Weekly Photo Challenge: Endurance, Or: Atop Gibraltar

Gibraltar

This week’s challenge is all about endurance. Pretty sure that reaching the top of Gibraltar – historically one of the toughest natural fortresses on Earth – counts for something. I just wish I could’ve taken this with something other than an iPod Touch…

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A Moment In JFK

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about stories. Specifically, the story behind the first picture of yourself that you can find. Not surprisingly, I had to do some serious digging through my library. There aren’t many photos of me. I always dislike how I turn out; there’s something off with the lighting, my smile seems goofy, and it just doesn’t look good. I’d rather take pictures of something, anything more interesting and beautiful. In the photograph for this entry, it’s the setting that stood out.

I’m standing in front of a large sign that says “Welcome to New York”. I noticed it on my last layover through JFK International Airport in 2011. It’s hanging on the wall just after the security checkpoint. I’m smiling for the camera, but it’s a little strained from having to gather my belongings and put my shoes and belt back on. I regard airport security with ambivalence; I’ve traveled enough times to make it routine, but I get patted down at least once per trip. I guess I look suspicious…It doesn’t help that – at least for this particular trip – I’m decked out with a backpack, three clothing layers, and several pockets. Cargo pants are a staple of all my vacations, by virtue of practicality. However, I’m also draped in my black overcoat. It’s not something I’ll likely need in the coming week, though. I’m heading out to Madrid and then Málaga (along with Seville, Tangier, and Gibraltar eventually) but I don’t know what the weather is going to be like.

There’s a certain sense of urgency in the air. JFK is a bustling, frantically-paced airport. It’s almost suffocating. Even as I stand faking a grin, there’s a whole crowd of people off to my left. Weary travelers dragging their rolling suitcases and checking their phones, refusing to take even a moment to enjoy the setting. It’s fine, I can’t stand there all day. My hair is already untied and matted a little on one side, which means I’ve long stopped caring about feeling fresh and am focused on reaching the next gate in time. I’ll make it with minutes to spare, and I’ll gladly leave JFK in favor of Madrid’s far more relaxing atmosphere.

Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top, Or: The Rock of Gibraltar

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Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top, Or: The Rock of Gibraltar

Another week, another challenge. I’ve climbed quite a few mountains over the years, but there was something special about the time I spent on top of Gibraltar. It’s all about scale; the bustling tourist town seems huge at first, but you realize how small it is from up above. You’re just high enough to see the curvature of the planet. Gibraltar is one of those rare places that make you acutely aware of your exact position on the Earth. It’s at the southernmost tip of Europe, and you can just make out Africa across the water on a clear day. It may not have been the highest peak I’ve ever seen, but it was one of the most memorable.

Daily Prompt: Safety First, Or: Hanging On In Thailand

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt focuses on safety. Or rather, the lack thereof. Despite evidence to the contrary, danger is not my middle name. However, it’s something with which I’m all too familiar. My neighborhood is bad, even for this city’s – one of the worst in California’s – standards. Robberies, shootings, muggings, drug dealings, and yes, even murders happen with alarming frequency. You know all those TV crime dramas that are so popular? Yeah, it’s not so fun when you actually live in those places. It’s most certainly not safe to go for an evening stroll, and it’s not much better even in broad daylight. My morning commute starts (there’s still a bus and subway ride to undertake) with a nearly two mile trek through this urban wasteland, complete with the unspoken understanding that there is a high chance of me not reaching my destination. You’ve probably heard the term fight or flight. It’s an instinctive, physiological response to perceived threats. Everyone has it, even you. While most would assume that I’m flight – it’s easy to dismiss a quiet bookworm – experience has taught me quite the opposite.

I don’t fear death. Most people – especially men due to outdated gender expectations – simply state that as a form of false bravado or confidence. It’s nothing but silly posturing. For me, it’s not about bravery, mental stability, or even a lack of self-preservation. I’ve understood and accepted my mortality for years, because I’ve faced it directly. I’ve come within seconds and inches of dying a few times. I could regale you stories of fighting a house fire, weathering storms in the Sierra Nevadas, nearly falling from the peak of Gibraltar, or nearly freezing one winter night in Le Métropolitain. I’m not sure if it’s because death is stalking me, or I’m just too foolish to avoid it.

Remember the photo of a sunset I posted a few weeks back? That was taken one fine evening in Phuket, Thailand. The rest of the week there wasn’t nearly as glamorous. I was in Southeast Asia just in time for the start of its monsoon season. If you’re from California and think El Niño is bad, you haven’t seen anything. The downpours are relatively brief, but they’re strong. People have to scramble for cover because an umbrella just won’t cut it. It was like that for most of my trip in Thailand. But one morning, the clouds parted just enough that it seemed okay to explore the neighboring Phi Phi Islands.

Yeah, you can see where this is going.

The cruise itself was great, though a little bumpy. I was in a speedboat alongside a dozen or so other tourists. It wasn’t crowded enough to be unpleasant, and the drinks were free. The islands were absolutely gorgeous – you’ll see soon enough – and everything seemed to be going well. We had just finished lunch and cast off for the next island, right on schedule. But suddenly, the world turned dark. It was like something out of an apocalyptic movie. A glance at the sky revealed something far more real; we had sailed practically headlong into a monsoon. The crew scrambled to assemble the the overhanging tarp, but they didn’t get to it fast enough. Within seconds, everyone was drenched to the bone. It wasn’t pleasant like taking a shower, it was like being sprayed by a fire hose. People slipped and stumbled as the waves churned. A child was huddled near one of the front seats, wailing. The thunder roared. The waves swelled and knocked us around. The boat was nearly on its side, and I was feebly clinging to a railing. I managed a peek toward the island swaying in the distance. It was too far. Too far to swim. I am going to drown here. I’m not going to make it out of this alive. I’m not sure if it was the realization or the seawater that gave me the chill. I just closed my eyes and didn’t let go.

I’m not sure how long it lasted. It felt like hours. I didn’t dare take out my phone with all the water around. But eventually the waves subsided, and the torrent of water gave way to sprinkles, then tropical sun. I opened my eyes. Everyone was still there and drenched from head to toe. I couldn’t stop shaking. My legs didn’t want to work. All I could do was just sit down and breathe. Eventually we managed to get the boat back on course and to the next island, where we wearily stumbled off into white sands and the warmth of the sun. It didn’t take long to dry off, but we stayed on that beach for quite a while. The trip back was fine, but I never went out on the water there again. Photographing sunsets seemed better for some reason.

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