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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The View from Above

This is the first of three entries detailing our recent trip to the Hawaiian Islands. The visit was planned as completion of several items on our NOW Life List (TV presenter Phil Keoghan's philosophy for accomplishing things you've always wanted to do). Plans went exceptionally well, and we've managed to notch a handful of things off the list. This entry covers my intent to some day see the sunrise over Maui's Mount Heleakala, commonly considered one of the most beautiful in the world.

As usual, the adventure begins at o'dark thirty. Truly, this time, as at 2:30am sharp I am picked up by Glenn, the driver for a morning expedition up Maui's famous Mount Haleakala to view what is considered to be one of the most beautiful sunrises in the world.

I am the first guest of what will eventually be 21 hearty souls braving the early morning and darkness to make the two hour drive -- well, drive for Glenn...just a ride for the rest of us --- to the volcanic mountain's crater.

It is pitch black as we head south out of Lahaina, making the bend from Maui's western shore into the island's central valley, a preliminary for the planned ascent up the 10,000 plus foot Haleakala. A few more stops to gather passengers and we're promised a stop at a convenience store for coffee, a sorely needed commodity for the sleepy tourists in the minibus.

Glenn is an affable, friendly guy with a classic beach boy vibe that betrays the storehouse of knowledge he possesses regarding Haleakala and the history of Maui itself. He came to the islands 28 years ago to work construction, transitioning to his tourism job just five years ago when the carpenter jobs dried up in the midst of the oncoming recession. No regrets, he insists. "It's hard to complain when your office is a Haleakala sunrise." There's no question he adds considerably to the texture of the trip.

From the visitors center outlook
 We stop for twenty or so minutes at the Minit Stop in Kahalui to get supplies and pick up the other bus' passengers. During the wait we're entertained by some late-nighters who have been enjoying their night just a little too hard. Our group makes last minute runs to the restroom before the door is shut and we're off on the second leg.

An hour or so later, as part of a many car/tour bus convoy making its way up the highway. We arrive while it's still dark, and huddle in the warm confines of the bus until Glenn spies the very earliest glow over the eastern horizon. It's time, he says, to get our spots on the rail.

Sunrise over the crater

 For no reason other than my personal adventurousness, I leave the group and head up the narrow pathway in the dark. It isn't lit, but you can find your way if you're not in a rush. going through the restroom buildings I soon locate and buckle up to the railing. It's still to early to see much more than a thin line marking the horizon, so I Braille my way through my equipment, set up the tripod and mount the D50 for pre-sunrise shots. Later I plan to switch the Nikon to hand-held once the lighting allows for it, replacing it with the video cam to catch the sunrise itself.

It's roughly 40 degrees at the outlook. It's chilly without being cold, though a few people around me might disagree. Off to my right two people huddle with a heavy blanket, while I overhear two young women behind me comment on someone they see wearing shorts. (!)

There is a calm that overtakes you as you see the first glint of gold on the clouds in the distance. The proverbial silver lining, but her in the islands it's pure golden in tone. We note, happily, that the cloud layer is below us, and sky above a spectacular deep blue. The horizon becomes bands of orange and yellow as the light increases. Then, a pinpoint of bright, pristine light.

Glenn (backwards cap) and others at the summit

I'm overcome by a sense of awe, a sense of insignificance and wonder. The crowd, now numbering over a hundred, goes silent. And as they do, suddenly, nearby and behind me off to my right, I hear a woman begin to sing. An old Hawaiian song to greet the new morning. As she sings, the light grows and begins to glint colorfully against the clouds below. There is a real reverence in the crowd at participating in this moment. 

(You do not simply "see" the sun rise on Haleakala, you experience it. You participate.)

Soon the entirety of the sun is up and visible, and the moment is over. The singer, entirely anonymous to most of us, thanks the crowd and welcomes us to the new day

before leaving us to pack our belongings. 

The crowd mills around, taking pictures of themselves and others with the sun and crater as backdrop. I help a few of them out, making sure everyone I'd using a flash (otherwise all you get are silhouettes against the sky). I slowly pack up and take a moment to browse the visitors center. 

I don't want it to end, but by the time I get back to the tour bus I'm the last to arrive. Glenn smiles and gets me on board where I take my seat and we head further up the mountain to the 10,043 foot summit. 

My mind remains, however, at that moment on the rail, when the first gold fleck appeared along the clouds. For perhaps the first time as a photographer I feel my work cannot convey the moment, the clarity, the impact of the event. And for that, I apologize. If you find yourself transported, even for a moment, to the top of the mountain, I am glad. I have to dip my head and acknowledge that at times such as these, all I can do is provide a taste. Hopefully it will convince you to try it for yourself some day.

And I'm pretty sure Glenn will be happy to take you there.

Glenn works for Polynesian Adventure. To book this and other trips, you can find them through Viator (www.viator.com) and on their own website at http://www.polyad.com/haleakala_sunrise_tour.html

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

PLEASE don't make me FLY!!!

We need to have a discussion, you and I. Quietly and one on one.
I have a secret. You cannot tell anyone, but you deserve to know. I love to travel, as you know. I love the visit to another place, the experiences, the fun, the local people, sights and cuisine.
But I hate getting there. 

 Let me be more specific: If it involves flight, I bite my lip, drag the luggage wherever they point me, stand, stand, stand in long queues, and generally dislike the entire experience of the modern day air travel.
There are exceptions, of course, but anything that remotely resembles long walks, followed by long, hot waits in line at ticket counters or -- far worse -- Security Check Points, I am not a fan.
In my years, I've had the misfortune to find myself in such pleasure centers as Dallas/Fort Worth, Atlanta, Chicago, and -- worst of the worst -- the appropriately titled Miami International Airport...aka MIA.
It's just a slog.
For obvious reasons, I have to carry on a lot. Within guidelines. Please don't assume I'm one of those annoying folks who argue that a three foot by five foot cargo locker is, indeed, a carryon. We know it's not. They know it's not. They've just done the mental mathematics that their convenience of not having to wait in baggage claim outweighs anyone else's need for a comfortable flight. They usually try to stuff these oversized couches into the overhead bin, which, of course, involves a good deal of pounding, sliding and loud din as the flight attendants practically beg the passenger to let them check the bag.
No, what I carry on is right-sized, but heavy. It's too small for even the small wheeled bags, which means I get to carry it the four and a half miles between the ticket counter, through customs...er, Security...and down the longest, hottest and most congested corridors in the known universe. And that doesn't include the ballet dance of holding one bag -- my cameras -- in front of me and the other bag -- my computer -- behind me as I twist my way down the narrow aisle in the center of the aircraft.
To be fair, there are exceptions...more because they are NOT the usual oversized shopping mall with gates, or Greyhound of the skies instead of being truly superlative. Some airlines, some airports ARE good, but it's sad this makes them so notable an exception.
We were bored, one night circa 1981, in the dorms at college. Not an easy thing to accomplish. So my friend Mike -- his real name -- suggested we go to LAX.
This was in the era before airports came to resemble shopping malls with a Customs department at the entrances. When family and loved ones met you at the gate instead of being relegated to standing at the luggage carousel amidst the families, friends and for-rent chauffeurs holding signs with some sort of referential calling for their fares.
It's no secret that airline travel has become a brutal test of endurance rather than the luxurious adventure in the air that we see in old movies and a few of us still retain in the dark recesses of our imaginations. Airliners of the 21st century have more in common with busses than they do with luxury. Even in first class -- which we flew cross country last August -- is little better than economy used to be.
The smaller the better
Once I would walk through the first class seats thinking "someday". Now it's more like "you poor naive saps" as I look down at the folks who are in seats that look uncommonly familiar -- maybe we sat upon them in economy a few years ago and they've been "repurposed" for first class? )I note and recognize that this is a domestic phenomenon. International Business Class and international flights in general seem to retain the old standards. This is why I can't attribute the decrease in quality as a figment of my imagination…we have examples of the former way of doing things right in front of us. Literally, in the case of first class!)
I've become seriously disenchanted with air travel, and now view it as solely a method to get to points too far to drive. But that definition is extending. Later this year we're driving to San Francisco rather than fly -- and just this last week I was seriously considering driving to Phoenix from Los Angeles rather than fly there for a business trip. And that doesn't speak well of the airline industry
There are exceptions, no doubt, as I said above. I love Long Beach Airport. There's still a sense of fun and adventure as you pull up to the art deco terminal. There's a sense of history, and it's an intimate enough terminal to lose the shopping mall appeal of most major airports. There's a significant renovation going on, which makes the walk out to the aircraft a bit of a trek…but then I reminded myself that the walk from the gate to the plane in this instance is less than the walk from most airport ticket counters to the gate. The airport promises to be a beautiful one when the work is complete. There is a strong effort to retain the appeal of a smaller more efficient terminal, avoiding the cold impersonality of LAX or even John Wayne Airport just down in Orange County.
Buckle up....
The decline of air travel is a three-fold affair: airports, airlines, and the TSA. I've already discussed the first two, but it's the latter which has, in many cases, put such a damper on travel.
Make no mistake: we now go through Customs each and every time we head to the gate. We are searched, our documents are checked, and we (usually) stand in long lines waiting to be allowed into the Inner Sanctum. It's the exact same process as Customs in an international flight, only with differing interest in what you might have packed away. As much as is possible, I recognize that the TSA officials at the airports do their best to be efficient and friendly…but it's still a major inconvenience to each and every traveler. Some airports/TSA teams do it better than others. Best in my experience: Washington Dulles, Long Beach and Denver. Worst: JFK, Atlanta, Dallas and the aforementionedMiami International Airport (aka "MIA").
The sad thing is, there's little if nothing any of us can do about it other than patronize those airlines and airports who "get it". But, unlike the LA metropolitan area which has five large airports, most cities have but one. Phoenix, San Diego, Philadelphia and most other destinations have the one field and that's it.

So much the pity.
Destination ahead...way, way ahead.