Photo of the Day (10.19.10)

If you’ve ever thought that running up a mountain sounds like a good way to spend your weekend and you have some free time in the coming week, pack your bags & get to the State of Sabah on the island of Borneo. This Saturday & Sunday, the 24th annual Mt. Kinabalu Climbathon will be taking place, marking the last event of the 2010 Skyrunner World Series. The Skyrunner series consists of five major races throughout the year, each at a minimum altitude of 2,000 meters.

This photo, titled ‘end of the world’, was shot by Flickr user stefaniembutler on the plateau of Mt. Kinabalu (the highest mountain in Southeast Asia). The climbers dwarfed by the jagged rock formation and mountains far below make a great image; enticing enough to make me want to climb it… but run it? No thanks. Skyrunners, I salute you.

Have you stumbled upon a festival or competition that deserves some recognition? Do you have a hobby that’s cooler than Skyrunning? Share it with us! Submit your photos to Gadling’s Flickr Pool & it could be our next Photo of the Day!

Cultures of Indonesia: From Sea Gypsies to cannibals and more

Indonesia is a sprawling island nation with a rich cultural heritage. From the temples in Bali to the unique street food, it’s easy to immerse yourself in all the aspects of Indonesia. If you’ve ever wanted to know about the culture, scene and surroundings of one of the world’s most intriguing destinations, read on…

Sea Gypsies
From the Burma Banks in Myanmar to Eastern Indonesia, the Sea Gypsies stretch across an extremely vast and diverse region. These seafarers survive completely from the ocean’s bounty, hunting for fish and mollusks with only their hands and spears. They live in boats or in houses on stilts. A Swedish researcher tested the eyesight of sea gypsy children and compared the results with youngsters from Europe visiting the same geographical area. The results showed that the Europeans saw half as well underwater. Sea Gypsy children possess several eye functions that Western children simply do not, like an ability to constrict their pupils to 1.5mm in diameter. This helps them to see the tiny pearls that they later use to barter. During the fierce tsunami of 2004, their unique understanding of the ocean tipped them off to the approaching danger. They fled for higher ground several days before the waves struck, and as result, waited out the carnage safely in the hills.

The most accessible place to view Sea Gyspies is Phang Nga Bay near Phuket, Thailand. The most culturally preserved place to view the seafarers is the Mergui Archipelago in Myanmar. A great Indonesian place for gypsies is in north Sulawesi. Their sea huts are common in the coastal areas, and you can ponder how little you have in common while you cruise by in a motorboat. You can fly into Manado on Silk Air from Singapore, and combine a visit to the sea gypsies with Tangkoko Nature Reserve. Full of nature’s oddities like Tarsiers and massive hornbills, Tangkoko is not to be missed. All of this can be arranged in Manado or through your guesthouse. Stay at Pulisan Jungle Beach Resort on the fringe of Tangkoko for a perfect home base to explore the region. You can arrange fishing with the locals for a few dollars.

Batak of Sumatra
Sumatra is a dense, jungled sliver of Western Indonesia home to orangutans, tigers, great waves, and the Batak tribe. While their proximity to tourist-heavy Lake Toba has left them open to the influence of modernity, many of their customs and rituals remain intact. In the age of discovery, many explorers visited Sumatra and observed a strange phenomenon among the Batak people — cannibalism. They seemed to have a serious taste for human flesh. Due to the influence of Islam and Christianity, this part of their culture died out around the turn of the 20th century. Rest assured, if you go to view their unique customs and sublime tropical architecture, you will not end up in some kind of elaborate jungle stew.

Flying into Medan and taking a bus to Lake Toba is the ideal plan for checking out the Batak tribes. Medan can be reached by Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Lake Toba, the largest volcanic lake in the world, is home to several Batak villages. You can take a boat ride to gorgeous Samosir Island in the middle of the lake to check out the Batak. Arrangements can be made with a local guide or through a prepackaged tour in Medan.

Baliem Valley Tribes of West Papua
Getting to the The Baliem Valley in West Papua involves iffy connections and white-knuckled flights. For those who brave the ride though, cultural treasures await. More languages exist than swimming pools in West Papua, which is a fine ratio for the intrepid. Aside from an occasional Nike-capped native reminding you of consumerism’s astonishing imperial reach, the preservation of Stone Age culture remains intact. Discovered by the West in the 1930s, Baliem hosts several tribes like the Dani. They wear bird of paradise headdresses, gauge success in terms of pigs slaughtered, and are famous headhunters.

To arrange a trip into the Baliem Valley, Jakarta is a great starting point serviced by numerous international cities. From there, book a flight on Indonesia’s safest domestic airline, Garuda, to Jayapura in West Papua. In Jayapura, you need to obtain a permit (easy and cheap) to visit the interior of the island. Since no roads lead into the valley, you must again fly, this time to Wamena. Wamena is the jumping off point for treks into the valley and hiring a guide is a necessity. It is possible to volunteer with local mission groups to reach the villages, but this can be difficult to arrange in advance.

Tana Toraja in central Sulawesi
More accessible than West Papua, Tana Toraja in the misty central highlands of Sulawesi also offers a portal into the past. Aside from rich indigenous customs, architecture — and allegedly the best coffee in the world — the main draw is the epic funeral ceremony. Like the tribal equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster, the ceremony includes elaborate dances, buffalo fights, chanting through the streets, and a full buffet of animal slaughter. All of this goes on for one week. Some families take years to raise the funds for the funeral procession, with the body presumably just standing by for his or her big day.

The cheapest way to fly into Sulawesi is on Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur to Makassar (Ujung Padang). From Makassar, arrange a driver or take a bus to Torajaland. The ride through dense rain forest will take about 8 hours. Cost is around $10 for a bus and close to $100 for a private taxi. Best time to visit is in the late summer and early fall, which is funeral season.

Hindus of Bali
Bali has a reputation for being an idyllic beach paradise, but the real draw is its exceedingly rich and pervasive culture. Reminders of the Hindu faith enrich the Balinese experience in such a ubiquitous manner that you feel part of something divine throughout your visit. Little offering trays top nearly every surface — even mopeds. Every village has a village temple and every home has its own small home temple. Unlike many places in the world, where the contemporary use of historic sites serves the tourist function more than their original intention, famous temples in Bali still play a significant role in daily religious life. As a result, you are part of an experience more than an exercise in aesthetic appreciation. It is not uncommon to stumble upon a traditional dance or funeral procession while passing through the open corridors of rich Balinese history.

Bali is the most accessible island in Indonesia, and the cheapest way to get there is on Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. It is possible to get the flight for around $100 roundtrip. Ubud in central Bali provides a great base of operations for cultural endeavors. My favorite places to stay in Ubud are Tegal Sari, Greenfields, and Tepi Sawah. Be sure to book early and get a rice paddy view. For a great show, check out the Kecak dance near Ulu Watu temple. The performance is based on the Ramayana and takes place just as the sun sets beyond the cliffs of south Bali.

Dayak Tribes of Borneo
The Dayak tribes of Borneo live in unique community longhouses in the interior of maybe the wildest island on the planet. They hunt animals by blow dart, practice shamanism, and were once feared headhunters. Their headhunting practice resurfaced briefly in the early 21st century, during an unfortunate ethnic war with the Madurese from northeastern Java. Unlike most bros on Spring Break, the Datak have spiritual meaning behind their tribal tattoos. Many youth commemorate their first hunting kill with a tattoo, and animal tattoos are routinely used to draw power from the represented animal spirit. Today, Christianity or Islam has replaced much of their animist heritage, a theme common in Indonesia.

It is possible to visit The Dayak in both Indonesian (South) and Malaysian (North) Borneo. For the wildest experience, fly to Balikpapan in Indonesia, which is serviced from Jakarta on Garuda. Arrange a river cruise down the Mahakam River with a local guide agency to view Datak river life. You can also plan a multi-day package tour if you really want to go deep into the jungle of Borneo.

Seed contributor Justin Delaney prefers to live out of his backpack, and has taken more than 30 flights in the last 2 months. Check out his adventures at Goboogo.

Through the Gadling Lens: photographing the children of the world

I was recently instant-messaging a friend of mine, asking him if he had any suggestions for what we could talk about this week here on Through the Gadling Lens.

“Why don’t you talk about taking photographs of kids?” he asked.

I demurred.

“Umm, I really try to keep this column about travel,” I explained gently.

He looked at me like I was stupid. Well, as much as one can look at someone else on instant-messaging.

“Karen,” he said patiently, “people travel with their kids. Besides, there are children all over the world. Children make great subjects. You should share how you capture kids on camera.”

Well, duh. He’s right, of course. So this week, with the additional help of some fantastic images in our Gadling Flickr pool, we’ll talk about how to capture the essence and innocence of childhood while traveling. A couple of points to remember, before we begin:

1. Be sure to ask permission before you snap any photos, particularly if the children are with their parents or other adults; and

2. Remember the rules about shooting strangers in general (you can see some general guidelines here).

And so now, let’s get to it:
1. Expressions.

I think one of the main reasons that most people are drawn to photographs of children is the way that they tend to be so honest with their emotions — it’s not usual that you meet a child who is really adept at hiding his or her feelings. Because their expressions tend to be obvious, their faces make for great subjects. Here are few great examples:

These angels were captured by LadyExpat and shared in our Flickr pool. She writes: “Mabul Island was full of children, and they all loved having their photos taken. I love the looks of delight on these two young ones. “

Man, so do I. This is a great shot. Notice how tightly the image is cropped, which exemplifies the number one rule of portrait photography — don’t be afraid to get in close. Because of this tight image, there’s nothing extraneous that competes with the light in their eyes or their wide smiles. Very well done.

Here’s another example of a great portrait of children, this time far less posed:

This photo, aptly titled “Fragile Innocence,” was shared with us by photographer madang86, and was taken in Vietnam. In this case, the children seem unaware of the camera (the best way, obviously, to get a natural shot), but what makes this photo particularly stunning is (a) again, the the tight crop on the children’s faces, and (b) the masterful use of colour — children’s clothing almost blend seamlessly into the background of the photograph, allowing their brightly coloured collars and their lovely faces to be the focal point. Again, well done.

Then, of course, there’s nothing like getting a kid to ham it up for you:

This great shot was shared by fiznatty in our Gadling Flickr pool (and by the way, get used to that name — this is a man who clearly gets how to capture photographs of kids. This is the first of several I’ll be featuring in this post). He writes: “School children beckon to have us join them in their classroom.” Obviously, the lovely beckoning hand and engaging face of the young boy to the right of the picture is pretty hypnotic, but after you stop looking at him, notice the laughter on the face of the boy to the left, partially obscured by the window! A really great image.

And now, the second of fiznatty’s images:

Words really can’t describe how much I love this image, captured in Rwanda. Fiznatty writes, “Despite being dressed in drab, second-hand clothing, [the lead boy] exuded a confidence that I feel reflected his countrymen as a whole.” And yes, I would agree that the boy’s confidence (bravado?) is probably the first thing you notice in this image. And I particularly love the choice of shooting the image in black-and-white — it conveys the starkness and difficulty of life in war-torn Rwanda. Wonderfully shot.

2. Movement.

In addition to their wonderful expressions, probably the characteristic most notable in children is their inability to sit still — they always seem to be on the move, which can often make it difficult to capture their photographs. In my experience, the best thing to do is just go with it — capture images of children doing what they do best. To wit:

This beautiful image, shared by jonrawlinson, totally captures the exuberance we can only imagine this young boy must be feeling as he leaps into sea off the coast of Gibraltar. The feeling of freedom, conveyed by the boy’s outstretched arms, is only enhanced by jonrawlinson shooting the image straight into the sunshine, which emphasizes the boy’s silhouette. Great shot.

And again, by the ubiquitous fiznatty:

This image, also shot in Rwanda, is of “probably the most enthusiastic member of the dance group” — and if this, I have no doubt. You can just imagine this young girl swing her arms with abandon, and her face registers pure joy. This girl lives to dance, no question. Seriously, can you even look at this photograph without feeling really happy?

3. With parents

Sometimes, what you might find you want to capture is not just the expressions and movement of the children, but their relationships to their parents — their helplessness and dependency, and the love of the parents for them. Here are a few great images:

This image, shared by Un rosarino en Vietnam, positively took my breath away. It’s a classic example of how the way you shoot an image can sometimes convey far more emotion that the subjects themselves. In this photograph, the faces of the subjects aren’t even visible — and yet, somehow, you get the distinct impression that this parent (Mom? Dad?) is quite devoted to his (her?) young child. By removing the colour from everything other than the central figures, the aridity and dustiness of the region in Cambodia is beautifully conveyed. Well done.

And taking another look at the parental r
elationship, look at this lovely image:

This image was taken and shared by uncorneredmarket, photographed in Burma. I love the wide-eyed curiosity of the baby, and the wary, protective expression on his mother’s face. She seems to be saying “Yessss…. I *suppose* you can take his picture … but just one.” And really, is there anything more lovely than witnessing a mother’s protection of her children?

4. The condition.

Finally, often nothing conveys the standard of living of a community than its children. And the following image conveys this concept so powerfully:

This image, as you might imagine, stopped me dead in my tracks. This photograph, captured and shared by lecercle, is of a child worker in India. Photographer lecercle writes:

Suresh works in this purgatory six days a week.

Nine years old, nearly lost in a hooded sweatshirt with a skateboarder on the chest, he takes football-size chunks of fractured rock and beats them into powder.

The dust on Suresh’s face, the darkness of the industrial building behind him, all help convey the “purgatory” of his situation. Amazing image.

How about you — do you tend to take photographs of the kids in the locations where you visit? If so, feel free to share your best in the comments below. And as always, if you have any questions or suggestions, you can always contact me directly at karenDOTwalrondATweblogsincDOTcom – and I’m happy to address them in upcoming Through the Gadling Lens posts.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.
Through the Gadling Lens can be found every Thursday right here, at 11 a.m. To read more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.

Through the Gadling Lens: 5 photography subjects that are the same and different everywhere

Do you remember those Where the hell is Matt? videos that were taking the internet by storm in recent years? I was thinking about those videos the other day, and wondering why they affected so many people, causing the videos to go so wildly viral. And then it dawned on me: the reason we love that video so much is because as different as all of the people featured in the video are, from all over the world, they all held something in common: they loved to dance.

This, of course, is true for more than just dancing: despite how different we all are, we all share or do or having things in common: we all eat, we all wash, we all hope, we all live. And so this week, I thought I’d share some of my favourite subjects that I like to shoot when I’m traveling — things which are so different from place to place, but really, are so often the same.

1. Food. Hey, we all gotta eat. The beauty, of course, is that food varies wildly wherever we go (and frankly is usually one of the great pleasures of traveling in the first place). In fact, there are certainly countries where I’ve been where the highlight of my trip was the food (Egypt? Don’t even get me started. I ate my way through that country. My God, the food was good).

So when you’re traveling, I strongly suggest taking some photographs of your meals — bonus points if you bought your meal from a street vendor. A couple of tips when shooting food:

a) If you have a macro lens (or a macro setting on your point-and-shoot camera), this is often the best way to go. The beauty of good food is usually the taste and the smell; since your camera won’t be able to accurately capture either of these, maximizing your sense of sight can help compensate.

b) Make sure the food is well-lit. Otherwise, the food will likely simply look like an amorphous blob. Not very appetizing.

c) Check your background, colour and texture. Ideally, you won’t want to have anything in the background competing with the food for the viewer’s attention; similarly, when composing your shot, consider looking for patterns in colour and texture, and maximize accordingly.

Some inspiration from our Gadling Flickr pool (both, coincidentally, from Japan):

This great triptych was shared by pixelskew in the Gadling Flickr pool, and is, apparently, of cooked whale. I love how beautifully he captured these images: the food is very well let, the background is simple, and I would guess he used his macro lens, which helps him closely demonstrate the texture of the food. In fact, this is so well done, that while before, I might have said I’d never try whale, these delicious-looking images make me curious enough to consider it.

I mean, I probably won’t. I’m a vegetarian. But still.

Another example: I love this photograph of dyed octopus in Japan shared by FriskoDude. Again, this image is pretty masterful: the background is simple (the green fern leaves), and the repition of colour and pattern by the multiple octopi add for fantastic visual interest. Very well done.

2. Places of worship. One of my favourite subjects whenever I travel is to photograph places of worship — in most countries they’re pretty easy to find, and while the religions may be the same from country to country, often the structures in which the citizens worship, aren’t. Besides, it’s always lovely capturing photographs of structures that are sacred or special or holy. A few tips:

a) Consider capturing your images during the Golden Hour (discussed in last week’s Through the Gadling Lens) — it will make your image seem even that much more magical.

b) Be mindful of worshippers: if there are people worshipping at the time, you might want to consider waiting for another time to take your shot, to avoid being disrespectful. In addition, if you go inside the building, you might want to confirm whether photographs are allowed, and if so, whether you will be required to turn off your flash.

Some more inspiration:

I love this shot of a New Zealand church shared by the world is my wanderlust — the solid, sturdy bulding, almost sombre from the dark, heavy stone, juxtaposed against the light, bright sky, and the white, fluffy clouds. Really lovely.

This shot shared by StrudelMonkey is a classic example of taking a photograph of a place of worship during the Golden Hour — see how the light makes the structure look almost magical? And I love how the simple trio of crosses in the background let you know exactly what you’re looking at. Simply stunning.

3. Doors. I’m not talking about moody 60’s bands, here, I’m talking about actual doors. These are actually my favourite vacation subjects to shoot, because they very so wildly from location to location, plus they always hint to what local life must be like inside the the building, just behind them. The best way to illustrate is to look at the following:

This beautiful shot was captured and shared by Bernard-SD, in Hyderabad, India. The first thing that captures your attention, of course, is the vibrant blue of the door — showcasing one shocking colour always makes for an interesting shot. But there’s more: the fading gold adornment at the bottom of the door, the dried vegetation covering the top of the door, and of course, the scooter parked alongside, making us wonder who’s behind the door. Really lovely interesting shot.

Contrast this with the following:

This amazing photograph of a gate/door shared by was taken in Barcelona, Spain is a wonderful example of a historic door that not only makes you wonder what’s going behind it, it darn near invites you in. A lovely shot.

4. Laundry
. Last month, I was sitting with a well-traveled friend of mine who mentioned how she was intrigued by the many ways in which people do laundry around the world. “Have you ever noticed?” she said. “People do laundry different everywhere. They use a laundromat. They hang their laundry to dry on a line. They leave them lying on rocks. They do their laundry at public standpipes. In the river. It’s different everywhere.” I hadn’t really noticed, but what an amazing observation. And to illustrate her point further, here are some great examples:

This first image shared by Lobelia48 is so compelling because of the movement she capture when she took the shot in Kerala, India. You can instantly tell how hard this woman was working while doing her laundry. And the pop of colour from the clothing and the basin adds so much visual interest.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet:

LancasterTrip captured this lovely shot of Amish quilts drying in the sun in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, United States. The image itself — the still way the quilts are lying on the line, the long shadows cast by the sun, the absence of any person or animal in the image — evoke the peacefulness of the Amish in a beautiful way. Well done.

And finally:

5. Flowers. I admit it: I have a weakness for flowers, particularly because they’re so fun to shoot with a macro lens. But also, I really feel like the flowers of a region often define the region — you can almost tell what part of the world you’re in (or at least what latitude) just by looking at a great image of a local flower.

Besides, they’re just pretty.

Case in point:

This fabulous lotus flower, shared by RedHQ (and capturing a bee in mid-flight!) is exactly what I’m talking about: it comes as absolutely no surprise that this photograph was taken in Thailand. The colours are breathtaking. And that bee — that bee!

And finally, let me blow your mind with this image:

Dude, are you getting a load of this thing? According to LadyExpat, the photographer, this is a Rafflesia flower, which she shot after hiking two hours into the jungle in Borneo to see it. Not only is this thing REALLY funky to look at, it’s apparently also really funky to smell: according to the Wikipedia entry, “the flowers look and smell like rotting flesh, hence its local names which translate to ‘corpse flower’ or ‘meat flower’ … The vile smell that the flower gives off attracts insects such as flies and carrion beetles …”

Ew. EW!

Anyway, I think my point is made.

So on your next trip, consider making one of the aforementioned subjects the focal point of your shots — or if you have any other suggestions, please share them here, in the comments section below. As always, if you have any questions or suggestions, you can always contact me directly at karenDOTwalrondATweblogsincDOTcom – and I’m happy to address them in upcoming Through the Gadling Lens posts.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.

Through the Gadling Lens can be found every Thursday right here, at 11 a.m. To read more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.

Gadlinks for Wednesday 8.12.09

I don’t know about you guys, but I needed this past weekend to get some R&R that Monday came and went without sending my usual Gadlinks. I’m happy to report that Malibu is alive and well and the surf was, well, crowded — but good this weekend. And here are some other reports around the travel blogosphere.

‘Til tomorrow, have a great evening!

More Gadlinks HERE.