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Merida

Mérida Nights

Above the canopy is where I like to be when traveling. Mind you, not say 100 stories above the next tallest structure, but just a head above the rest. There’s no locale that better gives a lay of the terrain yet keeps you immersed in the happenings below. I still want to inhale the aromas, take-in the song and see facial expressions of neighbors as they do their daily bidding. The experience at night is usually a whole different atmosphere from the day as well. Mérida at night, from the rooftop of my palatial hotel, glowed through the jungle vegetation. A lone yellow cat, probably alert in wait for mousy prey, rests on the wooden bridge to my room. And above my bed there is a private terrace with two round tables sheltered by two green umbrellas where I woke with the radiant morning Mexican sun and confessed to my daily journal.

Yucatan-162_3_4_hdr

The Belly of Mexilio

“Now somewhere in the belly of the hotel, we were led through a mad labyrinth of narrow staircases – some no more than a foot wide – wood plank bridges, multi-leveled roof-top terraces, secret passages covered by red tile awnings and a forest of greenery to reach our room late the previous night. I don’t expect my fuzzy memory and, evidently, poor natural night-vision to aid me in my daytime escape. Further investigation revealed a full roof-top terrace over our bedroom, complete with stone tables and a white, four- column pergola that provides a home for a pillowing, purple blooming vine.

Early evidence suggests that four-legged felines outnumber people as much as three to one. The Casa Mexilio certainly looks as old as it is and probably has a catalog of stories at least as old as that. The artwork on the walls appears to be original and one can only speculate what dusty masterpieces might be occupying its dark corners. Though the doors and halls are constricting, the ceilings are high and supported by the most rustic of beams, possibly harvested by marauding conquistadors. It is colonial opulence sustained on the riches of 19th century sisal manufactures.”

Excerpt from <a title=”The Travel Companion from the Realm of the Maya” href=”http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/1910445″>The Travel Companion from the Realm of the Maya</a>

Behind Closed Doors

“…confirming hotel Casa Mexilio’s authenticity and regional importance, their web site states that Serapio Baqueiro Preve died here and President Lázaro Cárdenas used the residence to negotiate business. Hosting a President is a legitimate honor worthy of posting on any web site, however, having someone keel-over in one of your rooms is quite an odd claim-to-fame for a hotel – or any property for that matter. It always seems to work like this though, no matter who the deceased was. Even a local individual of marginal celebrity becomes immortalized when dying in a location even the slightest bit more interesting than a hospital room or at home. So, did Mr. Preve do some of the great things he’s so well known for on the property or did he simply come here to die? Since it’s not specified on the web, the latter is assumed. Could Mexilio be a former hospital? Possibly my room was once the great Serapio’s. That would be most impressive indeed.”

Winter Terrace

Winters deep in the belly of the sinister Yucatecan interior are brutal. Heat, humidity and direct sunlight in combination conjure a hopeless sensation that’s enough to curl the most thick-skinned in the fetal position and cry “uncle.” Urban centers like Mérida are loud, crowded and filled with more shapes, textures, movement, sounds and smells than the human psyche can be expected to be exposed to at any given time. It’s the sensation where smell is more than simply an aroma processed by tender nasal receptors. It somehow takes on whole new suffocating textural properties that are felt in the lungs, eyes and mouth. In fact, almost all of the senses contain that indescribable characteristic that is enhanced by course stucco walls, choking exhaust fumes and chalky, clay-covered cobblestone streets.

The dense jungles are no improvement on the stifling conditions. So any opportunity to stretch the neck above the suffocating steamy canopy can be like a gasp of breath reassuring that drowning isn’t inevitable. The Spanish manage to offer these moments in style. Our winter terrace in Valladolid was a lap of luxury and a journey deep into the history of the New World.

Domingo en Mérida

“. . . company notwithstanding, it wasn’t long for the haunting nausea to overwhelm. Only steps into the Plaza and desperate for shade we were swiftly accosted by a plethora of eager vendors, each kindly waiting for the previous to be dispatched before advancing on their prey. This was, of course, of no surprise. The Mérida tactics do vary a little from my expectations, however, as much more care and investment is placed in massaging potential buyers when compared to other Latin American markets. I suspect that intentions are born of a genuinely friendly-natured society that may actually have at least a marginal interest in a visitor’s situation and not only their monetary frugality.

The first friend that exerted a tenacious fortitude greeted us in the plaza and was entertaining if not somewhat charming. He was quick to offer us a free walking tour of the square assuredly out of the kindness of his heart, and, since he had no merchandise on his person, we humored his wishes. His expertise was promptly on display as his Napoleonic boldness exceeded his meager stature. Apparently looking as miserable as I felt in the treeless square, I became the favorite target of his quick-witted drollness. “I can tell you two are married,” he jested, looking up at Amanda, “because he sweats and you smile.”

The beauty of the structures bordering the plaza is quite remarkable. The styles read like a history book of Spanish Colonial America. Simply circling the zócalo, every golden period of Spanish splendor from the last five hundred years is told, all the way back to the founding of the city and one of the oldest Spanish buildings in Mexico, Casa de Montejo. The conqueror of the Yucatán and founder of Campeche and Mérida, Francisco de Montejo, El Mozo, built this as his Governor’s mansion in 1549 and it remained in the family until 1970.”

Siesta Proper

There’s nothing to dislike about naps. A retreat from the heat and sun and the luxury to stretch-out with a mild breeze when lucky, is rejuvenating. Unfortunately, doing anything but napping during siesta-designated times in Mérida, is a near impossibility. If hungry and really damn thirsty, as we found ourselves this mid-afternoon, there are few refuges in which to take comfort. The lack of foresight to plan a day’s activities and provide the basics of life’s necessities with siesta in mind can be, in the least, a pesky inconvenience. Luckily for us a good Samaritan took mercy on us and prematurely opened his kitchen. We took our dessert Superiors on the rooftop terrace back at Mexilio, and relished in the almost eerie silence of a typically chaotic Mérida deep in siesta. The panorama is mesmerizing. My Maya travel narrative: The Travel Companion from the Realm of the Maya

Dusty Masterpieces

“. . . now somewhere in the belly of the hotel, late the previous night we were led through a mad labyrinth of narrow staircases – some no more than a foot wide – wood plank bridges, multi-leveled open air spaces, secret passages covered by red tile awnings and a forest of vegetation to reach our room. I don’t expect my fuzzy memory and, evidently, poor natural night-vision to aid me in my daytime escape. Further investigation revealed a full roof-top terrace over our bedroom, complete with stone tables and a white, four-column pergola that provides a home for a pillowing, purple blooming vine. Early evidence suggests that four-legged felines outnumber people as much as three to one. The Casa Mexilio certainly looks as old as it is and probably has a catalog of stories at least as old as that. The artwork on the walls appears to be original and one can only speculate what dusty masterpieces might be occupying its dark corners. Though the doors and halls are constricting, the ceilings are high and supported by the most rustic of beams, possibly harvested by marauding conquistadors. It is colonial opulence sustained on the riches of 19th century sisal manufactures . . .”

HDR Photography: Theory of Usage

For further reading check out HDR ART ???.

The idea of combining multiple exposures of the same image to boost all light levels in a single photo is not a new concept and it has been around nearly as long as photography. However the HDR technique has really gained ground in popularity along with the digital age, and more and more enthusiasts are venturing into the algorithmic process. As the art of photography becomes more accessible to the masses the individual with a little extra cash and the coveted drive to create is limitless to become the artist they dream to be. The age old discussions of what is art and what requirements need to be possessed to be deemed and accepted as an artist only now get more heated as the technological and accessibility playing fields are further leveled among the most highly trained and most driven amateur. This is a discussion that I would be ill advised to enter in the least as my humble impression of my own categorization weighs heavily to the latter. As I too hone my skills and refine my own photographic style I’ve noticed a few trends forming in the community.

As we know HDR can yield some dramatic results and often viewers of my photos will be wowed and not truly understand what makes the photo appear so, let’s say, vibrant. The most common and intentionally rhetorical comment that’s uttered is “Oh, it’s Photoshopped.” My reply is always “Well of course it is?” The term “Photoshopped” has become an accepted member of the 21st century lexicon unfortunately synonymous with placing heads of friends on the bodies of bodybuilders and adding fantastic elements to photos to create a surreal scene with the intention of deceiving the unknowing viewer. But Photoshop is useful well beyond its surface practical joke abilities. The irony of these exchanges is that Photoshop, while always used in processing my photos, is not the tool that creates the pop in HDR photos.

But recently I’ve noticed more folks are at least aware of HDR and ask “Oh, is that HDR?” Interestingly, unlike the Photoshopped response I used to get, I was kind of surprised that I’ve had trouble answering that question. Many think HDR simply requires tossing multiple exposures into to a program, clicking a button and having a beautifully optimized HDR photo spit out the other end. This is far from reality. Over the last year or so I’ve developed my own process for post-processing photos which utilizes a number of programs and treatments all depending on the requirements of each individual photo. An HDR program is just another “tool” I often use to obtain the final result I’m looking to achieve. Never will one of my photos be a raw HDR product. When I use HDR, I always mix and mask the HDR generated with one or all of the original exposures in Photoshop. After using any number of other tools such as noise reduction, sharpening, color correction, and exposure adjustment the final photo will only contain a fraction of the HDR produced by the HDR program. Of course, depending on the specific photo, a shot could be 80% HDR or 10%.

And this is true for all of our favorite “HDR photographers.” No great HDR was produced solely using the raw HDR photo generated by an HDR program. They too have all been mixed with the original exposures. Everyone’s favorite HDR photographer, Trey Ratcliff, states that roughly 3/4 of his photos are HDR (though the source now escapes me). Really? Which one’s aren’t HDR? My guess is that none of his photos are 100% HDR. Every photographer has their own unique style and process to achieve their desired results. So now when someone asks if a particular photo of mine is HDR I reply with an estimated percentage. Mostly this unexpected answer produces a reaction of confusion and sometimes annoyance but is much more accurate than a simple yes or no.

Below is an example of a 3 exposure HDR. First are the three exposures over the rooftops of Merida, Yucatan from the Casa Mexilio.

This next photo is what Photomatix spit out after meticulous tone mapping.

And finally the final HDR after mixing with the original exposures.

Here is another example of an HDR made from a single RAW photo in Izamal, Yucatan. The first one is the original exposure.

This next one is the tone mapped HDR generated from the single RAW above.

And finally the final HDR blending the original RAW and tone mapped HDR.

Tropical Snow

“…when least expected, tell-tale signs of Christmas cheer arose in pretty extraordinary ways throughout the Yucatan. Most town plazas were capped with enormous and elaborately decorated Christmas trees complete with garland and dusted in at least two and a half inches of phony snowfall. The Palacio de Gobierno in Mérida was one such participant which had a festive display of good tidings, as added to their snowy tree was a large sleigh. I can imagine that this could be confusing for toddlers of the tropics who have never seen snow as a wheel-less sleigh must seem like the most useless mode of transportation. Evidently the traditional German vision of Christmas has a monopoly on the whole of North American tradition.”

Bathed in Champagne

After about two and a half hours in mid-evening, not a soul crossed my path and the silence was only broken by the faint hum of a distant car and the occasional moaning meow of the mansion’s only other residents. The well-worn woods, plush upholstery with its sagging springs, the fading and sinking walls supporting the rich beams of centuries past were all bathed in a warm champagne glow. Though very peaceful, I began to wonder why no one was in the Spanish colonial boutique hotel, Casa Mexilio in Merida. I never would figure out the answer and I never will. I suppose I’ll just appreciate the private residence we experienced.

As for the photo, this is a 3 exposure HDR though only with the lightest treatment. The original exposures didn’t need much help.