Up North

I don't even know where to start.

First, HI, HELLO! It's been a minute since I blogged, and I need to catch up on posting all my regular work, BUT, I am too excited to share these photos with you.

K- so, like I was saying, I don't know where to start. My friend Laura and I were talking about how we just need to get away from the city and take a trip somewhere. After a ton of instagram research, we decided that, although the lakes were going to be frozen over, and although it was supposed to snow, our hearts were set on going up north towards Mammoth to see the Big Pine Lakes. 

Knowing it would be freezing (for us SoCal girls), Laura was graciously able to borrow an RV for our trip so that we could explore without losing arms and legs. So Friday came, we called in sick, and we took off for the road. If you've never driven the 395 highway at night, I reccomend you do so. We left the day before the full moon was to peak, and wow what a site. The red rocks, the hills, the fields, they were all lit up by the moon on our way over to Baker Creek Campgrounds, and to be honest, it was the easiest, most peaceful drive I've had- well until we got to camp. 

So every good camping story has a hiccup or two, right? Well, we pulled into camp, drove around a bit to find where we wanted to stop, and as this was happening, it started to rain. It was now darker than before, and we weren't really sure where we were going, and couldn't see much. With that said, as we were pulling into where we would call home for the next few days, there was an announced tree, and this tree decided to rip off the awning off the RV we borrowed form her (very generous) friend; #ouch. Anyways, we pulled into camp, went to bed, tried to go to bed?, and hoped in the morning that what had happened was all a bad dream... plot twist, IT WASN'T.

So, we wake up, I go outside to walk Ollie, (OH I GOT TO BRING MY PUP!), and I run into a camper who was taking a morning walk- Jason. I asked Jason if he knew of any RV repair shops around, and after inspecting our damage, he said that if we wanted, he could remove the awning for us... WHAT?!... so over the next half hour Jason got to work and turned our day around by taking off the awning for us so that we could at least salvage the rest of our trip, and we really did do that.

Day 1: We stayed at Baker Campgrounds, in spot 36, right next to a creek. After the awning was removed, and we made some new friends, we hung up some hammocks and thought about what we wanted to do as we waited for our friend Sandra to come meet up in the evening. There is nothing like swing in a hammock, drinking coffee, playing with my camera, petting my dog, and being in the best company, all right next to a running creek, on a Friday at 8am; there really isn't! 

We decided that we wanted to head up to Big Pinecone Forest to see the oldest tree, and explore a bit. We loaded up our RV and headed up the mountain, only to be stopped at the top with some questionable roads. However, we got to get out and get into snow, OLLIE'S FIRST SNOW! After some play time, we headed back to camp, stopped to get some beers, and ended up spending the rest of the afternoon playing Rummikub, drinking beers, eating tamales, and just relaxing. Once the sun set, our new friends came to invite us over for some whiskey, fire, and tunes (seriously the nicest campers out there; if you want to meet good people, go camping!). We walked over for a bit, got to listen to some raw jams, drink really good whiskey IMO  (Bulleit Rye), and just chill.

Day 2: Sandra arrived! So the whole point of this trip was to go hike into Big Pine Lakes, but with some careful reconsideration (since we will be coming back in the summer), we decided that we were going to check out some other locations that were recommended to us by a nice Ranger. Now that we had a truck we could explore in, we first drove back up to Big Pinecone Forest, but didn't make it too much futher until we had to turn around again, not making it to see the older tree in the world (next time Laura), and instead we headed to Eurika Sand Dunes. 

Guys, OMG. The journey is long, and bumpy, but well well worth it. It is only about 35 miles, but you travel on unpaved rock/dirt road for about 18 of those, which really slows you down. It took us around 2 hours, but we made it to the dunes, and OMG, Sandra, thank you thank you for driving! If you want to feel small, you need to get out into the world. 

It was just us and the dunes. We started walking towards them and said we weren't going to go to the top, but as we started climbing, we just couldn't stop. This was by far the best experience for me, and well, Ollie. Ollie was in dog heaven. Sand + open free range to run = happiest dog you've ever seen. I will say though, when we were getting closer to the top, the winds really picked up, and I honestly thought Ollie might fly away, but no, instead he filled his mouth with sand as he was chasing the wind and trying to eat it. It was so awesome to see him do his thing, with the biggest smile on his face. This dog is legit, the best travel buddy a girl can ask for!

Anyways, we explored the dunes, took some great photos, voided all our warranties on all our gear, and headed back towards Mammoth to go to Wild Willy Hot Springs; except, we didn't make it that far because we needed chains, and well, SoCal girls we are (we didn't have any). Back to camp we went to make some dinner, start a fire, and decide on what to do next, which was to head over to Alabama Hills to see the sunrise there. 

Alabama Hills was only about an hour drive from where we were and it was great because we were able to disperse camp. We decided to park right next to Mobius Arch, so that in the morning we could hike there quickly. Before the full moon came up we took some night shots, which turned out pretty cool and then headed back "for warmth", to play Rummikub again, eat all the peanut butter and drink all the beer. All in all, a great end to an awesome day.

Day 3- Well, hiccups are fun right? Sandra woke up to a flat tire, and we together, all woke up to the most beautiful sunrise hitting Mt. Whitney. We were also able to do some exploring while waiting for AAA and take some sick shots. This is definitely a place I want to return to and night hike in the future.

All in all, this was a very much needed escape from the city, and I want to thank Laura, Sandra and Addie (RV owner), so much, for giving me, and Ollie a much needed break from 'real life'. Can't wait for the next trip- hiccup free!

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&& the photos below were taking by Sandra / edited by me; they were too good to not share. Thanks for getting some photos of me Sandra!

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Travel to Cuba

What do you think of when you hear "Cuba"? For the longest time, I always thought of it as the "forbidden land", as growing up, we were told it was a place Americans couldn't go. My interest in Cuba initially started a few years back when my bosses mother traveled there and said it was a wonderful place to visit. Since then, I have seen more and more people visit, and I hate to admit it, but I saw an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians that showed more of the city, the classic cars, the "isolated" view, that made me really intrigued. I wanted to travel to Cuba before things modernized, before the now open doors possibly closed again.

Back in May, a few girl friends and I took a trip to Mexico- it was my first official 'out of the country' girls trip and I was bit with the travel bug. On the way home, my friend Christina and I were talking about where to go next, and Cuba came up... we literally got home and booked the tickets the next day.

I wanted to write this blog post because I've gotten tons of questions since my trip; "what did you put as your reason to go to Cuba, how did you get in, how difficult was it, did they question you, ect, ect". Here is how it played out: we booked our tickets in May with Alaska Airlines (which BTW, is the best airline ever), and it was a direct flight from LAX to Havana for $400. We waited until June (after Trumps speech) to get our visas, which we bought through Cuba Travel Services  , and they were $85 each. We booked our stay at this little AirBnb which was actually in the best location ever.

On the day of our flight, we got to LAX about 2-2.5 hours early. Alaska has a separate area for people checking in for travel to Cuba, and the whole process took about 10 minutes. At this time we filled out a sheet that stated our reason for going to Cuba (support for the Cuban people), and we showed our Visa to the CTS people. Before boarding our flight, an attendant took our sheet that stated our reason and we took our seats. Before landing, we were given a standard immigration paper (asked where we were staying and if we were bringing anything into the country- if you've ever traveled internationally, it's very similar to those sheets). Once we landed and entered the airport we walked through immigration without a problem; they did not ask us what our plans were or why we were there. However there were some men walking around this area and did talk to the people standing behind us. These people said they spoke Spanish a bit and were there for educational reasons (if they would have talked to us we would have said we don't speak Spanish and were there for people-to-people), so I am not sure if they were questioning them or just more-so curious... basically just be quiet, and don't stare at the security people (lol). This whole process was super simple, our passports and visas got stamped and given back to us, and we were on our way. We exchanged our money at the airport (we got Euros in LA so that we wouldn't have to pay the tax on US $) to CUC and then we went to our Airbnb. Just as a heads up, you will need your passport to exchange money, as well as,  buy internet cards (which you will find on Calle del Obispo) or sign up for any travel activities/tours. However, you can make a photocopy of your passport, or take a photo on your phone, and show that to people who ask- leave your actual passport in your Airbnb. In addition, the rates at all the banks are the same for money exchange, so don't feel like you have to shop around. Since I am writing about the airport right now, I will mention that leaving the country was just as easy. You present your visa to them when you leave (so don't lose your visa while you're in the country), and you board your plane (super simple). When we got back to LAX we went through immigration and the guy asked me the standard question of "are you bringing back XYZ "(tobacco being the Z). I said yes, to which he asked me how many cigars and if they were just for me. I told him the amount and said "of course they are all for me", and I was on my way out to my car. Super simple, no stress, no reason to be nervous. 

Alright so back to travel details: our Airbnb host picked us up and dropped us off at the airbnb and the airport. One thing to note/random fun fact, if you can bring toilet paper with you into the country, or wet wipes, do it! Everywhere you go outside of your Airbnb, you will need your own toilet paper. Our apt was close to Plaza Vieja, which is the main spot for entertainment in the evenings, also there are tons of restaurants and bars there. Havana itself is pretty small, and it is easy to walk everywhere you want within the city (download CUBA.ME app, it is an app that shows you where you are without using date). With this said we were really happy with the location. We did use taxis a few times, the price breakdown was as follows, all prices are round trip/per trip: 1. Hemmingway's house $30, 2. Playa del Este/Santa Maria Beach $30 3. Vinales (we worked them because they had to reschedule our tour, so we asked for money off) $120, 4. Taxi from Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña $10 (one way), 5. Taxi to Cuban Art Factory $20 6. Taxi to and from Airport was $25 each way.

I typed up an itinerary for the trip which you can find at the end of this post. We didn't follow it at all, as it was just an idea keeper, but we did pretty much see everything on it, just at different times/days. The first few days we didn't really eat much at all because we were so hot, and just didn't want to eat. Drinks were anywhere from $2-$6, and the meals that we did have were somewhere between $5-$10. Water on off beaten paths was $.50/$1 and $2 on the main street (you can't drink tap water). We never did find a grocery store and only on the last day did we find where to buy water near our Airbnb, so try to scout it our or ask around on your first day, we were always so dehydrated and it wasn't as simple to find stores as we thought it would be.

As we walked the streets we felt totally safe and we did get catcalled/called 'Lady' or 'Bonita' a ton. Some people would just say hello and some would ask us where we were from. We never felt threatened and freely told people we were from CA. Also, weirdly enough, although the city is buzzing throughout the day, once it hits about midnight, it becomes a ghost town, literally, not a soul to be seen, which kind of was great because walking home at night was calm and easy!

Tips (you can find a document on these at the end as well): We walked around to find taxi drivers who might be cheaper, everyone charges the same prices... so don't try to shop around unless they are charging way more than $10-15. Skip going to Hemmingway's house... it's exactly as it is pictured online (nothing special, took us 10 minutes to see the whole thing), and this is the only place that we really got bit by bugs. Don't hop the wall over the Malecon (there is tons of glass and the water is full of petroleum, and it's not exactly allowed). Talk to the locals, make friends, everyone is nice and is willing to show you a good time. If you don't want to walk around but want to see sights, get on the Hop on Hop off bus (located near the Capitol)! It is $10 for the whole day and it takes you all around the city. There are two routes- we took the T1 bus to get to Fusterlandia (the T2 bus takes you to beaches), and saw most of the city, with a welcomed sea breeze whilst doing so (side note to get to Fusterlandia by this bus, you take the T1 bus all the way to the end of its route, and then get a taxi at the last stop $5 each way).

Overall traveling to Cuba was great! We were there for a total of 6 days (7 if you count the fact that our flight out got cancelled, but Alaska Airlines accommodated us beautifully), and that was enough time to see everything we wanted to see. We did want to go to Trinidad, but it was either Trinidad or horseback riding/getting cigars in Vinales, so we chose to go to Vinales. Also before we went weather.com said it would rain everyday, and it only rained once for about 5 minutes, so don't trust the weather online. 

If you have anymore questions about my trip, or want to chat, feel free to send me an email, I'd be more than happy to chat with you, SophieRphoto@gmail.com

The photos below were taken on a SonyA6300 and my Iphone 6 and they are kind of all over the place- enjoy!

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Family of 3

Can I just say that Spring is my favorite season to shoot in, and this little family is one of my favorites to work with! With the recent rain here in SoCal, Spring is in full bloom, and it is so awesome to see what the rain has brought us! I absolutely love being able to shoot until the sun sets, with flowers blooming, and little girls with the biggest personalities running around with me! It's been amazing to see little Scarlett grow from a baby to a fun little toddler.