The photo above was taken with a 70-300mm lens that was picked up on eBay for $5. Though minor adjustments were made in Adobe Lightroom, it just goes to show that getting a great shot depends on having a good eye, and being in the right place at the right time. Having a plethora of various lenses and expensive equipment might be great for some circumstances, but often times, simplifying your photographic kit forces you to be more creative. And creativity is essential to getting the perfect shot.
As much as I love the city and all its urban goodness, I have an immense longing to explore the natural world. I dream of someday photographing the untouched natural beauty of places like Guyana, Borneo (what's left of it), and the Patagonia ice fields. But a new location caught my attention a few days ago, when I came across this article on Dark Roasted Blend.
The fact that I can barely find any suitable photographs of the Darién Gap for this post is a good indicator of its remoteness. The Darién Gap is a 160km long by 50km wide area of undeveloped land separating Panama from Columbia. It is a geological barrier between Central and South America, and is a land entirely devoid of roads. Because it is the only way to pass between the two Americas by land, the Darién Gap serves as the single missing link in the Pan-American Highway. Because of environmental and disease-related concerns, government attempts at completing this last stretch of highway have failed time and time again. Thus, transcontinental journeys have been forced to use four-wheel-drive trucks and similar vehicles to complete their passage.
Though the gap itself lacks any roadways, life still exists within its boundaries. The Embera-Wounaan and Kuna Indians live within the region, often traveling by dugout canoe. Geographically speaking, the gap is divided. On the Colombian side, a flat marshland and swampland dominates the scene. Panama's share, however, is a lush and green mountainous rain forest. At one time, the gap's forests had immense cedrela and mahogany cover, but logging efforts have all but removed these trees.
It is the prospect of largely undeveloped geographical contrasts that draws me to this region, but because of external conflicts, I doubt I will ever be able to experience the gap's offerings. Kidnappings are common in the region due to the heavy presence of three Colombian rebel groups. Travelers and explorers, if lucky, are released within a reasonable amount of time. But ten documented murders of U.S. citizens exist, which is enough to deter me for now.
I've often heard the argument that the United States is still a vastly unsettled country. A satellite image taken at night over the US will attest to this, as a sprawling network of highways and populated areas can be seen. Yet some of the most beautiful moments one can have with nature come from the remoteness of an area. And in this country, truly being alone with nature can be a daunting task.
I've blogged about my experiences in Colorado before, and about how business owners these days only want to make a quick buck on weary tourists. The city of Manitou Springs, Colorado is a prime example of this. Here, man even tries to simulate nature in order to draw in the crowds, even though nature is ever-present in the area. The truth of the matter is that most ordinary people just aren't happy with what nature has to offer. Seven Falls, a popular tourist attraction near Manitou Springs, would be dry most of the year due to natural conditions were it not for a series of pumps that recycle the water to keep tourists happy. The average tourist expects immediate results, and is not willing to go searching for true beauty. But unfortunately, true beauty is fading at an alarming rate.
The United States has a wonderful system of National Parks that preserve the natural world. But finding yourself truly alone in one of these parks is near impossible. Manmade distractions are everywhere, and many times, scenic vistas are crosscut with roads. The August 2008 issue of National Geographic Adventure features an article entitled The Park at the Top of the World, by Kevin Fedarko, which documents a trip down Canada's Firth River through the Ivvavik National Park. The park, a 2.4-million-acre preserve, is virtually unknown and often goes unnoticed. In Fedarko's words, "Ivvavik is where we'll have to go to witness the soft of wilderness that America threw away." If Fedarko's description and Peter McBride's photography in the article are any indication, Ivvavik National Park is one of the last truly remote places on the planet. And it is a place I someday hope to visit and document, before it's too late.