INDIA

Right up until the day we left for India, there was a lot of debate around going. With all of the negative press (and shocking tourist attack right after we left), we had our reservations. We spoke about cancelling many times. Was it dangerous? Was our time there too long? Would the driving from city to city be too much? I would say that of all of the places that we have travelled, this trip was the one that was most debated. We almost cancelled several times and last minute I completely changed the itinerary – shortening it by a few days.

As our guide said “India is not for the first time traveller. Most of the people who come here have been to many places before they venture to our country”.

Well said and good advice because it is not for the unadventurous or first time traveler. While I am sure there are bus tours which put you in a cocoon, India is what I would describe as “full on”. We spent 9 days there and after the trip we left enlightened, amazed and exhausted.

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To be clear, we were also cautious and had a few uncomfortable moments. I happened across this post and could not help but shudder at how this woman is tempting fate (I hope her parents read it and talk some sense into her). Would you walk down a dark alley in Toronto in the middle of the night alone as a woman? Of course not. Same goes for India. We recognized that we stood out in the crowd and with the help of our amazing guide, were smart about it.

It also turned out to be the perfect opportunity to shoot my new lens. The 28-300mm proved it’s value by being able to shoot while in the van or while walking, with huge range.

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And lets just say, we spent a lot of time in the van as we moved from city to city. India’s lack of infrastructure coupled with a huge population does not make for speedy movement.

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Our trip took us from Delhi to Agra to Jaipur and then back to Delhi over 9 days – the Golden Triangle. Over those days we would see many things; beautiful monuments, spectacular architecture, wealth, shocking poverty, back streets, main streets, road side markets and everything in between.

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Trip of a lifetime.

HO CHI MINH SEAFOOD: SAIGON STREET EATS

If you are in Ho Chi Minh, highly suggest calling up Saigon Street Eats and taking a tour. We took a night tour down the crowded side streets (sorry, didn’t do the scooter tour). Amazing to sit and eat fresh seafood in the midst of the chaos. (Config: Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon 28-70mm – should have brought my 50mm!)

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The seafood was amazing. Crab, mussels, shrimp. Awesome.

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Also enjoyed that it was a rather chaotic eating experience. Plates, piled on plates.

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Wasn’t a big fan of the frog.

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The conch on the other hand … amazing.

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A five star outing and a must do if in the city – in fact, I would say the highlight of the city.

THE MEKONG DELTA MARKETS

A few more shots from around the Mekong Delta, Vietnam (Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm).

We spent time wandering around an island market … where the fresh fruit is abundant.

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Even the durian (smile). Seriously, every traveler must try it at least once.

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A flower along the river.

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This woman was making taffy. Coconut taffy. It was amazing when eaten fresh.

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To get back to our boat, we took a taxi through a back canal.

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Vietnam is a beautiful country.

A MEKONG DELTA FISH FARM

I knew very little about the Mekong Delta prior to traveling there. My knowledge was limited to things I had seen on Vietnam war movies and a belief that the delta was full of life.

The last hypothesis was correct. The river brings life to those around it.

The Mekong Delta (Vietnamese: Đồng bằng Sông Cửu Long "Nine Dragon river delta") is the region in southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea through a network of distributaries. The Mekong delta region encompasses a large portion of southwestern Vietnam of 39,000 square kilometres (15,000 sq mi).[1] The size of the area covered by water depends on the season.

The Mekong Delta has recently been dubbed as a "biological treasure trove". Over 10,000 new species have been discovered in previously unexplored areas of Mekong Delta, including a species of rat thought to be extinct.[2]

Our journey would be a boat ride along the river with a range of stops. The boats had a similar look at feel to those in Cambodia.

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I am sure the population in this area dwarfs that of Tonle Sap Lake. As one would expect, the river was full of people coming and going, making a living.

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There were a lot of boats.

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One of our more interesting stops was a fish farm. Just like in Cambodia, I cannot fathom living my entire life on the water. A few shot from around the farm.

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Another water dog. I wonder if he looks at the shore wishing he could go for a run?

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The farm itself.

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There were thousands and thousands of fish.

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A very different life.

CAO DAI TEMPLE, VIETNAM

On our second day in Ho Chi Minh city we took a tour to the Mekong Delta. One of our first stops was a Cao Dai temple. To date, it is the most colorful temple or church that I have ever been in.

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I knew nothing about this religion, so I took the time to read the writings on their walls. From Wikipedia:

According to the Cao Đài’s teaching of creation, before God existed, there was the Tao, the nameless, formless, unchanging, eternal source referenced in the Tao Te Ching. Then a Big Bang occurred, out of which God was born (emanationism). The universe could not yet be formed and to do so, God created yin and yang. He took control of yang and shed a part of himself, creating the Mother Buddha to preside over yin. In the presence of yin and yang, the universe was materialized. The Mother Buddha is, literally, the mother of the myriad of things in the Universe. Caodaiists worship not only God the father, but also the Mother Buddha. Note that God’s importance and role is higher than that of the Mother Buddha. Also, the Mother Buddha, like all buddhas, is a part of Yang, and therefore is male. Yin is the female side, and the Mother Buddha oversees Yin, but is not a part of Yin. God is symbolized by the Divine Eye, specifically the left eye because Yang is the left side and God is the master of Yang. There are 36 levels of Heaven and 72 planets harboring intelligent life, with number one being the closest to heaven and 72 nearest to Hell. Earth is number 68. It is said that even the lowest citizen on planet 67 would not trade place with a king on 68 and so forth.[1]

Around the central alter are all of the figures of the major religions – a few that I spot; Jesus, Buddha and Confucius.

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As I looked at the eye, the only thing I could think was “Masons”.

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The grounds around the temple are also interesting and filled with the staff. They were drying tea.

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An old funeral hearse.

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I am not sure why these coffins were here, but they were sitting a few meters from the hearse.

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Very interesting stop as you head to the Mekong Delta.

PHNOM KULEN, A LONG DRIVE

While in Siem Reap we decided to head to the mountain region of Phnom Kulen – a drive that we thought would take 90 minutes turned into 3 hours each way.

Pot holed roads, a lack of infrastructure coupled with a heavy rain the night before meant 20km/hr top speed. A long drive. As we clawed our way up the mountain we came across this small stand filled with bananas. I have never seen a red banana before? (Config: Canon 5D Mark III with 28-70mm f/2.8)

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A small bicycle shop.

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As you wind your way up the mountain (asking yourself, will it ever end?), you occasionally peak out on the countryside.

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The reason why you travel to the top of this mountain is for the waterfall and these runes. Thousands, carved into the river bank as a tribute to their gods and royalty.

The site is known for its carvings representing fertility and its waters which hold special significance to Hindus. Just 5 cm under the water’s surface over 1000 small carvings are etched into the sandstone riverbed. The waters are regarded as holy, given that Jayavarman II chose to bathe in the river, and had the river diverted so that the stone bed could be carved. Carvings include a stone representation of the Hindu god Vishnu lying on his serpent Ananta, with his wife Lakshmi at his feet.[6] A lotus flower protrudes from his navel bearing the god Brahma.

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Harder to see due to the higher water level.

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Just past the runes is a temple with a large reclining Buddha. As you would expect there is a market selling worshipers (and tourists) flowers and other items. It also appears to be the central market for the village.

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There was nothing to explain why the Buddha at Preah Ang Thom is reclining. Carved out of rock and painted gold, it is massive.

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At the temples I understand the incense, but I need to research the symbolism of the lotus flower petals in the water.

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Last shot from the mountain .. the waterfall.

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Which is a rather treacherous climb to get to.

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Another interesting stop.

AFTERNOON JAZZ IN SAN FRANCISCO

I arrived early on a Sunday a few months back and went for a walk. Ended up in a little café where I had a sandwich and listened to some Jazz. I think I would enjoy living in San Francisco.

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Out the window, a game of Jenga was being played.

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Jenga and a few beers.

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A few HDRs of the café .. could not resist (Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm)

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It wasn’t the best sandwich, but the ambiance made up for it.

THE MARKETS OF HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM

Now that I have gotten my political commentary out of the system, on to the city itself. As I mentioned in the previous post – Ho Chi Minh city is mad with scooters. Millions of people scooting around, honking, ducking, weaving and generally jamming up as a group.

Our first stop in Ho Chi Minh was the markets, our opportunity to see the hustle and bustle of the city.

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In this long hall were long butcher tables. We had missed the morning rush where the butchers line up to carve and hand out cuts to the morning shoppers.

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I turned and was face to face with a lot of dried fish.

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One day I would love to live in one of these countries. To walk a market and be able to get the freshest of fresh, to experience the different vegetables and eat local would be amazing. We walked the market tasting with our guide explaining what we were eating.

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The colors are so vibrant and the textures so different. The benefit of straight from the field (or jungle)

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This fruit (cannot remember the name) wins my exotic fruit of the day award. Looks like a grape, sweet with a furry outside. 

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All through the markets were vendors sitting on the walk, selling their wares. We were careful to not linger in front of customers who were actually buying.

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The spices of the market. You can buy a lot of spices for very little money.

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The markets were very busy.

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The markets were also filled with fish. Lots of fish.

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And lots of squid.

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And always remember, when walking take the time to look up.

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If in the city, it is great to wander the markets.

BAYON TEMPLE, CAMBODIA

One last temple in Cambodia to finish out the “big 3” of Siem Reap – Bayon, or the temple with 4 faces.

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The Bayon’s most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and massive stone faces on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak.[2] The temple is known also for two impressive sets ofbas-reliefs, which present an unusual combination of mythological, historical, and mundane scenes. The current main conservatory body, the Japanese Government Team for the Safeguarding of Angkor (the JSA) has described the temple as "the most striking expression of the baroque style" of Khmer architecture, as contrasted with the classical style ofAngkor Wat.[3]

A few shots from around the temple. The faces of Buddha faced each direction on every tower.

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As with the other temples the walls were adorned with depictions of battles, gods and life.2013 11 24 Bayon Temple_-26

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An offering at the end of the hall.

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So ends out time in Siem Reap. In retrospect I think the guide had it right, if you hit the 3 temples (Angkor, Bayon and Tah Prohm) you get a diverse view of the Cambodian culture.

Great experience.

AMATUER’S REVIEW: CANON 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM

I spent months trying to decide if I was going to buy this lens.

When I first learned about the lens it struck me as perfect for travel; 28mm for that wide shot to 300mm for the close-up. Not having to switch between my 28-70mm and my 70-200mm was very appealing.

image

The problem is that the reviews of the Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM left me confused. I read every other review I could get my eyes on; you can read a few of my favorite reviews  here, here, here and here by professionals who are much more qualified than myself.

In the end, it seemed to come down to 2 things:

Pro:  Versatile lengths

Con:  Super heavy.

I emailed one expert and he said “versatile lens but you don’t need it, too heavy, try the Tamron”. The problem with the Tamron? I have been disappointed with non-Canon lens before (50mm).

After months of thinking about it .. I decided to make the purchase. I picked it up prior to our trip to India and after a few weeks of heavy use, I present this amateur’s review (Spoiler alert: best lens I have ever bought):

Cons:

  • Weight: The reviews are right – this is a heavy lens. I cannot fathom carrying it around with the traditional neck strap that comes with my camera (it is .6lbs heavier than the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8). I have been thinking that I need to get a new strap anyway so I overcame this issue with the BlackRapid Sport.  I spent 10 days traveling around with the lens and did not feel the weight. Plus, I wish I would have bought this strap a LONG time ago.
  • Dust:  The push pull lens will result in dust inside the lens over time. My view? Spend a couple hundred getting it professionally cleaned 2 or 3 years from now. Not an issue for me.
  • Chromatic Aberration:  There is definitely aberration around the edges so I have added that lens correction to the workflow in Lightroom (along with sharpen 100). Works great as the lens profile is available in Lightroom.
  • People noticing the lens:  Yes, it is the white lens and I found myself draping my hand over it as I walked to make it less noticeable. At least the change in strap has eliminated broadcasting the camera body type.
  • Expensive: Yes. My Leica friend just laughed at me when I mentioned that.
    Now the only real big con in my opinion – the button placement. It is on the left side of the lens and with a push pull zoom, your hand is moving a lot and my thumb/palm was constantly hitting the buttons. More than a few times I accidentally flipped off the image stabilization or slipped into manual focus. I bought the lensband to see if that can fix the problem.

Pros:

I love this lens.

I will never travel without this lens in the future and probably leave all of the other lenses behind; selling off my Canon 28-70mm f/2.8 USM. The quality is superb.

All of the aforementioned cons are massively outweighed by the convenience. I will keep the 28-70mm for around the house, but other than that – it will be this lens.

A convenience example: Below is a wide 28mm shot …. (note the black specks above the arch at the Taj Mahal entrance – those are parrots)

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My next shot was a zoom in to snap the parrots in flight. Amazing.

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In the end, best lens purchase I have ever made and worth every penny.

Just make sure you change your strap (The under-the-arm 2nd strap for the BlackRapid Sport makes all the difference). I also stopped carrying my camera backpack. Instead I ended up putting a filter, extra battery, a few cards and a lens wipe in a small Tumi bag with my wallet.

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Without my backpack, this is actually lighter.

SARAY COLLECTIVE, CAMBODIA

Our destination was a women’s collective that dries water hyacinths and weaves them into mats and other products. You can read more about the Saray collective here and how their efforts are employing 30 local women.

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We had lunch at their local restaurant and spent time with the women, learning to weave. They are very fast.

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What I did not know is that the water hyacinth is highly invasive and quite a problem … once I learned that I started to look around and notice, it was everywhere.

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After lunch and the weaving we headed out on canoes to visit around the village. Our first stop was where they process the fish. It was amazing to see – they all worked in a cadence, the pounding of knives as they cut the fish.

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The fish on the way for processing.

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As we pulled into the next stop this little fellow was happy. As soon as he saw the nurses waiting to give him his vaccine (an ambush), his demeanor changed considerably. It took a few of the women to get him to the nurses.

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After a few more stops around the village we jumped back in the boat and headed home, with one last visit. Our boat captain stopped off at a home (family, friends or a business partner) to pick up a few 5 gallon drums of processed fish. We were greeted by the family dog (what is it like to be a dog who lives in a floating house?)

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They processed the fish so fast. 3 knife strokes per fish.

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Fish loaded, we pulled away – the day complete.

A very different, insightful and educational experience. If you are in Siem Reap, highly recommended. Thanks for dropping by.

FLOATING VILLAGES OF TONLE SAP LAKE, CAMBODIA

As mentioned in the previous post, the boat picked up speed and we headed to the next village. One of the first boats we saw as we entered the main village was this floating restaurant, looking for customers.

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The lake will rise and fall 9-10M in a year and the people will float from location to location, following the water. It is a bit unfathomable to live your entire life .. floating.

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Moored into the trees or to each other, the homes at mid/high-tide. At low tide, those trees will be 20m high.

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The village delivery system … gas, fruit, you name it.

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Everyone drives a boat. No matter how old.

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Some boats with motors.

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Many boats with only a paddle.

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Of course, there is a phone store.

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A completely different way of life. Thanks for dropping by.

THE TRIP TO A FLOATING VILLAGE, CAMBODIA

Our second day in Siem Reap involved a tour with Osmose eco-tours to a floating village. I love doing eco-tours, and this one is about seeing how the lake feeds an ecosystem of plants, animals and people.

The trip began on a boat like this.

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Our captain.

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The village where we launched was filled with motorbikes, loaded with fish from the mornings catch.

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Bagged for transportation. The fish were so small – not sure how they skin them or are they eaten whole?

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The boat had a very loud engine .. that made big waves.

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As we took the 90 minute ride to the village, we saw many other boaters traveling the lake-ways.

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Off in the distance, a fisherman setting his nets (the pictures are darker as I had the wrong filter with me – it was that bright out)

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And a few eco-companions on the way.

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We stopped near a large tree where the guide explained that the tree was 15-17m high with almost 10m of the tree currently under water. The water levels on the lake go up and down by 10m during the seasons. In the tree, we noticed a brightly colored snake having a sleep .. red means poisonous.

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He never did peak his head out.

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Traveling along the water the boat slowed as we entered the first of many floating villages.

Amazing to think that these homes move around with the water level .. and that they all have cell phone reception.

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The village’s floating school.

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Beside a few floating homes.

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With the fishermen/women working on the day’s catch.

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The boat picked up speed as we headed to the next village.

CLIMBING THE STEPS OF ANGKOR WAT

The center of Angkor Wat houses the holiest of places, up a steep set of stairs.

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We were fortunate, the line was not that bad (quite short actually). From the top you have a spectacular view of the countryside.

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Throughout the day our guide pointed out the restoration work that was being done. What is remarkable is that very little of this work is being paid for locally, international donors (India, Japan, France to name a few) are very active in helping the Cambodian people restore and maintain their history.

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The detail on the buildings is remarkable. One can only guess at the quantity of workers and time it took.

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A spectacular site that lived up to the reputation.

THE OVERGROWN TEMPLE, TA PROHM

Many of Cambodia’s temples are overgrown, they say there are an unknown number hidden away – engulfed by nature. Ta Prohm is marked as one of the 3 temples you need to see because of the way that nature sprouts from the temple – that tree must have been 30 meters high (or higher) – a new roof for an ancient temple.

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The trees have taken root everywhere over hundreds of years.

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Made famous by the movie Tomb Raider (have not seen it), Ta Prohm is in the middle of restoration, in this case thanks to India.

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This picture shows an example of the before (the jumble of rocks) and the after (on the right above the scaffold). Like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

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A few more shots of a very beautiful and exotic temple.2013 11 24 Ta Prohm_-45

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A beautiful place. Of the 3 must see temples in Siem Reap, this was our favorite (yes, more than Angkor Wat). There is something mystical about the jungle intertwined through the temple.

TRANSPORTATION IN CAMBODIA

Cambodia, China and other Asian nations – each with their unique way of getting around dependent on factors such as tourism, distance and cost. A few from Cambodia. Config Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm f/2.8 and Canon 70-200mm f/2.8.

Waiting for a tourist (outside Angkor Wat)

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Down the road.

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The family business. Yes, those are durian.

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And still quite common, the cart and oxen.

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One thing that remains consistent .. petrol distribution is a little different in these countries.

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And a few black and whites.

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Love the kid making faces. One thing is for sure, the Cambodian people are super nice (and happy).

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Scooters were everywhere.

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And of course, human powered.

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GETTING AROUND CHINA

From country to country the vehicle choice changes. In Vietnam it was the scooter. In China it is the 3 wheeler. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, 50mm f/1.2.

Here is a pic of the average family’s vehicle (note the his foot placement – there must be an engine in there somewhere). It was amazing to see just how much they could pile on one of these vehicles.

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The upscale family’s vehicle.

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The compact.

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Kicking it old style, human powered.

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Industrial. This guy was smiling awkwardly because he cut everyone off. (NOTE – no helmets!)

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A very different world.

NICE BOOTS, TSUKIJI MARKET

How the business man conducts business at Tsukiji market.

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How the tourist conducts themselves at the market, wandering in the crowds. A couple black and whites (Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm f/2.8)

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Welcome to the “Relax lounge”. Feel free to smoke away – because you are not allowed to smoke anywhere in public (nowhere – when the Japanese get it right, they really get it right!)

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A couple handheld HDRs. That is a great color for tuna.

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Japan is known for their knives .. amazing.

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Head anyone?

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I have yet to try it, but I hear it is quite the delicacy.

REVISITING SENSO-JI

With a friend from Canada, on a very busy weekend. Config: Canon 5D Mark III with my Canon 28-70mm f/2.8.

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Many were saying their prayers.

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A few HDRs.

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Many were selling their wares. If you ever see this chocolate coated banana – don’t stop. Opinion based on experience … more pleasing to the eye than the palate (by about 50 miles)

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I still find the swastikas as a temple symbol disconcerting.

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But the temples are spectacular.

HONG KONG II

A few more shots of the side streets of Hong Kong. A delicacy from one of the street markets.

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Flowers are everywhere and inexpensive. That is $17 Canadian ….2013 04 10 Hong Kong _-14

This sign made me laugh. Was it a rough Grand Opening or a sign that is long overdue to come down?

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The fishmonger.

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An important feature at this boarding house.

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Need to get there for a “tourist” weekend.

HONG KONG

I was asked what HK is like the other day. I am far from an expert on the city as my travel there involves the usual; airport > hotel > office > meetings > hotel > airport. I did, however, take my camera and wander around one lunch time that I had free.

My opinion, Hong Kong is a city of poles. Multi-billion dollar, ultra modern buildings with extremely old buildings and farmers markets squeezed in-between. It is interesting to see.

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Fascinating side streets.

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Magazine stands are quite popular.

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Durian anyone? I can always smell it in a market.

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A Hong Kong scaffolding truck. They will build a 50 story building with bamboo scaffolding.

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Interesting place.

GARRETT POPCORN, TOKYO

I do not know Garret Popcorn. I do not know if it is good, I do not know if it is bad.

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All I do know is that the store in Shibuya must be the highest sales per square foot in their chain. It is ALWAYS lined up around the block. I tried to capture the size of the line, but is hard.

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Do you see the end to the line? Hard.

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Crazy. I will be unable to form an opinion on Garrett popcorn as the chances of me standing in a line for 2 hours for popcorn are somewhere between 0 and none.

A side note, the advanced encoded security with digits that moved around on the pad for this bathroom gave me a chuckle.

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It wasn’t even that fancy of a bathroom (smile).

A JAPANESE WEDDING, TOKYO

We were with a friend at Meiji Shrine on the weekend and there were a few things going on – weddings and children coming of age celebrations.

I enjoyed watching the posing of this wedding party, the photographer and his staff must have adjusted an arm here – a leg there, for 10 minutes.

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The bride is wearing the head covering that is traditionally worn to cover her “horns”.

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Perhaps this bride is happy because she does not have anything to hide (smile).

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Everywhere you looked were children in colorful traditional dress, to celebrate their coming of age. Of course, parents were being parents, primping and preening – that is the same in every culture.

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The path to the shrine was lined with ornate flower arrangements. No idea what they were for, but I have not seen daisies arranged like Japanese trees before. Very pretty.

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As always, lots to see at Meiji shrine.

MITAKE GORGE, JAPAN

The fall is arriving in Japan, the trees are turning. A good day for a wander around the town that sits at the base of Mt. Mitake, Tama-Gawa.

A few mixed shot of the hike. Config Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm f/2.8.

The view of the “rapids”. You can take a whitewater ride down the river, although they didn’t seem all that “rapid”. Config: Canon 5D Mark III with 28-70mm f/2.8.

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The region is also known for kayaking. There were a lot of groups along the banks of the river.

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Gnomes along the trail.

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Local farmers (or what I would call gardeners) were selling their wares along the trail.

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Beautiful time of year.

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AFTER THE STORM

There have been a number of typhoons hitting Tokyo this year. Last week was our 2nd of note, involving closed schools and public transportation.

After the storm, the sky cleared. A few shots. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, 28-70mm f/2.8. The moon was very bright.

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As the sun set, the sky went pink.

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A DOLLS LAST RITES, TOKYO

Last weekend Timeout Tokyo highlighted the ‘Thank-you dolls’ event at Meiji Shrine, a ritual where people bring in their dolls and monks bless them – driving out the spirits so that they are cleansed.

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A respectful way to eliminate the dolls from a family’s home.

Kobayashi explained that festivals such as this are rooted in ancient purification rites performed as the seasons change, and that long ago the dolls were votive symbols in human form. In fact, she pointed out, the word for “doll” (ningyo) actually means “human form” when it is written in kanjicharacters.

But in addition to respect for them being rooted in ritual and symbolism, Kobayashi said the dolls also “fulfill an educational purpose — teaching us to be nice to them because they are vulnerable.”

It is worth reading the whole story here.

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We arrived at the shrine to see row upon row of dolls being set up by white gloved, mask wearing volunteers in the whitest of clothes.

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A monk standing watch at one end.

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Covering half the square, a close look revealed some very interesting dolls. Config: Canon 5D Mark III with 70-200mm f/2.8.

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There were a lot of samurai dolls.

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More than a few sets of empty armor. Does empty armor have a spirit?

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And a lot of geishas.

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And last but not least, what looks like a North American set of dolls (there were lots). For some reason, these reminded me of a TV show from my childhood. I have no idea which one, but they look like they came from a 70’s puppet based show. No idea …

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Another interesting day in Tokyo.

AROUND MEIJI, TOKYO

Last weekend we headed to Meiji shrine for the ‘Thanks Dolls’ event. That area of Tokyo is a hub of activity. The shrine was very busy. Config: Canon 5D Mark III with my 28-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8.

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And in the short time that we were there, we saw two different bridal parties.

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You don’t see people walking around the area smoking. They all go to designated outdoor areas like this one. There we 50 people crowded into one area, beside the main walkway. I believe it is illegal to smoke in non-designated outdoor areas. Awesome. Great way to control smoking litter (discarded cigarette ends).

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A dragon fly, as close as I could get with the 70-200mm from atop the bridge.

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Sometimes I marvel at the sheer volume of the crowds in Tokyo and … some of the fashion in those crowds (smile)

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A busy Sunday afternoon!

THE TOKYO ART AQUARIUM, JAPAN

A uniquely Tokyo experience. Lights, aquariums and of course, a bar. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 50mm f/1.2. Too bad I didn’t realize that I had forgotten that I had manually set the ISO to 100 the previous day … I was wondering why I struggled for the first 20 minutes?

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Always filled with interesting things.

WATERMARKS ACROSS BLOG PHOTOS

I have decided that I will not “like” or comment on any photograph that is posted with an obnoxious watermark. Why do people plaster a word right across their photos? I had one photographer respond that it is easy to crop our a watermark in the corner. I get that, but in today’s digital mad world and with 500px out there, I could find 1,000 amazing photos to download if I wanted. If I like your photo and want it on my wall, I will buy it and have it professionally mounted.

I don’t know why, but I find it irksome if it is right across the photo (but then again, that is the photographers prerogative).

Perhaps I am missing something or simply not a good enough photographer to worry about others taking my photos. I definitely do not make a living out of it!

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JAPANESE HQ, PELELIU

My last Peleliu post.

One of the most interesting buildings on Peleliu is the old Japanese HQ. Bombed, shelled and generally beaten into pieces, the jungle has come back with a vengeance to grow through the .5m-1m thick concrete floors that are doing everything they can to stay together.  Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm f/2.8.

These first shots give you a sense of the place. It is a big building.

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The jungle is taking it over, slowly but surely.

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1,000 paper cranes near a very large artillery or bomb hole.

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These doors go to a room that I could not get to (stairs were removed).

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I wonder what this building means to Capt. Lusczynski?

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It never ceases to amaze me how plants can find a crack and grow.

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Off to the side was a metal structure that served as a mess hall for the Japanese, a mechanics shed for the Americans.

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A fascinating view into World War II.

1,000 MAN CAVE, PELELIU

I would say the most disturbing site on Peleliu is this cave – which you could call an execution cave. Inside the series of tunnels a thousand Japanese soldiers camped, refusing to come out. As the story goes, whenever the Americans tried to get a surrender the Japanese would respond by throwing out grenades or firing shots.

The Americans were forced to block up the exits, leaving only two open. In one exit they fired explosives and flame throwers, attempting to push the remaining soldiers out the last exit. The fact that they would not give up despite certain defeat remains unfathomable.

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Old sake bottles were everywhere along the floor of the caves.

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Everywhere you stepped there were remnants of the days long past; rubber insoles, small parts of weapons, bowls and the remains of an IV stand at the medical station.

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The blast marks on the entrance of the cave from the flame throwers.

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A lonely shrine.

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Musty, filled with large spiders and very dark. A rather disturbing place.

MEMORIAL TO LEADERSHIP FAILURE

This memorial is located at the cave where Colonel Kunio Nakagawa, leader of the Japanese troops on Peleliu Island, committed suicide during World War II. He led his men to certain death. 12,000 Japanese troops fought a battle with no hope of winning, dying instead of surrendering honorably.

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To me it was a memorial to the differences in cultures, because I do not understand his leadership or see suicide as honorable. Under his leadership they mutilated Americans that they captured in direct contradiction to the Geneva Convention and justified all actions, regardless of how inhumane they were, as acceptable due to divine right.

The memorial seemed an affront to peace, sensibility, and to the terrible fate of those poor, common Japanese soldiers who were given no options but death.

LOOKING DOWN THE BARREL OF A 200MM GUN, PELELIU

Or specifically, the barrel of a Japanese 200mm cannon on Peleliu. The World War II cannon was dug into the rocks and virtually unreachable with sniper holes guarding the entrance. The problem? As it was so deeply dug into the rocks it had a very limited field of view and effectiveness.

The Americans snuck up the side to take it out.

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The artillery and mortar caves of the Japanese were well thought out. Many had steel doors on them, which would close during US naval or artillery bombardment – popping open the moment the shelling stopped. This was a big gun.

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It was very well dug in. Too well in fact.

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The sniper holes are under the moss.

AROUND PELELIU

A few random shots from our travels around the island.

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This bridge was bombed by the Americans during WWII. The remnants reminded me of a Tori gate. I am sure there is some form of irony there.

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An old concrete machine gun bunker.

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The old Japanese communications building. You are not allowed in, as the back collapsed during a hurricane in 2012.

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The memorial to the US 81st Infantry. It was a cemetery but years ago Congress went around the world and brought their war dead back to the US.

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The old runway that was so precious to McArthur. If you watch The Pacific (HBO) they show how this area was an open field with all vegetation bombed and burned to the ground. Nature has reclaimed the airfield.

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A plaque on a memorial from the Japanese people.

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I would agree and let us all hope and pray for those around the world who are suffering through war today.

PELELIU’s TANKS

Scattered around the island are remnants of the fierce World War II battle. The US LTV(A)-1, LTV(A)-4s, rusting under the hot Pacific sun. A few of my favorite shots (Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm f/2.8)

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Believe it or not, some of the wheels on the tanks still turn.

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The spot where the enemy shells went in.

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It was surprising how much smaller the Japanese tanks were. This Type 95 Ha-Go Light Tank was half the height of the American tanks. I do not know how a full grown man would fit into it – must have been tight. It was sitting on the old airfield.

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Nature is slowly trying to reclaim the vehicles.

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Spot the faded star.

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The Japanese tanks had little effect on the battle and were destroyed almost immediately during a poorly executed counter attack:

The 5th Marines made the most progress on the first day, due to their distance from the heavy gun emplacements guarding the left and right flanks. They pushed toward the airfield, but were met with Nakagawa’s first counterattack. His armored tank company raced across the airfield to push the Marines back, but was soon engaged by tanks, howitzers, naval guns and dive bombers. Nakagawa’s tanks and escorting infantrymen were quickly destroyed.

They had very small guns.

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Fascinating to see.

PALAU ABANDONED JAPANESE WAR MONUMENT

We had rented a car and were driving the roads of Palau in search of a waterfall. Along the side of the road we noticed a concrete pyramid rising out of the jungle. What was that?

We backtracked and found the entrance with a set of tire tracks through the grass, no “official” road in sight and everything overgrown. What was it?

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As we moved closer, we started to notice the writing on the walls – definitely Japanese. But so overgrown … so un-Japanese.

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On the left were names of companies. All of the companies you would easily recognize; JAL, Toshiba, Panasonic and others.

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On the right are the names of people. I assume people who have donated.

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One of the first names is very interesting … Ryoichi Sasakawa who has a very interesting and mixed history.

Ryoichi Sasakawa (笹川 良一 Sasakawa Ryōichi?, May 4, 1899 – July 18, 1995) was a Japanese businessman, politician and fascist[1][2][3] born in Minoh,Osaka. He was imprisoned as a Class A war criminal after World War II but later released without a trial,[4][5][6] kuromaku (political power-broker), and the founder of the Nippon Foundation. While he is widely known throughout Africa and much of the developing world for the wide-ranging philanthropic programs that he established, he is at the same time viewed with hostility by many intellectuals[7][8] for his right wing ideals and ties to Japan’s motorboat racing industry and support for the Unification Movement

I found his quote “I am the world’s richest fascist” particularly interesting when he is also recognized for leading significant charity efforts in poverty stricken nations and a peace organization that bears his name.

The black marble triangle with the dirt darkened inscription and long dead wreaths reads (roughly translated)

As a memory of fighting in this war we built this to take care of the spirits of the soldiers.

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To Japan …

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A place to sit and contemplate.

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You can find the monument at Longitude 7 27 51.71, Latitude 134 31 40.878 (embedded in the metadata). How quickly nature creeps back …

PELELIU, BLOODY NOSE RIDGE

Our first stop on our exploration of the island of Peleliu was bloody nose ridge. Along the road was a small sign about a few Japanese men who held out well after the war.

On 21 April 1947, a small band of Japanese holdouts was discovered on Peleliu. They formally surrendered only after considerable effort to convince them the war was over. Lieutenant Yamaguchi, who had maintained military discipline in the group for the intervening years, led 26 soldiers to a position in front of 80 battle-dressed Marines where he turned over his sword.

You can read more about the account here. (Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm f/2.8)

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Their cave is 50m that way.

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The fighting in Peleliu was inhuman. It was not a strategic battle with cleaver maneuvers and tightly managed strategies. With 22,000 combatants surrounded by hundreds of ships and planes on a 2 mile by 6 mile island, it was a meat grinder – a battle of brute force. While the US Army wanted to execute a conservative strategy to beat the Japanese after extensive bombing/artillery, inching their sandbags forward; the controversial leader of the US Marines Colonel Chesty Puller had one strategy, drive ahead at all costs. That cost was divisions going in with 280 men and walking out with 70 left days later. Many say that Marine Corps. casualties did not need to be so high.

It was fought hand to hand and due to the Japanese Imperial Army’s mentality of too the death for the Emperor, it lead to some of the highest casualty rates in American history and almost no Japanese prisoners. I read With The Old Breed before flying over, and while I found the writing of the book rather simplistic, he describes the rawness of Peleliu very clearly:

to those who entered the meat grinder itself, the war was a nether world of horror [in which] time had no meaning; life had no meaning. The fierce struggle for survival in the abyss of Peleliu eroded the veneer of civilization and made savages of us all. We existed in an environment totally incomprehensible to men behind the lines — service troops and civilians.

In addition to rotting corpses and organic waste, the litter of smashed and worn out equipment of every type became more abundant as the battle dragged on and the size of the Umurbrogol Pocket shrank slowly. The ridges and ravines were littered with the flotsam of fierce combat. Debris of battle was everywhere and became more noticeable as the weeks dragged on.

That debris is everywhere. In fact, it is still quite dangerous in the jungle as they are still clearing it out.

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Along the trail, you see remnants of the war scattered everywhere (including the occasional human bone).

Old mortar rounds were everywhere.

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As were caves. The Japanese adopted a new strategy at Peleliu after their many previous failures and learning that the banzai charge was not a successful strategy. They adopted a defense in depth strategy with extensive tunnels. This meant that they would hide until the American shelling let up and then pop up and surprise the US troops. This approach created the most vicious of battles, with the Americans having to root the soldiers out one by one using some of the most terrible of weapons (such as the flame thrower). According to one source, the US military expended 1,500 rounds of ammunition for every Japanese death (All but 280 of the 12,000 Japanese soldiers were killed).

A cave filled with anti-aircraft cartridges.

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A plaque and memorial to Elmer Lowe, Sgt USMC who died on this ridge. Over 2,000 marines were killed or wounded in this tight battle with the Japanese (8,500 Americans were killed or wounded in Peleliu – a battle that was supposed to be over in 3 days).

Another quote from The Old Breed that seem particularly apt at a place like this:

War is such self-defeating, organized madness the way it destroys a nations best. I wondered also about the hopes and aspirations of a dead

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The infamous water barrels of the Peleliu battle. Soldiers had been assigned to steam clean 55 gallon oil drums, which the military would repurpose for drinking water. The problem is that the job was not well done or inspected. The fresh water that arrived for the troops was full of rust and oil. In the 120F heat, many tried to drink it anyway and became violently ill.

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Shells and guns lay strewn along the walk.

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From The Old Breed:

None of us would ever be the same after what we had endured. To some degree that is true, of course, of all human experience. But something in me died at Peleliu. Perhaps it was a childish innocence that accepted as faith the claim that man is basically good. Possibly I lost faith that politicians in high places who do not have to endure wars savagery will ever stop blundering and sending others to endure it.

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PELELIU, A TRIP TO A HORRIFIC PAST (Part 1)

One of the targets for the Palau trip was a tour of Peleliu. I have read a lot of World War II history, more documentaries than I can count and throughout my life have been fascinated with WWII. I also enjoy touring the more remote historical locations, where the antiseptic aura of the well kept museum is not present.

Peleliu is one of those place. We booked a boat tour with Sam’s Tours and headed out early in the morning. I was hopeful, the weather looked good.

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It was an hour ride with a single rough spot where rain threatened, but as we approached the island, the sky was clear. As we scooted along I noticed a large object on the reef. I didn’t have time to swap to my 70-200mm and we did not have time to swing out there, so here is the poor shot of a Japanese concrete “ship” resting on the reef. The Japanese built it with the hopes of drawing American ships close to the reef. To me it seems like one of those ideas where a bunch of officers are sitting around brainstorming .. one of those “no idea is too stupid” type of sessions. Only in this case, they obviously missed the joke.

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Our engines started to sputter, and the captain stopped to have a look which gave me a calm moment to take this shot. Two observations from our guide:

The reason why the Japanese picked Peleliu is because it is the only flat island in the area.

If you look carefully you can see a few floating bottles … floating from Indonesia was the explanation (with a trace of animosity clearly present)

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A closer shot. The Americans thought the island looked flat too (they were wrong).

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As we approached the dock, we passed fisherman wading near the reef.

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This is a small island with roughly 500 locals. The kind of place where everyone knows everyone.

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We disembarked, ready to learn the island’s dark history.