Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Washington beauty

  For your viewing pleasure, I've posted a whole bunch of pictures I took on my recent trip to Washington state. Click the link below to pop over to flickr and feast your eyes.

Remember to click the "all sizes" button if you want to see a picture at full size.

Click HERE for Washingtonosity!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

All my yesterdays

  I ran into an old friend last week. One that I hadn't seen in quite a long time.

  My heart.

  I knew when I left Spokane last year that I was leaving part of myself behind. I just had no idea how big a part. Coming back to it again was an experience I wasn't expecting. I really felt like I was home. I felt happy for the first time in recent memory. It was a flood.
  I knew the streets. I knew the places.
  That's where I used to go for late night beers and laughs with friends. That's where I used to buy my groceries. That's where I used to live. That's one of my favorite restaurants. That's where the river rages in the Spring. That's where I liked to go for walks in the Autumn. That's where I fell in love and never recovered.
  I was welcomed this week by friends and loved ones. I was respected by colleagues; no longer the student now, but the teacher.
  My time in Washington was filled up, every minute, and each one of those minutes reminded me of how special that place is and how much I miss it. It pained me to go.
  My heart still bears its scars, but I'll leave it there in Spokane, where it's happy living in sunny days and memories. Maybe I'll even drop in to visit it from time to time.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Watch THIS

  I don't like making caveats when I post something I've worked on, but I have to in this case. This is a video of some footage I shot on Easter Island, and it was very hurriedly put together. The footage itself was all shot hand-held and isn't the best. I really wish I could have taken my time with this and turned out something better, but with my life as busy as it is, this is it! That being said, there is some good stuff in here that I think you'll enjoy, particularly toward the end (my favorite). Thanks for sharing in my adventures, and thanks for all the compliments on the photos! Enjoy the video.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tuesdays with Brian

  In an attempt to be courteous, I moved my bag and offered the empty Metrorail seat. "There's a seat right here-" and I cut myself off before the word "Ma'am." I wasn't so sure. Feminine, yes, but there was a business suit and short haircut. Sir? No. The face and body were just slightly too feminine to be male. So the rest of the words fell out of my mouth: "There's a seat right here...if you want it."
  Later that night, I was someone's favorite pooch and got scratched behind the ears. Then, I was trying to avoid an overly chatty coworker I despised. After that, I ran into an ex, who realized I was the amazing "one who got away."
  Next, I killed an entire family of Rawandan refugees. I tried to help my little brother straighten out his life. My girlfriend walked in on me banging her sister.
  And then it was time to ride the midnight Metro home. I've christened it the "Chunder Wonder" because it's always full of people on their way home from various downtown bars. The air stinks of alcohol and somebody always throws up. Last night, it was a blonde woman sitting next to her husband. I had my money on her the minute she stumbled in.
  So, yeah. Pretty typical Tuesday night for yours truly.

  I'm loving it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


  I've posted pics from the Easter Island trip on my Flickr account. These were originally going to be part of the video, but I decided to separate them. When the link below takes you to Flickr, click "slideshow" in the upper right and it will run you through all 67 photos in full-screen. Enjoy.

Click HERE for the island!

Friday, April 3, 2009

EASTER ISLAND part three

  My last full day began with a beautiful tangerine-skied overture courtesy of the rising Easter Island sun. Every drop of dew on every bright green blade of meadow grass sparkled with life. I waved good morning to my horse friend, who was once again loitering outside my window.
  My plans for the morning and afternoon were a departure from the normal itinerary as I would not be going with the group. This day was the day I had chosen to dive the crystal blue South Pacific waters and see part of the island on horseback. Both were special activities I had to seek out independently. I would be missing the Orongo crater hike and a beach trip, both of which were acceptable losses. I’m sure it would have been beautiful, but I was going down to the ocean floor.

  After a quick and purposefully small breakfast, a van took me into Hanga Roa. Weaving through narrow cobblestone streets, we eventually stopped at a small boat shack on the waterfront. Elena, a most helpful guide from the previous day’s quarry trip, made sure I was all set and told me they’d be back to get me after the dive.
  I stashed my armful of camera and dive gear in a locker, picked out a wetsuit and prepared to go out on the water.
  The boat was about what I expected- small and simple. The “Captain” of the ship was an older, heavyset fellow who didn’t seem particularly interested in me or the camera gear or the O2 cylinder or any of the other myriad things I was struggling to get aboard. Once I was all settled and my dive partner/guide had boarded, Captain Solemn revved the engine to life and began to back us away from the pier.
  Although it was a relatively early hour, the sun was out and the temperature was balmy. We had lucked out with the apparent lack of morning rainstorms, which had been a regular feature of the island for the last couple of days.
  The boat roared along for a good while, bouncing and splashing in the waves, taking us a fair distance from shore. The bright sky blue of the coastal surf became a deep navy.
  The motor began finally to wind down, and the ride smoothed out as we approached the dive site marker. As we slowed, I reached down and turned on my video camera, which was secure inside its underwater housing. This was going to be my first attempt at shooting a dive, and I didn’t want to be hassling with buttons and switches on my descent. Better to just roll the entire time and turn it off when I surfaced.
  The prattling engine died at last and was replaced with the gentle sounds of waves thumping the sides of the boat. I slipped on my fins, tightened them across the backs of my ankles, then eased my arms into my BC vest as my dive partner held it. I should mention that I was really excited at this point that I was going to get to do a two person dive. Just me and a guide. No waiting for other people’s ear problems, BC problems or other issues.
  I donned my weight belt next, then buckled the straps of my BCD around my waist and across my chest. I cinched down the shoulder straps, tightening everything up, and pulled my mask down over my eyes and nose. Finally, I checked my regulator and my air gauge. Signed, sealed, delivered. I looked at my dive partner and gave him the “ok” signal. He nodded and returned it. I eased the regulator into my mouth, leaned my head back and let myself fall off the boat backwards into the water.

  As I rolled under, I caught the briefest glimpse of what awaited below. Even with all the bubbles, I could tell how amazingly clear the water was.
  I broke the surface and handed the boat Captain a tether line I had rigged to my vest. He snapped it into a D ring on the back of the video camera housing and handed me the rig. I pushed back from the boat and deflated my vest, watching the world disappear around me as I sank into the ocean.
  As the remaining air bled out of my gear, I began to descend at a measured pace. About three meters down, I cleared my ears the first time and looked to my right to see my dive partner do the same. I could feel the familiar weight of the water on my suit, squeezing me in a tight pressure hug. I continued to descend, clearing my ears several more times, and my mask as well.
  After a quick double-check of my equipment, I took my first good look around as I drifted downward. The seafloor was still a good distance below, and the water was like glass- absolutely devoid of silt, algae or other particles. It was like floating in some kind of ethereal blue bubble. I looked out to the side and saw the ocean stretch out limitlessly until it became just a massive sapphire wall.
  Continuing to drop, we adjusted for pressure a couple more times and then we were on the floor. I put a small amount of air in my vest, quickly finding neutral buoyancy, and checked my depth reading. The gauge on my hip read just past sixty-five feet. My guide signaled “ok” to me, and I returned the gesture. He motioned me to follow him and we gently kicked off.
  Immediately, several varieties of fish swam to me, curious, no doubt, as to what I was. Some were large and flat with bulging eyes. Others were tiny, but glowing with radiant color. There were round, yellow ones with trailing fins, a few squat orange varieties, and some were electric blue with black stripes. As I swam gently along, hovering a few feet above the bottom, a small school of fish formed up on both sides, staying with me at every turn.
  With no heavy current to fight, our movement was easy. We swam into a large canyon of coral that became deeper and wider as we went on. Sea urchins poked out of crevices here and there, and other varieties of aquatic life played hide-and-seek. Changing course slightly, we swam perpendicular to the canyon wall, rose up and over it, then dropped down into another vast field of underwater scenery.
  In front of me, my guide pulled his feet in and hovered for a moment, gesturing to the seabed. Glancing down, I saw a large boat anchor resting against the side of the coral, partially obscured by sand. It had a thick coating of barnacles, and, judging by its design, looked like it had been there a very long time.
  We continued on between the tall bands of coral, and I kept a good eye open for sharks or sea turtles. I was hoping to see both, and had been told there were good possibilities.
  Our next destination blended in so well with its surroundings that I was shocked when my eyes finally picked it out. There, on the sea floor in front of my dive partner, was a moai.
  As the guide’s bright yellow fins stopped kicking and he began to hover, I eased toward him, dropping down from my slightly higher position. The giant stone face of the moai peered out of the depths at me; fascinating and somewhat hypnotizing. I had nearly ignored my photographic efforts for the past few minutes, but I made sure to capture this with full attention.
  It was an amazing sight, surrounded by all that blue, leaning against the coral while dozens of colorful fish glided past. The only sound in that pure, crystal clear water was my breathing. Whispering in. Bubbling out. It was absolute, serene beauty.
  Soon we were swimming again, and I felt a current working against us. It was slight, but noticeable, nonetheless. I didn’t have a timer, so I didn’t have a realistic idea of how long we’d been down. Checking my O2 gauge, I found my air to be surprisingly low. The needle was barely on the high side of 500 pounds, which is the beginning of the red zone.
  I secured the gauge and began to swim for my guide. He was already a good distance ahead of me, and the current wasn’t making it easy to catch up.
  The faster one moves in the water, the more resistance one gets. The more resistance, the more effort. The more effort, the harder one breathes. The harder one breathes, the faster one uses up O2. See the dilemma?
  I concentrated on regulating my breathing to a slow, even pace and smoothed out my movement. The bulk of my camera was causing me to list to one side, which was throwing off my kicks. I wasn’t overly concerned about running out of air, but caution was in order. Had I been alone, I could have just begun my ascent, but I couldn’t go up without my partner.
  Finally, I was within reach and gently tapped him on the arm. He turned to look at me and I signaled that I was low on air. When I raised my gauge to show him, I saw that I had used up half of the red zone. My guide motioned to ascend and we began to kick.
  Ascending, as you may know, carries a much greater risk than descending. Pressure has been increased in the body and must be released slowly. If a diver were to shoot straight for the surface, they could suffer a ruptured lung or a case of DCS, aka “the bends,” which is when nitrogen bubbles form in the blood (I include these details here so that anybody not versed in basic dive procedure will understand the situation easier).
  A gradual descent is required, as are intervals called “decompression stops,” which can range from three to five minutes at varying depths. Our dive, being around 65 feet in depth, would only require one DS.
  As we ascended, I watched my depth reading and speed carefully until we came to hover at about three meters. While we waited, I took another look at my O2 gauge, which was very nearly at zero. I glanced up over my head and could see the shimmer of the surface only a few feet away.
  Finally, three minutes were up and we kicked our fins. My head broke the water seconds later and I inflated my vest with what was left in my tank. I spit my regulator out and turned to look at my dive partner.
   “Okay?” he said. “Yeah, I’m good,” I replied, and asked, “How much air do you have left?” “About 700,” he said. I wasn’t too sure how I had used up more O2 than he did. Either he had more in his tank to start with, or I had somehow deepened my breathing swimming with that extra twenty-five pounds of camera gear.
  The boat wasn’t due to return for another fifteen minutes, so we just bobbed there like so much shark bait. I stuck my snorkel tube in my mouth to keep the waves from dumping sea water down my throat and waited.
  A few minutes later, we saw the boat make a pass nearby and signaled for pickup.

  By the time the van had taken me back to Explora, I was feeling the effects of nitrogen loading in my body. I had only done one dive for the day, so the fatigue wasn’t heavy, but I was certainly drowsy. I checked the time and figured I could squeeze in a solid nap before lunch, so that’s exactly what I did.
  About an hour later, I shuffled into the dining hall, which was completely empty. My group was taking lunch on the beach that day, and I supposed the other groups were following suit.
  I had only been sitting at my table for a short time when Christine’s husband Joe, who I had met briefly the night before, entered and walked over. We chatted briefly and I asked if he would care to join me for lunch. He accepted, and we immediately blew into a long discussion about photography.
  This lunch also marked my first opportunity to try one of the dishes that the island is renowned for: tuna. I have never been a huge fan of that particular fish, and I think that stems from childhood traumas involving a gut-churning tuna casserole that I used to be forced to eat at school. Regardless, I have enjoyed tuna in other things, such as sushi and sashimi.
  The lunch menu for the day was offering tuna and I had to try it.
  I’m glad that I did, because it was the best tuna, if not the best fish, I’ve ever had. It was obviously extremely fresh, but the way in which it was prepared was absolutely beyond compare. My mouth is still watering, many weeks later, as I write this.

  After that long and enjoyable lunch, Joe and I parted ways and I prepared for my afternoon of horseback riding. I decided that I would take only my video camera, which was small and lightweight, to document the experience. I knew I would probably be seeing parts of the island that I would want to shoot stills of, but compromises had to be made.
  Elena once again saw me to my destination in one of Explora’s few vans. We had a pretty good conversation, in and out of Spanish, as we drove through the town. I asked her why there seemed to be so many dogs in Hanga Roa, and she told me it was an ongoing problem they were trying to curb along with the exploding horse population.
  We finally pulled into the ranch, which was no more than a couple of decent sized houses with a small corral in between. The horses looked healthy and had already been saddled up. I stepped out of the van and was met by my two guides, a young man and woman. Due to my poor memory, they will not be named here.
  I was offered a helmet, but declined, pointing to my big brown cowboy hat. “I’m just gonna wear this,” I said. I think that actually earned a little respect.
  I put on a pair of chaps and placed my camera and a bottle of water in a satchel tied to my waist. After snugging up my hat, I slid my foot into the stirrup and mounted my horse. I leaned slowly over his neck and stroked his head with my hand. “Hey pal,” I said, “why the long face?” My humor didn’t translate well.
  As we clopped out of the ranch onto a nearby dirt road, I turned and tipped my hat to Elena. She smiled and waved as she got back in the van to leave.

  A few minutes later, we veered off onto a trail and put the horses into a healthy trot. The afternoon sun was bright and hot, and the humidity in the air was high, accentuating the smells of the plants and trees. A set of afternoon thunderstorms was brewing off the coast to the west, and a gentle sea breeze was blowing over the countryside. It was a gorgeous afternoon for riding.
  We passed through a large vineyard of sorts, and then a few farms beyond that. Every field was green and growing, and the soil looked rich and fertile. One area of the foothills was littered with jagged black rock, and my male guide told me the entire area was spiderwebbed with lava tubes. Some of them, he said, were completely flooded. People had been known to go exploring these tubes, even diving the submerged varieties, and never come back.
  Rising up out of the meadows, we began to climb across the side of Maunga Terevaka, the youngest and tallest of the three volcanoes that make up the island. Nearly all of Terevaka is treeless and smooth.
  As we climbed higher on the switchbacks, I took a drink of water and became acutely aware of how peaceful things were. It was a rare, completely carefree feeling that I was enjoying immensely.
  At that moment, ahead of me, my female guide spurred her horse into a cantor and started to pull away from me. I followed, kicking my heels, and guided my horse to keep the pace. Behind me, I heard my male friend urge his mount on and turned to see him catching up.
  With a bit of a mischievous look, the young woman ahead of me looked back over her shoulder, smiled, and kicked her horse several more times, giving out a “Hya!” Her horse broke into a full gallop.
  I grinned, fair game, and dug into my horse’s sides. “Hya! Hya!” I yelled, and my steed put his head down and began to bolt. My smile widened to the size of the verdant prairie hillside we were tearing across. I could hear every breath of the horse as the wind blew in my face and his hooves thundered into the ground. My hat blew off, but the cord caught and held it in place against my back.
  We galloped up the side of one ridge and across the other, high above the rest of the island. I could see the vast South Pacific ocean on my left, and the majority of the island off to my right, including the opposite coast. It was complete exhilaration and an experience I’ll never forget.
  Near the summit, we finally slowed, then found a good place to rest the horses. I dismounted and took a quick look around. The only trees around were in a nearby crater, and the grassy peak of Terevaka was only a couple hundred feet further. Both my guides chose to remain with the horses, which, though sweaty and no doubt tired, were already happily grazing.
  I took my water and my video camera from the satchel and headed up the ridge.
  When I finally reached the summit a few minutes later, I was rewarded with a complete 360-degree view of the island. I could see every coast from this, the highest point on Easter Island. The small town of Hanga Roa was there, in the distance, and even the airfield. At one tip of the island, the enormous crater of Orongo carved a deep hole in the landscape. Near the other tip, the tall peaks of Katitki and Rano Raraku poked up above the green plains.
  I stayed up there for a good long while, taking in the view and enjoying the heavy breeze. I was certainly in no hurry to come down. I would likely never be back to this place, and I wanted to press every detail into my memory.
  Eventually, I found my way back down to the horses and my guides, and we saddled up for the ride back. My horse wasn’t quite done grazing yet, so I had to keep the reins tight on him to keep him focused. I took one more long glance around, and then, with a gentle kick, we headed down the mountain.

  On the way, I engaged the male guide in a lengthy discussion about the island. I asked about some of the history of the people and the current state of things, including the reforestation efforts. He was surprisingly well educated and told me that he had been studying at a university in Chile and was seeking a degree in Environmental Science. This lead into an even bigger discussion about the political aspects of the island and its people, and the thin line between the help of tourist dollars in the local economy vs. the cultural destruction of commercialization. It was a fascinating inside look, and I wish our talk could have gone on much longer. Shortly, though, I spotted the van from Explora, and I knew our time was up.
  I thanked my new friend, and wished him luck with his work. I also thanked my female guide and told her I had a great time. I caught her off guard with my use of Spanish, but she didn't seem to have a good grasp on English, and I was getting more and more accustomed to defaulting to the local language anyway.

  On the ride back to the lodge, I realized that I was a little saddle-raw after those past few hours. As I discussed my trip with Elena, I asked, “Cómo se dice ‘Your horse broke my ass’ en español?” She had quite a good laugh over that. Elena was also kind enough to regale me with a few phrases in Rapanui, which I had never heard spoken aloud. Most of the islanders preferred Spanish, which I felt was a rather sad cultural drift.
  I walked into the still-empty Explora lodge sweaty, dusty, stinking and slightly bowlegged. All frontier hat and jeans, I sauntered into the bar and sat on a stool. Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds” was playing softly over the speakers. I smirked. Fitting themesong for this cowboy.
  The cute blonde Chilean bartender smiled, walked over and asked what she could get me. I ordered a Pisco Sour, of course, and proceeded to chat her up, keeping to the español, as evening slowly approached. I ran through a second Sour before all the inbound parties started to arrive. Then, it was like one long family reunion.
  Charlie and his entourage poured in first, and happily joined me. Charlie, being the generous soul and consummate smartass he was, offered to buy me a drink (both of us knowing full well that the drinks were free). I took him up on the offer and ordered a water on the rocks.
  Fleur’s group came in next and swarmed me with questions. “Did you go diving? How was the horseback riding? Did you take pictures?” As I was dishing on my day with them, Benita, Ruby, Christine and the rest of their group rolled in and were equally curious, greeting me with huge smiles. In the middle of it all, I suddenly became incredibly depressed that this would be our last night together.
  It was a fitting final evening, though. After everyone had a chance to shower and recuperate, we all came together again for dinner. I sat with Fleur and her family for the main course, and also met Nick and Katie, a young couple that were on a literal world tour.
  Later, I took my dessert and started table hopping, catching up with everybody and finding out how all the different trips of the day had been. I was sad to hear that I missed out on some really beautiful scenery, but I had such a fantastic run of experiences that I didn’t feel slighted in the least.
  By the very late end of the night, my head was spinning, but in a good way. I felt so fortunate to have met so many wonderful and interesting people on this trip, and I felt like the experience was that much richer because of them.
  As I left the lodge, I saw that the night skies were clear for the first time since I’d come to Easter Island, and I sat outside my room until well past one a.m. looking at the stars. They were as crystal clear as the ocean had been, and just as infinitely deep.
  As much as I hated to concede the evening, I finally did, and sleep came quietly.

  The sunrise on that final morning was sensational, and I enjoyed a proper breakfast with Benita and Ruby. All of my fellow islanders came through the dining hall at some point, and email addresses were exchanged all around. Handshakes and hugs were given, and picture sharing was promised. Most everyone had more journeys ahead, all to different parts of the globe. For me, it was back to reality. Too soon and far, far away from this paradise.
  Bags in hand, we said our goodbyes to the Explora staff, who donned us with necklaces made of local seashells- a customary island farewell.
  As the wheels of the plane left the runway and the flourishing green slopes of Rapa Nui dropped away beneath me, I couldn’t help but wonder where the next journey would take me and how soon it would come.