Computer Connectivity Remains Poor

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Computer connectivity remains poor at this hostel. At least for my computer (MacBook Pro). Joel’s PC seems to be doing a bit better but even he has had some problems. Therefore, my posts will probably be few and far between, both here and on Facebook, until we reach our next destination.

The general plan calls for us to leave Dover, England sometime on Thursday and take the ferry to Calais, France. We just booked two weeks in Calais before heading farther north towards Belgium and beyond. In France it looks like we’ll be back to using the Euro () instead of GBP (£).

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I Am Back Online (Hopefully)

Stephen F. Dennstedt

I’ve been without a computer for about three days but hopefully I’m back in business. Brother Joel posted an announcement on Facebook for me but I know some of you don’t follow me on Facebook so you’ve probably been wondering where the hell I’ve been. No worries—all is good (for the time being).

Computers can be such a pain-in-the-ass sometimes. We’re still in Dover, England and plan to cross the channel to Calais, France sometime on Thursday. Dover is a very unique (and different) little hamlet of about 30,000 residents and not what we expected at all. More to follow once I get caught up on things.

I Long for Simpler Times and Places

Shaman’s Daughter – Northern Amazon River Basin

Longing for simpler times and places is at best naïve and at worst complete delusion. But sometimes the temptation to stay naïve and deluded (to keep one’s mental health intact) overpowers the daily need for realism and pragmatism. Joel and I have benefited greatly from our seven-year world trek. Admittedly, we often view new surroundings and travel destinations through rose-colored glasses because we’re ignorant of the realities that underpin those surroundings and destinations—but one old cliché tells us that ignorance is bliss. And in many ways it is—rightly or wrongly.

Wild Orchid – Northern Amazon River Basin

Turning a blind eye will not solve any of the world’s problems but as a survival tool it might save a person’s sanity. Is saving your sanity a legitimate goal in itself (or just a selfish indulgence)? Frankly, I can’t answer that question anymore. There was a time, not all that long ago, I would have answered with a resounding no. I grew up with George Reeves and his 1950s television Superman: a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way. I was a product of my times and believed in Superman’s noble sentiment. I no longer know, for certain, what truth, justice and the American way is.

Amazon Sunset – Northern Amazon River Basin

There is no perfect place in the world. Fact. Where you find people (especially in large numbers) you find: lies, injustice and intolerance. In other words conflict. In September 2014, while drinking fresh brewed coffee in the small mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas (Chiapas, Mexico), Joel and I invented our perfect tropical paradise—the island country of Coño Sueño. It is the perfect country because it springs from our imagination and we made it perfect. The literal translation of coño tends to be vulgar (we learned it in Cuba) but we prefer: damn, holy crap or bloody hell. Sueño however is dream.

Galapagos Islands – Galapagos, Ecuador

So basically Coño Sueño is just a damn dream—but it’s our dream, so it’s real (at least to us). We also like the way the name rolls off the tongue like Spanish usually does (Spanish can make the mundane sound beautiful). Coño Sueño cómo te amamos. Coño Sueño is a tropical island with white sand beaches, swaying coconut palms and surrounded by blue-green crystal-clear water. The weather is always perfect with bright sunny skies and a constant temperature of 30°C/85°F (air, water and rain) with gently blowing southerly Tradewinds. I am the King of Coño Sueño and Joel is the assistant King. 

Monterrico Sunset – Monterrico, Guatemala

The women of Coño Sueño are all small, brown and beautiful—and they can’t speak (yeah I know but it’s our dream). There are no politicians in Coño Sueño because I’m the King and I won’t allow it (but I’m a nice King). There is no conflict in Coño Sueño and the beer is always ice-cold. Like Ponce de Leon’s mythical Fountain of Youth or John Hilton’s Shangri-La, Coño Sueño lays just beyond the Lost Horizon of our joint imaginations. But it belongs to us and we just might find it—if not in this world then maybe the next. Oh—Coño Sueño—you damn dream. How we long for your reality.

River Transportation – Rio San Juan, Southeastern Nicaragua

Western Europe is a dream bucket-list travel destination for many people (I totally get that). It is beautiful, interesting and chockfull of living history I will admit but I am starting to yearn for the simpler life we found in Latin America: Mexico, Cuba, Central America and South America. Western Europe suffers from many of the same maladies we have in the USA: political polarisation, economic uncertainty, bigotry (if not outright racism) and intolerance. With the linguistic and cultural differences experienced in Latin America we didn’t see all of the realities there—with ignorance we were happier.

Rio San Juan – Southeastern Nicaragua

I’ve been criticised (sometimes harshly by those I love the most) for giving up. For not continuing to fight the good fight. This might be a valid criticism despite its judgemental overtones. For there is truth in Edmund Burke’s famous quote: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. But maybe I’m allowed to give up—or at least to scale back my involvement. Over the course of my life I’ve done more than many to combat injustice—though not as much as others. Is there a point where enough is enough? If I see overt injustice within my sphere of influence I still take direct action if possible.

Martillo Island – Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Maybe that’s more important than throwing a shit-fit or posting a meme on Facebook or other social media. Maybe not. I’m no longer a great judge of what is right or wrong. Just basic fact-finding in this day of fake news is a full-time activity. Trusted institutions can no longer be trusted and my faith in my fellow-man has been severely tested. I don’t have that many years left of this precious life I’ve been given, so selfishly I’m going to live them the best way I know how. I’m going to ease up on judging myself too harshly (and the guilt that automatically comes with that) and leave that to others (there are plenty).

Old Woman – Quito, Ecuador

Until I breathe my last breath and enter my final sleep I will spend my remaining days, weeks, months and years looking for simpler times and places. I know that Coño Sueño can be found—it’s just beyond that next cloud and over the Lost Horizon. It’s an amazing place with clear blue skies, white sand beaches, crystal-clear water, perfect weather and beautiful little women who don’t speak. And ice-cold beer. I am the King of Coño Sueño and my kingdom is calling to me. If you want further context read Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King (pretty good movie too with Sean Connery and Michael Caine).

Field Notes: Please don’t misinterpret this post. We are happy to be trekking Western Europe—it is beautiful and interesting. We consider ourselves lucky too (though we worked hard to bring this luck about). I have not given up all hope of a better world future—but I am scaling back my personal contribution to that effort. My life, my choice—judge me if you will. In the words of Robert Frost: The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep. SFD (The King of Coño Sueño)

The King of Coño Sueño Reclining on His Throne

 

 

Ah—the Inevitable Change of Plans

The White Cliffs of Dover – Dover, England (Internet File Photo – Not My Photo)

When travelling it’s best to stay open to change. Especially when you travel like us—full-time and without much of a plan. It’s finally time to cross over the channel to the Continent and we leave Birmingham, England Thursday morning. Our original plan was to go to Harwich Port on the coast and take a ferry to Holland (Rotterdam). As we researched this option more fully we found we couldn’t get to Harwich Port by bus and to go by train was difficult, expensive and convoluted. The second option was to go through London and cross to Belgium. London is about the size of New York City (over 8-million residents).

Giant’s Causeway – Atlantic Coast of Northern Ireland

We really, really dislike (hate) big cities—and London sounds absolutely appalling to us (crowds, outrageous prices and chaos). Resigning ourselves to this option Joel discovered a third option: travel from Birmingham to the small town of Dover (of White Cliffs of Dover fame)—current population is only 30-thousand. Perfect. It’s about a seven hour trip by bus including a one hour layover in London to change buses: Birmingham > London = 3 hours, London = 1 hour, London > Dover = 3 hours. 30-thousand versus 8-million is a no-brainer for us so we’re off to Dover on Thursday.

The River Tay with Saint Mathew’s Church of Scotland – Perth, Scotland

Joel found us a great place to stay for £27 GBP pp per night: private twin room with private bath and free in-room WiFi and Continental breakfast. In London that price barely got us a bunk bed in 12-person mixed dorm with shared bath (and no breakfast). Our lodging in Dover is within walking distance of the beach (a real plus in our book) and the White Cliffs of Dover. We booked a one week stay with an optional second week—it sounds like an ideal place to hunker down for a while before crossing to France. The ferry leaves from Dover to Calais, France and I think it’s about a four-hour transit.

Conwy Castle (Circa 1283) – North Wales

We’ll have to study various travel options going forward but I think the general direction of travel will be England > France > Belgium > Holland > Germany > Poland and then down through Eastern Europe. Eastern Europe, as defined by the United Nations Statistics Division, includes the countries of: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, and Slovakia, as well as the republics of Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine. We would also love to visit Italy, Spain and Portugal and maybe cross over to Morocco in Africa for a short visit.

Minster and Parish Church of Saint Peter-at-Leeds – Leeds, England

We’ll have to see if we can do all that on our budget (avoiding the big tourist cities might make it possible). I think we can save a lot of money travelling in Eastern Europe (as opposed to Western Europe) but we’ll have to wait and see if that’s true once we actually get there. For some reason I’m fixated on trekking through Romania with its mysterious Eastern Carpathian Mountains—maybe it’s the whole Count Dracula Transylvania thing. Anyway, just speculating on some of these travel destinations has my travel juices flowing again. We’ll have been in the United Kingdom for seven months by the time we leave.

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Field Notes: Using the old travel cliché the United Kingdom has been amazing. We arrived in Dublin, Ireland (the Irish Republic) from Iceland in December and spent Christmas and New Year 2018 there. Leaving Dublin we toured the rest of southern Ireland before moving up to Northern Ireland and Scotland. We’ve also spent a considerable amount of time travelling through England and even into Wales. The United Kingdom is not inexpensive and has taxed our travel budget mightily but we wouldn’t have missed it for the world. As the adventure continues we’re anxious to explore the Continent. SFD

Photography 101: Training, Experience and Attitude

Stephen F. Dennstedt – Lago Yojoa, Honduras

Self-proclaimed tough guys (guys who consider themselves dangerous) live in a state of delusion. That’s why wannabes usually fail when they come up against real-deal warriors. Being dangerous isn’t about size, strength or bravado—it’s about training, experience and attitude. Six years (1965-71) in the U.S. Marine Corps taught me that lesson—the hard way. Marines are extremely well-trained, have lots of practical experience and don’t know the meaning of give-up. All Special Ops warriors have these traits in common—they aren’t the biggest, strongest or loudest, they are simply the best.

African Lioness – Parque Zoologico del Centenario

I think this is a terrific metaphor for photography or any other creative pursuit for that matter. These days I only belong to two photography groups and zero forums. Why is that? I just got really tired of the armchair warriors pontificating on the forums or bashing beginners in the groups. I’ve always hated bullies and trolls and the cyber variety are the worst because you can’t reach out and punch them in the nose. When we share our creative efforts with others we open ourselves up to criticism and judgement—it takes guts to do that. When troglodytes abuse that vulnerability it pisses me off.

Juvenile Puma (Mountain Lion) – Escuintla, Guatemala

Marines have a bias against that kind of behaviour and it comes to the fore when someone says (with false bravado): I almost became a Marine. There is no almost—you either became a Marine or you didn’t. It’s like saying I almost became a Navy Seal, Army Delta (Ranger or Green Beret). You either did or you didn’t. I have found that among photographers (and other creative types) too: you either take pictures or just talk about taking pictures. The proof is in the pudding—just because someone is a Gear-head or Tech-weenie doesn’t automatically make them a photographer.

Northern-crested Caracara – Yucatan, Mexico

Yes you have to master the technical side of things but more importantly you need artistic vision. Typically one is a learned skill-set and the other is an innate God-given talent—you can learn camera settings but you are born with the ability to really see. The same is true of writing, music and dance. You are born with a talent and you learn to maximise that talent. I was not born to play an instrument, dance the tango or solve quadratic equations—I was born with a modest artistic and literary talent that I’ve worked hard to improve on. You’ve heard the phrase: talk is cheap.

Orange-winged Amazon Parrot – Northern Amazon River Basin

Talk is cheap! Visit any online forum if you have any doubts about that at all. My advice is to follow your passion to the best of your ability. Train yourself rigorously (as though you were a warrior) through ongoing education and learning, gain practical experience by doing (if you’re a photographer shoot, if you’re a writer write and if you’re a dancer dance) and keep a positive attitude and never give up. You may never be a Superstar (or maybe you will) but that’s not what’s important. Getting incrementally better everyday and refining your talent is the goal. Don’t listen to the naysayers and trolls.

Brown-faced Capuchin Monkey – Northern Amazon River Basin

Some of the best photographers I know are recreational non-professional shooters. Conversely, some of the leading experts online (professionals) produce consistently lousy work. Before I follow someone on YouTube I check to see if they walk the talk—I look at their portfolio. Are their photos technically sound and artistically conceived? Do they balance the technical side of photography with the aesthetic or do they simply offer gear reviews? I’m not going to waste my time following someone who doesn’t inspire me to create better work. Life is way too short for that nonsense.

Spider Monkey – Lago Nicaragua, Nicaragua

I’m including two real-life examples of what I’m talking about: the first is Thomas Heaton and the second bills himself as the Angry Photographer (that should say it all). Thomas is a consummate professional who is successfully following his passion and the Angry Photographer is a fraud who refuses to share his work (he’s been accused multiple times with outright plagiarism—stealing the work of others and claiming it as his own). Thomas supports where the Angry Photographer attacks (a troll). I follow Thomas because I love his work and his ethos, I wouldn’t give the Angry Photographer one minute of my precious time.

Field Notes: YouTube can be a great resource for learning—you can learn almost anything on YouTube. Caveat emptor however or buyer beware. Everyone (or at least many) on YouTube purport to be experts in a particular field (often they’re not). Be selective and do your homework. I’ve included two examples above, one positive and one negative. There’s already enough negative in the world so I would invite you to stay with the positive. The same can be said for photography groups and forums. The two groups I belong to are professional and well run and I’ve dropped the others. Forums can be tricky too. SFD

 

 

 

 

Thank You Ditch Abbott for Your Kind Words

The Muppet Brothers (Steve & Joel Dennstedt)

I’m rapidly closing in on 1,000 subscribers to my blog Expat Journal. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot, there are many social influencers with a bigger following, but I don’t consider myself to be a social influencer so I’m thrilled. When brother Joel and I started this adventure seven years ago I had zero followers—and now 1,000 people find our lifestyle, travels and photography interesting enough to follow along on a regular basis. They forgive my occasional rant. My readers continue to amaze me with their loyalty, kindness and generosity. A case in point:

I probably have gained some valuable information from some travel blogs. But I’ve had to sort through a lot of self congratulating dros as well. Was particularly offended once when reading about traveling in a more sustainable fashion and was directed to 10 tour sites all of which costed over $10,000 for a tour. Apparently one has to be rich to be sustainable.

Here is the only one I have subscribed to that I actually read. It isn’t so much advice as his daily log. He travels cheaply and slowly. Embedded in there is a lot of good stuff. Expat Journal: Postcards from the Edge – Ditch Abbott

My blog is not monetized and I make no money from it. I just have a love and fascination with photography, writing and travelling and enjoy sharing my experiences with others. My brother Joel and I call ourselves the Muppet Brothers because, like Statler & Waldorf, we’re old, cranky and irreverent. Also, like the Muppet Brothers, we’ve been known to periodically go off on a rant. If you would like to tag along for the ride, or know of someone who might, please subscribe and encourage others to do so. I think we have a few good years left in us (at least I hope we do).

Don’t Be That Obnoxious Photographer

Diplodocus-carnegii

The other day Joel and I ventured over to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to see and photograph Dippy the Dinosaur (Diplodocus-carnegii). Here’s a link to my earlier post if you’re interested. On the way out of the museum an older gent (maybe my age or a bit younger) stopped me and asked about my camera. People are often interested in what I have slung over my shoulder because it’s big and impressive: it’s my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV full-frame sensor DSLR with battery grip and lens (in this case my Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM ultra wide-angle zoom lens).

Dippy the Dinosaur (Diplodocus-carnegii)

It’s big, heavy and invites attention so I’m more than used to getting questions about my kit. It’s often just a matter of idle curiosity (with a little envy thrown in for good measure) and I always try to stay polite and answer questions the best I can if they’re not actually disrupting an active photo shoot. In this case I had finished up with my shooting for the day and was more than willing to engage in some photography talk with a fellow photographer. I shoot professionally so my kit is often more extensive than that of a recreational photographer, a burden that I willingly accept.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR with Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Zoom Lens and Battery Grip

What started as a simple question quickly turned into something more disagreeable. The photographer immediately produced a small Fuji mirrorless camera and took me to task for my choice of gear: didn’t I know that mirrorless was the new thing and the only way to go, and that its Leica lens was the best lens ever made and why in God’s name would I choose carry around such a boat anchor? He didn’t want a conversation (where he might have learned something) he wanted to lecture, patronise and pontificate. Sorry dude—you picked the wrong guy. I walked away.

Stephen F. Dennstedt

I’m old, cranky and a rebellious American colonial—I don’t explain myself to the Crown, much less to a dumb jackass like you. I’ve reached an age and temperament where I don’t have the time or patience to waste my energy in meaningless confrontation—I not only do not suffer fools gladly I don’t suffer them at all. I love talking photography with other photographers and the conversations usually go well and are productive—I’m always open to learning new things. Don’t be that obnoxious know-it-all person who actually knows much less than they think they do.

Field Notes: I’ve included a humorous video from my pals Chelsea & Tony Northrup. In 2015 I was a paid contributing author for them when they had a blog that complemented their YouTube vlog. I no longer receive any financial compensation or consideration from them but their YouTube channel is great and they produce a lot of interesting and helpful free content. With almost a million followers they’re considered by many to be experts in the field of photography—Chelsea is the funny and artistic one and Tony is the techno-nerd with a young face and old hair. Check them out. SFD