Tag Archives: passion

Rest in Peace, my dear Sandra

Sandra Maria Martinez Vasquez, of Medellin, Colombia
Sandra Maria Martinez Vasquez, of Medellin, Colombia

Those who are close to me will recognize this lovely lady as a very special person in my life who had an enormous influence on me in many ways. Her name is Sandra María Martínez Vasquez from Medellín, Colombia and she taught me what true and lasting love is and feels like. I would like to share my memory with you, as a tribute to her. Continue reading Rest in Peace, my dear Sandra

Words to live by

What motivates me? Why do I seek to live intimately with my own life and the world? The most truthful answer to this is the simplest: because I have to. I am compelled by some deep hunger of the soul, driven by a desire that will not leave me alone, to live life to the fullest. And I know this does not mean working endlessly, accomplishing the most, or consuming the greatest amount and variety of things and experiences. It means tasting each mouthful, feeling each breath, listening to each song, being awake and aware of each moment as it unfolds.

~ Oriah Mountain Dreamer, Author of “The Invitation”

Drunk on life

Ever since a crazy, frightening plane ride into Bogota a few weeks ago, I’ve been contemplating the prospect of death at an early age. The thought that keeps coming to my head is wow, if I died tomorrow, I would feel like I have no regrets, few wasted moments, so many beautiful adventures, much love and happiness, and have learned so much about people and the planet we live on, what scares me, what drives me. But for now, there is so much I have left to experience and for as long as I am alive, I am going to drink life as if its a glass of fine wine and the bottle never goes empty. DRUNK on life! Have a great day friends!

British man to walk Antarctica for charity

Just back from Antarctica and was inspired to see this story of passion and purpose in my news feed this morning —

In a nutshell – British adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes aims to be the first to walk across the Antarctic continent during the winter. As part of his effort, he hopes to raise US$ million to to fight avoidable blindness in low-income countries. The money will be donated to UK charity Seeing is Believing and donations will be matched dollar for dollar by Standard Chartered Bank for a potential total of US$10 million.

In the world’s poorest countries, lack of access to basic eye care, Vitamin A deficiency and vulnerability to water-related eye infections can cause blindness, and this is often preventable. For example, corneal scarring – the most common cause of childhood blindness – can be prevented with two drops of Vitamin A which costs just US$0.05.  (Facts sourced from Kids with Vision and World Health Organization.)

The journey will not be easy. It has been completed during the summer season, when the extent of sea ice is much reduced, temperatures are warmer and weather conditions are not as harsh. But during the Southern Hemisphere winter (which starts in March), temperatures can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit (-73 degrees Celsius) and there is near 24 hour darkness. Starting on the first day of next year’s winter season – March 21 2013 – Sir Ranulph and his team plan to walk some 2500-3000 miles over the course of their six month adventure. No one has ever done this before.

Just in case you thought there weren’t any adventures left to be had, guys like this with balls the size of coconuts come along and show us that there is always a record waiting to be broken. And kudos to him for doing it for a good cause!

Watch Sir Ranulph’s recent interview with CNN, below. You can also read more about the initiative on Seeing is Believing’s website.

Day 2: Crossing the Drake Passage

View of the Drake Passage from the Library Room at the top of the National Geographic Explorer. Relatively calm waters in the morning.

I am currently on an expedition to visit Antarctica with my mother. Our ship’s name is the National Geographic Explorer and during our ten-day air and sea voyage, we will visit the southern tip of Argentina and various parts of the Antarctic peninsula.


The Drake Passage is a body of water about 800km wide where both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet. It might be best known for being the location of Cape Horn, the southernmost point of land on the South American continent and a historical shipping landmark. Prior to the completion of the Panama Canal in the early twentieth century trading ships were required to sail around Cape Horn to reach the other side.

For Antarctica tour ships coming from South America, most begin from Ushuaia as ours did. To reach the Antarctic Peninsula which is the easiest Antarctic destination to reach, ships must first cross the Drake Passage. Although the Passage is fairly straightforward and clear of obstacles, the confluence of trade winds from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as the convergence of the cold Antarctica sea water with the relatively warm sub-Antarctic currents can create the conditions for a turbulent journey. We are warned by our expedition leaders that the weather looks good but that the situation can change quickly. Swells could be as high as 60 feet, and in case they aren’t, we should still tell our friends back home that they were, as anything less would be disappointing.

Captain James Cook circumnavigated Antarctica twice and though he never actually saw the continent, he travelled through the Drake Passage. He said of it: “I dare say no man shall ever benefit from visiting this place.”

Fortunately weather was on our side, and although the ship rolled substantially during the night and throughout Day 2, we were comfortable in our cabin. My mother remarked that the listing of the ship was much less than what she had experienced on her trans-Atlantic voyage with my father in 2002.

Since our ocean voyage will be fairly mundane (saying this with a smirk!), today is a good day to prepare and get things done. The schedule for the day included a photography Q&A, a session on birds of the Antarctic, in addition to a mandatory briefing on the Antarctica Treaty. Since I have never been properly trained in photography, I am keen to learn new tricks for using my digital SLR Nikon D90 18-55mm lens and 70-300mm telephoto lens.

The session organiser suggested that digital camera owners tend to fall into one of two groups: first, the technical types who can easily operate complicated gadgets but have difficulty in imagining the photo they want to create; and second, the creative types who can conceive a beautiful image but have no idea how to use their camera to capture it. The session included a quick orientation and then split us off into four groups: beginners; owners of camera brands A-M (ie Canon), owners of brands N-Z (ie Nikon), and those looking for creative inspiration.  I opted for the Nikon session although was quite tempted to join the creative one which was to be hosted by Kim Heacox, the National Geographic photographer travelling with us for this expedition. A tough choice!

From my session there were three main things that I took away:

First, the unique thing about Antarctica is the stark black and white contrast. There’s a lot of snow, ice, rocks, water and black/white penguins. I learn that when digital SLR cameras see a scene with a lot of white in it, such as a landscape of snow, ice and a few penguins, they auto-correct the exposure and leave you with a shot that does not capture the full whiteness of the scene. Our instructor suggests using the +/- exposure setting to manually over or under-expose the shot based on the amount of white in the photo. So, if a photo has a lot of white in it, the photographer can compensate for the camera’s auto-correct by adding exposure back to the image (my camera has a range of -5 to +5). This helps to make the image look like it really does to the naked eye.

My second big take-away was in learning when to use white balance. This setting can help bring out warm or cold colours in a photograph: think reds and blues. These are very useful in Antarctica for shooting icebergs with bluish shadows, warm sunsets or sunrises or capturing subtle tones of a calm body of water.

The final big learning is the aperture. Aperture is probably one of the most common settings on an advanced camera, but is not something that I have ever learned to use properly. The purpose of aperture is to adjust the depth of field of a photo, so that you can capture multiple subjects in focus. With a low aperture (ie a low F number), your depth of field will be small. This will be good for up close and personal shots such as a group portrait, where you don’t want background objects to come into focus. However, say you have two or three penguins standing one behind the other, 2 or 3 feet apart. You may want to set your aperture at a higher level so that your depth of field expands and captures all the penguins in focus.

Having learned these new tips and tricks, I felt inspired to invite Kim Heacox to lunch with my mother and I. Perhaps he would let me pick his brain! One of the incredible advantages of travelling with National Geographic is having access to these world renowned experts – what a treat!

Lunch on the National Geographic Explorer
L to R: Ryan, my mother Maureen, Melanie Heacox, Kim Heacox

So Kim agreed to join us for lunch with his wife Melanie. They are a husband and wife team who have followed their passions their entire lives. Since 1993 they have been participating in National Geographic trips to Antarctica, offering their insight and assistance to travelers. Kim is an *award-winning” photographer for National Geographic and has published eight books. More recently he has begun working on fiction novels, and describes writing as a new passion that evolved from his career in photojournalism.

As for Melanie, she is a “naturalist” who knew from the early age of 7 that she wanted to be a park ranger. She told us the story of how she visited Yellowstone National Park with her parents and upon finding out that a park ranger actually lives within the park rather than travelling to and from a home in the city, she was inspired and set herself to becoming one. At 24 years old, she graduated and then spent the next thirty years of her life working at famous US national parks such as Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and others around Alaska, where she met her husband Kim. As park rangers are entitled to an annual furlough, she used the time to travel to Antarctica and fell in love with it. Since then, she has been on 38 trips to the continent.

My mother had a lot to talk about with these two, drawing on her recent travels to Alaska and work as a guide at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. My mother certainly knows how to inject passion into a conversation! We had a great lunch together and inspired by what we talked about, I got to thinking about a few things.

Over the last ten years or so, I have learned through practice and experience that a photo can tell a story much more powerfully than words can. So as I have travelled, I have sought to take photos that capture the emotions or feeling in a particular scene, such as a street vendor and his basket of fruit. I think that every word in a book has its rightful place in a story. Just the same: photos when taken properly, captured at the right moment, can inject magic into the routine.

My Nikon D90 with its 70-300mm telephoto lens, covered in a “rain sleeve” and sitting on a Joby tripod

On this trip, the first rule is to always have your camera with you. At the same time however, I feel that one can often get lost behind the camera instead of choosing to enjoy the moment in person, with the naked eyes. To a certain extent I think, if one depends on a camera to create the memories, the brain loses the incentive to keep these memories for life. So, I think as I have become a better photographer, I have started to take fewer photos, choosing only those most impactful and powerful moments to capture on digital media.

When you take a photo, ask yourself what you know about the subject. What do you notice about the behaviour of a bird, wave or iceberg? Is it familiar or odd? How can you bring that behaviour to life in the photograph? Feel the relationship between you and that bird. Get to know the bird through its movements and then photograph it more intimately. (Unfortunately I am still practicing so I can’t post a good example!) :) And ironically, despite the heavy focus on photography in this blog post, there are few photos to share today (experiencing a very slow connection on board right now).

This all brings to mind an old Inuit poem:

Let me see,
Is it real,
This life I am living?

The conversation with Kim and Melanie provided a good opportunity to get an answer to a question by my friend Eric who asked: What is a naturalist? As Melanie describes herself as one, I asked if she could provide a definition. She said that a naturalist is someone who possesses general expertise about the natural environment. Naturalist can also be a catch-all term.  For example, a naturalist may also be a specialist in other areas, such as insects, wildlife, or rocks. The naturalist might then have a sub-classification such as an etymologist (insects). Melanie says that her particular interest is in ice. I was tempted to ask her what she thinks of the project to capture ice and water samples from the sub-glacial lake in Antarctica. I think I will do that if I see her again around the passageways of our ship, the National Geographic Explorer. :)

Antarctica travel blog: Expedition with National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions

    You My mom joined me in Buenos Aires last night. Here we are at the Cesar Park Hotel about to set off on a trip to Antarctica with National Geographic. About to conquer my last of the seven continents! :) Onward ho!

Blog posts from this trip are tagged “antarctica” and you can find them by clicking here or browsing the keywords in the right-hand menu on the home page.

This morning my mother and I left from Buenos Aires, Argentina for our cruise to Antarctica aboard the National Geographic Explorer. The cruise, operated by Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic, will run for ten days from 29 November to 9 December 2012 and take us by air and sea to several destinations. We will be accompanied by naturalists, historians, scientists, undersea specialists and photo/videographers. We are also lucky to have on board Don Walsh, a world-renowned oceanographer and deep-sea diver.

During the course of our trip, I will be blogging and posting photos about our experiences. Activities will include on-shore excursions and educational sessions on birding, local wildlife and photography. Some of the items on my personal to-do list include a swim in the frigid waters around the Antarctic Peninsula, a sea-kayaking trip, and getting a whiff of some stinky penguin poop. Friends and family have asked me to share with them my thoughts about the tour and its operator, more about the part of Antarctica which I am visiting and a photo of the Weddell seal. Someone has even asked me about how I am getting access to the web.  (The answer is that it is a satellite connection and we pay by the minute on board the boat. All my blog posts are written offline and quickly uploaded when I connect once or twice daily.) Is there something you’d like to see or learn about? Please let me know by commenting on this blog post and I will do the best I can! You can also follow the ship’s Daily Expedition Report.

One of my passions is traveling and I have a dream of seeing as much of the world as possible. With this trip I will have visited each of the planet’s seven continents. I was born in North America, and first visited South America in 2001, Europe and Australia in 2006, Asia in 2007 and then Africa in 2008. So far I’ve traveled to 45 countries and four “places” – those not technically countries (which include Hong Kong, Macau, the Palestinian territory of the West Bank and soon: Antarctica). You can see my travel map here.

I inherited the travel bug from my mom. Long before I was even a twinkle in her and my father’s eyes, my mother was traveling around the world frequently for work and pleasure. As I grew up, she often showed me photos of her visits to Ecuador, Hawaii and Thailand. My father, who came from a poor family and held a life-long fear of flying, preferred economising but never let that stop us from traveling. So, as I grew up, our family went on frequent road trips across Canada and into the USA, seeing lots for very little. In so many ways, this trip would not have been possible without my mom and dad; they have always encouraged me to explore, both at home and abroad.


What’s important to you?

Photo credit: Unknown

Disclaimer: I am not the author of this text nor the photographer of the image shown at right. This material was found circulating in the public domain. If you know who produced the text and / or photo, please let me know by commenting on this post.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’

The professor then produced two Beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

‘Now,’ said the professor as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things—your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions—and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.. The sand is everything else—the small stuff.

‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life.

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.

Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and mow the lawn.

Take care of the golf balls first—the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the Beer represented. The professor smiled and said, ‘I’m glad you asked.’ The Beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of Beers with a friend.