tentatively selecting a table.

Art is big in Santa Fe, May 2019

After this success, we walked over to Canyon Road, which is lined with art galleries and restaurants. After stopping for a lunch salad, we came across a gallery that had familiar looking wind sculptures. After looking around and talking to the salesman, we determined that these were the same sculptures we had seen and considered buying seven years ago in Springdale, AZ while visiting Zion National Park. We both liked these sculptures, but couldn’t agree on which one. So it was shelved.

Sculpture Gallery, Canyon Road, May 2019

After going around and around and arriving at the same position we each held in 2012, we compromised and agreed to get the sculpture I liked. But I agreed we would get Sally’s favorite if we both were happy with the first one after we installed it at home.

San Francisco St., 8;30pm, Saturday night, May 2019

After dinner, I went out for a walk. After all, it’s Saturday night, and I expected downtown to be hopping, with the numerous bars and restaurants doing a booming business and people on the street. Maybe the restaurants were full (1) (2), but the bars I could see into were pretty sparse and the streets were downright deserted.

(1) I say “maybe”, because while I generally couldn’t see into the restaurants, we couldn’t get a reservation anywhere and would up eating in the bar at one. Not that that was a problem, as we had a large booth and the same menu as the restaurant section.

(2) What was a problem is the increased difficulty finding garlic-free dishes that Sally can eat. Our trip to Tennessee last year was exhausting in this regard, and this is turning out the same.

Friday, May 17: On the trail to Santa Fe

We left our not-so-luxurious digs at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Alamogordo (1) and headed north to Santa Fe. 240 miles across the high desert, gradually ascending from 4300′ to 7400′. I love the desert. We drove for hours, mostly in a straight line, with literally 2 or 3 no-stoplight towns along the way. I wasn’t bored in the least.

But I did need a rest stop.

Cline’s Corner, May 2019

After almost three hours, we came to the intersection with I-40, and there was a huge travel plaza where I pulled off. I didn’t realize until much later that Clines Corner is quite famous. I also didn’t realize that I-40 is also the historic Route 66, of fame and song (2). Clines has apparently relocated three times over the years as Route 66 has been rerouted through New Mexico. It’s everything a rest stop should be, down to having Zoltar to tell your fortune.

Lapis Suite, Inn of the Five Graces, May 2019

The Inn of the Five Graces in Santa Fe is … hard to describe. It’s located in the central section of town, a few blocks from the Plaza, shops and art galleries. The Inn is spread across building on both sides of a small street. Our suite is across the street from the main building, and consists of a living room, a bedroom and a huge bathroom.

It’s very colorful.

It also has large chairs in the bedroom, and the bathroom. And, like so many nice places we’ve stayed, large pieces of furniture with tiny storage space. Either we seriously overpack (I don’t think so), or I don’t know how you’re supposed to unpack in these places. The bedroom, while large, is overcrowded.

But it’s very nice.

Santa Fe style: lots of Adobe-style and rustic, and occasional gothic, May 2019

We had a late lunch and then wine & cheese late in the day, so Sally decided to skip dinner. I went out, walked around a bit, and had a mediocre grilled chicken sandwich. But the beer flight was interesting.

I didn’t eat at the Coyote Cafe, but had beer, May 2019

(1) My regular readers will know that I often post pictures of the great accommodations Sally finds us. I found the Holiday Inn, and it shows. So no pix.

(2) (Get your kicks on) Route 66, by Bobby Troup, first a hit for Nat King Cole.

Thursday, May 16: Evening dunes

I wrote earlier about my frustration at not being able to enter White Sands until an hour after sunrise, making capturing the great dawn light impossible. The evening hours work better: it’s open until 8:30, and sunset was was about 8:00. Bingo!

I joined a Ranger walk to watch the sunset (and learn more about White Sands). Here are some shots taken in the softer light.

Receding dunes, May 2019

(Almost full) Moon rises above a falling yucca, May 2019

Yuccas have evolved a unique survival strategy. The dunes they grow on are constantly moving and burying them. So they send tall shoots out which will grow as the lower portion gets smothered. If the dune moves on and exposes the buried plant, the trunk can’t support the weight and falls over.

Glowing yucca, May 2019

We leave Alamogordo this morning and head up to Santa Fe. It’s been really hot here – it was 95F Thursday afternoon – but promises to be a much more comfortable mid-60s in Santa Fe.

Sunday, February 17 – Homeward bound

I mentioned that we had our final class yesterday, Saturday.  This class was a little different than the previous ones.  Rather than bring in a set of images from the prior day’s shooting, we were told to bring in our Top 10 for the week.  It was interesting in a number of ways.

No one actually arrived in class with their homework assignment complete.  All of us – including me – spent the first part of the class trying to get this set collected.  I got mine done a bit more quickly than most people, but was still late.  Here they are (1):

2019-02-17 Collage_Fotor Top 10-12019-02-17 Collage_Fotor Top 10-22019-02-17 Collage_Fotor Top 10-3

My “Top 10” (in no particular order), February 2019

Then, for each of us, Steve  showed his selection of our Top 10 images.  For me, as well as for the others, there was substantial overlap but not complete agreement.  He and I agreed on six, and chose four different images to complete the set (2).

I think we all enjoyed seeing each others Top 10, as well as Steve’s Top 10 for each of us as well as his own Top 10 images.  The conversation around the selections was enlightening.  He’s developed into a good teacher, and provides feedback in a very constructive and non-threatening way.


Today, Sunday, there’s no class.  I went out to shoot for an hour, and took some tourist snaps.  We all said goodbye, sometimes several times, as we kept running into each other in the hotel lobby or at breakfast.

2019-02-17 Collage_Fotor Street
It’s not easy being Cubano, February 2019
My flight leaves this afternoon, bringing this great trip to an end.  I go back to the cold northeast.

20190217 Havana 2019 _EM220992

Heading home, February 2019



Saturday, March 1, 2019 – Postscript

Looking at these Top 10 (or 11) images as I write this, I realize that I would make different selections now.  Some of these would make the cut, but not all.  I’m also pretty sure that if you ask me a year from now, I’ll again make different selections. That’s okay, as art is not really a competitive activity.

But none of that really matters.  This week was an intensive exercise in shooting, editing, processing, receiving and giving criticism, and working hard on finding and making the best images I could.  While I’ve photographed shows and sports before, nothing compared with the speed and action from either the boxing or ballet shoots.  The street shooting was as fertile as anywhere I’ve been.

This week was also spent with an interesting group of new colleagues from across the country (plus Canada and Cuba). As I’ve experienced in previous workshops, each of the participants made images that I wish were mine – regardless of their so-called skill level (which ranged from beginner to professional) or equipment (which ranged from pocket cameras to the newest and most sophisticated cameras on the market).  And I’m still struggling to figure out how I never saw some of those images, despite walking the same streets at the same time as they did.

This week was also a fascinating look at a city and a culture that has been made into an evil place by our leaders for more than 50 years – since I was a child.  The people I met were certainly not evil.  The Cuban embargo is way past it’s sell-by date.  These are just people, trying to get by, and living their lives.  The embargo affects them much more than it affects the political leadership of the country.  We may think those old cars are cute, but I’m sure most Cuban car owners would trade them for a boring new Toyota in an instant.  The limited availability of various types of food and manufactured goods is obvious and extreme.  The infrastructure, despite construction all around the city center, is crumbling and they can’t keep up. Municipal services, such as sanitation and water, are not what we would be happy with.

20190213 Havana 2019 _EM2228829

Just people, February 2019


So there you have it.  A week in Havana, spent well.


(1) Yes, I know there are 11.  They’re all my children.  I got it down from 6,000 to 11, but don’t make me go any further.

(2) You’re probably wondering which of my images he preferred, and which he didn’t select.  I can’t tell you.  Due to technical difficulties, I’ve lost his selections.

Saturday, February 16 – Cars and the city

Saturday was our last full day in Cuba. So we took pictures around the city and had a class. A big surprise, I know.

20190216 Havana 2019 _EM2222480-Pano

Colorful cityscape in Havana, February 2019

We went over and looked at the University of Havana and the neighborhood surrounding it.  While the University was sort of impressive from the street, we were unable to gain entry to the grounds and so I took a couple of forgettable images.  But here it is anyway.  I have no idea if the interior portion of the campus was also impressive, or vacant, or a ruin.

20190216 Havana 2019 _EM2222559

University of Havana, with photographers, February 2019

What I was able to do was shoot a few more of the classic cars that roam the city.  I know I’ve already shared lots of images of them, but the cars are really something to see.  Also, Sally’s last words to me before my flight took off last week were “I love you.  Get lots of pictures of cars”.

2019-02-16 Collage_Fotor Motion Cars.jpg

City in motion, February 2019

2019-02-16 Collage_Fotor Cars at Rest.jpg

Cars at rest, February 2019

I also got some more images of life in the city.  This cute little girl was playing in an empty playground.

2019-02-16Collage_Fotor City Scene.jpg

More street scenes, February 2019

I’ve mentioned before that the streets are remarkably empty of cars, which makes the pollution levels even more surprising.  Here’s a shot of a main street on this Saturday.

20190216 Havana 2019 _EM2222520

Empty city streets, February 2019

That night we had dinner in a (really) fine restaurant.  Afterwards we went to watch two street performers put on a fire-eating show.  Some of my classmates got great images; I did not.  So I’ll leave you with my mediocre image.

20190216 Havana 2019 _EM2225879

Mediocre fire eater (1), February 2019


(1) The image, not the fire eaters. They were quite good.

Friday, February 15 – Dance, dance, dance

2019-02-15 Collage_Fotor Ballet 1.jpg

Escuela Nacional de Ballet, February 2019

The headline activity for today was another exhibition of sorts: we went to the Escuela Nacional de Ballet (National Ballet School) to observe and photograph the students in class. We were on a precise schedule, waiting at our hotel (only a few minutes away by bus) from the school until they were ready for us. We arrived around 9:00am, and spent a few minutes in the beautiful lobby of the predictably run-down building for a formal introduction to the Director.

20190215 Havana 2019 _EM2220221-Edit.jpg

20190215 Havana 2019 _EM2220208.jpg

Men at work, February 2019

After that, we all split up and wandered around, popping into classrooms and rehearsal studios at will. Classes changed at 10:00, and we all somehow found ourselves in a very large studio that seemed to be gathering students, teachers and other guests. What we soon figured out was that there was a graded recital for some of the advanced students taking place, and so we spent the next two hours photographing the best as they tried their best.

20190215 Havana 2019 _EM2220075-Edit.jpg

20190215 Havana 2019 _EM22-18.jpg

20190215 Havana 2019 _EM2220538.jpg

Women’s work, February 2019

Much like the boxing gym yesterday, photographing these students – despite knowing more or less where they were going to be, and having the freedom to move anywhere in the room (not on the dance floor, of course) – was a huge challenge. I left exhausted. I thought I had reached a personal high at the boxing gym with over 1,000 images in about two hours; I left the ballet school with 2,000 (1). Lots of material to review.


20190215 Havana 2019 _EM2221564.jpg

20190215 Havana 2019 _EM2221652.jpg

20190215 Havana 2019 _EM2221686-Edit.jpg

Class exam, February 2019


After lunch on my own and after the class, I hit the streets again for some more relaxing photography. Havana is really a great walking town. A mile in any direction from the hotel covers a lot of the center city. There are so few cars that you can easily walk in the middle of most of the side streets without much problem.

2019-02-15 Collage_Fotor Street 1.jpg

Street scenes #3,487, February 2019

People are friendly enough if not always thrilled if you take their picture. On the other hand, those side streets are often in disrepair, there are open dumpsters where people deposit their household trash, dogs and cats roam freely and do their stuff anywhere.

2019-02-15 Collage_Fotor Night music.jpg

You can hear the music playing, February 2019

We had dinner in the “formal” dining room at the hotel. Formal, in this case, means I wore a shirt with a collar. People were still in shorts, though not I. After dinner, I think some people retired for the evening. But I couldn’t resist going out and shooting the night scenes again. I mentioned to Sally that there are two aspects of these photography workshops: the formal and informal learning parts, and the opportunity to spend large amounts of time photographing interesting subjects. This particular workshop has certainly hit a home run in both aspects.

20190215 Havana 2019 _EM2222370.jpg

Late night mystery, February 2019

(1) These four hours of shooting – boxing and ballet – represented fully 1/2 of the images I captured during the entire trip. However, they represented a much smaller percentage of the images I have elected to show.

Thursday, February 14 – Boxing Day

This morning started in the usual way – breakfast, then walk around a bit to take some pictures. At 9:00 we boarded our bus to go to the Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym to try our hands at shooting some action.

2019-02-14 Collage_Fotor Boxing 1.jpg

Gloves and tape, February 2019

The first part of the shoot was watching them warm up with some group exercises, and then watching some of them suit up to spar. The equipment in this case is pretty simple: they “taped” their hands, wrapping them with long strips of cloth, then downed boxing gloves. No headgear or special footgear, just whatever shoes they were wearing. A few of them used mouthguards.

2019-02-14 Collage_Fotor Boxing 2.jpg

Scary and scared, February 2019

Some of the boxers also took turns on the heavy bag. This doesn’t look like much, but the biggest of them were exhausted after hitting for 5-10 minutes.

2019-02-14 Collage_Fotor Boxing 3.jpg

It’s in the eyes, February 2019

One would think that taking pictures of two people at close quarters in the confined space of a boxing ring would be simple. And one would be wrong. We had total freedom to position ourselves around the ring, either standing on the ground and peering through the ropes, or standing on the mat outside the ropes and looking over them. While this enabled me to actually get some good images, I shot over 1,000 frames in the process.

After a couple of exhausting hours, we went for lunch and then our class.

20190214 Havana 2019 _EM2229863.jpg

Wild and crazy photogs, February 2019

After class, we took another ride in the classic convertible cars.  You’ll recall this was originally planned for Wednesday, but was called on account of rain.  Along the way we saw even more classic cars.

2019-02-14 Collage_Fotor More Cars.jpg

Even More Cars, February 2019

As the sun went down, we were back on the bus for a visit to the giant Jesus statue that overlooks the city.  The views were nice, and the park was filled with couples enjoying a romantic Valentine’s Day evening watching the sunset.  Of course, we were there with our cameras to document their PDA.

2019-02-14 Collage_Fotor PDA.jpg

PDA in Havana on Valentine’s Day, February 2019

The Jesus statue was pretty impressive.  And if you looked closely, he was holding the moon in his hand.

20190214 Havana 2019 _EM22249903.jpg

He’s got the whole moon, in his hand, February 2019


20190214 Havana 2019 _EM2229901-Pano.jpg


Wednesday, February 13 – When the rain comes

20190213 Havana 2019 _EM2228704-Pano.jpg

El Capitolio, February 2019

We were supposed to take another ride in the convertibles today, but it was drizzling in the morning.  And that turned into a heavy downpour by late afternoon.  But while this interrupted our riding plans, it most definitely didn’t stop us from taking pictures.  We started out as a group, which is a real no-no.  A large group of people carrying big, intimidating cameras is a sure way to scare your subjects.

20190213 Havana 2019 _EM2228737-Edit.jpg

Why are Street photographers looking at the sky?, February 2019

We walked past the capital building (cleverly labeled “CAPITOLIO” so you couldn’t mistake it for anyhing else) to a section of the city where people were hurrying to work and dong their morning shopping.  At this point, we scattered.

20190213 Havana 2019 _EM2228754.jpg

Morning commute, February 2019

Of course, not everyone who commutes walks – sometimes you have to go too far to walk.  Havana has every form of ground transportation you could imagine – walking, bikes, peditaxis, motorbikes, cars, buses, mopeds, etc.  The little yellow things are apparently classified as motorbikes, as the drivers all wear helmets. The passengers don’t.

20190222 Havana 2019 2019-02-13 Collage_Fotor Commuting.jpg

Rainy transportation, February 2019


The rain got harder, which lead me to try and stay under cover somewhat.  But others didn’t always have that choice.  And it was pretty hard on the laundry hung out to dry.

20190222 Havana 2019 2019-02-13 Collage_Fotor Rain.jpg

Caught in the rain, February 2019

That afternoon we had another class, then a bit of free time, then dinner.  After dinner, I went out again to enjoy the night and take some pictures.  When I got back to the hotel, a band was in full swing, killing it with Motown, Tina Turner and other American music covers.

20190222 Havana 2019 2019-02-13 Collage_Fotor Nightlife.jpg

Evening in Havana, February 2019






Tuesday, February 12 – Classes and Old cars

One of the most visible aspects of Havana is the collection of old American cars that roam the streets, primarily as taxis. Today we went for a ride.

We fell into a sort-of routine starting today: breakfast at the hotel buffet, photography in the street, class, lunch, more photography, dinner and more photography.

The daily class on this workshop has a regular routine. Steve talks for a bit, trying to give us eager students some insight into an aspect of street photography we might not otherwise have. This included examples of work, discussion of how well-known and successful photographers worked, and sometimes technical details. The technical stuff generally was the least of it; most of the attendees are competent camera operators.  But as I wrote earlier, I learned from this segment.

20190211 Havana 2019 _EM2228038.jpg

Breaking the rules: slow shutter speed blurs an old car, February 2019

The bulk of each class, and by far the most interesting, was the review of each participant’s work from the prior day. This being the first day, we each were asked to submit some of our prior work for review. The review went like this: Each of us would give Steve a USB stick with 5, 10 or even 20 images. He would create a slide show for each, and project it on the screen for all to see. He would then critique each image, pointing out what he liked, what he thought didn’t work, and how an image might be improved if appropriate. He would solicit comments from the entire class. Not surprisingly, the comments from the audience were a bit tentative at first, but became more definitive as the week progressed and we got to know each other better.

I found these critiques – both from Steve and my classmates – extremely useful.  I didn’t always agree with their perspective, but I always tried to understand it.

20190212 Havana 2019 _EM2228346.jpg

Our fleet, February 2019

The focus of the day was a ride in three colorful old American convertibles. Seen from afar, these convertibles gleam in the sun and seem like carefully preserved historical artifacts. Up close, however, they are wrecks. Most of the convertibles are chop jobs that started life as sedans or hardtops and have had a very rough conversion. The springs and shocks are worn, the doors creak, there are (of course) no seat belts, the engines roar through muffler-free exhaust systems.


20190212 Havana 2019 _EM2228374.jpg

Along the Malecon, February 2019

Speaking of exhaust, the air in the center of the city – where we were – is awful. Between the belching cars, buses and trucks, and all the other sources of pollution that are present, the air is bad. Adding to the pollution is a refinery across the harbor that is constantly burning off waste with a big flame atop the smokestack, visible for miles.

Collage_Fotor Cars Red.jpg

Red Cars, February 2019

We got to ride in nice shiny convertibles.  Most of the cars in Havana are not topless; many are not shiny.  In fact, quite a number are visible wrecks.  Even the ones that are running and in use look like there’s not a lot of metal left in the body; they appear to be made of putty.  And they are not a rare sight – these ancient artifacts are everywhere.

Collage_Fotor Cars Blue.jpg

Blue Cars, February 2019

I’ve included a sampling of the cars I saw here.

Collage_Fotor Cars Black.jpg

Black (and gray) Cars, February 2019


Collage_Fotor Cars Yellow.jpg

Yellow Cars, February 2019



Collage_Fotor Cars Green.jpg

Green(ish) Cars, February 2019


During our ride around town in the convertibles, we stopped to take a quick look at a statue of a most surprising historical figure.  I don’t really have a good handle on why he was memorialized here.  I was impressed with the fact that this poor country pays a woman to stand around and put spectacles on his face whenever tourists show up.

20190212 Havana 2019 _EM22-4.jpg

And Lennon read a book by Marx, February 2019


February 11, Monday – A Havana Workshop

After landing yesterday, checking into the hotel, and meeting up with the rest of the group, we all set off on a walk down the Prado.

But let me back up.

 20151012 PP Workshop SGA1210179.jpg

The Passionate Photographer: New York, October 2015

I’m here on a photography workshop entitled “The Passionate Photographer: Havana” led by New York photographer Steve Simon. Steve has published books, photographs events and spends a fair amount of time running workshops. I went on one with him several years ago in New York City, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  So when I noticed this Havana workshop, I immediately decided to go (1) .

20190211 Havana 2019 _EM2227952.jpg

First workshop meeting, February 2019

This particular workshop had an interesting cast of characters. Along with Steve, we had a tour guide Rei and facilitator Vladimir (2). In addition to me, there were five other participants: two couples and one other guy. As a bonus, two of Steve’s friends, professional photographers from Toronto, happened to be in Havana this week and joined us for many of the activities. So we were a merry band of 12 traveling around.

Photography workshops are two things for me: instruction in some aspect of photography, and the opportunity to spend a lot of time photographing somewhere interesting. In this case, the subject is Street photography, and the place Havana.

(Geek alert – feel free to skip)

A note on technique (3).

A main theme in street photography is all about capturing the juxtaposition of people and objects as they go about their business with no intervention from the photographer. Street photography can be other related things, such as portraits of people you run across with their consent, but it generally involves limited interaction between the photographer and subject. This in contrast to, say, landscape or cityscape, which typically does not show any people and where the photographer carefully frames a relatively static subject. Or wedding photography, a combination of carefully posed and lit formal images combined with the choreographed chaos of the ceremony and party.

20190211 Havana 2019 _EM2228129.jpg

Havana street, February 2019

Since the street photographer is often trying to photograph people in public places without their knowledge, one will often choose simple and small equipment. Many of the pictures in this blog series were taken with a prime lens (with a fixed field of view, like your phone camera) so that you don’t have to waste precious moments zooming your lens and deciding on where to stop. Smaller equipment is thought to make you less intimidating to any who sees you; you’re just another tourist. And a relatively wide field of view – again, much like a phone camera – forces you to get closer to your subjects, often making the resulting image feel more intimate.


My primary camera & lens this week, February 2019

Modern digital cameras offer some tremendous advantages for the street photographer. One is unlimited image storage – film photographers had to deal with rolls of film with 12, 24 or 36 images before changing. Digital cameras can autofocus more quickly than most people, if used properly. Shutters can be set to fire continuously, increasing your chance of capturing the exact moment you are seeking (I set my camera to 8 frames per second, one of slowest speeds it offers). Exposure is set automatically, and digital images offer a wide latitude for mistakes in this area.

Things I changed in my settings for this workshop were

  • the previously mentioned frame rate
  • I set the focusing mode to track subjects as they moved (sometimes)
  • I set the shutter speed faster to “freeze” action, as the subjects were usually (sometimes)

The faster frame rate I set resulted in my capturing thousands of frames over the course of the week – over 6,000. And needing to review them all.

(Geek alert off)

I wrote about our afternoon photo walk yesterday.  After dinner, we all went out again to explore the streets.  Since most of us were in Havana for the first time, we started out walking together.  Of course, a group of photographers with big cameras is not condusive to inobstrusively taking pictures.  So we gradually spread out, walking a block or two ahead or behind the others as we made our way around the neighborhood.


20190211 Havana 2019 _EM2228135.jpg

Havana housing, February 2019


The area directly west of our Centro location is no longer the nicer tourist or Habana Viejo district.  Here you can find low income people living in low income housing and conditions.

As the space inside the homes is so small and probably warm even at night, there are always people on the street and in the numerous small bars and cafes.

20190212 Collage_Fotor 2019-02-20.jpg

Some street scenes, February 2019

Subsequent to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, and even more since 2011, Cuba has been gradually moving away from strict state ownership of everything and allowing more private enterprise.  There are many “paladares” or privately owned restaurants now.  And people can open small businesses – groceries, bars, tailors, auto maintenance, etc. – in their homes. Today 181 official jobs – taxi driver, construction worker, shopkeeper – are no longer under government control.

20190211 Havana 2019 _EM2228180.jpg

Privately owned Havana bar at night, February 2019

Our walk continued after dinner – the night scenes are particularly compelling.  Much Street photography is done in B&W, harking back to the days of film.  But I found the colors of Havana seductive.


(1) After consulting with Sally, of course. Who was, as always, very supportive.

(2) Yes, he is Cuban.

(3) Only so you can fully appreciate the excellence of my photography in this blog.   Or you can just decide whether you like something or not on your own.

February 11, Monday: Off to Havana

Editor’s Note:

This blog is being posted more than a week later than it happened.  For many reasons, I wasn’t able to post in real time from Havana.  In fact, I wasn’t even able to write in real time.  So treat this as a memoir, or treatise, written in the fullness of time and with the limitations of memory.


The Bassman

Got up at 4:00 am.


Up in the morning, just about 4:00 (1), February 2019

Called for an Uber at 4:45 am.

At JFK Terminal 5 at 5:40 am.

Through check-in and security by 6:00 am, complete with my boarding pass, Cuban visa and proof of medical insurance stamped on the boarding pass.

Finished a leisurely breakfast by 7:00 am. By airport restaurant standards, not merely leisurely – I basically encamped in the restaurant until I was bored enough to leave. The service was lovely, I have to say.

Sauntered down to the gate to check it out for the 9:06 am departure. Yup, it’s there. No plane at the gate yet, but that’s not unexpected – we don’t board for 90 minutes yet. Took a walk around Terminal 5, which seems to be about 3/4 of a mile. Okay, I can do this a couple of times while I wait.

Called Sally at 8:00 am. Fortunately, she wasn’t wakened by my getting ready this morning (last night?). As we were chatting, got an alert that my flight is delayed to until 10:30 am. Arggghhh! I was psychologically prepared for killing an hour; killing 2 1/2 is a horse of a different color.

Sit for a while near the gate, then do a couple more laps around the terminal. Come back and sit again, and watch as the ground crew tows a plane over at 9:00 am. Progress!

Watch the crew board at 9:30 am. The gate attendant excitedly announces their arrival, suggesting that departure can now be forecast.

Start pre-boarding (2) at 10:00 am. As usual, there are a few people who don’t “understand” the procedure and try to board with the people with young children, or the people in wheelchairs. They are politely shoo’d away by the staff.

I flaunt my privilege by boarding in Group A, the first group that isn’t pre-boarded. I also got to sit in an Even More Space seat. I paid for this privilege, $30 I think.

(Yes, I know you’re getting bored.  I was bored, too.)

This is a smallish plane, about 100 seats in a 2+2 configuration. That means the overheads are unusually small; my suitcase fits only sideways. A number of passengers seem to have the spatial relationship skills of a toddler, as they insist on trying to fit bags that have no possibility of fitting into the overheads. They struggle; the bags are by definition pretty heavy (because they are big) and they try them in each orientation. But each one of those orientations exposes a dimension that is too big by half for the height or depth of the overhead. They finally give up, and the bag gets passed up to the front of the plane past everyone who is standing and waiting for this adult-sized toddler to give up trying to fit the giant square block into the small triangular hole. The cabin crew passes the bag off to someone who might be putting it into the luggage hold, but who knows?


Even More Space, February 2019

As we board, I sit alone in my Even More Space seat. There are three rows of 4 such seats and I am alone. Other passengers notice this vacuum and rush to fill the void. One of the attendants comes by with a credit card machine and tells them they have to pay. They return to their assigned places, but then one comes back a few minutes later to try again. He gets chased again (3).

We depart at 10:20 am, about 1:15 late. According to the captain, we should arrive around 1:45 pm, only 30 minutes late. Are they flying faster? Was there less ground traffic than expected at JFK? Is there fluff in the published schedules so they can claim better on-time rates? Hmmm ….

Time passes ….

Later that afternoon I meet up with my group at the hotel and we take a stroll down La Prado, a wide boulevard with a raised pedestrian mall in the middle.  The weather is warm and humid (my favorites!), and people are enjoying it.

20190211 Havana 2019 _EM2227976.jpg

I don’t care what you say, it’s too damn hot, February 2019

La Prado ends at the sea by start of the Malecón, a five mile esplanade and seawall along the coast.  Again, people are out enjoying themselves.



20190211 Havana 2019 _EM2228137.jpg

Kids by the sea, February 2019


20190211 Havana 2019 _EM2228099.jpg

The Captain and Tennille?, February 2019

Finally we return to the hotel and have a pleasant dinner by the rooftop pool.

20190216 Havana 2019 _EM2225928-HDR.jpg

View from the Hotel Parque Central, February 2019

(1) Apologies to Spanky and Our Gang’s song Commercial

(2) This makes no semantic sense. A person getting on the plane is “boarding”. “Pre-boarding” could mean getting your stuff together in anticipation of boarding, or having your boarding pass and ID checked at the gate, or any number of other things that you do before you board. But it shouldn’t mean “the group of people who get to board first.”

(3) This all reminds me of sneaking down from the nosebleed to the box seats at a Mets game as a kid. We hoped the ushers either wouldn’t notice us, or (more likely) wouldn’t care. It worked sometimes. JetBlue is more obsessed with revenue than the Mets were, I guess.

Tuesday, October 2: Th. Jefferson

One cannot visit Charlottesville without paying attention to Thomas Jefferson. But before that, I neglected to include a picture of the exterior of The Clifton main building.

The Clifton, October 2018

Architect, scholar, farmer, educator, inventor, statesman, author of the Declaration of Independence, and President of the United States – those are some of the things he is known for. And I’ve undoubtedly left out a few of his fields of accomplishment.

The classic view of Montecello, two ways, October 2018

Anyway, Jefferson was a incredibly accomplished individual. We all know he was author of the Declaration, but he either drafted or assisted in the drafting of many laws. He designed Monticello, his home on his plantation here. He invented a machine that made an exact copy of the thousands of letters he wrote in his lifetime. He wrote a book describing everything known about Virginia. His home had extremely large windows and skylights, very unusual for the time.

Food prep at Montecello in the basement, October 2018

We took two tours at Montecello. The first took us through the first floor of the house, which included the public rooms and Jefferson’s bedroom, study and library (1). The upper floors are an extra cost item (and extra time), so we passed. And we took the Slavery tour, which was really more of a lecture and a tour. It was interesting, and like the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, depressing.

Inside the Rotunda, October 2018

After leaving the Presidency, he founded the University of Virginia, given his belief that only an educated citizen could effectively contribute to public life. He not only founded it, he was the first Regent, and he designed the original campus which is still in use today. It’s quite beautiful. Sadly, it started raining when we left the parking garage on campus, continued until returned to the garage later.

The centerpiece of the old campus is the Rotunda, which was inspired by the Panthon in Rome. It was designed to be a library for the students, and the upper floor still serves as perhaps the most beautiful study hall in the country (2).

As I write this Wednesday morning, we’ve packed up our stuff and we’re about to head home. We should arrive before dinner tonight.

(1) So where are the pictures of the first floor? No pictures allowed there. Only the exterior and basement.

(2) So where are the pictures of the campus? It was raining …

Monday, October 1: Blue Ridge Parkway finale

Our fourth day on the BRP was our biggest mileage day, and our shortest time day. The mountains in northern Virginia were lower, the valleys on either side of the Parkway extended further, atmospheric haze made the distant scenery less interesting, and we were Scenic Overlook’d out.

Hazy view across the Great Valley, October 2018

The day started as they all have, leaving the hotel in Roanoke to hook up with the Parkway a few miles away. The weather finally turned nice, with mostly sunny skies and warm temperatures. So we drove with the sunroof open and the A/C off all day. We were surprised by the lack of traffic, especially today, but actually all four days. We had heard horror stories of long backups and congestion, combined with 20 to 45 mph speed limits. We found little to no traffic, and the speed limit was 45 for most of the trip. In fact, we stopped for a roadside lunch (2) and not a single car passed us in the ~20 minutes we were there.

Sharp Top in the Peaks of Otter, October 2018

We stopped in the Peaks of Otter region and took a walk around a small lake. Turns out there are no Peaks named Otter; it’s just a regional designation.

The beginning and our end, October 2018

After that, we pretty much drove straight through to the north end of the Parkway, which is actually designated the beginning. We passed about 380 mileposts along the way – actual stone posts in the ground with numbers on them – so I was anxious to see MP 0. Sadly, it was not to be found.

The Clifton Carraige Hojse, October 2018

The Clifton (1) is a charming property which I understand changed owners and was renovated in the last year or so. Our suite is the Carraige House, which presumably was a carriage house at some point in the past. While the multi-level layout looks cute, it’s highly impractical. The loft ceiling angles in so sharply that I need to be careful getting out of bed, and the bathroom down a narrow flight of stairs makes those nightime visits risky. The top step is unusually small, and the next one has a longer than expected riser.

Downtown Mall, October 2018

We went into downtown Charlottesville for dinner. They have a several block long pedestrian mall lined with shops and restaurants. We opted for simple, and had burgers and beers.

(1) Not “The Clifton Inn”, although the address is Clifton Inn Road.

(2) Sally points out “lunch” is a generous description of the power bars, chips and water we ate.

Sunday, September 30: Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 3

Today was the shortest of our BRP segments, at about 80 miles from Fancy Gap, NC to Roanoke, VA (1) (2). We headed north, stopping at a few cutouts and exhibit points to see what there was to see.

Overlooking what?, September 2018

Like Saturday, we traveled at a lower altitude and over less mountainous terrain than on Friday. Again farms dominated the landscape on either side. I took a short hike – 15 minutes – to a promised overlook, which turned out to be a small stream with no discernable overlook. But it was nice being in the woods, even for a few minutes, and I got an interesting picture of the highway bridge we had driven over.

Puckett Cabin, September 2018

We passed a number of sites that had either old cabins or re-creations of old cabins. One of interest was Orleana Hawks Puckett, who lived in or around the spot from 1837 to 1939 – 102 years. At age 50, she took up midwifery and reportedly delivered upwards of 1,000 babies until her last year. Pretty amazing.

Mabry Mill, September 2018

Our next stop was Mabry Mill, the self-proclaimed “most photographed site” on the BRP (3). Regardless of the veracity of that claim, it was both interesting and photogenic. And fairly busy, with cars being directed to the overflow lot (4).

Wool for weaving, and basket weaving, September 2018

The mill itself was built by E.B. Mabry between 1903 and 1910. E.B. operated a sawmill and woodshop, while his wife operated the grist mill. All three were housed in the structure above. Rangers give interactive talks and demonstrations about the mill and rural crafts. We saw a ranger weaving a basket.

Yes, my camera lens was clean, September 2018

We planned to make another couple of stops, including climbing up Roanoke Mountain (in the car). But the weather, which had been overcast, descended and we found ourselves driving through heavy fog for quite a while. Even after we arrived into Roanoke Valley, the clouds remained low. So we bagged that plan and checked into the hotel.

Hotel Roanoke, September 2018

The Hotel Roanoke is a structure that the railroad built in the late 19th century and donated to Virginia Tech in 1989. It was subsequently remodeled and enhanced into a conference center. The room is nice (5) but small. Our Hampton Inn room last night was much larger, but more simply furnished.

View from our room, bridge to downtown, September 2018

After depositing our bags in the room, we walked across the tracks on a pedestrian bridge and had lunch downtown in a Thai restaurant. It wasn’t great Thai food.

(1) We also drove about 20 miles from our hotel in Dobson to the Parkway, and 7 miles from the Parkway to our hotel in Roanoke.

(2) I recalled that Roanoke was somehow a part of the early settlement story of our country. Turns out that the Roanoke Colony was by the Outer Banks, about 250 miles from the city of Roanoke.

(3) How could anyone know that? Is there an official registry somewhere? No one has asked me for a count of my pictures along the Parkway.

(4) The overflow lot was actually closer to the exhibit buildings but farther from the gift shop.

(5) Sally didn’t like the room at all; I did.

Saturday, September 29: Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 2

Yesterday’s trip on the BRP was all about mountains. Today, while the Parkway stayed it’s course along the Blue Ridge, the landscape changed. It became less hilly, and there were farms along the sides as we continued north. There were also fewer “sites” to stop at. Despite that, the vistas were beautiful.

Capturing the view, September 2018

It’s clear that I like to capture that beauty in photographs. But others have their own approach. Most people do take photographs, of course, and most of them use their phones. But a few do it the old school way – using paint, ink or pencil to capture their vision.

Pastoral scene, September 2018

My favorite “big picture” from today was smaller than yesterday’s.

We stopped at a cutout labeled “Cascades” (1), which had a sign promising a gentle 30 minute round trip walk. So off we went. We came to a stream and a small wooden footbridge after about 15 minutes, but the path continued on, down stone steps. And we could hear the water falling below. Sally headed back up, while I continued down.

Falls Creek rapid, September 2018

At the bottom of the steps I was about midway down a cascade of perhaps 100′ (2). Sadly, there was no good photo to be had there. Instead, I took a more intimate picture back at the wooden footbridge.

We were starting to think about lunch by now, and decided to head to the Blue Ridge Music Center at MP 213. Since they promise live music all day and an exhibit on music development in the Appalachian region, we assumed they would have food.

No such luck.

The museum was interesting but very small. The blue grass music was decent, but the musicians looked ready to fall asleep any minute. So we left and headed onto Mt. Airy, NC. Why Mt. Airy, you say?

Mt. Airy or Mayberry?, September 2018

Mt. Airy is where Andy Griffith grew up, and it was his childhood memories of a small, rural town that informed his first TV shows, “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Andy in Mayberry”. Mt. Airy is Mayberry.

Barney Fife doppelganger, September 2018

Mt. Airy has taken Mayberry to heart: the are stores and shops named after all the main characters. There mid-60s sheriff’s cars crusing the street. There are at least two Barney Fife’s walking around, and we saw one Gomer Pyle. Quite kitchy. We passed on the theme restaurants and found a wine bar where we got some tasty food.

Hampton Inn, September 2018

We found our hotel down in Dobson. It’s a Hampton Inn, quite nondescript, but clean, spacious and comfortable.

(1) Cascade Falls is located at MP 272, and is in E.B. Jeffress Park.

(2) The Wikipedia entry says 250′, but I’m sceptical.