Adventures in 5D

I've been shooting with my trusty Canon 20D for about 5 years now. It's still a great camera, but the small LCD and sensor were beginning to feel a little dated... so I bit the bullet and upgraded to a 5D Mark II.

Good times so far: a sunrise over foggy Mono Lake, a canyon hike in Kauai. The 5D is much better at shooting in low light, and it's fun having wide lenses once again.

More photos soon...

Journey to Kompong Phhluk

Flying from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, it's hard to miss the enormous sea of brown water called Tonlé Sap. After a good monsoon season, the lake floods and grows five times bigger, eventually covering nearly 10% of Cambodia's surface area with water.

It's hard to develop lakefront real estate in such conditions, but Cambodian villages have devised a few different solutions. For example, the residents of Chong Kneas live in houseboats which follow the shore of the lake as it moves each season.

A nearby village, Kompong Phluk, opted to build each house atop twenty-foot stilts, just above the high water mark. Depending on when you visit, Kompong Phluk is like Venice or Manhattan: you'll either paddle around from door to door in dugout canoes, or you'll walk around town with skyscraper-like stilts towering over your head.

For visitors, reaching Kompong Phluk can be challenging. There are no signs or organized trips. Our guidebook provided scant notes, suggesting that one could either hire a boat from Chong Kneas for US$30 or take a combination of buses/motos/boats via Roluos. We hired a driver to take us to the dock near Chong Kneas, which is now operated by a controversial Korean business group. The official ticket seller wanted US$100 for the trip to Kompong Phluk, a ridiculous amount of money in Cambodia. He had no interest in negotiating the price, and the boatmen aren't permitted to negotiate directly. Other people have experienced similar problems here, and many just decide to pay up.

We decided to try the other route, driving through Roluos and towards the lake. Motos began chasing our van as we passed through town, and eventually our driver stopped when the road became impassable. We hired three motos and rode onwards as the road became a rutted dirt and sand track. Half an hour later, we reached a narrow irrigation canal where friends of the moto drivers offered us a (probably overpriced) US$30 boat ride to continue our journey. Puttering along the canal, wondering if this wild-goose chase might lead to any kind of destination, we saw stilted houses appear on the horizon. Victory!

Kompong Phhluk was more like Manhattan when we visited, with low water and towering stilts reaching up from a dry, dusty street. It's wonderfully surreal. Plus, as the only tourists for dozens of miles, we attracted a crowd of 20-30 kids and a few adults, trying to sell us notebooks and pencils (for the children), frozen sugary treats (for the children), and giving us a guided tour of the town. Luckily we had brought a healthy supply of crayons, markers, and pens to share as gifts.

Past the village we reached the edge of Tonlé Sap, where we could finally appreciate the vastness of the lake: perfectly flat and murky brown, as far as the eye can see. Not so great for swimming, but an impressive sight nonetheless.

(a few more photos from Cambodia are available here and here)


roma-montemartini-2You wouldn't think that Rome needed another museum full of ancient white marble things. But you probably haven't seen the Centrale Montemartini, a decommissioned power plant on the southern edge of town. It became a permanent gallery in 2005 after hosting a wildly successful temporary exhibition in the late 90's. Two enormous black turbines fill the main room, looming over a tasteful collection of marble sculptures and artifacts from many moons ago. A few photos here.

The museum is far enough from the beaten path that it attracts an average of only 50 visitors/day, but you can reach it easily enough on the Metro (Linea B to Garbatella).

Drenched in Doubtful Sound

Speaking of beds around the world, I've neglected to post updates on this year's many adventures. According to the inimitable Great Circle Mapper, I've racked up 76,414 air miles so far in 2009, which is pretty good for an amateur eco-villain.

A highlight of this year's trip to New Zealand was a kayaking expedition on Doubtful Sound (in Fiordland). We took a bus to Manapouri, connecting to a boat across Lake Manapouri, where a gravel road climbs a 2100' mountain pass before dropping to sea level at Deep Cove. Fiordland can be pretty soggy, and our trip was no exception. We awoke in Te Anau to a torrential downpour. 150mm of rain (about 6 inches) was forecast before 2:00pm, with additional storms to follow. This is roughly the same amount of rain which San Francisco saw during all of November, December, and January combined.

We loaded the boats and pushed off with our guide, Ben, who warned us that the campsite might be unreachable. Within minutes, a squall moved up the fiord and made it impossible to see more than a few meters ahead, so we rafted together and waited it out. Luckily, the storm weakened by early afternoon and we had a few hours to enjoy the scenery, which included a swimming penguin and hundreds of towering waterfalls.

The weather was considerably finer for our backpacking trip across the Routeburn Track, a well-trodden Great Walk with gorgeous alpine scenery. Though the Milford Track is a bit more popular, the Routeburn features more panoramic vistas, including a view of Martins Bay from the summit of Conical Hill.