Sunday, March 29, 2009

North Pole

Click on photo to view it in different sizes on my Flickr account

What if the world is nothing more than an big orange?
I hope you dig deep enough to taste its sweetness then.
You couldn't be very sure about the geography of your world because it would be easy to roll the orange around making the north pole turning into south and vice versa. All the navigation rules you developed in your previous life would become worthless.
Probably it wouldn't be that bad to be forced to re-adjust your life-geography from time to time, would it?
Well I guess everything stays the same unless one of us starts rolling the orange.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Clouds Rest / Haleakala Crater, Maui, Hawaii

Standing above the clouds watching the colors of a new day and the stars at the same time.
Click on photo for an enlarged version.

It was the night after Election Day. If you want you can read about some of my impressions from the Election Day in one of my former postings [here].

I was getting up at 3AM, sneaking out of the dorm room of my hostel and driving to the rim of the Haleakala Crater. Someone told me that the extinct volcano area is supposed to be perfect theatre for a sunrise show. The small road was winding up in endless switchbacks and I was listening to classical music and the latest election results on the radio.
It felt a bit sad to do such a thing without anyone to share it with but I wanted to do it anyway.

Looking down into the plain. You can see some bush fires in the centre of the image.
The exposure time of the photo was 30 seconds.
Click on photo for an enlarged version.

It was pitch black on top of the crater. My torch was somewhere in Brazil and I wasn't able to see where to walk to from the parking lot. I was thinking about the stupidity of walking in complete darkness towards the rim of a huge volcano crater.
Oddly enough I wasn't the only one up there waiting for the sun. I liked standing amongst freezing folks that got up in the middle of the night just to watch the sun.

Because of the high altitude (10.000 feet / 3055m) and the clean air some of the most famous observatories are up here. This one looked like a landed star ship. Exposure time 30 seconds.
Click on photo for an enlarged version.

Simply the stars were worth getting up early. I never saw so many stars. Star constellations like Orion suddenly didn't consist of only a dozen of stars but of 500 of them. It was far more impressive that I could imagine.

After half an hour one could spot a slight idea of light in the east.
Someone said 'The crater is full of clouds'. You couldn't see them yet because it was still dark but another long exposure shot with my camera unveiled the clouds. The crater was big big big and a big herd of gigantic sleeping white sheep where sleeping in it. Probably the clouds come here every night to sleep. The term 'Clouds Rest' crossed my mind. I was speechless.

The color and structure of the clouds and the sky changed every few minutes.
Click on photo for an enlarged version.

It was freezing cold on the top of the mountain. Luckily a fellow traveller from my hostel told me to wear every single piece of clothing I own - so I did. I even brought my towel as a blanket.

Two Korean girls standing the cold. They don't look unhappy though, do they?
Click on photo for an enlarged version.

The whole thing was like the LSD version of a sunrise you see in an airplane from time to time - a slow motion flight with the biggest panorama window you can imagine.

This was the reward. And this photo is just a weak version of the reality of that morning.
Click on photo for an enlarged version.

On of the best things was that it was one of the situations when you think you might feel lost and alone and it turns out that you are not.
I was sitting on a small wall beside a girl from France named Emilie. It wasn't necessary to talk much. We helped each other taking photos and just watched the day awake.

The Korean girls shot this one of Emilie and me.
Click on photo for an enlarged version.

All of a sudden I realized that the morning had finally came to life. It was only 8AM and perfect for starting a long hike down the crater. I asked a Park Ranger for some proposals and he recommended a hike called 'Sliding Sands' and the name was program. It was very exhausting to walk on the steep sandy slopes in this thin air.

The whole scene looked like Mars with small volcano cones everywhere. The clouds below me constantly sneaked back and forth into the crater.

Cold lava flows in the crater, the clouds still below me and the Pacific Ocean in the background.
Click on photo for an enlarged version.

Because it was early in the morning I saw almost no one at all. It felt like I am the only human being in the crater. It was very quiet and I could really feel my mind slowing down and rest.

During my lunch break it was so peaceful and quit that I even fell asleep for an hour just by watching the clouds.

Some smaller volcanic cones inside the big Haleakala Crater.
Click on photo for an enlarged version.

On my way up I saw Emilie again. She was also hiking down. We talked a few minutes more and then continued on our own. I didn't see her again and probably I never will but I know that she was as impressed by that sunrise as I was. We still have Skype contact from time to time.

While driving back down I had to cross the clouds. The blue sky turned into grey rain clouds down in the plain.

Crossing the clouds again while driving down into the plain.
Click on photo for an enlarged version.

One of the lessons I learned that day is that there's always more than you see.
You don't know what I mean?
Well, before that day I thought that Orion consists of a dozen stars. After climbing on that mountain I know that it consists of hundreds - at least.
One more example?
In the beginning the scene was a black hole for me. After a long exposure shot I realized that I was surrounded by a herd of sleeping clouds.
Whenever I think that I can't see the solution for a problem I should just think about this crater sunrise knowing that it is just about the right tools or about to climb higher to see more. I am not very good at it yet but I try to hang in there.

I catched them, stroked a few of them and let them go.
Click on photo for an enlarged version.

This morning was one of the most intense situations of my whole trip and it is still very vivid in my memory.
I told a friend about this sunrise and she asked me how any future sunrise is supposed to impress me after the one on top of the volcano crater. Well, I think that sunrises are not good for being pressed into Top-5 lists. Every single one is different and special. Not every one is as spectacular as the one on Maui but it is great to know that nature has no need to repeat itself - it invents new ones every single day. A lot of potential for special moments, isn't it?

You can watch the photos plus a few more of this morning at my Flickr page in higher resolution, too.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Oil Bubbles and Two Déjà-Vus / Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

The memorial shrine directly above the wreck

OK, Oahu has nice beaches but my main goal on this island was to visit Pearl Harbor respectively the memorial of the sunken war ship USS Arizona.

I guess most of you know at least from the Hollywood movie "Pearl Harbor" about the Japanese attack in 1941. More than 2000 people died in this attack. More of 1700 of them were killed on a single ship - the USS Arizona.


The wreck of the USS Arizona still rests at the ground of the harbor and a memorial shrine is right above the corpse of the ship. The flag on top of the memorial always fly at half-mast and as a visitor you can really feel that this is a very special place for the USA.

The remains of one of the gun towers of the USS Arizona

Only a few parts of the wreck are above the surface and if you look down you can see the rotten rusted grave of the Arizona.

Oil Bubbles above the wreck

One of the most impressing moments for me was watching the oil film floating above the wreck. The USS Arizona is still leaking oil - almost 70 years after its 'death'. It really looked like a bleeding corpse and made it even more obvious for me that this is a place of death and grief.

List of Japanese ships involved in the attack

In the little museum beside the memorial I had a strange Déjà-Vu.
I saw a sign on the wall with a list of all the Japanese war ships that were involved in the attack of Pearl Harbor. One of them was 'Shinkoku Maru'. Damn, I knew this name. Even more I know the resting place of this ship because I dived it.

In 2007 I travelled to the very small island of Truk Lagoon (now called Chuuk). As a revenge for Pearl Harbor the US Air Force sank a big share of the Japanese war fleet during a big attack in 1942. This sad fact makes Truk Lagoon the No. 1 diving location world wide for wreck divers.

One of the wrecks I dived there was the Shinkoku Maru and now in this museum I was confronted with the other part of the story. It seemed like a circle that is completed now. Very strange.
It seemed so ridiculous in a sad way that attacker and attacked ended up as wrecks. Only death and pain on both sides and all that remain are tourist attractions. War is the most stupid thing I can imagine.
I wrote a posting about a dive on one of the wrecks in Truk Lagoon in 2007. It is written in German and you can have a look at some photos here.

The names of the soldiers that died on the USS Arizona

Before you board a small boat to go the memorial shrine you usually watch a movie explaining the background of the attack. Included in this movie is the speech of Franklin D. Roosevelt on the day after the attack. He is talking about a 'day of infamy'.

Two weeks ago back in Germany I had one more strange Déjà-Vu related to Pearl Harbor.

I was at the movies and watched 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'. The movie plays in the 1940s and in one scene you can hear this speech of Roosevelt in the background. I was thrilled and thought 'Gosh, you know this speech. This is about Pearl Harbor. You know what it is about'.
It was really weird to realize how much more sensitive your senses are as soon as you have a connection to a place by visiting it.
If you want you can listen to the historical speech here.

I spent a lot of time at Pearl Harbor and didn't feel like going to the beach afterwards. I was a quite day but a good one, though.

One of my thoughts of this day - and don't get me wrong - was that at least this time the Germans were not the bad guys. Probably a dumb thought but not as dumb as killing each other for stupid political reasons.

Monday, March 09, 2009

A Chorus (Air) Line / Hawaii

During my trip around the world I had more than 30 flights and almost every single one was boring. Almost. The one from San Francisco to Honolulu/Hawaii was different.

I had a seat next to a lady (the one on the right on the photo). The airplane was still on the ground and we started talking. The conversation jumped from the usual smalltalk over to our plans for Hawaii and then on to little chapters of our lives ending with telling almost our complete histories. And we kept talking. And talking. And talking. The whole 5-hour flight was filled with laughter, questions and some deep thoughts. I was amazed.

It turned out that the lady was Canadian and a member of a women-chorus from Toronto on its way to a international chorus convention in Honolulu. By the way: I felt like a globetrotter when I told her that I spent a few days in Toronto just some weeks ago.

She told me that all the ladies from her chorus are really excited to fly that far just to sing. I asked her for her prognosis for the convention and she was like 'We are good. I think we could even win the gold medal'.
It happened that we were on the same shuttle bus from the airport to Waikiki beach and I got to know some of her chorus mates. Imagine a bus load full of chattering ladies on a big adventure - and me. I thought about visiting their convention but the girls refused to give me the address with the words 'No you will not attend our convention. The last thing you should do as a tourist in Hawaii is watching wrinkled old ladies sing. Go to the beach!'.
The ladies jumped off the bus at one of the very expensive looking hotels at Waikiki beach and I wished them good luck and waved them farewell. I chose the even more luxurious Youth Hostel in Waikiki as my residence.

Two weeks later when I was at the airport again waiting for my flight to New Zealand I saw some ladies wearing T-Shirts with notes on it. I asked them whether they attended at the chorus convention. They nodded and were surprised that a guy like me knew about it. I asked for this chorus from Toronto and for their rank. You know what - MY girls made it to the silver medal. How cool is that?

Too bad that I wasn't there - I guess it would have been even cooler than sitting at Waikiki beach at sunset and watch the surfers walk by.

So I made it to Hawaii. Unbelievable. Hawaii consists of several islands and the one with the big city Honolulu on it is called Oahu. Honolulu was a very strange place for me. Far from what I expected from Hawaii. It is a very big city with thousands and thousands of Japanese tourists.
The world famous Waikiki beach is quite nice as long as you look towards the shore. As soon as you turn around you are facing an army of ugly concrete hotels. Awful.

I never got really used to Honolulu but as soon as I left the city Hawaii was great.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

San Francisco Photo Assignment / USA

Exploring a city can be more intense if you manage to switch to 'advanced-observing-mode'. This is a state of mind in which you are able to spot a lot of small things plus the ability to put all the tiny puzzle pieces together to a bigger picture of the world around you.
The easiest method to switch to advanced-observing-mode for me is giving me one ore more topics for photos. Afterwards it is very easy to see all the small puzzle pieces connected to my photo-assignment.

This time I walked the streets of San Francisco with a friend. We gave us three assignments for the day:

1. Hurry Up
2. Worth looking at
3. Many

Here are my results.

How about yours Mr. SK?

"Hurry Up" (I was kneeing in the middle of the street in front of some waiting cars)

"Worth looking at" (SK staring at a gigantic poster at the facade of Macy's)

"Many" (Finger puppets from a street vendor)

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Balance in Pink / San Francisco, USA

You can use your rose-colored glasses to make the world look a little bit more lovely.
The more consequent solution is to simply change the world into a pink place.
At least you can begin to do so.
The owner of this little garden on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco obviously thought that a whole box of pink Flamingos would be a good start. I agree.

I know that some of you out there have a pretty hard time these days. Although I am sure none of you is reading this blog I want to wish you that your personal pink-balance will be ok again soon.
Hang in there. It's worth it! If in doubt, add pink Flamingos.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Most Valuable Places, Part 4 - San Francisco

I already told you about some of my most valuable places (part 1, part 2, part 3). I call them MVPs.
It is great for me to have some very special places even if they might be nothing more than a garbage can on a windy street corner. It is all about the stories attached to them.

But there's one thing that's even better than to have own MVPs: Being introduced to the MVPs of a new friend.

I met a guy from Seattle in San Francisco in my hostel. We were sharing a dorm room and started talking for hours. He told me that he had lived in San Francisco for many years and that he's back in town to visit some of his favorite places and he invited me to join him.

We spent a whole day together strolling through San Francisco. He showed me some very nice spots and made them special by adding some little personal stories to every place. I was delighted.
In the afternoon we ended up at a grassy patch near the shore of the bay and I teached him how to walk on a slackline. He was a bit hesitant in the beginning but loved it as soon as he finished his first step.
Several people started to talk to us and asked what the heck we are doing and every single one of them was curious and friendly. Impressing.
The most remarkable encounter was with an old lady that told me that she was an opera singer and had to sing German stuff when she was young. I asked her for some German bits and all of a sudden she started to recite the German poem 'Der Erlkoenig'. I was speechless and she was very surprised that all the verses were still in her head after all the decades.

The day with the MVPs of my new friend was really really great and even the end was spectacular because we drove back to Downtown with the public bus over the Golden Gate Bridge during sunset. Wow.

The whole event was one more prove for me that sharing makes special places even more special - for both parties.

Hey Mr. XBox - you rock! Thank you for your trust.

Oh, I should mention that we practised slackline knots in our dorm room by thightening the line between two steel bunk beds across the room. One of the hostel workers walked in to do something in the room. She saw us doing strange things with ropes on our beds (it might have looked like a weird sexual ritual) and looked really puzzled. Before she could say something I just said "Don't even ask.". She left the room very quickly and I never saw her again. Poor girl.