The distance between the Jungle and my home.

November 9th, 2012

We’ve come through the Andes, down to a small town called Banos, which is know for it’s volcanically heated hot springs and mineral baths (thus the name Banos which means Bath; not Bathroom).  Spent a good night there, then headed on to lower elevations.

The road to lower elevations is an old road, a cobblestone sort of road that has been replaced with a newer road, complete with tunnels, wide marked lanes and guard rails.  But the old road (the road less traveled, so to speak) is the one we are taking; no tunnels, it runs right along the edge of the ravine, it’s almost one-and-a-half cars wide, which, in Ecuadorian thinking, is plenty wide for large buses, trucks and anything else that might need to go down that road.  This scenario makes for some hair-raising, white-knuckle drives, but some great photography.

A river runs at the bottom of the ravine, mountians on either side, volcanos in the distance.  Tributary streams leap off the sides of the ravine, cascading into the river.


These are every where.

We keep loosing altitude, passing the town of Shell.  Do you remember a story of three(I think it was three) misionaries who worked in the jungle south of here during the late ’60s? They were killed and eaten by idigenous people in this area, then later the son of one of the missionaries came back and ministered to the very people who had killed his father.  The story was told in the book, “The Point of the Spear”.  Anyway, they flew their Cesna in and out of the airstrip at Shell.

We go on down to the town of Puyo, and deeper into the interior. The landscape flattens out now, as we go from mountainious areas to the flatness of the Amazon Basin.  The first time I came here this was all dirt roads through the jungle, but now it’s a good asphalt road.  However, we don’t make any better time than we did on the dirt roads, because, for reasons none of us can figure out, about every 100 yards they have put another set of speed bumps.  Not the big, singular speed bumps common to the US, but a series of maybe 10 small wash-board speed strips. As we go over them, everything on the dash of our bus does a little bouncy  dance then falls in the floor as the bus shakes itself to pieces.

But eventually we do run out of asphalt and now we are just on a narrow slit of a road with dense trees/brush/vines arching overhead on each side. Then finally we come to the Arajuno River and an one-lane iron bridge made of left over oil pipeline pipe. As our little bus crosses the suspension bridge it makes an incredible, loud, clanking sound.  When we reach the other side, we get out and our driver backs the bus down a steep, slippery mud incline that terminates at the river’s edge. Our long, narrow canoe waits for us. We schlep all our expensive, fragile camera gear down to the water and pile the Pelican cases in the canoe.

Our group seems hesitant to get in, imagining what would happen if a canoe would tip over.  But these aren’t the tippy “boy-scout” type canoes we have in Oklahoma. These are 30-foot long, tall sided, flat bottomed, outboard powered river canoes; I have never seen one of these tip over.

With everybody loaded, I push the canoe out from  the muddy bank, it drifts backward as I hop in. The canoe-driver pull-starts the outboard and the  canoe accelerates smartly up the river. It’s exhilirating, at least to me.

We have had hours of bumpy, slow grinding through the hot steaming jungle, but now; in the open boat, zipping down the smooooth river, the evening cool off the water, the jungle sliding by on either side… it’s a heck of a view. But I have an even better view. I sit in the very front of the canoe and look back at the ear-to-ear grins on the faces of the people I have brought down here. I’ve told them about this; but now they are experiencing it for themselves. It’s just one of my favorite memories.

A couple of “klicks” (jungle-speak for “kilometers”) up river we round a bend, and there sitting on the riverbank is Tom Larson, the owner of the Arajuno Jungle Lodge (

Tom is from Nebraska, a Peace Corp vetern who came down here over 20 years ago and never went back (except to visit his folks occasionally). He built the lodge and lives here on a permant basis with his wife, Charro, an indigenous Kichiwa woman with a beautiful smile.

We spend the next few days at the lodge accumulating many unique wonderful memories.  But, I’m not writing a novel here, so, let’s skip over some stuff.

One morning we load up in a canoe and go up river for over an hour’s jouney to a tiny kichiwa settlement  called Mitador.  It’s not what we would call a town; it’s just some board huts, with a one-room school house/community center.  The whole community has turned out to see the visitors. Two years ago, I came this way and brought a tiny, battery-powered Epson printer. We took pictures of the people and the children and printed out their pictures and gave them to the people. They remembered me and the printer and were dissapointed to find I didn’t bring it this time.

That’s a very weird feeling to think you have dissapointed a whole village.

But we were all talking and photographing and fiddling around there when one of the kids brings out a sort of village pet; a baby ant-eater. And it stole our hearts; how could you not love a baby-anteater?

It has no teeth, but a long, spaghetti-like tounge.  It has a large  center claw on it’s front feet for digging.  It’s covered with a coarse, but soft hair. It moves slowly and has no fear of anyone. It almost seems affectionate.

I asked if we could visit one of the homes. An older woman,I’m guessing maybe 65 years old, offered to show us her home.  I know from an American standpoint this seems very invasive. But they don’t have quite the privacy issues and boundaries Americans have. She was happy and not the least bit  offended to show us her home. I think she was proud of it.

It’s a pole-structure,with a floor of chain-sawed wooden planks, and split bamboo walls, most of the roofs are thatched but her’s was, I think, corregated tin.  She showed us what she was smoking for dinner…


If this isn’t a rat, it’s something very close.

We didn’t stay for dinner.

We stayed on at the Arajuno Jungle Lodge for several days, then took a canoe back to the bridge, then the bus out of the Amazon basin, over the contiental divide of South America (13,000 feet) and back into Quito. We caught the Red Eye Special out of Quito, leaving shortly after midnight. We made it into Miami four hours later. There Martha and Lucy went to Tampa and on home to Gainsville, and Jane, Bert and Cindy and me  went on to Dallas then Tulsa.

In less than 24 hours we went from standing in the Amazon Basin Jungle to our homes in America. That’s not much time…but it is an incredible distance. And I don’t mean in miles.

I am glad to be back home. In 2012, I shot in Uganda in March, Utah in May, Romania in September (is that right?), Belgium in October and Ecuador in November.

Tomorrow, I have an all day field trip in Tulsa with my digital photography class. On the next day, sunday…I’m going to rest.


Ecuador; down the slope of the Andes.

November 5th, 2012

We’ve left the Quito area, and went south on the Pan American Highway, passing several volcanos and lots of pretty scenery, shooting whateverer appeals.  I was last in Ecuador two years ago, and I have seen a lot of progress.  New roads and better roads have sprouted up in lots of areas. And there are many more police than I remember before.
We have had the bad luck to come to Ecuador on a three-day weekend; the Day of the Dead(our equivalent of Memorial Day). Traffic and people are  everywhere.  Tomorrow is Monday and I am looking forward to the quiter/less trafficed week-a-day Ecuador I have know before.
In the highlands of Ecuador, indigenous people dig their homes back into the hillsides, then build a simple thatched roof over the dugout part.  We visited  one such family today.  This is not a tourist destination. It’s just a family living like people here have lived for hundreds of  years.
Here is the wife/mother of the family.


Here is the husband/father of the family, inside the home.


The white things on the dirt floor are guinea pigs. Perhaps a hundred of them; all crawling around, uncaged on the floor. The family; mother/father, two teenage sons, two little boys, and one daughter all live in this house, and sleep on this floor.  A couple of crude wooden stools make up the furniture. A gas bottle powers a gas cooking burner. There is no electricity, and of course you wouldn’t want to use candles or laterns in a house made of straw, so there is no light other than what comes through the open door when the sun is up.    Clothes hang on a rod across the back side of the house. A hawk sits in a cage outside the front door. A pig lives in a wallow outside.  Sheep live in a pen, and maybe 5 acres around the house is farmed. All by hand. A very different way to live than I do.
Tomorrow we head further down the slope of the Andes, leaving Banos heading for Tena, then the Arajuno River. Where we will go upstream in long wooden canoes to Tom Larson’s Arajuno Jungle Lodge.  I’ll be out of touch for a couple of days, but will get back to you as soon as I can.

Ecuador; back again.

November 3rd, 2012

So here I am(where else would I be?), sitting on bed, late at night, in a hotel room in the old (very old) part of Quito, Ecuador, tapping out a blog post on my super-cheapo laptop, cursing my typing abilities, my spelling abilities and my grammer. I’m drinking a room-temperature coca-cola and eating a left-over halloween butterfinger.

I’ve taken four groups of photographers to Ecuador before, but didn’t take a group last year. I blame the economy; I just couldn’t find enough people to justify a trip.

But I’m back this year. And I like Ecuador; While I am not exactly at home here…I feel comfortable here. I’m okay here. Ecuador is a beautiful country, incredibly varried, but only about the size of Colorado. Very temperate; nobody heats or cools their houses. Well, up in the Andes they do, but most of Ecuador doesn’t do either.

We left Tulsa, flew to Dallas, had a layover that barely gave us enough time to get to the departure gate, only to fly to Atlanta, where we just barely had enough time to get to our next departure gate.
Then a four hour flight to Quito, followed by maybe an hour getting through customs. We loaded our stuff into a 12 passenger van and went to our hotel.

Friday morning the weather was beautiful. We went to Independence Square, two blocks away from our hotel room.


We shot there for a couple of hours, shot some churches, ate lunch then went to the National Cathederal of Ecuador; La Basilica. The picture below( a tiny  jpeg) was downsized from a Nikon D-800 36 megapixel RAW file.  Can’t wait to get home a print that out big.


But things messed up here. As I write this, today’s date is November 2; in latin American culture that is the Day of the Dead. Being in Ecuador, photographing the churches and the catacoombs on the day of the dead should make for some incredible pictures.  But instead; many of the places we wanted to shoot were closed to photographers due to the large crowds. And a second place we wanted to shoot; the traffic was so blocked up that the police wouldn’t let anyone else go up there.  What sounded good didnt’ exactly pan out.

But tomorrow, we head for Laguna Quilota; a crater lake high in the Andes.  And then, on to Posada de Tigua; loosely translated; a place of rest, a 125-year old farm house high up in the Andes. A working farm; complete with moo-cows, pigs, lamas, sheep and all the trimmings.

I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Running around Belgium

October 23rd, 2012

The three day African expo is now over and we can focus on other things(literaly). While we have gone out each evening, cameras in hand, now we have the chance to really look the city of Antwerp and the Belgium countryside over.

The entire time we have been here the weather has been chilly and misting with a solid overcast grey sky. We are told it is always like this;  nobody comes to Antwerp for the weather… But today we have comfortable temps,  no wind, much blue sky and… sunshine. Glorious, warm, bright, sunshine. This is obvious evidence that Greg and I are living right and that God’s hand of blessing is on our endevors.

We spend the morning and mid-day walking around Antwerp, which is not a huge city. It’s bigger than Tulsa of course, but nothing like Chicago or Dallas. Its just a couple of miles, excuse me, Kilometers from our hotel and the Centeral Train station to the part of the city they call “old Antwerpen”.

The city began as a settlement where the river met the sea; a port town, circa 900 A.D.  We’re talking serious old now. The story (there’s always a story) that goes with the city, is that there was this giant who lived at the mouth of the river. He would charge boat captains a tarif to use the river. If they didn’t pay; he would cut off their hand and throw it in the river. But a Roman centurion whose name escapes me, defeated the giant, cut off the giant’s hand and threw it in the river. The word Antwerpen is a derivitive of the Flemish(or maybe french) word meaning “to throw”.

That’s a pretty good story. I like it better than Owasso’s ” the end of the trail” story which has no giant, no bloodshed and no hero. Come on: is that the best story they could come up with?
Anyway, much of old Antwerp dates from the 1600s, buildings still in daily use.

Here is a plaza in the middle of Old Antwerpen, complete with cathederal and spire with working clock, and large statue of whatisface flinging the giant’s hand into the river.  See cluster of spraying water near the bottom? That’s the giant’s severed arm spewing….well, spewing.


We use the tram quite a bit. The cobble stone roads are cool, but the car tires sure make a lot of noise driving on these.

Finally we hired a driver to take us out into the country; rural areas.  This didn’t compute. Though he could speak english(about like I speak spanish) he didnt’ understand the “country”. He thought we wanted to go to another country; like the Netherlands or Germany. We told him we want to take the back roads; he wanted to stay on the highways. We explained farms; woods, countryside…he took us to a park. After much directing we did finally end up off the beaten path, and when we did, it was perfect.


We spent most of today, our last day trying to make contacts with museums in the area with the idea of getting additional showings for the Slave Castle exhibit, but that didn’t go so well. The city of Antwerp would like to display it at a library, but that won’t get much traffic. And there is the logistical problem of who would hang it, do we ship the pictures over, who would be responsible for packing it up and shipping it back, and of course, nobody has funds to pay me to come hang the thing.  Possibility of a showing in Amsterdam, but…we’ll see.

I start back tomorrow. Looking forward to home. More pics later.


Belgium and the Slave Castle exhibit.

October 20th, 2012

I don’t really know how many days we’ve been here at this point. Between the schedule and the jet lag, I don’t know what’s what. But yesterday was the first day of the three day conference, there were many speakers at the opening, including me. Not that anybody was standing in line to hear me, but anyway.  And they did decide to have me give my little dog-and-pony show several more times, added to the schedule.

Greg is usually refered to as “Merrell”; we don’t know why.

We have become friends with the ambassador(former) of Nigeria to Belgium. A very energetic, talkative sort of guy. He wants us to come to Nigeria and has brought us a lot of info on slave trading sites in Nigeria.

We are staying at a small hotel near the center of Antwerp Belgium. It’s right near this very old, very cool, very big train station. The station is almost exactly like the one in the HUGO movie about the boy growing up in the Paris trainstation. Giant, huge, riveted-iron trusses arching up to the sky, covered in little panes of glass. Lots of carved marble.


We have learned how to ride a street-car/train sort of thing from our hotel to the venue where our photography is being displayed. We’re fast becoming Euro-trash.

The conference  is somewhat of a hodge podge showcasing Africa. including a fashion show; things could be worse.


But I guess I’m just getting old.  All I can think is “gee that looks uncomfortable” and “how do they walk in those things?”Oh, well.


The Belgium Waffle…

October 18th, 2012

Ok, so some time ago, a group of people putting on a Pro-Africa conference in Belgium saw my slave castle photos on line and invited me to bring them to belgium(I am writing this as fast as I can because I am buying internet access by the hour here).  After several converstations it was agree that they would bring me, Greg Merrell(co-shooter on the slave castle project) and pictures to Belgium.

But it would cost about $2,000 to ship the big, framed, glassed prints to Belgium…so we figured out that we could print them, mount them on an aluminum bond material, bind them together and we would have bundles that were under the over weight limit for checked baggage and under the oversized baggage size limit. Thus saving $2,000 for the cost of one extra bag on an overseas flight.  That’s three bundles of 34×22.6 prints, seven to a bundle, three bundles.

Mild confusion due partially to the time difference between Belgium and Tulsa, resulted in a phone call: “Can you be in Dallas in six hour? Your flight is TODAY rather than TOMORROW.  We grabbed a Cessna 182 and fought horrific headwinds all the way to Dallas…and made it just in time. Smooth flight over, they met us at the gate.

Cool and rainey here. Not too bad.  Tomorrow we hang the show, open the show, give a talk and pretend to act like we don’t enjoy the attention.  Things could be worse.


Transylvania; next post.

October 1st, 2012

Okay. So I am now sitting in a motel room in Cluj, Romainia. It is about 11 pm. Everyone else in the group will be leaving at 4 am to catch their flight. But mine doesn’t leave until 1:30 pm.  Of course I’ll get home later, but at this point, not having to get up THAT early is heaven.
This little village of Enlaka, deep in Transylvania,  has survied for over 400 years.  Think about that; that’s the Cold War, The Communist era, WWII, WWI,  The Spanish Flu, The Ottoman Empire and maybe even the Black Plague.



This barn is made of large timbers, pegged together, covered with planks, no tin, no plywood anywhere. The roof shingles are clay.


What is this?  This is bread; real bread. You can’t buy it at a store.  Some backstory. Most houses are tiny. The one I am about to describe was maybe 15 feet by 15 feet. It’s divided into left and right halves. The left half is the bedroom, the right the kitchen/dining/everything else room. Beside the house there is an additional structure attached to the house; it’s only maybe four feet wide. It’s the baking room, the room you see in the picture above. At the back of part of the room is divided off; it’s an oven; something like the Pizza Ovens you seen in fancy pizza places.  The day before I watched the woman of the house knead flour dough in the wooden trough you see the bread loaves lying in. It’s maybe three feet long, a foot and a half wide. It holds a very big glob of bread dough. Then the man of the house fires up the wood-fired oven. and when its hot enought they put these round bread dough loaves in. Hours later they come out; charred to a black crisp. The man and woman then begin beating the burnt crust whichs breaks off leaving this round, remarkably evenly baked loaf. It’s tasty.

The church is the hub of the community. As it has been since 1658, if I have the date exactly right. Yeah; over 400 years. church exterior

Look at the robe/cape the pastor is wearing. It’s looks straight out of a Dracula movie. It’s very cool. Has a lot of visual weight. A lot of gravity if you know what I mean. Church here is very serious. Very serious.

In spite of what you might at first think, this isn’t a Greek Orthodox church or some form a Catholisim. It’s Unitarian.

Inside the church, is an odd mix of old and new. Very old and sort of new.


The bench is one sawn log with pegged legs. The “steps” going up into the balconey are a split log with notches carved in for steps. The lock on the front door is a draw bar, just like you would see in a medivial castle. But that’s what this is; a medivial structure. But they also have a few electric lights. And the giant iron bells in the bell tower are no longer tolled by a rope, but by an crude electric solenoid.

I was given permission to photograph a communion service. cup

The cup’s inscription dates it to the 1700s. They still use it.  Communion in a modern American church is a  ritual (not in a bad way) to help a group feel connected with each other; they are all drinking out of the same cup. But in this case the ritual has the deep spirtual connection with not just the  present group, but also with the past. You are drinking the cup, that people of your same faith drank from hundreds of years ago.

But this way of life that is Enlaka, Transylvania is dying out. As soon as anyone comes of age they leave. There are no children or even young couples in the village. Not even any middle age people to speak of. Just old people. Very old people.

There are no economic opportunities here. No job other than farming with hand tools. And nobody want to do that these days.

As a result there are now 8 homes with people under the age of 60. The population is so low that there aren’t enough people to work the fields and wild animals eat or damage the crops. Did you know that 80% of the bears in Europe are in Romania? Under European Union rules bears are a protected species.

It is my deep privilidge to have seen and to have, at least for a few days, experienced this way of life. And to have taken pictures of it, while it was here.


Transylvania 2nd post

September 28th, 2012

It’s almost midnight where I am in Enlaka, Transylvania.  Yeah, that’s Romania on our maps, but here; it’s Transylvania. And they aren’t Romanians; their Hungarian, and Hungarian is what they speak.

I’m sitting on a box of a thing, under a full moon at then end of a dark street. Yeah, I’m in a tiny hamlet in the Carpathian mountains…but I can get a signal here and update this blog.

Enlaka is a tiny village; population about 228 from the last cencus I understand. The place is very cool. very real.  Much texture, good light.

good light

The village is built around a hill. Back in the Roman times there was a temple to Jupiter on this hill. Several hundred years ago a church was built on this hill, part of the ancient altar to Jupiter is still visible. n equally ancient graveyard around it. A tree in the graveyard is believed to be 500 years old.  Here is the tree and an old, very old woman cleaning  a family grave near it.


On a side trip we passed a small lake, much smaller than say, Oologah or Keystone lake.  When this country was ruled by a dictator, he decided that a dam and lake there would be a good idea. Didn’t get around to informing the village that lay in the valley. As the lake rose, everybody was forced to leave their homes. The steeple of the village church can still be seen.


Things are good. As I’m traveling shooting for another group, I don’t have the freedom to stop and shoot everything I would like to, but I’m still getting some good stuff. And expect to get even better stuff tomorrow.  More later.

We are all well and safe.


Romania/Transylvania 2012

September 26th, 2012

Monday afternoon I flew from Tulsa to Chicago to Munich to Cluj.  And where or what is “Cluj” you may ask;  It’s the second largest city in Romania(slighty smaller than Tulsa), and the central city of Transylvania.  And yes; there really is a place called Transylvania. I guess it was a freestanding country at one time, but belonged to Hungary for a while and is now part of Romania. There are a lot of Hungarians here. And they don’t like being thought of as Romanians.

Arrived in Cluj late tuesday night. Told the cab driver to take me to Hotel Transylvania(I’m not making this up) and he replied “Which Hotel Transylvania?”  I guessed the closest one and was right.

Connected up with the group I’m to shoot for, a small group of Unitarians from All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa (voted best church in Tulsa; 2012) (Largest Unitarian Church in the WORLD!). This is where I go to church; it ’s good for me.

Romania looks like a cold-war era James Bond movie. Narrow streets,  Ancient buildings. Lots of power lines running everywhere, tiny Dachia cars. Very exotic looking; should make for great photographs.

Visted a school.  Rev. Marlin Lavanhar spoke at an assembly; the highschoolers were very attentive, very inquisitive. They watch Marlin’s sermons on Youtube. I was erroneously introduced as a National Geographic photographer. Unfortunately I didnt’ have time to correct the mistake.


Went to a salt mine.  They don’t dig salt out of there anymore, but it is an ancient place, they didn’t know what to do with it so they opened it up to tourists.They put (I kid  you not) a bowling alley, a ferris wheel and boats in the salt mine’s caverns. It’s unbelievable and indescribable.  You walk for over half a mile down a small tunnel then it opens up into giant caverns, hundreds of feet tall and, according to the guide; about 87 meters (think yards) wide.

salt mine

Went deeper into Romania, further away from the city of Cluj.

Several hours out in the country we came to Turda Gorge. A very steep, deep narrow gorge. So deep that the gorge has evolved it’s own ecosystem; things, including birds live there that arent’ found anywhere else on the planet.


went through small towns. Went to a small village which was the setting for the novel “The Alabaster Village”.  Very, very quaint.  Tiny church about 400 years old.


It has a pump pipe organ.  Painting on the wooden ceiling panels. They can’t heat the place in the winter for fear the 400 year old panels would ignite.

I could see a novel here.

More later. All are safe and well.


Utah, day five and six

May 24th, 2012

We did actually get up earlier (3:30 am) and drove out to Mesa Arch. We didn’t have the place all to ourselves as there was another group of photographers there who had stayed all night, shooting first the eclipse, then the milky way, and then Mesa Arch.

Mesa Arch is one of the icons of Southern Utah. The arch is on a cliff that is higher than the horizon…thus when the sun breaks the horizon, it illuminates the underneath side of the arch with a vivid morning red.  The arch is situated so you can actually shoot the dawn through the arch.  My mesa arch shot is the one you see on the home page of

Here is one of our group shooting at  Mesa; Molly Pezold.molly at mesa arch

I think everyone of the group, all nine of them shoot a good picture at the arch. Not the same picture but their picture.

After that we went back to the rented house and crashed.  3:30 am is just awfully early to get up. Awfully early.

We went out again about 6:30 in the evening and scouted spots for the next day (today). Then today, we got up about 6:00 and went out and shot them…including a rock formation called the Courthouse.


But our internet has been down at the house, which has been very frustrating because everybody has been uploading to face book, and of course, that’s why I have, once again, been so sporadic in updating this blog.

And why I’m updating it now rather making a longer post. But lot’s more has happened and we have seen many beautiful things.

And, we are all well and still getting along with each other.