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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.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien 

I'm all for itineraries. Making sure you list and understand what it is that you want out of a trip. What are the "must see" and "must do" events and sights that will let you look back and appreciate what you've done. What you've experienced. No question.

And you've also got to insert some time for the unexpected, the unplanned. A trip somehow goes awry, and you've got to build in a bit of a buffer to make sure that once something goes sideways, the rest of the trip can proceed from that point. We've encountered numerous challenges ranging from simple transport cancellations -- I say simple, but this can have a significant impact on schedules -- to medical emergencies. None of which you want or expect, but you need to be prepared, and also take the steps to make sure you're covered when all Hell breaks loose.

Okay. Enough about schedules and plans and contingencies.

What happens when you get to a day you've reserved, and you've got time to play? In some cases, it's just a pleasure to grab your towel and head down to the beach or pool and stop for a while. We did this in St. Barth, spending a full four hours sitting on our bungalow patio enjoying the tropical breeze blowing across our faces and watching the various people come and go on the beach. Not too often you get an opportunity to stop and just enjoy a place (though some people make this exactly the sort of trip by design). But when you're on an adventure, and most trips are an adventure of some kind, people like me want to fill it up with as much activity as possible. (What's the point of going somewhere if you're going to sit and stare at the wall?)

So. Last year one of our destinations was Hawaii. I've noted several of the highlights in previous essays, particularly those which were on my NOW list or were in some other way a special event. We visited Maui and the Big Island, and for the most part had things planned out and with specific activities along the way.

But one day we found ourselves with limited plans, mainly involving the evening. No sailing, no snuba, no tours, lunches, shopping, gallery-hopping, beaches, etc. So what do you do? We rambled a bit, met our friends for a late breakfast. They mentioned that on a previous visit to Maui they had driven the north coast of the island.

A place where the "honor system" still holds true
Now, anyone who has ever rented a car on Maui will tell you they got maps and other things that suggest that the north shore of Maui is reportedly offroading, and not permitted by your rental contract. (This is one of the reasons we usually rent Jeeps when in Hawaii.) Our friends insisted that not only is the route passable, but it's paved the entire way. Narrow in places, and steep inclines down to rocky shoals in others, but for the most part a relatively smooth and passable road. Plus there are a few galleries and towns that are off the beaten path, which, of course, immediately got our interest peaked.

So, unplanned, uncoordinated, here are shots from our little journey into the parts of Maui most people never go. Most tourists avoid, in fact, but most travelers seek out. Away from the resorts. Away from the shopping. Away from the four and five-star restaurants. It's not quite as remote as Hana, but it's just as fun and just as interesting.

BTW - A couple of things you should absolutely do...

Rolling into town

In the small town of Kahakuloa (roughly half way between the north end of Kaanapali and the eastern side of the mountain Kahalui) is a small fruit stand right next to the side of the road at a curve. It's strictly a shack, but it's usually teeming with visitors. The fruit is fresh, and the snacks are perfect for a mid-point stopover along the trek.

Kahakuloa from the roadway up the hill


Steve Turnbull working on a dragon
Sculpture in the garden
The second "gotta do" is to stop by artists Steve and Christine Turnbull's studio and garden in Wailuku. The garden itself is just beautiful -- very scenic and worth a stop in and of itself. But the Turnbulls are both quite talented artists, and you will probably want to take in both the garden works as well as the studio itself and maybe pick up a terrific work of art for your home. They're warm and friendly people and would love to welcome you to their collection.

Take the time to get out and get away from your formal itinerary. Get some time to explore, to get off the beaten path. See things as they are. Not as the tourists are shown, but as the locals perceive their world. It's amazing how rewarding even a brief afternoon out on the open road can be for giving you a better feel, a better understanding of where you are and what kind of place it really is.


Off the beaten path


Monday, January 14, 2013

New Year, New Thinking

Every once in a while I allude to my NOW list -- the list of things I want to accomplish in life, and these items comprise my current "top of".

If you're a steady reader of this blog, you're already familiar with the N.O.W. philosophy as created by Phil Keoghan, the host of the CBS tv series The Amazing Race. If you're not familiar with it, think of it as a planned-out Bucket List of accomplishments in addition to activities. 

(For the record for the umpty-umpth time, I dislike the term "bucket list" -- it has the ring of finality and urgency to it that isn't quite right. It reeks of "gotta get this done before I die", which to me is a very negative approach. I far prefer "I have to do this in order to have lived" instead.)

At The South Sawyer Glacier, Alaska
So, despite my frustration with Keoghan and his producers over the criminal acts of a team in the most recent season of TAR -- and no, I have no intention of letting it go -- I still maintain my NOW list and still continue with its planning and execution. One of the keys of a successful NOW list is the continual examination of it to make sure it's still relevant to your life. There are things that change as we get older, have new experiences and change our priorities. What once might have been important to us might have slipped enough to be replaced by another priority. As we grow, we change. What is important to us in our twenties may become meaningless in out forties.

So, as I do pretty much every year, I take a look at what I considered significant and at the top of my list, to see if it merits inclusion or has slipped enough to drop for the top priorities. This doesn't mean I no longer want to do them, but it does mean something else may have become more important to me.

So, offered here, is my revised 2013 No Opportunity Wasted List for Life, with a few thoughts and comments as to why they have been added or dropped from the top..well, thirteen. You guys know I can't count. (The parenthetical comments reflect which specific NOW challenges are covered by that activity.)

Swimming with Dolphins in Mexico
Revised NOW List - 2013

1 - Small ship trip up the Amazon -- or down, if coming from Peru

This is kept on the list for a very important reason: traveling up (or down) the Amazon appeals to the sense of adventure I try to impart in all of my trips. The Amazon still holds a strong mystique in a world grown entirely too familiar and everyday. 

2 - Snorkel or SNUBA the Great Barrier Reef

It is no secret the world's natural areas are under assault. Polar ice is melting, vast forests are being cut down, and the Earth is warming at a rate faster than historic record suggests it should. This is having a profoundly negative impact on our natural world, and the threat is evident in many of the world's great reefs. The Great Barrier Reef, so large and complex it can be seen from space, is not immune to this. I desperately want to see it before it is destroyed.

3 - Sleep under the stars in Wadi Rum (Get Lost)

This is new to the list, though shouldn't be. I've made my fascination with deserts known in a number of previous posts. Wadi Rum is one of the most spectacular. When I read that one of the adventures offered there was a night out under the stars it just seemed to be a natural for me. 

Monet's Garden, Giverny
4 - Cruise to Antarctica, walk amongst penguins (Break New Ground)

Okay, who doesn't dream of visiting the ends of the Earth?

5 - Lose 75 lbs by December 2013 (Test Your Limits)

I am acutely aware that my current weight is limiting me. Not just from a health standpoint, which it is, but also from an experiential one. It's not that I want to go rock climbing or bungee jumping…I simply want to see a trail and explore without concern that I will exhaust myself before getting back. Or, worse, become unable to do the sorts of things on this list. So, heath has become a top priority for me in the new year. It will be a true test of my limits, since I'm a real foodie...

6 - Photograph both sunrise and sunset in Yosemite NP

Something so simple, and something so near. I live four hours from Yosemite, yet have never been there. It's one of the most beautiful scenics in the country, yet I haven't photographed it. Got to change that.

A Warm Day in the Yukon
7 - Take a hot air balloon ride (Face Your Fear, Leap of Faith)

I suffer from acrophobia, to a degree that ranges from slightly nervous to highly anxious -- and no predictability as to which reaction is going to show up at any given moment. I've stood at the rim of the Grand Canyon with an only slightly elevated pulse rate, but backed well away from the edge at the top of New York's skyscrapers. No problem on the London Eye, but sweaty palms at the top of Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas. So, in order to face my fear I have vowed to take a hot air balloon with my wife. Years ago we had actually booked the trip -- in Sedona -- but weather prevented my checking this little doozy off my NOW list.

8 - Get a book of my photography and travels published (Shed/Express Yourself)

I'm just egotistical enough to think this is worthwhile.

9 - Drive the length of Route 66, end to end

Think CARS on steroids. I love the Mother Road, and have driven portions of it several times. But never end to end. Need to plan this and do it.

10 - Take an African Safari

This has been on the list for years, and lacks only funding for its accomplishment. In all likelihood we'll be able to carry this off in the next three years.

11 - Cruise Loch Ness

Okay, this one came up as a side trip from a planned cruise later this year. The cruise ends in Edinburgh. In the planning of that trip, it occurred to me that for years, as a boy, I was fascinated by the supernatural. Nessie was one focus of that fascination (just loved the thought of monsters roaming the Earth..well, except when it came to bedtime, that is). Since we'll be in the neighborhood, I've talked my wife into a day trip from Edinburgh in order to check this one off the list.

12 - Ride a boat through the islands of Phang Nga Bay

Abbey Road
This is one of several "otherworldly" landscapes I have to see in my life. This one goes first.

13 - Visit Stonehenge

Speaking of otherworldly and supernatural, Stonehenge gets marks for both. Sadly, the tourists (of which I will be one, someday) have limited the interaction with the stones themselves. Thirty years ago my ambition would have been to touch one. Now, it's simply to see them at sunset (or sunrise.

Several items dropped:

Walk the Havasupai horseshoe over the Grand Canyon - This was dropped because of the unreasonable cost and regulations involved. There are plenty of other challenges for my acrophobia, so this gets dumped.

Hell...Cayman Islands
Dipping my feet in the Indian Ocean - Why just my feet? I'd like to swim in the Indian Ocean. But it's no longer one of the top fifteen.

Eat at a 3 Michelin rosette restaurant - Yes, I'm a foodie and this would be a wonderful experience. But is it worth inclusion on my NOW list? No…but if it comes up, I'll be there.

Stay at every major casino property in Las Vegas - Since the definition and identities of "major casino" are completely up in the air, this one goes for being too hazy an ambition.

Drink a glass of wine in every major wine region - See above "casino for this one, too. I *do* want to have glasses of wine in the major districts, but this one will be a slow and steady accomplishment, rather than a "get it done NOW" one.

Spend a couple of nights north of the Arctic Circle - Still want to do this. No current opportunity, and this one isn't on the highest priority

Spend the night in an ice hotel - Again, if offered, yes. Seek it out as a single experience? Not so much any more.

Northern Canada, near the Hudson Bay
Attend a performance in the Sydney Opera House - Yes, if in the area. I have a lot of other reasons to go to Australia, this is a side trip, not a destination.

Drive the Great Ocean Road - Same thing as Sydney. I love the idea of a drive down the Great Ocean Road. I'll do it when other things take me to Australia.

See the Great Pyramids - This may surprise some people to see this has fallen from the uppermost perch. It's certainly on what you would call my bucket list, but less so on my list of current projects. For one, I have to express some unease about the political climate in Egypt at the moment. I greatly agree with where they are trying to go as a culture, but the arguing factions do little make me feel welcome or safe. So, until it is stabilized, this one goes on the backburner.

Okay. That's it for 2013, though I reserve the right to change the list again at a whim -- or an accomplishment.

Sunset Dinner at Sea on the Mediterranean

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Seek Out the Adventure

"We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls."   Anais Nin 

Fun day today. Off to the Travel and Adventure Show at the Long Beach Convention Center. 

I'll blog in more detail about the show and its ilk at a later date, but this is the sort of thing we can do on a regular basis that gets the same Raman juices flowing. No, no, no. Not the noodle we all consumed in mass quantities during the lean college years, but the Hindu God who wandered in exile for fourteen years. Kind of like Anthony Bourdain without a camera crew.

The fun of the Travel and Adventure Show is to wander the aisles thinking and dreaming and, at times, planning. And picking up lit. Lots of lit -- which ought to be loads of joy today since I have a spasming lower back. (A different story, filled with irony, but not really a topic for a travel page. Rest assured, it hurts.) Last year I met and have subsequently continued to be in contact with ace travel photographer and blogger Ralph Velasco -- a man who lives the life I'd like to. (If he turns up missing one day, don't blame me. I'm sure to have an ironclad alibi.) He is giving his most-excellent presentation "Developing Your Photographic Vision: The Importance of Looking vs. Seeing" -- which got my attention last year because of the content and approach it calls for in travel photography. (He has published an excellent book on the topic -- "101 Tips for Developing Your Photographic Eye & More" -- with an accompanying application for your tablet. Well worth checking out -- there is a link to his website below.)


Typically it's my wife and I who peruse the show, but this year our friends Mary and Evelyn announced they'd like to go with us. They're planning a cruise later in the year and want to gather as much info on possible itineraries as they can. This is a marvelous opportunity for them to go to a single place and get direct and useful feedback from the professionals in the booths. It's not necessarily a "sales-y" situation -- yes, some of the vendors view it as such -- but the majority are there to help you out and describe the best parts of whatever destination they are representing. (Hint: Hit the booths of travel bureaus and destinations themselves such as cruise lines or resorts. Packagers are excellent options, but they tend to be more aggressive in these sorts of shows.)

I'll fill you in on all the details, but check your local convention center to see if they have similar shows during the year. For lovers of travel -- and why would you be here if you're not -- it's like being a kid in a candy store searching for just the right Wonka Bar. The one with the golden ticket.

...and automobiles.

Ralph Velasco's website: http://www.ralphvelasco.com

Monday, January 7, 2013

ROAD TRIP: Malibu at Sunset

"Move to California. Malibu is paradise." 
                                          - David Geffen

Every once in a while I'm simply going from place A to place B and not really focussing (*ahem*) on the local scenery.

Malibu, an almost legendary town up the coast from the LA metro area, is a nice place to visit, but unless you live there it's not really a destination in and of itself -- though the beaches on the west side of Point Dume are truly spectacular. (Point Dume is the large peninsula silhouetted in some of the below pictures.) Malibu is commonly viewed and marketed as a Hollywood colony, with a lot of film and television stars.producers.directors, etc, making their home along this quite beautiful stretch of the coastline.

In this case, as I was driving along the Pacific Coast Highway as I happened to catch a glimpse of some wonderful atmospheric conditions out over the ocean, which might yield a pretty special sunset. (I have hundreds of sunset and sunrise shots, so despite their obvious attraction they usually aren't a huge priority for me but I am happy to catch them as I find them.) There are, thankfully, any number of terrific vantage points along the PCH on this section of road. I pulled off and grabbed my Nikons, and managed to catch the area right at the point of sundown. Locals did me the courtesy of walking through the scene -- and in one case, kayaking through it -- allowing me to add that "human" note to the scene in a lot of the shots. 

Unlike my usual posts, I'm going to offer the rest of the pictures without much comment. I hope you enjoy this short distraction of a beautiful Malibu Sunset.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


"I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." 
                           - Robert Louis Stevenson

Just a few days ago I posted my 2012 Year End review, and what a fun year it was. But now, as with ever First of January, I find myself looking forward not back. 

Off Again....
The new year holds a lot of promise, and I genuinely plan on taking advantage of the opportunities that come my way. We already have three major trips on the drawing boards (well, one is solid and the other two are well into the planning and reservation stage). Unlike 2012, 2013 is going to be more of an intercontinental effort, filled with new countries and destinations. It's always fun to plans such adventures, because when it comes to exploring new territory you're in the position of having to rely upon the advice of others to make sure you don't get tripped up -- and if you are, how best to respond to it.

One of the biggest plans of 2013 is to continue to expand the brand of the Thumbnail Traveler. Not only do we have this blog page -- which is rapidly gaining traction, and I have all of you to thank for that -- but there is a Twitter feed (@thumbnailtravel), a Facebook page (Thumbnail Traveler) and soon to come, a fully illustrated website dedicated to destination guides, galleries and links to other reference sites for -- at the start -- thirty global destinations. We figure that should go live by late February,. so keep your eyes peeled here for updates. 

A little later in the year -- perhaps February or March -- we're preparing a handful of videos for Youtube (and elsewhere). Yep, we're goin' MultiMedia here at the Thumbnail Traveler!!! You can see the first beta test by using the link down below. It's just the first round. Future iterations will include voiceover descriptions and actual video of sites.


Obviously, since the entire content of the Thumbnail Traveler sites is dependent upon travel, we're going to be on the road for a number of times during the year. There will be a handful of the short-duration overnights up into such areas as the California deserts. Not only a return to Joshua Tree, but I'd also like to log some time photographing the area near the Salton Sea, and up through the Death Valley. A friend hipped me to some interesting statuary out near Joshua Tree that I'd like to explore a bit, working in a similar vein to the night shots of The Last Supper statues in Rhyolite, Nevada. If you haven't seen the exposures I'm describing, check them out using the link down at the bottom of this column. They're truly stunning works.

The more formalized trips for the year are, as noted, taking shape. In February we're journeying up to perhaps our second most frequented destination in the world, and that is Las Vegas. We get there two to three times a year and usually find quite a bit to keep us occupied. This trip promises nothing different, with side trips into Red Rock Canyon, the town of Goodsprings, and possibly a run up to the Hoover Dam. I've worked around the first two, and still have a couple of old archived shots of the dam which I would love to augment. Side trips to and from also remain a possibility, but whether that means the Death Valley, or the aptly-named Devil's Playground is anybody's guess at this point.

The second major trip of the year -- a weeklong road journey to the beautiful city of Santa Fe, New Mexico and back -- offers quite a few side trips and entertainments. I'm looking forward to posting a few thoughts and ideas, as well as revisiting some sites (sights) I for which wish I had a more extensive archive. I tend to doubt this will include the Petrified Forest, but almost certainly will involve Meteor Crater, The Painted Desert and general Route 66 holdovers along the way. Santa Fe is a wonderfully art-oriented town, and ought to offer more than a handful of ideas and photo ops in and of itself. There's nothing like going walkabout in a place like that -- educational and also a real chance to get away from the world and lose myself in a destination.

The Wind Surf
The last and final planned journey for 2013 is a return visit to our friends at Windstar Cruise Lines for a voyage between Stockholm and Edinburgh. With the exception of a few nights in London, virtually all destinations on this particular trip will be new to both myself and our travel companions. This is the one which will knock out at least a couple of our NOW list items, particularly a visit to Loch Ness in Scotland. Standing on the shores of that great lake has long been a dream of mine, so it's about time I made it happen. As I've noted many, many times in the past, this is the sort of thing you have to plan and do, versus merely dream about it. And since this will also involve a visit to Copenhagen and Norwegian fjords, 2013 will not only satisfy formal NOW list checks, but also a handful of "I've always wanted to"s along the way. (Still trying to figure out if I can get my ass over to Stonehenge while we're in England, but this might be pushing a bit too hard given the time allotted.)

So 2013 appears to be shaping up nicely. I'll be adding more than a handful of new galleries to my various websites, and certainly a lot of new entries here at the Blog. It's going to be a fun (and hopefully adventurous) year -- and I'd be honored if you came along for the ride.

Happy New Year.

Rhyolite Sculptures

Other Thumbnail Traveler web sites