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 an experential and 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 and writing have 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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Emerald Lakes in a Glacial Dream

"Today I have grown taller from walking with the trees.”— Karle Wilson Baker

As I drive in search of photo ops in the Canadian Rocky Mountains the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is releasing it`s 5th assessment report to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts. This most recent assessment isn`t pretty and with 95% certainty that our climate problems are man-made they represent the consensus view of 97% of the peer reviewed scientific community (yeah I know Fox News and the National Post can`t feel any love for this true science?).

Apparently with very high probability, receding glaciers, rising seas, drought, dying Oceans and disappearing fish populations are calling for our immediate attention. I`m not sure anyone else has time for this but I think I`d better pay attention?
I think I need to siren the IPCC warning after travelling the Icefields Parkway, which is surely one of the "wonders of this world". This road connecting Lake Louise, Alberta to Jasper, Alberta winds through the soul of my urban heart and plants my feet and senses firmly in this Artform of Terra Firma. I understand that the route can be done in 3 hours but our drive ended at Peyto Lake because of the constant "wow' stops to photograph another great moment! The Bow and Peyto glaciers edging each emerald lake demand my attention  and I think I know that they won`t be here by the end of the century.
So here I try and chronicle a moment of nature`s heart beat at it`s best and hope that someday, somewhere, somebody will come to appreciate the beauty of this possibility! Maybe humanity can survive for thousands of years and the planet will recycle this moment for future progeny. Good luck to that! Glaciers may become a dream inspired by photography and video left to the mystery of virtual reality, but for now I`m living the dream!

I`m the lucky boy who gets to feed these natural highlights into my Nikon D800 sitting on a RRS tripod. This is a privilege that I will continue to ride while the sun still shines. I feel a little greedy eating at this trough of travel possibilities but I`ll treat it with respect and hope while I chronicle and lament for more of the best of possibilities. Go see the "Rockies" if you can? This is probably as good as it gets!



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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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!


The Exponential Sun 


"As we gradually learn to harness the optimal computing capacity of matter, our intelligence will spread through the universe at (or exceeding) the speed of light, eventually leading to a sublime, universe wide awakening." Ray Kurzweil

Is the sun setting on a true and lasting sustainable future for the best of mankind or is there a silver lining of hope and our true potential? I`m looking for the good news and progress channel on my TV guide but it doesn`t seem to be available yet? So I maximize my internet time in a search for signs of progress and technological advancement that will fuel this "paradise almost lost". Apparently, scientists keep finding highly promising ways to harness the Sun. More fuel for fire of our adaptable future! Good news that humanity`s 200,000 year run may have legs yet!

This reinforces the song being sung,(usually ignored by MSM) by my favorite "visionary", Ray Kurzweil who talks a billion year plan. This future can be so so bright! It might seem laughable at the worst of times but just imagine the human race lasting a billion years?! But with a planet this gorgeous maybe we should hold on as long as possible? 

One billion years is a lot to digest so maybe for now I`ll just travel and try and contribute to the best of possibilities?


Kauai is a Slice of Paradise

"Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake." Henry David Thoreau

I always had this notion that Hawaii could be my ultimate stop on this global adventure and I had to feed the fantasy. Actually I`ve fed this beast a few times now and I`m a true believer. Its really that good. Now don`t get the idea that Waikiki is what I`m talking about. It`s cool like the the best of Florida can be but that`s not what I`m looking for. Maui and Kauai are different animals altogether. And I`ll tell you why with Kauai?

I arrive in sunny Poipu on the south side of Kauai and settle into a rented house. We`re here with friends and family for a month. And our first stop will be Brennecke Beach to snorkel with Sea Turtles and Monk Seals. No shite! My buddy holds onto a giant sea turtle that takes him for a ride. (totally illegal and inappropriate but we are newbys and we soon understand the reverence for marine life in Hawaii can`t allow this behavior)  I snorkel with crowds of crazy colored fish and notice a monk seal (almost as large as me) slide by and crawl up on the beach.

He settles down among the beach crowd and suns for the rest of the day. Apparently they are birthing this year and quite often come onto shore among the travellers to rest. Lifeguards immediately build barriers around them to serve and protect another endangered species but it sure is cool sharing a beach with these creatures that elude Tiger sharks every day.

We aren`t there long before we start to count Humpback Whales that are constantly breaching nearby. This is truly awesome though we start to take it for granted after hourly sightings. Later in the trip my friends will encounter a Whale rising beside their boat that literally makes eye contact within 5 feet of his captive audience. This they will never forget. I missed this supernatural event because I was diving the Sheraton Cavern surrounded by giant Sea Turtles. And I mean surrounded. Four divers and 5 prehistoric gargantuan Turtles sharing a space just large enough. After this dive we spotted dolphins and all jumped into the water in snorkel gear. As I swam above them I saw so many dolphins swimming together that I lost count. A cloud of dolphins. Just another day in paradise.

Try the beaches. The Sheraton beach is great for body surfing and swimming. Try Brennecke for snorkelling, surfing, whale watching and happy hour. And save Mahaulepu beach for a special time. Its a gorgeous, pristine and timeless piece of coastline that you need to walk endlessly. The rugged shoreline beyond the beautiful beach is part of the attraction and all of the history of this ancient creation.

Another day we drive up to the Waimea Canyon and hike the very manageable Cliff trail. (there are 14 or 15 different trails to hike and I might have to try them all)  This canyon is often described as the grand Canyon of the Pacific. Its phenomenal. A piece of nature`s artistry carved out of this most ancient of the Hawaiian islands. And the Cliff trail is a fine entry into this miracle of Island evolution. From the Cliff you can see out into the Napali coastline which might be the highlight (if you can pick one!) of this fantasy island. Then, after trying the very public access trails in Waimea Canyon, consider hiring a private tour guide like we did, Hike Kauai with Me. The guide, Eric, was great and introduced us to hidden trails and a slice of nature that I`ve only imagined till now.

Next the Napali coastline is our inspiration. It is a majestic and timeless piece of natural art that I doubt is duplicated anywhere on the planet.We hiked the Kalalau trail along this coastline for a hands on view of the best of this island (you can only access this trail from the north side of the island).

We later accessed Napali for a full frontal in your face view via a Catamaran boat tour but we also saw moments that were screaming paradise from the "ultimate helicopter tour". If you can stand it, try a condo tour (they offer them constantly) and get a 2 for 1 rate on the copter tour for your pain and suffering. This is the aesthetic ride of your life. It`ll cover the Napali coastline, Waimea Canyon and anything else including a vertical ascent to a mountain in the center of the island that has been measured as the wettest spot on earth.

When you`re done gorging these options every day, then saddle up to a barbecue with a bottle of good wine and cook up some fresh fish from the fishmarket in old Kaloa town.  Savour the moment and the chance that you are part of possibly the "greatest show on earth". Too good to be true! But don`t tell a soul and we`ll keep this slice of paradise to ourselves!

A Breath of Surf in Tofino

“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.”  Rudyard Kipling

Maybe it`s just me but the air tastes different as I arrive in the majestic Natural Biosphere of Tofino, British Columbia.  Surfboards, Hippies, Whales and Rain Forest rouse my anticipation and a grand sense of karmic frontier welcomes my band of travellers to the Pacific Rim. The weather is unsettled, actually a mix of damp and mist , but I`m about to discover that it doesn`t matter in Tofino. It only adds another layer to this story. 

The first layer is the drive. Grand mountains, ancient forest and winding highway lead to the gateway of a town of less than 2,000 people. The last 30 kilometers of the drive offers a photo op around every corner, with the mist hanging cover of hills and trees in a land that looks likes it is probably populated by hobbits and elves. Whatever lives in this hillside I can`t find a safe place to stop and capture a moment that would highlight my travel photos forever. I`ve got to try hiking in on the next trip. And there has to be more Tofino trips!

So how does a town at the heart of Canada`s Pacific Rim Ecology and a world class surfing beach get named after a Spaniard named Tofino? Apparently Vincente Tofino was a Spanish hydrographer and Tofino was the result of Spanish exploration back in the day. They were  first non-natives to touch ground zero in our Pacific Wonderland. And so goes my Tofino history lesson but I`m here for the surf, the beach and the epic landscape. My camera is crying for a tripod but we need to go into town for a morning coffee before exploring this kingdom. As usual paradise can wait for a good cup of coffee!

Coffee in hand we circle this town noting Eco, Whale and Bear watching tour signs everywhere. That is next to those surf shops on every corner. Down the street lies the wharf, fishing boats, seaplanes and the lifeblood of a port of Eco-tourism. Tofino is a magnet for soul searching naturalists.

And after paying too much for groceries we head to the beach. This layer of Tofino is best represented by the 16 kilometer long icon of the Canadian coastline called Long Beach. Endless sand and scattered driftwood in the foreground of a surfing mecca. Maybe surfing is "the source" and I`ll find it in these waves? That`s if I can lay the camera down and take a lesson.

I`m ripping that tripod and Nikon around every rock, dead tree and corner looking for another moment. It`s grey, overcast, misty and fracking gorgeous. The sun breaks out for an hour and looks great but as the next cloudfront rolls in the picture just takes on another layer of excellence. We meet a surfer with her crazy board on the beach and wonder about the conditions for her. It`s damp, a little cool and "it`s always good man. The weather doesn`t matter in Tofino". That`s why the surfers love Tofino. It`s not perfect, just magical.

Really this not fair to try and decribe the best of Tofino on a three day trip but I`ll be back and I will move beyond the tip of this spiritual possibility to explore the potential of the "Pacific Rim National Park". I`ll take the time through it`s hikes, Orcas, Bears, Surf, landscape and cool people to find more layers of this magical quest. It seems a little unreal but the best of this planet often is. Maybe it`s just this untainted air affecting my senses but I have to come back and bottle some of it. Till then I`m meditating on Tofino time!