Nature

Shooting Connemara with Peter Skelton

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There are many instances where I think too much devotion and credit is given to social media. One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing “activist” groups on Facebook try to get “likes” to change the world. That’s nice, I guess, in terms of raising awareness. But there is a difference between the social capital found in the virtual world and IRL (in real life)…

Early in the day, it was hard to get some good light.
Early in the day, it was hard to get some good light.

What does it really mean for an amateur photoblogger to have x amount of followers? It’s easy to answer that in light of a professional photography: money plays. But none of my artwork is for sale; I’m not in it for the money. So what is to be gained from networking online? Facebook friends, Twitter and Instagram followers, and whoever reads this on WordPress -only a few of these individuals engage with me face to face. I don’t find these types of relationships to be as gratifying as real-world relationships. I hope that doesn’t offend anyone, but in terms of a healthy lifestyle, I think that physical contacts are superior. But in the instance where those superficial followers can become real-world acquaintances, I think social media can be incredibly valuable.

I wanted to see how much temperature editing I could get away with; definitely over did it.
I wanted to see how much temperature editing I could get away with; definitely over did it.

In the months leading up to my departure for Ireland, I was going through different online social mediums to find local photographers to follow. I stalked their photos and got some destinations in mind. There are plenty of photo opportunities throughout the Irish countryside and that became more apparent the more I got out and shot. But while researching, I noticed that most photographers were based somewhere and not in Galway. Then I found “Galway Pete,” whose work I fell in love with the moment I checked out his online portfolio. Maybe I’m still a newbie in terms of photography, but when I see someone’s work that I admire, I really do think, “Wow! I’d love to shoot around with this guy, see how they work, what equipment they use etc.” Again, despite how much I’ve learned online, I think there is something valuable about a hands-on approach to photography.

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For anyone not familiar with Ireland, it’s not the easiest country to get around with a limited and expensive bus system. Apparently, in the past few years, the major motorways that were constructed amount to small roads back in America. These “improvements” don’t really do much in terms of increasing accessibility, but I guess they reduce the time between major urban areas, which are basically Dublin, Galway, and Cork. So finding a local “fixer” was a priority upon arriving here. After some re-tweeting, liking, and generic Twitter conversations, I had contacted Peter and set a date to go out and shoot Connemara. It might strike Americans as odd at how easy and familiar that process seems. But Ireland is such a small country that people really are who they say they are. That “have your guard up” mentality is quite unnecessary here; I guess it’s because communities are so tightly knit.

I didn't truly know what macro photography was until I got a chance to use Peter's 100mm macro lens!
I didn’t truly know what macro photography was until I got a chance to use Peter’s 100mm macro lens!

We headed out of Galway into some pretty relentless rain. There are many attitudes that photographers can have when they interact. In some circles, unfortunately, I detect a lot of condescension, probably due to competition. But Peter was really comfortable with how he shot and was completely open to sharing his opinions on equipment, techniques, and his general philosophy when it comes to photography. I think it’s the last part that comes through in a face-to-face relationship. Sure, online you can view someone’s portfolio, and I guess ultimately, this is what matters if you want pictures. But it’d be pretty miserable if a bride’s wedding photographer was a jerk and ruined her day.

The money shot from the day. I knew these were the exact edits I wanted as I snapped away.
The money shot from the day. I knew these were the exact edits I wanted as I snapped away.

I really got the best of both worlds: great photographer and Irishman. Having a local show you around is something I’ve recently learned to treasure after some extensive traveling. I’ve been reading up on art and photography and relationships are what the more keen artists denote as important in their process. Two pieces of advice that Peter shared with me, (and I hope he doesn’t mind me repeating!) really stuck out to me. The first was to never shoot what another photographer dictates as the right way. His wording didn’t really make this tip as much of an absolute that I am making it out to be. But if you’re motivated by someone else’s mindset, or anything other than your own internal drive, then are you really an artist? This is definitely different from motivation or a passive type of influence. But it brings me to his second point: amateurs have the potential to create better work than the pros. I thought this was an interesting tidbit, just because so many people incorrectly assume that the most expensive equipment, which presumably pros have better access to with their photo-related income, churn out the best shots. The relationships that many pros make are, well, professional. And that basically means the motivation is profession driven –ahem, money. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. But it’s definitely in this category of online, virtual, and financial.

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Despite the poor weather, I think Peter and I got a few good shots. I went a little crazy with the edits, just because Connemara itself is a really wild landscape. I want to give a huge (virtual) thank you to Peter for the nearly perfect day! Be sure to check out his website and to follow him on Twitter! If your work is great, you’re bound to get a re-tweet at the very least.

Dust Spots, Self-Portraits, and More Posts

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Well, my time here in Ireland has flown by and I am staring down the last month I have left abroad. In retrospect, my workflow didn’t translate all too well when I started traveling, hence, I didn’t have too many posts. What posts I did have were compromised of low-res iPhone shots. That’s nice to an extent, but now I have a lot of work to catch up on, starting with the insane amount of RAW files I have sitting on a hard drive.

Dust spots. I am incredibly angry at how many dust spots there are on my sensor. I was treating this used Canon 5D like a baby and was even using one of those nasal spray devices to clean the sensor with air and gravity…I know for a fact the dust wasn’t from my lenses. So even after today’s cleaning, I was still disappointed to find the usual suspects in the same spots. Any photographers out there know what I should do? I don’t have any sufficient cleaning supplies, besides what I’d use on my lens.

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I have been alone a whole lot on this trip, something I did not anticipate valuing as much as I do now. But in most cases, I didn’t bring my bulky tripod. So in order to shoot these self-portraits, a new sub-genre I’ve become found of after visiting so many art museums throughout Europe, I had to prop my camera on whatever I could. Then, with the 10 second timer counting down, I’d have to dart to my desired position, with the focus locked on wherever my butt would be. For the above shot, I slipped into the lake a few times; even though the image was shot with a 50mm (close to what our eyes see), I think I was further away from the camera than it seems. So I really had to rush out before the timer went off and compose myself quickly.

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Family members wanted me to be in some of the photos I was taking, but the awkwardly spaced iPhone selfie was not appropriate for what I wanted to capture. In both instances, these images were intended to portray the feeling got while being there instead of what the viewer him/herself sees when viewing the photograph.

With that being said, I’m looking forward to getting back to posting more routinely!

My Only Regret in Interlaken

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…was leaving. And not having a cool pair of sunglasses. Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, had a wild pair of shades. But I loved it here, if that much wasn’t made obvious in the previous posts. It’s just so expensive. I met a kid for Hong Kong last night in my hostel room and he said that their dollar is roughly 1:1 with the Swiss franc; why is the USD hurting so bad?!
A few nights ago, I met some guys at the Three Tells Irish Pub. The only other places nearby were hotel restaurants or I could’ve walked to a Hooters in the downtown area. Of all the restaurants to have a chain in Interlaken, I’m surprised they have that…But I was later told that the main tourists that come to Switzerland are noticeably from more conservative, eastern countries. Not to make any assumptions, but I got the feelin that the ill-placed Hooters and it’s neighboring casino remained in business by attracting somebody. So it made sense to me to park it at the Irish pub, go figure.
The guy wearing shorts, flip flops, and a pink sports coat turned out to be the owner. As the night progressed with the beer seeming to flow freely, Shebby, the owner, started discussing business theories with me. In terms of capitalism, I could think of a few pros and cons on my own, but this native Kiwi had a really bizarre concept. I was complaining that the conversion rate from the USD to both EUR and CHF was absurdly high, despite the noticeable difference in the cost of living in Interlaken. Shebby suggested that products, particularly in the service industry-which I have a background in-are visibly more expensive to an American because the US doesn’t charge enough. It was a pretty broad slap in the face to the free market concept, but I wasn’t sure if he meant how they tax here or how there are government funded programs that are made more accessible via higher prices. Apparently, the waiters/bartenders have an insane amount of vacation time as well as a 13 month of salary paid. So it kind of equates to not paying taxes, according to Shebby.
However that system works out, it obviously draws a lot of foreign workers. I didn’t know that EU members can just travel between countries and work as long as they have their EU card. But somehow, Interlaken remains particularly Swiss; it didn’t lose it’s identity to migrant workers or from the impact of the tourist industry. Then again, I was there between the main tourist seasons, which I thoroughly enjoyed! So I didn’t run into as many tour groups as I could’ve, but there were quite a few people packed into several areas with their cameras. I liked that dichotomy between the viewers and the doers. It’s expensive here so why not actively do something rather than pay more to photograph it from a distance? Interlaken is dubbed the adventure capital of Europe (or something like that). So I will certainly hope to find myself here again at some point while I’m still young!
I was in such a poor state last night; limited wifi and expensive exits from this town was not convenient to say the least. I’m training back to Zurich because northern Italy’s train system is on strike. That made getting into France more expensive as well. Going directly east was over 100chf, and hearing that Vienna is also expensive, I thought that getting to a main travel hub might be the wisest idea. I’m going to look to bus into Germany or maybe into France. I don’t think I’m doing the train traveling correctly because there are different passes for different countries that have different restrictions in different currencies. That might be easier for someone that can speak Deutsch, French, or Suisse-Deutsch, or all the above plus English…But I’m not timing things correctly. I saw on some travel forum that in Switzerland, there’s some sort of saying that goes something like “the smart person travels by train.” So maybe I’m an idiot for not coordinating efficiently. But Ireland, Spain, and Holland allowed for more spontaneity in travel plans, specifically when going shorter distances. I’m almost half tempted to look at what renting a car is like if the bus system is deficient out of Zurich…Until then, I’m enjoying the views from the train!

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Der Perfekte Tag

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I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to today. I was referred to a ski shop by a Kiwi bartender at an Irish pub in Switzerland. Went in, got a great deal in terms of skis and transportation. Basically, I crossed the street, caught a bus that brought me to a train station. From there, you train up into the mountains. So combining my favorite mode of traveling with my favorite landform (mountains) along with some skiing, I knew is gave a good time no matter what. But these Swiss Alps really are something else. The views are incredible to say the least. The slopes were pretty good as far as spring skiing goes. So what else can you ask for in terms of der perfekte tag? You walk off the train, buckle up, ski down. I think the pictures can tell a better story than I can, but I did meet some kids from Cambridge. 

I thought I skied fast but apparently everybody here does! The last stop I got off of was Kleine Scheidegg at 6,762 ft. You can get considerably higher with the chairlifts but most of the bowls were closed. (That didn’t stop me from dropping into one with the Brits). I don’t really know where else to visit after a day like today. My friends at the pub didn’t think too highly of Milan, which was the next largest city south of Interlaken. I’m considering this Cinqe Terra walk I’ve been told about on several occasions…

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How to Really Experience Ireland

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I can’t ever forgive myself for missing out on days with good weather here in Galway. The plan was for me to wake up early and hike with the university’s group out in Connemara. But at 7:30, the downpour wasn’t all too inviting, especially with a minor cold that I want gone before Madrid this upcoming weekend. The weather had a sudden change of plans, though. So by noon it was nothing but blue skies, puffy clouds, and green grass. I had to get out. But with the day seemingly halfway gone, I couldn’t bus anywhere.

While here studying abroad, I’ve had a strong interest in getting lost. So I got the backpack and photo equipment together and headed east with no destination in mind. No cellphone service is a godsend, especially with an urban area as your point of departure. (Doesn’t matter for a foreigner, though. No internet + no Irish phone = I’m cut off!) Walking beyond the docks for the first time, I got to see the innermost part of the bay. A residential area lay on the other side of the water, something that “center city” living has deprived me from, even though it was only a 20 minute walk to get there. As I kept walking, one trail led to another, seamlessly. When you wander aimlessly, it’s ironic that a path becomes more clear to you. (Or maybe there’s something existentially more to that that I pondered over and don’t feel like sharing).

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Turns out that I could’ve saved myself all the time of circumnavigating this body of water by crossing the bridge (out of frame, right). I thought it was only for trains, but on the way back, I realized that someone was biking on a separate portion. Could’ve spared me a good distance from my 11+ miles. Oh well, I’ll remember that next time!

Passing some sort of military base led me to a high vantage point where I could see a sand beach. Well-gated train tracks kept me from descending directly to that foreseeable destination. So I meandered some more until I found a car tunnel to cross underneath, opening up to this beautiful recreational area. Lots of off-leash dogs and several mounted horses took advantage of the low tide. Three dogs anxiously pulled their leashes, anticipating the freedom that lay ahead. A gravel path led me out to a peninsula. From there, I could see up and down the coast; low hanging clouds were rolling in at their freakish pace. I don’t know why, but I considered it better to remain by the water as the potential storm chased after me. Every time it rains, if you’re not surrounded by buildings, you can see distant sheets of rain and figure if you’re in their path or not. I guessed right and received only a drizzle’s worth of dampness as I stumbled along the beach’s pebbles, departing from the locals and their park.

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The colors kept changing with the clouds right overhead in this particular shot.

I could tell my coastline was running out and that I would need to cut inland. By chance, I found a muddy driveway leading me to the same pair of tracks I crossed underneath earlier. But for some reason, the Irish have gates at the majority of their crossings. I’m not sure what purpose that serves, maybe these intersections weren’t used regularly. Yet there was no way I could get around the gates to hop the tracks. This run down structure lay to my left with NO TRESPASSING, a field to my right. A black cat eyed me as I leaned over some barbed wire to snap a shot that I thought would look good for some heavy HDR editing. The three dogs that passed me earlier by the beach came up the muddy path with two men, one close to my age, the other nearing 50. I said, “Howdy. Where do y’all reckon I go from here?” (Southern accent goes a long way outside of Galway-don’t ask why, it just does).

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I ended up on the other side of this property a few minutes later.

Before coming here, I was told about the Irish people’s forwardness, friendliness, and wanting to share stories. And to varying degrees thus far, I’ve experienced those attributes separately. But in this instance, I had no idea that I’d be getting all three for the next five hours. Just when I thought I was getting comfortable with the generic Irish accent, I was taken aback by the older man’s response. From a distance, I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. But his forwardness led to his welcoming me on his walk with his adopted son. Apparently, there was no direction to head but through the fields. What I could understand from this man’s face-paced talking was that the six or seven horses in the field were wild. The other option was going through some psychopath’s property; there was a camera that I had not seen that my new acquaintances pointed out to me. So that wasn’t much of an option at all. Wild horses it was.

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Several of the wild horses, prior to them banding together.

We leashed up the pit-bull, mid-sized black lab, and larger puppy that just had surgery on its hind leg. Pathetically, there was some fourth dog, a Jack Russel mix, that wasn’t anyone’s dog. No one had a leash for it; so if it made the mistake of following us, it was on its own. I didn’t fully realize what the term “wild” meant for the wild horses until all of them charged us as soon as we hopped the fence into their field. People think I’m ridiculous for having some sort of fear/respect for domestic horses. Yes, I know they’re trained, but those animals are massive and muscular. It’s no different (in my mind) than a tame lion at the circus. All of these thoughts came rushing into my head as our little party edged around the pack. The dogs were instinctively smarter than I was; their herd mentality versus the horses’ herd mentality meant everything as one wrong step could’ve had me left behind my herd of humans. They kept bucking at us, to which my new friend threw his hands up, yelled, and bucked back at them! The fences we  kept close to were technically working against us, covered from overgrowth and barbed wire. On the other side of them, elevated on gravel, were the train tracks. The only direction we could head was forward as the horses’ front line took up our rear. I had to walk backwards to keep them from chasing us, one of the dog’s leashes in my hand.

Midway through the field, I looked back to see the crazed property owner come to the gate. His camera must’ve picked me up. I couldn’t tell what he had in his hand, but at present, the horses posed a more immediate concern. We descended further away from the cleared portion of the field, which slowed the horses until they judged that we were no longer encroaching on their land. Badgers and foxes were the next thing we might encounter, according to my friends, but we didn’t see any of those. We had to hop a low point in the fence, making sure that the dogs didn’t get cut. Just then, a train zipped by overhead. “Well,” I thought to myself, “At least that means there won’t be another one for a few minutes.”

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Very dreary woods.

The terrain changed significantly once we crossed the tracks. Another path picked up, winding through a forest. Those renowned Irish stonewalls even exist in the woods, creating that fairytale-esque feel which could not be accompanied by a story of the little people. As Eamonn (the older man) talked about the tricky nature of these little people, I couldn’t help think how such a fable continues for so long. But that light-hearted talk ended abruptly as we came upon a glen. On the other side of this field lay Old Dublin Road. Here, the IRA executed two men. I began to realize that I was hearing an Irishman’s opinion about a topic that seems to have many sides. To me, there doesn’t appear to be any unilateral understanding of the violence that occurred on the Emerald Isle. To hear this man’s point of view was rare, even considering how open the Irish can be with their stories. Plainly put, violence was never a valued entity. But foreign control truly resulted in the maltreatment of the people, something that doesn’t seem forgiveable, regardless of the current legal status of the Northern Counties.

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Glen. Old Dublin Road to frame left.

To be continued. And yes, I will do a part 2. I just have to be somewhere now…

Belfast to Giant’s Causeway

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Quick disclaimer: If anyone wants a more up to date feed of my travelling, feel free to follow me on both Twitter and Instagram (same username) @jvierephoto. My workflow and travelling habits are dis/allowing me to use certain forms of social media…

Anyways! Belfast. It took an arm and a leg to get here from Galway. The journey took me to Dublin Airport, which was close to three hours, and then a second bus that took another two. So I got into Belfast later than I wanted. I won’t lie, the parts that I wandered around were not the prettiest. I’m not sure what I was expecting. Well, actually, on the bus I was wondering whether or not there was going to be border control. As an American, you hear about the recently subsided violence between Northern Ireland and the Republic. But I couldn’t conceive what it would look like in actuality. I sort of had a DMZ scene in mind, but that wasn’t the case. I guess you need your passport if you were to cross a body of water, which, if you think about it, is quite fascinating. Consider that all the violence that occurred took place between two “nations,” according to one side, yet no one really cares enough to establish border control. (Maybe that’s my American take on it; there aren’t always huge walls between countries). But then again, when I went through Heathrow Airport, there was a good deal of security.

Here's me making an ugly face in a really strong wind. Giant's Causeway is right behind/below me. I kind of walked around a "trail's closed" sign and ascended several hundred meters.
Here’s me making an ugly face in a really strong wind. Giant’s Causeway is right behind/below me. I kind of walked around a “trail’s closed” sign and ascended several hundred meters.

Without any border control, people obviously come and go as they please. For work, tourism, family. Yet, it becomes quite apparent that you’re no longer in the Republic of Ireland as soon as you get into Belfast. For one thing, the accent is different. Full-Brits (that’s what I’ll call those from mainland England) are not friendly. Northern Irish are somewhat friendly, yet I think I rubbed one of them wrong when I mentioned I was studying in Galway. Neither party is as friendly as West Coast Irish. Throw Dublin into the mix; from what I’ve heard, they’re not entirely friendly (towards Americans at least). But that is my vantage point as an American. It fascinated me to hear my Northern Irish coach (bus) driver think that the Northern Irish are a friendly community. Whoa-me saying that sounds like I’m accusing them not to be! Well, to be honest, I didn’t quite know what to expect because the violence was so recent. I don’t know if there is still an unspoken animosity. But the scars of the violence are evident in the façade of Belfast. (Definitely check out the Instagram feed. I’m getting some good shots with the iPhone and 5D).

But another indicator that you’re out of the Republic of Ireland is the currency. The UK’s pound is something like 1.8 to the USD, which is absurd and makes me furious (to the point that I’m including it in this post). The Euro equally disgruntles me, but the pound really sends me over the cliff. I have no clue what I’m talking about in terms of economics or business, but the quality of living here is a) not higher than Galway and b) not higher than America. The fact that consumable goods that are cheaper in quality here are almost double the cost than they would be in America is beyond my comprehension. But the Irish and English banks offer no-charge on withdrawing from ATMs, another indication that there is a strong attempt to revitalize the city. I’ve heard from West Coast Irishmen that as a result of the Troubles, Belfast economically suffered from the spite it received from the Republic. In other words, it’s visibly evident that the Republic spurned the Northern Counties to the point where a lot of streets are empty with abandoned shops. It’s an eerie feeling which I have not felt since the summer of 2011, when I first drove through some hardened areas of West Philadelphia.

But check out the architecture; definitely affluent in some areas. Listen to the driver’s accent too.

Enough about money and my ranting about the state of Belfast! (I hope to find some better spots to get another impression tomorrow). The countryside of County Antrim is beautiful. According to my awesome coach driver Pat, the scenic Coastal Route is globally ranked among the top 10 of some list of coastal roads. Even with the February weather, that was self-evident. Contrasted with Ireland’s other coastal region, this land was more in line with what I preconceived Ireland to look like; the grassy rolling hills and sheep. (Sheep are any and everywhere. But this land is richer with volcanic sediment, which historically caused it to be contested among Gaelic and Anglo rulers. The English Pale, that is Ireland’s east coast, is better for crops. You could see that in the shade of the grass. It wasn’t like Connemara’s, West Ireland’s, harsh countryside, which is littered with rocks).

This was a really cool trail that I wasn't suppose to be on. Oh well--yolo right? Yet there was a point where I was setting up my tripod and both it and me almost got blown off. Maybe I should've followed the rules?
This was a really cool trail that I wasn’t suppose to be on. Oh well–yolo right? Yet there was a point where I was setting up my tripod and both it and me almost got blown off. Maybe I should’ve followed the rules?

Because the Game of Thrones set was filmed throughout this area, I couldn’t help think of another sci-fi book, the Lord of the Rings. And then I had myself thinking that this area kind of looked like New Zealand. Maybe not the same (haha) but the land experienced some volcanoes and glaciers to form a really unique terrain! There were a bunch of Brazilian kids on the bus who also seemed to love Game of Thrones. It’s a very big deal here in Northern Ireland, particularly because the crew works out of Belfast. (They’re coming back here in June/July to start filming for Season 5 already…)

But let’s jump to the Giant’s Causeway. I have seen pictures and I have heard stories. It’s best to just visit the scene and experience it yourself. I had no idea Scotland was so close by, so that was a surprise for starters. The actual landmass is indeed uniquely shaped like stairs or a footpath. I scoped out the area pretty quickly and initially set up my tripod in an area away from other people. Then I got bold and went right for the money shot. There are jetties of the “causeway” that have massive waves crashing into them, causing the water to have a spray and nice visual effect over the rocks. I had to have the shot. There I was, edging out further on the slippery rocks in front of the other tourists who thought that their zoom lenses would suffice for this scene. I love what my 50mm makes me do! I started snapping away, fearing for the 5D as it got some ocean spray. I’m  not sure if I got the shot at this point, but I kept recomposing until I heard a really loud whistle. Startled from my laser-like focus on the waves crashing, I turned to see some type of authority figure. I picked up my tripod and headed over to him as he joked, “They (the waves) are coming in too big and too frequently!” Then it hit me that yes, in fact, they were. And if it wasn’t for this man, I probably would’ve just squatted there as water surrounded my small patch of dry rock.

I love this panorama! This IS the Giant's Causeway, from a high vantage point. The tourists congregate in the center left. Those are the "steps."
I love this panorama! This IS the Giant’s Causeway, from a high vantage point. The tourists congregate in the center left. Those are the “steps.”

So we backed away as I chatted him some more, seeking where to plant the tripod again. It took me a good 15 minutes to go about 15 meters into another, smaller jetty that was displacing the water in a visually captivating manner. The rocks were so slippery that I had to use my Manfrotto as a cane as I ventured out into the quickly ceasing low tide. Once positioned, I realized that yes, again, I was surrounded by water. But this time, since I was away from the tourists, there was no one to blow a whistle at me. My heart started pounding as 10 foot waves broke in front of the lens. I was just far enough away from the spray but I didn’t want to lower the tripod any more than it was already at for fear of getting washed away. A wave broke in front of me and judging from the current, another was going to break to my right. I turned the tripod head and got the shot of the day. (Sorry I don’t have it uploaded yet…such a tease).

Follow me on Instagram for more photos of the trip. I hope to have some edited-RAW files up soon…

Best Day Ever?!

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(Written yesterday): My day started with me not going out last night; probably the best decision I made before embarking on an intense, five+ hour trek in the Irish back country. Let’s get one thing straight, there are no trails in Ireland. In the few instances where there are footpaths, they are nothing compared to the US National Parks’ neatly kept (and subsequently crowded) trails.

Ended at Point A (Kylemore Abbey)
Ended at Point A (Kylemore Abbey)

I’ve admittedly been a bum here in terms of waking up and assimilating to the five hour time difference. (I worked out a class schedule that doesn’t have me waking up any earlier than nine). In waking up at 7:45 was a huge commitment for me to make; it was more than worth it.

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NUI Galway Mountaineering Club is probably the greatest thing since sliced bread. First come, first serve; you pay 10e for a full twelve hour day of adventure. I was the fourth person to arrive for a spot on the would be full bus. The sunrise was beautiful to witness as I waited; the day was looking formidable. Once we departed, I learned there was a short, medium, and long/expert only variation that we could choose from in terms of trek paces. I looked at the contour map and saw that the only way to bag a few peaks was to go advanced. I wanted the challenge; I live for exploring. Out of the bus of 50 some odd students, alums, and older folks, only eight of the latter category chose for the long route. Thank God my beard is full because newcomers aren’t typically allowed on this variation of difficulty.

The mountains are the destination. We walk around this fairly large lake after ascending several hundred meters. (I like to keep some people in frame in order to give some perspective on how big the area is).
The mountains are the destination. We walk around this fairly large lake after ascending several hundred meters. (I like to keep some people in frame in order to give some perspective on how big the area is).

My perspective of space and distance is always off; regardless if it’s in the city or in the wilderness, I fail at measuring. I couldn’t tell how far we went by bus, but it wasn’t even a full hour before we reached our destination, still in Galway County. Apparently, I had entered into Connemara from a different direction earlier last week. My sense of direction isn’t bad like my sense of distance. But the landscape makes me think this country is much larger than it really is. Ireland is truly an island, for we had not gone so far and eventually saw the Atlantic Ocean.

Looking back the way we had come. The grade was incredibly steep; hand over hand at some points. My heart rate was really high from the intense pace as well as the constant danger. Wet boots, wet ground, wet rocks, steep grade, fast pace--all recipes for an injury.
Looking back the way we had come. The grade was incredibly steep; hand over hand at some points. My heart rate was really high from the intense pace as well as the constant danger. Wet boots, wet ground, wet rocks, steep grade, fast pace–all recipes for an injury.

Garda (the police) shut down the road that we were suppose to be dropped off due to a murder (?) or flooding. So being the advanced group, there was no questioning that we could just “hoof it” to our trail head. While Ireland saw some considerably hard times in its past, there was no Works Projects Administration established at any point to create a network of roads. Our walking didn’t take place on a road; we traversed a field that could only be summarized as squishy. From a distance, you’d believe the ground to be no different the American prairies. Yet it only was ten minutes off the bus until my feet completely soaked, despite the beautiful weather we experienced else wise.

I got carried away with the panoramas obviously. It's hard not to; I'm obsessed with wide-angled shots of landscapes like this. So I was in heaven with the weather, terrain, and good company.
I got carried away with the panoramas obviously. It’s hard not to; I’m obsessed with wide-angled shots of landscapes like this. So I was in heaven with the weather, terrain, and good company.

 

Something that a Southerner would think is worth noting is property laws. “I’ve got my gun so get off my property” is somewhat of the unspoken norm in Virginia. You stay in the National Parks’ boundaries because immediately outside of them are descendants of families that were pushed off their land by FDR’s New Deal projects. Fascinating maybe only to me, our leader asked a young kid at a gas station whether or not the owners of the land would be bothered with our potential “trespassing” on his land. Apparently, contrary to culture precedence, there was no issue. Earlier on the bus, even the university students seemed to know who lived where and who owned what; I forget that the country is small in population.

I misjudged the distance between the Garda blockade and the foot of our mountain. To my surprise, time didn’t seem to pass by too quickly as we trudged through spongy reeds. I thoroughly enjoyed the pace this group moved at; I must have looked like an idiot because I was constantly smiling and sticking out my tongue. I skipped -“gracefully” as a group member said- as I forded a river to begin our ascent.

Great weather, a new terrain; a new adventure unfolding before me with each step into cold mud.

To be continued!