Tag: Danny Fernandez

El Camino with the Fujifilm X100S

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The Camino de Santiago (also commonly known as ’The Way of St James’, or ‘El Camino’ in Spanish) is the name given to the pilgrimage routes that start all over Europe, but all lead to the same destination: the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia (Northwest Spain).


By Danny Fernandez

Since moving to Spain in 2011, I had heard many people talking about doing ‘El Camino’, and each of them saying how incredible the experience is (life changing for many). For the past few years, it has been on my ‘to do’ list, and this August, I decided to combine three of my passions (travel, cycling and photography) and see what all the fuss is about!

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The first choice I had to make (although it wasn’t really much of a difficult one) was whether I should walk, or cycle. As a keen cyclist, the choice was simple; I would do a cycle tour. By cycling, it also meant that I could see much more of the coast in a shorter time, and also easily take detours if I wanted to explore the area.

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The second choice that I had to make was which camino to do. It was a toss up between the most popular, but easier and better facilitated route; the Camino Frances, or the more difficult and less crowded Camino del Norte. I decided to do the ‘Camino del Norte’. This is the route which follows the northern coast on Spain. I chose to do this route as I had heard it is the most beautiful but also one of the most difficult routes due to all of the mountains! I decided to start in the beautiful coastal town of Castro Urdiales (50km west of Bilbao), and had approx 17 days to cycle the 780km to Santiago de Compostela.

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The third choice that I had to make was where I would stay. Typically walkers (commonly known as Pilgrims during the camino) stay in Albergues (which is like a simple hostel, solely for pilgrims). However, cyclists get the last priority of beds in Albergues (walkers first / those on horses – yes, horses – second / cyclists third). As I had no guarantee of a bed, I decided to bring a tent and camp where possible.

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My Way

There seem to be as many reasons for doing the camino, as there are pilgrims. I met people from all walks of life, including entire families, married couples, adventurers, grandparents and even one guy who had walked out of his front door – in the Netherlands – 11 months ago, and is still walking now!

At the start of my camino, I overheard people saying things like “The Way gives you what you need”. I rolled my eyes and blew this off as some hippy thing, but after 17 days of cycling, I agreed with this.

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I think that the nature of any repetitive action (in this case ‘wake up/eat/cycle/sleep/repeat’), gives you a lot of – almost meditative – headspace, and can teach you all sorts of things about yourself. I had a lot of time to ponder on things (I was, after all, cycling by myself for on average 5 – 8 hours a day).

I also feel that the challenges taught me a lot about myself, and man, there were challenges! It was way more difficult than I could imagine. Some days I would battle a constant uphill mountain for more than 2 hours without escape. On average, I was ascending and descending between 800 – 1000 metres of altitude a day. And when it’s 32 degrees, and your loaded bike weights 30kgs, you feel every meter.

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Before starting, I expected to have many highs, and many lows (such is the beauty and the curse of solo travel), and the camino gave me both of these. I had extreme highs after making it through hours of rainy mountains to be rewarded with parted clouds over the most breathtaking views. And I had extreme lows when I questioned my reasons for this ‘stupid idea’ and was 90% sure that I was going to quit and just hang out on a beach for the remainder of my trip.

Each persons experience of the Camino is unique and I feel that if you listen, you can learn a lot about yourself during this journey.

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Why I chose the X100s

I’m not sure if other photographers are like me, but I spend so much time in a constant debate over which camera equipment to bring before any trip.

Since selling my Canon gear 3 years ago and slowly building a collection of Fuji (X100s / X-T1 / X-T10 / XF16mm / XF35mm / XF56mm) I was fortunate enough to have the choice of what to bring for this trip.

x100sI had narrowed it down to the X100s, or the X-T10 + XF16 and XF35 lenses. After changing my mind on a near daily basis, I eventually decided to simplify EVERYTHING on this trip, therefore I would only bring my X100s. I had previously spent 3 months backpacking around India with this camera and think it’s an incredible travel camera.

My reasons for bringing just the X100s was that I wanted simplicity. This was very much my philosophy behind the entire trip – to get away from every day life of choices and go back to basics (this was also the basis for my terrible decision of bringing only 2 pairs of socks for a 17 day cycle trip). I was clear that this was not a photography trip; it was all about the experience of the camino, and the X100s was always at hand to document it.

And if I had to choose only one reason why this is still my favourite travel camera, it’s because it doesn’t interrupt your experiences; but instead is there to complement them. Photography has taught me how to see, and when a camera fits in so seamlessly with your life, it can help deepen your appreciation of that moment.

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Idi Probak – A traditional Basque rural sport

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By Danny Fernandez

The Basque Country is an area spanning both Spain and France on the Atlantic coast.

In the past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to visit this unique Spanish region (what most people are referring to when they talk about the Basque Country) several times and have been able to learn a little about the culture, traditions and food; all of which are extremely rich.

On my last visit, I was able to join in the yearly celebration of ‘San Pedro’ (or ‘San Pedroko Jaiak’ in Basque). This is celebrated all over Spain, but this festival is especially important to the village of Boroa. Boroa is made up of 15th Century farmhouses, rolling hills of farmland and dense forests, but also has a pioneering industrial centre. Interestingly, Boroa has it’s own Michelin starred restaurant.


The Basque Country is a place with many rich, rural traditions (many dating back centuries), and they celebrate their heritage by keeping these traditions alive during special events throughout the year.

The climax of the Boroa’s San Pedroko Jaiak celebration is a traditional rural sport named ‘Idi Probak’ (which can be loosely translated to ‘Oxen Tests’) and takes place in Boroa’s village centre.

There are a few variations of this game (depending on the region in which it is held) but I will briefly describe the one which I saw.

The game involves two oxen dragging a rock (in this case, a 1800kg concrete slab) along the length of a cobbled track (named ‘proba toki’ – the length of this is typically from 22m – 28m). The oxen are guided by an ox-herder and a goader, whose job it is to steer both the oxen, and the rock along the track. They have 30 minutes to do as many lengths as possible, dragging the 1800 kgs behind them. The spectators bet on how many lengths the Oxen can carry the weight in 30 mins.

I heard that in the past, it wasn’t uncommon for the competitors to bet their harvest, their houses and even their land during this event!

The oxen are trained throughout the year in preparation of this competition, and are regularly taken for long walks in the hills and mountains as well as trained by dragging rocks.

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During the evening of the event, the locals (and also those from neighbouring villages) come to watch the spectacle, socialise and end the night with traditional music and dancing.

The Basque country is a very unique place, full of natural and untamed beauty. The people are proud, the food is incredible and the landscapes are stunning.

‘The moment this man won a bet, correctly guessing how many lengths the oxen could drag the weight in 30 minutes’.
‘The moment this man won a bet, correctly guessing how many lengths the oxen could drag the weight in 30 minutes’.

 

All photos taken on a Fujifilm X-T10 using XF16 / XF23 / XF56 lenses.


To see more of Danny’s work, click here.

 

 

Backpacking India with Danny Fernandez

By Danny Fernandez
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During the first half of 2014, I decided to pack my bags, say goodbye to what I knew as ‘life’ and spend 3 months traveling around Northern India. This blog is to share my journey with you. All my images were shot on the FUJIFILM X100S and processed in Lightroom.

Varanasi, or ‘the holy city of India‘ sits on the banks of the river Ganges, in Uttar Pradesh. Varanasi (or Banaras) is known for being the most spiritual part of India, and this is reflected by the amount of devotees attending various religious ceremonies every day. Some Hindus believe that death at Varanasi brings salvation. It became my home for 6 weeks, and this is my experience of it.

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My entire trip was somewhat based around a 6 week stay volunteering in Varanasi. Allow me to backtrack for a moment and explain:

A year before arriving in India I was going through a bit of a rough time, and decided that I needed something to focus on; something new, exciting and adventurous. It had been 5 years since I had last strapped on my backpack and been for a ‘big trip’. As I had always wanted to visit India, and always wanted to volunteer, I began googling ‘volunteering in India’. After getting over the shock of the extortionate price asked by many charities to volunteer, I added in the keyword ‘Free’ to my Google search. After reading through a few posts, I found an article titled ‘top 1o places to volunteer for free, in India’ (or something along those lines). At last I found a company called Fairmail. In a nutshell, Fairmail works with children from disadvantaged backgrounds, trains them in photography, encourages them to explore their creativity and take photos which are in turn made into greeting cards and sold worldwide. The children receive a percentage of the sales, which pays for their education, housing, medical etc.

I applied to become a volunteer there, and joined the 12 month waiting list.

Fast forward 12 months and I step off an 18 hr train journey tired and hungry (I had forgotten to bring snacks so had bought some spicy bombay mix which served me as lunch, dinner and breakfast).

I was met by Dhiraj, a former student and one of the managers of Fairmail Varanasi. As we were driving to my guesthouse, the first thing which hit me was the apparent lack of any kind of road rules. I had felt the same way when I first arrived in Delhi, but this was next level when it came to driving. The roads were a mess of rickshaws, excrement, bikes, potholes and goats.

It took quite a few days to adapt to the pace of Varanasi. I remember constantly being on edge as I walked around during the first few days, as at any one time you could: Get charged by a cow/get run down by a car, motorbike or rickshaw. This was mixed with the constant loud noise of the traffic,  the ceaseless bombardment of flies, and the heat (which reached a scorching 47°C while I was there. Let that settle in for a moment. Forty seven degrees). Varanasi is not the place to go and relax.

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I’m aware that I may be sounding negative, but for all the stresses and difficulties faced, there were many moments of beauty.

The city sits on the banks of the ‘holy river’ – the Ganga. Each morning devotees awake early to bathe in the river and each night, Aarti is performed, where priests perform music while burning incense in front of the eyes of hundreds of followers. It is truly a beautiful sight.

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The first 3 weeks of my stay were spent in a guest house in Assi Ghat (Ghats are essentially temples, which line the Ganges river). During my last 3 weeks, I decided to move into the Fairmail office, in Nagwa (a village to the south of the Ghats). My experience here was great, as it allowed me to glimpse into the lives of those living in this area. As I was living in the office, I was also able to spend much more time with my students of Fairmail.

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My experience volunteering at Fairmail was also excellent. Alongside other volunteers, we taught the students lots of useful tips for taking better photos. One thing which I contributed was the use of flash photography in their work.

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The locals rightfully say “Full power, 24 hours”. Truer words have never been spoken.

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I highly recommend a visit to Varanasi for anyone visiting India. Be prepared for a total bombardment of all your senses, but once you adapt to the pace of life, you might learn to love it.

See more of my work here.

 

 

Iceland, a most curious island – Part 2

Part 2 of Danny Fernandez’ Icelandic adventure; it will inspire, teach and make you want to visit this beautiful country. If you missed part one, read it here.


By Danny Fernandez

The Highlights

The overall highlight (sorry if this is cheating) was the nature itself. The country is very varied in what it has to offer, and the scenery changes dramatically. You could start the day in rolling green hills, cross the icy snout of a glacier and pass moss covered lava fields in the space of a few hours. There are so many waterfalls, ranging from mighty to tiny. At one moment my girlfriend and I counted 25 waterfalls on the mountain facing us. I would consider it a good day if I saw just one waterfall, but on some days we probably saw more than 100.
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I kinda of fell in love with the Icelandic horses. They are such beautiful creatures. They all seem to be very tame and friendly. At almost every chance, I would stop the car to get photos of them. I was desperate to get beautiful backlit photos during the golden hour, but unfortunately, that opportunity never arose.

There is no more sagacious animal than the Icelandic horse. He is stopped by neither snow, nor storm, nor impassable roads, nor rocks, glaciers, or anything. He is courageous, sober, and surefooted. He never makes a false step, never shies. If there is a river or fjord to cross (and we shall meet with many) you will see him plunge in at once, just as if he were amphibious, and gain the opposite bank.
— Jules Verne, A Journey to the Center of the Earth

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Due to the geothermal activity, there are many natural hot springs and pools. We visited Seljavallalaug (one of the oldest outdoor pools in Iceland, built is 1923), which was spectacular. The pool is set in a picturesque valley next to a river. It takes a short trek to arrive there, but it is definitely worth visiting. Prepare to bathe in algae filled water as the pool is cleaned just once each summer.

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On the second night of the trip, we were fortunate enough to witness the northern lights in Vik. This was an incredible experience. As I had only seen photos/time lapses of northern lights, I was surprised at how they move and dance across the sky. At times they were like the final whisps of a flame, in an attempt to stay alive, at other times they appeared to explode in the sky, spreading in all directions. The last scene of the spectacle looked like ten people flashing torches on the clouds, illuminating them as if the gods were having a party.

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Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfallls in Iceland (being 25m wide and 60m tall). We visited early in the morning and there was a rainbow fixed at the base of the waterfall. There is a walk which you can do to the top, which is well worth it. However, I thought the most impressive views were from the base.

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About 9km from Skógafoss is a wreckage of an US Navy airplane which crashed in November 1973 (fortunately no one died). The remains of the plane can be found on Sólheimasandur black sand beach. Arriving to the location was a little difficult (without a 4×4) and we had to walk a few kms across a barren landscape to get there. We were blessed with sunny weather and really enjoyed exploring the wreckage (you can go inside it, which is a little eerie).

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Jökulsárlón is a glacial lake where huge chunks of ice break off the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier and enter the Atlantic ocean. This place was phenomenal. We arrived just before sunset, and watched the sky turn red (contrasting the deep blues of the ice) as a thick mist rolled over the glacier and onto the lake. There were seals swimming in the water.

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A short walk from Jökulsárlón is an area known as ‘Icy Beach’, which is where the lake actually meets the Atlantic. The lake and the ocean push huge lumps of ice around and many of them get washed up on the black volcanic sand. We spent a night and the following morning here and the icy sculptures are forever changing shape and being replaced.

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I love the Eastern Fjords and we spent 2 days driving along them. The fjords are so vast, beautiful and peaceful. I think these were extra special to me as I had never seen a Fjord before. There is one town called Seyðisfjörður (population 665) which I particularly loved. It seems to have a strong artistic community there, with some galleries, public sculptures and beautiful walks. It’s the kind of place that makes me want to rent my flat out and spend a summer there.

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We went whale watching in Húsavík, an extremely pretty fishing town. There are many species of whales and dolphin which visit the bay, and we were fortunate enough to have a humpback whale swimming around and under our boat for around 15 minutes. It was the closest I’ve ever been to a whale and was a very memorable experience (freezing cold though!).

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Akureyri is Iceland’s second largest urban area as is located in the North of the island. When we drove into the city we were taken aback by seeing so many cars and people. We had come from days of driving through almost unpopulated landscapes and passing perhaps 10/20 people a day, to a city with traffic (albeit not much).

Our trip began and ended in Reykjavik. We spent out first and final 4 days there. Reykjavik is a very nice city, and we particularly enjoyed the many cute cafes. We didn’t experience the nightlife which is it renowned for, but heard it’s very good. I was really impressed by Harpa, a beautiful mirrored concert hall, and Hallgrimskirkja, a modernistic cathedral in centre of the city. We also enjoyed walking along the old fishing harbour and exploring the beautiful botanical gardens (with a nice little cafe in the middle of the gardens).

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Other general observations.

The country is extremely sparsely populated. According to Wiki ‘it has a population of 329,100 and an area of 103,000 km2 (40,000 sq mi), making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe.’ Bearing in mind that more than two-thirds of the population live in Reykjavik, when you leave the capital city, it’s gets very, very lonely.

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I got the impression that nature seems to be the highest priority. It appears as if no river were diverted, or mountainside cut into, in order to accommodate humans. There seems to be a harmonious balance of humans living alongside the beautiful virgin nature of the country.

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Being a witness to the untouched landscapes of Iceland was a unique experience: being able to see what the world may once have been like, before humans came and messed things up.

Iceland seems to be a good model for other countries:

‘Consistently rated the most peaceable of all countries in the world by the Global Peace Index, Iceland has reduced its military expenditure to zero, has no armed forces, and has reduced the inequality gap between rich and poor.’ -Scilla Elworthy

The Icelandic people are very jolly and most of their surnames end in ‘son’.

The names of places are mostly unpronounceable.“Eyjafjallajökull”. ‘Nuff said.

There are sheep everywhere (there are many more sheep than people). They often run across the road so you have to be very careful as you drive.

No one uses cash. In fact I only saw cash twice in 16 days. You can pay for everything by card.

Because of the lack of people, it was great to get out of the car and observe the silence.

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Driving along, you can see many huge boulders that have fallen down the sides of mountains. These things can be huge – easily large enough to smash through a house or destroy a car.

Everything is very expensive (at least compared to Barcelona, where I live).

They eat all parts of animals (the least appetising being boiled sheep’s head and ram’s testicles). In Iceland, I was happy to be a vegetarian.

They have their own type of yoghurt (but it’s not actually a yoghurt) called Skyr, and it’s delicious.

There were many more obese people that I expected (which could be explained by their love of hotdogs and coca-cola). I didn’t see any vikings.

They seem to like good coffee and have many cute cafes with good cakes (at least in the cities).
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What’s next?

On the way back from Iceland we had to stop over for a few hours in Oslo. Flying over Norway made me want to visit! The older I get, the more I realise my love for nature (perhaps as I’ve always lived in cities). I love forests and lakes and Norway seems to be full of them. I definitely want to experience the northern lights again, and they can be seen there.

Reflections on the trip.

I couldn’t give a higher recommendation than to visit Iceland, and think everyone should see it in their lives. It is unlike anywhere I have ever seen, and the beauty of the place is breathtaking. We were extremely lucky with the weather (it was sunny most days of our trip) and this made a huge difference to our experience. I would recommend visiting in the summer, but I imagine it would be equally as beautiful (but in a different way) during the winter (plus you would see the northern lights in the winter). It is an expensive trip, but it’s one which I will never, ever forget.


To see more images from Danny’s trip to Iceland, please click here.