British Virgin Islands – Pirate’s Paradise

Pirates had excellent taste in venues for plying their trade and traffic. The BVI are Paradise indeed and are still so largely because the swashbuckling traditions of rape and pillage have thankfully not extended to the modern vernacular of the real estate and tourism industries. No high-rise, no traffic, no high density dwellings, no crimes of greed.

These islands remain blissfully underdeveloped and largely unspoiled. Hillsides dotted with homes, not plastered; beaches clean and accessible. Large tracts of verdant land and their surrounding azure waters are protected, which, opposed to coastal Mexico’s current chaotic land grabbage, was a delightful respite from a trend that is short-sighted and, like extinction, irreversible.

Promoting and preserving what occurs naturally and being low-key and harmonious with what could hardly be improved upon is the BVI’s code for long-term success. And don’t think you can’t make money being conservative – room rates are high but worth it; sail charter fleets are fully booked and the envy of other cruising grounds, luxury boutique resorts do a brisk trade; large private estates are for sale, even whole islands like Necker owned by Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson (how appropriate!)

Amidst the success there is no excess; beaches are so abundant that crowding is rarely an issue (except for a few famous exceptions); locals win, tourists win, coral and fish and hardwoods win. Sensible.

OK. Pontification over. The pictures tell the story better.

Weirdest thing about driving around Tortola’s narrow winding roads is that the steering wheel is on the left, courtesy of easy US imports, but one drives on the left also, courtesy of the British heritage. Not driving along the centre-line takes a little getting used to. That’s why all the rental cars come with stickers plastered above the dashboard saying ” keep to the left – use horn frequently.” Honk if you’re happy (or about to head-on).

Tortola, seat of the capital and the largest island in the group of about 30, is bite-sized and easily explored, superficialy at least, in a day. But once you start exploring you want to stop at every look-out and every beach, ‘cos it’s all beautiful. One favourite ‘discovery’ was Josiah’s Bay on the northshore. There’s a few cafes/bars and bungalows but otherwise just a good longboard ride or a bodybash in crystal clear waters.

Closer to the west end of the island was Cane Garden Bay, a classic refuge for sailors and land-lubbers alike. The view goes on forever to a horizon of tradewind cumulous clouds over sand-fringed headlands and the tourquoise Caribbean sea. Yum.

Cane Garden is also a great place to ahem, just hang out.

Evening is even more tranquil.

On a more socially active note, this north coast is also famous for full moon parties thrown at beachside bars like Bomba’s on Cappoon’s Bay which somehow survive (or at least get rebuilt after) every hurricane season – shack sense; keep it simple and Irie. Wet T’s optional.

I went to Tortola to photograph a beautiful house called The Distillery. From its elevated position on Greenbank Hill the view included another gem called Brewer’s Bay. The weather cock perched on top of the pavillion by the tennis court was free. The rest of the property is available for US$4.85 mil. Worth every cent.

Closer inspection of Brewer’s Bay is pretty too.

A casual tour of the island will reveal roofs of corrugated iron in outrageous tones of lilac, pale green and lipstick red with complementary colours in the trim of wooden railings, verandah posts and window frames.

You’ll also see art, spontaneous or sponsored, everywhere.

BVI’s international airport is on Beef Island, joined to Tortola by a bridge over a narrow channel. Trellis Bay is the hub of societal life on Beef Is. where cafes, galleries and the sea-to-shore traffic from the anchored charter boats maintains a mildly active sense of purpose to an otherwise langourous scene. From there you an catch a short free ferry ride to the coral-fringed island of Bellamy Cay, home of the Last Resort.

This picturesque idyll provides cabin accommodations, restaurant, live happy hour music at the bar, internet access, beach chairs, great swimming and privacy with a 360° view.

Due east of Tortola and Beef Islands lies another of BVI’s treasures, Virgin Gorda. I was advised by many not to leave the BVI without visiting a national park there called The Baths. Good advice.

We got there by the first morning ferry/taxi and enjoyed the solitude of a truly beautiful place. Lesson was learned a few hours later after a visiting cruise ship (to Tortola) deposited a large proportion of its passengers on the hitherto deserted beaches and boulder-strewn shoreline.



By that time though we’d had enough sun and there were plenty of secret shady retreats amongst the boulders and lapping tide.


Stay tuned for a more complete gallery of images from this trip.

yep. I still love my job.


Sunseeker Cruise to Careyes

Maybe I shouldn’t have declared to the bloggy world that I will work solely for the sake of adventure ‘cos the offers are flowing thick and fast while the rent remains upaid!

Last weekend was a ripper, though. I’m a sailor by natural inclination not a stink-boater but it’s been so long since I had any high-seas adventures that this was not one I could refuse. Any excuse to go boating.

The vessel was a humungous 82′ Sunseeker powerboat called ‘Machiavelli’ and the trip was from Puerto Vallarta down the Jalisco coast to Careyes and back. The purpose was to document in photos the trip with a view to publishing the story in a soon-to-be-released magazine called ‘Costa Vallarta’.

The storyline was of three couples ‘getting away’ from Vallarta and at a rate of US$4500/day I guess the couples were presumed to be fairly well off. The people involved were mostly French with a Canadian and a Brit thrown in for good measure. (You could tell they were French because the word ‘rabbit’ was never mentioned once during the 3 day voyage.)

The trip was organised by John who runs the Producciones Viva empire and who will be responsible for the new mag. As such, the trip was organized on the basis of an ‘intercambio‘ or exchange, whereby John fills pages of his magazine with an attractive enticing story in exchange for advertising space for the boat’s charter business. Free and willing models/subjects; free and willing photographer and a very expensive mobile platform for the exercise.

Somewhere down the line though the purpose of the exercise got lost in translation and we ended up being catered to in casual, paper plate/plastic fork style which needless to say didn’t make my job any easier (or tastier). So there’s a paucity of table-top settings in the photo line-up but plenty of others.

Catherine (the token Pom but fluently in French) was beautifully pregnant and as always the consumate model. Her husband Etienne did his best to stay as sunburned as possible for the duration of the cruise (I suspect as a means of escaping the camera’s probing lens). John and Florencia were more than happy being host and hostess with nothing much more on their agenda other than having a good time, and Christian and Corinne, both hard-working parents also enjoyed the escape from everyday reality. All three pairs were in love and very comfortable in present company which helps when trying to photograph happy couples enjoying themselves, ‘cos they are and don’t need to bung it on for the camera.







The passage down the coast traverses open, undeveloped coastline without many photogenic features but thankfully clouds always provided some interest to otherwise plain scenes, Cabo Corrientes being an obvious exception.

The Careyes coast during the dry winter months is less obliging; dry scrubland is hard to translate visually into a paradisical scenario (even with Photoshop!). Tight or otherwise selective crops on landscaped backgrounds or waiting for late golden light was the only way to make the stage as ‘luxurious’ as the story demanded.

But most of the time, while we weren’t trying to get specific shots I just shot people doing what a group of friends do on a big boat in a beautiful place; enjoying themselves, relaxing and righting it all off as a business expense. Viva el intercambio!

Mexico cricket team tours Belize!

This blog title sounds like fodder for a Monty Python skit or some tabloid sports rag fielding a ridiculous banner to catch the eye of bored shoppers waiting at the checkout, but really it’s true and it happened in March 2006, in the sunny Carribean nation of Belize.

Yankee sceptics might scoff and chortle but cricket, that much maligned and misunderstood product of Colonialism, ranks second only to soccer in world popularity and particpation, and Mexico is playing its own small part in the movement as an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council who represent over 100 countries, incl other bastions of cricket culture like Qatar, Slovenia ansd Surinam as well as the biggies like Australia and England. (The ICC could well curate a true ‘world series’ but Snoozeball stole that domain and keeps it for their own singular amusement.)

For me the realisation that the inaugural Central American Tri-Nations Cricket Championship was fair dinkum came not when I was presented, along with the other 11 team-mates, with my official, embroidered, sponsored, commerative cap but when I saw those tall, black, very athletic Belizean fast bowlers practice their inswings and bouncers at about 90 mph. The cap was quickly swapped for a helmet.

The 3 nations involved were our hosts, Belize and challenged by Mexico and Costa Rica. A team from El Salvador was also going to come but they were having a coup. The slightly ridiculous part about the Mexican team was that we were made up of 4 Australians, 4 Brits and 4 Indians; narry a Gomez ni Gonzalez about us. The core of the team came from Mexico City where there is a very healthy competition between 3 teams that convene weekly at the magnificent oval at the Reforma Athletic Club. The rest of us came from as far afield as Puerto Vallarta and Huatulco.

This is us before we dirtied our creams in the match against Costa Rica.

(NB. the section of classic white picket fence which served as boundary and photo backdrop was no more than shown and even less after a fielder collided with it. The remaining 97% of the boundary was marked by a scorched line etched in the dirt.)

Now for those readers unfamiliar with the game, put the kettle on or better still mix a tall gin and tonic, and read because with a basic insight into the game the following might make a little more sense.

The venue was Lord’s Bank Oval in Ladyville, an outer suburb of Belize City. The pitch was a mat of woven hemp like an elongated doormat nailed over a concrete slab held down by 4″ nails driven into the clay soil through Belikin beer bottle caps. (This what you do if you don’t have a full time greenskeeper and dirty big roller to maintain a grass pitch.) For all its rusticity it played a true bounce and took spin but had none of the unpredictability of a turf wicket. The outfield was hard packed and super-fast. The appreciative crowd of onlookers which included several classes of local schoolchildren were scattered around the boundary but most sought the shade of tent awnings and ready access to the bar and tuck shop.

The 3 teams played 3 matches each of 40 over innings. On the Saturday, Belize, the favourites, easily out-paced and generally outplayed Costa Rica and won easily with wickets and overs in hand. Sunday saw us up against CR. We were not exactly a finely-honed team in peak condition but fortunately neither were Costa Rica.

We batted first and scored about 140 runs, all out. Costa Rica, fielding through the intense midday sun were sunburned and shagged and batted accordingly. Our fresh bowlers coupled with some attentive fielding made short work of a lack-lustre run rate and we were all back in the pavilion for some well-earned Lighthouse beers well before the sunset hordes of mosquitos decended and sent us all running for the tour bus.

Monday saw the big play-ff between the two victorious teams. We lost the toss and were sent out into the field. What followed was a truly impressive spate of bowling, some brilliant catches especially by the keeper, and the Belizean wickets, to everyone’s surprise began to fall at a rate whcih made the usually vocal locals shut-up and watch as the Mexican underdogs took control of the game. I mean, we were shocked too. Not even in our most optimistic hour would we have thought to have them changing pads as fast as they were able. We had ’em all out for about 130.

Overly chuffed with our performance we went in to bat for glory and renown but I think it was a case of overconfidence, as well as the bowling attack, which, even after a good opening start, made us lose wickets way too easily. Hitting out when we should’ve knuckled down, trying to whack it out instead of playing the game. Belize bowled, caught and lbw’d us in quick time. My own dismal performance and premature departure from the crease was the result of a particularly inelegant (albeit original manoevre), which had me flailing at a rising ball outside the leg stump and getting a glove to it but in the flurry of the pirouette I lost my balance and hit my own wicket…

But that’s cricket and when the fat lady finally found her voice it was to Belize’s well-earned victory. The end result was the same; a bunch of new found friends with a common sporting passion drinking beer and sharing stories.

One of the most endearing aspects of Belizean culture is their love of music and after each game there were impromptu sing-alongs to the accompaniment of banjo, guitar and even an electric piano. Dancing too courtesy of a well-oiled local. The music was a blend of lovesick hillbilly lullabys, Patsy Clyne tunes and Belizean Bluegrass. In the company of reggae which is the other half of the local musical tradition the mix was initially incongruous but entirely appropriate as it was performed with great emotion and sincerity.

The other most memorable feature of the event were the children. Keener young cricketers and enthusiastic supporters you’d never find. They made the 3 days a real family affair rather than just a sporting event. The addition of older locals completed the communal gathering. Fueled liberally with coldies and as much chicken, beans and rice as you could poke a plastic fork at, it was a completely well-rounded tour, culturally and sportingly.

For a full gallery of images from the tour visit :

For a gallery of images featuring Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye, two popular islands within Belize’s extensive barrier reef complex, visit

Flying visit to Baja.

Three days in Baja, Mexico with friends who have expensive toys and simple pleasures.
…and let the Blog begin…
Being paid to travel and take photographs is a profession I can recommend. Of course Reality is a slightly paler version of that ideal, but second best is travelling anyway and making money subsequently from the photos.
I have many clients who are also friends and sometimes I get invited along on trips not just for my good looks but because I can be the designated driver (of the camera). The arrangement works both ways ‘cos I get to see places and do things that might otherwise have been unattainable and get shots of places and scenes off the beaten track. Those images become my stock and trade. And I get to travel with friends.
So last week I get invited to jump on a Pilatus PC-12 from my base in Puerto Vallarta and fly 300 mph at 26,000 feet across the Sea of Cortez to go pet Californian Grey Whales in Magdelena Bay, Baja.
The plane is owned by a gentleman named Nick Coates for whom I have photographed several houses and residential projects in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, like Nick loves to travel and gets bonus kicks out of sharing his adventures with others.
Joining him on this trip was his buddy Carson who kept us all in stitches with his constant banter, spontaneous jokes and his tireless tirades of truth-stretching.
Also onboard was Nick’s business partner Jim Dolan, who could sell sand to the Arabs, and probably does.

This trip was almost men-only, with the charming exception of Mercedes, accompanying Nick’s son Jeff who was along to scout a Baja venue for a desert counterpart to his thrilling canopy zip-line tour in Vallarta

The pilot of the plane was Charlie Chicharron Parker one of my dearest friends in Mexico and someone with whom I would fly anywhere,in any type of aircraft – as long as we hadn’t been drinking the night before. On a previous long trip he let me

fly and claims it was my piloting which made him puke; it’s an awful thing to hear through headphones. The smell wasn’t great either! When he’s not flying Charlie joins the swelling ranks of local land-pimps and is busy selling off his hometown of Mascota in the Sierra hinterland.

Also on board was John G Youden, who was the real reason I stayed in Mexico. Ten years ago he offered me $ for photos (coincidentally of a sailboat trip through Baja) to illustrate an article in one of his magazines, and I’ve never looked back on that prompt to start a career with camera. John’s never looked back either because his empire has grown from strength to strength
The 3 day tour as a group affair of disparate sorts and various agendas was bound to be disjointed at times but we always regrouped at mealtimes and all got on famously. We landed at Cabo San Lucas’ downtown airfield and while one group hired a helicopter to scout Jeff’s locations the rest of us headed into town through the dusty barrios that serve as the incongruous other side to Cabos’ rich veneer. John and I, making the most of the chance to document and update our image libraries, paired up and went looking for photos of the dichotomous destination that is Cabo San Lucas.
The Mexican real estate boom is keeping pace with the growing tourism trade and Cabo is growing at a hectic rate. Housing in huge private developments like Pedregal is affluence boxed in concrete and exclusive in an ignorant way, but they can’t build fast enough to satisfy the hoardes fleeing south of the border to a life of retirement, retreat and lax driving regulations. Vistas of the beautiful Pacific Ocean on one side of the Cape and the Sea on the other limit the town’s expansion and buffer the rampant development of the landscape.
After a night of food and wine at great expense at an eatery in the marina, the next day we hired 2 cars and drove separately to Todos Santos an hour north of Cabo. Stopping for a bodysurf along the way, eating hot chicken washed down with cold beer roadies and wandering at will with camera through the small tourist town, was for me the ideal way to spend a half day.
The other car with the older gentlemen, bravely accompanied by Charlie, saw no such attractions, made two desultory laps of the 4 block town, about-faced and drove straight through the desert back to Cabo!
Late that afternoon we re-boarded the Pilatus and flew along the Pacific coast of Baja up to Puerto Lopez Mateos. The final approaches over the extensive wetlands and alternating sand dunes of the Magdelena Bay estuarine systen were fascinating from the air and inspired plans for return trips to investigate the winding channels and flats and intricacies that we wouldn’t even begin to discover during our whirlwind 12 hour visit. We spotted numerous whales in the shallow, muddy waters as a lowering sun, full bladders and a growing thirst beckoned us down.
The airstrip was compacted sand and crushed seashell and airport security consisted of an old man with a smile and a beat-up truck. The smell of pelican dung and marine offal wafting in from the fish plant set the scene and the scent for the rest of our stay there, which made no claim to be anything other than a fishing village, which was a refreshing and peaceful change from the pretentiousness of Cabo. The SKY satellite dishes attached paradoxically to cardboard shanty homes an amusing amendment to their simple situation.
Our accomodations were similarly humble but quite adequate. Dinner out on the town, which consisted of fresh lobster, prawns and fish, would’ve been out of character had it not been served to us on plastic plates seated on plastic chairs on a locals verandah under a single lightbulb. Narry a single car on the sandy street disturbed our feast which, fueled by numerous cervezas and finalised by a shot of aguardiente, ended early, the long day of walking, driving, swimming and flying accounting for the contended weariness of us all.
And so, early next morning, after the longest and most enjoyable of travel preambles, the moment of justification of all the preceeding was upon us. We made our communal way to the docking area where a throng of tour operations catered to the crowds of cetacean seekers by first demanding indemnifying signatures, followed by lifejacket-fitting and finally embarking on a panga with our guide. The whales migrate from Alaska each year to mate and calve and incidentally provide Lopez Mateos with a regular income.
We motored all of about 800 m before spotting a mother and calf gray whale meandering about on the surface. (The water’s only about 12 m deep so there’s not much place else for a 35 ton animal to be except the surface.) The mother appeared HUGE at such close range and was content, thankfully, to stay at bay while her young calf entertained the tourists. Or was it vice versa?
As we lay adrift the calf would come alongside and profer its head at which point the guide would get very excited and shout “tocala..tocala…touch eet! touch eet!” And at first we were reluctant because of the sheer size and presence of the animal but became braver as we understood that an animal with that much blubber needs a vigorous rubbing not just a gentle pat. In fact the favourite massage points were inside the mouth, along the baleen plates and especially the tongue! We cleaned a few parasitic arthropds from around it’s head and double blowhole as it rolled and lollygagged about, obviously enjoying every minute of it, and the anthropomorphists be damned!
The pair eventually got bored with our erratic attentions, so we too went in search of other distractions. On the far shore we briefly checked out a sample of the dunes we’d seen from the air before returning to base. Loading up on cold beers for the flight back to PV, 5GB of RAW images in a ziplock and a barrage of new experiences under my belt, it was with a degree of smugness that I reminded myself that this was all in a day’s work. I love my job.