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Photo challenge brought to you by Frizztext

Jungle, Jamaica

Same jungle, same place, different view

Jaws

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I’ve been having a hard time finding images for this challenge, but here are some distortions, both natural and otherwise.

new york

Cityscape, New York

Rocky Mountains

Rocky Mountains

Night beach

Night beach, Jamaica

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It’s not Sunday yet (thanks God, because I am falling behind on my writing projects, and can use any minute of spare time I can get.) But I will gladly participate in this weekly photo challenge from Jakesprinters. This week’s theme is Landscape.

I took these shots during our trip to Huatulco, Mexico. It’s been one of the most picturesque locations I visited, almost like a photographer’s paradise.

Huatulco, Mexico

Huatulco, Mexico

Huatulco, Mexico

Huatulco, Mexico

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Thanks to Colline, I’ve discovered another daily inspiration!

Each week Jakesprinters suggests a theme for creative inspiration. You can post your response to the theme on your blog anytime before the following Sunday when the next theme is announced. Your response can be either a photo, a video, music or a piece of writing. Remember to post your link in the comments section of the weekly challenge.

This week’s prompt is: Colourful

I absolutely love this theme, especially because I’ve got some colourful shots in my photo archive. 🙂

Colourful photo inspiration: Ukraine

Colourful Ukraine: Europe Day Celebration, Image by reflectionsinapuddle

I took these photos less than a year ago, on a nice summer day in Kiev (capital of Ukraine), during the Europe Day celebrations. Each European country was represented by a group of kids dressed up in that country’s traditional costumes; the kids danced and sang. It was quite a production! (I wish I knew which costumes were which country…)

Colourful daiy inspiration

Image by reflectionsinapuddle

Colourful Ukraine: Europe Day Celebration

Image by reflectionsinapuddle

Image by reflectionsinapuddle

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Going down the pyramid in Coba, Mexico

Going down the Nohoch Mul Pyramid in Coba, Mexico

We took this photo two years back in Coba, Mexico: people are making their way down on Nohoch Mul, one of the largest ancient pyramids in Coba rising 137 feet (42 meters), and if you can’t tell from the picture, going down is quite a feat. Here is a second pic to provide some perspective.

Looking down pyramid in Coba

Looking down the Nohoch Mul Pyramid in Coba, Mexico

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I read this great post Window to Paradise – Las Ventanas al Paraíso in Los Cabos, Mexico On Indulge Travel blog, and it inspired me to write about my own tropical vacation in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. We stayed at Gran Bahia Principe from Jan 6 to Jan 14. The resort was a game changer of sorts for us, but not in a way Las Ventanas al Paraíso had been for the author of the Window to Paradise post.

The first day of our arrival was a write off. We arrived around 9 am; the hotel’s check-in was at 3 pm, and our room wasn’t ready. We were asked to wait from 9 am to 2:30 pm. It wouldn’t have been a big deal, if we were not so bagged after a sleepless night and seven hours on a plane. But what can you do about it? Rules are rules! So we tried to be a good sport about it, grabbed a bite to eat at the buffet and went to the main attraction — the beach. After a 10-minute walk in the heat we finally caught a glimpse of the ocean.

To my dismay, the beach was jam-packed. Truth be told, that wasn’t what I expected. Last year we went to Akumal, Mexio, and their beautiful beach, which was a step away from the hotel, wasn’t busy at all. I sat on the beach chair that my husband managed to find after a few minutes of intense search, and was about to cry. This was like the shittiest place on earth. I hated it. I didn’t want to be here. I wanted to go home. So, we did what seemed the only right thing to do under the circumstances: we headed back for the hotel lobby and asked if we could be let in our room sooner. Surprisingly, our wish was granted within the next half an hour, and as soon as we got the room key, we rushed to our room and slept through the rest of the afternoon, despite the pandemonium coming from the swimming pool through the balcony. Having traveled across the Caribbean, I couldn’t help but notice that Dominican resorts are second to none when it comes to pool entertainment.

The following day, after we had plenty of rest, things began to look up, and, gradually, the resort grew on me: The food was great, our room was wonderful, the grounds were well-maintained and beautifully landscaped. Most importantly, we figured out how to get a good spot on the beach. You see, until this time, we always stayed at smaller resorts, the biggest one being about 2500 capacity. Gran Bahia, my husband told me, could accommodate up to 6500 people, and it looked like it was running at full capacity. So, to get a decent spot under the sun in this crowded place, you needed to get up early, preferably before 7 am, head for the beach and stake your claim by putting your towels on beach chairs, and you could even get a palapa, if you were lucky. A couple of times we were remiss in claim staking and had to settle for less desirable spots. But by now I was back to my normal self, and such a minor inconvenience couldn’t put a burr under my saddle.

All the while during our stay we enjoyed a beautiful hot weather, +28 – +30C; it rained only a couple of times in early morning, and the rain was short-lived. We spent most of the daytime in the water or walking on the beach. This side of the island gets rougher and choppier water; on some days waves were pretty big, and after getting caught in a couple of big waves that pulled me in, then pushed me to the bottom and made me hold on for dear life, I got more circumspect and limited my play area to the shallows.

Nice as it was at the resort, by mid-week we got somewhat restless and hungry for new impressions. So, we rented a car and drove through the country. Now it would be a good time to mention that between my husband and me our Spanish vocabulary boasts a whopping two dozens words. So, with this  “considerable” language baggage, we ventured into the country, where very few people speak English. Even staff at the resort spoke very little English, so we couldn’t expect much by way of communication anywhere else. Hence, the night before, we searched the Internet for information like maps, directions and advice on driving.

Driving in DR is very different from driving in Canada, in that there are no obvious rules. Or maybe there are rules, but they are being ignored by the majority of drivers. That we learned a few years back when we stayed at a resort in Juan Dolio, close to the capital, Santo Domingo, and had an opportunity to learn about the local driving habits firsthand. What stands out most is their dexterous use of the car horn. As we learned after our day trip, there is even a semblance of language in the incessant honking that you can hear all day long on the streets of larger cities in DR, like La Romana and Santo Domingo.

We also found that road signs were almost non-existent along some stretches of the road, and those in evidence were a bit confusing. It took us a few wrong turns before we got on the right track from Punta Cana to Higuey. Given signs were scarce, we picked up a hitch-hiker, a local man, who was heading for Vernon, if we understood him correctly, for work. Our conversation with the man, whose name I can’t recall due to the linguistic overload, was a mixture of interjections, a few words that we knew, and sign language. Nevertheless, we got what we hoped for – directions. In turn, he got a lift to his work (which was a roadside bar) with two crazy white people who were brave enough to give him a ride. (If you read Trip Advisor, you can’t possibly miss comments that crime is on the rise in DR, and it’s unsafe outside resorts.) When our passenger got out of the car by his “work,” he raised both hands and repeated several times “¡Adiós!” I wondered if his raised hands meant “Look, I didn’t take anything from your back seat.” Or maybe, it simply meant he was thankful for the ride.

We continued our drive through the busy streets of Higuey with a beautiful basilica, then through even busier La Romana, and finally got to the end point of our trip — Cueva de las Maravillas (the Cave of Miracles) , between La Romana and San Pedro De Marcos. Expecting crowds of tourists, I was pleasantly surprised at how clean, serene and quiet this place was. We paid $20 for admission ($10 each) and waited for about half hour to be shown around the cave.

Before going into the cave, our guide, Brunie, explained the rules, emphasizing that absolutely no picture-taking was allowed inside. The cave tour was truly spectacular, and all the while I regretted we couldn’t take any photos. I found some photos of the cave online after we got back to the hotel — someone obviously managed to bypass the rules. After the tour, we were taken to the “iguana garden” and watched these big lizards go about their daily business. If you happen to be in the vicinity, you should visit the Cueva de las Maravillas – enhanced by an intricate network of motion-activated lighting, the stalactites and stalagmites inside the cave are a sight out of this world.

We got back to the resort as we intended – before dark. My husband is an adventurous and experienced driver, but even he wouldn’t push his luck driving on pothole-ridden roads in the dark. During our day trip I watched the streets of the cities and little villages. The stark contrast in the quality of living between the city and countryside is quite shocking. In certain parts, squalor was simply unimaginable. We saw a lot of stray dogs on the streets; one had a front paw so deformed, it looked like a club. I love dogs, and the sight of these poor emaciated animals breaks my heart. But by the same token, I can’t help but wonder how many children in DR go to bed hungry or can’t go school because they live in abject poverty or simply because their parents don’t care.

Admittedly, I haven’t seen much, but what I’ve seen was enough. I was happy to return to the resort that for a moment looked like paradise indeed. All in all, our stay at Bahia was worth the money spent: we had a lot of fun, no one got sick or burned. We didn’t see a lot of fish in the ocean, but that was okay too. If we had stayed longer, I would certainly take a snorkeling tour to Saona or Catalina, or both. Would I go back to Gran Bahia Principe in Punta Cana? Not likely. It’s way too big for my taste, but I wouldn’t mind trying smaller resorts in the area, because nothing can beat the hot sun, turquoise ocean, and amazing white sand beaches.

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My real summer vacation was so long ago, I hardly remember it. It must have been when my son was still in school and we planned our vacation around his. There is no need for that any more, because my son has grown up and goes on vacation with his friends, not his parents, and whenever he pleases or his work permits. My husband and I, practically empty-nesters, have discovered new joys (and new burdens) having become doggy parents. Our ‘kids’, Meeshka and Maya, black and white Sheltie-American Eskimo mix came from a local pet store two and a half years back and have ruled most of our important decisions ever since.

Meeshka & Maya, 3 months old

If you ever owned a dog, you would be right to assume that with the arrival of two furry bundles of exuberant energy and affection, decisions concerning our holidays have been affected the most. Every discussion about our vacation plans inevitably circles back to one question – what are we going to do with the ‘kids’? Taking them with us on trips that involve air travel is not something I would seriously consider because of the logistics and the amount of stress to us and the dogs. So if we decide to go to the Caribbean or Europe, we need someone to look after the pups. Putting Meeshka and Maya in a kennel or somebody else’s house is out of the question: they are delicate creatures, we can’t traumatize them by a week-long stay in an unfamiliar environment. That leaves us with my son and my husband’s brother for dog-sitters. Neither is a particularly good choice for the task — in my eyes, that is, and for reasons trivial enough not to be mentioned here. Together, however, they make a satisfactory team. The need to plan around both their schedules adds to the complexities of going on a holiday without our dogs and forces us to look for other solutions that bring them back into the picture.

Tolman Bridge Campground

Fortunately, both my husband and I are avid outdoor enthusiasts, and simple joys of tenting, hiking, fishing, boating and sitting by the campfire under a starry night sky give us a much-needed respite from hectic city life. And the best part – dogs can come camping too! So this summer we didn’t take what I would call a ‘vacation’, but spent a few weekends in Alberta’s badlands, a place called Tolman Bridge 60 km north of Drumheller and 23 km east of Trochu. This little gem of a park is nestled in the Red Deer River valley among spectacular hoodoos, grasslands, ridges and gullies. Every time we drive to Tolman Bridge, an abrupt change in terrain takes me by surprise: imagine driving for a while across vast expanses of green and yellow crop fields punctuated with ranches and grain towers; grazing cows, horses and sheep scattered throughout the flat cultivated landscape – when—in an instant – the scenery transforms into a surreal exhibit of oddly shaped hills as if carved in the earth by an eccentric and fanciful sculptor. With its fantastic views and breathtaking sunsets, this land can be a perfect playground and source of inspiration for a landscape artist or a photographer. I don’t fancy myself a particularly skillful artist and my photography skills leave much to be desired, but I always bring my digital camera along on these trips, because the scenery can make even a lousy photographer like me look good.

The Tolman Bridge campground is fairly large with individual campsites conveniently separated by thick brush, providing plenty of room for Meeshka and Maya to run around offleash, without disturbing our neighbours. The fun can’t be spoiled even by dry toilets and absence of running water. The nearby Red Deer River looks a bit muddy for swimming, but on it I noticed quite a few rafters and boaters. I really like this place. For all its beauty it never seems too busy even on summer long weekends and it only takes a couple of hours to get here from Calgary. In the past, before we became doggy ‘mama’ and ‘papa’, we used to go camping in BC a lot, but a trip to BC can take more than four hours one way and with all the stops for the dogs it may well be six or seven hours. Our newly discovered Alberta get-away, however, requires little preparation and is much easier to do on a whim.

Red Deer River

Recently, when my co-worker told me about her two-week cycling tour in Italy, I felt a twinge of envy – a two-week European vacation would be next to impossible for us to arrange, unless my husband and I each went separately. For a brief moment, I was stunned by the realization how much our lifestyle had changed with doggy parenthood. Maybe it’s time for me to wake up and smell the coffee – our freedom to choose where and when to go on vacation has gone to the dogs. But on a second thought, it may not be such a bad thing. In fact, Meeshka and Maya have filled our lives with a new appreciation for life’s little treasures. Thanks to them, we keep discovering wonderful new places close to home, like Tolman Bridge.

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