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Sue and I were asked by our dear friends Jade and Mahea to shoot their wedding in Hawaii.  How could we say no?  We spent two weeks playing on the big island with friends.  Here are some photos to share…

© John David Becker 2010

Yep, we saw double rainbows too…

© John David Becker 2010

Volcano National Park was our first stop.  We’ve walked around calderas like this one before, but never IN a caldera.

© John David Becker 2010

This is the view from the bottom.  It was pretty fun to walk the smooth martian surface and climb among the bus-sized pieces that pushed upwards just before solidifying.

© John David Becker 2010

The last time this caldera was active, magma was seen shooting up 1,500 feet and higher from the volcano.  From where I was standing inside the caldera, it would have been about as high as the sun, give-or-take.

© John David Becker 2010

Across from the Caldera was a Lava Tube.  It’s pretty interesting to think of liquid Earth flowing through here like water through a straw.

© John David Becker 2010

We didn’t get to see any lava flowing into the ocean, but we did get up at twilight to see the orange glow of the lava pool inside one of the calderas.

© John David Becker 2010

This little pheasant character wasn’t so stealthy.   His little brain probably thought, “they’ll never see me while I peak through this blade of grass!”

© John David Becker 2010

Yeah, natural sea arches are pretty amazing.  Makes you ponder…

© John David Becker 2010

I like things that seem out of place.  You could look 17 miles in every direction and not see a single palm tree.  This little gathering grew out of the lava fields to make their own oasis.

© John David Becker 2010

Big waves crashing 60 feet into the air…

© John David Becker 2010

From sea to mountaintop.  Mauna Kea rises 14,000′ above the ocean and clouds below.   This makes for astronomical astronomy.

© John David Becker 2010

Sunset with friends is also a great way to celebrate your ascent.

© John David Becker 2010

Sunset on one side means one crazy shadow on the other.  When you’re this high above the earth starting at Sea Level, the resulting shadow is like nothing you’ll see anywhere else.  Technically, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world starting from the sea floor.  If you look really closely, you can the shadow of me waving on the peak of the mountain.

© John David Becker 2010

The Milky Way looks pretty appetizing with almost no light pollution at 10,000′ ft.

© John David Becker

When you take a sip of your drink from the peak of Mauna Kea and seal it up, the return to sea level has a funny affect…

© John David Becker 2010

Tree’s still have beauty in their afterlife…


© John David Becker 2010

© John David Becker 2010

All good things must come to an end.  In this case, the road was blocked by a 6′ blanket of lava.  Appropriate ending to this post.


© john david becker 2010

a mug for my coffee.  it’s an object.  sits on my desk day after day.  it serves a purpose.

this particular inanimate object somehow came alive the other day.  it’s purpose was different.  it radiated an energy that i had somehow forsaken.  it has less with what this mug said to me at that moment —  it was actually what this mug said to everyone else that arrested my attention.

i started compiling a list of the life affirming gifts i received from sailing on Semester at Sea in 2003 and again in 2008.

1.  my wife.  i met her early on in my first voyage.  i remember everything about that moment we first spoke.  it transpired into long talks off the coast of Singapore while refueling, overnight trains up to mountain villages in India, and long long walks on island beaches off the coast of Brazil.  eventually we married and it has been an incredible ride the entire way through.  half the people at the wedding sailed around the world with us that first time.  within a year of our marriage we were on the new ship to sail around again.

2.  i sailed around the world.  point to point.  twice.  over 28,000 miles each time.

3.  i survived 30+ foot seas off the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.  i’ve also seen the calmest seas imaginable and some of the most awe inspiring sunsets.  there’s always a give and take.

4.  i sailed through the panama canal.  sounds silly, but it was my gateway to a full circumnavigation by ship.  the first time there was a 3,000 mile gap closed by airplane.

5.  i was drinking sumatra coffee one morning and my friend Brian told me to look off the port side.  what was there?  the island of sumatra.

6.  i’ve seen snapshots of the world twice and can tell you what kind of difference five years make in third world countries (and some 2nd & 1st world too).

7.  i can differentiate stereotypes from archetypes in societies dotted around the globe.

8.  i’ve been swindled, cheated and blindsided but never hurt, maimed or killed (obviously).  i have more fears and reservations about American Suburbia than international travel destinations.

9.  the work i’ve done, whether in the realm of photography or volunteer work, while with Semester at Sea has been the most rewarding i’ve ever done.  seeing my work used for promoting such an amazing program makes me proud.

10.  i am a different person thanks to my work with Semester at Sea.  the people i’ve met, the experiences i’ve shared, the things i’ve seen have all culminated into the person i’ve become and the values i hold dear.

the intention is not to brag about accomplishments, but to remind myself of the incredible experiences i’ve been fortunate enough to share with dear friends and most importantly my wife.

we move through our days and we live in the moment.  to be reminded of your journey can make the destination that much sweeter.  if someone see’s that mug and asks me about it, i can share some of the most important stories of my life.   thanks mug!

F’03, S’08 and E81

Varanasi deserves a visit from everyone.  you want to put your life in perspective?  what happens in Varanasi is life in it’s various forms being played out for you.  what would normally be personal and intimate becomes public.  it’s the full cycle of life and death performed by thousands of faces each day.

Ganges River at Dawn. Varanasi, India 2009

The sun has not yet risen but thousands of visitors are ready to greet her arrival.

Varanasi, India

i would love to know the story about this structure.  what seems like part of a temple is now half sunk in the river bed.

Prayers to the rising sun. Varanasi, India

everyone has their own way, but showing deep appreciation for that which gives us life is essential to the compassionate heart.

Morning bathing in the Ganges River. Varanasi, India 2009

just one touch will absolve you of a lifetime of sins.

morning worship of the sun. Varanasi, India

this morning ritual is part of a larger, more grandiose display held every night in front of this ghat.  it is a huge tourist draw (both domestic and foreign) as well as a huge money maker for the ghat.  Other ghats have seen it’s success and try to emulate it.  Oddly enough most of the performers are from Nepal (cheaper labor).  This ritual in the morning has no audience and therefore feels like it retains authenticity…

fishing gear. Varanasi, India

these fishing baskets were scattered along the ghats but i didn’t see them put to use.  the ganges is so polluted it can hardly sustain life.

bathing in the ganges from the opposite bank of the river. Varanasi, India

large groups of people gather on the opposite banks of the river to bath.  they set up little camps where they can worship or change or even sell food and drink to other visitors.

guided prayer. Varanasi, India

once this man finishes his prayer, a tilaka will be placed on his forehead symbolizing the third eye or minds eye.

sadhu earlier morning prayer. Varanasi, India

one of the few things i did not capture extensively was the burning ghat.  i sat there for an hour pondering it.  photography was frowned upon at the burning ghats but when the locals weren’t constantly reminding me of that, the foremen in charge of the daily cremations would promise me up-close access for a bribe.  I thought it best just to move on.

Varanasi is compelling and is saved from being labeled a tourist trap thanks to the legitimacy of it’s religious value and stature.  I’m glad we went and I’m glad we’ll never need to return.

candle offerings down the Ganges River. Varanasi, India

floating candles down the Ganges River is a beautiful site to behold.  these offerings can be done for countless reasons, but for us we had our intentions set.

Varanasi is one of the holiest cities in the Hindu faith.  the Mother Ganges river snakes through it and the temples line the banks for miles with stairs that decent into it’s depths.

boats travel up and down with visitors.  occasionally a boat will go out with the body of a child,  a Sadhu or pregnant woman to be submerged in the river.  they are not allowed to be burned at the burning ghats.  people line the stairs day and night doing ritualistic bathing, praying, exercises and socialization.  it is a true cultural hub.

we rented a boat at dawn the day after I learned of my grandfather’s passing away.  i wanted to honor him in the only way i new how considering we were a world away and months from returning.  we lit candles and set them afloat down the river.  i said a prayer.  we then lit a few more candles for our first cat, Harper and poured the remainder of his ashes into the river.  it was a very powerful moment of completion in a very powerful place.

this photograph is from the bow of the boat that took us out that evening.

the Taj Mahal at sunrise. Agra, India

this is one of many photographs i’d like to publish of the Taj Mahal.  it’s the second one on this blog.  we spent a morning there after taking an overnight train from Varanasi.  had to haggle quite a bit for a rickshaw that wouldn’t rip us off too bad.

we spend the evening before looking at the Taj at sunset from across the dry river bed.  it wasn’t until we were inside the compound the next day that we were able to fully appreciate the detail and beauty of this monument to love.

I’m starting a new series called “pictures i like” for the sole purpose of motivating me to share.  Sometimes as a photographer, sheer volume can be a difficult mountain to climb.  By sharing photos as they inspire me, I’ll be more apt to work through them.  When I look for stories and portfolio pieces of work, the pressure of maintaining a level of artistic merit can overshadow the enjoyment of a picture for pictures sake.  Sue and I always remind each other to take “we were there” photographs.  Enjoy…

Sue Fan on a bamboo swing in the Garden of Dreams - Kathmandu Nepal 2009

© 2010 John David Becker

the taj mahal.  a testament to love…

Lake Phewa, Nepal ~ © 2009 JDB

It’s time to revisit our travels.  The pictures from Pokhara, 6 hours west of Kathmandu by bus caught my eye today.  It’s a little respite from the chaos of Kathmandu but still delivers an overabundance of westernization like Thamel.  It’s really the gateway city to the Himalaya for most people.  Just over the mountain to the north you can see the tip of Fishtail.

Fishtail ~ © JDB

Fishtail ~ © 2009 JDB

Hotels are all over the place.  We were told it was high season, but Pokhara was a ghost town compared to Kathmandu.  Tours will pre-book hotels so some nicer places may be taken up.  We ended up liking Hotel Blue Heaven.  For $15 US/night we had a private balcony and a decent room with a really nice bathroom (western toilet).  We found the beds to be horrible everywhere in Kathmandu.  Pokhara is no exception.  I’m much better now at sleeping on my back thanks to the thin padding between my bones and a plywood surface.  If you want to stay at a hotel with benefits, go to Chhetri Sisters Guest House.  It is expensive but they train local women as trekking guides, empower local women’s groups and other local endeavors.  There are little secret places like a Buddhist meditation retreat.  Sometimes you just have to keep your ears open and you’ll pick up tips from other travelers.

Lake Phewa is the most predominant feature.  After spending time in the dry and polluted Kathmandu Valley, the lake is a true oasis. You can rent kayaks, sailboats or canoes by the hour or day.  There are secluded hotels and restaurants that you can only get to by boat.  Barahi Temple is on an island off South Lakeside, near the Royal Palace property.  We enjoyed drinking coffee and chai at Mike’s Restaurant.  It was the only place with tables right on the waterfront.

Rooftop of Hotel Blue Heaven ~ © 2009 JDB

The World Peace Pagoda sits atop on of the many high hills surrounding the lake.  We took a trip up the opposite side and gently paraglided back to earth.  From high above the Pokhara Valley you can see the Annapurna mountain range and the glacial rivers running through.  We spotted the Tibetan Village we visited the day before.  Great peaceful experience. We used Sunrise Paragliding which is the only outfit I’d recommend.

Back on land, it’s easy to stock up on supplies for an upcoming trek.  Pokhara has professional outfitters as well as designer fakes.  If you find a cheap down jacket or sleeping bag, it’s filled with chicken feathers.  Make you’re decisions wisely because chicken feathers probably don’t insulate as well as synthetics or goose down when wet or dry.  I doubt anyone would want to figure this out at Annapurna or Everest base camp.

Pokhara has plenty of ambiance, but if you find a good place to eat you should return and order the same thing over and over.  Any attempt to make decent food in Nepal seems to fail.  DO get your coffee and breakfast at Perky Beans in Central Lakeside.  Only place we really enjoyed in all of Pokhara.  Wish we found it on day 1!

Lake Phewa ~ 2009 JDB

We flew back from Pokhara because the bus we took to get there ended up being 9 hours.  Horrible.  I really enjoyed the 20 minute flight back to Kathmandu.  Some things are worth every penny.  Travel in Nepal is unpredictable so don’t feel bad about spending money if you have it.  Plus if you get in line early for the plane (first come, first serve) you’ll be happy if you score a seat on the north side of the plane (depending on which direction you’re flying obviously).  The Himalaya are stunning above cloud level.  Even better if your flight is around sunset.

Himalaya from the air ~ 2009 JDB

India and Nepal were a blast and all, but Hong Kong has been a taste of all that is right in the world.  Makes me eager to return to New York and rebuild a proper life.  This travel has opened my eyes in a way that all our former travel had not.  I may have been tired of travel before we stepped on the plane to India.  We’ve slept in over 100 different beds in countless different towns, villages and cities around the world in the past 500 days.  Ate food that was delicious and food that was impossible to swallow day-after-day-after-day.  Much has happened over the past two months at home and there’s still more to come.  Enough for us to cut our trip short by two months.

I don’t think I’ll ever regret this decision to return.  I have new insights and new inspirations.  I have renewed patriotism and eagerness to take advantage of all our country has to offer.  I could live in Hong Kong.  I could live in Tokyo.  I could certainly be comfortable in a European city.  For now we live in the most bad-ass city in the world.  New York City.  I couldn’t be more proud of that and I think Sue and I both are wanting a slice of home.  December 3rd we leave Hong Kong.  December 3rd we land and I just may kiss the ground when I get there…

Sadhu: Varanasi, India ~ 2009 John David Becker

If at first you don’t succeed…  The Sadhu’s set themselves apart from other holy men in the Hindu faith.  Living lives of poverty and wandering, they do not collect earthly possessions and do not care about money.  Their bodies are not cremated at a burning ghat on the Ganges; rather they are sunk into the river.

In Nepal, there were supposedly real Sadhu’s and fake Sadhu’s.  The business of being a holy man was too good.  We found Sadhu’s to be hawkish and even more relentless about asking for money than the hawkers selling goods.  They would walk up to you and place flowers on your head and mark you with a bindi: promptly asking you for rupees after.  Not just a token amount either.  If you had a camera, Sadhu’s were more aggressive.  Photo?  200 rupees.  Oh, and you can bargain for less.

In Varanasi, we found the Sadhu’s to be less in-your-face.  I don’t know if they all requested money, but they didn’t actively look for it.  I did get some pictures of a less intimate nature, but I finally found the one Sadhu that I wanted a photograph of.  10 rupees.  Ok.  Get some shots.  Walk away.  Within 20 seconds, I realize I didn’t get the exact shot I wanted.  Went back for round two.  Did you forget me?  10 more rupees.  So I get the shot.  Cost me $0.50USD total.  Such an insignificant amount, but where’s the holy?  Tit-for-tat I guess.


When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful. -Barbara Bloom