This is one of my favorites from our recent visit to St. Martin, and it just seemed like an appropriate photograph for February! I had already made it into a wallpaper for my phone and tablet, so what the heck. Might as well put it on the computer desktop too.
I hope everyone has a great February…spring’s coming!
The second stop on our recent cruise was the island of St. Martin. St. Martin is an island that is divided roughly 61/39% between France and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, with the two parts roughly equal in population. It is the smallest sea island divided between two nations with inhabitants and the division dates to 1648. The southern Dutch part comprises Sint Maarten and is one of four constituent countries that form the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The northern French part comprises the Collectivité de Saint-Martin (Collectivity of St. Martin) and is an overseas collectivity of France. Collectively, the two territories are known as “St-Martin / St Maarten”. Sometimes SXM, the IATA identifier for Princess Juliana International Airport (the island’s main airport), is used to refer to the island.
Unfortunately, most cruise ship passengers don’t bother with all those details. They mostly know that it is either a place to shop and get good deals or go to the “nude beach.” But Kathy and I know better, and we know how to make the best of our visits there.
The best way to see St. Martin is with a knowledgeable guide. Ship tours are OK and you can always get a taxi from the port and they will do just fine. Whenever Kathy & I book a cruise that stops at St. Martin, the very next thing I do is get in touch with our friend Joyce Hanley. Joyce is a native of Nevis living on St. Martin. We have toured with Joyce numerous times. This time she even took us to her house to show us her garden with numerous native plants, vegetables, and even coconuts. It’s always interesting to see what they look like on the tree, and not the way we see them in the grocery store. And coconut water? Forget that stuff you buy in the store…hack off the top of a coconut with a knife and drink up. Good and supposed to be good for you!
We’ve been to St. Martin numerous times, and while we love to tour and see something different every time we go, there is only so much we can do when we are only there for the day. This is another place where a longer visit would be the way to go. The best way to get to St. Martin from Charlotte is to fly, and one of the great places to go on St. Martin is Maho Beach. Maho sits literally on the end of the runway to the airport, and when they planes land they clear the beach by just a few dozen feet. That makes for quite a sight. I’ve never gotten the nerve to actually go out on the beach directly below the glide path. I guess I need to spend more time at one of the nearby bars to work up my “courage.”
We’re not big shoppers, so we spend most of our time walking around the small towns taking photographs. Sometimes we will slip into a shop or gallery, and there are a number of great restaurants where you can sample everything from local dishes to French cuisine. We stuck with local dishes this time and had lunch at a great little place in Marigot, on the French side. We also spent time walking around Grand Case, another beachfront town on the French side that is known for nice hotels and great restaurants. That would definitely be a place to return to, although I think I would need to learn a bit more French to really get along. Even more than many nationalities, the French appear to be more willing to treat you well if you make the effort to learn their language. I can’t say I blame them.
I’ll probably wrap up the cruise photos with a post with any stragglers that I didn’t fit into a previous post. I just finished up a weekend with a rented Fuji X-T1 and once I process a few photos from that experiment I will post some photos and some thoughts. Suffice it to say that I was very impressed with that little camera and am looking forward to working with the files and making a full evaluation. More to come on that!
On our recent cruise, Kathy & I spent a day exploring San Juan, Puerto Rico. While a number of cruises originate in San Juan, not many cruise lines stop in San Juan these days. It is a little too far for most ships to reliably make it in two days from Florida, and it probably isn’t as popular as St. Thomas or St. Martin because the shopping isn’t right next to the dock. Since the second favorite pastime of cruise passengers (behind eating) is shopping, most of them don’t like to venture out of sight of the floating buffet line, so having to walk a block or two in a “foreign” city is beyond their comfort zone. Cruises from Florida that do call on San Juan typically only spend the afternoon and evening there before moving on to a more popular island.
Kathy & I love San Juan, and our original itinerary called for us only being in San Juan from 3:00 to 10:00. A medical emergency a few hours out of Fort Lauderdale required us to return to port in the middle of the first night, making it impossible to get to San Juan as scheduled. As it turned out, it also made it impossible to get to St. Kitts, scheduled to be our second port, on time. So we ended up in San Juan on the day we were supposed to be in St. Kitts (follow all that?). 😉
Being in San Juan instead of St. Kitts was an easy trade for us, because we know our way around town pretty well and enjoy walking there. I was originally excited about the possibility of photographing the Christmas decorations around town after dark, but our schedule change put us there only during daylight hours. Being the type of people who go with the flow, we made the best of the time we had and had a nice day there.
One of the highlights of cruising into or out of San Juan harbor is sailing past Castillo San Felipe del Morro. The fortress is now a U.S. National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been given many other historical designations. The fortification, also referred to as el Morro or ‘the promontory,’ was designed to guard the entrance to the San Juan Bay, and defend the Spanish colonial port city of San Juan from seaborne enemies. The water at the entrance to the harbor can be especially rough, and the waves crashing against the shore make for an imposing sight, whether from the sea or the shore. It is always amazing – and quite a relief after two days at sea – to feel the ship enter the calmer water of the harbor.
There are as many ways to enjoy San Juan as there are people, but Kathy & I frequently start our visit at the Paseo De La Princesa , which winds around below the walls of the old city to the original city gate. From there we enter the gate and work our way up to El Morro. After enjoying the sights and sounds (and breezes!) at that highest point, we work our way back through town to the port.
I took quite a few photos in San Juan, but don’t think I got anything that will be artistically significant. I did manage to get some new views of familiar subjects. I think because I had been thinking in terms of a late afternoon and evening visit I had some preconceptions about what I would shoot, so I spent most of the day reacting to what I saw instead of on a course that I had pre-visualized beforehand. Sometimes that serendipity can lead to new and interesting things, but often it doesn’t.
We spent some time hanging out at Plaza de Armas, one of the main squares in San Juan and originally designed to serve as the main square of the city. In addition to a fountain with four statues, the plaza is home to a large number of pigeons, which spend their time doing what pigeons do – looking for handouts of free food and making messes. The pigeons make for an interesting photo subject when someone tosses seed in the air and they all scramble to get their share.
Kathy & I never mind sampling a bit of the local cuisine, and often look for interesting places to have lunch while spending the day ashore. Pizza and beer isn’t exactly a native Puerto Rican dish, we did have local beer, so I think that counts for something! Plus it was really good pizza and salad, so we felt like it did the job and were happy to have given it a try.
In general, San Juan is just a pretty nice place to visit, a good place to spend a day, and we enjoyed it very much. As it often does, a day spent in a nice place convinced us that we need to come back and spend more time there. Perhaps I can brush up on my Spanish and think about spending a week or so there sometime in the near future. It’s an easy flight from Charlotte, although it can be tough to get a good deal on airfare. And it can be a little pricey to stay and eat in the Old San Juan area, but I think it could be worth it in order to have more time there for dining, sightseeing and photography.
It’s hard to believe that just a month ago Kathy & I were plying the warm waters of the Caribbean on a cruise. This morning in Charlotte we tied a record low of 8 degrees. I suppose there’s some justice in that. But no matter, this being North Carolina we’ll be back into the 70s in no time. I hope!
Those of you who are familiar with my work know that I love to photograph architectural details and other interesting lines and shapes while we cruise. A person can’t drink umbrella drinks all day (Kathy says ‘oh, yeah?”), so I take pictures!
I’m working my way through some of the highlights, so as I process them I’ll probably throw a few out onto the blog, and at some point I may put together a gallery on my website. In the mean time here are a few photos of warmer times. Hope to see things warm up soon!
Well, it’s a new month and a new year. I’ve decided to stick with the wallpaper idea for a little while, but I think I’m going to try something a little different and leave off the monthly calendar. From my standpoint, I like to be able to change my wallpaper often, and while I can make my own wallpaper any time I want, having a calendar on there makes it a little hard for someone else to do that.
A number of people have told me that a particular photo is one of their favorites, and someone might want to keep it up all year long. And that’s fine with me!
If anyone misses the calendar and would like me to continue, I can probably do one of each, so let me know. I’m pretty easy to get along with!
“Happiness doesn’t lie in conspicuous consumption and the relentless amassing of useless crap. Happiness lies in the person sitting beside you and your ability to talk to them. Happiness is clear-headed human interaction and empathy. Happiness is home. And home is not a house-home is a mythological conceit. It is a state of mind. A place of communion and unconditional love. It is where, when you cross its threshold, you finally feel at peace.”
― Dennis Lehane
The holidays are often a time when we think a lot about what “home” means. People ask us – probably less now than they used to since they know us – if we are “going home or staying here” for the holidays. I always reply, confidently, that this is home. We live here, the kids live here, and just about all of our friends and family are here. We are “home” every day.
Last year at this time we had just moved into our then-new house, and that was the first Christmas that we weren’t in the house that had been our home for the previous 17 years. Our kids each have their own place now, so there is no sentimental “home” where they grew up. My parents and Kathy’s parents are both gone, and the places they occupied can now be visited only through Google Street View. So there is no “somewhere else home” when people ask us if we are “going home or staying here” for the holidays. This is home.
The above quote comes from an author that Kathy is familiar with, but I found it by way of a blog I have been following for a while. This Way to Paradise is written by a woman who has been “homeless” for several years, but traveling the world, mostly self-supported but sometimes depending on the kindness of friends and strangers, all the while blogging about it. And of course she’s written a book (I think I need to write a book 😉 ). Although she has already seen more of the world at her young age than I will ever see, in many ways Valen’s philosophy echoes my own – that home is where we make it and that more often than not home is where we are. But that’s not to say that home is every place we are.
Kathy & I take a lot of comfort in having a “home base” to come back to after work and after every vacation. This may change when we aren’t paying our dues on the corporate hamster wheel, but for now at least we envision continuing to use our house as a jumping off point for future adventures. We have purposely made our house into a place that if we never left we would be perfectly happy to stay, and that makes it a terrific place to come home to. So far we have necessarily approached our travels as always having a finite end. Knowing that “home” is waiting makes it easier to return. And for the most part it is a place that one of us could live without the other if that were to become necessary.
Our friends Earl & Bonnie are starting an adventure of a different kind. With a 2+ year head start on us, they have already experienced life without the need to escape the work world every day and have realized that they don’t want or need a fixed home base. So they have decided to literally sell all their stuff and put themselves and whatever is left into a travel trailer and head out to see the world. Whether that ever becomes our own solution remains to be seen, but Kathy & I wish them only the best and are anxiously awaiting their progress reports as they embark on their journey.
So the point of all this rambling is that I find the individual approaches to “home” to be a fascinating study. As Kathy & I develop our plans and speculate on the direction of our own lives, there is quite a bit of uncertainty about how our philosophies will adapt as our lives change, but isn’t that part of the adventure? Wherever we live, the last thing we want to do is to become so entrenched in what we have that we lose sight of what we want. And that doesn’t necessarily mean a house, a travel trailer or even a cruise ship. If we haven’t learned anything else over the last few years we have learned that no decision has to be final. As long as we remain open to other possibilities and flexible about the outcome, home can take many forms. But we each have our own ideal outcome, and that is what I look forward to seeking and finding, as well as to sharing.
As a general rule, I have gravitated away from trying to chase sunsets per se, as more often than not I end up waiting around for something that doesn’t happen. I do enjoy spending time on a beach that faces away from the sunset, as the soft light on the water is often conducive to the motion blur photos I have become so fond of.
Back in early November, Kathy & I visited Belhaven, NC. One of our frequent destinations, we often use the location as a jumping off point for trips around the eastern part of the state, looking for fishing boats, old barns or sometimes waterfowl.
For some reason though, I often find it worth my time to be “out” for sunset in Belhaven. Something there just causes the conditions to be good for great color. The downside is that there is not a lot of variety for foregrounds. There are a few docks, but they are all on private property and I tend to respect that. I do have a nice sunrise place where I have gotten permission from the owner to use her place when I am in town, and that has proven to be a good spot.
The great thing about sunset in Belhaven is that the bed & breakfast we stay at is on Water Street, so it’s easy to head out the door, grab my gear from the car and head across the street to the waterfront. For the last several years I have used the back yard of an unoccupied house as my staging area, and that is the place I have taken most of my sunset photos in Belhaven.
During our recent visit I found out that this house was recently sold. I met the new owner, and he seems like a real nice guy, but I’m not sure I will be able to keep using his yard for my photos. The next time I go there I’m planning to take him a couple of prints as a goodwill gesture, and hopefully he’ll grant me a perpetual pass to use his place. We’ll just have to see.
So what’s the deal with these posts? I assume that they are leftover from a long-abandoned dock, and eventually someone is either going to build a new dock or just pull out these posts. Something about them calls my name, and every time I go there I end up shooting at least a few frames of them. They make interesting subject matter, to me at least.
I hope you enjoy this selection of sunset photos from Belhaven, North Carolina!
There’s a sign in front of a church that I pass by that is advertising for an upcoming “financial planning” seminar. The sign has a picture of some snake oil salesman-looking guy holding a bundle of cash and says “Normal is Broke, BE WEIRD!” I’m not sure what kind of financial planning seminar would be held in a church but I hope it doesn’t involve praying for more money. 😉
Right after I pass that church I get to the Walmart, which seems to be a much more popular place for people to spend their time and money, because Walmart is always packed and I only see people at the church on Sunday. Maybe the church needs to take marketing advice from Walmart and attract people there by having sales.
I guess it’s the whole “SALE!” thing that is on my mind, mostly. But it ties into the idea of financial planning because the two ideas seem to be diametrically opposed.
Because I don’t watch television, don’t listen to commercial radio, have Ad Blocker on my browser and stopped subscribing to the local “junk mail disguised as yesterday’s news” newspaper I am mostly insulated from all of the “it’s on sale” mentality that gets people all excited about Black Friday. But I hear people at work all the time making plans to go shopping on Friday because “they’re (whoever “they’re” is) is having a sale on (INSERT NAME OF ITEM HERE).
Kathy & I just don’t buy stuff. Other than trips to Lowe’s to buy the few things we have needed for our house, we buy food, wine and gasoline for the car. I will admit to making a few trips to Best Buy while I was rounding out my Sonos system, but that’s it. We went to Target a few weeks ago and bought a few things that we needed, and realized that was the first time we had been there since January. And it’s not because we shop somewhere else – I haven’t been inside a Walmart in probably 5 years!
Just for fun I pulled up Walmart’s (and this is not a slam at Walmart, they just make a convenient example) Black Friday ad and looked through it. In a 39-page ad, there isn’t a single thing I would buy now. It’s not that there isn’t anything I would have, but generally if there is something I need I already have it, and if I need to replace something I have, I usually can’t wait until it’s on sale!
Admittedly, some of the sales are pretty good. If you just happened to be in the market for Beats wireless headphones ($280 – really?) $149 is a pretty good price. I liked the idea of Skullcandy earbuds for $9, but if I needed a set I would already have some that I paid $18 for and wouldn’t be laying up extras “just in case.” About three quarters of the pages are for clothes and junk toys that I wouldn’t buy for anyone’s kid. And best of all, if you don’t have the money for all this stuff, they have special financing available! Take 24 months to pay for this year’s crap! What a deal!
I’ll admit that the excuse that a lot of people use is that they are buying Christmas gifts, and to a certain extent that is probably true. But I’m not as concerned about who the stuff is for as I am that people feel like they have to buy stuff at all, for them or for someone else.
Anyway, I’m really not judging. Really! Some people enjoy the thrill of the chase, some have money to burn and shop just for fun. I choose to do otherwise. So do what you want, buy what you need and remember to share some of your good fortune with others less fortunate than you. What am I doing for Black Friday? I usually go to work on that day since I often figure it’s a lousy day to waste a vacation day on. This year though we’ve decided to do something a little different on Black Friday. We’re going to the beach for the weekend. Have fun!