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Writing a trip report? Here's how to add pictures. Updated 7/10/17:
- Sizes now work differently
- Photobucket no longer works as a host
- Flickr screenshots are updated to the current interface
- The process of embedding a private photo is now (somewhat) simplified

I can't even count the amount of times I've answered this question in one form or another, both on the forums and by PM. I figured I'll write up some detailed instructions and hope people will find this useful.

This tutorial has five sections:
  • Understanding the basics
  • Adding pictures
  • Sharing private pictures
  • Additional methods
  • Summary

Note that nothing in this post will show up properly in Tapatalk; use a regular browser to follow along.

Understanding the basics:

Hosting: The pictures have to live somewhere. They are not stored on DDF; the forum system follows a couple of codes which tells it where the picture is stored, and it "pulls" the picture from there and displays it in your post. What this means is that for any picture to be displayed on DDF it first has to be uploaded to an image hosting service.

There are many hosting services out there, including ImageShack, tinypic, and imgur. All work on the same principle: you upload your pictures, the site provides the necessary code and links, and will display your picture when called upon to do so by DDF.

My personal host of preference is Flickr, for a multitude of reasons:
  • They're part of Yahoo, so I know that it's not going anywhere soon. Many hosts have come and gone, and with it, your pictures and links. That's not something I'm worried about with Flickr.
  • They give you an entire terabyte of space for free, with no limits on the amount of uploads or views per day (like some others do).
  • You could organize your pictures in many different ways, such as by type, trip, etc.
  • You could name and describe your pictures (and have that show up on DDF too, should you choose to), and people could leave comments, etc.
  • You could keep your pictures private, making them only accessible if it's clicked through from DDF, should you choose to.
  • If someone wants to know more about the picture they could click on it and see the exposure info, tags, even a map of where the picture was taken from (considering the file has location information included).

The examples we'll examine below will all be from Flickr, but the steps generally apply to all other hosting sites.

BBCode: The forum runs on something called BBCode (BBC for short). Without this code all that could be displayed is plain text; adding BBC tags however will let you format your post in many different ways. You do not have to know any coding to use this; generally you could click on one of the icons while posting and the code will automatically be entered for you. However, understanding how the codes in question work, what each part means, and so on are all very useful to know and will be explained here.

Once your pictures are online on a hosting site, you will use the [img] tag to tell the forum where your picture is stored, what size to display it at, and what happens if the picture is clicked on.

Adding pictures:

Let's have a look at the different options and controls, and how they would show up on the forum.

Step 1: Uploaded your pictures. Sign in or create an account on your hosting site of choice, and follow the prompts to upload your pictures. 

Step 2: From your host, navigate to the picture in question and choose to "share", "get link", or whatever that particular website calls it. On Flickr this is designated by an arrow on the lower right-hand corner of the image:

Step 3: There may be many different sharing options. Here the choices are Share, Embed, Email, and BBCode. Click on BBCode (top box), and the correct code will be generated (bottom box):

Note that BBC can also be referred to as "Forum" or "Forum Code" on different sites.

This will generate the required [img] code needed, but don't copy and paste just yet.

Step 4: Choose a size; I find that Large 1024 seems to work best - it displays at a nice size in the thread, while not slowing everything down:

If the size you picked is too large, DDF will automatically resize it to fit the width of the page. That means that you're getting basically the same view as Large 1024, but it will run slowly due to all the resizing happening. And if you choose a smaller size, your picture will not be resized - it'll just show up smaller.

For comparison, here's what the picture would look appear like in Large 1024, Small 240, and Original, in that order:

Haleakala Sunrise by Morris Hersko, on Flickr

Haleakala Sunrise by Morris Hersko, on Flickr

Haleakala Sunrise by Morris Hersko, on Flickr

Note that the size options you get will vary slightly depending on the particular picture in question; however it'll be close enough to the options here.

Step 5: Copy and paste. Once you've chosen a size, copy and paste the resulting code into your post. While editing it'll look like so...

[url=][img][/img][/url][url=]Haleakala Sunrise[/url] by [url=]Morris Hersko[/url], on Flickr

...and display like so once previewed or posted:

Haleakala Sunrise by Morris Hersko, on Flickr

Let's take a detailed look at what we have, and how it happened:
  • We have the picture displayed at the size we chose.
  • If you click on the picture it takes you to Flickr where you could see more details, different sizes, and move around my pages to see other pictures.
  • We have the image name as a caption, which itself is also a clickable link to the above-mentioned page.
  • We have a photo credit, which links to my Flickr profile page.

How did all this happen, and how could we manipulate the code to change which of these actually happen?

Let's break the code down piece by piece:

[url=][img][/img][/url][url=]Haleakala Sunrise[/url] by [url=]Morris Hersko[/url], on Flickr

Red is the most important part - the [img] and [/img] tags notify the system that a picture should be inserted here, while the URL in between tells the system where to find said picture. This is static: all it does is show the picture - no links, credits, etc. If this is what you want, keep only this part of the code and erase the rest (see example 1 below).

Green is a [url] tag. This is what makes the picture clickable. Since this tag surrounds the [img] tag, it means that the entire picture is clickable, not text, as is typical. This is how I personally post my pictures, since I'm not a fan of the caption and credit parts. By only using the red and green parts of the code, it shows the picture only, but clickable. See example 2 below.

Blue Is the caption; the [url] tag makes the "Haleakala Sunrise" clickable.

Purple is the link and text to my profile page. You could eliminate either the profile link or the caption by deleting the applicable parts of the code (personally I delete both, like I said above). See example 3 below where I kept the caption but got rid of my profile link.

Brown is pure text and is there to turn the caption into a coherent sentence.

Example 1 - Static, non-clickable picture. The code used shown first, then the result:


Example 2 - my personal preference. Clickable picture, no caption:


Example 3 - As above, but with the caption and no profile link:

[url=][img][/img][/url][url=]Haleakala Sunrise[/url]

Haleakala Sunrise

Sharing private pictures:

The above steps only works if the picture is public. What if you want them private, but viewable (and clickable) only through DDF? For this we use something Flickr calls a Guest Pass. It generates a special link for your private photos, and only someone with that link (and in this case, DDF) could view the picture.

This adds two more steps to the process:

Step 6: After step 5 above, jump back to Flickr's sharing menu, and choose Share. A special link will be generated:

Step 7:Replace the red part of the original code below with the new link, and everything will work as if it was a public photo:

[url=][img][/img][url=]Haleakala Sunrise[/url] by [url=]Morris Hersko[/url], on Flickr

Flickr has a couple of options for the Guest Passes, such as setting expiration dates. See this page for more info.

Additional methods:

DDF hosted: The forum actually does have a built-in image hosting feature, but that is only for extremely small file sizes (meaning the pictures will be very low quality). Additionally, the pictures only show up at the bottom of the post, and as thumbnails only. All this means that it's is generally not a good option for trip reports. To use this feature, click the "Attachments and other options" link below the text field.

Tapatalk hosted: If you have your pictures on your phone you could click on the camera icon to upload a picture. This works in a similar way to Flickr - the picture will be uploaded to Tapatalk's servers, and it will automatically generate the code and insert into your post. The disadvantage of this method is that you have no control on the size of the picture - it will be displayed like the Original sample above.

Other websites: If the picture is hosted on any other website, you could copy the image link (generally this will not be the page link) and paste the address between [img] and [/img] tags. As with Tapatalk, you will have no control on the size of the image.

  • Upload your pictures to an image hosting site.
  • From their "share" or "link" dialog choose BBCode or Forum, and select a size.
  • Paste the resulting code into your DDF thread.
  • Tweak the code if desired to change some settings
  • If your picture is private, use a Flickr Guest Pass

October 25, 2014, 11:11:43 PM
New Years in Sri Lanka. I woke up way to and headed to the airport at 6am. My excitement was very slightly dampened when checking out the weather where I was and the weather where I was going.

 The Check in agent couldn't print me out a boarding pass for the AMM-AUH-CMB legs on EY for some reason.  25 minutes later I was in the Dan lounge, (nothing changed, the same substandard, mediocre lounge it always was.) 
More frustrating then waking up early for a flight is waking up early for a flight and then it getting delayed  :( though in this case it wasn't so bad as I had a 5 hr stopover waiting for me in AMM and I was fine missing part of that. 45 minutes after the original departure time I boarded and was in for a surprise when I saw they changed the usually scheduled train with wings to a lie-flat 787 :).

Soon after settling in I took my camera out of my carry-on to take some pics. I immediately had a stewardess come over to me and seductively whisper in my ear "are you going to be taking pictures of me"? Taken aback she then reworded it as a statement that I may not take pictures of the cabin or crew. The rest of the 1:15 that I was trapped in that tube with the 20 minutes I was actually in the air was otherwise uneventful and nonsexual. The cabin had 2-2-2 seating and felt extremely spacious and open, it just felt a little less private than lots of other configurations.  From my seat I was able to view the screen of basically every other seat which contributed to the lack of privacy feeling, other than that it was quite decent. The Doona I had purchased right before this trip was an absolute lifesaver and is one of the greatest travel inventions of all time.

Upon landing in AMM I was told by transfer desk that they also cannot provide an EY boarding pass and they would need to send an agent to the ticketing counter that was before security for me, but alas they only open 3 hrs before departure which was still an hr away. In the meanwhile I was stranded in the 20 ft wide arrivals hall with a toilet and a hard steel bench, (a little touch of NY airports :D ). Half hour later when it came out I was flying business they immediately changed tunes and an agent walked me past security and to the lounge where he then disappeared for way to long with my passport to procure my passes and check me in. The lounge was decently large and overlooked the entire terminal. Had an empty room of daybeds where I rested until time for boarding the next flight.

AMM-CMB was operated by EY A330 with lie-flats seats and had a full business class.

Good thing I boarded early as it took the flight attendant 15 minutes to connect the car seat.  The cabin had a 1-2-1 configuration which for some reason felt cramped yet more private.

There was no human meal served although they did provide Stogel cat food in case I brought my pet along. Since when are Muslims not allowed to eat Kosher? Maybe they realize that if they serve this to them the UN will jump up with claims of Zionistic mistreatment of Muslims.

 On second thought, I actually may have found something edible.

Cabin crew was very nice and extremely child friendly. There was no jet-bridge so we had that dreaded airport bus waiting for us. It was surprisingly pleasant and smooth with no waiting. Usually I absolutely hate them and would avoid airports and carriers that use them as the standing in smelly, seat less cattle cars waiting for yet another soul to be crammed in has the ability to ruin my experience.

AUH airport is immaculately spotless and well kept. I cringe every time I fly into the states and experience the subpar, pay $6 to rent a cart, $12 for WiFi, rundown infrastructure and rude CS .
There are huge 3 ft wide screens all over the airport with flight info, shop locations, and turn by turn directions to your gate or lounge.

I headed to the Etihad lounge in terminal 3. Its quite expansive and aesthetically pleasing . There are showers, spa, barber, salon.... They provide a short complimentary treatment for all passengers. There is a fully stocked kids room where people were leaving their kids with the attendants. My stopover passed quickly and I was off to my final leg.
I missed the business airport bus so was forced to endure a not brief enough reminder of why I fly premium. Aircraft was EY A320 with recliner seats in 2-2.

 Was 1:30 from boarding until takeoff. With a child this down time is by far the worst for me. As much as I hate it we lived to tell the tale.  60 seconds of grumpiness and my kid fell asleep. I tossed and turned before waking up to the same non-edible excuse of a meal. Upon landing in CMB it took a couple minutes to get through a joke of a passport control and headed into the duty free which for some reason is by arrivals. I was never under the impression that large appliances are a big seller by duty free although apparently here they are. 9 out of 10 shops were washing machines, ovens, fridges....strange.

 I found my driver waiting for me and picked up a Sim card for 1300Rs/$10 for a month with 5gb data and a bunch of minutes. There are a bunch of different kiosks in arrivals to pick up a Sim including ones that come free with some service that they hope you fill up at one of the million shops selling them around Sri Lanka ( funny thing, everyone has cars vehicles but gas stations are few and far between. No one has phones yet every other store sells sim cards and top-ups.)but at that price I just looked for the best which seemed to be Dialog. They only accept cash so go to the ATM prior. Walking out of the airport the humidity hit me like a truck. Below I have included a pie-chart I made to better illustrate the discomfort.

To hopefully be continued.....

April 17, 2016, 02:22:47 PM
Seville for Shabbat A friend of ours just got back. She is not a DDFer but wrote up a pretty darn good TR and was happy to allow me to share here. So, HT to her!


1.       Very nice hotel, though not in the center of the city (other side of river, near university):  Barcelo Sevilla Renacimiento.  Was part of Expo 92.
2.       Went to shul Friday night, 6 men, 1 other woman, orthodox, sefardi, hidden in unmarked building in city.  Surprisingly, people not so friendly ,but may have been their discomfort with English.
3.       Ordered kosher food for Friday night with colleague – local community member, Moises Hassan, gets the food from Malaga (I think) – not great, but nice to have it
4.       Went to Flamenco performance (3rd on tripadvisor – yours was sold out, I think) Sunday night – enjoyed – thnx for suggestion
5.       Private tour of Jewish Quarter with Moises Hassan – very interesting – he is extremely knowledgeable – lectures on Holocaust but lawyer by training – thinking of moving to Boston to send son to Maimonides.  Only 25 Jewish families remain.  Tour was very worthwhile and I learned a lot.
6.       Went to Palace – amazing!
7.       Walked all around
8.       Don’t miss the river next time!! (Editor: we were there last summer. )

Conclusion: I would love to go back with (NAME REDACTED) – beautiful city!  Sadly, Jewish life is almost non-existent.


Travel details:  I took the train there from Madrid (which I think you did, too).  Very easy from Madrid airport.  I flew from Seville to Madrid for my return.   Almost missed my flight from Madrid (extreme fog in Madrid delayed flight from Seville), but didn’t, though my bag did.  Since the next Iberia  flight from Madrid-TLV was actually an El Al flight, they wouldn’t take my bag, so had to wait >24 hours for next real Iberia flight to take it.  Oh well.  They will be delivering it to me. (Editor: bag delivered today. I suggested she seek compensation.  She said she was just happy to have her bag!)

Sorry no pics.

December 14, 2016, 06:35:51 AM
Private Island Paradise: Something Fishy's Anniversary Adventure

It was many years ago that I discovered the existence of Jade Mountain Resort on the island of St. Lucia. This was years before I discovered my true love of travel and the miles and points game which made it all possible; all I knew was that this incredible place existed and that I want to stay there, preferably to celebrate my tenth wedding anniversary. The fact that rooms are between $2000 and $3000 a night didn't faze me much; clearly, by the time I was married for ten years I'd be a millionaire (at least!) and able to afford it, no problem.

Well as the years went by my tenth anniversary inched ever closer, but the million dollars remained elusive. It was becoming clear that there is no way in the world that I am blowing ten grand on a few night's worth of Jade Mountain. While the resort has remained on my bucket list, for the last few years I've been vaguely looking for an alternative place to go.

While the Maldives or Bora Bora were the obvious candidates, we needed something closer as we couldn't leave our daughter for too long. My main objectives were privacy and incredible snorkeling; with that and the time constraints, the obvious answer was somewhere in the Caribbean.

And so I found myself a few months ago marching into the house, cold, wet, and exhausted. I had just finished shoveling three feet of snow off the driveway and I was sick of it. I plopped down on the couch with one goal: book a tropical vacation.

Looking through a collection of "top places to snorkel" type lists, one unlikely place kept on popping up: the Bay Islands of Honduras. I had never even heard of these islands, and yet here they were, touted as a snorkeling and diving mecca. Further research showed that this was indeed true - despite not exactly being on a typical tourist's radar, the underwater world here is absolutely beautiful and pristine.

Still sitting on my couch on that cold, cold, wet day, a magical word jumped out at me: cheap private island.

Cheap private island? If there was an oxymoron in the travel world, surely this is it. Private islands are for the likes of Richard Branson and I don't know... the Queen of England? No way that a schlub like me could ever afford to even rent one for a few nights.

But if the internet says that a cheap private island can be had in Honduras, it's gotta be true. Do I duly did some research, and lo, not only does it exist, but the reviews were numerous and positive!

A private island? Incredible snorkeling? Cheap, to boot? Sign me up! I immediately fired off an email to the owner and got the booking-ball rolling.

The first thing I needed to do is choose an island. Yes, it turns out that there are actually two  to choose from... Sandy Cay is the smaller one of the two, but offered more privacy and a better reef. Little Cay is a bit bigger (yes, I know...), has a larger and nicer house, and a protected swimming area great for kids. Considering that our priorities were privacy and snorkeling, Sandy Cay easily emerged as the winner.

And so, for the princely sum of $140 a night, we became the sole inhabitants of a private island in paradise.

And by private, I mean private. There is nothing on the island but sand, palm trees, and a single house. No neighbors, no staff, no yentas insistent on learning your entire family history. Just utter and complete privacy.

The reviews were invaluable for a number of reasons, most importantly for helping to set expectations. This was not a 5-star resort; if I had to quantify the house, I'd compare it to a bungalow in the Catskills. Large and decent, but not new or fancy by any stretch of the imagination (I'll expound on these details greatly further along in this TR). The pictures on their website were somewhat out of date; but recent reviews and trip reports more than made up for that.

Booking the island was somewhat of an adventure in and of itself. Honduras, being the third-world country that it is, is slow enough. Couple that with "island time" and every email took three days to get a response to. Eventually we learned to live with it; that's just how things are done there (we had the same exact experience with every Honduran we dealt with). Payment was by Money Gram only, and 50% up front was required to secure the reservation. Not something I'd normally be comfortable with, but reading many people's positive experiences sure helped. It took over a week, but eventually everything was all set.

Now we had to figure out how to get there; this was by far easier said than done.

Getting to Honduras itself is easy; there are tons of flights to San Pedro Sula (SAP), which is the biggest city in the country and its main point of entry. UA, AV, and CM all fly there, so there was even decent *A award availability. The problem with that (of course there's a problem!) is that getting from there to the islands involves an overnight. With SAP holding the honorable distinction of the third most dangerous city in the world (recently downgraded from #1), that was not a particularly relishing thought.

Additionally, there were a few other wrinkles that complicated the flight planning tremendously. As per anecdotal accounts online, the mainland airports were far stricter at customs than on the islands; the flights to SAP mostly left between 1 and 3am, which was highly undesirable; and if I was going to Honduras, I really really wanted to fly in and out of TGU, which has been on my bucket list forever.

To top all that off, I had won a raffle recently for $600 worth of airfare which I wanted to use on this trip, which made me lean away from using only points. In any case, pretty much all the award availability was in J, which seemed like a waste on such relatively short flights.

And then came the internal flights... There are very few scheduled flights to the islands, none on "real" airlines, and most are on Shabbos anyway. But we could charter a plane for quite cheap... Or should we instead take a pair of ferries, which takes 4 hours but costs less...?

As you can imagine, adding all this up into a comprehensive itinerary resulted in the mother of all spreadsheets.

After weeks of looking, booking, and cancelling, I had an itinerary in place. On Sunday, we'd fly United to Houston and on to Roatan - the "big" airport on the islands. Overnight on Roatan. Monday morning we'd charter a plane to the next, smaller island, Utila. In Utila we'd meet the owner of our island and be taken over by boat, where we'd stay for three nights.

For the return, we'd take boat back to Utila early Thursday morning. We'll fly a hinky-dinky airline called Aerolineas Sosa to La Ceiba (on the mainland) and continue over to Tegucigalpa. From there we'd fly Copa to Panama City, have lunch in town, and fly home to JFK.

United: EWR-IAH-RTB; $436 x2, -$600 from the raffle. Booked in Y, got Y+ due to status, got upgraded to J on the second leg.
Private charter: RTB-UII; $278 for the plane.
Aerolineas Sosa: UII-LCE-TGU; $139 x2.
Copa: TGU-PTY-JFK; 30k UA x2, booked in J.

With an overnight on Roatan, only one thing was left: find a hotel. Luckily, this turned out to be a rather easy task: the top rated hotel on Trip Advisor was also the cheapest. $75 secured us a room in the lovely Seagrape Plantation Resort, which we ended up being extremely pleased with.

And so after a few weeks of planning, we were all set for an epic anniversary trip.

July 04, 2017, 01:16:04 AM
Flying to Hawaii for 36 Hours: Something Fishy's Big Island Whirlwind Okay, it was actually 40 hours, but 36 looks way better in the title. So there.


The company I occasionally consult for was launching a new high-end tripod brand, and last November I flew to the Big Island to shoot the launch commercial. My official pompous title on the shoot was Assistant Director, which in practice meant that I coordinated and planned all shot locations. Due to various time constraints, our goal was to shoot the entire commercial in a single day, with the second morning being reserved for backup and secondary shots. With such a tight time frame and the need for a wide variety of different locations, each shot needed to be pre-planned down to the exact foot, plus we needed to have contingencies for weather, in case we couldn't get a certain permit, and so on.

In addition to coordinating all this, I was in charge of all still photography for the project and on-the-ground logistics.

The rest of the team were two good friends from the company, working as producer and DP. The producer is the one who planned and directed each individual shot based on my locations, and he also shot B-roll, while the DP (basically the video guy) manned the main camera.

The last part of our team was the talent (pompous-speak for "actor"). We needed to find a local to play the part of an adventure photographer, and so great was our joy when a local actor who is actually also an adventure photographer responded to our ad. The fact that he was an actual photographer would make my life waaaay easier on set, as I wouldn't have to constantly be coaching him on how to properly hold a camera, for example. After a couple of Skype conversations Sean was hired, and he turned out to be absolutely perfect for the job.

Full team finally in place, it was time to pack. We were schlepping an inordinate amount of gear - tons of video and photo equipment - mostly in triplicate, for both B-roll and backup, plus the actual product lineup we were filming. Normally these would be packed in Pelican cases and checked as luggage, but being that we essentially had only one day on the ground we couldn't afford even the slightest risk of the bags getting lost. So we shlepped all this as massive, waaay over the limit carry-ons, and thankfully had no issues whatsoever.

For me personally, another goal of this trip was to test out the boots I bought for Antarctica. Although the ship provides boots, they obviously did not have anything to fit my giant clown feet, so I needed to bring my own. After a whole bunch of ordering and returning, I had a pair that would work in theory, but I needed to put it through hell before I was comfortable taking them to Antarctica. This trip, which was going to involve trekking across sharp lava, wading in rivers and beaches, and in general being dragged up and across all kinds of terrain, was a perfect stress test. All good in theory, but they took up most of the space in this full-sized suitcase :P:

Anyways, back to Hawaii. We were booked on United's direct Newark to Honolulu flight, flying up front on an Everyday Award ticket for 180k UA. That's a whole lotta miles, but firstly it was the cheapest F option at the moment, and secondly - little detail here - I wasn't the one paying for it :P.

Between Honolulu and Hilo we were booked into Hawaiian revenue: F for the outbound, and Y+ for the return.

My Hawaiian travels - 3 trips and 5 islands, with the current trip in red:

So, schlepping massively oversized and overweight carry-ons, we finally made it onto the plane. United flies a 764 between Newark and Honolulu in a 2-1-2 configuration. Despite being open to both aisles, the middle seats (row D) is generally considered ideal for a single traveler. Unfortunately all middle seats were taken by the time we booked for the outbound, but I was able to snag 1D for the return. For the outbound I had 1B, which, as a bulkhead, had way larger footwells that the other seats. It should be noted though that while seat 1D is a bulkhead as well, it has the standard, tight footwell.

Seat 1B (and 1A of course):

As mentioned, due to the bulkhead seats had way larger footwells, and as you can see, there's a very convenient spot to keep your bedding when not in use. Overall the flight was exactly as you'd expect on United: meh seat, meh service, and horrendous KSML.

At 9:30am, 45 minutes into an 11-hour flight, the pre-arrival meal was served, naturally:

Who wouldn't want dry chicken breast and stewed vegetables for breakfast?

I had a nibble of the frozen pastry, sent everything back, and ate the sandwich I brought from home.

1:45pm: time for dinner, because reasons:

What's for dinner, you ask, considering that it's early afternoon, and barely 4 hours since the delectable fleishig prepost arrivaldeparture breakfast chicken was served? Why, it's dairy blintzes, of course!

This strawberry and coconut whatchamacallit on the other hand was downright delicious:

Anyway.... got one or two 2-hour naps in, and before you know it we were landing in Hawaii. I counted no less than five separate rainbows during the approach, so we were clearly going places.

HNL was the same mixed bag as always, its old and decrepit halls being offset by the huge open areas that make you feel like you're in Hawaii even before you even leave the airport. But first, business: a short break to wolf down the last of our sandwiches lest the Protectors of the Agriculture take umbrage at the shreds of lettuce and half a cherry tomato concealed within. This contraband safely out of the way, it was off to the long and lonely trek to the interisland terminal, where we passed the Agri inspection with flying colors.

Our steed today:

Long wait in a hot and stuff terminal hallway with no chairs, first onto the plane, and wonder of wonders, not a word about our ginormous carry-ons.

First class on Hawaiian's 717 is your typical North American F - wider, more comfortable seat with livable legroom. Unlike United however, Hawaiian's crew was exceptional and the short, hour-ish flight was mighty lovely.

It didn't hurt that my seatmate was extremely cute and cuddled with me most of the flight:

The views were epic too. Diamond Head on Oahu:

Haleakala Crater and the observatory:

If you look closely you can see a rainbow forming over the Road to Hana just past 'Ohe'o Gulch:

Landed in Hilo in the pouring rain, which, as is the wont in Hawaii, ended as soon as it began. Off to the car rental counter to pick up the Wrangler we specifically reserved, and then to the Grand Naniloa Hotel - which is way more Hawaiian-sounding than its real name, DoubleTree by Hilton. Reception was in the open-air lobby, smelling like warm chocolate chip cookies and surrounded by tropical gardens and the constant chittering of countless tree frogs.

Most of this is camera gear - even the Polar Bear cooler was half full of stuff:

The hotel was pretty much perfect for our needs - the rooms were nice and large, had a decent-enough kitchenette, and freezing cold AC. Our rooms were in the older wing of the hotel, but honestly it was just fine:

We had a delicious dinner of Grand & Essex's travel meals, made a quick Walmart run, spent an hour or so organizing our gear, and then early to bed to prepare for what was scheduled to be an absolutely bonkers day.

Time on the ground in Hawaii so far: 4 hours.

Day 1

Our first shoot was scheduled for sunrise, which was at 6:27. We were up at 4 to prepare the gear, meet with our local actor Sean, and head down to the location. Sean lives only 10 minutes away from our hotel, so that worked out great.

About half an hour north of Hilo lies Laupāhoehoe Point. This lovely lava outcropping is an incredible spot for sunrise, with the wild ocean crashing onto the jagged lava rocks and massive waterfalls cascading down the distant cliffs:

A picture of me taken by one of the other guys:

Absolutely amazing standing there watching the sun rise with no one but the birds and the pounding ocean around, but we didn't have time to dawdle - we still had a ton of ground to cover.

We stopped back in Hilo for a bit, where Dave (the producer) and I davened shachris while our non-Jewish teammate and Sean went to a local restaurant for breakfast and to buy a boxed lunch.

Off to the next stop of the day: the Boiling Pots just beneath Peepee Falls. View of the river from the parking lot:

This view however told us everything we needed to know: the current was too strong to safely do what we needed to do, so we switched to our backup location, 'Akaka Falls.

Quick shot of a lovely red-crested cardinal in the parking lot before we left:

So we get to 'Akaka... only to find that one of our tripods are missing. And not an old tripod that we were using for our own gear, but one of the brand-new, $750 tripods we were shooting the commercial for. We turned the truck upside down, to no avail. It was clear that we had left the tripod behind at one of our previous locations.

Luckily we had multiples as backup and could continue to work, but the missing one still had to be located. We figured that it must have been left at Laupāhoehoe, considering we hadn't unpacked too much gear at Peepee before we deemed the location unsafe. I volunteered to go look for it, as the rest of the crew will be able to continue filming without me for a while.

I arrived back at Laupāhoehoe a bit later, scanning the beach from afar as I was pulling in. And there it was - sticking out above the bushes. It was exactly where we left it - fully set up smack in the middle of the rocks. It hadn't been touched, even though there were lots of people around by this time and this was obviously an expensive - and large (over 6' tall) - piece of equipment. I heaved a sigh of relief, chucked the tripod into the trunk, and sped back to 'Akaka.

There was no cellphone service anywhere around, so I had no idea where the guys were and if they were already done. It was a long and steep path down to the falls, and I was too lazy to hike down only to have to hike back up right away. So I set up the tripod on the roof of the Jeep so it would be visible from far away, and took a nap.

The best view I ended up having from the falls, all the way from the parking lot:

Didn't sleep too long before the guys were back, and soon we were on the way to the lava desert in the middle of the Saddle Road. A mile of so past the Mauna Kea turnoff is an old, closed stretch of the old Saddle Road. We pulled off onto this road and got comfortable:

The lava field is hot, harsh, and unforgiving. The ground is hot to the touch, and sharp as glass. It has a stark beauty of its own though. The only vegetation is on cinder cones poking out of the lava here and there:

This is where we got to test out the Wrangler's capabilities for the first time: why make a U-turn on a boring road, when you can drive on the lava? No problems for the Wrangler - just point it at something and it'll take you across:

Next stop: the tallest mountain on Earth.

Mauna Kea stands only 13,803 feet, but the vast majority of it is underwater. Measured from its base, the mountain is a staggering 33,476 feet tall. On the other hand, Everest is a measly 29,029'. Take that, Himalayas.

Technically, we were already on the mountain, as the Saddle Road climbs some 6000' feet up its flank. But now we were heading up the mountain proper, all the way to the summit.

Being that the mountain is so tall and most people travel there pretty much from sea level, altitude sickness is a real issue. It's therefore not not a good idea to head directly to the summit; rather stop for awhile at the visitor's center at 9200' to acclimatize to the thin air. Since we were planning on doing quite a bit of walking around at the summit, we built two hours of acclimatization into our schedule.

We got bored with the visitor's center pretty quickly, so we crossed the road to the Pu'u Kalepeamoa trailhead, which leads up a smallish cinder cone. The video guy and our model headed up to shoot another scene, while Dave and I stayed behind. I was too lazy to climb, and Dave was showing symptoms of altitude sickness.

Setting up the camera:

Dave giving up on everything and just taking a nap:

The others returned after a bit, Dave picked himself up, and we turned towards the summit. Just above the  visitor's center, rangers had set up a roadblock and were inspecting each car before allowing them up, including checking the fuel levels. We had nothing to worry about, as our Wrangler was in fact the recommended vehicle for this, we had a full tank of ga-

Uh oh. No, we didn't.

We had forgotten to fill up on the way up the mountain. Our fuel indicator was at 1/4, and technically you must have at least half a tank to proceed.

There was no time to head for gas now - it would take 2 hours at least, and we'd miss the only sunset we had in Hawaii. So when the ranger stuck his head in and declared that we didn't have enough gas, we told him that the indicator had just moved from 1/2 to a 1/4 and we're sure we'll be fine. Somehow that worked, and we were waved on.


While the road up to the visitor's center is a regular, easy, properly paved road, second half is everything but. It's dirt-slash-gravel-slash-volcanic ash and quite horrible. The weather was lovely and the road dry, so the going wasn't bad other than the teeth-rattling shaking. Once at the summit itself the road becomes paved once more, so that was nice.

The views up the mountain are simply amazing. It's late afternoon, so the sun is lighting everything up beautifully. You're above the clouds, and below you you have a moonscape of cinder cones, rockes, and ash. You climb higher and higher until finally you're at the summit, and entering the observatory area.

There are thirteen telescopes up here, with more under construction. The most surprising thing for me was that up close, the buildings beneath the telescopes were basically glorified corrugated-metal sheds. Somehow I was expecting something a bit more prestigious-looking, but I suppose form over function wins out here:

Driving, Fishy-style:

Mauna Loa, the Big Island's other giant volcano, is visible above the clouds to the left:

The parking lot here looked like a Jeep dealership:

The weather up her can get pretty nasty, but tonight it was quite lovely - only a little cold and a brisk breeze. On the other had, we were hoping for some snow on the ground, so I suppose you gain some and you lose some.

Group pic - Me, our model Sean, the producer Dave (suffering from altitude sickness and freezing his bottom off), and the DP Kevin:

Now technically, the "summit" we were on is not the actual summit; that's on a little hill around 40 feet higher and a bit off to the side. I had planned on hiking up, but due to the altitude I was ridiculously out of breath. So long as I moved slowly I was able to manage, but if I as much as walked briskly I had to sit down on the ground to catch my breath. So there went that.

13,763' - still 40 feet beneath the summit (indicated by a crosshairs on the map). My personal land altitude record to date:

The sunset itself was kinda meh, with only a few clouds to catch the sun's colors. We did however get the shot we wanted, and so in the infinitely wise words of Borat, GREAT SUCCESS!

Mauna Loa and some of Mauna Kea's cinder cones:

That's the Japanese Subaru Telescope on the right and the Taiwanese Sub-Millimeter Array on the left. You can see Maui behind the Subaru, and, if you squint, the island of Lanai to the left beneath the clouds:

LIke I said, the sunset was underwhelming, but if you turned away from the sun, the summit itself was covered in an array of subtle colors and actually quite lovely:

And a few minutes later:

As soon as the sun went under, the rangers began hustling everyone to get off the mountain as only scientific personnel are allowed to remain after dark. Last pic of the parking lot:

We got into the car and pulled out of the lot... when the fuel warning came on.

The Wrangler drinks like a shikkur. Heading down the mountain we need to be in 4-low, which - of course - is the most fuel-intensive gear. The nearest gas station was 43 miles and over an hour away.

There was no way on Earth that we're making it.

Except... we are at nearly 14,000 feet. The gas station is at sea level. This is gonna be fun.

So I shifted the car into neutral, and down we coasted.

While we were still on the dirt road, I moved into 4-low a whole bunch of times; stuck is better than dead. But once the road flattened out a bit past the visitor's center it was one solid coast in neutral all the way to Hilo, some 35 miles away. The going was great; once on the Saddle Road, the grade and curves were just perfect enough to give us a solid 60-70mph with virtually no braking.

And then we pulled into the first gas station with a giant sigh of relief, filled up till it shpritzed back out at us, and headed for a hot meal and a good solid night's sleep nap.

Time on the ground in Hawaii so far: 28 hours.

Day 2

Once more we were up at zero dark thirty, gathered our gear, met up with Sean, and headed out for our sunrise shoot.

The goal? Waipio Valley.

Waipio is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in Hawaii, if not the world. If you take Kauai's Hanalei Valley, add Maui's Road to Hana and some of Molokini's cliffs, and get rid of every last tourist, you'll have yourself something approaching Waipio.

Towering green cliffs nearly 2000 feet high hem in the valley from three sides, and some of the tallest waterfalls in Hawaii pour down their flanks. On the fourth side the valley opens to the ocean along a lovely black sand beach, with the Wailoa Steam cutting it in half as it flows into the ocean. The valley floor itself is covered in taro fields, a few houses, and just utter and complete beautiful jungle.

The trees are filled with colorful birds, the woods with wild ponies, and there's not a tourist to be seen.

There's a good reason for that last point though (other than it being sunrise and all the tourists were asleep): getting down into the valley is one heckuva situation. Waipio Valley Road is notorious for being - by some calculations - the steepest road in the world. It has grades up to 39%, is one lane only (because of course it it), and has more potholes than the FDR Drive. If you don't have a proper 4x4, it's just not gonna happen. Even if you do, you need to know exactly what you're doing and how to handle 4-Low properly.

And once you're down, you're not out of the woods. The locals are extremely private and resent the tourists, and all but a short stretch of the main road is private property. All this combines to make a nearly tourist-free area. Some people take a special tour down, and few others use their rented Jeeps, but barely anyone ventures past the lookout point at the top of the road.

Here's what the road looks like from the air - this is good perspective of how unbelievably steep it is:

So, naturally, I was going to drive this road. In the dark. Because if you're gonna be crazy, you might as well go all out.

Warning signs at the top:

Off we went. No seatbelts here, and the car doors slightly ajar a la Ice Road Truckers. Cars can go tumbling off the edge here, and being able to bail in an instant can be, you know, kinda useful.

Right away I ran into a strange problem: the road was so steep, that it literally fell away beneath my headlights. I could see the trees in front of me, but not a speck of road. Sean, however, had been down here many times before and kept up a running description of the road to me, warning me of a rock here and a giant pothole there. Between that and the fact that I was doing something like 2mph, I was able to negotiate the road safely. Quite frankly, I was having a ton of fun (let's just say that I didn't necessarily avoid every pothole Sean told me about). The Wrangler was a champ, going over anything and everything in its path.

We hit the bottom of the valley just as it was getting light in the east. The road here hooked a nearly 180-degree turn, became dirt, and headed off to towards the beach. While the road here was flat, it pretty quickly quit being a road at all and turned into a long string of interconnected half-puddles, half-stream, spawn of the devil thing. Again, an absolute blast to drive and I couldn't get enough of it.

We parked under some trees at the top of the beach under the doleful eyes of a group of wild ponies. Got the cameras out, totaled a lens by dropping it into wet volcanic sand, realized we'd left the backup lens at the hotel, jury-rigged a working alternative, and all in all had a blast.

The place was simply stunning. Not a soul around (unless you count the ponies), perfectly silent but for the rushing waves, surrounded by sheer cliffs, waterfalls dropping into the ocean... The sun was just a few minutes away from rising, and it was time to get to work:

Pre-sunrise, where the river meets the sea:

Looking upriver, towards the interior of the valley:

And a few minutes later:

Male and female saffron finches greeting the new day:

Yellow-billed cardinal:

Dave shot this of me as we were wrapping up the shoot:

The sunrise shoot wrapped up, it was into the valley proper. Like I said above, the locals are extremely against any tourists here, and aren't afraid to show it. On the other hand, we weren't here to step on anyone's toes and annoy the locals. We had an ace up or sleeve however: Sean. As local as you can get, partly Hawaiian native, and friendly with many of the residents here. We ran into locals a couple of times and got serious stink eye, until they realized that we were with Sean and then it was all friendly all around.

The government version of a road sign, and the local, slightly saltier version:

A slightly more welcoming sign:

This is Waipio... you're driving along happily under the trees, and then you turn a corner and this scene just suddenly jumps out at you:

It stopped us in our tracks, quite literally. We just stopped in the middle of the road and jumped out for some pictures. That waterfall is Hi'ilawe Waterfall, and drops an astounding 1,450 feet, nearly nine times as tall as Niagara.

By law, you must take at least one crazy selfie on a trip, right?

With Sean at our side, we penetrated far deeper than pretty much any other tourist can. Down here the road doesn't much worry about being, ya know, a road. River in the way? Who cares!

Setting up for the final shot of the trip, in the river:

And a final boots test - and approved for Antarctica!

Couple of black-crowned night herons supervising:

Back across the river:

And another one...

Not sure if you can tell by now, but I was quite enjoying those river crossings ;D:

Heading back up:

Life hack: an empty Polar Bear cooler is perfect for storing your muddy stuff for the return flight - just hose it down when you get home:

And that was that! The end of an insane marathon of a tip. It was back to the hotel to grab our stuff, and then off to the airport.

Total time on the ground in Hawaii: 40 hours.

Flight from Hilo to HNL was in economy+ this time instead of first, so I took the exit over the wing and had a view of absolutely nothing. In any case, I was way too pooped to enjoy any views.

Hawaiian was on time, as usual, HNL was a relic from the 60s, as usual, and the United flight was delayed, as usual:

For the return flight I managed to snag the middle seat:

The meal today was utter trash:

I had the FA warm up my last Grand & Essex meal, which was fantastic.

Turns out that for me, the middle seat was way more comfortable than the aisle seat I had on the inbound. Sure, you have traffic on either side, but being that my giant feet don't fit very well into the tiny footwells, I was able to but the bed in slightly-less-than-lie-flat mode, drop a foot down on either side, and get the longest sleep I've had on a plane to date - a solid six hours. It's worth noting that in the middle seats, the bulkhead has the same tiny footwell as the other seats. The larger footwell advantage is only on the window and aisle seats.

Landed in EWR mostly on time, and that, as they say, was the end of that.

Here's the final commercial:

The end

September 11, 2019, 12:55:44 AM