Thursday, November 05, 2015

Road Trip for Cameras: Scenic Fall Colors in Vermont

“The trees are in Kodachrome all over Vermont. And I’m that car that keeps pulling over. Nature, you win.” - me.

A photo posted by Kymri (@kymri) on

It wasn’t until I posted my first instagram photo from Vermont that suddenly people I’ve known for years were all like “oh, my home state!” Many of you know a lot more about Vermont than I ever will. And, I’m sorry, but I didn’t read your articles, blogs, recommendations or instagram feeds before I went. I got short notice for a last minute assignment, and negotiated an extra day/night plus a rental car so I could explore a bit more of the state. Turns out the east coast contingent of my family happened to also be in Vermont that weekend – how could I miss a chance to see my great-niece? Plus, my lifelong friend from college had bought herself a farm somewhere in Vermont, and I wanted to check it out. So, yeah, I was determined to cover as much ground as I could in the free 48 hours before the job.

As I packed, the temperature in San Diego was 91 degrees. I looked up the forecast for my destination, Stowe, Vermont, and these little tiny white symbols showed up. Now I’m no expert on weather, but I’m pretty sure they were predicting snow. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” I thought to myself, and threw on my puffy winter jacket as I headed out the door to the airport.

It really hadn’t even occurred to me that the seasons were changing in other parts of the country. My friend with the farm, Marie (whom I went backpacking to Egypt with in 1986, and rock-climbing in Arizona with in 2006), tells me she’s two hours south of Burlington, so I asked “How’s the drive, scenic?” Yes, duh, it’s Vermont. “Any fall colors?” I ask, figuring its still summer everywhere else like it is in San Diego, and those snowflake symbols in the forecast were a mistake. Her response was music to my ears….“Yes, lots of colors right now, height of the season.”

No WAY! I was really going to hit Vermont during peak fall foliage? I couldn’t get on that plane soon enough. I left a golden glowing sunset on the west coast, and woke up to a golden glowing landscape on the east coast.

A photo posted by Kymri (@kymri) on

The rental car clerk offered me a navigation unit. I declined, and asked for a local map – I prefer having the freedom to get lost and take a scenic road without a computer voice pestering me to “make a u-turn,” and constantly trying to set me back on the straightest route from point A to point B. Besides, the directions to my friend’s farm were visuals like “cross the creek, second dirt road on the left, look for the big new barn in the middle of a field.” Those are the kind of directions I prefer, being a visual, that’s pretty much how I roll.

So in this recap of my road trip, I’m not going to tell you what roads are the best, where to eat, where to sleep, what are the must-see’s, because, in all honesty, I pretty much winged it without any research whatsoever. I don’t know if I happened to hit the best route, or if it’s all gorgeous, or if you’re going to tell me “you should have gone this way.” I don’t care. As far as I’m concerned, I did it exactly right. I was in Vermont, with free time and wheels, during peak fall season. And I ate some pretty fabulous food too.

So to quickly summarize the first day: From Burlington, I went south on 7, and at some point I drove through the (beautiful) campus of Middlebury College. Then I continued south on the 30, east on the 4, south on the 133 and west on the 140.

The further south I got and the later in the day it became, the more the trees were lit like fire, and I kept pulling over. The sky was summer blue, there were a few puffy white clouds, and really, it could have been a summer day had the trees been green.

The nearest town to my friend’s rural farm was Middleton Springs. Don’t ask me road names, there were back roads and dirt roads involved, but I found it before dark, which was my goal as there’s no wi-fi or cellphone service at her farm.

There was much to get done on the farm, as the first “freeze” was forecast for that night, and she would lose anything not yet harvested. The sun dipped behind the mountain, and the temperature dropped. She cooked a farm fresh dinner – beans, kale, herbs, stewed apples - everything grown right there except rice. It was cold, and she fed the wood-burning stove for heat. I bundled up and slept well. The next morning, I peered out the window and sure enough, white frost had covered the ground.

I desperately needed coffee, which she didn’t grow on the farm, and didn’t have on hand. Good thing I planned to set out early, as the nearest coffee would be at a Dunkin Donuts located 3 towns and 16 miles away. We scraped the ice crystals off the windshield, and I hit the road again, heading into Poultney, making a right at the intersection, and heading north to Castleton (hereafter referred to as “Dunkin Donuts Coffee Mecca”). May I just interrupt this post right now to say it’s true, what they say. Dunkin Donuts coffee IS better than Starbucks.

So with hot coffee in hand, I could relax and continue back north to Burlington, and then Stowe, where I would follow the rustic farm stay with a night of fine dining, luxury and comfort at TopNotch Resort. There, I’m doing what I said I wouldn’t do, almost. I wont say “you must stay here,” but I’m just going to say that I did and I loved everything about it.

Here are some favorite scenes from Day 1:

"Vermont in living color." - me

A photo posted by Kymri (@kymri) on

Here are some favorite scenes from Day 2:

"The best roads are the back roads." - me

Day 3 consisted of a drive through the scenic mountains of northern Vermont, to the border of Canada, and back to Stowe. While this day was a work assignment, most of which was spent behind the wheel driving the 2016 VW Passat, I did manage to take a few more pictures and videos.

Here are some favorite scenes from Day 3:

"Vermont has cured me of seasonal deprivation." - me

The greatest thing about my short notice long weekend trip was that I truly did get to experience all four seasons in a day, and that included a first snowfall of the season, which was nothing short of magical.

Be sure to check out my other Road Trips for Cameras:

Castles & Coastlines of Wales
Arizona's National Parks
California's Central Coast
Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore
Guysborough Galleries

This post is part of #IGTravelThursday, be sure to check out more of these wonderful visual travelers!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Costa Rica Multi-Generational Family Vacation Re-cap

The obligatory "traditional painted oxcart seen from the bus" photo, Costa Rica.

Preface: Admittedly, this was not my first trip to Costa Rica, nor my husband’s, nor even my daughter’s first. But for all of us, it was our first time doing an organized “tour” of Costa Rica, and a group tour at that, big bus and all. This was not our preferred method of travel, but when Grandma (my mother-in-law) chooses a family reunion destination trip, nobody argues. Which leads to my necessary…

Disclosure Statement: Grandma paid for this trip. She picked the trip, and she picked up the tab. For all 15 of us – needless to say, that means a generous heart, but a tight budget. The real value is in the family time spent together, right? That said, shout out to Caravan Tours – Grandma’s tried and true repeat favorite, who earned the fate of dealing with all of us...especially Grandma.

One more thing: When it comes to group tours, I’m a little jaded. I’ve spent the past 10+ years leading tour groups from as few as 3 to as many as 600. Since I’d been to Costa Rica many times already, I pretty much could have led this tour blindfolded. Thus my camera didn’t get a whole lot of use for these 9 days – there were a few “seen from the bus" shots or carefully cropped instagrams to cut out the tourists. For 9 days, instead of photos, I posted facebook status updates - daily re-caps, with my snarky jaded humor. Much to the dismay of my inlaws, who don’t read my blog anyway, and my husband, who practices anti-social media, I’m now going public. Here it is in longform.

Day 1, Arrivals, San Jose

Size of family: 15. Eldest: 83, Youngest 13.
Arriving from: shortest distance - Managua, Nicaragua; farthest distance - Seoul, South Korea. The rest: Illinois, Colorado, and California.
Last to arrive: my mother-in-law (aka Grandma, hereinafter referred to as "the Matriarch").
First to order a drink: the Matriarch. What she ordered: "Sex on the Beach".
Highlight of the evening: When the Matriarch wanted to get a second one, she asked the designated family linguist (aka my husband), to order it. He proceeded to ask the young guapo Tican server for "mas sexo." And we're rolling.

The Multi-gen family. Not pictured: Two family members still at the bar.
Day 2: Poas Volcano National Park, Coffee Plantation. 

Family count: 15, all present and jet-lagged.
Dietary dynamics: 7 buffet-loving omnivores, 7 insufferable vegetarians with buffet-anxiety, 1 easy-going pescatarian.
Non-coffee drinkers: 2 teens (juice freaks), 1 adult (tea snob).
Today's culinary highlight: Queso de palmito - regional cheese made with hearts of palm. Rating: To die for. Because, you know, it’s unpasteurized and sold by some dude on the side of the road.
Resulting Casualties: 0.

Jetlag peaked while touring the coffee plantation...before the timely free samples.

Day 3: San Jose to Volcan Arenal, via the "religious road".

Total hours on bus: 5.5, with stops at "Rehabilitation Center" (read: zoo), Sarchi - for "traditional painted oxcart artisan demonstration" (read: shopping stop), and Zarcero (read: free toilets with purchase of ice cream).
Culinary highlight: Tamales!!
Casualties: 1 vegetarian - discovered tamale was filled with cerdo, not queso.
Revised dietary distribution: 8 omnivores, 6 vegetarians, 1 easy going pescatarian.

Pop Quiz: What is meant by "religious road?"
A) a road with lots of churches.
B) a cliff-clinging winding road on which the driver crosses himself and shuts his eyes as he rounds the bends.
C) the alternate route off the Pan Atheist Highway.
D) Other:__________. Please comment.
Pop Contest Giveaway: Best comment gets a free unframed, unmounted 8x10 Costa Rica print (yes, PRINT) of my choice from my Costa Rica gallery. Winner to be selected 11/1/2015, so hurry!

Day 4: CaƱo Negro Cruise on the Rio Frio.

Wildlife spotted on river: iguanas, basilisks, bats, caiman, turtles, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, a bunch of birds.
Wildlife spotted back at the hotel hot springs swim up bar: 3 omnivores, 4 vegetarians, 5 unsupervised French children.
Number of passing thunderstorms while enjoying the hotsprings and pools: 3.
Resulting casualties: 2 French parents, apparently.
Weirdest hotel amenity: A swim up sushi bar. Yes, really.
Culinary highlight: none.
Featured drink that nobody ordered: "Sex on the Volcano".

Day 5: Swinging Canopy Bridges & hike through Monteverde cloud forest.

A photo posted by Kymri (@kymri) on

Wildlife spotted: venomous snakes, tarantulas, poisonous snails, bats.
Resulting casualties: 0.
Afternoon: Arrival at massive Beach Resort on Guanacaste Peninsula, with the largest pool in Central America.
Number of crabs rescued from bottom of said pool: 4.
Number of room key cards found on bottom of said pool: 2.
Omnivore overheard at the buffet: "HAMBURGERS! Real HAMBURGERS!"
(a stampede ensues)
Vegetarian overheard at the buffet: "Oh look, more coleslaw!"
(because, you know, vegetarians love cole slaw, they just can't ever get enough cole slaw)
New hashtags gaining traction: ‪#‎jadedtravel‬‬ #snarkyvegetarians

Day 6: Free Day, Guanacaste Peninsula.

Number of pool loungers: 14. Number of surfers: 1.
Number of people worried about crocodiles, sharks, poisonous water snakes: 14.
Number of crocodiles, sharks, poisonous water snakes encountered by surfer: 0.
Casualties: 2 broken fingernails, sunburnt back, damaged ego from wiping out in the whitewash once too many times.
Break surfed: Avellanas. (on a crappy foam rental) 6 seconds of evidence:

Day 7: Guanacaste (more surf playas), Puntarenas, crocodile cruise on Rio Tarcoles.

Wildlife highlights: Roseate Spoonbills, Scarlet Macaws, Toucans.
General consensus: Crocodiles overrated. Except the baby one, too cute.
Surf Beach highlight: Playa Hermosa. (full on drive by)
Culinary highlight: Guanabana gelado.
Culinary disaster: whatever those overpriced crap bread cookies were that we stopped the bus to buy from roadside vendors in Guanacaste.
Resulting casualties: dozens of overpriced crap bread cookies, and possibly any animal that unwittingly happened upon them.

Day 8: Manual Antonio National Park, Aerial Tram Rainforest Adventure. 

Photo Highlight: The Matriarch's bucket list item: zip-lining. It looked like this.

Wildlife Highlights: too numerous to mention.
Culinary highlights: too few to mention.
Creative culinary twist: salad leaves sprinkled with ham chunks!
Family members discovered in bar before last dinner together: 10.
Number of buffet-loving happy omnivores at last dinner together: 8.
Number of buffet-dread-filled vegetarians who had given up hope altogether: 3.
Number of buffet-leary vegetarians who made a desperate run to Pizza Hut across the street after final dinner: 4.
Casualties: yet to be determined.

Day 9: San Jose. Airport Departures.

Casualties from previous night’s dinner: 2 more vegetarians down (see salad above).
Lesson learned: Pizza Gut was actually the better, healthier option, go figure.
Number of family members ready to get back home: 12.
Number of family members flying home: 12.
Number of family members who needed a vacation from the vacation and escaped to an award-winning boutique resort in the remote jungles of Costa Rica for a week to recover from buses and buffets: 3. That would be us.

Prologue: What you really need to do in Costa Rica is get as far away from the tourist trail as possible, face to face with wildlife and surrounded by nature, to really experience and photograph the beauty of the country. We did just that, and I’ll blog about it, with real pictures, soon.

Please check out more great travel posts featuring instagrams as featured for #IGTravelThursday!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Incase Reform Action Camera Backpack Review for Travel Photography, Surf Photography, and Conferences, too!

Whether traveling by plane, taking a road trip, or simply heading to the beach to shoot the morning surf session, it’s important to be able to pack and transport my camera and tech gear efficiently and comfortably. Incase offers a variety of solutions.

It’s not that I don’t own any camera bags and backpacks already. I do, but now I use them to store my gear more than to travel with it.

My camera bags have issues.
  • One (backpack) looks dated and old, because it is. Film pouches, anyone?
  • One (shoulder strap bag) screams “expensive brand cameras inside!”
  • One (sling style) is designed for righties. I'm a lefty.
  • None of them accommodate laptops, or even ipads.
Admittedly, I have a few issues, too.
  • I like trekking, but I’m not a Sherpa. I also like luxury hotels…and porters.
  • I’m not a budget backpacker, I'm a sophisticated traveler. I want to look it, especially when standing by for an upgrade, or arriving onsite for a shoot.
  • When traveling, I prefer to be subtle about the fact that I am carrying a camera at all.
Above all else, the most important factor in my wearing a backpack is comfort. Each bag I have owned has never quite rested right on my body frame, so I don’t last long in the field (or airport terminals) before my neck, back and shoulders begin to ache. I’m a petite female travel photographer, in a world where most camera backpacks are designed for the not-so-petite male landscape photographer.

The Incase Reform Action Camera Backpack is a refreshing new option for today's travel and action photographer.

First Impressions: Design and Wearability

Since I’m a visual, and I like aesthetics, let’s just state the obvious – it’s a fine looking backpack, blending style and simplicity. It’s contemporary, yet timeless. It doesn’t tell the world what I’m carrying inside. It’s equally great for a day at the beach, or an adventure abroad. And it's classy enough for Business Class travel.

Field Test: Comic Con

Turns out the Incase Reform Action Backpack is perfectly suited for 4 days at a conference. Comic Con proved to be an excellent arena to test it out. I could run from panel to panel taking pictures without dropping everything. Okay, so when I say "run," I mean "stand in line and camp out." Whatever! I did so with ease. Nobody around could tell that I was carrying an SLR, a video camera, my laptop, phone, cords/chargers, change of clothes, glasses, and lots of snacks. The pack, and my back, survived beautifully. And even though it wasn't in costume, my backpack received compliments from both techies and trekkies alike.

Why it worked

  • The padded laptop sleeve was key. I didn't look, or feel, like I was toting a laptop.
  • The ventilated padding against my back never got too hot.
  • The adjustable padded straps didn't dig in to my shoulders.
  • I could keep my cameras separate from my food items.

Field Test: Beach Surf Shoot
A photo posted by Kymri (@kymri) on

Next, I headed out on an "action" shoot with a surf photographer friend. The setting: high tide at Windansea Beach, where the waves curl and break on the shore, crash against the rocks, and I know I'm going to get wet. We gathered our GoPro goodies, and I also brought my Panasonic A500 and Watershot housing for my iphone. At the last minute, my friend texted me "bring your SLR too, just in case." So thanks to my Incase Reform Action Backpack, I could carry it all, and keep my SLR separate from my action water cameras.

Why it works

  • The collapsible top storage for a DSLR camera keeps it separately accessible.
  • The 300D Ecoya eco-dyed poly fabric exterior is rugged and water-resistant.
  • Surprisingly, the exterior repels sand as readily as it does water.

The Incase Reform Action Camera backpack is a great size, not too big to fit under the seat, but just big enough to pack anything you'd need inflight. Here's a look at everything "action camera tech" I managed to pack into the 18.25" x 10.75" x 6.25" backpack:

That's a 13" Macbook Air, by the way. Without the monopod, everything was zipped up tight and out of sight, and I was good to go. I especially appreciate the separate pocket designed to hold cords and chargers so they don't get lost in the main compartment.

What more could I want?

The drawback of discovering a fabulous backpack is that it just leaves me wanting more. When I find a great brand, I stick with it. The DSLR Camera Organizer is the obvious next must-have.

And finally, since this is my birthday month, I made a birthday wish list....just Incase.

Disclosure: Incase provided me with the Reform Action Camera Backpack for review purposes. I think it is pretty awesome, and if I thought otherwise, I'd tell you so, too.