Editing 150 Hours of Footage From a DSLR

As I roll away the miles, driving the ten hour trip to Michigan to rendezvous with my daughter Erin to film the last of our subjects for our documentary Opening Our Eyes, I realize how desperately I needed a long road trip – just cruising down the highway.  I have been in utter isolation for the past month, editing over 150 hours of footage that we had shot over our ultimate road trip around the world this past summer.  Little did I know that the 99-day journey would be the easy part of this project.

This past month there have been many times that I became so overwhelmed with the process of editing that I wanted to throw my hands up in surrender and just give up.  But somehow I plowed through it, many days putting in 14 plus hours.  I was on a mission and listening to the words of my subjects got me through it.  After all these were some of the most inspirational people I had every met, so revisiting them through their interviews was a constant reminder of the goal of this film which is to create awareness and inspire and motivate others to make a difference and create change.

Ultimately, my challenge is to take ten (soon to be eleven) different stories of people across the globe who are making a positive difference in the world.  After finally getting the tedious tasks finished, of transcoding files and sorting through the good from the bad clips, I arrived at a point where I needed to start telling “THE” story.  Meaning I needed to determine how I could best structure the film to convey the common themes between my subjects.

In order to see the story clearly – I needed to get away from the technology. So as the miles roll by, the story becomes  more vivid in my head.  I see the hero(s), the themes, the commonality and the arc of the story as the stories intertwine.  I won’t give away too much information other than to say that the solution is simple.  They aren’t eleven different stories after all. It’s really a global story about the power of one.  How one individual can create positive change and not only effect generations to come but change themselves as well. It’s a basic human story that resonates with all of us.

When I started writing this blog I was going to talk about editing tech tips. Somehow as the miles rolled by and my head became clear of the intense electronic input from the past month, I not only saw the story, but I felt it.  I had gotten back on track and gotten to the heart of the story.

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Telling the Story with the DSLR

The sub-title should read…”or with any camera for that matter”.  For those of you not new to this blog, you know that my mantra is “it’s not about the tool”.  And my other mantra is “embrace collaboration”.

But back to the thought behind this blog entry and that is “telling the story”.  I recently read a great book that a dear friend had given me about screenwriting called “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder. Snyder’s book is geared more toward writing a fictional screenplay, as opposed to writing a narrative for a documentary, but I thought it would be helpful for me as far as learning more about the dynamics of story telling – and indeed it was.

Snyder talks about the different genres that most movies fall into.  The category that my documentary came closest to if I was writing a fictional piece was what he referred to as The Golden Fleece. Blake writes:

“The name comes from the myth of Jason and the Argonauts and yet it’s always about the same thing: A hero goes “on the road” in search of one thing and winds up discovering something else – himself.”

“Like the twists of any story, the milestones of The Golden Fleece are the people and incidents that our hero or heroes encounter along the way.  The theme of every Golden Fleece movie is internal growth, how the incidents affect the hero is, in fact, the plot.

“It’s not the mileage we’re racking up that makes a good Golden Fleece, it’s the way the hero changes as he goes”.

Wow, I thought as Snyder’s words resonated with me and how I “saw” the documentary that I was in the midst of editing.  In my case, I had many heroes who in setting out to make a positive difference in the world had also experienced intense and rewarding personal growth.  I too had changed and grown, along with my daughter who journeyed with me to tell our subjects’ stories.

As I read more of Snyder’s book, my vision of our film became much clearer in my head.  This week, I had a meeting with the editor who will be collaborating with me on this film.  I’m thankful that I was able to have a face to face meeting with him where we could both get a better feel for each other and more importantly  – the story.  We had a wonderful conversation about the story that I wanted to tell – the heroes – the conflicts – all those things that are part of a good story.  I knew we were on the same page when he said: “It’s not about the trip – it’s about the journey”.

Or as Snyder writes:
“It’s not the incidents encountered.  It’s what the hero(es) learn about himself from the incidents that make the story work.”

We’ll see if I can do my heroes justice in telling their stories, but I’m not alone in this task.  I’ll be collaborating with an editor who not only has an understanding of “the story” but the skills and ability to make it come to life. What joy.

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Being Authentic

There are certain words and phrases that tend to become over used just because they seem to express the idea so well.  Ironically, the word authentic is becoming over used now in our culture and in a weird way is on the brink of becoming a contradiction to what it means.  So, I cautiously use the word “authentic” in the real sense to say – be who you are meant to be.  Be authentic.

When I returned from my round the world adventure this past Fall after completing the shooting aspect of a personal project, I discovered that people were responding to me in a different way. Perhaps they sensed there was something inside of me that they wanted to connect with.  It’s a very difficult thing to explain but I think what they were sensing, was my contentment.  I was content and feeling a sense of “satisfaction” because I was following “my purpose”, both personally and creatively and in the process I was discovering many other people,  all over the world, who were doing the same.

On the outside what may have seemed like just a very long, exotic “trip”, was really more of a journey.  It was a journey that I had begun a long time ago when I became an explorer, through my eyes and through my camera.  I use the word explorer in a literal and figurative sense. Throughout my life, in my never-ending nomadic need to explore the world and its peoples, I was finding my own vision and how I “saw” and I was sharing that with others.

Ethan G. Salwen expressed it beautifully in a recent post on his After Capture blog:

“We always say that learning photography is really learning to see, and this is true. But we tend to express this sentiment in relation to a very limited sense of seeing — the visual sense. Older photographers seem to continue to learn to see on a much deeper level, in terms of what it is to be a working artist and, most important, how this relates to their continual growth and satisfaction as an individual.”

I think Ethan nailed it by talking about “learning and seeing on a much deeper level and how this brings growth and satisfaction as an individual.”  I use the words “ being on purpose” to describe “satisfaction” within oneself.  I believe that as creative individuals, when we begin to find meaning in who we are and how that fits into the world, it will shine through our work.  Some use the word “vision” to describe that certain something that they see in someone’s creative work. Maybe that’s what was in the back of my mind when I came up with the title of my project and film, Opening Our Eyes.

In a way, I use my “eyes” and my camera to do what I do best – to share and connect with others.  When I travel, it is not to assimilate with a culture, but rather to learn and exchange our cultural uniqueness, embrace that and share it with others. When I’m being authentic and true to myself, that happens in a magical way.  When someone tells me that I’m the “real deal”, that is one of the highest compliments they can give me.

I think Susana Esmoris, one of the subjects of my documentary said it best.  “Live life intensely.  Wear the color that you want in life.  Dance what you want to dance.”

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Photo Plus Expo 2010 Etc.

What a difference a year makes.  I’ve been going to Photo Expo since it started, whenever that was some 20 or 30 years ago. It used to be held at the Coliseum, New York’s old convention center, when it was much smaller.  Over the years Photo Expo got bigger and bigger, with huge sections of the floor devoted to lab equipment and hundreds of other booths displaying everything from cameras to computer software.

The last few years the Expo has gotten smaller.  Gone is all the lab equipment of course, but also not present are some of the big vendors like Adobe and Apple.  This year was the first year there was another photographic event happening simultaneously, called “Shoot NYC….an advanced photography forum”.  This event was hosted by Hasselblad and Broncolor, and just few blocks away from Javits. I didn’t get a chance to get down there but I heard rave reviews from those who went saying it felt like it was geared more for the “professional”.

One difference I have noticed over the years of attending Photo Expo is the shift in the attendees, more toward retail photographers and prosumers. That was reflected both on the floor and in the seminar selections. There was an entire seminar track this year devoted to weddings and portraits. Another sign of the times was seeing an entire seminar track devoted to video and multimedia, as opposed to one or two seminar choices in previous years. I could only find one seminar this year about stock photography; actually it was about microstock in particular. That’s a big change from when there were a dozen seminars relating to stock photography to choose from.

I presented a seminar with Paula Lerner called “Multimedia and Video” and was part of a panel for a seminar called “Ethics and Photography” which was streamed live globally, but I did find time to sit in on a couple of very interesting sessions.  One of my favorites was “Affordably Simple Marketing”, given by Juliette Wolf Robin.  She provided a lot of terrific tangible information.   I also enjoyed seeing and hearing Lauren Greenfield talking about her documentary work.  And even though I’m not a teacher, I found “Teaching in the 21st Century” quite interesting.  As always Blake Discher’s seminar on “Sales and Negotiating for Photographers” was fantastic and fresh. I also attended ASMP‘s annual member meeting where Tom Kennedy spoke about the new media landscape which was right on target.

The floor was smaller and as mentioned before, Adobe and Apple not present.  Canon and Nikon had a lot of action and interest with their hybrid DSLR cameras as expected and I saw a lot more third party gear for the hybrids displayed – Zacuto rigs, Redrock Micro rigs, and Glidecams, along with fluid head video tripods.  This trend is not going away and in fact isn’t a trend at all, as we move more and more toward electronic publishing with magazines scrambling to produce versions for the iPad and get their app designed.

The annual “bash” was more of a bust, leaving people hungry and thirsty due to no food being offered (except bags of potato chips) and a cash bar.  It was held at the Intrepid, which sounded like it was going to be interesting, but not a great venue for a party.  But it was nice to see my friends and colleagues and catch up with them.

It will be interesting to see what this event will look like next year – I can only guess that there will be plenty more changes.

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The Power of Sharing and Networking

I’ve always been an independent creature, starting with a year long backpacking odyssey as a 19 year old traveling solo, following the “hippie trail” around the world.  That sojourn led me to pursue a career as a still photographer, using my camera as a tool to gain access to people, their cultures and their stories.

I’ve had a great ride these past 30 years shooting assignments for high profile magazines that have taken me to all parts of the globe.  For the most part, I was a solo act, spending hours, days and weeks observing people, then becoming more intimate as I proceeded to get to know and tell their stories and share them with others.

When I started shooting motion and in particular digital video, eleven years ago I embraced the notion of collaboration.  Video production has a lot more facets to it than just the shoot and I knew that even though I knew how to capture reasonably good sound and edit a respectable rough cut with Final Cut Pro, I also knew that working with professional sound people and editors would raise the bar on the quality of my projects.

This past weekend, the value of collaboration, networking and using social media to get my ideas out to the universe, really hit home.  I had been asked to speak at the Photocine News Expo in Hollywood, CA about my latest documentary that I was working on, Opening Our Eyes. I had gotten to know two of the organizers of the event, Michael Britt and Lou Lesko, through social media. They had taken notice of my blog and my project, which I had decided to shoot with the HDSLR cameras and had written about it in their blog, PhotoCineNews.com.

I was honored and humbled to be speaking at the same event as some pretty heavy players like Vincent LaForet and Shane Hurlbut.  I was a bit intimidated at first, but I knew that I was there to share what I knew and that is how to get a passion project from just an idea – to a reality.  So, after returning from my 99-day journey, with just a couple of weeks to prepare a sample from some of the 145 hours of footage that were shot, I flew out to LA.

Here’s a rough cut of that 10-minute sample:  Opening Our Eyes – Tease

I suppose I can legitimately say that I have had a theatrical showing of my documentary in Hollywood.  True enough – but the real value for me this weekend was in sharing with my peers and making connections with people who I will work with in the future that will help me grow as a filmmaker and storyteller and more importantly who will bring their expertise to my film.

It’s an incredible time that we live in with a realm of possibility.  Literally anything is possible.  When you share and put things out to the universe – you just never know what you’ll get back.  I’ve learned that I share because it makes me feel good – not because I have expectations for an immediate or monetary return.  But each and every time I do share – I get back so much more in return.

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My Love/Hate Relationship – Shooting Video With a DSLR

I’ve just spent the last 2 weeks intensely editing my footage shot on my 99-day journey around the world, shooting my passion project, Opening Our Eyes.  I wanted to get a trailer ready for the PhotoCine Expo that I’ll be speaking at this weekend in Los Angeles. I knew that I couldn’t possibly go through all 2900 gigabytes of content (145 hours), let alone cull it down to a finished sample in two weeks time.  So, I took a friend’s advice and decided to focus on only two of my ten subjects that I interviewed and shot b-roll on.

Even with going through only 20 percent of my footage has been a grueling and exhausting two weeks.  But it’s also given me a much better sense of working with and analyzing the files that come out of the Canon 5D Mark II and 7D.

Some of my loves:

  1. I love the picture quality
  2. I absolutely love the picture quality
  3. You can’t beat the picture quality

It’s true, the picture quality is stunning and worth putting up with SOME of the workarounds, depending on what type of job I’m working on.  If I’m shooting a corporate event and I need to record longer than 12-minute intervals, which is the case when someone is giving a talk, then I would opt not to use a DSLR because of the limitations on the duration of a clip.  And, regardless of the type of job I shoot, editing the files from these cameras is tedious because I need to transcode them into a file that will play well in Final Cut Pro.

Some of my hates:

  1. 12 minute clip duration – this really needs to change in the next generation of these hybrids in order to make it a more       workable camera
  2. Audio – Canon really needs to come up with a more professional solution for capturing good audio with the video on           one card.  I have used a JuidedLink pre-amp with a gain disabler on it but it’s still not as good as the audio I get when         I capture it to a separate digital recorder – in my case the Samson H4N Zoom.
  3. Having to transcode all the files into a codec like Apple Pro Res so that I can edit in FCP without stutters, stops and             drop frames.
  4. Stabilization is an issue but a solvable one thanks to rigs from Zacuto. And of course you can always use a tripod – and       really should if the situation warrants.

I’m sure I’ll come to other conclusions as I dig deeper into my content and I’ll share my thoughts as I continue to immerse myself in the post production part of this film.

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Editing and Workflow for DSLR’s – The First Steps

In the Field
Depending on how you are working in the field and what you are shooting, your workflow and the way you organize and manage your media will vary somewhat. If you have a crew and are shooting a scripted video, then you will probably have a computer and technician on site, downloading media as it is shot, backing it up and checking it for focus.

If you’re working solo or with just one other person, which is how I have been working for the past 3 ½ months on my project, Opening Our Eyes,

Gail at the Kopila Valley Primary School, Surkhet, Nepal

then you don’t have the manpower to work that way. I downloaded all my footage, audio and stills at the end of the day. I rarely had the time or even the battery power on my computer (electricity was scarce at times) to look at what I had shot but I did do spot checks occasionally.

Regardless of how you work in the field,

Children at the Kopila Valley Primary School

it is essential to create redundant backups of all your content. I backed everything up to two portable external hard drives, after downloading the media to my laptop via card readers. There’s a nice software application called ShotPut Pro that lets you make up to 3 copies to different drives at a time, which speeds things up quite a bit. For the most part, I had organized my media by destination and subject with each folder containing the contents of a card. Whenever I shot an interview, I put a fresh card in the camera so that the content was automatically sorted out from the b-roll. Some shooters I’ve talked to who are used to shooting tape, archive each tape or card by making a disk image (DMG) of each which can be mounted on the computer, emulating the original card.


Back in the Editing Suite

The first thing I did when I returned from my 99-day journey, was to make two backups of all my material. After my media was backed up, I started to organize it. Everything had already been separated as far as destination and subject, but I needed to separate the stills from the video and the interviews from the b-roll – if any cards contained both. I also needed to match up the interview video footage with the audio files that had been captured by a separate recording device.

After getting all my media organized and sorted by destination, subject and file type, I renamed the files and added any relevant metadata – copyright and creator info etc. This can be done in Adobe Bridge. You can also look at the video files in Bridge to preview before transcoding them. Another way to preview your video files is by using QuickTime player. Because the files coming out of these hybrid cameras are compressed H.264 files, they do not play smoothly in Final Cut Pro, so they need to be transcoded into a codec like Apple Pro Res, before editing them. This can be done in Apple Compressor which comes with the Final Cut Pro Suite or MPEG Streamclip which is a free application.

You can choose to preview your video files first using Adobe Bridge or QuickTime player or another software tool, and then make a folder of “selects” and transcode just those files before importing them into FCP, or you can transcode everything and then import everything into Final Cut Pro.

After I organized my assets (stills, video and audio), I chose to transcode ALL my video files and import everything into Final Cut Pro. That way, not only could I preview everything smoothly, but I could also start adding information to the clips and organize them into bins within FCP. And with everything transcoded, I won’t have to leave FCP if I wanted to look at content that hadn’t been previously marked “selects”.

Getting to the Fun Part

Organizing, sorting, logging and transcoding is tedious work but it’s essential in order to be able to find things quickly when you need them, when you start laying down your storyline and want to keep focused. There’s nothing worse than having to break your train of thought while you’re editing and have to leave the program to find assets or prep them. Organizing is key – it’s not fun, but a necessary step in the process.

I will continue to slog through this initial process this week, in order to get through some of my content so that I can put together a sample for the PhotoCine News Expo that I’ve been asked to speak at this month. I have way too much material to go through everything, so I’ve decided to tackle the content from two of my subjects, which will make the task more manageable. It will also provide me with the reward of working on the “fun part” of editing by crafting a short story before moving on to daunting task of assembling the entire documentary. Check out this quick sample that I put together within 24 hours after getting off the plane. http://www.vimeo.com/14645594

Little by little things will come together and I’ll keep you posted as I go along.

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Post-Production – Overcoming Inertia and Getting Started

I returned back to the United States a couple of days ago and before I even did my laundry, I sat down to edit a quick behind-the-scenes interview video clip of my daughter and I discussing the documentary we had just finished shooting, traveling around the world. I was motivated by a deadline where I needed to provide a video clip from the project, right away.

I was fortunate in that we had just shot interviews of each other talking about the making of the film, while the experiences were still fresh in our heads. So it was relatively easy for me to pull a couple of soundbites from the interviews, sync the audio which had been recorded separately and add relevant B-roll.  Within less than 24 hours after stepping off the plane, I had a 5 minute behind-the-scenes short.  Nothing fancy, mind you but in addition to providing an opportunity for the film to get awareness, it forced me to start thinking about the overall structure of the piece.

The hardest part of editing is getting started – figuring out how the story will be told. In my case, I’m facing the daunting task of looking through 3 months of material – interviews, B-roll, still images, and behind-the-scenes footage that I need to figure out how I will put it all together.  There are a dozen different directions where I could take this film in the editing process.  I could choose to make each subject’s story an independent video, with the full length documentary being comprised of them all.  Or I could weave the stories together – structuring the piece more thematically.  Or I could include the mother/daughter aspect in the film and add some interview footage of the two of us talking about the project.

Just in putting together this quick sample, I have forced my mind to start thinking about the next step – crafting the story. My next deadline is to make a trailer for this film that hasn’t even been edited yet. I will be speaking at the PhotoCineNews Expo in LA in a couple of weeks and I’m motivated by this opportunity to present the workings of this project to a live audience.

As it turns out, jumping right into it was the best thing to do.  I overcame the inertia that’s always present, and started focusing on how I was going to tell the story of not only our subjects but the experience itself.

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Does a Canon 5D Mark II Make You a Cinematographer?

I read somewhere that a recent episode of the TV show “Housewas shot entirely with the Canon 5D Mark II.  A dozen thoughts ran through my head – Who would have thought that a prime time TV show would be shot with a still camera?  – Isn’t it amazing what technology has made possible? With a big production budget, why did they choose this camera? Did they back it up – just in case?

But the biggest thought that ran through my head was that this article oversimplifies the production process and leads you to believe that now just about anyone with a few thousand dollars can become a DP on a prime time TV show. In other words – when talking just about the camera, things get taken out of context.

What about the fact that they most likely had dozens of these hybrid cameras on set, with a crew of hundreds? Or that the sound guys were capturing the audio with tens of thousands of dollars worth of sophisticated equipment.  And then of course there is the post-production aspect where the file from the camera gets tweaked, modified and enhanced by professional colorists.

I think many times still photographers overlook the fact that there is a lot more to a large scale production than just the shoot and the camera.  And most of the time it goes way beyond the capabilities and role of the individual photographer who is used to working in a solo manner as opposed to collaboration.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a big part of me that absolutely loves my 5D and my 7D.  It allows me to deliver a motion product with a stunning visual.  But after shooting motion for 11 years, in addition to my 35 years shooting stills – I know that not only do I need to think differently when I shoot in motion but I also need to collaborate with others to be able to fulfill the needs of the production.

So when you hear that an entire movie was shot with the 5D – think beyond the camera.

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HDSLR in the Field – Recap of The First 70 Days of 99 Day Project Around the World (Tales of an Insomniac)

I woke up at 4 AM this morning after only a few hours of sleep – my body going through some major jet lag after over 22 hours of flying from Sydney, Australia to New York City via Los Angeles. Yesterday, my full day back, was spent taking care of essentials – like getting my gear to Canon for a full check up and cleaning,

Gear for my first go round.

and a visit to the Apple Genius Bar because my new laptop seems to have a living organism living behind the monitor which shrinks and grows depending on the climate I’m in, and of course taking care of my own personal needs.

As I lay awake in the pre-dawn hours, my mind was spinning with thoughts on what I had to get done before heading to South America on Saturday for the second leg of our documentary Opening Our Eyes. I have only 4 days to recuperate, rest up and gear up for the next leg. The bad part is, I’ve only got 4 days – the good part is, I have those 4 days, and can approach the second leg of this journey with the advantage of having a fresh experience in the field to draw from and make some changes in terms of gear I’m taking on the next leg. More importantly, because my turn around is short, I’m able to stay focused and remain in the mindset of the project.

So as I go over the gear that I brought on my first leg with lessons learned in my head and prepare for the next stint, I’ll share my thoughts with you:

• A good tripod is critical – if you don’t have a decent tripod for video, you can’t get fluid movement, so don’t even try. A locked down shot is better than a jerky shot in motion. I needed to travel light with all the flights that I faced, so I went for a carbon tripod with a fluid head that would fit in a suitcase to eliminate the need for another check on bag. So, for this next leg, I’m seriously thinking of taking my larger tripod because I don’t have as many flights where excess baggage charges could mount up.

• You can never have enough batteries when shooting with a DSLR workflow and by that I mean everything from the camera batteries (and buy lots of them if you can find them for the Canon 5D and 7D) to the expendables for the  DT454 JuicedLink audio preamp, which takes 9 volts to the Samson H4N Zoom which takes AA’s.  By the way, speaking of batteries, don’t make the mistake I made once by not powering the H4N Zoom off before changing the batteries. The manual mentions that by doing so, files can get corrupted. A couple of my audio files did get corrupted – the information was there, but it couldn’t be read.

• I’m leaving my over priced Nikon to Canon lens converter, along with my old Nikon glass at home – I never used them – never felt the need for what I was shooting.

• Can’t wait to edit my timelapse material that I shot using the Canon 7D camera and the Canon timer remote controller TC-80N3.

• I want to get more attachments for my GoPro Hero Cam because there are so many ways to use this camera – it’s amazing and I’m having a ball thinking of all the possibilities in how I can use it. The Hero cam will always be part of my gear kit.

• Always check what audio cords you’ll be needing. I embarrassed to say that I carried around my wireless kit but couldn’t use it with the Zoom because I needed a mini to male XLR cord  and didn’t have it.

• Take 10-20% more memory storage than you think you will need when you’re shooting video. Video is a memory glut. I had been warned by some people that the Lacie Rugged hard drives that I were taking with me, didn’t have a very good track record – but as I write this, my content backups from my Lacie Rugged drives ( over 2000 gigabytes (doubled) ) are transferring to my desktop OWC terabyte drives and seem to be fine so the Lacies did their job. However, they are bulky and I’m going to be getting a couple of 500 gig drives that are more compact. Any suggestions for compact firewire external drives?

• Wish I bought the follow focus with my Zacuto rig. It’s expensive but would have been a real added bonus for visually highlighting one of the beauties of these cameras – the depth of field range that they have.

• Also wish I had a portable dolly like the Indislider but just couldn’t fit it in this trip. As it was, there were some items that I didn’t need to take and will be leaving behind this next leg.

• Wish I brought more mini tools – screwdrivers, allan wrenches etc.

• My Blackberry Tour Verizon phone blew me away. Even when I was in the northern hill tribe villages of Thailand, staying in a bamboo hut without electricity and plumbing – I was able to get my email on my phone! I’m impressed Verizon – I really am. Finding electricity to charge my phone was another matter.

• I could not have survived the 30 flights circling around the world i if I didn’t have my iPod. Thanks Apple.

Feel free to comment and share your thoughts of what has or hasn’t worked for you in the field and you can save me from making potential mistakes as I take on my next leg of this Journey August 7th. We are first headed to the Amazon area of Peru and then down to Buenos Aires, Argentina – again two diverse areas in terms of culture and climate.

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