Travel

ABCD Trip Part 1: The Grand Canyon by Amanda Liew

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I’ve always been a cheater when it comes to communication. I am essentially incapable of letting my photos or my words speak for themselves so I resort to doing both. That alone probably explains why I choose to blog instead of just letting this website stand as a portfolio - photos and words on their own cannot encapsulate it all, so why not combine the two? So as I begin blogging about my ABCD Trip*, I will do my very best to capture even a sliver of what this trip meant to me in terms of as many senses as I can describe! 

*Coincidentally our trip’s participants were Amanda, Benedetto, Corey, and Dana

As some of you may already know, this trip came at a time of significant transition: I’ve just finished up over 2 years in finance and am looking to shift to the social enterprise industry. As I was planning this trip with the others, I was ridiculously excited about the itinerary, but didn’t anticipate how the “flow” of the energy levels & emotions would impact me. My trip split into 3 parts: Vegas, the National Parks, and San Diego. Each one vastly different than the others. I finished up my job on a Wednesday, and less than 24 hours later was on a plane to Vegas which was perfect for a hyperactive catharsis of sorts. Over the course of two days we were running nonstop, barely sleeping, and literally dancing the night away. Then, suddenly, we were in nature nature nature for 5 straight days: the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Moab, and Zion. We were actively hiking each day, viewing grandiose creations of God, physically exhausted but mentally at peace. Finally, I was in San Diego, experiencing for the first time in a long time what it meant to have solitude lead to peace in my heart, mind, and spirit. I look back on the flow of this trip and am just so amazed by how KNOWN I am by God. We planned this trip based off of logistics, yet I can see so clearly how God's hand worked to ease me perfectly into where I needed to be in New York at this moment. Each aspect of the trip - the hyperactivity, the physical exertion, the self-confidence in accomplishment, the awe & wonder, the peace - was all what I needed to encounter. I just didn’t know it at the time. 

Enough with the misty-eyed reflections, though! Let’s talk about how epic The Grand Canyon was. After much deliberation, we opted to do the Bright Angel Trail, one of the more popular trails that descends into the canyon. There were signs all over warning us "what goes down, must come up" and that the ascension would take 2-3x as long. We slowly meandered our way to the 1.5 Mile Resthouse, taking photos every other second (mainly glamour shots of Benedetto heh...) and found a great lookout spot to eat our lunch at. The vision of the canyon are truly incredible - there's so much depth, so many layers, such an extensive amount of colors. I had originally bought my Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 wide-angle lens for my trip to Jordan and was so happy to have it with me for this trip as well! It makes a huge difference in the landscape shots.

Without a doubt, the true winner of our hike back up was Dana. Girl was storming up the canyon at a crazy pace, but making it look like she was just going for a chill walk. I, on the other hand, was merely grateful that I was passing some, but not all, of the 70 year olds on the trail. As some background, Dana & I were still getting to know each other on the trip since we hadn't hung out too many times before. It was as we were watching her fly up the steps that Corey began to spin his deception about how when I had the time, I should ask Dana to tell me more about her "condition." He convincingly started weaving a tale that Dana couldn't actually feel pain and that was why she was so good at these sorts of things. I was doubtful for sure, but coincidentally, 20 minutes before, she had told me a story of how she accidentally bruised herself doing a pretty mundane task which seemed to fit right into this issue. I started peppering him with questions (Wasn't that condition really severe? Wouldn't she be stuck at home?) , all of which he had answers to: she's really careful and has to monitor herself really closely, it used to be difficult but now she has it maintained, she eats really carefully, etc. etc. Finally he couldn't take it anymore and gave the ruse up to which I nearly pushed him off the canyon ledge. Not usually the one to fall for pranks, I had to give him credit where credit was due & we all had a solid laugh at the fake condition. Moral of the story? Dana's just a total hike killer & never believe any story that comes out of Corey's mouth.

Fortunately for us, we missed a sudden thunderstorm by about 3 minutes and managed to seek shelter in time. We were originally considering just heading back to the hotel, but instead opted to wait the rain out with some hot cocoa and try to catch the sunset from Maricopa Point. While the clouds weren't being cooperative, I have to admit that the shots came out beautifully. The amount of color & light in the horizon compensated for the lack of actual "sun." The way the light filled up & bounced off the inside canyon also made for a vastly different scene than what we saw only a few hours ago. 

One thing that we didn't fully grasp before our visit was truly how vast the Grand Canyon is. The next morning, on our way to Antelope Canyon, we got a view of it from a greater distance & just couldn't believe how it kept going and going and going. Driving around the canyon definitely added a significant amount of time to our trip, but it was well worth the views during sunrise. 

Overall, the South Rim was just a magnificent visit. A couple of tips & tricks below in case you are curious about the more minute travel details. Next up: Upper & Lower Antelope Canyon!

Learn From Our Successes and Failures!

Lodging:

  • We stayed at Canyon Plaza Resort for two nights and enjoyed our stay quite a bit! We were worried we would be too spoiled since we were just coming from the ARIA in Vegas, but the room itself was very clean & spacious. We had a slight issue with our key card on the second day, but overall I would recommend it. It is within walking distance of quite a few restaurants and a quick 10-15 minute drive to the National Park.

Food: 

  • We had a great learning lesson to always trust Yelp. We forgot that the world doesn’t operate like NYC where restaurants are open until 2am, so by the time we decided to get dinner at 8:30, our options were extremely limited. I voted for Pizza Hut (the safest option), but we ultimately settled on Sophie’s Mexican Kitchen. Honestly, I’m not even kidding you when I say avoid it at all costs. Our meal was essentially the equivalent of “college kids try to do taco night.” The second night we were ecstatic for Pizza Hut, and despite the long wait, it hit the spot just right after a long day of hiking. 
  • For lunch, RP’s Stage Stop is a fantastic option - decently priced breakfast & lunch sandwiches. We all ordered delicious bacon-egg-and-cheese’s & lunch sandwiches to eat on the trail! All their coffee options are delicious as well. 
  • Once you enter the park itself, there are quite a few Lodges with food options. While we didn’t check out any dinner menus, we made the good choice of grabbing hot chocolates & pastries as we waited for sunset.

Driving:

  • The parking lots & shuttle system within the Grand Canyon is pretty useful! Unfortunately due to the downpour, the shuttle system became extremely overcrowded.
  • If you are driving from the Grand Canyon to Antelope Canyon, you will need to drive through the park. I recommend leaving a large amount of time for the drive because there are some truly incredible sights along the way. Unfortunately we were on a tight time schedule and couldn’t stop as much as we wanted to!

Photography:

  • In general for this entire trip, I think it would have been worth it for me to invest in a flexible gorilla tripod. There were plenty of situations that I could have taken advantage of a longer shutter speed to compensate for the large depth of fields I wanted to capture with my wide angle lens. The South Rim viewing points usually have a guard rail of some sort that would have been ideal to wrap the flexible legs around.

Want more details? Just contact me! We essentially stole most of the trip's planning from our good friend Claire & Greg and are happy to share details. 

Jordan Solo Trip: A Grand Adventure by Amanda Liew

For the most part, I'm a planner. But for some reason, my wanderlust and impulsivity kicks into overdrive when it comes to planning a trip. For my vacation this year, I knew one thing and one thing only: I wanted a grand adventure. As I was browsing options on G Adventure's website, I pondered over South America, Morocco, Greece...and then I saw Petra. And it was just a done deal. I forced myself to think about it a little more ("Be responsible!" "Do more research!" "Shouldn't you be traveling with friends??"), but six days later I couldn't resist and I booked the entire trip...alone! What started as an impulsive decision finished as one of the grandest adventures I had ever experienced. Determined to make the most of my photographic experience, I decided to ditch my Nikon kit lens in favor of just my Nikon 50mm f/1.8 for portraits & close ups and my new Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 for landscapes & architecture. Thanks to some pestering, Rob also managed to snag me an Ona Bowery camera bag at their sample sale for 50% off! which served me incredibly well throughout the entire trip! 

For those of you looking to travel to Jordan, I couldn't recommend it highly enough. Jordan is an amazing country filled with hospitable people, the most delicious falafel you have ever tasted and landscapes that will repeatedly leave you speechless. Thanks to my excellent trip to South East Asia with G Adventures, I decided to do the Highlights of Jordan Trip since it would take me around the entire country.

Amman, Jerash, The Dead Sea & Mt. Nebo: We started in Amman, then took a day trip to the Jerash ruins and the Dead Sea where we bobbed in the water and coated ourselves in mud! We visited Mt. Nebo, the mountain where Moses was shown the promised land, and got our first real taste of the vast landscapes Jordan has to offer.

Petra: After this began the best 48 hours of the entire trip. Petra is probably most well-known in modern culture for scenes from Indiana Jones and Transformers. It was a hidden city established by the Nabataeans and was unknown to the Western world until the 1800s. While most people assume Petra is simply The Treasury, the site contains miles and miles of other tombs, monuments, and hikes. What's incredible is that from the surroundings, the entire city is virtually hidden. Our tour guide Zuhair forced us to get to Petra at 6AM, but wisely so because we had the entire Treasury to ourselves! Unfortunately due to the turmoil in its bordering countries, Jordan's tourism has plummeted. On one hand, it was shocking to see how empty certain sites were of the usual swarms of tourists, but on the other hand we felt like we got a private & intimate view of the country to ourselves. We were in Petra for an exhausting 12 hours, doing two major hikes to see the Treasury from the top of a mountain and to see The Monastery. In total, we finished 15 miles, 35,000 steps and roughly 115 floors! It was all worth it in the end, but "dead" would probably have been an understatement for both how we looked and felt. The entire day was stunning both from a landscape perspective and architecture perspective: the vibrant reds of the sandstone, the complex water transportation, the incredible buildings carved from top to bottom.

Wadi Rum: The next day, we traveled to Wadi Rum, a desert valley that was unbelievably vast and expansive. We hopped in the back of two pick up trucks for some sandduning and took in the landscapes. We eventually pulled over to watch the sun set over the mountains which was a perfect moment to just take it all in. There are so many moments when you travel where everything just seems surreal and you just can't believe how fortunate you truly are to experience that moment. At night we stayed at a Bedouin camp where I happily taught the non-Americans on our trip how to make banana boats (slice open a banana, stuff it with marshmallows and chocolate, wrap it in foil, and set it next to the campfire until it all melts!). We shared stories ranging from incredible travel sites to hilarious misadventures in foreign countries. In a once-in-a-lifetime moment, a few of us pulled out our beds to sleep under the stars. The most incredible moment was when we realized that the thick white stripe across the sky was in fact the Milky Way - visible as clear as a paint stroke! We fell asleep for just a few short hours before we woke up at 5am to catch the sunrise on camelback. Interestingly enough, we actually watched the sun rise twice in one morning - once between two mountain peaks, and then again from a different angle above one of the mountains. 

Aqaba: Winding down our trip, we made our way to Aqaba, a coastal town. There was a thriving night life and we had the chance to take out a private boat to snorkel in the Red Sea. At one point our captain pointed out the four countries surrounding us: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt! It's one thing to see these countries on a map and another to see it pointed out right in front of you. Unfortunately I forgot to bring my water proof camera case with me so I didn't get many underwater action shots, but there are some things I'll always keep tucked away in my memory. On our way back to Amman we stopped one last time to see another view of The Dead Sea and to witness the depletion of the water source as well.

Sad for the end of the trip, we prolonged our goodbye dinner in Amman late into the night. In retrospect, I've realized that one of the best parts of traveling solo is that you're not traveling solo at all. You have the opportunity to meet new people, form new relationships, and hopefully find new friends to travel with in the future. I'm so fortunate that my trip was made up of an incredible group of people! Many thanks to Zuhair, our fantastic "CEO" (Chief Experience Officer) for giving us an incredible taste of Jordan. Hopefully one day I'll be fortunate enough to return!

Travel Tips & Tricks:

  • Clothing: There was no expectation to be fully covered, but it is recommended to cover shoulders, cleavage and knees. For the most part I wore T-Shirts, maxi skirts, and cute patterned lounge pants. I was surprised that even despite the June heat, the maxi skirts and lounge pants offered enough of a breeze to keep me relatively cool. For shoes, I wore sandals / flip flops most of the time, but brought running shoes for Petra & Wadi Rum. Petra has hundreds of steps & climbing, so I probably could have used shoes with better traction.
  • Safety: As of June 2015, there were absolutely zero moments during my trip where I was remotely worried about my safety. All the panic from Western media definitely had my family concerned when I told them I was visiting, but there were no realistic threats to be concerned about. In comparison to my time in Europe and South East Asia, I was pleasantly surprised at the lack of pickpocketing as well. As for women traveling alone, there was a decent amount of men leering & calling out from cars, but I can't say that it was much more than what I've experienced in New York City or West Philly.
  • Food: Absolutely delicious! If you find yourself in Amman, I highly recommend Hashem Restaurant or Jafra Cafe. The falafel and hummus is unlike anything you can taste in the United States. Additionally, because many Muslims do not drink, you can find an abundance of smoothies and shakes everywhere you go (perfect for my alcohol allergy!). The lemon & mint smoothies quickly became a favorite.

Old Friends, New City by Amanda Liew

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After almost two years of forcing my brother to come up to New York City, I finally got the chance to make the trip in the other direction and visit Washington DC this past weekend. While I was hoping to finally check off the cherry blossoms from my bucket list, the never ending winter foiled those plans. Luckily, thanks to some especially fortuitous timing and a last minute scramble, a few of my college friends from Penn (and one straggler from Princeton, ahem) managed to all convene in DC for a spontaneous reunion! As much as I love my new post-grad life in New York (I think I'm one of the only people that prefers "real life" to college...), seeing everybody in one place reminded me of what I truly value from my college experience. Yes, I had wonderful professors and a pretty great education, but most importantly, I was surrounded by an incredibly diverse group of people who were all high-achievers in vastly different fields. When I first got to Penn, I shunned the word "feminist", had no idea what racist microaggresions were, wouldn't have recognized privilege even if it slapped me in the face, and all around just knew so little about society! The diverse ethnic, cultural, geographic, and socioeconomic backgrounds of this group here as well as so many more of my friends at Penn totally transformed my viewpoints on life, society, education, and culture. Even though we didn't realize how diverse our little reunion actually was, looking at these photographs now brings so much joy to my heart. Beauty truly has no bounds - just look at these people! Beyond the lofty thoughts, though, of course the whole weekend was just an all around great time. I got to explore more of the city, meet my brother's friends, experience some epic brunches (shoutout to Tonic for their ridiculous breakfast tots and Busboys & Poets for their very unique Iraqi corned beef hash!), experience one of the weirdest shows I'll probably ever see, eat a gigantic passion fruit macaron from Bakers & Baristas (although it wasn't a "real" macaron in my humble opinion #ladureesnob), check out the incredible Newseum (the Pulitzer Prize photo exhibit brought tears to my eyes multiple times), re-live my study abroad semester with a friend at Nando's, and of course force everybody to pose for portraits and more portraits. Can't wait to travel more!

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On "Shooting Men" & Max at Camden Market by Amanda Liew

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Given that I am still relatively new to photography (this year marks my 2 year anniversary!), I'm always trying to challenge myself whether that be through direct prompts and challenges (The Photograph Collective) or various techniques that I want to try out (oof, gifs were a tough one...). One thing I've realized recently is how almost all of my portraits are of women! On one hand, most of my close girl friends are comfortable enough to ask for portraits, while on the other hand it seems that society has deemed photoshoots to be more "acceptable" for women than for men. In the past two years alone, I've had dozens of girl friends ask for a photoshoot, while I've only had two or three guy friends ask for "a new LinkedIn photo." Of course, I've absolutely loved shooting the sessions with the women in my life and have been so happy to share the gift of beautiful photographs which each one. Each woman I've shot has a different personality, a unique style, and something different to portray which still adds a significant amount of variety to my work. Lauren of The Pear Shape and Samantha Davis of @stylemediator are both fashion bloggers, but with completely different looks and attitudes. Even in photographing two girls who I'm exceptionally close with: my best friend Janet for her Penn senior portraits and my "little sister" Kiersten in San Diego, the experience has been completely different, and the photos certainly reflect that. During Merry & Kelly's engagement shoot, however, I took some photos of Kelly that I really loved - in particular, the shot of him looking off to the side. There's something very different about photographing men, although I'm not quite sure I've figured out what it is yet. In terms of very broad generalizations, I think that women are often times more comfortable in front of the camera due to years of group photos, mini photoshoots with friends, etc. After 4 years in Chi Omega, I can pop a skinny arm and sorority squat in .15 seconds, flat, and one of my good friends even has a head tilt that is somehow at the exact same angle in every. single. photo. In contrast, whether it's due to societal pressures of what's "acceptable" or just a pure hatred of being forced to take photos, I've encountered plenty of guys who have absolutely no idea what to do in front of a camera. Max, who I'm featuring in this post, never had any idea what to do with his hands. When I was abroad my junior year, I literally made a folder of photos where he was throwing up a peace sign, a thumbs up, a fake gang sign, or some other ridiculous gesture - they were all hilarious and a continual joke, but he just insisted he didn't know what else to do. Beyond that, I think a lot of it also has to do with who I am as a photographer. I feel comfortable "directing" shoots with my female friends. Saying "That looks stunning! You look beautiful! Yes your hair looks so great in that light!" is much easier with women than it is with men. Nevertheless, for 2015 I've sought to give myself a little mission of "shooting more men" (how hilariously questionable does that sound?!) and to do it well. When I did my very first portrait shoot with Kareli, she gushed at how beautiful she felt when she looked at those photos. While my photos might not evoke quite the same response with guys, I do want to produce photos that they are happy with, more confident because of, and truly appreciate. So with that, I present to you these portraits of one of my favorite Brits, Max, whom I visited in London over Thanksgiving. He put up with all of my running around, trying to find good light, constantly yelling conflicting directions like "Smile! Wait don't smile! Be serious! Step forward! Wait that light is bad, move back!" and was just a good sport all around. I'm quite happy with the way the images turned out - he sure is the handsome fellow, isn't he? And if you're a photographer as well (or aren't!), I'd love to hear your thoughts on taking photos of men, or perhaps of the opposite gender. Do you find yourself more comfortable with female subjects? How do you give confidence-boosting compliments to the opposite gender without making it sound creepy? These are real questions, and I think that being a good photographer involves so much more than being able to frame a good shot technically. Making someone feel comfortable, especially if you're a portrait or wedding photographer, is crucial for their experience, yours, and ultimately the outcome of the photos.  _DSC0129_British Thanksgiving_DSC0141_British Thanksgiving _DSC0144_British Thanksgiving