Archive for the ‘ travel ’ Category

Still Waiting: Tips for Sensible Volunteer Travel Photography

Still Waiting by jdespres15
Still Waiting, a photo by jdespres15 on Flickr.

I am slowly editing all of my photos from La Carpio while trying to ease back in to my routine. When the Travel4Souls crew first walked through the unpaved streets of the “Village of Hope” we were warned not to take out any expensive looking cameras. Prepared for this, I had brought a couple of disposables. I only shot about half way through one of the cardboard cheapies before I stopped and realized that I had been had!

I have always been weary of the sensationalization caused by the general media and was and am still very protective of my notorious hometown, New Bedford, MA. Why was I afraid of walking around La Carpio with a Canon?

My advice when traveling with expensive photographic equipment that you are aching to use in such situations?

1. Use the same sense in any slum that you would in New York, Lima, or Paris. Try to stay in a group. Don’t walk around alone at night, and keep your belongings close.

2. Don’t get in people’s faces with your $2000 worth of B&H goods. Don’t get in to people’s faces with your $3.99 disposable camera from the pharmacy. Either way, it’s rude. Feel out the situation. Not knowing the language well, I gestured kindly at folks, while pointing at the camera and awaiting either smiles and poses (99% of the time) or dirty looks. The latter situation? Smile and put the camera away. If you speak the language and people seem approachable, chat them up. Whether or not this interaction ends up captured in a frame, you are certainly being respectful of their wishes and having a more meaningful engagement. This falls in the same category as street photography in Seattle, Atlanta or Any Town, USA, etc…

3. Don’t be a walking billboard. I bought a map case from the Army/Navy store for a mere $14. I had already removed my Canon strap for a more comfy and (of course) fashionable subtle camera strap that I had found in the Photojojo! store last year. Keep the strap tight around your wrists and the satchel swung to the front of your body.

4. Keep it simple. One lens will do. If you are a great street photographer, you should know that the best shots are unexpected, somewhat unfocused, and very candid. There is no need for a telephoto lens unless you want to peer in to people’s homes, and if you plan on doing so please re-read #2. The best photos in my particular scenario were results of engagement with the subjects. Read some great tips from Chris Osburn, fellow blogger.

5. Do not EVER exploit your subjects. In La Carpio it was inevitable to take shots of the filthy roads and some sad faces, but my energy went towards taking photos of people who wanted their photos taken. I didn’t sneak around corners to grab shots of young children crying in sewage so I could use it later in some sad PowerPoint campaign with a certain easy-listening sad ballad blaring in the background. Yeison, our amazing tour guide, taught me how to ask “Is it okay if I take your photo?”. The majority excitedly obliged and the result has been a stunningly happy photographic narrative. (One school teacher, much younger than me, even happily corrected my Spanish while posing for a photo in one of the classrooms.)

While the truths of La Carpio peek out in many of the shots, they are just that — truths! And the fact that I could capture such beautiful smiles, saturated and lively art murals, and true heart in these photos is simply a testament to the unparalleled spirits of the people of La Carpio.

Here a family waves, smiling from their porch. This is one of the few that I could salvage from the disposable camera, inherently dreary and grainy. I find it beautiful, nonetheless. It’s just simply not an accurate depiction of La Carpio.

Via Flickr:

La Carpio. Taken with a $3 disposable, Family sits on porch and waves.


Winners Winners Coffee Dinner!

The Doka Coffee Estate: Costa Rica

Doka coffee is known to many as the best coffee in Costa Rica. I'd agree.

The winner of the blog subscription contests are: Kate Ouellette, Kimberly Ferencz, Chuck Robertson, Alison Despres, Daryl Poeira, Joseph Ho, Susannah Williamson, and Remy Haynes! You all will be receiving a thank you card, printed photo with a special back story from the trip (different for each winner), and some random little goodies from Costa Rica. All for just subscribing to this blog. What a deal. Please, if you have not yet, email or message me your mailing addresses. It will take a little while for me to gather everything, but I guarantee you it will be worth the wait. And the grand prize winner, who will be receiving all of the above and a bag of amazing coffee straight from the Doka Estate is Joseph Ho. This is some good stuff. The estate is located on the fertile slopes of the active Alajuela Poas Volcano, which we hiked to the top of after a day of distributing shoes.

All other donors and sponsors will receive a thank you card and photo. Please email me your mailing address or DM me on Twitter, as soon as possible. Lots more news to follow, including news of a return visit to the land that stole my heart in May of 2012. Check back soon.


To donate to the Costa Rica Humanitarian Foundation, please click here. A permanent link is now at the top of the blog.

The Pictures are Worth A Few Trillion Colones

"Boy from La Carpio showing off."

Creepy human tricks are a universal language. Loved this sweet jokester who entertained me while I fit him for shoes.

Processing thoughts in a lucid manner will be a challenge for me, although it gets easier daily. My favorite photos thus far are on my Flickr account, so please enjoy as I wade through all of the data and check back often for updates.

CEDCAS, La Carpio, San José, y Heredia


Sorry for all the little quick blurbs, but wifi has been spotty and insecure at best. Turned on roaming data on the Android to give you all an update. So far, so good. The people at CEDCAS, our guesthouse/clinic are very sweet and keep us well fed.

Today was our first distribution in LaCarpio. Yes, I too fell victim to all of the horrible media attention that swirls around the town built up on San Jose’s sewage by Nicaraguan refugees. And tell any Costa Rican that you are going to LaCarpio? They will think you are insane….more on why later.

Truth is, I love LaCarpio and its citizens. Kindly they waved from stoops and open windows. We played with bubbles and handed out stickers in the street to small, adorable niños y niñas as word spread. But despite their environmental surroundings, it was clear these children have been raised very well. They were well mannered (shy even) and ear-to-ear with smiles. I got some amazing photos in LaCarpio that I can’t wait to share.

Have to sign off for now. Buenos noches 😉 Volcano hiking early AM!

Adios Miami. Hola Costa Rica.


Short and sweet as a long line through MIA security and tram ride awaits.

Pretty nervous, but excited! Lots to absorb and it hasn’t quite hit me yet. Stay tuned for great stories and send good wishes that I stay healthy. Is bringing a monkey through customs allowed? Hope so.

7 Days Left, 10,000+ Stickers, 8 Barbies, and Countless Crayolas

Hello Kitty Sticker Nail Art!

Lots of tiny supplies for mini manicures.

Well the day has almost come and I never expected I would be gluing chunky plastic espadrilles to the bottoms of a Barbie doll’s feet in a frenzy. Thanks to all of the donations, support, and material contributions, I will be toting lots of goodies to La Carpio. Now one of my only worries is actually being able to fit everything. I’d love to give a few very special shouts of gratitude to those who went above and beyond, or gave in a special way (not like you all didn’t).

First and foremost, there are simply no words to express how indebted I feel to all who helped keep me on my feet and stay motivated over the past couple of months. The Lyme has taken a huge toll on my body and being. Without such an amazing supportive network of friends and family, new and old, I probably would have given up the hope to even travel to Costa Rica a long time ago. Thank you to my doctors for putting up with my demands for blood tests and a diagnosis, and for writing letters to the embassy in order to ensure my vitamins would cross the borders with me (fingers still crossed on that one). Thank you to all of my friends for understanding that during this debilitating period of my life, I have not been able to readily commit to plans. Each has been so accommodating by setting aside time for me knowing that I may either be late for lunch or not be able to make it to the movie after all. The little things you have all done, from sending texts to bringing tea, have been sunny reminders of the ridiculously selfless, caring friends I am lucky enough to have in my life.

One of the most difficult parts of this disease had been the day-to-day of not knowing how I will feel when (and if) I wake up. The very busy stylist Alexis Robinson of Vain Salon knew something was up when I was a no-show for an appointment the other evening and promptly had a receptionist call to check on me and squeeze me in the next day. The staff of Vain have been wonderful. Many have made personal donations and have certainly been cheerleaders for this trip in many ways.

I cannot express how grateful I am to my co-workers at League Lab and Underdog Sports Leagues who have quickly become family. Not only have they made generous donations and allowed me to shift my schedule in order to accommodate this trip, but they have allowed me the flexibility to work as my illness will allow as opposed to forcing my body to push itself, in essence making myself much sicker. They have been supportive, concerned, and easy to communicate with about how I am feeling. Without the support they have shown for me in the past few months, I honestly don’t know where I would be with all of this now. It’s a rare and wonderful position to have in a work environment and there is not a day that goes by that I take their trust and moral support for granted.

So what is that photo all about? After raising all of the money for the trip, Trenton and I started putting together toys and little gifts for the children to take away from the experience. We will be hauling down a bag of Barbies, lots of nail polish and glitter for mini-manis, about 25 boxes of Crayolas with quite a few coloring books, a bag of Hot Wheels, and about 400+ packages of laboriously assembled sticker packets. Each packet will contain a small bag full of hand-selected stickers attached to mini handmade matchbook-style sticker notepads. Laborious but worth it, for sure! They are looking great.

Special hugs to:

Dan and Maria Carpenter for their thoughtful donation towards materials.

Elizabeth V. and Ms. SJ Munsson who donated nail polishes and Barbies from a beloved personal collection.

Alexis Robinson for her kind donation towards materials.

Kimberly Ferencz, the human sewing machine, who has assembled the matchbook sticker pads, iPad covers, and big hat for my irregularly enormous head to protect me from the sun.

And of course, Trenton Silva, for trading Honolulu sun for Seattle weather to take care of me this past month and become a sticker cutting pro. ❤

Love you all! Don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter (at right) to keep tabs of the trip and see your gifts in action. The first 75 to subscribe will receive personalized packages via snail mail upon my return, and one lucky reader will receive a gift pack full of Costa Rican goodies.

To make a donation via PayPal to help defray my personal costs and/or to buy additional goodies for the children, please click this button:

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