WORLD MEDLEY: VIEWS THROUGH A LENS

By Rachel Ger
Contributing Writer

This is the fifth and final article in our 2015 Week of Photo Journals: Changing Perspectives. We hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s presentation of the beautiful photography and travel accounts of UC San Diego students. Click on the images in the article to view the photos up close.

Kolkata street scene

A snapshot of the juxtaposition of two different generations in the streets of Kolkata, India. The bright colors of the faded paint on the walls don’t do much to shroud the fact that these slums are backed wall-to-wall by tall, luxurious buildings where the rich live and play – with the impoverished right on their doorstep. But somehow, in this moment, all of that doesn’t matter. This grandfather and grandchild have far more important things to think about right now, such as “what game should we play right now?” and “what memories are we going to make today?”

“We’re All Just People” at Centre Pompidou in Paris, France

My favorite part of this museum of modern art wasn’t the exhibits themselves (although they were extraordinary); it was the people-watching I got to do on the escalators between floors and on the landings of each plexiglass surrounded level. Each person or couple was so absorbed in their own little world – napping, lunching, even people-watching themselves, with a pair of eyes, unbeknownst to them, observing from above. There’s a certain sense of peace that comes with being allowed to peek into someone else’s life, a stranger whose world only collides with yours in this encounter and then continues on, completely unrelated to you beyond a moment of accidental eye-contact or a brief “excuse me” or “where did you get your top?”

Nighttime in the City of Lights - Paris, France

Nighttime in the City of Lights – Paris, France

Our long walk back to our Airbnb after each adventure-packed day always became a little tedious. We were all tired, hungry, and not looking forward to returning to the slightly sketchy area we were staying in. Always too tired to engage in the nightlife, on this night the nightlife came to us – we were met with lovely street music, lively youths, bright lights; reviving and energizing us and reminding us of all the little treasures this beautiful city has to offer.

A peek down a nondescript alley met by wary eyes in Kolkata, India

A peek down a nondescript alley met by wary eyes in Kolkata, India

A day in Kolkata seems to stretch for hours on end, punctuated by the hottest, most humid climate I have ever experienced in my life. Night comes as a brief relief to the excruciating heat that causes sweat to pour down our bodies during the day and makes us drowsy and sluggish. Revived by the coolness of the night air, we went for a nighttime walk around the dusty, bustling streets, filled with the sounds of socializing and loud vehicle horns protesting the packed dirt streets. I stepped away from the group for a moment to see what lay behind this corner, and was surprised to find that I wasn’t alone – I seem to have intruded on this little boy’s preparation for a sneaky night of great adventure and excitement.

Beautiful coastal town of Amalfi

A winter day feels just like summer in the beautiful coastal town of Amalfi in Italy. After waking up at the crack of dawn to take the long train from Naples to Sorrento in order to make it on time to catch one of the last three buses running to Amalfi for that period of time (there had been floods because of the rain the week before, and part of the road had collapsed… just in time to complicate our travel plans!). Speeding around the craggy cliffs of the Italian Riviera stopping every which way to pick up locals and slowing down to allow vehicles coming from the other end of this one-lane road pass, we finally arrived at Amalfi hours after we set out from our hostel. But all the hours of travel and transportation complications were worth it when met by the sight of this beautiful little beach town and the warmth of the Italian locals. The Amalfi Coast in every bend and curve possesses the kind of unparalleled beauty that can’t be adequately captured on camera.

 Impending rainstorm on Christmas Eve

Impending rainstorm on Christmas Eve – adventure in rural Italy

Our nonexistent knowledge of the Italian language paired with our inability to navigate tiny provincial streets inevitably and unsurprisingly stopped our quest to find the route to the famous
Sentiero degli dei (the Path of the Gods) right in its tracks. Without a single shop open on Christmas Eve and dead silent streets, it took the sight of these orange-brown clay topped white houses to help us keep our cool. It all turned out fine in the end and we got to where we needed to
be perfectly on time – and now we’ll always have a story that’s one for the books.

All images by Rachel Ger, Prospect Contributing Writer

SPAIN: FROM CITY TO WILDERNESS

By Hart Pitcher
Contributing Writer

This is the fourth article in our 2015 Week of Photo Journals: Changing Perspectives. Check back each day this week to see more beautiful photography and travel accounts from UC San Diego students. Click on the images in the article to view the photos up close.

Spain 1

I was exploring the city and came across this view at just the right time. You can get a sense of how much energy exists in the city just from how colorful, compact and elaborate each structure is. I think the architecture makes a nice contrast as it fades towards the mountains in the background. Spain has some amazingly beautiful landscapes, and this was my favorite sunset from my trip there.

Spain 2

After exploring the city of Barcelona during the day, we went and had dinner out on the harbor for sunset. It was amazingly beautiful, there was a lot going on – including a large pirate ship parked on the dock.

Spain 3

La Sagrada Familia is quite a breathtaking site from the outside. I had never seen anything like this kind of architecture. Then I found out it was a cathedral, and I was even more amazed.

Spain 4

We hiked for hours for this one. Spain has such an active city life that a lot of people forget how much beauty exists in its wilderness. It is vast in nature, and twists and turns around canyons and rivers.

Spain 5

Another perspective of Spain’s natural beauty.

Spain 6

Spain 7

This view is of Park Güell in Spain. There was a lot going on here, hundreds of people going about their days and enjoying the same beauty as me. It was a beautiful, hot, blue-sky day, and we hiked up a long trail around the back of the park to reach this view – totally worth it.

Spain 8

On the coast, I struggled to find a vantage point to look out at the city, but it was worth the search.

Spain 9

I love this perspective of the Spanish landscape. It was a beautiful time of the year, when we could still see a faint brush of fall.

Spain 10

Buildings on the mountain-tops hardly seem feasible, but people used to live in this tiny formation carved out of the mountain that used to be a city!

CENTRAL AMERICA: TREKKING CLOUD FORESTS AND CANYONS

By David Dannecker
Senior Editor

This is the third article in our 2015 Week of Photo Journals: Changing Perspectives. Check back each day this week to see more beautiful photography and travel accounts from UC San Diego students. Click on the images in the article to view the photos up close.

In my third year as an undergrad, I had the amazing experience of studying abroad in Costa Rica. I spent two and a half months living in Costa Rica, followed up by a month of exploring Nicaragua and Belize. The nations of Central America host a range of stunning environments, from crystalline coastlines and boggy mangrove forests, to humid lowland forests and river valleys, to otherworldly cloud forests threaded through the many mountain ranges. Amid all of these beautiful ecosystems, Central America also hosts a mind-boggling amount of native biodiversity, much like their Amazonian neighbors. Costa Rica alone has five percent of the world’s biodiversity, including thousands of species of insects and plants, and hundreds of species of birds, mammals and reptiles.

Costa Rica Cloud Forest

In Costa Rica, I had the chance to venture into the Monteverde Cloud Forests on horseback. Cloud forests are tropical forests that tend to occur at higher elevations around the world. Besides Central America, cloud forests can also be found in the mountains of South America, the highlands of tropical Africa, and the islands of Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. As you can see in the photo above, these forests are aptly named for the ever-present cloud banks which permeate the forest canopy. In fact, some of the cloud forest’s native plant species have adapted to utilize the moisture held in the mist, absorbing water from the so-called ‘horizontal precipitation’ in order to better withstand the tropical dry season.

Purple-throated Mountain-gem

Violet Sabrewing

Monteverde is known for its access to one of Costa Rica’s best-preserved cloud forests, and the incredible diversity of birds and insects that call it home. Particularly notable are the hummingbirds – 14 different species of brightly-colored and energetic hummingbirds can be found in the town of Monteverde alone. Compare that to the 54 species found in Costa Rica as a whole, and it’s clear why Monteverde is a prime destination for tropical birders. The photos show two of the 14 species that can be found in Monteverde, tending to artificial feeders at a local butterfly garden: a female Purple-throated Mountain-gem (Lampornis calolaemus) [top] and a male Violet Sabrewing (Campylopterus hemileucurus) [bottom].

Orange and Black Froghopper

Caterpillar

Butterfly with eyespots

The size of Costa Rica’s insect community is staggering. You can hardly walk through the rain forest without encountering a species of insect that you haven’t seen before. The sizes range from walking sticks several inches long and moths the size of a human hand, down to plentiful minuscule species that you’d scarcely notice. Costa Rica has over 300,000 species of insects, comprising the vast majority of the species that have been described in the country. Pictured are an orange and black species of planthopper (Auchenorrhyncha) [top], a well-defended caterpillar [middle], and a sizable Lepidopteran showcasing prominent eyespots for defense as it rests on the underside of a fern [bottom].

Fer-de-lance

Eyelash Viper

Snakes are another category of species that are especially diverse in Costa Rica. Over 160 species of snakes can be found in the country, and 22 of them are venomous. Pictured here are two of the more venomous species: the Fer-de-lance (Bothrops asper) [top] and the Eyelash Viper (Bothriechis schlegelii) [bottom]. Fer-de-lances are generally considered the most dangerous of Costa Rica’s venomous snakes, and bites can often be critical, especially if you are not near an emergency medical center or hospital. The arboreal eyelash vipers are also quite venomous, but are smaller, and less prone to biting humans unless directly provoked or disturbed. Eyelash vipers also occur in a broad range of color variations, from mossy camouflaged patterns like this one, to bright yellows, greens and blues.

Somoto region panorama

Somoto Canyon

Somoto Canyon Walls

After my study program ended, I spent a couple of weeks exploring Nicaragua, devoting much of that time to the mountainous northern region. Nicaragua has quite a few amazing natural sites to offer, especially if you are willing to venture slightly off the beaten path. Near the small town of Somoto, guides are available to lead you on a tour of Somoto Canyon, which is an incredible geologic feature that was actually fairly unexplored until just over 10 years ago. The steep walls rise up on either side of the often narrow canyon as you hike, swim and float your way from one end to the other. It makes for some spectacular views.

Miraflor waterfall

Arbol Historico

Another attraction well worth a look in Nicaragua is the Miraflor Natural Reserve. Home to plenty of biodiversity, engaging hiking trails, friendly guides, and picturesque waterfalls, Miraflor is really an unmissable diversion if you find yourself in the city of Estelí. One truly unique sight in the reserve was a 600-year-old tree (Ceiba pentandra) that stands between two open fields. At that age, the tree has been standing since before Europeans ever visited Nicaragua.

Tapir

Jaguar

After my time in Nicaragua, I flew northward to Belize for the final leg of my journey. Lying on the eastern coast of Central America, Belize had a far more Caribbean atmosphere, both in terms of environment and culture, than the largely Pacific areas of Nicaragua and Costa Rica I’d seen so far. Belize is sparsely populated, and so much of its natural land is untrammeled by human development. One of the easiest ways to witness some of Belize’s most impressive native wildlife is to pay a visit to the Belize Zoo. Founded as a sanctuary for tame native species that had been filmed for a documentary in the 1980s, the Belize Zoo now houses an impressive collection of some of Central America’s most iconic wildlife, including the Tapir (Tapirus bairdii), which is the national animal of Belize and the largest terrestrial animal in Central America, and the Jaguar (Panthera onca), the largest species of feline in the Western Hemisphere. While Belize has plenty of natural spaces where it is possible to view these species in situ, visiting the Belize Zoo is a nice way to guarantee a view of some of Belize’s rarer species.

Howler Monkey

Central America is home to fewer than 10 species of monkey. That figure pales in comparison to the dozens of primate species that can be found in the Amazon rain forest. Nevertheless, monkeys in Central America play several crucial roles in the ecosystem, having spread out to fill different niches. Squirrel monkeys are omnivorous; spider monkeys are active, mobile herbivores; and capuchins are voracious generalists, eating insects and fruits, but even going so far as preying on lizards and birds. Howler monkeys [pictured] are much more lethargic and eat the most foliage of the various species. They spend the vast majority of their time sleeping.

Bats indoors

Bats outdoors

Bats comprise about one fifth to one quarter of all mammal species worldwide. In the tropics, the proportion is even greater. Bats make up over half of the mammal species in Costa Rica, and nearly 60 percent of mammal species in Belize. Bats perform many vital services, from pollinating flowers, to dispersing fruit seeds, to keeping the insect population under control. While many tropical bats are under threat from disease and habitat destruction, some bats have been able to find ways to coexist with human communities. Pictured [top] is a small colony of bats sleeping in the rafters of a visitor center in Bermudian Landing, Belize. The second picture shows a roost of well-hidden bats, camouflaging against the bark of a tree on the banks of a river in northern Belize.

Black-collared Hawk

Vermillion Flycatcher

One of my final stops in Belize was the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. This sanctuary sits on a lagoon and is best known as a birdwatching hotspot. I saw over 50 different species of birds on a two-hour boat tour, and it wasn’t even peak season. Belize has a singularly impressive 543 species of birds, including perennial species and migrants. To put that diversity in perspective, Belize is slightly smaller than the State of Massachusetts, but Massachusetts is only home to roughly 200 species of birds. Pictured here are a striking Black-collared Hawk (Busarellus nigricollis) moments before taking flight, and an equally stunning Vermillion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus) perched on a fence, both observed at the Crooked Tree Sanctuary.

All images by David Dannecker, Prospect Senior Editor