Cartagena’s Moody Romance

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Cartagena breathes a moody romance – especially as the sun sets and silky shadows drape the city’s historic walls.

It was only a few hours after my arrival and I was exploring the old city’s fortifications, waiting for my Courchsurfing host to return home after work.

The day was late and sun tired. I’d been awake since 3:30 AM and decided to wander around Cartagena’s old city in a sleep-deprived stupor of exhaustion and inspiration.

The tiredness can be overcome – my body’s ability to transcend its limitations (after 3.5 hours of sleep the night before) – paired with a mind-bending perception of life under travel-induced duress creates a recipe for redemption.

Travel for me is a blessing that imposes many challenges. What can I endure? How does a place resonate? Who was I before arriving? Who am I now?

It elicits these questions of self and even if no answer exists, the introspective journey parallels travel’s existential adventure.

Travelers change as much as their surroundings. Certainly it’s possible to avoid and ignore the traveler’s inner disquiet but like every good challenge, the results of enduring and working through everything presented are like buying a winning lottery ticket with the payout being greater self-awareness.

In a way, the sun is the perfect anecdote for travel’s wonder. Each morning it rises, casting its radiating light on the world. Its glance changes as the day passes, reshaping and recasting the world underneath its gaze until fading into the night sky.

The traveler bends and adapts to their new world, embracing its synchronicity and eager – after a day of exploration – for the sun to rise again and return its uninhibited – yet soothing – morning glow.

 

 

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Running Cartagena’s Ramparts

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It was like running through butter as thick, humid air melted the beads sweat pouring from my pores. The morning sun rose higher in the brilliant-blue sky, casting broiling rays on the mustard-painted buildings, their colonial facades stained with ages of grime and sea salt.

Famed for its 16th century fortified old city, Cartagena, Colombia spent ages as the gem of the Spanish empire and drew a hungry eye from the pirates of the Caribbean who successfully and unsuccessfully plundered its riches.

During its heyday, the city served as a transit hub for slaves and gold looted from the tombs of the now extinct native Sinu people. The Spanish crown spent countless millions fortifying the city in the process constructing 6.8 miles of fortified walls.

While no longer protecting the city from nefarious marauders, the walls offer visitors amazing ocean-view panoramas and a birds eye view of the Cartigenos life.

My run started at the Mar del Norte, an 18-story beachfront building about half a mile north of the old city, where I’m staying. From this perch on high, the ocean, old city and Cartagena’s many slums spread in a 180-degree vista.

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I crossed the bustling 4-lane road – still quiet and missing the honking busses that ply up and down it’s idyllic route – and jogged toward the old city. Even at 6:30 am, families were already frolicking in the lapping waves.

Along the narrow, poorly maintained sidewalk patches of cement disappeared and I hopped over 2-foot wide gaps, careful not to relive a China experience (where I tripped on a golf-ball sized rock) and end up in a Colombian emergency room.

At the edge of the old city I turned left, away from the ocean and ran along the old city walls toward one of the gateways that permit cars and pedestrians passage into the historic warren of roads. Once through, I turned right and followed the walls to a long ramp that led to wall’s top.

A man in his 40s or 50s was sitting on a cannon using the end its 8-foot barrel as a holster for his feet as he did sit ups. Nearby, a homeless person with watermelon- sized frizz of hair and whose gender I could not discern was sleeping under a wooden canopy, avoiding the brightening sun.

I continued running, avoiding the dips and cracks and potholes in the wall’s top. At this point my shirt was off and the humidity and heat started to take their toll. But I ran, continuing past Colombian tourists exploring the ramparts. At one point the wall narrowed to 3-feet wide – on my right a 15-foot drop onto a grassy field, flooded from the past few days of monsoon deluges, on my left, an 8-foot drop onto another section of the wall.

I continued running, careful not to lose my balance and forced myself to stop wondering which way I’d fall if I tripped. Eventually the path narrowed to 2 feet and I hopped down a few steps, to a less perilous section with a 6-foot wide path.

And then the wall’s path ended. Why it did not continue or was blocked I am unsure, so I cut through the old city, past historic Catholic churches with crumbling facades, past blocks of buildings painted in pastel greens and oranges and reds that bled together and whose color contrast creates the breathtakingly beautiful color palate the city is so known for. I cut through a huge square surrounded by arched buildings and a 30-foot tall holiday star wrapped in LEDs waiting for its evening time to shine. Past the mustard colored clock tower – at one time part of the wall – now disconnected from its protective past.

I continued through the old city where spindly, vine-like trees crawl up the riotous walls as magenta and orange bougainvillea flowers blossom, until I reaching another ramp that led up to the wall’s top.

The sun beat down and I was drenched. But I continued, enjoying witnessing the city’s history. Exploring a place where families have lived for generations and the walls that made life here possible.

Today, the pirates are gone, replaced by hordes of tourists who descend on the city from planes, busses and city-sized cruise ships, eager to savor its history and plunder its colonial charm.

Maybe it’s a good thing the walls went up – they kept the city safe, commerce buzzing and bad guys out. And while their original purpose might be passé, the walls today continue to serve an important role: protecting and preserving the city’s inspiring colonial character, not to mention the perfect path for a sweaty run.

Stay tuned for photos and more runs from Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

 

 

 

 

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A Movember Stash to the Rescue

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Friends, these are challenging times and I need your help.

No, I wasn’t robbed in London and need a wire transfer for a plane ticket home nor have I fallen and can’t get up.

In my calendar, November is scratched out and replaced with the moniker Movember. Each Movember, myself and millions of people around the world donate their faces and facial hair (not to mention time and money) to raise funds and awareness for men’s health.

From prostate cancer research to mental health treatment, Movember works to get people gabbing, challenging everyone’s upper lip to pucker up and do their part.

Get talking, get moving, lets get this show on the road as we work to stomp out cancer and raise the flag of victory for men’s health.

Please click on the stash below to learn more about my Movember Campaign and even better show your support by making a donation to improving men’s health.

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A post-run stash shot.

See how good you can look when you grow a Mo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Boozin’ at the Van Brunt Stillhouse

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Good things come in small batches at Van Brunt Stillhouse, a Red Hook boutique distillery founded in 2012 by the husband and wife team Daric Schlesselman and Sarah Ludington. “I was an avid home brewer and distiller and my wife and I decided we wanted to own our own business,” Daric said.

The Stillhouse has since expanded their production to whiskey, rum, grappa and moonshine and offers weekend tours and tastings of their Bay Street space. “I love the magic of it all,” Derek said. “I love making good things that people appreciate.”

The below photos are part of a photo essay originally published in the Red Hook Star-Revue celebrating Labor Day and the neighborhood’s workers. Check out the entire photo essay here and more outtakes from the other neighborhood businesses here.

 

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Such Great Red Hook Heights

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At 120-feet off the ground with only a few metal bars and a pane of glass separating me from the concrete dock far below, most people might have felt nervous. Had I not been so focused on capturing photos of Chris Guerra, a union crane operator who spends his days loading and unloading ships from his 120-foot high cab, I might have been, too.

While Chris’s office has million-dollar Manhattan views, even the port’s ground-level affords unobstructed views of downtown Manhattan, the New Jersey “skyline,” Governors Island and the Statue of Liberty with her guiding torch.

Many of the below photos are part of a series I did celebrating Labor (Day) and the men and women hard at work and initially appeared in the Red Hook Star-Revue.

Over the years, the shipping traffic at the Red Hook Container Terminal has slowly decreased. Much of it moved across Manhattan Bay to the Port of Newark, whose investment in massive cranes years ago keeps their dock humming and busy with shipping traffic.

Red Hook’s maritime history has slowly waned over the year as global shipping traffic and repair has migrated elsewhere. I recently wrote an article about Red Hook’s last real maritime business that closed down in April after being founded nearly 60-years ago in the Brooklyn. Read the article here and more photos are here.

As we give thanks for the labor that built (and continues to build) our country, it makes me appreciate how fortunate we are to be living in a country that if you work hard and have a bit of luck, you can achieve a career that not only pays the bills but provides nourishing fulfillment.

Click here to catch sparks flying at a Red Hook Iron Shop.

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Sparks Fly in Red Hook

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Sparks are flying at Apollo Tech Iron Works, a Red Hook, Brooklyn iron shop.

The company works on projects throughout the neighborhood and region and everyday, welders and machinists create fences, posts, and structures from raw metals and iron.

The shop’s walls are lined with tools and iron bars and grease and grit seem to cover every visible surface.

I recently shot portraits of a handful of the ironworkers and welders while working on a photo essay celebrating Labor Day for the Red Hook Star-Revue.

A link to the photo essay is available here.

The family owned business has been in the neighborhood for more than a decade and is run by a father and son team.

Check out the photos below and stay tuned for more outtakes from the shoots celebrating Labor Day.

 

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Time Flies (in a Time Lapse Video) on 9/11

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Every year around September 11th, two beams of light brighten the night sky in remembrance of the day’s tragedy.

From the roof of my Brooklyn apartment, I have unobstructed views of downtown Manhattan and its flickering windows where the twin bolts of hope bring light to darkness.

The below video is a time lapse of hundreds of photos weaved together to create a fluidity of time and the beauty. Even in New York City’s urban jungle, perseverance continues to overcome the intolerance that led to that tragic day.

The photos are mine. Music is by Chris Zabriskie.

 

 

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Workin’ It In Red Hook, Brooklyn

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Check out my photo essay celebrating Labor (Day) and Red Hook businesses in this week’s Red Hook Star Revue.

For the story I shot Van Brunt Stillhouse, the Red Hook Container Terminal, O & B Unisex salon, Mark’s Pizza, Apollo Tech Iron Work, and Jack Pedowitz Machinery Movers.

Check out the sample below and published photo essay here.

Stay tuned for more photos and outtakes from the series.

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A crane operator unloads a container ship at the Red Hook Container Port

 

 

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Arrested in the Adirondacks

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Years ago I got “arrested.”

I was in grad school at the time and a few buddies and I decided to head up to the Adirondacks for a weekend of camping.

It was mid fall and the mountains were exploding with color. Three days of hiking, surrounded by fiery foliage and that perfect fall perfume of dead and decaying leaves, pine, and a crisp chill were a much-needed respite from the rigors of an intense semester of writing and shooting.

(Disclosure: I have a master’s in journalism and stumbled onto photography while in grad school.)

We got a late start leaving Syracuse, home to Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications and arrived to the Adirondacks in the evening.

We packed our gear into our backpacks and as darkness settled, headed into the woods.

A few miles into the hike, we discovered the bridge spanning a rushing river was closed for repairs. The trail continued elusively on the far side of the river.

At this point it was dark and we were tired from a long day, so we backtracked away from the river and found a spot in the woods to set up camp. We’d hang out there for the night and in the morning return to the car and continue hiking the following day.

In the inky blackness, we explored the woods and found a boat shed with beautiful hand carved, wooden canoes next to a lake. We made a fire (of fallen branches, not boats), drank some whiskey, and called it quits in the still of night.

“Get up, get out of your tents” a voice growled.

I unzipped my tent door and peeked my head out. A bearded guy in green with his hand resting on a holstered gun was yelling at us to hurry up and get up and out of our tents.

We were “under arrest.”

Bleary and dehydrated, we emerged into the gloomy morning and listened to this guy bark about trespassing on private property.

We had no idea.

He was like a paparazzi shooting photo after photo of us with his cheap point and shoot.

He watched and hurried us as we folded up our tents and packed our backpacks. He loaded us into the bed of his pickup truck for a ride back to the security office.

Is it legal to ride in the bed of a pickup? You can’t argue with a guy with a gun.

We were under arrest and his office was our future prison. The four of us were in disbelief.

The walls of his office – a small shed with dirty windows – were plastered with photos of other campers who must have made the same mistake by camping on the Ausable Club’s property without even realizing it.

Part of the trail we were on included an easement through private property, a common occurrence in the Adirondacks but something totally unknown to us.

The security guard, always keeping one hand on his gun and eyeing us disgustedly, called the state police. After a short while, a trooper arrived and apologetically said he had to ticket us. The doofus security guard was pressing charges and there was nothing the police – or we – could do.

If my memory serves me correctly, the fine was $198 payable to the local court. We could challenge it but that required a 5-hour drive back to the Adirondacks and we all agreed wasn’t worth the hassle.

So now I’m a convicted misdemeanorer and learned my lesson: watch out for stupid people prowling the woods and if they’re gonna get you, steal some great photos (on their private property) before getting the boot.

 

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A long exposure, night photo of Lower Ausable Lake in the height of fall

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Another long exposure, night photo of Lower Ausable Lake in the height of fall

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Adirondack State of Mind

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Stepping into the Adirondacks is a move toward sensory simplicity and away from the cacophony of life (in New York City).

The ruckus of traffic, sirens, sewers, even light dissipate into a clarified Adirondack sensory delight: hear the light rain’s patter, smell and taste the gentle pine-infused breeze, listen to the rustling leaves in the trees and crunching underfoot.

I didn’t realize it until after I began reviewing my photos from the Adirondack’s and how they resonated within me, that every moment I spent exploring and photographing the wilderness, I sought to capture the moment’s quietude.

I’m lucky to say my apartment in Brooklyn isn’t too loud, but nothing like the Adirondack’s ambient silence (think white noise on steroids).

I hope these photos convey that calm and inspire and motivate you to find moments of silence in your non-stop life. Like any medicine, this curative, calming salve requires we take the first pill or in this case, first step into the Adirondack state of mind.

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