Blue Planet II Inspiration

I’ve been in love with the Planet Earth and Blue Planet series for what seems like forever, and I’m not kidding when I say I’ve watched all the episodes about a hundred and eleventy times. The stunning images combined with David Attenborough’s sly narration – “He’s had an enjoyable lunch, but now it’s time to find a MATE!” will rivet me to the couch for hours. Really, David Attenborough could do the narration for someone breaking down the transmission on a 1997 Honda Element, and I would sit through the whole thing, completely enrapt.

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So in celebration of Blue Planet II being finally released in the U.S. – you lucky Brits got it months ago – I thought I’d revisit some of my favorite photos that I’ve taken of our watery world.

One of my goals this year is to improve my underwater photography, so hopefully by Blue Planet III I’ll have some images taken from beneath the surface.

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Until then, I’ll just continue to peer into ocean from the surface.

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A Place in the Sun

Still sharing some photos from my recent trip to Utila. Getting there is a bit of an adventure. You fly a regular plane from the US to San Pedro Sula, Honduras…

 

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…with an epic view of the coastal reef system as you come in.

Then you change plane in SPS’s tiny airport and fly a tiny plane to La Cieba, where you wait in an even tinier airport…

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…for an even tinier plane. I swear to god I saw someone lift the hood on this plane and check the oil, like it was a ’76 Toyota pickup truck. There were only 9 passengers and our luggage was stacked on the rear seats. At one point as we taxied down the runway the co-pilot had her arm hanging out the window, like we were just taking a drive. With the jungle looming behind it felt very Tales of the Gold Monkey.

That last flight is only 15 minutes and drops you off at the postage-stamp Utila airport. The pilot hands you your bag and you wander off – no security, unless you count the cows staring at you from an adjacent field – and pop out of the jungly backcountry to Utila town just in time for sunset.

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Worth the flights to be sure 🙂

 

 

 

 

Utila Blue

Just back from a bucket-list trip to Utila, Honduras, where I desperately wanted to see the Whale Sharks that famously migrate past the island.

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Despite going out with the dive boats every day of my week-long stay, this mural was as close to a whale shark as I got. I was reduced to drinking my own weight in pineapple juice and admiring the view.

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As you can see, I suffered horribly.

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But seriously, if you are a diver (or even a snorkeler, like I am) you should check Utila out. It’s an exquisite island and the dive culture there is amazing. There are reefs right off shore – I snorkeled several that were 100-150 feet off the beaches that had elkhorn corals the size of a table within two feet of the surface, but then a few yards away had 40-50 foot wall dropoffs. I’m not the world’s most experienced snorkeler but it was like nothing I’ve ever seen.

Will share more photos in the next few days…

En Route

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Currently an hour north of Miami on my drive down to the Keys, bike/snorkel/cameras etc locked and loaded. I managed to get my packing list (top pic) organized into the three bags you see in the bottom pic – each bag goes on one portion of the trip since I have to carry everything on my back for a good bit. So all my bike stuff is in the blue bag, the kayak stuff is in the middle bag (with my rain jacket tied to the top) and some extra dry clothes for the trip up and back in the duffle. Vamanos!

Windows & Doors

 

Today’s windows and doors are brought to you by the lovely town of Oaxaca, Mexico, where I spent a week admiring the graceful colonial architecture and shimmering colors, and showcasing my inability to take a photograph with a level horizon.

Some fun links for your Thursday….

Over the holidays I went to Florida to visit family, and for the second year in a row I was able to go snorkeling with the manatees at the Homasassa River. I went with these fine folks, who are very knowledgeable and also very careful of the manatee’s safety and wellbeing; I highly recommend them. I also highly recommend this Cressi dive mask; I snorkel whenever possible and I am always being driven crazy by leaky masks. Is my face a weird shape? Am I Max Headroom? Who knows. But this mask is the only one I’ve found that doesn’t leak on me and I think it was only about 50 bucks.

On the subject of safely snorkeling with manatees, and manta rays, and alligators – well, maybe those you just observe from a distance – my amazing friends Claire and Jeremiah have the first episode of their kick-ass webseries, Kickass Animal Encounters, up and running, and you should totally check it out, because it is – wait for it – kickass. You can also see more coolness on their blog! Go! Right now!

(And at the risk of blowing my own horn, if you watch the “Update” video, the huge map that Claire is pointing to is totally MY map, on the wall of MY den, so I feel I should get at least 12% of the credit for the awesomeness of that segment.)

(Although an argument could be made for 15)

If you need to chill out this chilly Thursday, I recommend Watership Song by User’s Atmosphere, which you’ll sadly have to listen to only on youtube because I can’t find a purchase link to it anywhere; or Clubbed to Death by Rob Dougan, which IS available on Amazon, and is the best thing about the third Blade movie, besides Ryan Reynolds’ abs.

If you’re into movies check out the Reel Snobs podcast! Sassy Chicks discussing Flicks. I love it. Reel Snob Kalena even got on CNN this week!

Finally, a quick shout out to my favorite instagrams of the week: @egzgiozcan, who I think is Turkish and fills her instagram with her quirky illustrations, which I love, and @javie.33, one of my favorite underwater/wildlife photographers on insta. His boat photo from yesterday is particularly gorgeous.

Enjoy! And have a great, safe weekend of adventures…

Oh, good grief, I almost forgot – I’ve written an ebook! As many of you know I work in film and television, and I wrote an ebook on How To Be A Movie Location, for anyone who’s interested in renting out their home/office/property to a film production. Money! Excitement! Craft Services! It’s all in there and it’s only $1.99 as a download so check it out!

 

 

Shine a light

Puerto Rico Adventures! I’m afraid I’m going to bore you with these for a while, since it’s one of my favorite places – I’ve been fortunate enough to go there once a year for the last six years – and I just got back from a trip there a few weeks ago.

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Above is the Cabo Rojas lighthouse, and my traveling companion who is not actually making a break for it – just bad timing on the photo. The lighthouse, like all lighthouses, sits high and proud on an outcropping, facing the breakers of the Caribbean Sea, ready to guide ships thru the Mona Passage that separates the Domincan Republic from Puerto Rico. Officially, it is known as the Los Morrillos Light. We picked it as a daytrip destination from our base in Isabella planning to drive down and take pictures. My photos of the Light itself were, predictably, horrible.

But then we got there… and found THIS!

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Los morrillos Light is actually part of a larger nature preserve, the Cabo Rojas Wildlife Refuge, which includes major bird migration area and a turn of the century salt-flat operation, where salt is gathered by water being directed into shallow lagoons and raked up as the sea water evaporates. It sounds like incredibly hard, hot, backbreaking work, and I’m glad I don’t have to do it. The lagoons are a huge resource for wildlife and as we drove down the dirt road to the lighthouse, in what now seemed like a terrifyingly small Ford Focus (seriously, we could have lost the whole car in the ruts), birds and butterflies flew everywhere around the car.

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At the end of the  road was this lagoon, which was a semi-secret swimming hole for the locals. Los Morillos is on a point with Bahia Sucia (Sweet Bay) on one side, and Bahia Salina (Salt Bay) on the other, but this little lagoon doesn’t seem to have a name. It did have a security guard, playing Reggaeton music in his jeep. We hiked up to the lighthouse and took our photos and were endlessly amused by the resident iguanas, and then went back down to the lagoon to join the swimmers. I was thanking my lucky stars that my companion had insisted on throwing our snorkels in the trunk.

The water is about 4 feet deep and the high lime content from the surrounding cliffs make it an amazing powder blue color. It feels minerally – you come out of a swim feeling slightly powdery, like you’ve just dusted yourself in chalk – and it was absolute hell on my contact lenses. We swam for about an hour, snorkeling around the sea grass and seeing little aquarium-style tropical fish, then jumped back in the car to try and beat the incoming rain (we didn’t).

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It was seriously magical – the views, the secret bay, the feeling of discovery – as if we were the only people who knew about this hidden lagoon. Which of course we weren’t – it was obviously popular with local families, people lounging on the beach, kids splashing in the shallows – there was even one couple that had brought a full-size picnic table umbrella, poked in into the shallows in about two feet of water, and were lolling in the shade and the waves AT THE SAME TIME. That’s some serious forethought there.

Another person who knew about it was my friend Chuck, who’s uncle owns a house just north near Rincon. When we told him about the lagoon, he replied, “Oh, yeah, we’ve been there. You know that area is famous for being a breeding ground for Atlantic Tiger Sharks…”

AAAAAAAAHHHHH?!?!?!?!

Sure enough, when I looked up Cabo Rojo to find some links for this post, one of the first mentions of the Mona Passage was “the area is noted for it’s teeming shark population, which use the passage to go from breeding grounds to the south to feeding areas in the north….”

Yikes! Given the people at the beach I’m guessing that the shark activity is out in the Passage and the deeper bays, not the little four-foot-deep lagoon we were in. And I’ve just learned (while scaring myself silly researching this post) that there are occasionally whale sharks off of Isla de Mona, the large island that sits about 30 miles west of the Puerto Rican Coast and is famous for it’s scuba diving and ability to see large pelagics, in part due to it’s protected status as a wildlife refuge. I really need to learn to dive! Maybe for next year. But I’ll be looking over my shoulder a bit more this time…

(on an added note, I wrote the title for this post and couldn’t figure out why it kept echoing in my head like a song lyric, and my mind kept worrying at it until it popped into my brain: this song. Really. Why COULDN’T Brad change that tire?)

Magnified

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Today we get a true fish story.

The picture above is from the lovely Marathon Key, where I stayed last fall over Labor Day so I could go kayaking and snorkeling and gorge myself on fried shrimp, not necessarily in that order. It is mainly there because the photos I have to showcase my story are so horrible that I needed a good photo to avoid damaging my self-esteem. It’s also the dock where I did most of my snorkeling, so at least it’s germane to the episode.

Snorkeling! I first went snorkeling in Puerto Rico a few years ago and fell utterly, obsessively in love with it, enraptured to the point of resenting the need to re-surface to breathe and avoid shriveling like a prune, like when you stay in the bathtub too long when you’re a little kid. If you are not a snorkeler or a diver – and really, why are you not? – I can only describe it as the closest you will ever come to another planet. My first skin dive showed me a neon-blue-and-yellow eel, a lobster, and a foreshadowing of never vacationing far from the ocean again. I instantly “got” why people who scuba dive never want to do anything else, ever, ever. Dave Barry had it right – once you go under and see what’s going on, you suddenly feel like you’ve spent your life at the circus, but sitting outside, staring at the tent.

This trip I was stoked (do people still say stoked? I am so out of it) to go diving on some of the offshore reefs in the Keys. Due to scheduling and weather I only managed to get out once, to John Pennekamp State Park, where they take you out five(!) miles to a reef that comes to within a few feet of the surface. It was incredible, but the ocean was so rough – I’d never been out that far – that my primary memory of the whole day was desperately trying to stay afloat. I suddenly, vividly, terrifyingly understood how people drown.

The rest of the trip I stayed in the MUCH calmer waters right off my apartment – the dock above. It was the equivalent of a kiddy pool after the reef, but my jangled nerves were okay with that. And it held an AMAZING variety of fish, even in 4-5 feet of water, which was as deep as I felt comfortable going, since I’d spent the previous week clocking 40 hours of “Shark Week” watching. Not the best idea. 

I saw – in no particular order – mangrove snappers, a pufferfish, a trunkfish, and a bunch of other lovelies that looked like they’d escaped from the aquarium of your dreams. There was a – flock? herd? of parrotfish, easily the most exotic thing I’d ever seen, that I watched, entranced, for what seemed like hours; they bumbled about the dock, content and clueless and nibbling little bits of everything in sight. If no one has called the parrotfish the cows of the ocean, allow me to do so now.

There were also a zillion tiny baby barracuda, each as long as my pinkie finger and perfectly camouflaged to hide in the sun-dappled sea grass. 

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And then… there was Mom.

Mom to all those adorably tiny babies lurked around the dock, queen of all she surveyed. The first day I ran into her (or him; I really have no idea) I turned my head and was startled to see her hanging in the water a couple of feet from my head, looking as surprised to see me as I was to see her. With the classic underslung jaw bristling with teeth and a sleek, missile shaped body, Mom looked like three feet of very painful trouble. 

My mind raced thru all the info I’ve heard about barracuda, checking off my safety points – no jewelry, good, underwater camera with shiny bits, bad – somehow completely forgetting that I was in all of four feet of water and could have simply stood up and walked away if things got weird – and frantically reminding myself that wildlife underwater always looks bigger than it is, because of the water’s magnifying effect. Twenty percent, I told myself. Of course, that left me staring at the pointy end of two and a half feet of fish, but…

Mom decided she’d had enough and swam off. Whew.

Over the next four days, we came to an uneasy detante. Once or twice a day ( I snorkel a lot, okay?) I would see her come looming out of the green water, regarding me with a curious, but not aggressive, eye. I gave her a wide berth. Nobody needed to lose a finger. We could share. My final morning I even got the nerve to drift a bit closer to her, admiring her long, powerful body hanging in the water.

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(I warned you that these photos were hideous.)

That afternoon, I wandered down and sat on the stone jetty, saying goodbye to the Keys – I was on my way home that evening – and hoping to get a glimpse of my friends the parrotfish in the crystal water. One of them actually did nose up towards the jetty, saying farewell in its bumbly, nibbly way. I was thrilled. And then… Mom arrived. 

It was the first time I had seen her from above the water, able to really see her in perspective without the disorienting, misty effect the water creates. I could see what a perfectly designed predator she was –  she was magnificent, all power and speed with beautiful deep stripes crossing her back, breaking up the silver pattern of her scales and periodically rendering her invisible. 

She was also all of  14 inches long.

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Can you even see her?

I had spent the last four days in terror (l can admit it now) of a fish only marginally larger than the goldfish in my pond. If by some chance she had taken it into her fishy head to bite me, I doubt she’d have taken much more than the nibbly parrotfish would. I probably lost more blood scraping against the dock she was obviously using for protection from the larger, scarier predators in open water. 

Something stirred in the water, and she streaked off, a flash of silver.