This is the old North Room blog – the new one is at www.north-room.com/blog

Last of the WTUs: Western Oz & Japan

Posted in Australia, Landscapes, Travel, Wildlife by Mike on June 16, 2009
This is Alan.  Wife's called Sue.  (Had it stenciled on the back of his caravan)

This is Alan. Wife's called Susan. (Said so in stencil on the back of his caravan)

Had some stick lately for not posting any shots from Western Australia.  Truth be known, we didn’t stop to take that many – we were doing so much danged driving (and trying to shoe-horn in as many last ditch activities as possible before we came home) that by the end of each day all we could think about was Bundaberg Red and a dip in an ancient rock pool.  But, in the interests of completeness…

We started our epic final leg in this unfathomably massive place by picking up a converted Toyota Hiace in Fremantle and headed for the Great Western Highway.  Mile-for-mile, this is the single-most boring stretch of tarmac on Earth.  Passing Cervantes, Pinnacles, Geraldstown and Monkey Mia, we eventually arrived in Exmouth, 1500 kms later, where the unending road was temporarily relieved by turquoise waters and the Ningaloo Reef.

The reef is a National Heritage Marine Park in which the Aussie government has licensed a small number of operators to run tours and give tourists the small chance of swimming with the world’s largest fish – whale sharks.  And by sheer fluke (you can pay top dollar for puns like that…) we had scheduled this leg during the six-week period when they gather here in droves to feast after the annual coral spawn.

We got to swim with a 5m long beauty called Chompy, a 20-year old male who’d earned his nickname thanks to some Great White savagery, and Claire and I agreed that this was the most privileged thing we’ve ever done.  It was like swimming alongside a slow-moving limo.  We did get some video from it but, as I’ve not had time to cut it yet, you’ll have to make do with some stills for now…

 

This is like finding a signpost for Southport - in Frankfurt.

This is like finding a signpost for Frankfurt - in Southport.

 

 

Which meant we had to carefully plan our toilet stops.  (It's the fly on my nose that makes this shot, IMHO)

Which meant we had to plan our toilet stops. (It's the fly on my nose that makes this for me)

 

 

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Got down in the mud for this one

Got down and dirty for this one

 

 

I loved the way the light was hitting here

Mine?

 

Claire feeding a wild dolphin.  The biologists at Monkey Mia have formed a relationship with 5 wild females who come here each morning for a feed.

Claire feeding a *wild* dolphin by hand.

 

 

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The biologists at Monkey Mia have formed bonds with 5 females who come here each day - from the ocean - for brekkie.

 

 

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Sunsets here were ridiculous.

Sunsets were ridiculous.

 

 

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Skippy's nut-job cousin outside the amenities block on our campsite.  Immediately after this, he sprang off to a random point about 150 meters away, turned about-face and then belted straight back towards me. Until that moment, I had never consciously accepted - and then awaited - death.

Skippy's nut-job cousin outside the amenities block on our campsite. Immediately after this, he sprang off to a random point about 150 meters away (took him about 6 seconds) turned about-face and then belted straight back towards me. Until that moment, I had never consciously accepted - and then awaited - death.

 

 

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Claris in Wonderland...

Claris in Wonderland... (snooted SB800 to camera left)

 

 

Kookaburra lives in the old gum tree...

Kookaburra was cool

 

 

Moving on, this was a small section of Tokyo's Imperial Palace wall.

Moving on... a small section of Tokyo's Imperial Palace wall.

 

 

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Bill Murray had the same view from the bar in Lost in Translation.  We ran out of cash trying to get drunk here.

This is the view Bill Murray had from the bar in Lost in Translation. We ran out of cash trying to get drunk here.

 

 

Worked up a thirst?

So we switched to this stuff which you could pore (!) yourself!

 

 

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Intergalactic Tour Update: the Milky Way and, erm, New Zealand

Posted in Landscapes, Milky Way, New Zealand, Travel by Mike on April 23, 2009
Our Milky Way, above the Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

The Milky Way above the Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo, New Zealand.

For Claire’s birthday, we spent the night star-gazing at the Mount John Observatory on New Zealand’s South Island. The Observatory’s location, in the Mackenzie basin, was chosen because it has very little light pollution and great year-round weather conditions (70% of nights are cloud-free).  A decent place to go star-spotting then!

The picture above, however, was taken a couple of km’s away on the shores of Lake Tekapo where the tiny Church of the Good Shepherd stands.  After we’d been shown around the night sky by the resident astronomers at the Observatory, we headed back to our camper and I set the big gun up on a tripod in the grounds of the church.  It was about 2am when I took this – if you’re interested, I dialed in ISO 6400, f2.8 on my 14-24mm and left the shutter open for 30 seconds.  The church is illuminated by the ambient light from the village nearby.

Then Claire waited patiently with me for the following 30 minute exposure.  The guy at the observatory had helped me to identify the southern celestial pole (there isn’t a star there like there is in the northern hemisphere, which is known as Polaris).  The trails you can see are attributable to the Earth’s rotation during a half-hour period.

 

ISO 6400, f2.8, 30 minutes.

ISO 6400 (should have been lower, rescued it in post), f2.8, 30 minutes.

The thing we both like most about these shots are that they contain 3 galaxies – our own Milky Way which is clearly identifiable, as well as the two Megellanic Cloud galaxies which you can make out to the right of shot in each photo.  There’s an estimated 400 billion stars just in our galaxy and we can only see a fraction of a percent of nearby stars because most aren’t bright enough to reach us.  Minds.  Blown.

Anyways, astronomy lesson over.  Hope you come to terms with it all faster than we did…

Lake Tekapo reflected in the window of the Church of the Good Shepherd.

Back down to Earth. Lake Tekapo reflected in the window of the Church of the Good Shepherd.

 

Spent the day cycling around the "grape bushes" of Malborough.

Spent the day cycling around the "grape bushes" of Malborough. (*snigger*)

 

Had a great afternoon here.

Recommended. Food was as good as the vino here.

 

The Havelock Mussel Festival's Mussel-Eating Competition Loser, 2009.  He kept them down though.

Although not everyone here was enjoying what they ate! This was the Havelock Mussel Festival's Mussel-Eating Competition Loser, 2009!

 

We've just clocked up our 10,000th kilometer.  We remember most of it being on this road!

Just clocked up our 10,000th campervanning kilometer. We remember most of it being on this road!

 

One that was spared the harsh realities of our windscreen.

One that managed to avoid the harsh reality of our windscreen.

 

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These shots were taken by our Rafting co.  Had a blast but it was flippin' cold!

These shots were taken by our Rafting co. Had a blast but it was flippin' cold!

 

One of NZ'z prized natural springs.

One of NZ'z prized natural springs.

 

Nice.

Nice.

 

Mount Cook.  We're guessing this is the Head Chef!

Mount Cook. We're guessing this is the Head Chef!

 

 

Milford Sound.  Yet another totally awesome place, dude.

Milford Sound. Yet another totally awesome place, dude.

 

And you've got Mordor just up the road.

And you've got Mordor just up the road. (And of course "Auckland", where Claire reckons the Orcs came from!)

 

(Something fishy about these mountains)

Je suis artiste.... (there was something fishy about these mountains...)

 

This was a deserted beach that Claire found in Abel Tasman (thanks Zara!).  And we had not one but TWO shags here!

This was a deserted beach that Claire found in Abel Tasman (thanks Zara!). And we had not one but TWO shags on it!!

 

Couldn't tell you what kind of shags they were though, any ideas anyone?

Couldn't tell you what kind of shags they were though, any ideas anyone?

 

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Unbelievably, our trip is now nearing its end.  We head to the land of the rising sun tomorrow and we’re home in less than a week.  So here’s a couple of things to mention before you desert these parts…

1) We’re blogging on… the blog will continue once we’re back home.  I’m enjoying doing it too much to stop and I’ve also got some inordinately exciting photo engagements + opportunities lined up that I’m going to be posting the results from.   So, if you’re interested, stayed tuned!

2) One of them is some one-on-one mentoring that I’ll be getting from Cliff Mautner.  Cliff is a world-class photography veteran with 6000+ assignments to his name and 700+ weddings. He’s Nikon’s Wedding Photographer-in-Chief and, to cap it all off, was just voted one of the world’s top 10 wedding photographers by American Photo.  Check out his site, he’s an absolutely amazing photographer and has some beautiful images there http://www.cmphotography.com.

3) As well as commercial portrait & wedding photography work, I’m looking to regularly undertake pro-bono work for good causes.  If you are closely linked to any charities or good causes, please hit me up in the comments/send an email to mike {at} north dash room dot com/send them here.  Also, if you know of anyone looking for a commercial portrait/wedding photographer, please help to spread the word – the official www.north-room.com website is currently in design!

4) Remember we’re having a few swallies at ours on Saturday 9-May, from 3pm – we’d love to see you all so please come round if you can!

See you soon!

Mike & Claire x

WTU: Chile & Argentina

Posted in Argentina, Chile, Landscapes, Travel by Mike on April 4, 2009
The awe-inspiring Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia, Argentina

Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia, Argentina. In a word, spellbinding.

Claire and I woke up before the sparrows started stretching for this and it was worth every minute of the bracing cold.  We arrived so early that it was still pitch black and we even avoided the Park’s entry fees because security hadn’t woken up.  Save for ourselves, there was nobody there.

Whilst we could barely make out the glacier’s form from the small amount of ambient light its icey exterior gave off, we could hear it loud and clear – its perpetual advancing motion provided a back-drop of gunshot-style explosions as the ice cracked and yielded to pressure from the frigid waters of Lake Argentina which it divides.  It was so eerie seeing the outline of this humungous wall of ice gradually emerging as day broke, particularly with its unique and arresting soundtrack.

If it wasn’t for us chatting to a french couple, Virginie and Théophile, whom we met at our lodgings in Valparaiso, we almost certainly wouldn’t have gone here.  I don’t even think we knew it existed.  But they both insisted that it was worth seeing so we took the 28 hour bus journey to do so.  Bottom-numbing drive aside, it was absolutely marvelous.

Argentina as a whole was actually wonderful.  I have to admit that our potted history with the Argies on the fields of both football and battle presented me with a small number of negative preconceptions about the place but the Argentines were such genuinely nice folk – warm, friendly and thoroughly welcoming.  And what a country – the 8th largest on Earth with a huge array of diversity.  Winelands, mountains, glaciers, beautiful lakes and waterfalls, even world-class archeology, with the largest collection of dinosaur fossils you can find.  Buenos Aires was brilliant too – we tangoed like retards the pros, ate and drank like kings and partied our socks off.  We’ll definitely be coming back here, not least because we only really felt like we scratched the surface.

So now we’re in Perth, Western Australia, and are heading to the beach.  Neither of us can believe how quickly New Zealand came and went, our campervan escapades there were great and we’ll have some shots from there, as well as our short stay with Lou & Ru, up here soon.  Stay tuned…

The Mitchams x

PS – homecoming party at ours on 9-May-09 – everyone welcome.  Hit me up on email if you need our address.

The glacier is an 18 mile long river of ice, 200ft high and up to 4km wide.

260ft high, 5km wide, 0 degrees C.

 

I took this from a hill about six miles away from the glacier.  If you look closely, the tiny black dot in the water just before the glacier is a passenger-carrying catamaran!

I shot this from a hill about six miles away. If you look closely, you might be able to see a tiny black dot in the water just before the glacier. It's a passenger-carrying catamaran.

 

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We went biking around Argentina's lake district (Bariloche) and this was a spot we found for lunch.

To warmer climes, this is a spot we found for lunch whilst biking around San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina.

 

"Yes - I definitely want the chips as well"

"Actually, make it half a portion of fries please, Pepé"

 

Buenos Aires, birthplace of el Che.

Buenos Aires.

 

 

La Boca - where Maradona learned his trade.  There was actually a Maradona look-alike in a bar there who I wanted to photograph with Claire, but she refused.  Don't blame her.  I crunched him in a massive sliding tackle just before we left.

La Boca - where Maradona learned his trade. There was actually a Maradona look-alike in a bar there who I wanted to photograph with Claire, but she refused. Don't blame her. I crunched him in a massive sliding tackle on his way back from the gents.

 

Valparaiso - this was next door to our hostal.  Looks dodgy.  Was dodgy.

Valparaiso, Chile - our hostal is just out of shot to the right. Cool, but a tad on the wrong side of dodge.

 

Claire at "The Three Marys".  This was such a badly shoe-horned naming of three wind-carved pieces of stone that I couldn't bring myself to taking a closer shot.

Claire at the so-called "Three Maries Stones" - naming so tenously shoe-horned in by the Chilleans that I couldn't bring myself to take a closer shot.

 

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A tiny church we came across in the Atacama

A church in the Atacama.

 

"I'm sick of this road always being ramned!"

"Honestly Gary, aren't ewe fed up of this road always being rammed?!"

WTU: A bit more on…(Guatemala)

Posted in Guatemala, Landscapes, Travel by Mike on February 13, 2009

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Well, we’re now in La Paz, one of the highest cities in the world at an altitude sickness-inducing 12000ft and as a result we’re soaking up the Coca tea like a pair of addled crackheads!  I’m on 6 cups a day, Claire’s getting a few less in principally because she hasn’t managed to pilfer as many old ladies handbags as me!!

We’ve just got back from the Galapagos and this will be our next post in a week or so – we hit Bolivia’s Salt Lakes tomorrow for a four day excursion to see the otherworldly environment this provides – but we can report that Galapagos was absolutely amazing.  My only question coming from it was whether us human folk can actually be trusted with it, and I fear for the worst.

We shall write again in a week or so forthwith, but please feast your eyes first on some more of our highlights from our favourite central american hosts.

Buena noche.

Mr & Mrs Gonzo x

Fuego letting off some steam.

Fuego letting off some steam.

 

 

There was so much volcano dust swilling around up there even the... cloud... phoenix...? was choking...?

There was so much volcano dust swilling around up there even the... cloud... phoenix...? was... choking...? WTF!?

 

 

The trophy shot from Acatenango.  Yes we *absolutely* would have done it had we known the whole of Guatemala would be covered in cloud that day.

The trophy shot from Acatenango. Yes we *absolutely* would have done it had we known the whole of Guatemala would be covered in cloud that day.

 

 

 

 

"And there we sat, atop the world, eating Kendal Mint Cake."   (If it's good enough for Sir Edmund, it's good enough for me - cheers Anne!)

"And there we sat, atop the world, eating Kendal Mint Cake." (If it's good enough for Sir Edmund, it's good enough for me - cheers Anne!)

 

 

 

One of the views from Antigua's Plaza Majore.

One of the views from Antigua's Plaza Majore.

 

 

...which we managed to enjoy despite very difficult navigating conditions?

...which we managed to enjoy despite very difficult navigating conditions?

 

 

 

The work of a genius - the answer to stinky toilets?  A free pitch for Florests.

The work of genius. The answer to stinky public toilets? Free pitches for Florists.

 

"Oooh, I've always fancied climbing Acatenango"

"Oooh, I've always fancied climbing Acatenango"

 

If you thought we liked our beer, the Guats make theirs clothes!  Appearing in a kitchen in SW London soon.

If you thought we liked our beer, the Guats make theirs clothes! Appearing in a kitchen in SW London soon.

 

Claire and I want one of these when we retire in 600 years.

Guatemala's buses are the coolest on the planet. Claire and I want one when we retire in 600 years.

 

After Antigua we headed North.

After Antigua we made our way North

 

Into the Jungle.

Through the jungle

 

 

Claire @ Tikal.

To here. The gobsmacking Mayan city of Tikal.

 

 

This is Temple 5.  We got here at 5am and there were two Germans at the top sitting on beach towels.

This is the gargantuan Temple 5. We got here at 5:30am to watch the sunrise and there were two Germans at the top sitting on beach towels.

 

 

".........." !

After the disappointing Chicken Prick in Nicaragua, I decided to go for the: ".........." !

More t.c. x

World Tour update: Nicaragua, Honduras (and a bit of Guatemala)

Posted in Architecture, Guatemala, Honduras, Landscapes, Nicaragua, Travel, Wildlife by Mike on February 1, 2009
Sunset over Lake Nicaragua from Ometepe island.  The sky was filled with colour.

Sunset over Lake Nicaragua from Ometepe island. The sky was filled with colour.

 

Herein endeth our first month and we’re almost done with Mesoamerica.  We’ve just arrived back in Flores, Guatemala, having spent yesterday and this morning walking round the ancient Mayan city of Tikal. (Albeit walking like we were both wearing calipers and looking like we’ve both had accidents in our respective all-weather trousers…).

Since our last post we’ve done some pretty serious mileage. In a nutshell, we’ve moved from Granada in Nicaragua to Ometepe island, survived Managua (the Nicaraguan capital), moved across the border to Tegucigalpa (the Honduran capital), up to the Bay Islands, across to the Mayan city of Copan (awesome), again over the border into Guatemala, stayed in the beautiful city of Antigua, visited the beautiful Lake Atitlan, hiked more than 4000 metres up the side of the absolutely hard as nails Volcano Acatenango (which I think is Spanish for “Stupid english wazzocks, do not bother”), then headed up to where we are now for our last bit of Central American culture and history.

Of the four countries we’ve now visited, Guatemala has to be our favourite.  It’s been much easier to access the culture and fabric of the place here than anywhere else we’ve found, and the places that we’ve visited and things we’ve seen have just blown us away.  Antigua, for example, is not only the most visually interesting place we’ve been to in its own right, but it also nestles between (count them) THREE volcanos;  Agua (to the North), Fuego (to the East), and Acatenango (just South of Fuego) are all clearly visible from the town.

During the days we were there, we were blessed with a number of eruptions of huge plumes of gas and ash from Fuego. And, after a painful 8-hour hike up to Acatenango’s 4km summit, we were also lucky enough to see one up close. As the only crew up there – we were with a German couple, two Dutch girls, two Aussie guys (one in shorts!) and our Canadian guide – we had the run of the place to ourselves and could not believe our eyes when we got up to the top – we were so far above the clouds we felt like we were in space and, right on cue, as the sun went down, Fuego rumbled loudly and spurted out a tonne of hot black ash. After the hardest day since records began, the experience we had up there just blew our minds. 

Check out the photos below, hope you are all well and keep us updated with all your news.  Lots of love, M&C x

As we headed North, the faunaa changed a little.

As we headed North, the fauna changed a little.

 

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Claire teaching some local kids how to talk proper, like.  I wanted to teach them You'll Never Walk Alone but the teacher was an Everton fan.

Claire teaching some local kids how to talk proper, like. I wanted to teach them You'll Never Walk Alone but I think the teacher was an Evertonian.

 

Thought I'd lost my old Streetfighter 3 moves, guess not!

Thought I'd lost my old Streetfighter 3 moves, guess not!

 

The laundrette in Ometepe had a strong environmental theme.

The laundrette in Ometepe had a strong environmental theme.

 

Granada's impressive Cathedral.  Most of the churchs here are scared from when the city was nearly destroyed - deliberately - by fire.

Granada's impressive Cathedral. Most of the churchs here are scared from when the city was nearly destroyed (deliberately) by fire.

 

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Whilst a little dated, Granada's transport network is better than ours.

Whilst a little dated, Granada's transport network works better than ours.

 

 

Better get inside ma (blizzard's 'a' comin'.

Better get inside ma (blizzard's a' comin'). One of Granada's fire-damaged churches.

 

Claire @ Masaya Volcano

Claire @ Masaya. Behind her is little brother.

 

The Spanish called this place "The Mouth of Hell"

And this is Big Brother. The Spanish called this place "The Mouth of Hell"

 

In 1991 it spat this out - a mere 1000lb lump of rock - crushing a car like a coke can, apparently.

And in 1991 it spat this out - a mere 1000lb lump of rock - crushing a car like a Coke can, apparently.

 

Large - the vehicles on the right are buses.

Large - the vehicles on the right are buses.

 

Another obligatory church shot - Granada.

Another obligatory church shot - Granada.

 

Nicaragua's most prolific Cigar Magnate is quite a dish - hot wife too...

Nicaragua's most prolific Cigar Magnate is quite a dish (hot wife too)

 

I remember rolling my own at Uni, but this took the biscuit.

I remember rolling my own at Uni, but this took the biscuit.

 

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Roatan - we waited all week for that sun!

Roatan - we waited all week for that sun!

 

I hear you fella.

I hear you fella.

 

Copan, Honduras.

Copan, Honduras.

 

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(cheese)

(cheese)

 

An early version of footy was played here to the death.

An early version of footy was played here to the death. My suggestion of a cheeky game of Heads & Vollies went down like a lead balloon.

 

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Up 'ere?

Climb THIS?

 

 

Claire and some of our possee at the summit of Volcano Acatenango.

Claire and some of our posse at the summit of Volcano Acatenango.

 

The in-flight meal on the coach was RUBBISH.  I went for the former and it wasn't filling at all.

The in-flight meal on the trans-Nicaraguan coach was RUBBISH. I went for the former and it wasn't filling at all.