Garden of the Gods with the MHWPC

Sunrise at the Garden of the Gods

The Garden of the Gods is one of the local, natural icons around Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Donated by the heirs of Charles Elliot Perkins in 1909 to the city of Colorado Springs so that it would remain as a park to share with all.  It is truly a magnificent site with the rock upheaval and the splendid Pikes Peak in the distance.

Having been there a few times now, I wasn’t going to miss another opportunity to visit it with the Mile High Wildlife Photography Club (MHWPC) for a sunrise shoot.  We met at 5:30am at the Garden of the Gods main parking lot all caffeinated up.  After everyone got their photo equipment ready to go, we started to hike around to the eastern side of the park to hopefully shoot the rising sun on the rocks, which makes them glow a brilliant red, with Pikes Peak in the background.

The Photographers Ephemeris (TPE) for our shoot

Disappointingly, the sun stayed behind a cloud covered sky to the East for most of the morning, which didn’t make for the most beautiful sunrise.  But, there aren’t too many sunrises that one can complain about, so it was still worth the trip.

All in all though, it was a great morning with some decent shots that I wanted to share below.

Sunrise at the Garden of the Gods

Members of the Club Shooting Sunrise

 

Sunrise at the Garden of the Gods

Sunrise at the Garden of the Gods by Neal Fedora on 500px

 

Sunrise at the Garden of the Gods (Black & White)

Sunrise at the Garden of the Gods by Neal Fedora on 500px

 

“Kissing Camels” on top of the Garden of the Gods

 

“Lone Tree” just Northeast of the Garden of the Gods

Lone Tree by Neal Fedora on 500px

Members of the Club Shooting Geese

 

“Geese on the Peak” on top of one of the formations within the park with 14er Pike’s Peak as the backdrop

Geese on the Peak by Neal Fedora on 500px

 

 

Hiking the Inca Trail: Preparation

The front entrance of the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge (http://www.sanctuarylodgehotel.com/web/omac/machu_picchu.jsp), outside of Machu Picchu National Park.

Visiting Machu Picchu from the Inca Trail has been at the top of my list of things to do before I die ever since I saw pictures of Machu Picchu in National Geographic when I was a kid.  So, I figured I would finally stop putting it off and make it happen.  Discussing it with a friend of mine, we made plans to visit Peru in 2012 and hike the Inca Trail.  Accomplishing a lifetime dream of mine 24 years and 9 months later..

We made the decision to go, but that is just the tip of the iceberg for the planning and preparation required to execute a memorable, safe trip.  First, we needed to decide on when to go.  Reviewing the Inca Trail dates for 2012, it was really open except for February when the Inca Trail is commonly closed for maintenance.  No problem, we had too much in our professions going on that month anyway.  So when?  Since Peru is in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are opposite to where we live in the United States.  Machu Picchu has a semi-tropical climate, with warm and humid days and cooler nights and negligible variation from Winter and Summer when compared to where I live in Colorado.  But the rain…I would much rather hike in snow than rain, but preferably neither.  To quote Wikitravel.org, the “rainy season in Machu Picchu is from November to March, so be prepared. The wet months are January to April, when roads are often closed by landslides or flooding.  The best months for visiting Machu Picchu are from April to October.  The High season is June to August (book well in advance).”  Well May it is then!  Now to book it…

Reserving the Inca Trail isn’t as easy as going to some website like ClickHere4IncaTrail2MachuPicchu.com.  The Inca Trail is highly regulated by the Peruvian government.  There are only 500 permits available each day which applies to everyone, including all of the porters, cooks, and guides.  So, that just leaves only about 200 passes that are allocated to tourists each day.  Not a whole lot.  But, we were ready to start booking dates in July, 2011.  So no problem right?  Wrong.  The tickets for 2012 weren’t put on sale by the Peruvian Government until December 2011/January 2012.  Being the planner that I am and worried about not being able to get our reservations for May (we already made our airline reservations), my fun meter was pegged and I was stressing.  It’s important to note that every tour operator will book your Inca Trail passes far in advance, without having the passes confirmed. You can check Inca Trail ticket availability here to confirm for yourselves the dates you are interested in.

My window seat, ready to leave Atlanta.  Next stop, Lima Peru.

My window seat, ready to leave Atlanta. Next stop, Lima Peru.

You have to hike the Inca Trail with a guide, so which tour operator should we go with?  A colleague and friend recommended SAS Travel Peru as they took them back in 2001 and felt that they were professional and had a great time.  Good enough for me, so that’s who we first contacted.  I did say first contacted because the initial impressions were not terribly positive.  Driven by the lack of responses from SAS, we decided to pursue another tour company.  So, we then reached out to Mayuc, Apus Peru, Enigma Peru, Q’enteAventours (aka Ecoinka), Andean Life, Explorandes, Inca ExplorersUnited Mice, Chaska Tours, and Andean Treks.  We received mixed feedback from these tour operators, mostly pretty positive, some mediocre and some not at all.  After going through the responses, we ended up selecting Aventours (aka Ecoinka) as our tour operator based on the cost, their timely, detailed responses from Walter and Rick and the extra night on their Inca Trail tour at their private camping site outside of km 82.  As it turned out, we finally had our Inca Trail permits booked from Aventours on January 31st, 2012 for our hike from May 6-9, 2012.  The cost for the permits to hike the Inca Trail was 254 sol ($95).  In addition to the 4 day/4 night Inca Trail tour with just my friend and I, we added an extra day tour through the Sacred Valley at the beginning of the trip making our tour 5 days and 4 nights.

Airfare booked (way in advance using 70,000 airline miles + $70.74), Aventours (aka Ecoinka) Inca Trail tour operator selected, Inca Trail permits purchased, almost there…  Now, need to book our airfare from Lima to Cusco, hotel in Cusco, hotel near Machu Picchu for the extra day we planned to stay there and the train back to Cusco from Machu Picchu.

Our flights into Lima were really late, so we ended up booking a mid-morning flight out of Lima to Cusco on LAN Airlines for $352.81.  Upon arrival in Cusco, we were promptly picked up by our hotel driver, who took us straight to our hotel.

The in flight meal and free Peruvian beer on LAN airlines (http://www.lan.com/) on our flight from Lima to Cusco.

The in flight meal and free Peruvian beer on LAN airlines (http://www.lan.com/) on our flight from Lima to Cusco.

Aventours was really good about assisting us with our lodging in Cusco.  They referred us to the Torre Dorada Hotel for $110/double room per night.  The hotel is located just a couple miles from the Cusco Plaza de Armas.  They had a driver who was always available, breakfast was cooked to order, rooms great, clean and safe.  Would definitely stay there again.  We ended up staying there both before and after our Inca Trail hike.  If you should expect to leave and return from the same hotel, I recommend finding a hotel to keep some of your personal belongings while you embark on the Inca Trail.  Else, your tour operator will probably do the same for you.  Torre Dorada did this for us and it worked out great being able to leave our dirty clothes and clean clothes for the return home.

Our room and some of our camera gear at the Torre Dorada Hotel (http://www.torredorada.com.pe/en/) in Cusco, Peru.

Our room and some of our camera gear at the Torre Dorada Hotel (http://www.torredorada.com.pe/en/) in Cusco, Peru.

Our driver from the Torre Dorada Hotel driving us to the Plaza de Armas in the center of Cusco, Peru.

Our driver from the Torre Dorada Hotel driving us to the Plaza de Armas in the center of Cusco, Peru.

The breakfast buffet at the Torre Dorada Hotel (http://www.torredorada.com.pe/en/) in Cusco, Peru.  The continental breakfast had some lovely pastries, cereal, tea and coffee.  If you wanted eggs, there was a really nice lady who would cook to order as well in the kitchen to the left.

The breakfast buffet at the Torre Dorada Hotel (http://www.torredorada.com.pe/en/) in Cusco, Peru. The continental breakfast had some lovely pastries, cereal, tea and coffee. If you wanted eggs, there was a really nice lady who would cook to order as well in the kitchen to the left.

Depending upon which Inca Trail tour you take to Machu Picchu, you may or may not be able to spend most of the day at Machu Picchu.  Hikes that come through the famous Machu Picchu Sun Gate (Inti Punku) at sunrise will be able to spend most of the day in and around the magnificent Inca ruins of Machu Picchu.  Our tour lagged most other Inca Trail tours, so we weren’t going to get to Machu Picchu until that afternoon.  As a result, we had planned on staying an extra night near Machu Picchu so we could watch both a sunset and sunrise there.  Most people stay in Aquas Calientes off the Urubamba River down the mountain from Machu Picchu.  There are many lodging options in every price range, in addition to restaurants and shops.  Although you can hike up to Machu Picchu from there, most elect to take the busy bus route to/from Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu.  We decided to splurge and split a room at the all inclusive Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge Hotel just outside the gates of Machu Picchu National Park instead though.  And I do mean splurge, at $907.50 (including tax) a night, this place was expensive.  The hotel was nice, but not $907.50 a night nice.  It was fantastic to have a long hot shower, gorge ourselves in the plethora of culinary delights and liquid refreshments though.  A well deserved reward for the end of a journey.  Since there aren’t any other food options at Machu Picchu besides the cafeteria just outside the main gate, it was really nice to be able to have a really nice lunch and cocktail in the Sanctuary Lodge restaurant. In addition, they also held our belongings and arranged our bus to the train station in Aguas Calientes, which was really helpful.  Finally, just being able to roll out of bed, grab a nice breakfast and step out in line (and there was a long line) to get into Machu Picchu was really a great way to start the day.

The front entrance of the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge (http://www.sanctuarylodgehotel.com/web/omac/machu_picchu.jsp), outside of Machu Picchu National Park.

The front entrance of the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge (http://www.sanctuarylodgehotel.com/web/omac/machu_picchu.jsp), outside of Machu Picchu National Park.

A gorgeous piece of salmon to start our lunch off.

A gorgeous piece of salmon to start our lunch off.

An amazing ceviche to start the lunch off.  The selections of corn and vegetables is worth a trip to Peru in itself.

An amazing ceviche to start the lunch off. The selections of corn and vegetables is worth a trip to Peru in itself.

A lovely local fish with another amazing staple of Peru, potatoes and topped with bacon.  How can you go wrong with that?

A lovely local fish with another amazing staple of Peru, potatoes and topped with bacon. How can you go wrong with that?

I think the picture sums it up nicely....this, combined with a Machu Picchu specialty coffee, delightful.

I think the picture sums it up nicely….this, combined with a Machu Picchu specialty coffee, delightful.

Warm chocolate cake, homemade berry jam/drizzle and sorbet with some fresh oranges.  An amazing desert and lovely combination of flavors and textures.

Warm chocolate cake, homemade berry jam/drizzle and sorbet with some fresh oranges. An amazing desert and lovely combination of flavors and textures.

Baily's, Pisco (Peruvian Brandy), chocolate and coffee....um, yum!

Baily’s, Pisco (Peruvian Brandy), chocolate and coffee….um, yum!

Getting back from Machu Picchu to Cusco requires taking a train from Aquas Calientes to Cusco.  The primary provider for this service is Peru Rail which provides 3 return train services.  The ‘Exhibition’ backpacker service ($75) which only departs at 4:43pm, the ‘Vistadome’ panoramic view service ($86) which departs at 3:20pm, 4:22pm and 5:27pm and the ‘Hiram Bingham’ luxury service ($380) which only departs at 5:50pm.  We had tickets on the Vistadome 604 train, departing at 5:27pm to maximize our time at Machu Picchu.  The train ride is just over 3 hours and doesn’t arrive into Cusco, but nearby Poroy.  Thus, there remains a 20 minute bus ride to get to Cusco.  Instead of taking the bus to Cusco, our tour operator Aventours conveniently arranged for us to be picked up in Poroy and took us to our Torre Dorada Hotel in Cusco.

Getting on the Vistadome train in Aguas Calientes heading to Poroy on our way back to Cusco.   This photo was taken by Lawrence Delp.  All copyrights reserved by Lawrence Delp.

Getting on the Vistadome train in Aguas Calientes heading to Poroy on our way back to Cusco.
This photo was taken by Lawrence Delp. All copyrights reserved by Lawrence Delp.

On the train, enjoying the scenery heading back to Cusco. This photo was taken by Lawrence Delp.  All copyrights reserved by Lawrence Delp.

On the train, enjoying the scenery heading back to Cusco.
This photo was taken by Lawrence Delp. All copyrights reserved by Lawrence Delp.

In addition to all of the planning and preparation for when you arrive to Peru, before any international trip you should always check what the Center for Disease Control (CDC) advisories are for that country.  The CDC advises for Peru several vaccinations, such as the routine ones (measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT) vaccine, polio-virus vaccine, etc.), Typhoid, Yellow Fever, Hepatitis A and B and malaria.  Of course what you actually need is dependent upon where you are going within Peru.  Since Machu Picchu, Cusco and the Inca Trail is high in the Andes, only Hepatitis A and Typhoid were required.

Finally, it’s a good idea to purchase travel insurance as well since you never know what can happen.  There’s two types of insurance worth getting before your trip.  The first is emergency medical and evacuation from International SOS, which we purchased should something occur while on our hike.  The other is basic travel insurance for your reservations.  In the past I have used CSA Travel Protection.  For this trip, I did not take travel insurance since the airfare was purchased with miles and the hotels and tour could be canceled with minimal penalties.

This is the first of three posts on this unforgettable trip that I want to share with you.  I hope you find them informative, helpful, interesting and motivational because you really should make Machu Picchu a must-see destination.

 

Photography Backup Process

myFedora Backup Process

Oh, the devastating scenario of loosing all or even some of your hard work!  I don’t know what I would do if I were to loose all of my pictures and documents.  However, it is a necessary evil when being so dependent upon personal computers (PCs).  As an aspiring photographer, you would think that I would be on top of backing up and protecting my images.  Nope.  I neglected this incredibly important workflow step for far too long.  Thus, I spent a good deal of time in early 2012 researching various processes of backing up your data to find a method that works best for me.  The most important requirements for me were, ease of integration into existing workflow, cost and 100% protection of my files.  I finally settled on one pretty common, simple, reliable backup process that will guarantee file security without breaking the bank.  This article shares my current backup process at home, my backup process in the field and verification plan for verifying the integrity of my data for years to come.

My goal is to ensure that I am protected from loosing my important pictures and documents, as it would be impossible for me to replace them.  So how do I implement a process that is reliable, simple and equally important, affordable?  Let’s discuss what I already had available to start off with:
  • My laptop running Windows 7 64-bit
  • (1) 2TB networked Western Digital external hard drive
  • Read/Write DVDs, which I was burning my original JPEG + RAW files to.

Not a bad setup, had I been using it properly.  I could easily make a simple backup from my laptop to the external hard drive on a routine basis (riskily I wasn’t even doing this).  Using both the (1) external hard drive and DVDs, they would give me potentially (2) layers of backup protection.  However, I was not addressing my operating system backup, nor was I even copying the same files to the external hard drive that I was to the DVDs.  Yes, I know I was setting myself up for failure and I knew it.  Researching both what others are doing and what the recommended ‘best practices’ are, I found one process from American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) that I felt could be manipulated to fit into my workflow and utilizing my existing equipment.

The one consistent recommendation I found was that everyone should practice a backup process with at least (3) layers of protection.  The most common instantiation of this is:

  • (2) External Hard Drives
    • (1) External Hard Drive for local backup
    • (1) External Hard Drive for offsite storage
  • (1) Disc copy (DVD or Blu-Ray)

Made sense to me.  So, all I needed was an extra external hard drive to implement the infrastructure to support a reliable backup process.  I ended up buying a 2TB Western Digital USB 3.0 External Hard Drive so that I could back it up locally and have the option to put it in a safety deposit box or fireproof safe for offsite storage.

Now that I have the (3) layer backup protection hardware infrastructure implemented, how do I make it work in practice?  This is easier said than done because of the variables that I had, which were the fact that I am using a laptop so it’s not always home, no backup software chosen, I was undecided on what exactly to backup, and I had different external hard drive interfaces (1) network drive and (1) USB drive.  Since I travel with my laptop half the time, a regular scheduled backup isn’t really practical.  So, I required software that permits me to schedule backups to both the network and USB external hard drives either on a regular schedule or manually.

I asked Tom Bourdon, a fantastic professional travel photographer, about his travel photography backup process and he uses SyncToy from Microsoft.  ASMP recommended SyncBack for PC users and ChronoSync for Mac users.  Reviewing them, I felt SyncToy (FREE) worked better for my simple process.  Although I am a PC user, ChronoSync is operationally similar to SyncToy.  So, the backup concepts presented herein are synonymous for Windows and Mac users.

Using SyncToy, I created folder pairs to backup specific folders from my laptop to the target external hard drives.  Folder pairs, set as ‘echo’, are used to generate exact copies of my laptop folders on the external hard drives.  This is used for my Working folder, which contains my plethora of images to be edited, and specific folders from my laptop Users folder.  In addition, a ‘contribute‘ folder pair, which only appends files, is used to copy my laptop Transferred folder to an archive folder on the external drives.  The Transferred folder contains finished images that are archived to DVD(s) before removal from my laptop, thus continually maintaining (3) layers of protection.  Presently for offsite storage, the archived DVD(s) are stored in a local fireproof safe; however a safety deposit box or online storage is very effective for addressing this requirement.  The below Figure depicts SyncToy and the folder pairs utilized either individually or all at once.

The Microsoft SyncToy software with the folder pairs used

The Microsoft SyncToy software with the folder pairs used

In addition to SyncToy, I use Windows Backup and Restore (In Windows 7 for under Control Panel -> System and Security -> Backup and Restore) capability for backing up my System Image should my Operating System (OS) experience major problems.  The entire backup process implemented is shown in the below Figure.

This describes the backup process performed at my home office for my System Image, User Files and both Working and Archived Pictures.

 

Equally important is having a process for backing up your images in the field and verifying the integrity of your images years in the future.  On travel, I use a 160GB HyperDrive COLORSPACE UDMA from B&H Photo and Video for backing up my CompactFlash cards.  It can perform some integrity checks as part of the backup process, in addition to quickly downloading your pictures.  As a nicety, you can view your photos as they are downloaded or after they are downloaded on its mediocre screen.  A very handy device for backing up in the field.  My only complaint is that it does not backup video files, only pictures files (RAW, DNG, TIFF, JPG, etc.).  Not that I shoot a lot of video, but that would be useful as I do use video to capture moments.

Finally, how do you verify the integrity of your files for years to come?  If you shoot RAW and convert them to Digital Negatives (DNG), then all you have to do is convert your DNG files through Adobe’s DNG Converter (FREE) and it will automatically check to ensure the integrity of the file by checking that no bits have changed.  The reason for this is that DNG files, besides being 0-20% smaller than proprietary RAW files, it also stores an MD5 hash for the raw image contained in the DNG.  The MD5 algorithm can also be used for validating the integrity of all of your other files and/or folders full of files.  I settled on the MD5 Checksum Verifier utility from FlashPlayerPro ($15) because this program can quickly generate a separate MD5 hash file for an individual file or an entire folder full of files that I can keep with the files and folders.  In addition, you can then at some later date recheck the file(s) for comparison against the MD5 hash stored for verification that nothing has been modified in the file(s).  Because my working pictures are, well, being worked I only use this on my archive pictures.

With a few external hard drives and some free software, you can easily have a reliable, simple backup solution at your home office.  In the field, it can be a bit more costly but there are some very effective solutions such as using your laptop and external hard drives.  Then for future verification, a simple MD5 hash checker and DNG converter works out great for validating the integrity of your backup files.  Here are a few references to assist you.  Hope this helps saves you from loosing your data in the future.

A revision of this article was published in the Mile High Wildlife Photography Club (MHWPC) May 2013 newsletter.