Weekly Photo Challenge: Bay Of Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor Bay, Montenegro

This week’s challenge is all about one love, so I thought I’d skip ahead of my writing and share a photo that best portrays my love of travel. This is the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro. It’s easily one of the most serene and peaceful places I’ve ever visited; its raw beauty hasn’t been spoiled by tourism yet. In geographical terms, this was the furthest I’ve ever been from home (even more so than Hong Kong), and I loved every moment of it. Exploring the world, learning new things and cultures, seeing faraway shores, finding places that are more beautiful than you thought possible… all with the wind and sun at your back. A larger version is viewable here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Pier 7 Reflections

Pier 7 Reflections

Here’s one of the last photos I took during the Global Photo Walk in San Francisco. This section of the waterfront is the other half of the view from Pier 7, long after sunset and most of the other photographers had left. Larger version is viewable here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Under The Wharf

Under The Wharf

I got to Capitola bright and early, and spent a few minutes walking under the wharf. I like how the morning sun cast shadows across the sand; while the structure itself doesn’t move, the patterns it makes change as the day goes on. Larger version is viewable here.

Lap Pool

Lap Pool

Most of the pools at Paradise Village are noisy and crowded in the afternoon. But if you want some peace, quiet, and relief from the searing summer heat, this little lap pool hidden near the hotel’s center is worth checking out.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Professor Layton and the Last Specter Theme (Live)

I love the Professor Layton series. It’s the closest Nintendo – or any major video game company, for that matter – will get to making a Sherlock Holmes-style character. He’s highly intelligent, polite, and solves mysteries of ridiculous proportions. It would’ve worked well enough as a visual novel, but letting you solve hundreds of puzzles along the way makes it so much better. The series is also well known for its extensive continuity and well-written characters; The Last Specter is the fourth installment out of six (seven if you count the Phoenix Wright crossover), but it’s the first chronologically. It’s also famous for its various soundtracks, which are among the best you’ll ever hear on a Nintendo console. While the theme of the Diabolical Box will always be my favorite, this live version of the Last Specter is great for some easy listening.

Good gaming, good music.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Afternoon On The Pier

Afternoon On The Pier

Another day at the ocean. The beach at Paradise Village ends at a rocky pier with a small lookout hut. It’s a very popular place for people looking to beat the heat and take some photos; it’s not usual for small crowds to show up for the sunsets. But on afternoons like this, you can take a book and relax amongst the crashing waves. Large version available here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dog in Surf

Dog In Surf

For the next entry into the muse challenge, here’s another shot along the same coast in Nuevo Vallarta. I think everyone should walk along the beach at least once in their lives; it’s peaceful, quiet, serene…and you never know what you’ll run into in the waves. Kind of like this friendly stray that was enjoying the day; I was worried about approaching him, but he only followed me for a bit before going back to his own fun in the sun.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Glimmering Sunset

Glimmering Sunset

This week’s challenge calls for a muse. You might have noticed I have a thing for the ocean and sunsets. Granted, I’m a nature lover in general, but there’s something alluring about the ocean; it gives you a sense of scale and your location on the Earth. You can watch the sun vanish before your eyes, giving you a greater insight of the astronomy and physics involved. The horizon practically begs you to venture forth and find out what’s out there. The ocean is one Earth’s great remaining mysteries; you can just stand there and wonder what lurks beneath the surface. You can breathe in the salty air, feel the wind your skin, and hear the waves endlessly crashing onto the shore…Yeah, I love it. This is one of many photos I took during my most recent trip. I’ll be posting more throughout the week; though they won’t all be sunsets, they’ll definitely involve oceans.

A Week In Nuevo Vallarta

Hey, folks! I’m baaaack!

*Crickets chirp*

…Ahem. Unlike my last couple of adventures, my trip to Nuevo Vallarta was planned for about six months before my departure. I went as part of a group of six family members, all in a two bedroom/bath timeshare at Paradise Village. Also unlike my previous adventures, it was made abundantly clear that this was going to be a relaxing, “traditional” vacation; going with family meant less opportunity to go exploring on my own, thus focusing more on the resort, beaches, and various tourist activities.

I was both relieved and disappointed; as much I love wandering around, Mexico is not the place to do it. In the weeks leading up to the trip, the US state department issued travel advisories for various areas of the country. In my apprehension, I took the time to look up the locations and contact information of the consulates, hoping that I’d never have to use them. This wasn’t my first rodeo in Mexico, though. In fact, I’ve been there more times than I have any other foreign country; I’ve been to Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas, Cancun, Chichen Itza, as well as Puerto/Nuevo Vallarta twice prior to this trip. I also narrowly missed a trip to Acapulco, but that’s a story for another day. However, these all happened back in the 90s; Mexico has changed, and this was my first time going there as an adult. In the end, I resolved to enjoy the trip as much as I could within its limited scope.

To achieve that, I packed only the bare essentials: enough clothes, my DSLR, and a few books. I left my handheld gaming device behind for the first time; while it’s great for killing time on flights, I’ve come to realize how much of a distraction it can be. Same goes with smart phones; while nearly everyone else in my group was glued to their Internet and Skype, I purposely turned off my roaming and arranged for only texts to be available in case of emergencies. I’m not much of a phone person, so it’s not like I was missing anything. Without its temptation, I had to find a way to make a week revolve around little more than sunny weather and gorgeous beaches. I spent whole afternoons walking up and down Nuevo Vallarta’s shoreline, going barefoot on its flawless white sand and getting drenched knee-high in the surf. It’s something that everyone needs to do at least once in their lives; the seemingly endless horizon, the sound of the waves crashing, the cool sea breeze on your skin…that’s real living.

Paradise Village’s beach terminates with a long, rocky pier with a lookout on its tip. I made a daily habit of visiting it twice: once in the mornings to do some reading and watch the passing boats, and in the evening to photograph the sunsets. I took several great photos on that pier (you’re going to see some in the near future), and I wasn’t the only one. I was asked by at least a dozen other sightseers and/or families to take their pictures amidst the spectacular night skies and splashing waves. It’s remarkable how nature’s beauty transcends language barriers; everyone loves seeing a great sunset, no matter what country you’re from.

The same goes with wildlife; the beach had numerous gulls wandering around, waiting patiently for visitors to leave their food unattended. The hotel has about half a dozen parrots and a small group of Bengal tigers on display in its central hub. Every time I passed by, there would always be a small crowd of people trying to get some decent photos. The tigers were usually lazy and unresponsive, but I managed to catch one bathing one evening. The birds were far more friendly; I happened to find out when their cages were being cleaned, and got some nice, iron bar-free macro shots. During the hotel’s bird show (think of Letterman’s stupid pet tricks), I decided to embrace my inner tourist and had my picture taken with a scarlet macaw on my arm.

Speaking of touristy stuff, I took a city tour of Puerto Vallarta. It was a day’s run-through of the city’s marina, romantic zone, souvenir stands, the coastline near Mismaloya, and a tequila tour. The latter was rather uncomfortable for me; I don’t drink – the strongest thing I have is occasional root beer- so I was totally out of my element. I took a shot of mandarin tequila and struggled to swallow it down. It tasted like tangy cough syrup; seriously, what’s the appeal?! I also went zip-lining again (just over a year since Maui!) but that deserves its own entry/review. While most of my companions stuck to the hotel’s services – Paradise Village has its own shopping mall, complete with McDonald’s, Subway, Domino’s, and Starbucks within 3 minute’s walking distance – my mother and I took a bus out to the local Walmart, stocked up on groceries, and cooked in the hotel room. Any place that makes it affordable to eat three mangoes a day is a paradise indeed.

There’s more to write about, but I’ll stop here for now. It was a fun, relaxing week, and I’ve got tons of photos for you all to see. Stay tuned.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Donkey Kong Country 2 – Stickerbrush Symphony

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest had a lot to live up to. With only a year since the release of the original DKC – one of the finest and visually stunning games on the SNES – it was a ridiculously tough act to follow. Rare stepped up to the challenge by introducing even more collectible items, tons of hidden rooms and secrets, more allies and enemies, even better graphics, more varied platforming and level designs, and a new character with a more unique abilities and jump physics.

It also boasted one of the finest soundtracks on the SNES, if not any console of that generation. David Wise put a lot of effort into the composition, and it shows. Other 16-bit games could only dream of having its intricate layering and epic tone. “Stickerbrush Symphony” is arguably the most famous track in DKC’s already impressive musical library. It’s strangely fitting that such a relaxing song plays during one of the toughest levels in the entire game.

If you want more DKC2, you can find the full OST here.

Good gaming, good music.