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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Havana Butchershop

You never know what you’re going to find when you walk around a new place first thing in the morning on your first day there.  Such was the case on my first morning walk in Havana.  Initially I thought this was a scene straight  from “The Sopranos,” until–to my great relief–I noticed the tail hanging off the torso.  For this butcher in his one-room shop, it was “just another day at the office.”

On subsequent morning walks in Havana as well as in smaller towns and villages, I saw pigs being slaughtered–yes, right in the middle of the street–and pigs being mated (ditto).  The cycle of birth and death takes place right out in the open.  A far cry from our slaughterhouses and grocery stores.

If you ask a Cuban kid where pork comes from, he or she will be able to tell you…right down to who’s pig it was.  If you ask an American kid where pork comes from, they may or may not be able to tell you that it’s pig meat…and that will probably be the end of the story.


Havana clothesline

If a single clothes dryer exists anywhere in Cuba, I saw no evidence of one.  From the heart of Havana to the smallest hut in the smallest village, or a farmhouse out in the countryside, everyone dries their clothes–and stuffed animals–on a clothesline.  I suppose it’s the tropical breezes that make for easy al fresco drying…that plus the fact that the average Cuban probably owns a fraction of the amount of clothes that the average American does.  I know some American families with kids that do several loads of laundry a day…yes, per day!  I’m sure there are few, if any families in Cuba who can make the same claim.

I arrived in Havana in the evening, as I walked around the city that night, I periodically got dripped on.  The first few times it happened, I looked up in alarm, only to see that someone had recently hung their laundry up to dry, and I was being splattered with nothing more harmful than a few drops of clean water.  Yes, it’s warm enough in Cuba in January to dry your laundry overnight!

Colorful clotheslines sagging with laundry became just one of many new photo ops I enjoyed here.  It was fun to look at the clothes and try to figure out who lived in the apartment or house…a single man?  A married couple?  A family with small children?  Teenagers?  Seniors?

I probably shot dozens of clotheslines, but this one is my favorite.  I love all the different bright colors, the varied patterns and textures, the brightly painted blue walls in the background…and of course the bunny!  Nothing like having a clean, fresh-smelling “lovie” to snuggle with at naptime, is there?

Cuban Car

If you’ve been reading chronologically, you may have noticed that we just jumped about 4,600 miles east, from Hilo to Havana…while maintaining roughly the same latitude (Havana is 4 degrees further north than Hilo, 23 vs 19 if you’re curious).  In some respects, the two islands aren’t that different.  Like Hawai’i, Cuba grows excellent coffee.  Like Hawai’i used to, Cuba grows lots of sugar cane.  And like Hawai’i never did (at least the legal kind!), Cuba grows world-class tobacco.  Perhaps the best in the world, according to those who know far more about the topic than I do.

What other parallels can I draw between Hawai’i and Cuba?  Well, both have a similar hot ‘n’ humid tropical climate, beautiful beaches, and lots of palm trees swaying in the trade winds.  Both have wonderful music and enchanting dance and delicious drinks made with rum (a happy byproduct of all that sugar cane!).  And in both places the native speech can be a bit tough to comprehend, although my ear for both Hawai’ian Pidgin English and Cuban Spanish (which is spoken muy rapido!) got better with each day I visited the respective islands.

I spent a fascinating 10 days in Cuba this month, and will be posting about it for probably several weeks.  How is Cuba different from Hawai’i…and any place else on earth?  Tune in tomorrow and I’ll tell you more about this amazing land and her people.  Hasta manana…

Che Guevara Mural

volcano sunrise

The first rays of dawn backlight the steam plume rising from Halema’uma’u, a “crater within a crater” that has been erupting continuously for almost five years.  Halema’uma’u sits inside the larger Kilauea caldera.  There is a lava “lake” inside Halema’uma’u, about 100′ below the top of the crater, and it’s the heat from that lava that’s causing all the steam to form.

During most of the day, the steam is a nondescript pale white, but at sunrise and sunset you can get some spectacular images.  In this image the plume glows yellow, but I also have a number of images of it glowing pink (which I’ll post another day).  Sometimes the plume goes straight up, and sometimes when the winds are blowing strongly it’s much closer to the ground.

Speaking of winds, the plume usually drifts in the opposite direction from that shown in the image above.  I was facing east, towards the rising sun, and the plume was blowing north.  The prevailing trade winds blow from the northeast, and usually push the plume in a southwesterly direction.  But for the first several days of my visit, the trades were replaced by the Kona winds, which blow from the southwest, and pushed the plume to the northeast.  Got that?

In fact, when I showed my shots to my friends who live on The Big Island, their first comment was “Hey, the plume’s going the ‘wrong’ way!”

Ah, but if the plume was blowing in the “right” direction, it wouldn’t be framing the sunrise so beautifully, would it?  So for me the “wrong” direction turned out to be the “right” direction!

lava surf

I watched these two little rivulets of lava keep pouring…and pouring…and pouring, despite the incessant surf that kept pounding against the base of the cliff.  As each wave struck, it obliterated my view of the lava, and buried the flow under several feet of water.  And each wave receded to show the lava persistently flowing, and the rock steaming from the latest impact of cool water.

I took a number of images of this little flow, varying the shutter speed to get different exposure lengths and therefore different amounts of blur in the water.  I focused on the lava and the rock above it, which is dark and stands out in sharp contrast to the white steam.  Because that area is the brightest and the sharpest, that’s where your eyes are drawn, and where they keep returning as they explore the rest of the image.

Interestingly, one “rule” of photography states that to have an interesting image, don’t center the subject.  I’m sure most of you have heard of the infamous “Rule of Thirds.”  But in this photo, even with the subject almost dead center, it’s far from being a static image.  There’s enough movement and variety in the water and steam surrounding the lava that I think it works quite well.

frozen lava

A very fast shutter speed (1/1,000th of a second!) freezes chunks of glowing lava in midair as they plunge towards the ocean.  The fast shutter also freezes the wave droplets as they hit the basalt cliff and fall back into the sea.

lava piles

Thick lava s-l-o-w-l-y oozes out of an opening in a cliff.  Gravity is inexorably pulling it towards the ocean below, but the lava takes its own sweet time.  It’s so viscous, sometimes big globs of it hang for several moments, seemingly suspended in mid-air, before slowly dripping and dropping down to the next landing zone.  In this lackadaisical manner, the lava lazily makes its way down to the sea.  It’s almost as if it knows the cool ocean water will quench its vibrantly glowing orange beauty on contact and instantly turn it into dull brown or black basalt rock, and it wants to remain in its lovely liquid state as long as possible.  Can you blame it?

lava shooter

If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m one of those nature photographers that normally abhors people.  Oh, I like them well enough to talk to, sit next to, and sometimes even to go out to dinner with–particularly if they pick up the tab!–but I usually don’t like them “contaminating” my outdoor images.  I didn’t come all the way to this lava flow to photograph people…I could’ve stayed home and done that.

But, one of the times that even diehard nature photographers will tolerate people in their images, and sometimes even put them there deliberately, is “to lend a sense of scale.”  That advice is given so often in photography brochures and classes that it’s become a cliché.  But a cliché becomes a cliché because it’s so often true:  sometimes it CAN be hard for someone looking at an image to tell just how big that rock/sequoia/wave is without a climber/hiker/surfer nearby.  People become handy little measuring devices.  Take the image above:  knowing the average man is about 6′ tall, you can guesstimate the height of the cliff he’s standing on to be about 35′-40’…

Which begs the next question:  why is he standing on the edge of a cliff next to molten lava and risking a likely fatal fall onto the jagged rocks or into the pounding surf below?

For the photo-op, silly!  Now if only that flowing lava would stop for a moment, he could get a good shot…


Here’s hoping that 2013 will be a year filled with health, happiness, adventures, and lots of photo ops for all of us!