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ARGENTINA – CHILE: Glaciars to disaster

After witnessing the glory of Mt Fitz Roy, the next stop was to be El Calafate to see the awe inspiring Perito Moreno glacier that I have not stopped hearing about.. Was it as everyone had said?.. YES!.. The sheer size and vastness of the glacier carving it’s way through the mountains and down into the lake is just incredible. The only way to capture the whole glacier in one frame is either a 30mm on my XPan (which I would have to sell a kidney to own) or a fisheye on my Fuji’s. The glacier stands a mere 200m from land and it’s hard to put the size of the glacier into perspective because the brain knows that the mountains its wedged between are big and you cannot compute it with out having something small next to it.. When a 4 storey tour boat approached I now got the perspective. The boat looked like a child’s toy.

X-Pro1  XF55-200mm @148mm  F16  1/250  ISO400

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X-Pro1 XF14mm @ F16 1/250 ISO400 In camera panorama

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The sounds and visible show the glacier puts on are something else. The sound of cracking ice than a pause of nothing as it free falls either into the lake or somewhere in the glacier that isn’t visible, the sound and the splash from the ice impacting in the lake are sight in it self, but the ones you don’t get to see are the loudest, as they crash ice on ice and sounds like an artillery shell has just hit its target and chaos has broken free.

I made two buddies in the hostel that were also riding motorcycles, an Israeli, Eran, who had ridden from Alaska and heading to Ushuaia, and a Canadian, Dave, who began in Canada and also heading for Ushuaia, I totally looked up to these guys riding their bigger bikes and travelling almost 10 times further then I had. We rode out of town together heading for a similar junction before we split up and they continued on as I made the turn heading for Puerto Natales.

I had made the decision to sell my bike in Puerto Natales as the whole “incident” had cost me a small fortune that it would be the only way I could continue and see more places before ending my trip short anyway. The roll of the dice. At 5pm I arrived at my hostel and asked the wonderful ladies at reception about how difficult it could be to sell here or to head to Punta Arenas to sell. Well it appeared that it would not be difficult at all, one of the ladies had a friend looking to by motorbike, I was so stoked to finally have something go smoothly. Her friend would come around by 10pm, so I cleaned the bike up out the front and talked to the lady about the bike, a sneaky man next door was listening in and rang his buddy to come around, at 7pm a guy showed up and wanted to negotiate, I stuck to my guns and told him at 10pm another lady would be here to look at it also. He had to check with the boss (wife) and 2 hours later he was shaking my hand and the deal was done. Just like that, Valery my trusty steed who I had gone through so much with would become somebody else’s.

Selling my bike was out of the way so now it was time to explore Torres del Paine, I had bought 8 days worth of food to do my own thing in the park, not the W and not the O but a hybrid of what I wanted to do. In all honesty I was massively disappointed with the park, the sheer amount of people there and the fact you need to have $120 in Peso’s on you to just go out in nature and camp didn’t sit well with me. The amenities are top notch don’t get me wrong, but no where in my research told me there would be 2000 other people and modern amenities like there is… This isn’t living wild and exploring a National Park, this is a business. All of these aspects have kind of ruined my expectations of the park and what it was about. I remembered back to Futuro Park and I paid a camping fee for every day I would be there and then that was it, I was living on top of a range in solitude and not having modern amenities- how camping should be.

X-E1  XF55-200mm @86mm  F16  1/250  ISO200

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I spent my first day getting to the campsite and setting up and working out what I would do for the coming days. I got up early to get ahead of the hiker ants that would soon follow. 4km’s into my hike to Glacier Grey I strained a ligament in my knee.. I felt like my bad luck was coming back.. I decided then and there I would complete this leg of the trek and rest for a day, I continued 21km’s to the glacier and back to my camp with a busted leg. As I arrived back into the campsite I saw people gawking at my tent, I got over to my tent as fast as my leg would allow, disaster! My tent had imploded, a tent pole had snapped and pierced the outer shell. I was so hungry and tired and all I wanted to do was rest. I had to pack up my destroyed tent and head back to Puerto Natales to sort it out. The joy of packing it up in front of about 60 people all watching like I was a freak at a freak show was not a highlight for me.

I had to take the boat back to the bus but I had only a one way ticket and only 9000 pesos which would be 3000 sort of a one way ticket. I asked the boss half way back to the bus if we could work something out as a return ticket would be 7000 pesos if I had bought it the first time. He had no sympathy for me and picked up the phone to call the police, like as if I was a common thief stealing from him. I tried to make him under stand but he was asking me to do the most ridiculous things to get him his money that would include me missing my bus back to town and not have anywhere to camp as my tent was now useless. Finally as he was threatening with the cops he snatched the 9000 out of my wallet and let me go.. my day had gone from bad to worse and it now didn’t even phase me.

X-E1  XF14mm @  F2.8  30Sec  ISO2500

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X-Pro1  XF23mm @  F16  6.5sec  ISO200

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X-E1  XF23mm @  F1.6  1/4000  ISO200

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X-Pro1  XF55-200mm @  200mm  F4.8  1/30  ISO200

X-Pro1 XF55-200mm @ 200mm F4.8 1/30 ISO200

I had limited time in Torres del Paine so to do the trek again would be out of the question. I rented a car and done what I could with my time. Not completely happy with how things turned out, I wasn’t exactly disappointed because the atmosphere in the park it self was more of a let down and I knew I wouldn’t be missing out on anything. Looking back on it now, most photos of the park are from outside and not on the trails. What does that tell you about the park.. it’s better from a distance? photographers before me also don’t like 100 people in their photos? I would like to think it’s more photogenic from a distance.

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CHILE – ARGENTINA : On the road again…

The day had finally come.. after much demanding and even doing 50% of the repairs myself, my motorbike was ready.. I was ready to hit the road/gravel as fast as I could and leave Coihaique in my rear view mirror at tremendous speeds.. My home for a month, it had been good to me, the hostel was fantastic and I had basically become family after a while. But needless to say I had to leave.

I went for the nearest border crossing at Balmaceda and the road was paved so I was in heaven. Until the crossing in which it appeared Argentina doesn’t care to much about your comfort or safety but rather how much your kidneys can rattle and how many near death experiences you can have in a 5 minute period. In the plains of the Santa Cruz providence, the wind kicks up and it’s only ever by luck you get a tail wind. There is no science to patagonian wind, only that if its not windy: its about to be. I made my way to Perito Moreno (the town) and it took me 7 Hours of hard riding to only go 290km.

I spent two days at Perito Moreno as I needed to organise money and my next stops to Gregores and El Chalten. I was interested in seeing the Cuevas Los Manos (caves of hands) but it would have to be on the way to my next stop as it was on route. The wind was not kind to me this day, It was another hard 7 Hr ride for only 320km.. It really takes it out of you, as your concentration is almost at level jedi, if it’s not the wind trying to blow you off the road its the road trying to destroy you. I got to Gregores and settled in for the night but only after eating a delicious looking meal that I thought was a roast but was actually cows tongue.

Next morning I had a good feeling… 330km to El Chalten..I had heard so many great stories about there and the glorious Mt Fitz Roy. But any good feeling I get, can soon be mistaken for naivety and who am I kidding my self… Im not having the best luck. My GPS lead me out of town, I saw the sign for the 40 and felt good I was on the right track… But for some unknown reason my GPS forgot to tell me to turn right, I rode for almost 30 mins before the GPS started recalculating and confusing itself. I stopped, I zoomed out of the map and there it was, it was making me do a loop only to head back to Gregores.. I was not a happy camper.. thats an hour of riding, for no reason.. thats an extra 90km of fuel I couldn’t spare.I turned around and this time against the wind. I finally found my turn off without even egnologing my GPS, as if it was being a naughty child and it would some how teach it a lesson if I didn’t look at it.

The 40 had its good and bad parts, the good parts were fantastic and the bad parts were just dreadful. It got to a point where the tempory road they have made while they are constructing the paved 40 was so bad, I would cut across gullys and up and over mounds to get onto the freshly paved 40 and it was as if I was on a cloud again. This would last for 20km at a time but it was worth the worry of being caught.

I turned off the 40 and began my final stretch towards El Chalten on the 23, I finally laid my eyes on Mt Fitz Roy and ohhhh what a sight.. It was a clear afternoon and the mountain was peaking above all the clouds that just wanted to engulf it. I got to a point where the head wind was so strong I could barely do 60km/h but I persevered.. There was an epic moment when the sun was semi covered by cloud and there was a perfect ray of light hitting Fitz Roy, I pulled over and parked my bike adjacent the wind with it being its strongest on the stand. I got my camera out, the 23mm was attached, I needed the 35mm I tried to quickly swap over as the wind was gusting and blowing dust and the moment was quickly fading.. I removed my lens and boom… gust of wind filled my sensor with so much dirt it was ridiculous (even with my back to the wind) I yelled at the top of lungs “$@#%  $@#%” I turned back around and another gust that would be so strong it blew my bike over, it broke my freshly replaced mirror and snapped my clutch lever.. there was no longer any point in getting frustrated.. I just laughed and thought ‘you win patagonia, you got the best of me’ I struggled to pick up my 170kg motorbike against gusting winds but as I did I relized I’m getting real good at this. The epic photo opportunity had passed and there was nothing I could do about it, I have a camera full of dirt and a broken bike. With great difficulty I was still able to use my clutch and babied my bike to my hostel.

The next morning I walked out into the hostel dining/reception area and saw another Aussie I keep running into my trip, we talked and organised to set out on an easy trek for the day and the next day we would hike up to and camp under Fitz Roy. We began our little trek with the intention of seeing a waterfall Salto del Chorrillo, we got there and well so did about 100 other people, so we decided to see if we could find away to the top and we did, we snapped a few pics and we kind of just kept going.

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Fitz Roy was semi covered by clouds but after an hour or so of off trailing trekking we found our selfs on top of this rock summit and Fitz Roy lifted her skirt for us and we were able to get some photos, after a while we decided to move on and I had my back to Andrew when he said “Is that a condor??” I turned like a frenzied kid in a candy store..”WHERE?” it was circling above us and I demanded we both lay down as if we were dead, in our dead like state on the ground I was slowly getting my camera ready, the condor was lowering it’s altitude, we could see distinct features it was so close and I could feel its gaze as if we were its next scavenge, as I pulled my camera up to my face it must have caught my movement as it was only a mere 35m above us, it turned and glided away.. I tried to fire away some shutters but it was just not a good angle.

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Photo or not, the novelty of being stalked by such a large animal doesn’t wear off, it’s as if we (humans) re-entered the food chain for a brief period, to me thats humbling.

We continued our trek and found the actual trail and headed back to town, feeling accomplished as hikers and going off trail to discover our own Viewpoints higher than any other on offer. We finished the day by buying supplies for our over night camp and doing a few errands.

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X-E1  XF35mm  @ F16  1/125  ISO200

We trekked up towards Fitz Roy and once again she was wearing her cloud skirt and hiding her goodies from us, we made camp and began the trek up to Laguna Los Tres at the base of Fitz Roy. The last hour was quiet gruelling, steep, rocky, wet, and muddy. But we joined the queue of hiker ants all making their way up or down the mountain. For brief moments you feel like your the only two there until you catch a group of 20 or when you reach the view point and theres another 100 people up there. You don’t feel special at all. But then all you have to do is look around and you realise WOW, this is just incredible. For very brief moments Fitz Roy’s cloud skirt would let you sneak a peek or even open for just a few minutes so I could fire off the shutter and get all my shots in.

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We retreated back down and you could see some people on the verge of giving up or turning around, I would say “Just 10 more minutes”, giving them that little bit of hope that it was not to much further away, even if it was 15-20mins, I would slightly exaggerate the time to help motivate them to not give up.

The whole purpose of camping up there over night was to get twilight and the morning light turning Mt Fitz Roy orange. The alarm sounded and I was not impressed, but needless to say I forced myself up and expecting to be asleep in 5 minutes because her cloud skirt would still be on.. As I braved the cold and rubbed my eyes open I was confronted with no clouds, stars beaming their interstellar light and Fitz Roy bearing all… and like a frenzied kid I began throwing layers on and getting my kit ready.. We watched on as the sky behind us turned a light pink to a full neon pink to orange and then yellow and that early morning light hit Fitz Roy and lit her up, bright orange! This was my kind of light show, just stunning, the faint clouds behind the mountain turned magenta and I was in my full element.

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ARGENTINA – CHILE: Picking up the pieces.

After fighting a cold in Bariloche I fled south hoping to put some serious miles on my motorbike and really get stuck into Patagonia. I re-entered Chile at Futalefew and started my journey on the Carretera Austral, a very well known road for cyclist and motorcyclist. Just after crossing the border I entered the unpredictable environment of Patagonia. It rained, it was windy, it was cold. I found the road to be absolutely terrible, it was like riding on a dried up river bed where some sections the rocks the road was made of were bigger than my head. I persevered and made it to a small road side town La Junta. My boots were full of water, I was cold, wet and shaken to my bones from the road.. I checked into a hotel and the day was over.

Just south of Bariloche, Cerro Tronador, Tronador Glacier

(Black Glacier and It’s glacial run off through the forests)

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X-Pro1 XF14mm @F16 1/125s ISO 200

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X-Pro1 XF14mm @F16 10secs ISO 400 – Lee Big Stopper

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X-Pro1 XF14mm @F22 30secsISO 200 – Lee Big Stopper

 I decided if the sun was out in the morning I would continue to Coihaique, where I would get my bike serviced. I looked out the window and all was good.. blue skies above, no sign of rain, perfect. I set off and it’s like I had forgotten just how bad the road was and I was cursing all over again. Not even 2km from the hotel and Patagonia decided to play dirty and gave me torrential rain, I convinced myself several times that it was ‘just a shower’ or ‘just around the next bend it won’t be raining’.. how misguided I was. I had to stop serveal times just to empty my boots of the water but the road got slightly better..

This is where things begin to fall apart; I knew from google maps that the paved road to Coihaique would begin around 105-110km from La Junta, I was at 109km and coming down the range on the Austral, I took what would be my last corner, followed by a down hill section, a pick-up was coming up the hill and in the middle of the road, I moved over as far as I possible could without going into thick loose gravel. The car continued straight for me and in the last 2m before a collision I moved into the gravel, the bike just lost it.. I was flung from the bike and ended up on my gut, face in the gravel, stunned I was still not travelling on my bike, I looked up and through the scratches on my helmets glass I could see my bike on its side, horn blaring and back wheel spinning.. I thought to myself… WHAT JUST HAPPENED. I staggered to my feet and rattled from what had just happened I staggered to my bike, thinking everything was okay and I could just ride away..

The pick-up had stopped and they ran to help, I looked down and there was blood seeping through my pants on my right knee.. I started to feel pain in my left knee but no blood. The man who was driving the pick-up immediately apologised for not moving over and sharing the road.. I thought ‘your apology does me no good right now you ignorant ****’. I tore my pant leg off to assess my leg, it was a graze, I got off lucky, my bike not so much. Several other cars had stopped to help and we pulled my bike out of the loose gravel which had eaten almost half of my front wheel which is how I guess I got flung from the bike.. I was taken to a near by town and to the hospital. All was good medically.

Fast forward 20 days and I am still waiting for parts and repairs on my bike here in Coihaique. 20 days and it looks like another 7 before the bike is ready, I should be in Torres del Paine by now, I should be exploring one of the main landmarks I came here for.

With the accident taking my plans and devouring them I have tried to make the most of my time here:

Lago General Carrera’s Marble Caves

& Cerro Castillo hiding in the clouds.

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I have just returned to Coihaique from a 5 day adventure into Futuro Patagonia Park where I hiked and camped atop the range, herds of Guanaco’s, the odd Andean Condor Vulture scoping me out on the trails to see if I could be it’s next scavenge, Eagles, lakes and ancient forests. It was an experience to say the least. I camped on the shores of a lake at 3500 ft in absolute solitude. It has made me enjoy the smaller things and to look at things just a little bit differently.

Futuro National Park, Patagonia.

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X-Pro1 XF55-200mm @128mm F4.4  1/1800s ISO 200

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X-E1 XF55-200mm @90mm  F22 1/500s ISO 800

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 X-E1 XF55-200mm @90mm  F22 1/60s ISO 400

Don’t forget, follow me on instagram @michaelmcqueen

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CHILE – ARGENTINA: Pucon – San Carlos de Bariloche

So taking off where I left off. I left Temuco for the lakeside town of Pucon. The town itself is quiet small and touristy. I had only planned to stay 2 nights but ended up staying a week. There was so many activities to do and the hostel I stayed in (chilikiwi lakefront) was outstanding, the hostel made me want to stay forever, it was so relaxed and the people were just amazing. While in Pucon, I went canyoning, several hikes in national parks, many waterfalls, night thermal pools and attempted to climb a volcano (I was unsuccessful dew to severe thigh, hamstring and calve cramps just over half way up) but not to bother, half way the views were to die for.. and upon my return trip I will climb that volcano.

But as a side story, I had met two other Australians travelling and ended up talking about my motorbike and one told me he use to ride back home, so me being a generous man, decided to offer him to take my bike out for a little spin. About 15mins had passed and I started to think things hadn’t gone to well.. and literally 2 mins later he walked in the door and looked like a possum in head lights, his first words were “I got hit by a bus” I jumped up from the couch and from waist down he was covered in dust and his leg was bleeding and his shoe was almost completely red. A bus had turn out from being parked and clipped the back of the bike and spun him out resulting in a nasty chunk being taken out of his ankle and a grazed knee… lucky really. The rest of the day was spent at the hospital and joking about what had happened, the perk about being an aussie larakin I guess.. no matter how bad things get, you can always have a laugh about it.

 

Lake Tanquilco, National Park Huerquehue, Chile (Volcano Villarrica)

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Lake Villarrica, Villarrica, Chile

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Climbing Volcano Villarrica, Pucon, Chile

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Small Cascade, Pucon, Chile.

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After hearing many stories about the 7 Lakes route just over the border I decided to head into Argentina and check it out for myself, I had booked 2 nights in San Martin de Los Andes, 1 night in Villa La Angostura and 5 in San Carlos de Bariloche to take me just past christmas. Crossing the border, the ride was just amazing, I had to ride through Villarrica National Park (Chilean side) and ended up in Lanin National Park (Argentinian side) Volcano Lanin was the dominating feature of the landscape and several times I had to stop and just take it in… A huge glacier resides atop the summit and sticks out quiet far (more noticeable from the chilean side of the border). Crossing the border it almost seemed as though the landscape knew to change as well, coming from dense forests to only shrubbery and patchy forests and the further away from the Andes range the less and less trees there was. Still a beautiful place.

Just before the border, National Park Villarrica, Chile.

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Just after the border, Volcano Lanin, National Park Lanin, Argentina

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San martin and villa la angostura were both quiet unique places and while San Martin didn’t have much going for it in the sense of natural attractions it was still nice to relax a little and be more like a tourist than a travelling photographer. Villa La Angostura offered way more in the sense of natural beauty. Set on the huge lake Nahuel Huapi, it offers a lot of vantage points for photos and many beaches to explore. 1 Night here was not enough.

On the 7 Lakes Route, Argentina

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Currently I am in San Carlos de Bariloche also set on the lake Nahual Huapi it offers a lot of hiking through national parks and to the top of mountain ranges for amazing vantage points. Unfortunately I have been set back with a head cold and been bed ridden for two days now.. Im hoping tomorrow is my day to get out and get exploring. For now here is what I have seen.

Nahual Huapi Lake, Chico Circuit vantage point, San Carlos de Bariloche

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CHILE: Heading South.

After some time with family and friends here, I have headed out on my own, just me, my motorcycle and my cameras. After much deliberation I decided to head south first, this means a couple of things.. 1. its heading into summer here so I’m not going to be freezing my a$$ off the whole time and 2. TORRES DEL PAINE or known best to some as Patagonia up first.

Now when I say first, it’s gonna take me awhile to get there, it’s almost 2500Km away from me still, but I feel I will be taking the most scenic route there. Buying my motorcycle in Concepcion and riding to my cousins house in Los Angeles (not the one with the big HOLLYWOOD sign * that i once climbed *) and right now I’m in a city called Temuco.

While in Los Angeles I went on a small adventure to a National Park. Laguna del Laja. Approaching the park the scenery was amazing, just a straight road heading towards a snow patched volcano. The park started out with huge gorges with green forest and an in season wild yellow flower, once in the park a mere 10min drive on the gravel road the sights changed drastically! It was turning into this black volcanic scape the trees were gone as were the flowers, it was just black everything.

I passed what would be a ski resort when in season but right now it’s abandoned, around a few bends and the scape changes again, I’m weaving around these corners amongst these volcanic boulders that look like they were put there by giants playing with volcanic clay. It sounds bizarre but it feels right to say, these boulders were random and huge, and the road was cut around them. Coming out of the boulder section the scene changes once again, a huge lake appears on the left with mountains diving straight into it, on my side of the lake its black sand patched with what looks like beach fauna and grass and on my right the other side of the volcano.

The mountains diving into the lake were all so different from each other, I could make out small shrubs nearing the tops but the shades of dirt and rock on the mountains were all so different, red, black, brown, green, yellow… it was just a strange barren scape that changed so dramatically.

The park roads got quiet dangerous for me on my moto as they turned from gravel into sand and not very well or consistently compacted. I would hit a small rut of soft sand and almost completely loose control. Here is where I do not want to crash, huge jagged volcanic rocks lay on the road side and it would not end well for me if I lost it. I decided to turn back and head back to a spot I found on entering the park for my final photo for the day.

Tomorrow I’m on the road again heading to Pucon and Villarrica.

Here is a selection of photos from my trip so far, from Concepcion to Los Angeles.

Streets of Concepcion, Chile

(All X-Pro1 – XF23mm F1.4R)

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Hualpen, Concepcion, Chile

(All X-Pro1 w XF23mm F1.4R & XF55-200mm F3.5-4.8R LM OIS)

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On the road discoveries (Los Murros and Yungay waterfall)

(All X-Pro1 w XF23mm F1.4R & XF14mm F2.8R) & Lee Big Stopper

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Los Angeles, Chile

(Salto Del Laja & Alto Bio Bio )

(All X-Pro1 w  XF14mm F2.8R, XF55-200mm F3.5-4.8R LM OIS & Lee Big Stopper)

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Los Angeles, Chile 

(Laguna Del Laja National Park)

(All X-Pro1 w  XF23mm F1.4R & XF55-200mm F3.5-4.8R LM OIS & Lee Big Stopper+ Singh Ray Reverse ND)

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CHILE: Family and settling in.

So I have been here for a little over a week now, I am still adjusting to their customs and way of life, as they (well from my experience so far) go to bed late, eat late, wake up late, eat late, and go to bed late. I was use to getting up at 6am for work and asleep by 10pm.. here it’s wake up at 10-11am, roll out of bed, go do some errands, have a little siesta, do more errands, eat 4-5 meals a day and some times eat at like 12-1 am.. Needless to say prior to my trip here I imagined myself eating once maybe twice a day as I would be busy exploring and riding my motorbike, well it’s currently the opposite, but I think it’s because I’m with family and not on my solo adventure just yet.

As far as photo taking has been, I have been fairly relaxed with it, I have been doing more errands than anything, shopping for my motor bike and obtaining my RUT number so I can legally buy assets ie: motorbike and there for have full insurance in my name. It has been  an eye opening experience to say the least, trying to organize these things with people that don’t speak a word of english and my spanish is so basic that I understand them but cant respond haha. No worries, I have google translator on my phone and it has come in handy many of times.

I am that excited when I look at maps and websites to see what I am installed for, the scenery is so amazing and the people so friendly I can only imagine what the next few weeks will bring; exploring and photographing some amazing places and people.

 

Stay tuned as the adventure hasn’t even begun yet!

 

 

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Fujifilm 23mm F1.4 R. Stunning!

With my trip looming, and the release of the new XF 23mm F1.4 R on the cards, but date unclear. I did my best and pulled off getting one pre-release in Australia. This lens.. is.. it’s amazing, it’s stunning, it’s perfect! This lens for me feels like the best XF lens yet! I loved the 23mm from the X100 and this is about 300 x better! – personal opinion.

I love the Manual focus clutch and distance scale. It feels just right on the X-Pro1, maybe a little to big for X-E1. It focuses fast, and all the way from 1.4-16 its sharp. In no way am I a reviewer of gear, but in real world usage, it’s perfect.

Pros:

Everything; Focussing both Auto and Manual

The Clutch feels firm and focuses smooth.

Sharp from 1.4-16

Cons:

A little big for the X-E1 (14mm and 35mm feel more at home on the X-E1)

That ridiculous lens hood.. but not to worry I pre ordered a month prior from ebay a metal vented lens hood. It arrived the day after I got the lens.

 

How about I just let the images speak for them selves!

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 Brisbane City, Afternoon light.

/All F16 ISO 200/

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Catching last rays,

/F1.4 ISO400/

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Brisbane Twilight

/F16 ISO200/

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