Some Thoughts on Kyrgyzstan
Sep10

Some Thoughts on Kyrgyzstan

This is my last post from Kyrgyzstan, and I really just wanted to get some thoughts on paper/web.  I think reflection is such an important thing to do, and I’m often so busy that I don’t have time to do it.  It’s now a month since I left Kyrgyzstan, and I’ve spent a day looking back on the trip and thinking about the country, and my experience.  I thought I’d sort them in a blog post. On Pre-Conceived Stereotypes I think it’s so hard to not think in stereotypes.  And, I think the idea of stereotypes is so often correlated with racism.  But, it’s really not.  I worried a lot during my stay in Kyrgyzstan that my pre-conceived ideas of the country made me a bit of a western-snob.  However, when I came home to Canada and thought of the stereotypes that others must imagine before coming to the country, I realized that it’s totally normal to imagine the stereotypes of the country to be a reality.  In fact, it’s so often what our tourism boards promote.  It’s no wonder that people think Canadians ride in dog sleds, live in igloos, and have bears in their backyard; that’s what we promote. I thought Kyrgyzstan was going to be wilder, more nomadic, and that everyone would be getting around on horseback.  Essentially, I thought Kyrgyzstan was going to be Mongolia.  And while it was free and wild, it was totally different, more developed, and more urban than I expected.  But, based on all the imagery of eagle hunters, nomads, and wild horses in the back country, it’s easy to assume that’s all there is in the country. But, there’s so much more. And that’s definitely not a bad thing. On Tourism in Kyrgyzstan The idea of tourism in Kyrgyzstan is interesting to me.  When I go on these projects that are meant to promote tourism to a destination, I’m always left wondering “but is it REALLY a viable tourism destination? Will people REALLY want to come here?”.  And, I think the answer is yes. But, there are some challenges for sure. One of the things I always look for in a tourism destination’s draw is does it have something iconic, or unique.  Brazil has Christ the Redeemer, Peru has Machu Picchu, and Cambodia has Angkor Wat, for example.  Iconic locations draw tourism in a massive way.  The growth in visibility of an iconic location can change tourism for an entire country; just look at what Machu Picchu has done for Peru’s tourism. I don’t think Kyrgyzstan has that. But, that doesn’t mean that Kyrgyzstan doesn’t have something unique.  I just...

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Hiking in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan
Aug16

Hiking in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan

Over my 8 years or so of travel, I’ve gone hiking on 6 different continents.  Generally, my biggest struggle in trekking is finding places where I can still find solitude among epic mountain peaks and perfect nature.  It seems these days that the best places in the world for hiking are all saturated with hiking pole handling trekkers in gear far more expensive than they need.  The bests trails Alps, the Rockies, even the Andes are lined with hikers.  But, in Kyrgyzstan, I still found that freedom to roam. That freedom to explore. That peace. This is my experience on a 3-day trek in the Karakol region of Kyrgyzstan. Jerghez My trek started just outside of Karakol and took me into a valley called Jerghez.  Leaving the village, along with my guide, porter, and a cook (obviously a little bit overkill for what I’m used to), we headed towards a series of snow-capped peaks. Within a couple kilometers there were no signs of human settlement.  By afternoon, we were off trails completely and sort of just stomping our own way through the valley. I asked my guide, on the first day, how many times he’s done this particular trek.  He hadn’t. It was his first time too.  In fact, this particular trek is extremely undeveloped.  The Kyrgyzstan tourism board, in association with USAID BGI is looking to develop it for tourism. And, the trail is actually a part of a longer trek that people could hike 7 days.  Of course, with the trail still unbeaten, guides are almost essential. And, we followed along with a topographic map to make sure we were headed the right way. Eventually, before reaching our first pass, we made camp at what might be the coolest place I’ve ever camped. Even by the end of day 1, the trek into the Kyrgyz mountains was so worth it. Ak-Suu The following morning, we pushed up our first mountain pass.  The pass itself was fairly easy; steep, but not overly intense. We hit an altitude of 3700m well before lunch and enjoyed the views from the top of the pass.  They were just unreal. From the pass, we made an 800m decent into Ak-Suu Valley.  Ak-Suu, in Kyrgyz, means “White Water”.  And, one look at the river carving through it is ample evidence why.  It almost looks like a rolling stream of milk from a distance.  The water is so thickly saturated with glacial rock flour coming off the nearby glaciers that it’s almost pure white.  Up the valley too are some of the most impressive peaks in Kyrgyzstan.  And, honestly, if I had been there...

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Help Yourself to Faster Airport Security this Summer
Jun01

Help Yourself to Faster Airport Security this Summer

It’s summer, you’ve been planning your big vacation for a while, and all you can think about is getting to the lake/beach/mountain (select dream location here). But with your mind’s eye fixed on your destination it’s easy to forget about the journey, particularly security screening at the airport. The good news is that being prepared can help you breeze through the screening checkpoint, leaving you more time to shop, eat or just relax before your flight. The first step is doing your homework so you know what goes in your carry-on and what goes in your checked baggage. The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) has some handy tools on its website, including a searchable “What can I bring” list that lets you know where to pack your items and what can and can’t fly. It also has a travel-checklist generator (insert reminder to water plants here), and tips for all sorts of challenges – from what to do with large sports equipment and medical supplies to travelling with pets. According to CATSA, one of the biggest hold-ups at security is having too many liquids, aerosols and gels. Containers over 100 ml and 1 litre bags that are overstuffed with smaller containers (no seal; no deal) will need to be checked. As for that cup of java or water bottle in your hand – if it’s over 100 ml, be prepared to chug. There are some exceptions, like liquids for kids under two years old and medication. You can check out more here. In all cases, the containers should be taken out of your carry-on bag and ready to present to the screening officer for inspection. Once you hit the front of the line, it helps to have your boarding pass ready to show to the screening officer. You can also speed things up if you put any loose change, keys and small electronics (smart phones, cameras, tablets) in your carry-on bag so you can just drop it in the bin. If you’re travelling with a laptop or other large electronics (gaming console, DVD player) you’ll need to put them in a separate bin. For more information on what you can put in the bins at the checkpoint, you can find it here. If you’re still wondering what to do with an item or want more information about security screening, you can always send questions to CATSA on Twitter or Facebook. Lastly, travel is all about being mobile, so you should definitely download CATSA’s free mobile app. It’s available on Android, iOS and Blackberry, and can help you with all this and more, including wait times for security at...

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Finding Work as a Travel Photographer: ITB Round Up
Mar28

Finding Work as a Travel Photographer: ITB Round Up

I left The Philippines – quite sadly, I might add – and headed toward Berlin.  I had a conference in the city called ITB.  It’s essentially the biggest travel conference and trade fair on the planet.  It’s massive. Like, overwhelmingly massive.  And, it’s a great place to try to make contacts and for finding work as a travel photographer.  It’s also a great place to network and hang out with some industry friends. So, I was actually pretty stoked about ITB this year.  I had a lot of good meetings planned, and some parties with some old friends and colleagues.  This is basically how it went. Meeting Old Friends One of my favourite parts of ITB in Berlin is that it’s like an annual meet up of old friends.  In this industry, most of our friends are scattered around the world. So, conferences like this are where we kind of all come together once a year.  Some of the others in the travel industry see each other a lot. But, since I travel so much, I tend to miss out on seeing most of them. So, after arriving to Berlin, I headed out to a Travel Massive party and had some drinks with old friends. Selfies and Business Meetings One of the things I love about daily vlogging is that it kind of forces me to do something creative each and every day.  Like, in the vlog below, I was at a conference in business meetings all day, and it should have been a boring day.  But, since I was forced to create something for the vlog, I had to come up with an idea for something fun to do.  So, I grabbed Greg and Dave and we went around the conference halls taking selfies with all the people dressed up in their country’s outfits. It was a lot of fun. Of course, the fun was also mixed in with the business meetings.  My early meetings went pretty well. Some Insight into Finding Work as a Travel Photographer Finding work as a travel photographer almost seems like a bit of a dream.  And, the question I get asked all the time by people is “but, who is giving you the work?”  And, the truth is, there is almost an unlimited number of people who can look to hire travel photographers. Tourism Boards Travel Companies Websites and Blogs Magazines and Newspapers Clothing Brands Etc. The truth is, almost any company in the world might benefit from having a travel angle to their imagery. And, while a lot of people are talking about travel photography being a dying art, I think...

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Where to Stay? Jamaican Accommodation Guide
Mar28

Where to Stay? Jamaican Accommodation Guide

Honestly, most people who come from North America or Europe to Jamaica do so as some sort of a package.  They book complete trips that hook them up at all-inclusive resorts around the island.  Personally, I’m not much of a fan of the all-inclusive world.  It tends to leave tourists boxed in, and stuck in their particular resort.  And, yes, if you’re looking for a pure vacation where you don’t really have to think at all, it is a decent option. Still, I have some other ideas for you.  This is my quick guide to accommodation in Jamaica. Vacation Rentals I’m a huge fan of the vacation rentals world.  I think that rentals like this allow tourists a bit more freedom to explore, and maybe even a sense of living in a destination.  Moreover, one can find a wide spectrum of types of accommodation to stay in by using vacations rentals.  For example, you can often find fairly cheap apartments, or you can find beautiful luxury houses for rent in Jamaica.  So, regardless of what you’re after – or your budget – there’s an option for you. Boutique Hotels The boutique hotels are a great option in Jamaica as well.  Generally speaking, the boutique hotels you’ll find on the island have so much more character to them in comparison with the massive all-inclusive resorts. One of my favourite boutique hotels in Jamaica is a place called Rockhouse Hotel in Negril.  It’s rooms are cool, and the setting – out on a set of jagged rocks – is beyond incredible.  Some of the rooms even have their own private pools, others have ladders down into the calm bits of sea within the rocks.  It’s simply stunning here.  And, boutique hotels like Rockhouse are scattered all over the country. Hostels and Guesthouses If you’re on a bit of a budget, you can also find a bunch of hostels and guesthouses throughout Jamaica.  The guesthouses in particular are great value, and give you a nice insight into island life. The obvious downside to guesthouses is that for the most part they are fairly far from the beach or the tourist attractions.  The advantage is you’ll get a bit look at real Jamaican life.  It’s as close as you can get to renting a house in Jamaica.  Moreover, staying at the guesthouses is a nice way to get some interaction with the locals that you just don’t get at the all-inclusive resorts. If you’re really on a budget, you can actually find quite a few hostels in Jamaica as well.  Especially in bigger centers like Negril and Montego Bay, you’ll find some nice...

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