Jungle Talk

Are we hard wired to run a sustainable planet? And are we accountable to the entire world that we live in? For me the Jungle is something made up of so many fascinating elements; a journey of intriguing possibilities. That kind of sounds like "life" on planet-johnson.

Can I travel with a presence that allows my footprint to add value to the world that you live in while "capturing moments" that tell a compelling story? Karma is a belief that all of your actions will have equal reprecussions, affecting you and I. This journey is a search for some balance, a little discovery and hopefully some visual poetry?

This blog will humbly attempt to see my world through the experience of TRAVEL, photos and sincere examination of its visual karma. And I will find a way to incorporate some positive travel experience into that karma with the perspective of a Digital Camera. Photography has become my "love affair" with life on planet-johnson. Hopefully I can share my passions for the best of this crazy world!

Please join in and welcome to the jungle! 

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Iceland: Dreamscape Photo Moments for Karma on Fire

“The problem with driving around Iceland is that you’re basically confronted by a new soul-enriching, breath-taking, life-affirming natural sight every five goddamn minutes. It’s totally exhausting.”  Stephen Markley

This story begins with a Rick Sammon-Tim Vollmer Photography Workshop in this terra Wonderland of Iceland. We are 9 students of Photography (and life) who aspire to taking their art and it`s passion for adventure to a new level of discovery, and hopefully accomplishment? We will mark 8 days of travel wrapped in high end Nikon and Canon gear and a devotion to "photo moments" reminiscent of kids in the proverbial candy store!

Luckily, 3 Photo Tour Workshop Guides are dedicated to offering us Iceland`s best possibilities (and fantasies) when they take time from inspiring our photo technique and post-processing potential. This was a 5 star karmic learning event for this photo traveler and our mentors, Rick sammon, Tim Vollmer and Susan Sammon, truly are the "shit"! They had us feeding at the trough of our passions and I`m feeling like a kid learning a new language. Yeah, I know, I`ve become a Photo Geek and a Dreamscape Surfer. And I love it!

Beyond learning Photography, I think that the best of this Global Travel experience is a connection where hopefully Iceland helps us "capture" it`s fantasy and help us realize our special bond with the best of Nature! And discovering how important that the "best of nature" might be to our future is another theme that I`m trying to understand?

This "very special" trip has reminded me that I need to give as much as I receive in this world of discovery. All I can give here are some Photo moments conveying how I`m trying to learn the "Art of Visual poetry" in the Land of Elves. Photography is my way to tell a story of beautiful possibilities!

Here I practice HDR capturing my buddy Martin swept up in his personal passion for Ice Pics! I`m learning like you probably are but it`s not too complicated. Bracket 5 exposures, load into Lightroom and use the LR Photomatix plug in to create HDR. Then I transfer HDR to LR plugin from Nik and use Color Effex Pro to fine tune the look. Voila, I create my karmic vision of an Icy Paradise!


Here I learn the value of a solid tripod and a Nikon Camera with the "timer" activated. Now I have a "selfie" of myself on top of the world! More simple photographic magic in Fantasy Land!


I try and add a little drama to Gullfoss (majestic waterfalls) with a Neutral Density Filter and some Nik software fine tuning (with advice from my buddy, Rick Sammon). I am becoming a big fan of Nik thanks to some inspiration from Tim Vollmer and Rick.

This all advances my road of Discovery through "Travel Photography" as I try to relate thought on culture, inspiration, visual literacy and maybe just the selfish moments of pure unadulterated joy during a global journey. Toss in a bit of HDR, Nikon (or Canon, Sony, Fuji), Nik, a wide angle lens and I`ll be back with more of this.


Whale Talk in a "Seashepherd Moment"

"We have heard the whales sing. And we want – we very desperately want – to hear them sing again." Jacques-Yves Cousteau

It`s after midnight on the Antarctic Southern Ocean and the ship`s fire alarm is ringing. I break out of light sleep and jump into my gear. Then I`m headed for the ship`s bow and hoping it`s a simulation. In a moment I`m standing on the deck of our ship the "Steve Irwin". Seas are up and a frozen wind is blowing.

A Japanese Whaling Harpoon Ship is headed toward us and the captain has set the alarm to brace the crew for a ramming. What the hell is going on? We`re just here to observe illegal Whaling activity by Japanese Harpoon boats but now we`re under attack. A crewmate scream to "brace yourselves". The larger, faster Whaling Ship clips our bow and we`re in big trouble!

Then I really wake up and realize that I`m dreaming in living colour! But this really is a consequential danger for the crews of ships used by the "Seashepherd Conservation Society" to prevent the illegal slaughter of Whales on the high seas.  This kind of threat appears imminent as Paul Watson and Seashepherd put themselves at significant risk to "do the right thing". They are the activist heros that inspire my latest travel dreams.

My travel life was affected profoundly by my first trip to Hawaii with it`s everpresent and always inspiring "call of the wild" moments highlighted by the awesome sights and sounds of the Humpback Whale. Whether it`s a seashore hike, a measured beach moment, a catamirand whale tour, helicoptor sighting or just snorkeling somewhere in the "Humpback Universe",  there are breach sightings or Whale songs that forever change the possibility that you can accept butchering any life form this special. They think, they sing, they play with a freedom we would die for, they are no threat to sensible human beings and they highlight a moment in this planet`s history that cries for "Ocean Conservation".  They provoke  a "Seashepherd Moment" in affected travelers! That, for me, represents an activist passion to live by a planetary fairness that recognizes the right to an Ocean life and freedom for these cetacean mammals.

Commercial Whaling has been illegal since an International Whaling Commission moratorium in 1986, but Iceland, Norway and Japan have slaughtered 25,000 whales since then? The last line of defence for the Whale, since there are no police on the high seas, is the Seashepherd Conservation Society who actively drive the Japanese Whale murderers crazy in their attempted seasonal Whaling slaughters. Seashepherd is a group on non-profit conservationists who, since 1977, have used direct action tactics to expose and confront the illegal activities of whale butchers on the high seas. The stuff of my dreams. 

Friends on a "whale tour" off Kauai have their moment as a Humpack surfaces (within a few feet) next to their catamirand and rises silently to eye level. Eye contact with Mobi Dick. Intelligent, sensitive and enormous. They`ve made the kind of contact that commercial Seaworld perverts. They discover a force of nature and freedom. Contact with something seemingly alien, but probably as special as ourselves?

At that moment I`m busy diving (near Poipu) with Giant Seaturtles and dolphins that inspire another significant "moment". These life forms are adding a peaceful balance to nature that we seem determined to corrupt. This traveler wonders if these creatures are probably as important to conserve as human beings? A crazy notion, but I don`t think we have proved ourselves especially worthy in recent history and maybe in the "Seashepherd Moment" I can help change that? Traveling with these animals is my karmic opportunity to understand possibilities! My dream to save the Ocean and ourselves.

So next I`m in Maui off Kaanapali Beach, snorkeling around the "Black Rock". This is always special with Turtles and the usual fish frenzy close by but now I see something on the sea bottom? Maybe an Eel? I dive to ten feet and whatever was there is now gone, but now I`m hearing the music. Whale songs of the Humpback Whale. Apparently it`s only the males that sing and scientists still don`t understand what it means, but this is some serious Ocean Melody. I go up for air and then back down for more. This performance goes on for 15 minutes and they seem so close. I swim about and look and look? No sign of the elusive humpback that might be close or could be miles away. But listening to this music brings me into his space.

Again I`m further drawn into the vortex of a lost freedom and the passion for Whale survival. I have seen and heard this beast and now I think I understand how important their freedom is. This kind of travel has made me aware and that is some of the best possibility and reason for travel. It`s what I search for in Nature and different cultures. This is the "art of travel", as inspired in a "Seashepherd Moment"! Something that I guess Cousteau might have appreciated!

To understand Seashepherd and it`s challenge try Whale Wars on the Animal Planet Channel

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Seacology in the San Blas Islands

“For most of history, man has had to fight nature to survive; in this century he is beginning to realize that, in order to survive, he must protect it.”  Jacques-Yves Cousteau


Here I am exploring Panama at 5.30 am, on what looks like a day that will become this typical beach adventure in paradise. But for the moment we will meander up a mangrove lined fresh water estuary river to see snakes, sloths and some amazing birds begin to stir. Just another day in Bastimentos, Panama that feels like a moment in "Apocalyse Now" without the guns. Early light , revealing nature in a National Geographic Zen moment of discovery and wonder and then a fellow traveller whispers in my ear. "I hope the San Blas Islands are this amazing?" Ok one adventure so often leads to another and of course she has grabbed my enthusiasm for new discoveries. I will now have to try and find out if the San Blas Islands are this amazing? It`s what we do!

One thing to consider for any travel or life in Panama is that it comes pretty much tropical storm free. It has only been affected by one Atlantic hurricane historically (1969) and seems to be protected by it`s geographic location. This is in vivid contrast to this sad moment in the Phillipines and it`s challenging tropical location. So perhaps I will be travelling to a San Blas shangri-la? Is everything copacetic in this "wonder land"?

The Spanish named the archipelago off Panama`s Carribean coast the San Blas Islands, but to the Kuna, they are part of the Kuna Yala. The land of the Kuna (the indiginous people of Panama).  About ten percent of these islands are inhabited and many of the rest are day-trip destinations that visitors on Panama tours consider the most appealing part of the Kuna territory. You can fly to El Porvenier or Playon Chico, where we will begin our venture. From there we take a short boat ride to the Yandup Island Lodge and our private thatched hut. Our slice of shangri-la.

I`m here for the snorkeling, tranquility and island vibe which the Kuna package and sell with snorkel trips daily to pristine "Giliganesque" settings, thatched sleeping huts from a south pacific tribal dream and seafood shared with travellers sharing similiar goals of adventure and escape. The cover of this book is too appealing but our daytrip to the local Kuna village on Playon Chico refocuses the challenges of true life in Kuna land. We see the reality of tribal life that would be considered very poor in most of our lives. Their sewage is openly dumped untreated to their local sea and fisherman struggle to catch enough to sustain their economy

, as evidenced throughout the world. The Kuna People try to manage typical developing world issues of poverty, maintaining their culture and traditions, and sustainably growing an economy of fishing and tourism that works for everyone. This is the story of our times as countries like Panama sell us a piece of paradise for their progress. 

These are the mixed blessings of travel as I, fully geared, will snorkel with a very young barefooted, gearless Kuna boy who easily maneuvers the reef ahead of me. We follow a massive Eagle Ray through channels of reef and then encounter a Barracuda as large as my wife in the same moment. Miracles of Gaia and it`s Oceans in the true life fantasy of Dog Island , Cabanas, Tuborgana Island, and many other islands that an adventure pirate would "die for". On land, I circle most of the dreamy white sand islands and find garbage washing up on the windward side of paradise. This seems to be the part of civilization that we, in the developed world share as gifts of our neglect. Plastics and garbage. This is all part of what the Kuna sell for progress. To dance with our crazy civilization for our mighty dollars?

In San Blas I can explore seaworld and come home to wonder at the the commitment of Kuna women of Panama as they carry very heavy weights of life giving drinking water from their docks to their village (drinking water from the mainland). Women seem to bear a lot of weight in this world.


They value their traditions while struggling for economy and I worry about what we can offer besides tourism dollars and island lust. Then I discover the possibilities of an organization called "Seacology". “Seacology is playing a critically needed role in preserving the vitally important yet very threatened terrestrial and marine ecosystems of islands throughout the world.” Dr. Sylvia Earle  Now when Sylvia speaks about Ocean ecology and development, I listen. This is a stamp of approval that rings huge credibility. Seacology protects island habitats and assists island communities. If a community agrees to create a forest or marine reserve then Seacology will provide funds for something a village needs like a schoolhouse or health clinic. Since 1991, they’ve worked with over 200 villages on 149 islands in 51 countries. And San Blas has now become one of their waste management projects. This is too cool! Eco-friendly tourism.

This is the kind action that opens the door to potential for a sustainable travel experience. Greedy, needy old me can feed the tourism economy, explore the best of this corner of the planet with an Eagle Ray, try to understand a new culture and it`s traditions and then support an organization trying to "make a positive difference" in the life of the Kuna. I`m still dreaming about, barracuda, coral reefs and the white sands of San Blas and this could become the heart of karmic travel. A win, win in Panama.

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Dreaming Blue Sky Power in Panama

"We photograph to taste life lasting, in the moment and forever more. The future is now." 

I`m running on a beach in Panama that, for me, defines everlasting possibilities. Whew, that might seem to be a bit of a reach but I am in the travel, hope and sustainability exploration of what can be part a path to the             1 billion year plan. Hence the Dreaming part of the title in this piece. A lot of great plans start with a dream so here we go?

Here on Laslajs, Panama, on the Pacific Ocean, I can see for miles through endless sand and blue, blue and more blue sky that fuels a dreamer`s high. With each stride and moment of this running paradise it`s a natural leap to thinking about Solar Power. No cars in sight, little hydro available and no pollution possible but plenty of in your face, seemingly endless solar power on the Pacific coast of Central America. 

This story plays all over the world in Nicaraugua, Thailand, Austrailia, Hawaii, Fiji, California, Ecuador and on and on. Each will offer these pristine, coastal solar revelations in one form or other. Obviously the sun shines everywhere including occasionally in Mexico City or Shanghai but this coastal sunshine inspires the less than obvious notion, at least at government levels, that we have a pretty powerful and benign path to a sustainable future.

I still think about a 'National Geographic" moment in a bed and breakfast in Panama City where recently , finding a 1979 edition of this magazine, I discovered an add from the Exxon corporation promoting Solar Power. It was a crazy moment in American History where even Exxon was toying with the notion of a solar market. Now that sounds like a dream but it`s true and through a complicated set of political and economic historical consequences solar power was buried deep under rising oil subsidies and business. So here we are and the damage is done but the sun is still shining and I can no longer ignore it`s potential as I travel through another paradise. I`ve heard it said that the only reason that we aren`t entirely solar powered by now is because "Exxon doesn`t own the sun" and apparently there`s a bit of truth to that? But this worm has turned and the future is hopeful.

Solar power technology is advancing at such a rapid rate that hope is truly on this horizon. Solar power has just recently been reported to leap ahead of wind as an electrical source. Central America has come a long way in the past decade in developing policies and regulatory frameworks to promote renewable energy, and now projects are on the rise. From this report on Central American solar progress we see that Panama is expected be home to two large-scale PV plants of 2.4 MW and approximately 2 MW in capacity. Hopefully that`s just a tip of their potential? Meanwhile, the world is going solar with India planning the world`s largest project so far in Rajasthan (which I may visit in January), California continues to develope projects like the Mojave Desert, the largest self-consumption rooftop solar array has been built in Germany (which is fuel for urban solar projects), and now even the Vatican is going solar

Here I was travelling the best of beach paradise in Panama and I`ve been inspired again to talk solar. Travel can be a great way to wander into the future and maybe soon I`ll find another add from Exxon talking the newest profitable source of energy? But that will probably mean that they are on the verge of buying a piece of it. And so it goes with our sustainable hope and future! Now I think I`ll have to explore some more of the sea, sun, people and culture of Panama.

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The Invasion of Greed, Jellyfish and Our Ocean`s Extinction

"How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean."  Arthur C Clarke

As a prelude to a possible "dive trip" to the Gulf of Thailand, I`m watching Rob Stewart`s latest movie Revolution lament for the future of mankind and for the state of our greatest treasure, the Ocean. It`s fascinating to see a movie nearly as good as his first, Sharkwater, that talks the talk of real science and real consequences. This siren views just as the scientific community begins to sound the alarm of Extinction for us all to consider between episodes of Dr. Phil and American Idol. Maybe we can find time for science and the reality of our neglect?

This planet is about 2/3`s Ocean, 1/3 land mass and a speck of humanity that shits into this massive Ocean as if it really is just one big pottyhole? And this speck of humanity can apparently excrete at unparalled levels of damage. Results from the latest International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO)/IUCN review of science on anthropogenic stressors on the ocean go beyond the conclusion reached last week by the UN climate change panel, the IPCC , that the ocean is absorbing much of the warming and unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide. They warn that the cumulative impact of this with other ocean stressors is way scarier than previous estimates. It adds up to dangerous acidity and extinction!

In Revolution, Stewart interviews scientists who claim that the Ocean can go belly up in 20 years. It has become 30% more acidic over the past 100 years and this Ocean hasn`t been threatened with these levels of potential acidity in 65 million years. What the frack! I didn`t hear about his on CNN, Fox news or our local newspapers. So what does it mean? Can I dive in a dead Ocean? Do I need a new travel plan?

I once talked to a fisherman in Amed on the east coast of Bali about their lost fishing industry. Many of their boats come back every day with less and less to feed their families. He blamed it on the Dolphins who he said were eating all of the fish? I didn`t have the heart to suggest that maybe our buddies in the Global Fishing Industry were probably overfishing here like everywhere else. Now this recent report from the scientific body, IPSO, suggests that overfishing of large Ocean species combined with Global Warming acidification of the same Oceans is on the verge of a catastrophic consequence. It`s become all too obvious that "greed is not good" and that profit and extinction are sharing the same boat. And that boat is sinking!

According to the Guardian newspaper, IPSO states that  "This [acidification] is unprecedented in the Earth's known history. We are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change, and exposing organisms to intolerable evolutionary pressure. The next mass extinction may have already begun." The much maligned IPCC reports are often vilified in MainStreamMedia as shrill overeaction to the environmental community but I find that the more I research this area of scientific consequences I find that the IPCC is somewhat muted and forced into overly cautious predictions. The proof is in the water. Ten years ago in National Geographic News it was reported that 90% of large fish species were already extinct! Ten fracking years ago. Is it better now? I don`t think so! Adding to that we have these recent scientific findings that Global Warming CO2 emmissions are adding acidity to the Ocean at disasterous rates of change. Well it`s not a pretty picture and if I care about what life is like "on the third Rock from the Sun" 20 years down the road? then I`d better try and be part of a solution?

The world`s Jellyfish are an ultimate symptom of degradation and are cockroaches of the sea. They can`t seem to be killed by anything. They are loving this problem and good for them but our Ocean`s are dying and increasing sites of too many Jellyfish is another Siren. I`ve tried swimming with these Jellyfish off the coast of Hua Hin, Thailand and Jamaica. It`s not a good experience. This "jelly bloom" can disrupt and destroy fisheries, make for unpleasant swimming (that`s me and you), or foul up the works of power plants that use seawater for cooling. They can be beautiful but deadly!

Can we save ourselves from the Ocean`s extinction? Common sense suggests that it is time for a reset button. But we can`t seem to find it so maybe it`s time to panic just a little bit and get our asses into a scientific International movement to turn this around. I`m not sure of the best way to approach this just yet, but I`m searching and traveling for possibilities!

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Vietnam Express

"If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light. Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness and fears.” – Cesare Pavese

This "Intrepid Tours" adventure (12 travellers from around the globe and a local guide)  ends in Hanoi but first stop on the Vietnam Express is Ho Chi Minh City, (Saigon). Prepare your senses for lots of people (6.6 million), aggressive markets, great baquettes, great coffee on every corner and major league traffic. First up we are set up riding in a Rickshaw into a manic Traffic Circle. I see this as intense with cars, bikes, trucks, rickshaws and mayhem in my face as my trusty driver peddles into this abyss. But ultimately, this is just another day in the life of Saigon as my ride zens through the pulse of modern Vietnam. Our sightseeing goal is the War Remnants Museum. The Vietnam War history is never forgotten and always a part of any Vietnam tour. They don`t seem to obsess but they won`t forget! And they do not pull punches to a former enemy!

Once you solve the energy of this city you`re ready to settle into the Vietnam Express. After the city tour we step back in time to endure (and ultimately enjoy) 17 hours on a very basic and very old Vietnam sleeper train. As Intrepid claims, it is a best way to experience long distance with the locals. So suck it up and get to know your new friends in a musty 4 berth cabin that might be the closest you get to strangers for the rest of your travel life. An excellent experience in the end. It forces us to engage on such a positive level. The best of all of us rises to the stuff of great memories. 

 Next up is Hoi An, a "world heritage site" that has become a handicraft shopping mecca. Shop for ceramics, woodwork and tailored suits before a motorcycle tour to the rice fields of quintessential Vietnam (we are passengers on the bikes).  We then visit an active Buddhist Monastery (dated from 1601), play soccer with young monks and then head off to an excellent orphanage experience. The orphanage is run by monks and the kids seem well taken care of but the experience is sadly touching and very inspiring at the same time. I think Intrepid has stopped this practise because of the lasting affect on kids. It is complicated as the kids broke our hearts and inspired our charity but we probably distort their expectations.  We likely offered more hope than some of these children will ever realize but it really has motivated me to the cause of orphans. Such is another side of travel karma. You receive so much that you should seek to give back! And that quest begins.

The final stage of this quest will take us to Hanoi and Halong Bay. A night spent aboard a private boat (gorgeous) cruising through those dramatic limestone cliffs and peaks is just another "oh my god" landscape moment. Even in the rain and mist that we drew, it was stunning!

Finally, Hanoi takes us into the heart of former North Vietnam. Old Russian inspired infastructure mixed in a thriving street economy leads us through a mix of French and old Communist influences. Hanoi sums up 11 days and nights of the spirit and history of Vietnam. I`ve never been inclined to try "group tours" but this mix of 12, Europeans, Ausrailians, English and Canadians with an engaging Vietnamese guide, was a great way to discover the world together with new friends. I will do this type of travel again.

We will remember this and I have been inspired to think outside this box that I call my life. Maybe I still have more to offer as I travel to the next inspiration?

 Good night to Vietnam.  Next stop, Cambodia or Thailand? Possibilities are like that box of chocolates!