Local Rowers, Cozumel

Finding paradise in Cozumel

Cozumel has the kind of water almost every traveller seeks out when booking an island getaway. It sparkles a blue that we have come to believe only exists in glossy brochures and magazines, and is so clear you’ll be counting the fish for miles as they swim over to say hello – and they will. The beyond blue water teems with fish of every colour and size. It’s almost as if you’re swimming in a giant fish tank. After all, the former playground of nature-lover Jacques Cousteau is rated as one of the top diving destinations in the world for a reason. Needless to say, the underwater world is magnificent.

Swimming 2

 

As with all things that are seemingly too good to be true, Cozumel has a downside: its popularity. You will have to share the island with the many, many other travellers who are seeking out their own piece of paradise. Thankfully, it is easy enough to get away from the hordes of tourists who crowd the front streets of San Miguel, the main town on the island. Venturing just a few streets back from the water and into the quieter, more genuine Cozumel will do the trick. Here you will find sleepy storefronts every colour of the rainbow, locals offering a friendly ‘Hola’ as they pass by, and a burrito shop that whips up what could easily be a contender for the best burrito of your life.

 

Square on Cozumel    Street scene Cozumel 2

 

Street scene Cozumel 3     Rug shop

 

Pink house   Street scene Cozumel

 

Street scene 2       Street scene 6

 

Street scene 4    Street scene 7

 

Street scene

 

Tequilla

 

When wandering the streets of San Miguel loses its charm you can always forge your own tour of the island by taxi, hired jeep, or scooter. The island boasts endless stretches of beach, some busier than others, a small collection of Mayan Ruins, and a number of lighthouses. Admittedly, though, the majority of the 5 days I spent on the island were spent alternating between relaxing on a beach lounge and swimming in the stunning section of water I was lucky enough to have at my doorstep. Needless to say I had my fair share of peace and quiet.

Apt Cozumel 4

 

Swimming

 

Every morning and every evening a canoe full of locals would row past my apartment. Each night the rowers jumped over the side of the canoe into the water, one after the other, for a swim during sunset. What a way to begin and end each day!

 

Rowers

 

Local Rowers, Cozumel       Sunset swim 3

 

I was lucky enough to see some pretty amazing sunsets over the Caribbean right from my balcony. There is something magical about watching the sun set over water. Watching it, or better yet photographing it, provides a kind of solace to the end of the day.

 

Sunset 5

 

Sunset 4

 

While Cozumel can get a little too busy to be my version of paradise, the apparent beauty of the island is draw enough for travellers to visit time and again. After all, once you’re out of the tourist hot-spots finding your own little slice of Cozumel is easy enough. And spending your days swimming in crystal clear water and relaxing on the beach is a far cry from stressful. In fact, it can be downright relaxing.

 

Tulum Beach 5

Tulum, the Perfect Introduction to Mexico

Tulum is the unassuming, more authentic sibling to Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. Set on the Caribbean Sea in the Yucatan Peninsula, Tulum almost seems like an undiscovered paradise compared with some of the other stops along the coastline. In fact, it could be argued that Tulum’s focus leans more towards nature than the commercial hype associated with some of the other towns, which is evident everywhere from the ‘eco’ retreats that are peppered amongst the upmarket resorts that line the beach, to the ocean-wise seafood you can find in restaurants.

 

If I could describe Tulum in one word it would be rich, but not in the monetary sense of the word. It is rich in natural beauty, history, and culture. The natural beauty that surrounds the town is endless, the Mayan history is plentiful, and locals stress the importance of preserving their culture.

 

Set amidst jungle, the apartment we called home for 10 days in the estate of Aldea Zama was the perfect base for our time in Tulum – scorpions, tarantulas and all. We were perfectly positioned between town and the gorgeous beaches of Tulum. Armed with bicycles we were never far from either a dip in the Caribbean or a stroll through town.

 

There is plenty to keep you occupied in and around Tulum, or you can seek out your own little piece of paradise and just relax amongst it all.

 

Must see

Here are a few of my favourite ways to pass time in Tulum:

Cenotes:

Cenote 6

 

Visit a centote. There are A LOT around Tulum, some quieter than others. Two of the most popular, and arguably most beautiful, are Grand Cenote and Dos Ojos. Timing is everything when visiting a cenote. Visiting first thing in the morning will reward you with peace and quiet, and possibly a cenote all to yourself.

 

My favourite was Grand Cenote; before the mass onslaught of other tourists descended on us that is. The azure water of this centote is almost too beautiful to believe. Limestone stalagmites hang from the cave’s ceiling, acting as a racecourse for the tiny swallows that nest in the cave’s nooks and crannies.

 

Once I’d worked up the nerve to lower myself into the chilly water I was greeted by a mass of fresh-water fish and turtles. While the turtles were a little shyer, the fish accompanied me into the darkest depths of the cave. Cenotes are very popular with divers and you will likely encounter at least two descending into the blue depths during your visit. A mask and snorkel will do the trick, though, if you’re not a diver.

 

Cenote 5 Cenote 7 Cenote Turtle

 

Grand Cenote is a short distance from town so we decided to ride out there. While the ride was not at all difficult, the only access is via a main road, which can be a little unnerving when a large truck passes by. It is easy and cheap enough to get a taxi to Grand Cenote, or, rent a car for the day and you can visit some of the quieter, more remote cenotes.

 

 

Ruins:

Ruins 3

 

There are a number of ruins to choose from when visiting the region. My favourite, perhaps for the stunning Caribbean backdrop, was the Tulum Ruins. Surrounded by a protective 5 metre high, u-shaped wall, the ruins are arranged throughout a grassy field 12 metres above the Caribbean.

 

The ‘city’ is said to have been occupied by the Mayans from as early as 564 A.D., however, the city didn’t peak until around 1200 A.D. when it was inhabited by just over 1,000 people and used as the primary hub for much of the trading to the region.

 

Lizard at ruins

 

Ruins 1

 

Lizard at ruins 3   Ruins 6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Castillo is perhaps the most well-known structure here. The building is one of the most impressive at Tulum – towering above the others its height may have something to do with this – with a great deal of its structure still well-preserved. Perched on the sea cliff, the view from atop the Castillo of the Caribbean Sea would have been spectacular. Today, we can appreciate the view from the path that circles it, which is still pretty darn impressive.

 

 

Ruins 8

 

 

Ruins 4

 

A short stroll north of the Castillo is the Temple of the Wind. If the Castillo is the most well-known structure then the Temple of the Wind is the most photographed. The setting is postcard-perfect and irresistible to the lens from almost every angle. The building sits atop a rocky outcrop looking straight down over one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen. There is no access to the beach for public use, which only makes it even more beautiful.

 

Ruins Beach 4

 

The beach directly in front of the Castillo is accessible to the public, and visitors certainly make use of it. It’s no wonder, though, considering the sauna-like temperatures in Mexico during the summer months. While the beach is stunning I would recommend visiting early if you want to take a dip to avoid the mass numbers that relentlessly litter the water from 11am onwards.

 

Ruins Beach 1  Ruins Beach 3

 

As the most popular Mayan ruin on the Yucatan peninsula, the Tulum Ruins receive thousands of visitors every day. I recommend arriving as early as possible to avoid the tour buses that start coming in from around 11am.

 

 

Beaches:

Tulum Beach 5

 

The beaches of Mexico are known for being beautiful, one was even voted as part of the Top 25 Beaches in the World last year on Tripadvisor – more on that beach later. Once I set my eyes on the brilliant blues of the Caribbean Sea, and my feet nestled in the powder-white sand, I began to understand why. Tulum and its surrounds have some of the most beautiful beaches in the Mexico, and best of all there are still pockets of sand along the main beach you call your own.

 

If the stunning Tulum beach isn’t enough for you, you can always drive the short distance north to Akumal. Not only is the beach here beautiful, the turtles that patrol the bottom of the ocean feeding on seagrass are some of the most laidback I have encountered. Spending the morning floating in the ocean watching these beautiful animals feed is not a bad way to pass the time.

Hidden Beach

 

Tulum Beach 1   Tulum Beach 4

 

 

 

Must eat

Tulum Beach Bar

 

These were two of my favourite places to eat while in Tulum. The food was always the perfect combination of fresh, tasty, and reasonably priced.

 

Mateo’s:

Mateo's 8

 

Mateo’s has the best fish tacos around – so they claim. Not one to shy away from a good fish taco I was up for the challenge of judging whether this claim is fact or fiction. I must say, the fish tacos here are pretty darn good. The atmosphere at this laid back restaurant/bar is fun and unassuming, despite their claim to fame. If the fish tacos don’t sell you then maybe the rooftop bar with a view that goes on forever in all directions will entice you. This is the perfect spot to watch the sun go down.

Mateo's 7

 

Mateo's 12   Mateo's 1    Mateo's 6

 

 

 

 

Mateo's 10   Mateo's 13

 

Mateo's 5     Mateo's 2

 

Mateo's 14

 

 

 

El Gourmet:

El Gourmet 7

 

 

If you tire of eating Mexican food breakfast, lunch, and dinner the delectable paninis at El Gourmet will fill the void. Owned and operated by a friendly family from Argentina, the clever concoctions – think prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, with homemade pickles, lettuce and tomato, and a sprinkle of oregano – they have on offer make for some delicious sandwiches. A traditional Argentinean desert tops off the meal perfectly – the strawberry shortcake type thingies were my absolute favourite.

 

El Gourmet 1   El Gourmet 2

 

El Gourmet 3   El Gourmet 4

 

Tulum seemingly has everything you could want from a visit to Mexico. It sure has me convinced. Admittedly this was our first stop in Mexico so I may be a little bias towards it considering my affinity to the ocean and my lack thereof for the past 15 months. Nevertheless, what a stunning introduction to Mexico it was.

 

There will be more from my time in Mexico up on the blog soon. In the meantime, you can find me on Instagram at @sv_images.

 

Sarah V

 

Sunrise Sunburst, Twizel, New Zealand

Photographing into the Light

One of the most important aspects of photography is knowing how to use your light source. Most often it is thought that having the sun over your shoulder to light a subject is the most appealing lighting option. This is not the case. Photographing into the light works well too. In fact, backlighting a subject – having the light source behind the subject instead of in front of it – can often produce a more dramatic photograph.

 

In an article for Apogee Photo Magazine I discuss a variety of ways in which photographing into the light can be beneficial and give a brief run-down on how to achieve them in your own photography.

 

You can read my article on Apogee Photo Magazine here Photographing INTO the Light.

 

More soon. In the meantime, you can find me on Instagram at @sv_images.

 

Sarah V

Surf Festival, Noosa

Guest Post on the Golden Ratio

 

The Golden Ratio is a popular topic in photography at the moment. I have written a guest post for fellow photographer Leanne Cole’s website today where I discuss the importance of composition in photography and how the Golden Ratio can help to create a photograph with impact.

 

A massive thank you to Leanne for allowing me to discuss the Golden Ratio on her blog. The article can be viewed at The Golden Ratio at Leanne Cole Photography.

 

Surf Festival, Noosa

 

More soon. In the meantime you can find me on Instagram at @sv_images.

 

Sarah V

An impressive sunset after a rainy day in Homer, Alaska.

Alaska Part III – Homer

Alaska Part III – Homer

 

Once we had been on dry land for longer than a few hours it was evident the revered solitude of Alaska is everything I have read about and more. Considering I was in the US state that is well known around the world as ‘The Last Frontier’, this shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. After disembarking from the ship at Seward we made our way along the stunning Sterling Highway towards Homer, our base for the week.

 

Rainy Mountains

 

With a population of just over 5,000, the town of Homer on the picturesque Kenai Peninsula is a far cry from the ‘big-city’ hustle and bustle we had just left behind. Set on the glistening shores of Kachemak Bay, amidst snow capped mountains, Homer has just about everything any outdoor enthusiast could want. From kayaking amidst sea lions and otters, to hiking on glaciers, or taking a light plane over to nearby Kodiak island for a glimpse of some of the world’s largest bears, there is no shortage of natural attractions.

 

The town of Homer itself is a quaint and relaxed place with friendly locals who are more than willing to stop and have a chat. Considered the halibut fishing capital of the world, it’s no surprise there is a huge fishing culture here. The Homer Spit, where the harbour is located, juts out 4.5 miles into Ketchemak Bay. The array of shops that line the Spit can seem a bit overpowering but the harbour itself was interesting enough. The very end of the Spit looks out over the bay towards the mountain range, complete with glaciers, from a rocky shore that is a favourite for fishing among the locals. The view from here is spectacular and the odd otter can be seen from the shoreline.

 

Harbour Fishing Boats                               Harbour Fisherman Eagle End of The Spit

 

Homer offers up some fantastic food options, and considering its relative remoteness and size this was a pleasant surprise. One of our favourite food options was the famed Two Sisters Bakery. A clear favourite with the locals this funky little place serves up some fantastic baked goods, soups, and sandwiches. The rich, ridiculously decadent cinnamon bun, which is slathered in caramel sauce and topped with pecans, was a staple for every visit. It never lasted long enough for me to snap a picture though…. Needless to say they are delicious.

 

Two Sisters Bakery Back Porch                                Two Sisters Bakery Front Porch

 

Two Sisters Bakery Cook                               Two Sisters Bakery Cooking area

 

Two Sisters Bakery Baked Goods                                Two Sisters Bakery Baked Goods 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The view from the cabin we rented on a hill just outside of town was ridiculous. No matter how many hours I spent gazing out the window at the mountains the view never got old. Sunrise and sunset were obviously a highlight, no matter how little time there was between the two… (In fact, I’m not sure it ever got completely dark while we were there?). Being able to capture the mountains during those precious minutes just after the sun goes down or before the sun comes up right from my balcony was an added bonus. If that wasn’t enough, travelling 5 minutes up the road presented an even better view, if you can believe it…

 

View from the Cabin

 

 

Glacier                               Sunrise

 

The sunset I ventured up the road to capture was perhaps one of the best I have ever seen. As the sun dipped below the horizon behind me the mountains were lit with various shades of bright orange, then pink, then purple. I loved the way the sunset created a line of light that cut the mountain range in half, lighting up only the very top of the peaks. The moody rainclouds added a bit of drama while also helping to create dramatic colours across the mountains, which is always nice.

 

Sunset view

 

 

Sunset rain clouds

 

Alaska is by far one of the most beautiful places we have been fortunate enough to visit in our travels. Hopefully we will get the chance to return one day, perhaps during winter next time to see if I can capture the Aurora Borealis.

 

Sarah V

 

Fjord Glacier Bay 2

From Canada to Alaska via the Inside Passage

Alaska – Part II

 

After jumping a boat bound for Alaska we bid farewell to our home of Vancouver for the last time – or perhaps, considering our track record, it was only goodbye for now… Why fly when we can sail up the coast of BC and Alaska, stopping at picturesque towns and glacier-filled bays along the way?

 

Oosterdam

 

Vancouver Skyline                        Bridge and Ship trail

 

Lions Gate Bridge-2                             Horseshoe Bay

 

Mendenhall Glacier and Falls

 

Ketchikan Kayakers

 

Ketchikan Wharf         Ketchikan

 

Skagway Town 2          Skagway Town

 

Skagway Harbour

 

Juneau with the impressive Mendenhall Glacier as a side trip is one of the best land stops of the journey with Skagway a close second. Glacier Bay, however, stole the show.

 

Cruising 2                     Cruising 3

 

Cruising

 

With no roads into the park you can only visit by sea or air. This is possibly one of the major reasons why when floating down the fjords amidst mountains and glaciers it feels like one of the last places on earth you can visit that has had minimal human impact.

 

Fjord Glacier Bay 2

 

Fjord Glacier Bay 3              Fjord Glacier Bay

 

Fjord Glacier Bay 4

 

A ranger for Glacier Bay National Park boarded the ship while we were in the bay, providing information about the glaciers and wildlife that populate the area. We learned that the bay is home to (impressively) more than 3,000 otters, that around 30 species of land mammals of the 40 known to inhabit Southeast Alaska have been documented in the park, and the plant life is in a constant state of recolonisation due to the glaciers’ retreating.

 

 

Margerie Glacier

 

Margerie Glacier 2

 

 

Margerie Glacier 3                             Margerie Glacier onlookers

 

Margerie Glacier is an impressive wall of ice that competes with the 11 deck ship to be the tallest in the bay, and winning. The glacier puts on an impressive display with sheets of ice sliding down the face of the glacier every few minutes. Thunderous cracks fill the bay as the whole ship waits in anticipation of the next iceberg to be born. Once you hear the tell-tale crack of the ice it is a frantic search for where the ice will fall. Sometimes, you get lucky and spot the ice falling just in time to capture it.

Iceberg break 1Iceberg break 2 Iceberg break 3Iceberg break 4 Iceberg break 5

 

Disembarking at the picturesque town of Seward was a suitable ending to one of the most scenic boat trips I’ve been on.

 

I will have more on our time in Alaska on the blog over the next week or so. In the meantime, you can find me on Instagram at @sv_images.

Fog on the sea wall, Vancouver, Canada_Spiral overlay

The Golden Ratio in Photography

There are many, many ways to compose a compelling photograph. The Golden Ratio, however, is one of my favourite tools when I compose a photograph.

In my article How to Use the Golden Ratio to Improve your Photography for Apogee Photo Magazine I discuss the Golden Ratio as an element of design in photography and explain how it can be used when composing a photograph.

I also provide a series of examples where I have used the Golden Ratio and explain why I often favour it when composing an image over the more commonly used composition tool the Rule of Thirds.

If you’ve never used the Golden Ratio for your photography I highly recommend giving it a go. The perfect division of space that the ratio is so well known for amongst photographers, artists, and designers around the world can assist in creating impact in your photography.

You can read my article on Apogee Photo Magazine here How to Use the Golden Ratio to Improve your Photography.

Sarah V

 

 

Fairy floss sunrise

Land of the Midnight Sun

Alaska Part I – A sneak peak

 

With a mere 5 hours of what can only be called semi-darkness, the sun seems to be in a perpetual state of wakefulness here in Alaska, much like myself. When sunrise is only a few hours after the official sunset, any landscape photographer would be forgiven for wondering whether or not it is worth even going to bed. In order to save my sanity and get the requisite 8 hours of sleep that I, without a doubt, require, I have decided to stagger my sunrise / sunset shoots.

 

Fairy floss sunrise

 

 

This image was taken from my balcony early this morning – 4.30 am early…  As always, the colours in the sky make the early start to the day more than worth it. The scenery up here sure is something else. Even though we have lived amid mountains for a while now, I never tire of the beauty they bring to a landscape, especially since I know I will be swapping mountains for beach in the very near future.

 

I will be sharing more from our time in Alaska over the next few days. In the meantime, you can find me on Instagram at @sv_images.

 

Sarah V

Tacofino 4

Going Tacofino in Vancouver

Vancouver is food truck central. Stroll the streets of downtown during the lunchtime rush hour and you will see people congregating in troves, just so they can get their hands on some of the delectable food offered by these unassuming ‘meals on wheels’.

 

Tacofico is something of a legend among food-truck-loving lunch goers downtown. Listed as one of Canada’s best food trucks by Canadian Living, among others, Tacofino is known for their fresh ingredients and delicious tacos.  Since I’m not one to shy away from delicious food that I am actually allowed to eat with my hands, I headed down to the unassuming cube parked at Burrard and Dunsmuir to see what all the fuss is about.

 

Tacofino 1

 

The truck is almost hidden from view behind the masses of people lined up down the street patiently waiting for a taste of Mexico in Vancouver. With an image of the Virgin de Guadeloupe holding a taco to keep my company while I wait, I consult the fold-out chalkboard menu that sits on the sidewalk. It’s ten minutes before I reach the pop up window to place my order – I decided on Fish Tacos – form the friendly and efficient team inside truck.

 

Tacofino 3                                          Tacofino 2

 

Tacofino 5                  Tacofino 11

 

Not usually one for battered, fried fish, this was a small risk for me, but it paid off. The fish was light and crispy and I loved the fact that these small cubes of fried-heaven filled the entire taco from front to back. The fish is topped with a good amount of salsa and some thinly sliced crispy cabbage along with a chipotle mayo. Delicious. Even the taco tortilla itself was delicious.

 

Tacofino 8

 

With a motto promoting fresh food fast, Tacofino certainly delivers. Although the line was rather long the food came out fast, and it was certainly fresh. This is some of the best Mexican food in the city, if not all of BC, and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for lunch on the streets of Vancouver.

Sarah V

A colourful capture of Science World in Vancouver, Canada

The Colours of Science World

Spring is definitely in full swing here in Vancouver. This means the three things I love most about living in Vancouver have finally arrived: Greenery lines the city streets again as the trees get fatter with foliage, the days are getting warmer and I’ve (finally) been able to venture out of the house with bare legs, and the days are getting longer. This means long walks in the sun after work, and more importantly, a lot more sunlight to play with! Or, in the case of today’s photo, a lot longer to wait until that magic hour after the sun sets.

This shot was taken on a stroll to False Creek one night after dinner. After the sun had finally gone down the lights that decorate the Science Centre created a new atmosphere. I loved the vibrant colours and the way they shimmered in the water’s rippled reflection. At first I was a little disappointed that the wind was creating a less than perfect reflection. I decided to do a few test shots anyway to see how it looked and I found I quite liked the unusual characteristic it brought to the frame. What I love most about this is that for me it represents exactly what photography should be. A unique perspective on the world in the form of art – or to say it with a bit more fluff () – an individual creating something that is beautiful to them and then sharing it with others.

Either way, I hope you like my individual perspective of Vancouver’s Science World.

A colourful capture of Science World in Vancouver, Canada

A colourful capture of Science World in Vancouver, Canada


Sarah V