The Atlas Mountains – Stepping Further Back in Time

On the way from the airport, Mustapha had mentioned that he would be pleased to guide / drive me around Marrakech if I would like. The cost 20 euro for about 3 hours. Undecided and suffering from a caffeine deficiency, I told him I would let him know.

After spending several hours getting lost, I mean unintended exploring in the souks, which while fascinating would not hold my attention for all three days I was here. Wadi at the hotel called Mustapha on Thursday evening and we would leave at 9:00 AM on Friday.

Somehow on what was a short trip from the airport I had managed to learn a lot about Mustapha, whose family was Berber and from the Atlas Mountains. Mustapha thought the best day to head toward the mountains would be Friday, there was a weekly market we would see and Mr. Paul, I will show you the REAL Morocco! 

It did take about 40 minutes to get out of Marrakech, which has almost a million people. Marrakech was established in the 11th century and yet over the last 10 years the population has almost doubled with people coming in from the country for work, the primary business is tourism.

The four lane highway was really about 1 ½ lanes each way for autos and then ½ lane for mopeds, scooters, bicycles and donkey carts. Riding with Mustapha, there were a few things I immediately realized. 1 – I don’t want to drive and 2 – in Marrakech, there are no rules, only suggestions.

Turn signals while drive are strickly optional but remarkably I didn’t see a single accident. No automated turn signal, but eye contact, a motion of the hand or nod of your head and with an amazingly cooperative environment everyone eventually gets to where they are going and home alive at the end of the day.

A few minutes off the highway we came to a village and their weekly market. Somewhat like the souks of Marrakech but this time there are no tourists, well except for me. You can buy any vegetables you desire, pick up fresh meat.Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

You know it’s fresh because you can see them men carrying it from the slaughter rooms to the butchers’ booth. Mustapha said in the slaughter rooms there is a government inspector to make sure good conditions are maintained.

Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas MountainsWe walked through the market, where you could also see a doctor / dentist / barber, all of which are in adjacent booths. Not what you would think of as health care, but it has been done this way for hundreds of years.

Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

Of course there was the café, which except for the ambiance and attire could have been the Starbucks in my neighborhood. Probably the same guys every Saturday morning.

Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

I shot a few images and trying to be noticed as little as possible. I really don’t think that the people minded having their photo taken, but they more likely viewed it as a revenue generating opportunity.   There were kids who offered to let me take their photo for a few Dirham – not the candid shots I had hoped for.

Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

We continued our drive up into the mountains turned off the main road to a dirt road – to see a beautiful view for photos! Indeed it was amazingly.

Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

Next up we pulled off the road near a Berber Museum. When the Berbers moved down from the High Atlas Mountains in the seventh century they settled here but it was a strategic error in judgement, since their enemies had the high ground. Later that would eventually move further down and found Marrakech in the 11th Century. This should give you a reference when the locals refer to something as really old!

Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas MountainsTravel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

 

While I was wandering around the souks yesterday I couldn’t help but wonder where all of the products came from. Of course there are vendors for small electronics, household goods and typical apparel which is easy to understand, but where are the Moroccan products from. It really didn’t seem like the Souk owner was just the front man for the family weaving the rugs or making leather goods. Bargaining here is a highly refined sport and well, I am not good at it. I think I have pretty good negotiating skills but not for individual items.

With the souks and the vendors in mind, Mustapha took me to a Berber Cooperative, where 250 families from various villages in the mountains brought their carpets and other products to sell. Truly amazing work and as the man showing me carpets said, no pressure, no bargaining. I didn’t believe it for a minute, but then we never got to that point! I just told him I thought the work was beautiful but I would not be buying a carpet today.

RAK16 158.jpg

Our three-hour tour was not past 4 hours and we will still in the mountains. I said that I would be honored to take Mustapha to lunch. A bit more of a drive and we stopped at a wonderful spot, ate on the terrace with a great view. I had grilled chicken with lemon. When ordering, the waiter asked: Leg or Breast? I said breast. Without cracking a smile, he asked: Right or Left? And then started to laugh!

Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

Although we had seen very few tourists since leaving Marrakech in the morning and there was not American among them. Sitting on the terrace at lunch, of course there was another American at the table next to us. A visiting professor of Comparative Religion, who at one time lived in Minneapolis. A small world indeed.

The trip back to Marrakech had few stops but a bit more traffic, but still great things to see.

Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

Back at the Riad El Mansour for a bit of a rest and edit the images that I shot prior to heading out for dinner.

A full and amazing day, not only enhancing my adventure but expanding my life.

More soon.

Paul

The Marrakech Express

I am not an anxious traveler. I can adapt to most situations and if the hotel didn’t look exactly like I was expecting, within a day or so, I can pretty much feel at home. If things don’t go quite right I try not to let it detract from my adventure.

On May 5th I started out with a flight to Las Vegas, was picked up at the airport by my friends Bruno and Chris, who had driven in from Ramona, CA and had my motorcycle in their truck. After finding a convenient spot to unload, I headed out for a ride around Lake Mead and they went on to St. George, UT where Chris would be racing the Ironman St. George 70.3 on Saturday and Bruno would be driving for me as I shot.

Although the weather wasn’t the best, it also wasn’t the worst and we got the job done!

Sunday May 8th I headed from St. George to Zion National Park, up by Bryce Canyon through some amazing terrain and ended my day in Torrey Ut.

Monday was perfect weather and the night before I decided I would head down toward Telluride. Another amazing day. I didn’t have a place to stay but I was sure I could find something.

Tuesday morning had some rain and light snow at elevation and based on the radar maps it looked like it was snowing at Monarch Pass where I had planned to ride so, I adjusted and headed north to I-70, rolling into Boulder early evening.

My BMW is still in Boulder with a friend, I flew home, shot the Medtronic Twin Cities 1 Mile on Thursday evening, and Friday morning headed to The Woodlands TX for Ironman Texas.

Sunday back on an early flight to Minneapolis, with a couple of days to reorganize and finish the images from the last events.

For more than a month I had my reservations to Lanzarote. I knew when I was leaving, when I was returning and the route. I also knew that as long as I was in the neighborhood, so to speak, I wanted to visit Morocco. I had never been to Africa and thought it could be amazing. The day I was leaving for Lanzarote, I finally made my air travel reservations to Marrakech.

Still I waited to find a place to stay hoping that someone in Lanzarote would have a recommendation. No luck, back to Hotels.com for a look. I found the Riad El Mansour, five miles from the airport and nominal walk to the old city.

Prior to arriving, I received an email asking when I was arriving and for 15 euro, they would have their driver pick me up. All good so far.

I did manage to find their driver Mustapha, among the 100 other drivers waiting there. He gave me a quick highlighted tour on the way from the airport and said – now I take you the way you will walk to the hotel so it will look familiar. Again, all good. And then we stopped!

Parked the car in what I can only generously call a chaotic street and stopped right between the melon cart and the banana cart.

Travel in Marrakech

As we grabbed my bags he quickly pointed out the small sign beneath the canopy that had the logo of the hotel and said, See this is how you know you are in the right place. Left, Right, Right – remember Left, Right, Right! The next 50 meters were so filled with people and vendors that cars could not travel in.

Travel in Marrakech t

LEFT! The street narrowed to 3 meters, there were kids playing and a few doorways.

RAK 306

RIGHT! A moped whizzed by from behind, with no one else in site. Walked under a shadowed structure built to connect the buildings on both sides.

RAK 304

RIGHT! Ahead is a dead end, and a shadowy dead end at that.

RAK 301
OK, I am now starting to re-think my low anxiety approach to travel. Just beyond the plant, we finally stop at a large carved wooden door and he rings the bell. We are welcomed by Abdess “Mr. Paul, it is so nice to meet you!”

I find that I am stepping not into a hotel, but to my eyes back in time and into and Indiana Jones Movie. It is amazing structure between 200 and 300 years old with only 6 rooms and a very peaceful interior courtyard.

Travel in Marrakech

I am in the Azure room. I mean with only six rooms you can easily use names instead of numbers

Travel in Marrakech

Azure Room

Travel in Marrakech

Azure Room

After a much needed nap, I headed out to explore the big square, the souks and the old city. After a few hours of wandering through the chaos, I returned to Riad El Mansour.

Peace and serenity, just a few meters from the chaos.

Time now for dinner and upon recommendation of Wadi at the hotel, it was Left, Left, Right and then a 1 minute walk and another right to Latitude 31. Again peace, serenity just a few meters from the chaos. This time with amazing aromas, in an open air courtyard with impeccable service and extraordinary hospitality. Latitude 31 was immediately on my favorite list.

Before turning in for the night, I asked what time breakfast was served. Mr. Paul, you are on holiday, when you get up, I will make you breakfast!

RAK16 067

If you are going to Marrakech – contact me, I will share the details of where I was. Not only did they enhance my trip but in doing so, they enhanced my life.

More soon.

Paul

Put This One On Your Bucket List!

There are lots of things that can be said about an Ironman Triathlon and the people that race them. From the outside, friends of the triathletes, whether Professional or Age Group think they are Compulsive Obsessives and addicted to their training. Others sit back in awe of what they have or are working to accomplish.

Although my deteriorating knees saved me from ever attempting an Ironman, I have done some pretty absurd things in my long and undistinguished athletic career. But, as the tag line for Ironman says – Anything is Possible, which I believe is what really drives most of the participants. For some it is a statement of what they can do, for many others it becomes a lifestyle.

There are of course the genetic anomalies like Craig Alexander, Jan Frodeno, Mirinda Carfrae and Jesse Thomas that do this professionally and win, but let’s face it; they are not like the rest of us.

Traveling to compete at one of the 40+ Ironman races or other Iron-distance races around the world is becoming increasingly common. Destination races have become part of the adventure of racing, as well as a great way to see the world and involve your family whom has had to be incredibly supportive during your long training.

Each year it seems I am spending increasing amounts of time in Europe covering events. The atmosphere, the charm, the attitude of the hosts keeps drawing me back. Personally I also love the opportunity to explore new places and cultures.

For years, my friends at the ITU kept insisting that I come to the race in Hamburg just to see the crowds. When I finally did, it was amazing. Now I typically spend July in Germany shooting IM Frankfurt, Challenge Roth and Hamburg.

Last fall Club La Santa invited me to cover the 25th Annual Club La Santa Ironman Lanzarote on May 21, 2016, which after working out the scheduling seemed to be an opportunity not to be missed.

Ironman Lanzarote - Pre Race

Ironman Lanzarote – Club La Santa

Ironman Lanzarote - Pre Race

Ironman Lanzarote – Club La Santa

In fact, IM Lanzarote turned out to be the combination of attributes of all of the best events I have been to over the last 15 years. Lanzarote has the volcanic Island and black sand beaches of Kona, the mountainous bike course of Zell am See in the Alps, the welcoming celebratory atmosphere of Roth and crowds of Hamburg! Really it has it all.

Ironman Lanzarote - Pre Race

Over 300 Volcanoes on Lanzarote

IMLZ16 2032

Ironman Lanzarote

Ironman Lanzarote – Timo Bracht riding  though the Fire Mountains

Ironman Lanzarote

Ironman Lanzarote – over 2,500 meters of climbing 

Ironman Lanzarote

Ironman Lanzarote – Spectacular views – if you have time to look

Ironman Lanzarote

Ironman Lanzarote

 

Unlike many of the North American events, Lanzarote has a rich 25-year history and certainly reflects the personality of founder Kenneth Gasque. To say the least, Kenneth treats every triathlete and family member as his personal guest.

IMLZ16 0160

Kenneth began his Ironman career in 1985 and immediately commenced his efforts to bring a race to Lanzarote. 1992 marked the beginning of Ironman Lanzarote and was the 4th event in the world. The race has a rich history, with some athletes returning for 15 years or more. When you arrive you are neither treated like guests or friends, you are treated like family. With the Club and Event staff doing all they can to enhance your experience.

At first Lanzarote may seem difficult to get to, but since I typically have to make a connection in Amsterdam, Paris or London to get to the race venue, this time I connected in Dublin and then headed south for an additional 3 hours to Lanzarote.

Club La Santa is a training center, in the fall and winter professional cycling teams, triathletes, swim clubs and many others flock here to escape the European winter and enjoy some solid training. On site there are 3 50-meter 8-lane pools, a 400-meter track, soccer field, weight training, gym and almost anything else you can imagine, including Stand Up Paddle boards. While May is not peak training season families from all over Europe arrive to play together. My apartment was simple but quite comfortable and for my 8 day stay, I felt very much at home.

IMLZ16 2048

IMLZ16 2045

IMLZ16 2053

I hope you enjoyed a few my favorite photos from my stay in Lanzarote, judge for yourself, but put this one on your bucket list!

 

 

 

St. George 70.3, Canon 1Dx Mark II and being on the Road

I had great intentions of writing several blogs while I was on the road, but as luck who have it, I was more than a bit over optimistic about my available time. I know, like that has never happened before.

Saturday, May 7 was the Ironman St. George 70.3, the North American Pro Championship, with a great field of athletes and truly a championship course. With portions of the course set in Snow Canyon, it is a photo op in waiting. This was the fifth time I have shot there and unlike in prior years the light was less than perfect.

Temperatures in the low to mid-50s and periodic rain is indeed less than perfect. But I felt confident, I was wearing full dress Aerostich Moto gear which makes me look like a cross between the yellow Power Ranger and the Michelin Man. Bruno was driving for me and we were using my BMW F700GS, which we have modified to make it easier to shoot. In addition, I had ThinkTank Photo Rain covers.

Aside from a few random snaps, this was the first field use of my new Canon 1Dx Mark II, with its magical glow-in-the-dark ISOs and 14 frames per second.

First, more as a test of the camera, I shot the following image of Bruno at 40,000 ISO. Below you can see what it was like right from the camera followed by the image with some Lightroom clean up. Not too bad, but the real question might be if you are shooting in the dark, why don’t you just get out a flash? But then like I said, it was a test.

Ironman St. George 70.3

ISO 40,000   1/80th f/4.0

Ironman St. George 70.3

With just a bit of Lightroom work

From a practical standpoint my greater concern is shooting with ISOs in the 2000 to 4000 range. Situations where there is low light, not in the dark, and I want to have a reasonable high shutter speed and a bit of depth of field.

Again here are a couple of shots with the unprocessed image first, followed by the Lightroom processed image. Really not too bad.

Ironman St. George 70.3

ISO 4000  1/1600 f/6.3

Ironman St. George 70.3

Post in Lightroom 

 

When I am shooting from the Moto, I typically shoot in burst of 3 to 5 frames and then as part of my edit process I select the image with the best biomechanics. With the 1DX Mark II, I was initially shooting in 5 to 7 frame burst. Certainly overkill, part was the sensitivity of the camera and I am sure part was attributable that I sort of lost the feeling in my hands in the cold rain. Either way the camera is sensitive to the touch. You can adjust the maximum frame rate in the settings but why give up the speed, I am sure by next week, I will get the hang of it.

I was really quite impressed with the quality of the images, particularly the color depth particularly on a fairly dark and grey day. Following are a few shots from the course.

Ironman St. George 70.3

Ironman St. George 70.3

Ironman St. George 70.3

Ironman St. George 70.3

Ironman St. George 70.3

Ironman St. George 70.3

Ironman St. George 70.3

Ironman St. George 70.3

Ironman St. George 70.3

Ironman St. George 70.3

Ironman St. George 70.3

Ironman St. George 70.3

Ironman St. George 70.3

Ironman St. George 70.3

Late Sunday morning, I loaded up the Moto and headed out for 3 days of riding through the spectacular terrain in Utah and Colorado. Some rain, some sunshine, some snow and hot and cold weather is the short version of the story. My final day had to be re-routed due to snow in Monarch Pass.

Here are a few snaps from the road trip, all shot with the Canon 1Dx Mark II and the 24-105 mm, f/4.0 lens. You can judge for yourself.

Ironman St. George 70.3 - Travel images

Glen Canyon, Utah

Ironman St. George 70.3 - Travel images

Glen Canyon, Utah

Ironman St. George 70.3 - Travel images

Glen Canyon, Utah

Ironman St. George 70.3 - Travel images

Telluride Mountain Village, Colorado

Tonight we have the USA Track and Field Road 1 Mile Championship and the off to Ironman Texas in the morning.

More soon!

Paul

Canon 1Dx Mark II – Part 2

Now 36 hours into the ownership of my new 1Dx Mark II body, I have yet to have time to take it out for a real test, but after sitting with it for a bit on Tuesday evening and just a few shots this morning, I do have some initial impressions to share.

The set up, both physical and the menu content is virtually the same as the 1Dx. Please keep in mind I haven’t been through everything yet, nor have I opened the manual. I will likely find a few differences, as I get deeper into it.

The first noticeable impression is that 14 fps is really fast and that shooting with Live View at 16 fps is REALLY, REALLY fast. I did hold the shutter down to see how many shots I could fire off in a row and it slowed down at about 140 frames.

Having a burst mode of 140 + frames goes into the category of just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should. To translate that into a practical use, as I am shooting in 3 to 5 image burst from the back of the moto, I truly believe that I will never be inhibited by the transfer rate to the CFast 2 card.

Since I have a couple of hours to kill here at the Las Vegas Airport before my ride arrives to go to the race in St. George, this is a good opportunity to check the high ISO capabilities.

Competitive Image Blog

ISO 20,000, 1/800, f/4.0

Competitive Image Blog

ISO 10,000, 1/800, f/4.0

Competitive Image Blog

ISO 5,000, 1/400, f/4.0

The above images are full frame and as shot, with NO post processing and to me they all look pretty good.

To test a bit more, here are some higher crops of the same 3 images.

Competitive Image Blog

ISO 20,000, 1/800, f/4.0

Competitive Image Blog

ISO 10,000, 1/800, f/4.0

Competitive Image Blog

ISO 5,000, 1/400, f/4.0

Again, except for the crop there has been no post processing to these images.  Yes 20,000 looks a bit edgy but not too bad and I think the 5,000 looks pretty good.

Now you may be thinking why is this guy shooting at 1/800 in such low light?  I sure hope he can hold the camera steady. The fact is that I shoot sports and if I want to stop the action I need a high shutter speed. High ISO and a tripod will not work for me.

In the final image in each series. I dropped the shutter speed to 1/400 to accommodate the reduction in ISO, but still pretty fast.

Finally here is an image where I have done a bit of post in Lightroom.

Competitive Image Blog

ISO 20,000, 1/800, f/4.0

Just some minor post and it cleans up quite well.

Will I be shooting at 20,000 ISO? Probably not too often. The last time I did was at the Opening Ceremonies for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

It’s not really about being able to shoot in the dark, which I could probably do, it is about shooting in low light. This whole photography is really about the light. The light reflected off of your image, as well as how much image noise is inherent in the image and what you in post.

Although this is very preliminary, I am pretty impressed. I am looking forward to the pre-start shots at the Ironman St. George 70.3 this weekend for the real test.

More soon!

Canon 1Dx Mark II

In about 36 hours I leave for four weeks of travel, which will include 3 National Championship events in 3 different states in eight days, one of the most challenging Ironman races in the world the following week and by my estimate about 17,500 miles of travel, 14 flights and several days on my motorcycle.

I start off with Ironman St.George 70.3, which is the North American Pro Championship, then ride my motorcycle from St. George (May 7) to Boulder, weather permitting, shooting landscape photos for three days. Then a flight home to Minneapolis to shoot the USATF Road 1 Mile Championship (May 12), followed by Ironman Texas (May 14), which is the North American Pro Championship. My final race of this stretch will be Ironman Lanzarote in the Canary Islands (May 21).

After a couple days of editing in Lanzarote, I plan to take a few days off to go to Marrakech   and since I will am routed through Dublin, I plan to take an extra day there as well.

Needless to say I am pleased that my long awaited Canon 1Dx Mark II arrived today. Many thanks to Julie Murphy of National Camera Exchange who kept me well informed as to the delivery date and allowing me once again to get the first one in the Twin Cities.

I do wish I had a bit more time to learn about the new camera, but I do have a couple days to figure out what is different from the Canon 1Dx.

I know I am not alone when people ask, Paul – why do you need a new camera?  Sure it is alway fun to have new gear to use, it becomes a practical matter.  I always shoot with two camera bodies. The current generation and the prior generation. For me this has meant my Canon 1D Mark IV from early 2010, which I love and has served me very well and the Canon 1Dx, which I received immediately prior to leaving for the 2012 London Olympics.

The Mark IV has about 500,000 shutter actuations and then 1Dx is not far behind.  These are tools that have well used and appreciated, as is Canon Professional Services, who keep my gear in great shape.

This blog is not an Unpacking the Box Blog.  You can go to the Canon Website if you need to know what’s in the box. It will be more articulate and accurate than I will be.

This blog is the kick off a four great weeks of travel and amazing events and venues to shoot, which should be an amazing test of the new camera!

Just one performance note, when set to live view the sound of shooting 16 fps, is a constant whir!

I plan to get something posted every few days with some details of the events, race images and impressions of the new camera – Stay tuned.

Competitive Image Blog

Canon 1Dx Mark II

In the vein of The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Competitive Image Blog

My original Canon 1D on the left and the new 1Dx II on the right

Competitive Image Blog

My original Canon 1D on the left and the new 1Dx II on the right