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. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Roadtrip for Cameras - Wales: Cardiff, Castles & Coastlines

Fog rolls in with the tide at Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire, Wales

From Cardiff, California, to Cardiff, Wales, I set off with my family recently to explore the land of my ethnic heritage. Despite several generations in America, I am undoubtedly of Welsh descent. To begin with, my father gave me a first name about as Welsh as they come, Kymri. Though no more common a name in Wales than here in the US, it is a derivation of CYMRU - which is the Welsh word for Wales itself.

"Cymri" is a word used to designate the Welsh people, culture, and spirit, and their passion for journeying. My parents traded the C for a K, and I cannot imagine having any other name, it is exactly right for me. Add to that my fair skin, ruddy nose and cheeks, and an appreciation for fine whiskey and cheeses, and I'll be the first to tell you that Welsh blood runs does Welsh pride.

So imagine my pride as I introduced my daughter to her maternal ethnic homeland...awakening that Welshness that runs through her blood. It really helped that she and her father are big Dr. Who fans, so that was the obvious starting point for us in Cardiff - a visit to the Dr. Who Experience in Cardiff, Wales.


The Millenium Centre, Cardiff, Wales.

Dr. Who is a time traveler, and we traveled through time on our roadtrip to the Middle Ages. Wales is home to over 400 castles, with more castles per square mile than any other country. To help us plan our itinerary of conquering historic castles, we got a membership to CADW, the organization that manages over 100 castles and historic sites in Wales.


Some of the castles we visited were well-known:

Caerphilly Castle, the largest castle in Europe

Caerphilly Castle, Wales - the largest castle in Europe.

Caernarfon Castle, where Queen Elizabeth II formally crowned Charles, Prince of Wales

Conwy Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with well-preserved town walls

Conwy Castle view from the town walls, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Wales.

While some were less visited, but no less impressive:

Kidwelly Castle (my personal favorite)

Kidwelly Castle

Harlech Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the best Welsh tea cakes on offer anywhere

Denbigh Castle, impressive location and exciting wind factor on the day we visited

Ruins of Denbigh Castle, Wales

To balance out my family's fascination with exploring historic old castles, we spent a good amount of time on the coast, thus breaking up the heavy doses of history with relaxing doses of being here and now in the present.


Surfers at Freshwater West Beach, Pembrokeshire, Wales.

The Pembrokeshire Coast National Trail covers 186 miles of diverse and breathtaking scenery along the west coast of Wales, with long sandy beaches, serene tidal estuaries, and rugged rocky cliffs. I simply can't rave about this part of Britain enough, and I truly wonder how the Welsh manage to keep quietly humble about it - perhaps that's the secret to conserving it.

Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire National Coast, Wales.

Freshwater West Beach is recognizable to any Harry Potter fan - this is where Shell Cottage stood, and where Dobby the house elf was laid to rest in the nearby dunes.

Dunes at Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire National Coast, Wales.

In addition to being a film location for "Robin Hood", Freshwater West also happens to be have decent surf, and is host to the Welsh National Surfing Championships. It wasn't exactly going off when we were there, but there was effort on the part of local surfers.

Surfers at Freshwater West Beach, Pembrokeshire, Wales.

Surfer catches wave at Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire, Wales.

Further north along the coast, just south of St. Davids, is another favorite surf beach for the Welsh, Newgale Sands. While it was tempting to hit up the local surf rental shop, it was low tide, and I found the sky more remarkable than the waves.

Newgale Beach, Pembrokeshire, Wales.

Newgale Beach, Pembrokeshire, Wales.

Between long stretches of sandy beach, the Pembrokeshire Coast continued to entertain us with dramatic scenery. After all, this is where the sport of "coasteering" took hold (pun intended), with good reason. Near the small town of Abereiddy sits the Blue Lagoon, where another adventurous sport, cliff diving, took flight (pun intended, again).

The coastline near Abereiddy, Wales, popular for coasteering.

The Blue Lagoon near Abereiddy, on the Pembrokeshire Coast, Wales.

We based ourselves in what is probably the heart of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park itself, in the town of Newport. Each day we set out on a nature walk along the Newport Estuary, which never ceased to awe.

Sun setting at Newport Sands Beach, Pembrokeshire, Wales.

Sun setting as fishermen return, Newport Sands Beach, Pembrokeshire, Wales.

As I review my photos and notes of this incredible roadtrip journey, it occurs to me that there is simply too much to share in one post. So I'm saving the second half for a second part, which I'll publish next week. Check back for more from Wales, featuring Snowdonia and the northern coast, plus cromlechs and crosses!

See the full gallery of Wales images here:

Follow more of my Roadtrips for Cameras series here:

Arizona's National Parks
California's Central Coast
Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore
Guysborough Galleries