Tag Archives: Overview

Taking stock of one mad trip

It is often like that with travel. You feel somewhere between amused and bored as you wander around a strange faraway destination. And yet as you look back at that moment just a couple of months later from another place thousands of kilometres away, the very fact of having physically occupied a small piece of the Earth out there seems surreal.

That is how I feel now that I am back in Europe, as I look back at my trip around Latin America and the Caribbean. So many places discovered, so many new (and old) people met, so many impressions and events… and all of that in such a short timespan!

Sometimes I think back about my days before this crazy two-year-long trip and it feels to me as if all of it was in another life. I have changed so much, experienced so much and learnt so much. And simply time-wise it feels like a temporal abyss separates me from that day in 2013 when I left Brussels.

Certainly it was the most intense period of my life.

As for you, my dear blog, I must apologise to you that I haven’t spent much time with you in these last months. You are probably well and truly upset with me. Yes, other causes have consumed my energy. I could probably write 25 posts about all the places I visited during that time. And in the back of my mind I still have that idea, that need – to write about these places. Now that I will not write about them day to day, it will be a retrospective look. But how surreal and magical it feels to take that look.
Looking down at Minsk

Best photos

This week I allocated one full day in order go to through all the images I’ve ever made and pick out the best ones. My actual goal was to create a portfolio of best images. I’d already started this work before as I had identified all the best portraits and even asked for feedback from critically and artsy minded friends. When you do the selection yourself, the challenge is of course to abstract yourself from your memories of making the photos – memories about the person, about the shoot, about your mood, your conscious creative choices – and only concentrate on the merits of the image itself. Not an easy thing to do. Of course you also want to have a certain variety in the selection – if all your best photos come from the same situation, that looks iffy.

To go through all of your images sounds like an easy task in theory, but in practice it is anything but. From my DSLR cameras alone I have by now over 35’000 images. Indeed even visually to go through all this on a computer screen, assuming you take 3 seconds per image, would take 29 hours. So I took shortcuts: I’d only look at the very best images, the ones I’ve already published on the blog or the ones that I’d given a high rating in Lightroom.

The result is out there – I’ve created two “portfolio” collections: People and Places.

As a side project, I decided to also choose (somewhat arbitrarily, of course) the best ten images for 2014. Just as a way of looking back and of gauging my progress in photography. Here they are:

Singapore, Marina Bay
Continue reading Best photos

Twenty best experiences of 2014

What does it mean to travel for a year around the world? At the end of 2013 I wrote a selection of 20 best experiences of the first part of the trip. As the year 2014 was rolling in, I was seriously asking myself: could I possibly surpass 2013?

Today my answer is: absolutely yes! This was a tremendous year full of events and impressions and new people and places. Indeed so intense was the year, that as I re-read some of my early posts of 2014, I feel like they might have happened in another life eons ago.

Here are the twenty most powerful experiences of 2014:

20. Helicoptering to the top of a glacier
It was my lifelong fantasy to fly in a helicopter, and what a spectacular way to do it! In New Zealand’s Franz Josef, a helicopter took us up all the way to the top of a glacier, inaccessible otherwise. An otherworldly walk in the land of ice and light inside a deep glacier valley followed.

Continue reading Twenty best experiences of 2014

Annual review 2014

Every year at the end of December I complete the Annual Review exercise. I first got an idea for this tremendously useful annual ritual from Chris Guillebeau’s blog. This is the fourth time I’m doing the exercise: I’ve reviewed 2011, 2012, 2013 and now 2014; the 2012 review was even published on this blog. Below is the (somewhat abridged) review of 2014.

1. The first part of the review is to ask myself these two questions: What went well this year? and What did not go well?

What went well in 2014?

Looking back, 2014 was probably the most amazing year of my life. I spent the whole year literally on the road continuing my Round the World trip that I started back in July 2013. During 2014 I visited 29 countries, many of them for the first time. A whole list of incredible experiences happened on the way, of which the most memorable were:

Continue reading Annual review 2014

Top 10 most visited entries

Recently I was looking at the statistics of my journal as I can follow it using Google Analytics. I was surprised to find out that the most popular – most visited – entries were quite different in the English and the Russian versions of the blog. Here are the top 10 most visited entries in the English version:

1. From the Japanese notebook: 28 impressions of Japan
2. 20 most powerful experiences
3. The Why
4. Yogyakarta
5. Buenos Aires part 2
6. Hidden Bangkok
7. Walk around Osaka
8. Mendoza 4: Self-guided wine bike tour
9. Asunción
10. I am a Death Road Survivor

I removed of course the “functional” pages – the Archives and the About page. Still, very honestly I am puzzled as to why exactly these posts made the top 10. Particularly as in the Russian version only nr 2 and nr 10 are present as well in the top 10 – on completely different positions. It is normal that the posts from earlier in the trip would be more represented in the most visited list – people have had more time to stumble upon them accidentally via google searches etc. But still, what is so special about the walk about Osaka that it would be so much visited? These little mysteries of blogging fascinate me.

20 most powerful experiences of the trip in 2013

My trip around the world kicked off on 5 July 2013. In half a year on the road I have crossed two oceans, visited 17 countries and gone through thousands of kilometres on a plane, on a boat, on a bus and on foot. And it’s only the beginning! Right now I am in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, where I am doing my annual review for the year 2013 and making my plans for 2014. Here are the 20 brightest experiences of the journey so far.

20. A football match at 3850 metres
Only the most particular circumstances can force a lifelong tennis fan to take part in a football match. Such circumstances transpired on the island of Amantaní on Lake Titicaca, at 3850 metres of altitude. When having run just a couple of metres you feel like your throat has been scorched with fire. And we won that match against a team of young Brits!

Continue reading 20 most powerful experiences of the trip in 2013

Pink tide

Leaving Latin America, I want to comment on a phenomenon that seems to be sweeping this part of the world. It is the so called pink tide, the simultaneous occurrence of a left swing in the politics of the most countries on this continent. It is pink of course because bloody red is somehow appropriated by the communists, whereas the socialists can be safely painted in pink. Latin America has been under robust American control for many years, belonged to the immediate American sphere of interests. But especially in the most recent years, after the end of the Cold War, the situation here changed radically and one after another pieces of the domino fell as socialist or left-wing presidents won elections.

There are 12 independent countries in South America. Today there are left-wing governments in 9 of them, and Michelle Bachelet just won the first round in presidential election in Chile and is likely to win the second, making it 10 out of 12.

This is how it looks:

Continue reading Pink tide

Life on the road

My journey started exactly a month ago, on 5 July. Here are some observations on the everyday life on the road during this month.

One of the loveliest aspects of life on the road in Latin America is of course the chance to practice Spanish.

In Yucatan and Guatemala to understand what people say was actually very easy – I guess the reason was that Spanish was not native for many of them. It’s a good way to get into the groove.

In Peru, especially in Lima, I realised in my first days that I had almost no idea what people were saying – so fast and so particular was their speech. But over time I got used to it. In Arequipa, Cusco and Puno things were a lot easier – a lot slower pace, a lot easier to understand and to speak. It is of course the best way to improve your skill, to immerse yourself in the language.

In Latin America they use a lot of words and expressions which are understandable, but to which I am not used: disculpe to say excuse me, con mucho gusto! to say you’re welcome, any young man is addressed as jóven, generally any person at any moment is addressed to as amigo. It’s fun and it makes you feel like you’ve touched a living language.

Money matters
Major mixing of banknotes and coins in my purse: euros, dollars, quetzals, nuevos soles, pesos, bolivianos, laris, and even some Estonian sents as a memento…

Continue reading Life on the road

Best photo podcasts

I discovered the entire podcasting culture only last year, and was swept off my feet. It has changed the way I access information, in that now at many of those in-beteen moments out there when you wait with nothing else to do, I can actually use my time to listen to something fascinating and useful.

I consistently listen to two photography podcasts, both in English. I came to these by a trial and error process, adding a whole list of various podcasts and then one by one removing those I found tedious or uninformative. These two are similar in that they are both done by independent photographers who’ve got a natural need for publicity due to the way they organise their business. Their main occupation is leading photography tours and so they need to spread awareness of themselves to gain participants.

Martin Bailey is originally English, but for several years already he lives in Japan, speaks fluent Japanese and has acquired Japanese nationality. He specialises in nature photography and leads photo tours, of which the crown jewel is the tour of Hokkaido, or the snow monkeys tour, by the name of the most unusual animal seen on it. Martin tends to do rather lengthy podcasts in which very calmly and in substantial detail he lays out his recent photographic exploits, be it his most recent tour or a selection of best photographs he’s recently made. Despite his obvious expertise, Martin only switched to full-time photography about 2.5 years ago, and he prepared for this switch for a long time. I find his life story fascinating, exactly because of this aspect of masterminding, preparing and then executing this life-reclaiming plan.

The other podcast is the Camera Position podcast by Jeff Curto, an American photographer. This podcast tends to be very short, 8 or 10 minutes an episode. But every episode is a little gem, in that it draws attention to some artwork or some particular aspect of photography in the way that never fails to inspire me. Jeff also organises photo tours, normally in Italy to explore the Italian visual treasures, with the emphasis on culture.

I tried to find some photo podcasts in Russian, but the choice of podcasts in Russian is a lot more limited. I do listen to some non-photo podcasts in Russian, but so far haven’t found any interesting photo ones. Still, I cannot fail to mention the photo blog in Russian that I follow. It is by Dima Chatrov, who is a rather well-known figure in the Russian blogosphere. Again, his main pursuit is leading photo tours to all kinds of exotic destinations. I have taken part in one of his tours in April 2012, around Myanmar, which was a fantastic experience. I will write about this trip one day here. He has this particular sensibility for foreign lands, seeing them as fairytale destinations shrouded in mystery, and this is very much reflected in his photos (and texts). I know that he likes to do a lot of post-production work with his photos, which certainly allows for a great reflection of his artistic vision. I also follow his Photo Planet community blog, where the participants of his tours publish their photos.

Annual review 2012

In the beginning of this year, I went for a week to the island of Gran Canaria. The major purpose of the trip was to do the annual review exercise for 2012, as well as to brainstorm on the plans and the ideas for the new year.

Gran Canaria, with its weather reminiscent of eternal spring, was a perfect place to do this exercise. In my mind I had the image of the island as a destination of countless package tours. However since I stayed in Las Palmas, which is just a normal Spanish city, only with a few palm trees, I felt rather far away from the tourist crowds inundating other parts of the island. Sipping a glass of white wine on the promenade of Las Canteras, looking at the unruly ocean lit by the winter sun of Africa, was a great way to reflect.

I do my annual review exercise according to the principles proposed in one of my favourite blogs, the Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau. The idea is rather simple: you look at what went well in the past year and at what did not go well. Then you look at the goals you set for yourself last year and how they got implemented or not. And then you set goals for yourself for the coming year. In general I quite agree with the old adage that 10% of time spent on planning saves 90% of time spent on execution. More than that, I am pretty sure that high-level planning and reflection is a lot more effective than minute day-to-day efficiency management. So I find it very useful to take some time to do the review for the whole year.

Last year was the first time I did this exercise, so this year was the first time I could review the goals I set for myself in an organised way. Here are some flashbacks from the annual review exercise for 2012.

What went well?

The theme of 2012 for me was LEARNING.

It was a very productive year. In my work I got to work for the whole year in the same organisational unit, which meant that I could really apply myself fully. I did a lot of travel for work and got to do some rather challenging missions, including to our most important counterpart. I very much enjoyed the challenge.

Outside of work, I travelled to some amazing places around the world – including Brazil, Myanmar and Japan.

I got to do a lot of learning. In the beginning of the year, I did two film programs in Brussels Raindance, in screenwriting and in directing. In April I went to Myanmar for a photography expedition with a group of photographers. I continued doing my contemporary dance classes in Fred Academy in Brussels. Finally, from September I started participating in regular tennis matches with BGS.

I read a number of amazing books that literally changed my life.

What did not go so well?

Although I celebrated the previous New Year with my brother and his family on the island of Koh Phangan in Thailand, overall I did not see my family as much as I would have liked to during this year.

Doing a lot of learning, I did not do as much implementation of learning as I would have liked: I mean the actual photographing and the actual writing.

I met my friends, but I would have liked to meet them more and to organise the events with on my initiative and around some ideas that I have.

Last year I was counting on moving to another flat, but this did not come to pass, as I had too many other activities, including of course a lot of work as well as a lot of business and personal travel that took my focus.


I am still considering what will be the theme of this year. Perhaps it will be CHANGE or DISCOVERY or FIRST ACTIONS.

One of the plans that kind of got into shape during the reflection time in Gran Canaria was to go ahead with this blog. The idea of a blog built around the topic of photography has been simmering in the back of my mind for quite a while already. I hope to write here about the lessons I learn in photography. I will also share my inspiration – be it foreign lands, information resources or my amazing friends and their wisdom.

I also hope that the existence of this blog will kind of push me a bit to look for more unusual experiences, to step out of my comfort zone, and also will inspire me to learn and do new things in photography.