9 stories behind 9 travel photos

As the world stays inside quarantined, now is a good time to reflect on the past, present, and future.

I’ve found it quite pleasing to thumb through old photo albums, recalling stories, details, and scenes that had been stored dormant in the depths of the mind.

As I was looking through these photos, I realized how many stories have gone untold. As a result, I made a small selection of photos that I thought were worth sharing — not necessarily the best or most intriguing photos, but photos that have a depth and story to them.

Here are 9 photos that each have their own story to tell:

1. The Peter Pan of the Po

A structure made of driftwood along the Po River of northern Italy.

On the sandy banks of Italy’s largest river resides the Italian Peter Pan. The old man with cloudy-grey hair, a protruding gut, and a deep, scratchy voice is about as flamboyant and demonstrative as you’d imagine the Italian version of Peter Pan.

He lives amongst a web of structures constructed of driftwood and junk on Italy’s Po River. Paying him a visit was one of the most unique and odd moments of my 2017 trip to Europe.

Apparently the man doesn’t mind visitors because I hopped on the back of a moped with the now husband of a childhood friend, and scootered across rural farmland to see what his place was all about.

Through a mix of my Italian translator and my own elementary level Italian, the man explained to me that in his dwelling, you don’t age, but in fact, you get younger.

He eagerly gave us a tour of all of the shacks, bridges, tree houses, a diving board, and games that he had constructed adjacent to a freeway overpass. He explained to me that river rises each spring and washes all the wood away, and he simply builds it all again come summertime.

He showed us a game he made that involved simply knocking over pieces of wood with a tennis ball, and then as I played and put in exceedingly more effort to win, he explained that the inner child in me was coming out. Maybe he was right.

While Italy is full of historic buildings and tourist attractions, something about this man and his stick huts left a lasting impression on me that has been parked in my memory ever since.

2. The mythical deer of Nara

Tourists feed the feral deer of Nara, Japan.

Nara, Japan is one of the most odd — yet magical — places that I have ever been, and this photo says a lot.

As you can see, the deer roam the urban, city streets, unmolested by humans. The man in the photo feel so comfortable around these feral deer as to let them sniff his baby.

In Nara, the deer are revered as sacred, dating back over 1,300 years to a legend that a god appeared on the hill overlooking the city riding a white deer.

Centuries later, the deer have been respected and cared for so long by humans, that the two coexist in peace, neither afraid of the other.

You will see deer roaming the busy city roads, grazing in the temples and parks, and even meandering in and out of restaurants.

Nara is a fun place to visit in its own right, but walking around the city among packs of deer just makes it one of the most delightfully bizarre places you will ever see.

The deer love pets from humans and, of course, many locals have taken advantage of their touristic value by selling deer crackers for visitors to feed them.

3. Chileans unite amid struggle

Volunteers help clean debris in the hills of Valparaiso, Chile after a fire broke out.

Just about two months into my study abroad year in Chile, a devastating fire broke out in the hills of the coastal port of Valparaiso.

More than 2,000 homes were destroyed up in the steep hills of the city.

Schools were closed for a week and the city came together to do their best to put the pieces of the puzzle back together.

Everyone did their part, from helping out in the homeless shelters to removing debris up in the hills.

The first day I enlisted as help, I went to one of the homeless shelters to help out, only to discover that there was too many volunteers. They needed less people helping.

However, an old woman pointed up into the blackened hills and said, if you go up there, there is plenty to do.

So the next day I jumped on a bus with some fellow university students to do just that. The bus routes wouldn’t go up the hills, so we had to trudge up the impressively steep cement inclines.

We helped move heavy items, did odd jobs for residents that needed assistance, and joined chains of humans removing debris from places that were too difficult for dump trucks to reach.

It was rather surreal navigating the blackened wasteland that was once a neighborhood, but the togetherness and camaraderie of the city was admirable and something that I was happy to be a part of — part of my initiation into Chilean life.

4. The post-utopian world of Bombay Beach

A piano lays in the sand at the town of Bombay Beach.

The stench of rotting fish hit me like a brick upon exiting my vehicle in Bombay Beach.

The once bustling resort town on the eastern shore of the Salton Sea, now sits hundreds of yards from the water’s edge. For every inhabited home on the dusty dirt roads, there are two abandoned, dilapidated houses, yearning for the glory years of the 1950’s.

The Salton Sea was never meant to be. A man made flood filled the ancient lake bed and just as the many lakes that filled and evaporated in the basin eons before, it will slowly shrivel up and disappear.

The receding, increasingly polluted lake that has very high levels of salinity is no longer fit for human use, or even fishing for that matter. The towns that dot its shores have turned into quasi wastelands.

As I explored the shoreline of the town, among the thousands of dead fish carcasses laid this rotting piano.

How they hell did that get there? And …why?

Most things in Bombay Beach just seem to be inexplicable. It’s not a place where one looks for answers.

5. Fill up your plate in Spain

Evan Quarnstrom drinking a beer at a bar in San Sebastian, Spain.

This photo doesn’t necessarily describe a particular moment, but more of an amazing part of Spanish culture.

When you enter a Spanish bar, tapas are spread among the counters with more snacks than you could ever imagine.

As you chat with friends and sip on a beer, you can nonchalantly grab some finger food, whatever looks good.

When you are done they use the honor system to pay up, so it’s important that you remember what you ate.

I particularly enjoy the efficiency and ease of this scrumptious system that they have in place.

6. Oblivious in the outdoors

Hiking near Cone Peak in Big Sur.

In 2011 I took a trip to Yosemite that awoke a latent fire within to explore the outdoors.

I wanted to go backpacking, but I had never been backpacking and didn’t really know the first thing about it.

I enlisted a couple friends who had done it a few times — but by no means experts — to help me learn the ropes.

We chose a loop trail in Big Sur which included some trails that were labeled “impassable.”

Being the young 19-year-olds that we were, we figured we were fit enough for the challenge.

Among the rookie mistakes that we committed were bringing way too much clothes, bringing raw meat to cook, hiking in jeans, and cowboy camping in a stink bug infested zone.

The end results was a 27-mile, 5000 foot climb that kicked our asses and left us battered and bruised. We literally looked like we joined a fight club for the weekend upon returning home.

In the photo, we are confronting the first “impassable” section of trail, running precariously low on water, and hoping that beyond the next fallen tree would be a gorgeous, flowing stream.

Turns out there were a lot more of these fallen trees to climb before coming upon a trickle of water. But hey, we survived and had a blast.

We’ve come a long way since then.

7. How to play Pachinko

Playing Pachinko in Hyuga, Japan.

Japan has a popular gambling game called Pachinko and the whole culture around it is really bizarre.

Technically, gambling is illegal in Japan, but through some type of loop hole this low-stakes gambling is allowed.

You exchange money for game-balls in an outside booth where you can’t see the person you are exchanging with.

I wanted to see what the hype was all about and entered one of these casino-like rooms that are filled with hundreds of machines, but just one game: Pachinko.

As soon as you enter the room you are hit by a nearly impenetrable cloud of cigarette smoke and deafening noise.

Each one of these hundreds of machines is blurting the same obnoxious tune at once, and it’s nauseating.

The people in the room are even more depressing, the type of people who you can tell probably don’t have enough money to be gambling, but they sit glued to a stool all day trying to make a buck off this casino.

I noticed no one was smiling. Patrons just stared at the games like zombies as they flushed their money down the toilet.

The game is played by purchasing a bunch of small metal balls, introducing them into the machine, and then pulling a spring lever back to make the ball land in a certain place — not too hard, and not too soft.

I didn’t understand the game at all really and, as you can see in the photo, one of the employees was trying to help me but she spoke about as much English as I speak Japanese, so that didn’t really help.

When my balls were out, I thought that I had just lost $10, but I ended up getting about $2 back, so I must have done something right to an extent.

8. The simple life of Fijians

Playing pool in Nadi, Fiji.

Fiji is truly a paradise, but most that go see just the touristy side.

The country has a very stark contrast of living between the resorts and the actual towns. Fiji actually can be an expensive place for visitors, whereas just a stone’s throw down a road the life of the locals is considerably cheaper and different.

I met Moses, in the picture above, while on a stand up paddle tour, and he invited me to hang out later that night.

We went to a bar of sorts — a modest open air structure with a beat up pool table and some plastic chairs. We played pool and the fact that the felt tip of the pool stick was just hanging on by a thread didn’t help hide that I hadn’t played in quite some time. Also, I didn’t know it at the time, but my arms were about to break out into red hives due to bed bug bites that I had received just an hour or two before.

After pool we sat down to drink kava, which is a daily ritual for many Fijians. Kava is a root dissolved into water that when drank creates a progressively intense head rush depending on how much you drink and how strong it is.

After spending nearly all of my time in Fiji working and staying at the isolated surf retreat, it was fun to get a brief snapshot of how the locals live.

9. Don’t forget the Women’s March

The Women's March of Los Angeles in 2017.

Do you remember where you were on January 21, 2017?

That was the day we had to watch President Obama put on his best fake smile as he shook Donald Trump’s hand and watched him get sworn into office.

People were pissed, ashamed, angry, distraught, and sad that we let Trump become our leader (well not everyone, but the majority since he lost the popular vote).

I felt the same and joined the protest with my mother in Los Angeles.

The limited public transportation available in California was put well on display as each metro heading to downtown LA was overflowing. We had to take a train in the wrong direction just to get far enough away from downtown to get on a train with enough room to pack us on like sardines.

We ended up making it to the protest with hundreds of thousands already flooding the streets.

It was a bit frustrating to see so many passionate people — particularly the youth — voicing their opinions, showing a fire that was evidently nonexistent on election day just several weeks before.

Hopefully 2020 sings a different tune.

One thought on “9 stories behind 9 travel photos

  1. Oh the places you’ll go by Dr. Seuss comes to mind for me….I see why you loved that book. Thanks for sharing these wonderful stories, photos, perspectives and humanity.
    Adventure on!


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