Moving Over

Regular readers here might be wondering where on earth I have vanished off to for the last year and a bit. The simple answer is… a different URL! While the new website is still not complete yet (building these things yourself takes time), there is plenty of content there to keep even the most critical of viewers satisfied. For now.

If you would like to go have a look at it – and the newer blog layout – have a click on over to http://garethbargate.co.za/

I won’t be deleting this blog, simply because it’s been here for about 4 years now, and would just be a waste to let it fly away in the winds of history. So, if you happen to stumble across this in a few years, click above!

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Supa Drift Finals 2013 – Durban, South Africa

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Wade van Zummeran in his Nissan Skyline R33

The Durban Motor Show recently hosted the finals to the 2013 season of Supa Drift. Having never taken photos of action like this, I made sure to be in attendance to try and capture the artform of drifting. And occasionally get sprayed by rubber from the cars. I didn’t have a media pass, so I relied on getting there early, and securing a spot behind the fence. A “decent” zoom lens also came in handy.

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Mike Skelton in the Speed ‘n Sound Chevrolet Lumina SS, and Jason Webb in the Monster Nissan 200SX.

Not much of a talkative post here, since I’d rather let the photos below do the talking. But I can say the tension in the finals was enormous, and the multiple crashes and mishaps just added to the atmosphere. Would highly suggest that people get down and watch some of this in person.

See my full gallery below from the day of shooting:

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Jungfrau – Switzerland, Europe

My Jungfrau experience started the day before, in the town of Interlaken.¬† At this stage, I had been gallavating around Europe non-stop for three weeks. Sitting on the trains had become as familiar as walking. All the journeys blend into one quick flash. Mountains, river, mountains, sky, river and oh…a station. Is it my station? No? Ok… time to look out the window again.

After sitting on the train from Lucerne for a few hours, I was eager for the journey to finish. So eager in fact, that when I saw a sign flash past the window that read “Interlaken”, I was up and ready to depart in a matter of seconds. Now I’ve read that around 2 km2 of Interlaken consists of buildings and roads. I’m pretty sure I managed to see around 1.50 km2 of that while hunting for my hotel. Why did no one tell me Interlaken has two train stations (Interlaken Ost and Interlaken West), and three roads with the same name? Needless to say, I later found out I had left the train one station too early. Good start.

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You can see my exact path here by following the black line. The red circle is my starting point, with the green circle being my finishing point. And the blue circle? That’s where I realized I had left the train one station too early.

After trudging around the town for three hours and exploring every possible wrong place, I finally made it to the hotel. Slightly exasperated upon check-in, the manager asked me what I planned to do whilst in the area. “I don’t care, I just want to see some snow”, was my response (this being the height of summer, I thought snow would be a rarity). Surprised, his eyes lit up in excitement, and he quickly exclaimed “Ah! Us Swiss have just the thing for you! Here…” and a pamphlet was thrust into my hands, titled “Jungfrau – The Top Of Europe”. It looked good. After a quick skim read, and a rather high amount of foreign currency landing on my credit card, I had booked it all. Fast forward to 8am the next morning…

The journey started with a bit of train station hopping across the valley, until I reached the station with the rack railway train that would eventually deposit me at Kleine Scheidegg, where I would have to swop trains. The first part of the trip up the mountain was uneventful to say the least, but since I had a window seat, I could stare out into the rather spectacular scenery that this part of the Alps offered.

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Departing the first station, overlooking a few houses on the outskirts of Interlaken.

Klein Scheidegg is a mountain pass between the Eiger and Lauberhorn mountain peaks, sitting at around 2000m above sea level (my starting location in Interlaken was about 500m above sea level). Upon disembarking here, there really wasn’t all that much to do. A hotel, some small stores, and a few brave cows, as well as the actual station. I had a quick look around before boarding my second and final part of the journey. I must emphasize though, that if you ever need a break from the world, hop on a plane, traverse the autobahns and railway systems, and relocate to Klein Scheidegg. If money was no worry for the rest of my life, you would be able to find me here.

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Approaching Klein Scheidegg, much higher up in the mountains.

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The station at Klein Scheidegg, where I had to switch trains.

The second part of the journey started off great. Rising higher into the mountain peaks, I was glued to the window. In fact, I was so engrossed at gazing down into the mountains below, that I didn’t notice the railway leading into the side of a massive alpine peak. And just like that, the view and outside world disappeared. We were now en route to the highest train station in Europe. Darkness engulfed the train for the remainder of the trip, with only the occasional break at a station along the way to remind us that there was a world outside. Also, if you’re afraid of small spaces, or darkness, its probably best that you don’t go up here. During the entire trip inside the mountain, I kept thinking about the millions of tons of solid Swiss mountain sitting above our heads, and what would happen if it decided to suddenly come crashing down.

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Now inside the mountain, there’s not really much to do while the train pushes a path higher. And its rather dark.

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Only the occasional station provides a break.

At just below 3,500m above sea level, the altitude at the final station is no joke. Climbing out the train and noticing my sudden shortness of breath, I was greeted with two signs. “Snowpark”, or “Observation Centre”. With the majority of the passengers heading directly to the snowpark, I made my way to a lift that would take me 150m higher, up the the peak of The Sphinx. The lift drops you off at the Sphinx Observatory, which is perched precariously on the ridge. Braving the wind, I walked out onto the steel frame walkway, and was greeted by multiple sights, including one of the Aletsch Glacier below.

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Looking south east from the observation centre, towards the Aletsch Glacier

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Afraid of heights? Probably best to not look over the edge of the observation deck to the mountain floor 150m below.

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Clouds rolling in over the Gletscherhorn peak. Taken from the observation deck.

After taking hundreds of photos, I ventured down to the snowy expanse that lay below. Of course, I was woefully underprepared for the conditions, as I didn’t have any proper snow shoes, or anything to protect my eyes from the blinding light. Regardless, I spent a good hour playing around in the snow (after all, snow was the main reason I had ventured all the way up here). Eventually becoming concerned for my eyesight, I headed back inside the mountain to see some of the other attractions on offer, like the ice castle. What else can I tell you about the Jungfrau? I’m not sure…you really just have to go and see it all for yourself.

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A helicopter from the Swiss Mountain Rescue flies high over the peaks

For no apparent reason, the train on the way back down took me to an entirely different town/village, this time a place by the name of Grindelwald. Since it was only about 4pm, I decided to stay for an early dinner, before trying to find my way back to Interlaken. While sitting here, nestled in the shadow of the Eiger, I had some time to reflect on my day. I had set out in the morning, on the basic mission to just “see some snow”. However, along the way, it seemed that the journey had been just as memorable as the “Top Of Europe” experience. All the new small towns that I’d discovered, all the new facts and views, and all the other cheesy stuff that comes with venturing into new areas. Would I go back? Without a doubt, yes.

Oh, and it turns out Grindelwald is only a few kilometers away from Interlaken. So getting back was no problem. And this time, I disembarked at the correct station.

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Umhlanga Beach – Umhlanga Rocks, South Africa

It’s not often that I’m awake and out before sunrise. However, a few weeks I decided to stop being such a lazy imbecile, and get up early to do something. It would most certainly involve a camera. But the question begs, where can one go? Well, Umhlanga beach is a location that I was familiar with, having frequented it many times over the past years. However, all previous visits had been in the late afternoon or in the pitch darkness of night time. Why not mix it up my knowledge of the location a bit by going early, and catch the sunrise?

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For the record, this was taken on my phone, while I was driving there. Living on the edge.

A city before dawn is certainly a strange place. You get the idea that something will be happening in the very near future, but the inky darkness of the pre-dawn sunrise reveals no clues. Barely any cars are out on the roads, and only a few people are revealed on the sidewalks as the headlights from your car flash by. It’s a type of world that I’m not at all used to, but still a nice change from the endless fights of traffic and fumes. Its a certain type of calmness that can be kind of refreshing, even though you are awake hours before your normal time.

Upon arrival (and after a frantic half hour long drive), I’d noticed that I had grossly misinformed myself of what time the sun would rise. It was still dark. Very dark. Shivering with cold, I took up a location on the boardwalk and started setting up my various parts of camera equipment. Being the middle of winter, I was expecting a sunrise of about 6:30am. That was not the case at all. I passed the time by taking a couple of test pictures, and watching the early morning risers who were out and about on the boardwalk. This was an interesting game in itself, as people ranged from joggers, old couples walking a dog, fishermen, and a random person who stood on the beach in one spot for ten minutes straight, arms stretched towards the sky, not moving at all (even after getting hit by a wave).

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One of the first test photos. Note the blue lights on the pier, that soon vanished.

After a fair amount more waiting, the blue lights on the pier turned off. That was a bit of a let down, since I was hoping for more of a dynamic lighting range, but whatever. You have to take what you can get in this situation, right? Note: Later on in the day, I discovered through some research that the lights are programmed to turn off at a certain time every morning. What a great help.

Eventually, after swopping locations, the sun crept over the horizon around 6:55, and those golden few minutes of perfect light seemed to morph into a couple of seconds. I took as many photos as I could in that brief amount of time, and ended up with about 20 similar photos. Here, I realized just how fast the sign rises above the horizon in the morning. As I’ve just mentioned, it literally seems like seconds. But anyway. After sorting through the photos later that morning, and trying to find out which one I liked the most, I ended up with the image below…

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“Final” photo from the morning. 2 second exposure, with a ND8X and Circular Polarizing filter used.

All things considered, I was reasonably happy with my early morning outing. There’s always room for improvement, so I will certainly be exploring this idea a few more times in the not-so-distant future. But what can i change to make it better? Well, there are some rocks that jut out into the ocean in front of the lighthouse. An early morning rock scramble over the calmer waters could provide a great angle, provided the sea spray isn’t too much. And if I go in summer, the sun will rise much earlier, while the lights are still on. Lets wait and see…

(Bonus points section: I took a picture on my phone and uploaded it to Instagram, and it was featured as a “photo of the day”. Don’t mind me. Just high-fiving myself in public here)

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Drakensberg Round Two – Drakensberg, South Africa

Rivers are something that one can encounter on a regular basis in the Drakensberg region. A quick look at a topographic map shows a variety of streams that cascade down from the Lesotho highlands, pass across many valleys and connect with various other streams, which eventually form larger rivers, which eventually meet the Indian Ocean after a journey of a few hundred km’s (and after becoming increasingly polluted along the way). Something unique about the streams in the Drakensberg is that, you can drink water straight out of them, and not worry about ending up in hospital with some form of waterborne disease. The water is usually especially chilly, even in the height of summer, so its generally only for the brave or stupid swimmers.

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Check it. All those rivers. And I’m Point B. Not sure why its not Point A.

Drakensberg Gardens has a fair river which runs through the area, and is easily accessible – as the road runs right alongside it. For lazy people like me, thats fantastic, as you can drive to within a few metres of the river, park your car, and then explore. I had visited this river many times on previous excursions, and always remembered a particular section known as the Hippo Pools. Its a small part of the river that passes along a very rocky riverbed, and then drops over two large boulders into a calmer area of water. Also, this area offers a great view of the mountain range in front of you. Photo time then…

My first day visiting was in the afternoon, and clouds were obscuring much of the mountain range (even though I said above this area offer a great view. On a clear day ok?). Undeterred, I slapped a ND8X filter on front of my lens, accompanied by a circular polarizer. Camera on tripod, point upstream, and now we’re good to go. The result is pictured below.

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1.5 second exposure, F22, ISO 100. Looking upstream towards the mountains.

I did like the effect of the late afternoon sun shining down onto the rocks, but the blown-out sky was a bit of a disappointment. Since there’s usually always room for improvement, I called it a day after taking a few more photos. Now that you’ve seen that, we can fast forward to the next day, which the weather report promised would be a crystal clear blue sky. Lo and behold, it was!

I’ve always wanted to try and get a panorama of this mountain range, and couldn’t think of a better spot to capture it from (with the river in the foreground). Unlike most of my usual panoramas, I didn’t use the 10-17mm fisheye lens, as it wouldn’t allow any filters to be attached. This one took a fair amount of testing to get right, but the lighting was amazing, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. A few minutes later, a bit of Photoshop blending, and the result is below.

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3 individual images blended into one, with a circular polarizing filter used. The main peak in the centre is The Rhino, which rests at just around 3000m above sea level. Some specks of snow are still visible on the higher areas.

I didn’t spend nearly as much time down at the river as I wanted to, exploring other angles and possible shots. Time is always of the essence, and there wasn’t much of it to spare in this small corner of the world. But there will always be the next adventure. My ultimate jackpot would be the above panorama, but with the entire area covered by snow. Possible? Lets wait and see…

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Drakensberg 2013 Round One – Drakensberg, South Africa

It was that time of the year again. When I become one with the mountains for a few days, connect with the cloud gods, and frolic amongst the wild salmon in the raging waters. Not really, but you get the idea. It consists of being surrounded by nature, while still being close to the creature comforts of a nice place to stay.

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The view from our balcony. Not bad, I’d say?

The Drakensberg is easily the place I have visited the most in my lifetime. We would usually go once a year – sometimes twice. My parents would drag me on endless walks that makes the journey from Lord Of The Rings looks like a Sunday stroll. Also, traversing streams, climbing up near vertical hills, and sometimes (if we timed the visit right) consist of drifting around in freshly fallen snow. In addition, time in the Drakensberg does consist of an awful lot of doing nothing. Such as, just sitting on a balcony and counting the water droplets slide down your glass.

This year was a bit different. I was a man on a mission. Kind of like James Bond, only I don’t have an Aston Martin. Or wear suits. Or drink martinis (shaken, not stirred). But regardless, a mission. Additionally, my parents have invested in some timeshare in a resort on a rather nice golf course, and it was out of season. Perfect. My journey started with a 4 hour solo drive through thick rain and mist on narrow roads¬† – my parents were staying for longer, so they had left earlier in their own car. Undeterred, I had Metallica, sour worms, and a turbocharged flat four engine to keep me company. Sound like fun? Nope. The weather made everyone drive horrendously slow, and the traffic dashed all my hopes of unleashing my inner rally driver (owning a Subaru and all, since we’re apparently reckless drivers). Unfortunately, mist also tends to hide potholes, so I eventually arrived at my alpine destination, with a newly arranged back, and a car that had developed a few new interesting noises.

The first order of business? A star photo. I don’t get to do these often, since all the light pollution in a city blocks the stars from the average nighttime viewing. But the Drakensberg is different. Pitch black engulfs the surroundings in the evening, and the only light is artificial, coming from a few holiday makers, who fell into the age group of 50+. But on the first evening, the clouds and mist cleared up, so I jumped into my moms car, and headed to a high point on the golf course. Why my moms car? Its more quiet… I consider the comfort of the other people there (because I’m an awesome person like that). One and a half hours later, and on the verge of frostbite, I ended up back inside our home away from home, and developed this image:

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One and a half hour exposure, facing the northern mountains. The highest mountain (in the middle) is known as The Rhino, due to the resemblance to a rhino horn.

Next day, happy with my success of the stars, I did the stupid thing and walked straight up a mountain. No path, no plan. Just straight up. Now I have climbed Mt Kilimanjaro, so I like to think I know a thing or two about scaling a mountain, and often imagine myself as a dashing 1900’s explorer conquering a new frontier. That last sentence was a joke, but I really have climbed Kilimanjaro. Bow down before me, mere mortals.

Turns out, this hill didn’t fancy me on it, so it took quite some time – and many four letter expletives starting with “f” and ending with “uck” – to reach the top. Once I did, I found a bench to sit on (no shit, someone had built a bench on top of this random hill), and took a panorama looking back down, and of the ridges beyond. Have a look:

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The Rhino, once again visible in the left of the photo. The ridges in the distance that have some light snow scattered on them belong to the Sani Pass valley. In the bottom right is the resort known as The Fairways, which is part of Drakensberg Gardens

Panorama done, and after a day that consisted of being the worlds most unactive person, I ventured out into the freezer, known as the outside world after 6pm. This evening however, the weather was not co-operating, as nature was clearly unhappy that I had demolished half a mountain by blazing my own trail. Long story short, the clouds were obscuring everything. Nothing unfolded.

I now only had one more evening left to get a star photo. So that evening it would be done. After a day spent ascending Sani Pass and trying not to die, I once more jumped out of the door, and walked along the back of the resort. I have been in Switzerland at temperatures of -17 and felt fine, but tonight, my body was not too happy with me, and my internal heater seemed broken. Risking the cold was going to be difficult…
After a few minutes walk, I found a spot on a hillside, facing south (thanks iPhone compass app). Camera set up, few test shots, push the button, and wait. And here is the result.

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One hour long exposure, facing south. The unique spiral rotation is caused by the earth rotating on the south axis.

Deciding to make the most out of my time on this hillside, I turned my camera around 180 degrees, and pointed it north. One hour later, and I had to call it quits. The cold was just too much, and I like my fingers and toes attached to my body. Slightly defeated, I stumbled back along the road towards my safe haven. The end result is below:

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One hour exposure looking in the opposite direction. The Rhino is once again visible to the middle right of the photo. The star reflections are caused by a small lake reflecting the light.

And that was the end of my Drakensberg exhibition for a few months. I have another post lined up with some more “natural” photos, so stay tuned for that. All I had to look forward to now, was a long drive back home…

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Subaru Impreza WRX – Drakensberg, South Africa

So I haven’t been on here for a while, but now I have!

I’ve been busy, and thats the only excuse.

But now my girlfriend (Samantha – hello) has convinced me that I should post here again. So I thought I’d start off by making a post on my shiny, not so new second hand car!

Yes, its a 2006 Subaru Impreza WRX (ProDrive Edition). Pushes out a very large amount of power, and can beat a Lamborghini Gallardo under certain circumstances (I can attest to this first hand. Never underestimate). It also drinks more petrol than an alcoholic drinks at an open bar, and costs me more money than the average divorce.

So for now, feast your eyes on this very strange HDR picture below, while I sort out the rest of my posts.

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Ta-da!

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Panoramas – Ireland

So I recently found myself on an aeroplane again, this time bound for a 2 week stay in Ireland. While I had visited various places in the UK many times before, I had never ventured across the Irish sea to visit their small outcrop in the larger Atlantic Ocean.

My impressions of Ireland? Very nice countryside. Weather can be a bit dull. Larger cities like Dublin get tiring very quickly.

And for some reason, I took a lot of panorama photos. Now I wish I was able to enlighten everyone exactly where each photo was taken, but truth be told, I can’t really remember the location of a specific photo in 2 weeks of constant travel.

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I can remember however, that this was at a place called Druids View, which is in County Kerry

I spent a lot of time doing token tourist things, like visiting Blarney Castle, the Guinness Factory in Dublin, lots of national parks that consist of nothing more than a few mountains, getting rained on, trekking out to a point called Sheeps Head, various small towns that I will never hear of again, and doing the Ring of Kerry, which the below panorama was from:

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Ring of Kerry. Slightly HDR processed. The clouds were just too good to resist.

Would I go back to Ireland? Probably, but I would go for longer, and spend a greater amount of time in each place. The whistle-stop traveling method isn’t working out.

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Where was this taken? I have no idea.

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Burj Khalifa – Dubai, United Arab Emirates

HDR shot from the 124th floor. Dubai Mall is the building in the bottom left corner.

Burj Khalifa was an attraction that I had wanted to visit for ages. It was one of those places that looked impressive in photos, but I knew that it would look ten times more impressive in person. And what do you know? I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, a few hours into my first day in Dubai, I was already in a taxi with orders to go to the Dubai Mall so that I could take the lift halfway up the worlds tallest building (I’m a sucker for anything deemed an overly tourist attraction).

There are areas in the glass where tourists can stick their arms through, presumably to give them an opportunity to drop a camera or cellphone.

The lift to get to the 124th floor takes a mere 60 seconds, and it honestly doesn’t give you any sense of movement. Well done, engineers. Now I’ve also been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and even though this viewing deck is way higher up, it feels much safer. Good mark for people who are afraid of heights. Word of advice though, don’t look up at the top of the building from the viewing deck. Then you’ll feel uneasy (PS: this viewing deck is only halfway up the building. Imagine going all the way up…)

 

Dubai Mall in the bottom right, while all the buildings flanking Sheik Zayed Road can be seen starting in the bottom left.

Well, what else is there to say about the worlds tallest building? Not much, but its certainly worth visiting while in Dubai, even if its just for bragging rights. A tip would be to buy your ticket online first though, since they do tend to sell out rather fast, and you’d look like an idiot joining the masses of other people who can’t get to the viewing platform.

I also do remember the sign at the entrance saying that photos may not be used for commercial purposes. Since this blog is a personal account and not a business venture, I guess I’m fine. If anything, the building is getting some free publicity here. No one would buy any photos anyway.

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The Desert – United Arab Emirates

This HDR photo was taken just before sunset, somewhere out in the UAE desert. While that might sound very far away and mythical, I realistically think it was only about half an hour outside of Dubai, depending on how fast you drove. And even though there was no real civilization to be found, you were constantly reminded of human presence by the sheer amount of Landcruisers roaring up and down the dunes.

Not too far away from the worlds largest building, you have the worlds most pointless fence arrangement.

Sand is something I normally don’t enjoy. On a beach, its fine. But not for traversing long distances. It gets everywhere. It’s hot. It makes the process of walking doubly difficult. But on the rare occasion (like this one), I was prepared to scale my way to the top of the dune, take a photo (without a tripod), and then sink halfway back down into the dune.

Taken from nearly the same spot as the HDR one above, but obviously not in HDR.

Even with my negative view of the sandy location, being in the vast expanse of a desert was an experience that I thoroughly enjoyed, even if the “desert” wasn’t too far from a very large city. It gives one a feeling of how small they really are in relation to the world, and, at risk of starting to sound like a motivational poet, I’ll just suggest you go visit this area, should you find yourself in the UAE.

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