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La Palma, September 2013 & February 2014

This gallery contains 15 photos.

So on the way to explore Canary islands, I visited also La Palma – the steepest island in the world. So farm I’ve visited twice, once for pure joy and once for observations, hence pure work. It’s an amazing place … Continue reading

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La Gomera, March 2014

This gallery contains 11 photos.

No matter where you live, you always keep telling to yourself that the places close by are ‘to be visited later’. And then you move away, realizing how much you’ve missed and suddenly those places are hard to visit. So … Continue reading

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Tenerife 2013

This gallery contains 23 photos.

So, for a while, there wasn’t any picture from Tenerife. I’ve decided to assemble the pictures from the last year, of places I liked and mostly hiked. Some of the pictures were published here as single shots, so this is … Continue reading

La Palma Sky

Okay, life was going crazy fast lately and still is, but I just wanted to share some images I’ve taken not-so recently, during the trip to La Palma (September 2013). The daily ones are still to come, but the mission was to take pictures of the night sky of La Palma, one of the best ones in the world (yes, I mean comparable with Chile and Hawaii).

I’ve actually learned quite a few things during that trip: apparently I don’t mind heavy backpack, as long as it’s full of my photo stuff and I can freeze down for a picture. Anyway, one of the more painful things I’ve learned is that I’ve hit the limitations of my camera. If I take my Canon 7D & 15 mm Fisheye lens, the result will never reach the quality of Canon 5D Mark III with essentially the same settings. Hence whomever wants to send me the note saying ‘your image’s noisy’, buy me a better camera and I’ll prove you I can do better.

la_palma_MW

So picture above, from Roque de Los Muchachos observatory. It’s a single shot, 20s exposure @f/2.8 and ISO 4000. Which I think is pretty impressive. The yellow spot on the lower left side is lights from Santa Cruz, the bright spot over the horizon, casting shadow on the water is Venus. Actually you can even see  Zodiacal light going through Venus, pointing to the Milky way (brighter area going above the horizon). The red and green glow is a natural glow of our atmosphere, called airglow. And the bright bridge is the Milky way… looking into the galactic center in Scorpius.

milky_way

 

Since combining the images with a foreground is tricky, I’ve combined only one image of the milky way with no foreground (that’s to come in the future). It’s a combination of 15 images, ISO 4000 and using dark frame. As in the previous pic, the red glow is our own atmosphere.

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Okay, with this picture, I’ve learned how ‘bad’ is my camera compared to the 5D MIII, since we were shooting from the same spot and guess what, I have the noise… But anyway MAGIC telescope and Milky way is a cool combination, worth of almost spraining my ankle in the dark :)

I also got into experimenting with time-lapse. So if you want to check my super short one, go fot it on vimeo.

How to travel to Maldives backpack style

Okay, Maldives are considered as a super posh and expensive location and I cannot disagree. But getting there is actually not impossible, since from 2011, locals got opportunity to build also ‘low-cost’ hostels on islands inhabited by them. That comes with couple of pros and cons. Pro is: a night in the hotel, including breakfast is around 60$. Cheap for Maldivian standards, where the price per night in the cheapest resort usually starts at 150$. Cons: well, for once, if you want to have beautiful reef of pristine beach nearby, the Maafushi island (pretty much only one with hostels) is not perfect, so you’re spending money on trips anyway (approx. 50$ per trip per person).

There is also one more thing to consider. If you’re traveling to Maafushi, have in mind that locals are Muslims. They’re very tolerant and won’t tell you anything bad, but you shouldn’t run around in bikini. If you go to the beach, cover yourself and undress at the beach. I’ve seen people (unfortunately also czech) who were waaay out of line in terms of clothes. Nobody told them anything, but the amount of skin and everything else visible was just okay maybe for the nudist beach. This also means that you won’t get alcohol anywhere on the islands.

How we did it and how much it cost?? 
We have already been on Sri Lanka, so we decided to buy flying ticket to Maldives there. Return costs around 100 euro, which is fairly okay price. We (czechs) don’t need visa, so no additional cost there. The fun thing is: you get to Male, but from there, it’s an hour to get to Maafushi. You can either play rich and pay for speed boat ($100 per ride) or you can take local ferry ($1 per person per ride). Ferry goes once per day, so it might mean quite an overlay in Male. Which is the funniest capital every – you can go around in 30 minutes.

We stayed for three nights and paid for two trips – one to sand bank, which we had literally to ourselves and one to the picnic island Maadhoo. Maadhoo had the downside of many tourists from resorts going there for picnic, but once you walk little bit away from the elderly couples, you’re okay. Sand bank cost $50 and picnic island, including the lunch around  $95. Taking into account all the souvenirs and dinners we had, the total cost of our tree day trip to Maldivas was approx. 300 euro. So if you happen to be around, it pays of to stop by, just for the experience…

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Maldives, August 2013

This gallery contains 7 photos.

Maldives are so close to Sri Lanka that it’d be a sin not to fly over there. After many and many years, I felt really relaxed and just enjoyed the days. Everything was there – the white sand, turquoise water, … Continue reading

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Mexico, June 2013

This gallery contains 12 photos.

I’d call my trip to Mexico as a ‘business trip’, since I went for collaboration at UNAM in Mexico city. Apart from that, I managed to sneak in two great trips, one to Teotihuacan and one to Nevado de Toluca, … Continue reading

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Sri Lanka July 2013

This gallery contains 15 photos.

Selection of images from my trip to Sri Lanka. Couple of them are HDRs. Since the trip was during the low season in Sri Lanka, the weather was not perfect. I wish we had more sunshine. I must admit the … Continue reading

Traveling around Sri Lanka

I’ve spent two amazing weeks on Sri Lanka, visiting as many places as possible and I just want to write little feedback on the places… for the future reference I guess. Overall impression was really cool. It’s the kind of place you have to like. It reminded me of India, but of the good things from India – like good food and ridiculous ways to get around. On the other hand, people are not so pushy as in India and usually it took only one ‘no thanks’ to the tuk-tuk driver to go away. The whole island provides an unique opportunity to jump from jungle to highlands and to dry tropics in the next moment. And I loved that diversity. We also tried very diverse attractions, so if you’re interested, read ahead…

Kandy
Kandy is essentially a gate to the region called in tourist guides as the Hill country. The city itself is quite big, easily reachable from pretty much everywhere by bus (one arrives on rather chaotic bus station) or train (from Colombo or from other towns in Hill country). The lake itself is nice and the Temple of Tooth is well… I wasn’t very excited about that, since in my opinion I saw much more beautiful buddhist temples (for free) and this was simply overpriced tourist attraction (1000Rs). Plus you don’t get to see the relic anyway. Much more interesting was Peradeniya botanical garden. Lots of flowers, trees and fruit bats. Walking through there is like walking through the calm oasis, totally cut out from the world outside. But one has to take the bus there from Kandy, it’d be rather long walk along the main road, which is with local drivers skills really risky.

Sigiriya
Also called Lion’s rock. The signature place of Sri Lanka, protected by UNESCO with entrance priced accordingly. $35!!! It’s worth going in the afternoon, since by the evening, you see all the amazing colors the Sun draws on the rock. If you’re aiming for the stunning ancient ruins, you might be disappointed. The murals are very impressive though. The rock ascent is not hard, but the vertigo can be annoying. The views are simply stunning. All in all I still think it’s little bit pricey for what you see, but a place not to miss.

Polonnaruwa
Here goes the place for impressive ruins. The old city is hidden in the forest, which makes it a nice walk, I kind of don’t understand why both Rough guide and Lonely Planet suggest renting a bike. With bike you’ll have hard time access some of the cool but more hidden places. And some of the nicest views. I was deeply impressed by Gal Vihara, statues of Buddha carved into the big rock. Especially the reclining Buddha has a very serene face… and all the texture of the rocks. Simply breathtaking. Also the dagobas were impressive, mostly in size. I really liked the snow white appearnce of Kiri Vihara. While the entrance to the ruins is also quite pricey ($30), it’s totally worth it. Also, don’t forget the ruins by the lake. They’re for free and very nice too.

Adam’s peak – Sri Pada 
One advice here – don’t go out of the season. While the weather in most parts of Sri Lanka might work even out of the season, this is not the place to be during the monsoon.  When it rains, it pours. That pretty much ruined our chance of night ascent. And unfortunately we didn’t have extra day for another try and the guest house (White house) was a nightmare to stay in (don’t go there unless you’re mold lover). I hiked one third up in the morning, but the humidity was killing me. So yeah, next time in the season.

Lake on the way from Dalhouse to Hatton

Horton Plains
National park, hence the entrance is annoyingly expensive. Including the tuk-tuk ride from Haputale, we paid 4500Rs for the whole trip, per person. Be sure to go very early in the morning, since the weather sucks in the afternoon. The main attraction is 9 km hike, mostly on flat surface with an easily visible trail. There you encounter Baker’s falls – quite nice waterfalls, and two major viewpoints – Poor Man’s World’s End and World’s End. One smaller and one bigger. Both of them are pretty impressive. Prepare for the chilly weather and mist. The guide book said it’s a cool place for bird watching, but honestly, we were glad that the mist was not much thicker 😉 In general, very nice place which I’d recommend.

Haputale – Lipton’s seat
Essentialy a viewpoint which is not that easy to reach. You can walk, but the asphalt road is just not ‘the’ hiking surface. One can also go by tuk-tuk, I have no idea about the price, since for us, it was included in the Horton Plains trip. The views are incredible. Tea is stretching everywhere and in the distance, one can see Udawalawe lake. There’s also a small tea shop on the top. The place itself is for free, which is nice.

Haputale – Dambatenne Tea Factory
Only tea factory opened for tourists. If you go too early in the morning, you won’t see anything, if you go to late, same story… The entrance fee is moderate, 250Rs and officially one can’t take pictures inside. Well, officially. It’s really cool to see how the cup of tea I drink every morning, is made. It takes surprisingly long time. But don’t buy local tea there, buy it anywhere else, here it’s ridiculously overpriced – around 1000Rs for the same stuff which costs 100Rs in Haputale.

Bambarakanda Falls
Well, we stopped here on the way from Haputale to Udawalawe. I don’t think it’s worth the trip solely on purpose of seeing this waterfall. I mean, it’s nice and tall. You can ‘swim’ there, in the tiny lake for a moment and you can take a picture of you standing under the waterfall. And that’s it. Also they apparently started to build some stairs there which might mean that at some point, there’s gonna be an entrance fee.

Udawalawe National Park safari
Prepare to spend a lot of money here. Jeep safari costs around 6000Rs per person (all taxes included) and you can’t go in without the jeep. For a good reason – there are wild animals running around. There are a lots of elephants, so those are sure thing when you go there. Also herds of water buffalos. But don’t rise your hopes for leopard. They’re in Yala. Here in Udawalawe, there are some, but it’s highly unlikely that you’ll see them. But there’s a lot of bird species and crocodiles, monitor lizards… And no matter what, hire a guide. They can point out animals you would miss in a blink of an eye. I think this safari was worth the price.

Rekawa 
Rekawa is ‘the place’ for turtle watching. Well, people are usually staying in Tangalla and then pay like 2000Rs per person to go to Rekawa to watch turtles lay eggs. The deal is, if you go to Rekawa on your own, the beach is public, so are the turtles… and it’s not very hard to find them, since they’re surrounded by tourists paying to get there with the agency. The problem is, for whatever reason, the agency wants to charge you, if you just walk around. Strange huh? And from what we saw, people in big group waiting for turtle and taking pictures. Well I’d say I pass.

Galle
The Fort is the major tourist attraction in Galle. Tourists concentrate there which means high prices of everything. Though the accommodation is doable on a budget. If you aim for souvenirs, just go outside the Fort and there is Lakana (or what’s the name) store, which essentially provides goods to the stores in Fort. They have bargain prices. If you’re into shopping, one of the builings in Fort harbors factory outlet. You can get Gap, Tommy Hilfiger etc. on ridiculous prices (10 euros per pants and remember, the outlet still makes money!!!). But the outfits for chicks are scarce, guys are more likely to be lucky there. The tags on the clothes are simply cut, co nobody can really resell it in a brand store. In Galle, we found an amazing restaurant called Crepeology. We paid 4000Rs for two people, including the desert, but the place was superb. I wouldn’t stay in Galle for more than a day, since it seemed little bit boring.

And that’s it. Anybody interested in the accommodation rating from me, check Trip Advisor. Also a good advice. While moving around he coast etc, buses are nice cheap alternatives for everything. But once you go to hill country, getting from one spot to another might take the whole day, so think about renting a tuk-tuk. We got one for 7000Rs (40 euro) for two days and if you think about that, it’s not a lot of money. And you got the freedom of stopping anywhere you want…

Hiking Nevado de Toluca

So when I was planning the trip to Mexico, I knew I had three free days by the end of my stay. I wanted to do some hiking, but Mexico suffers from one thing – everything is far away. There are two hiking options just outside Mexico city though – Itzaccihuatl, also offered on Tuesdays by some travel company and Nevado de Toluca. While Itza cannot be hiked all the way up, since it’s snow covered and you need equipment and preferably more than two days, Nevado de Toluca can be hiked in one day. But there’s a lot to take into account.

First of all, the weather changes drastically over the day. While morning is amazingly blue sky, in the afternoon, the clouds come and fill the caldera and it rains. So the earliest you leave from Mexico city, the better. Apparently what one can do is go by bus to Toluca and then take a taxi up there. I was the lucky person who didn’t have to do any of there, so I simply won’t comment on how doable/expensive it is. But bear in mind, from Toluca, it takes a lots of time, since the road up to the mountain is everything but in a good condition.

The entrance to the park, according to Lonely planet, is 20 pesos per vehicle, apparently they started to charge per person. Lonely planet also suggest there’s a camping ground in the national park, I suppose they mentioned the place close to the entrance to the park. From there, it’d take still quite a long time to hike up. Another option is sleeping directly at the spot by the end of the road. We took this option, sleeping in the car… it’s 100 pesos per night and be aware of the fact that you’re some 4.2 km above the sea level, in another words, it get’s chilly .. actually it get’s below freezing, so really good sleeping bag of heating in the car are in order. They have very basic bathrooms available there (no showers, only sink&toilet).

Hiking up in the morning is a good idea. You can either try to go around the whole caldera (takes a loooot of time, not because of distance, but because it’s essentially climbing on rocks once you reach the rim) or you can reach any of two peaks. If you take the path going to the right, when you face the lakes, you’ll get to slightly smaller Pico del Aquila (4,640 m), if you go around the Laguna de la Luna, to the left, you’ll go up Pico de Fraile (4,680 m). We took the right path, since we weren’t sure which way is doable and there was some group on the path on the right. It doesn’t take long to reach the top, but prepare for sliding sandy surface and rocks and non-negligible altitude. And it’s probably not good for people with strong vertigo.

The clouds started to come early in the afternoon, so we decided to go down the same path as we climbed up. It’s perfectly doable. So all in all, as one day trip, this would be a killer, with overnight, it was a very nice trip.

Nevado de Toluca