What I learned in Paris and South Africa

rey spadoni

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.”  — St. Augustine

Never have I felt so far from home, so detached from my own life.  Paris and South Africa did that to me.  Here’s why…

We need less than we think we need.  Long ago, I learned to travel light.  To take less and to make do.  During my recent trip, that point was brought home to me when on the second day of our adventure, my wallet was stolen from out of a side pocket in my cargo shorts after Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral.  Day two.  No identification (though thankfully my passport was in an un-pickpocketed pocket), no money, no credit cards, no bank card.  All gone.

I recovered.

rey spadoni

rey spadoni

Be prepared.  Way, way, way long ago, I started using a program called eWallet from Iliumsoft.  Various versions have traveled through time with me on Palm Pilots, Pocket PCs, Blackberries, iPhones… all the way to my present day iPad.  Within it, I store passwords, account information, credit card and bank card details, everything.  It’s password protected and Iliumsoft tells me that my data is strong 256-bit AES encrypted.  I don’t know what that means, but I believe them that it’s a good thing.

Being able to get back to my hotel room and immediately contact the registry of motor vehicles, banks, credit card companies, etc. went a long way to the recovery mentioned above.

If you don’t have a solution like this, I recommend that you get one.

rey spadoni

My camera decision was exactly right.  Before I left, I mentioned that I’d be bringing two cameras: the Fujifilm X100s for close work (and specifically for walking around Paris) and a Nikon D7100 with the Nikon 70-300VR lens (for safari work).

I was delighted with this combo as the Nikon gear stayed in the Paris hotel safe and then was used with great success on safari.  I was very happy to have the X100s on safari too as a lot happens up close.  I’d never change lenses on such a trip not only due to my own disdain for having to frequently do so, but also because the dusty conditions on safari make it risky.

I rented the D7100 kit from Borrowlenses.com.  They were, in word, outstanding.  Very professional and super responsive.  The equipment was in perfect working order, though if I had had any problems, I’m certain they would have hopped to and made it right and pronto.  Recommended.

rey spadoni

Look around and experiment.  I’m primarily a landscape photographer so I tend to see and think in that manner.  During both the Paris and South Africa portions of this trip, I sought to experiment.  I shot street scenes, still lifes, environmental portraits.  I drank wines I never tend to.  I ate impala.  And there you have it.

rey spadoni

Don’t futz with gear choices.  I went back and forth on trying to decide which camera(s) to bring.  2 Guys Photo followers know about that as many probably rolled their eyes during my rants.  While I am very happy with the gear I brought, I saw outstanding images from other guests, including those taken on big zoom bridge cameras, point and shoots and even cellphones.  Truthfully, I would have brought back some good stuff whatever I brought… and I’m almost a bit embarrassed now that I spent so much time wringing my hands over this before I left.

rey spadoni

It’s about the people.  The scenery, the wildlife, the pure visual bombardment was amazing and life-changing.  But what I’ll remember most of all were the people we met.  Chris and Jeannie who taught us how to choose better wine, Laura and Fernando from Barcelona who stayed with us as we left Versailles and headed to the Louvre, Sue and Fred who experienced an African safari though the eyes and with the bodies of long retired grandparents, Jacques our guide who spends 30 day blocks of time away from his family to lead safari tours, and many, many more.

rey spadoni

Be careful.  Danger abounds and in many ways.  Pickpocketers, large and irritated animals, small and infected insects, poverty stricken people who see tourists as easy targets.  I tend to be overly casual about such threats but I’m determined to be more serious and better prepared going forward.

rey spadoni

rey spadoni

Be grateful.  I’ve had some recent health problems… which almost prompted me to have to cancel this trip.  Truth be told, I was probably feeling a bit sorry for myself.  Having seen the small villages and difficult living conditions in Africa, I was inspired to be more grateful for all of my abundant blessings.

rey spadoni

iPads are amazing.  What a great travel companion.  I watched movies on mine, downloaded photos and used it as a back-up device, read books during long flights, stored my valuable eWallet information, checked in on my kids via email and Skype, wasted time on solitaire, and on and on.  It’s like my American Express card: I never leave home without it.  Then again, that card is now gone so what do I know?

rey spadoni

rey spadoni

Nature is beautiful.  Giraffes fight for the affection of females by slamming their horns into the necks and bellies of foes through an elaborate and seemingly choreographed battle sequence.  It’s amazing to watch.  Hippos gracefully ascend to the surface to grab some oxygen about every 30 minutes or so, then slowly drop back down below the waterline.  Colorful birds adorn the dry thorny bushes that fill the landscape.  A baby rhino follows his mother, seemingly more annoyed by the observers than she.  It’s beautiful.

rey spadoni

Nature is scary.  Predators abound.  Poachers threaten to remove the last living rhinos off our planet in our lifetimes.  Large, sharp aloe plants scar unsuspecting passersby (yes, I can vouch for that).  Irritated elephants prepare to charge.  Africa leaves you with a heightened sense of vulnerability.

rey spadoni

rey spadoni

Delight in surprises.  When you go to Disney, you know you’ll have a chance to ride Space Mountain.  In Aruba, you’re going to get sunny weather.  You’ll have your breath taken from you in front of the Grand Canyon.

In Africa, there are no such guarantees.  We knew there were several lion prides in Phinda Private Game Reserve but had heard from some others that they had spent half a day unsuccessfully trying to locate one of them.  As such, our expectations were held in check during the morning of our trip to Phinda.  But then there they were: one adult male, two females and four cubs.  There they were.

rey spadoni

rey spadoni

rey spadoni

Live.  I recall becoming closer to my Uncle Ezio in the years before he died.  Previously, he had seemed only gruff, disinterested.  Then one day, I asked him about his Nikon camera and we immediately had something in common.  I was a just a child and having had no children of his own, I now know he simply didn’t understand the task of connecting with a 10 year old.  He carefully and meticulously described the workings of a camera and I became hooked.

Uncle Ezio always lived for his own retirement, to be able to spend more time at his beloved lake cottage.  He tinkered, started projects and rarely finished them.  The half completed second floor was testimony to that fact.  By day, he fixed large trucks; I assume his position was more specific than that description but I don’t know any more about it.  I do know that he was not fond of any of it.  The lake house filled his daydreams.  Someday, someday he thought.  And on occasion, he would tell the ten year old boy who he suddenly felt connected to because of a Nikon SLR camera.

Finally, the day came.  He retired.

Within a few weeks, while tinkering at the cottage, Uncle Ezio fell off a foot ladder and experienced a stroke.  Within days, he was gone.


rey spadoni

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18 Responses to What I learned in Paris and South Africa

  1. Howard says:

    You obviously had an amazing trip (barring the pickpocketing), and definitely got some beautiful shots! Thanks for sharing your experience! Also, glad you recovered!

  2. Rodney says:

    Hey Rey! Sorry to hear about your wallet and your health issues! I hope they both get recovered in some way. I am happy you got some enlightenment (or whatever you want to call it) on your trip and in Africa especially. I spent some time in Rwanda and have great memories of the exact things you speak of (no animals on my trip though). Your photos are wonderful as always, and you sure made the right choices… thinking about those choices before you leave is part of the journey and the fun in my opinion, so don’t beat yourself up too much… LIVE… I like that motto too… too many people I feel don’t LIVE their days, they LIVE for something else… Your uncle’s story hits home all too often I am afraid! Life is what happens while you are making other plans. LIVE your life now! You know how to make God laugh right? Just tell him your plans… LIVE today!

    I especially enjoyed two photos of yours… the first one of the two boys. Norman should paint that or it should be in Nat Geo for sure. The sense of wonderment at that age is very keen and you captured it so well! African kids express it as well as any other kids I have met! Bravo.

    The second one is the Eiffel Tower in color. It is not the prominent feature of the photo, but it is still there. I have never seen it in that light… literally :0). It almost makes me want to go to Paris. I have tons of places I hope to get to someday and Paris was towards the bottom of that list, but has moved up a couple of notches now. Thanks for the imagery!

    The rest of your photos are superb too… the animal photos go without saying, but I am going to say it anyway… they could and should be entered into contests…. the giraffe photo, I have never seen giraffes that way… the baby rhino is precious! And so on…

    Thanks for sharing your journey with us. I truly enjoyed it and I would LOVE to see ALL of your photos from the trip. If you post them somewhere, let me know please.

    Thanks, Rodney

    • Rey says:

      Thanks, Rodney. Appreciate your comment (and all of your comments) very much. I’m still working on processing the images and will post on-line soon. I’ll send around a link.



  3. Steven Tryon says:

    Well said. Uncle Sam’s Army and the FAA helped me with some travel early one. How much poorer I would be had I not lived a few years in Nome and spent time flying, driving, and walking around odd corners in Alaska. I would not have known that Fairbanks is stunningly beautiful in both summer and winter. I have boxes of 110 slides…

    One of the things I enjoy most about my Holga Pinhole Camera is its ability to surprise me. Yes, I try to set up my shots and all that, and I process them carefully, but the result is always a surprise. http://pearwood.deviantart.com/gallery/39960272

  4. Prentis says:

    Rey, I second everything Rodney has said.
    We would love to see more.
    The Paris bistro shot looks vaguely familiar. 😉

    • Rey says:

      If not for you, my friend, we’d have never seen that bistro!

      (For those of you who don’t know, it was Prentis’ travel advice that landed us happily in that very spot!)



  5. Ed Shields says:

    Rey, I’m not sure which is my favorite; your street/people shots, your animal shots or the story. And the whole is certainly much greater than the sum of the parts. I’m sure it’s because you feel like and tell a story as you did, that your photos are so superb. It’s a blog I’ll return to again and again. Thanks.

    And because I just can’t resist mentioning gear the 100S looks like a fantastic street camera. I’ve trying to teach myself to see like a 35mm by going out with just my Olympus 17mm on photo walks but I have a long, long way to go to match you.


    • Rey says:

      Thanks a lot, Ed. I really did try to mix it up a bit on this trip, trying to get landscape, wildlife, street, etc. I too have a long, long way to go. But that’s the fun of it, no?


  6. Rey. Your images are amazing and your prose beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing both. I agree that we can feel small when we travel to places of uncertainty…we learn more about ourselves, as well as what we experience through the lense. Also, moments of self pity can wash away quickly when we experience the fullness of others-especially when they seem to have so little. I hope you get all your financial stuff in order without too much complication or headaches.


    Hi Rey, Enjoyed all the pictures and your stories.  Nice job! I did feel that I was right there in the picture.   Love, Dad


  8. Great photography and wisdom. Thank you for sharing. Your uncle Ezio sounds like quite a character. I think it’s wonderful that you were able to learn more about him and vice versa by sharing photography together.

  9. Excellent post Rey and incredible images.

  10. Pingback: X-shooter travels: “I’ve moved onto the X… and there’s no looking back!” | Fuji Rumors

  11. RMW says:

    Revisiting this post after a couple of months… that image of the Seine still blows me away. The last evening I was in Paris I finally managed to get a photo of the Seine at sunset… but not even 100th as beautiful as your capture…

    • Rey says:

      Thank you!

      Funny that you liked that shot. It was clearly the most “processed” of all the images I posted. I got a mixed reaction when I showed it to people… pretty hit or miss.

      Thanks for your comment!


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