Snapshot: New Orleans

I really wish you could hear this guy singing.  Bluegrass/blues/something else that I don’t think has its own genre.  He was in his own world, and what was coming out of it was groovy.  Just out of frame is his doggie, thumping along with his tail.  What a cool place.

You just never know who you will run into around the next doorway.

Photos copyrighted Payje Bier Photography 2011, all rights reserved (

Yucatan Cenotes

The ancient Maya believed that cenotes were portals to another world, and they treated them as such, tossing untold amounts of gold, jewels, and people into these mysterious holes in the ground as offerings to the gods.  I learned that in my Mesoamerican Prehistory class (my Archaeology degree may seem worthless to some, but I did get to spend all of my time learning interesting tidbits like this).  Since the time of the Maya, we have learned a lot more about cenotes (sin-oat-ays).  The jungle of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is riddled with these incredible landmarks, which are actually an intricate interconnected series of underground freshwater lakes that have created jillions of caves and caverns.


So let me describe to you in picture words what a cenote is and why I am so very taken with them.

My sister and I visited a cenote near Playa del Carmen, Mexico.  We were given our safety gear (hard hats) and marched along on a short trek through the jungle.  In the picture above, I cut out half of the German guy standing behind me’s face because he had a very judgmental look in his eyes.  I don’t mind if people look at me like I’m crazy, but I wouldn’t care for a photographic reminder.

We walked down some stairs into a big ol’ cave entrance (my sister is making the descent in the picture above, being sure to mind her head), and were pretty much at a loss for words at what we immediately saw.  Stalactites dangle all around you, and you are greeted by a lake filled with literally the most crystal clear water you will ever see in the whole wide world.  Rock formations of all types poke up out of the pool, and altogether it creates a scene that you really thought couldn’t quite exist in real life.  And if it did you never thought that you would get to see it.  It’s that kind of thing.

Unfortunately the lighting was poor (duh we were underground) and I didn’t have any equipment with me other than the camera around my neck, so I didn’t get any good pickies of the water-meets-cave factor, so if you want to see that you’ll have to just make your own cenote excursion… or google it I guess.

Being the lucky ducks that we are, we got to swim in the ever so inviting crystal clear water.  When I say swim I mean we got to bob around in life jackets.  It was real cold, but we’re from Colorado and we didn’t want to seem like Sallyanns so we kept our mouths shut and shrieked inwardly at the bodily shock.  We also had to be quiet so we didn’t wake the bats.  For real. Our guide took us on a bobbing tour of the cave, and pointed out to us the tunnels and ropes that the cave divers use, 30 feet below us.  Yes, 30 feet.  You could see it like it was right in front of your eyeballs.  I have never seen anything like it.  Cave floating is enough for me however, I have absolutely no ambition to swim into a cramped tunnel that is not only 30 feet down in the water, but ALSO underground, with no real idea if it is going to spit you out anywhere else or if you are just going to perish in the abyss.

Dramatic?  Maybe.  I am happy in my life jacket.

I think the reason that I am so fond of the cenotes is that they have multiple excitement factors for me.  First, they are archaeologically historical, which really tickles the nerd in me.  I love nothing more than standing somewhere and thinking about the people that were standing there before I was.  Second, it was kind of adventurous in a not so dangerous way.  I am no spelunker, so I found this thrilling.  Finally, it was so stinking beautiful!  It just knocks my socks off that God’s arts and crafts are so amazing.  I felt like I was in an episode of Planet Earth or something, all that was missing was Sigourney Weaver’s voice-over.

Do me a favor, if you go down to Mexico, try taking a little break from your resort and do something different there.  Disregard the cautionary warnings (to an extent) because for the most part they are way overblown.  There is so much to do and see there, and the vast majority of people are so nice, helpful and informative, and they are genuinely happy to have us there exploring their country.  Check it out!

*All photos on this post are copyrighted by Payje Bier Photography, 2011, all rights reserved*

Photo of the Day (and a long story to go with it)

Photo by Payje Bier Photography ( 2009, all rights reserved

Few people are lucky enough in life to get to see this for themselves.  It is not on the beaten path, not somewhere that you can bop down to for the weekend.  It is a journey to get to, that is for sure.  And actually, I think that is one of the things that makes it so incredibly amazing.  It is not cheapened by convenience.  Nestled deep in the mountains of a country steeped in ancient culture an tradition, the journey to the top of this sacred mountain is as incredible as the space itself.

I visited Machu Picchu in 2009, while on an archaeological dig during college (I did not excavate there, I was working in a small town called Pucara).  I was with my family for a few weeks before the dig, my mom, dad, and little sister.  It was actually by the grace and stubbornness of my mother’s gypsy spirit that we made it there in the first place: it was on her bucket list.  I should mention that this same wanderlust has already taken her around the world and back numerous times.

My sister and I were crassly awoken by our alarm at around 4 am on the morning of our ascension.  You have to get to the bus station EARLY if you want to get your butt on a bus and make it up to the top by sunrise.  Rubbing our eyes, we stumbled out onto the tiny cobbled streets of Aguas Calientes, a city with plenty of alpacas but not a single car (unless you count the busses that shuttle masses back and forth to the top of the mountain).

The stories were true.  Even this early, the lines were crazy long.  But we were on a mission.  And if you know my father, you know that he has a (not so) mysterious way of moving through crowds.  It is not unusual to get left behind if you get distracted for even a moment.  A few elbows thrown here and there and voila! We were on our way.  The bus driver (like ALL other drivers in Peru) threw caution to the wind as a rule.  The bus careened wildly up a series of impossibly tight switchbacks, and, if we weren’t awake before the drive, we certainly were now.  Nothing like fear for your life to perk you right up.  After we surprisingly reached the upper parking lot in one piece, we were herded off of the bus, and hustled up to scout a viewing area.  We didn’t have long to wait.  The light was getting brighter, and the sun was only minutes away.  I was practically pushing people out of the way of my camera’s viewfinder…I knew this was something that I did NOT want to miss, and I certainly didn’t want my visual memories of the experience to include large German tourists.

In the end, the sunrise was so awe inspiring that I forgot the supposed importance of digital memories and just took the moment for myself.  It was the feeling of knowing that you are witnessing something truly special, that few others get to see, and that you will only experience this one time in your life.  There is nothing like that feeling.  It was the most beautiful morning, the sun came up quickly as wisps of fog crowded through the high mountain jungle and across the dramatic green peaks.  Pictures of Machu Picchu are incredible, but unless you are there in person there is no way to describe the scale of these mountains, and the drop offs that await you on all sides of this ancient getaway.  I live for moments like these, I relish them, and I hold on to them to examine later when things get boring.

Later that day my mom witnessed tourists being stampeded by llamas.  This post is already way too long so I will leave that image to your imaginations.


Photo by Payje Bier Photography 2011, all rights reserved

This Christmas, I was lucky enough to have two travel firsts in my life.  New Orleans, and (bum bum bum)… a CRUISE!  I was not sure how it would go over, as I do not consider myself a “cruising” kind of girl.  Honestly, I was afraid of a Titanic-esque situation playing out (in case you are concerned/terrified as well, I did learn very quickly that there are more than enough life boats to go around).  However that was not the only reason that I eyed the cruise boat warily.  My mom has always relayed a story to me about when she and my dad were in Mexico years ago.

She reminisced about how she and my father were having a lovely day, just lounging around on the beach, minding their own business, likely sipping pina coladas or something similar.  When all of a sudden, up cruises a cruise ship.  What followed was like a horror story to me.  Hoards of loud and obnoxious people flowing off of the boat elbowing each other for a 3 foot patch of beach, filling up on as much cheap alcohol as possible before returning to the costly ship booze, and just creating an extremely loud and unrelaxing scene in general.  In my mind it looks like a zombie movie where the zombies are really aliens who crash to earth then stagger out and suck up all the resources before returning to the mother ship.

Yeah, I would say that I had a pretty bad impression of cruises.

So, when I learned that my grandmother was taking my dad’s side of the family on a holiday cruise for her 85th birthday, I was just not sure what to expect.  Turns out it was pretty awesome.  There was a certain amount of zombie horror that I myself participated in entering and leaving the ship, but it was great to see the family and it was a perfect way for everyone to spend time together.   We went to three different beautiful places, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and Jamaica, and ultimately that was the most difficult part of the cruise for me.  I love to travel, and I love to explore and find out everything that a place has to offer.  Culture and people are my favorite things about travel.  It absolutely killed me to have a few short hours in each place before having to get back on the ship.  I asked my parents if they could please just leave me in Jamaica.  My dad told me that he had already applied for a job as a towel boy and would put in a good word for me.

In the end, I remind myself that I would like to try everything once, and I really did have a great time on the RC (Royal Caribbean).  It’s really crazy when you’re walking down a “promenade” with restaurants and stores surrounding you to think that you are actually in the middle of the sea with nothing else around you for miles…and the sunsets were incredible.  I got some great photos from the trip that I will share over the next few days, and a lot of memories too.