Traveling to Shanghai

I didn’t stay long in Shanghai and in fact it was a long layover before heading to Indonesia. Nonetheless, I feel that I should share my experience here separately and save Indonesia for another post as there was much to see even in a short amount of time (2 days, 3 nights).

China does have different rules around visas so make sure you are aware of them before heading there. Even Americans with a strong passport have to get a visa. They have a 24 hour, 72 hour, and 144 hour transit visas for short term visits. I went for the 72 hr for my stay. Here is a good source on countries this applies to and any other considerations you may have to take:

Be sure to take a look at the specific ports you can obtain these visas from. Shanghai obviously is on the list. This can be obtained when going through customs. There is a specific line and counter for this so make sure you end up there and not in another lane. It’s good to have your itinerary, saved to your phone and printed, to reference and hand over to the clerk to check over. *** As a heads up *** should your itinerary change within a week or two prior to you landing make sure you have the original itinerary as well as your correct up to date one with you. I had to go through this as China Eastern Airlines (whom my flight was on) is terribly slow at updating things online. As well, their customer service line is a pain to get a hold of, especially if you are English speaking.

In my case, my layover duration changed from one day to two within a two weeks prior to my departure. Of course, I had my up to date itinerary with me, but China Eastern Airlines did not update their flights right away and the desk had no record of my departure date even though my itinerary said otherwise. On top of that, the clerk attempted to contact China Eastern to no avail. He manually wrote in my departure date and sent me on my. Though this did cause me issues on my departure as they took me aside and made me wait while they confirmed with the clerk and contacted whomever else to insure I was no threat. If I had the prior itinerary easily available I believe it would have avoided a lot of trouble and got me on my way faster. Learn my tribulations!

Another thing to be aware of is you do have to report your stay to the local police department. Luckily, if you book at a hotel/resort or in my case Airbnb, they have you taken care of and will report your stay. Otherwise, if you are staying at a hostel or friends house, etc. then you would have to report your stay. I am not sure how strict they are with this but I wouldn’t risk it.

Once you get past the logistics of getting there and being able to stay then there is a lot to see in Shanghai. Just as any other large city there is plenty of shopping, food, museums, and historical sites to see. For me, I wanted to capture that iconic cityscape in front of the water and wanted to do so at night to see all the towers lit up. The area I am referring to is The Bund, famed waterside walkway with city views. The walkway follows Huangpu River and look out towards the city center business district.

This area is used to tourists from all over so there is a ton of food and shopping within the streets leading up to the walkway. During the day it is more reminiscent of any busy city, with people travelling back and forth from work and their daily routines. There is a ton of traffic, but luckily the majority of sights are within walking distance. Here are some of the sights around my Airbnb apartment. These encompass The People’s Square, Nanjing Pedestrian Street, and just the city surrounding.

Shanghai Gallery

Now, I only had a couple of days so I flew by these places, but I want to break it down for those of you looking to travel here for a longer stay. The People’s Square is a great central location with a big park to enjoy. If you want to check out some of the museums then there is the Contemporary Art Museum as well as the Shanghai Museum. I would see this as a good place to spend at least half the day if you throw in breakfast and lunch.

Nanjing Street is awesome! A ton of shopping so obviously crowds of people. This street doesn’t seem to sleep as there were crowds from early morning until at least 2 am in the night. Be wary of the street merchants though as they will quickly target any tourist with their questionable wares. Politely tell them no and move along. Nanjing Street is a direct line from The People’s Square to The Bund walkway. What I ended up doing was going there in the morning for breakfast, then over to the People’s Square where I stayed and checked out an indoor mall, then back to Nanjing Street for dinner and more shopping, and then walked over to The Bund to finally capture the city at night!

As you can see it is a light show in Shanghai. The Oriental Pearl TV Tower changes color throughout the night which is amazing. This night was pretty still with no wind so the lights of all the buildings just danced on the water. It was a quick trip, but I believe I made it worth it and created some great memories. Maybe I will make it back one day!

Traveling to Malaysia

We all have that very first trip out of the Country. At least, I hope everyone should have the opportunity. Nonetheless, we all have a trip that is our first, one that sets in motion the desire to continue doing trips like it. Mine was going to Malaysia.

It was my first time out of the country and I really had no idea where I wanted to go. All I knew is I wanted to go and to go somewhere non-touristy. This meant somewhere rural, somewhere lost, but still accessible with enough research. A few choices later I landed on Kota Kinabulu Malaysia, on the Borneo Island.

My flight took from Colorado, to Las Angeles, a lay over in Seoul Korea, and then finally into Kota Kinabulu. Now, I have to say, if you ever get the chance to go through Seoul’s airport you are in for a treat. It is by far the best airport I have been through. Like a huge mall, there is a ton of shopping and food to explore while you wait. Efficient as well, I don’t think I waited more than 10-15 minutes the whole time. Heading to the other side of the planet means you typically have a layover somewhere and lucky for me it was here in Seoul. Incheon International Airport knows this and offers half day and full day bus tours to a couple of different areas….for free! They even stored my baggage while I was on tour. I had a 9 hour layover so I chose the Seoul full day tour. Since this is a blog post about Malaysia, I will leave Seoul Korea here and offer you just a few photos from there:

Seoul Gallery

Kota Kinabulu

After many hours travel I finally arrive late into Kota Kinabulu. Here is my first rookie mistake. Knowing I was going to arrive late I should have pulled cash out before arriving just in case. I was staying at a hostel and they offered me a ride so I didn’t think I had anything to worry about, plus there were ATMs. Sure enough, I couldn’t reach the hostel so I had to go to the ATMs. There were two in this small airport and neither would accept my card……..F%$#k.

Lucky for me, a taxi driver working late that night had been watching me to no avail calling the hostel and not being able to pull cash out. Pretty sure he could tell I was new to this. He asked where I was staying and waited until he got a fare heading in the same direction. He told me to get in and he would drop me off after he dropped his other fare. I wouldn’t really recommend anyone else by themselves doing this, but for me it worked out just fine. The kindness of this elder gentlemen was amazing. He got me to the hostel and wished me the best on my trip. I wish I had a photo of him to remember, but nonetheless his gesture has had a lasting effect on me.

Day 1

The first day in Kota Kinabulu was getting acclimated to the area, paying my hostel (since i didnt have cash and my card was not working), and just exploring the city. Being right on the coast there was a ton of fishermen and a daily open market near the harbor to buy the freshest of fish.


Day 2

Early the next morning I embarked on the next part of my Journey. I left Kota Kinabulu and headed west to Beaufort where my tour placed me on one of the most questionable trains I have ever been on! It was rickety and had no doors. Some carts didn’t have any seats so people just sat on the floor. Even so, the train took us through some of the most lush and green forest I have ever seen. It was a long trip with multiple stops along the way. Come to find out, this train is the main source of transportation from the villages along the river to the main city. Our destination would take us rafting down the river. So much fun!

The forest along the white water rafting.

After a great day of rafting and some lunch, it was time time to head back to the coast for my evening at the Borneo Tempurung Seaside Lodge. It is exactly what I needed after a long day of activity. Or so I thought, they had a atv rental that I could not resist haha! I slept well after play, food, and finally some relaxation after watching the sun set beyond the horizon.


Day 3

I woke to the sounds of the waves rolling into shore. Breakfast was good and I had a cup of coffee. It was time to drive north and catch a ferry to Pulau Tiga. This is the site where the first show of Survivor was filmed. You know the show, people surviving, playing daring games, and getting voted off the island. The ferry is a slightly chopping ride for about 30 minutes. There are two accommodations on the island. One, is the site of Survivor (where all the staff and workers stayed), the other is a more touristy location that was built years after the show. Booking with Busat I was able to stay at the original show location and it was great! This is by far my favorite part of this entire trip.

When you arrive you are greeted with turquoise water and a wall of palm trees. It is hot and humid walking along the pier to the shore where the main lodge is located.

There are a couple of the original Survivor statues to meet you as well!

After getting settled and eating some lunch I was able to go trekking through the forest and go to the mud volcano. The island itself isn’t very big and being flat the trekking was pretty easy. There is a small black and white bird that unfortunately i didn’t see but its sound was unforgettable. It was a mix of a blow horn and static siren. Very loud, but as you neared them they became absolutely silent. Apart from them it was the rustling of Macaws jumping from tree to tree or the occasional monitor lizard. Here are some of the sites around the island:

After trekking it was time to relax in the mud volcano! Now its not a volcano in how you would picture a volcano. More likely its a large hole filled with melted chocolate. A pool of mud for you to lay in. The properties of the mud are said to have unique healing attributes for skin. Often visitors will pay for bottles of it to take back. It is a weird feeling at first entering the pool and its thick enough that you are able to lay back in it with no problem and just “float” there. It was just me and my tour guide on this day so it was very peaceful. Quiet and still with only the sound of birds in the distance.

After relaxing for a while it was time to clean up. My guide was kind enough to carry my stuff back to my room so that I can run right into the ocean! All the mud washed off and I was swimming in the clear turquoise waters. The water is warm as well which was quite nice compared to the shores of California where the waters are cold. I could swim in that water all day and into the night! Take me back haha!

That evening would probably be one of my most memorable evenings. So still, the sounds of the insects in the trees and the waves washing in. The sky with the haze turned red as the sun set which then turned green and a deep blue until on the lights of the pier could be seen. Fishermen took to the waters around this time in paddle boats and cast their nets out for the fish jumping at the mosquitoes. The nets hit the water gracefully and all I could see is the floating lights at the end of their boats. I just sat there on the pier and took it all in.

Days 4 & 5

I combine these two days as there was a lot of traveling involved so my tours took me to half day events. After an amazing day 3, it was time to take the ferry and travel back to the mainland where I would take a short drive to the river. Here, after some dinner, we would take a river boat up and down the river to see some monkeys! Specifically the Proboscis Monkey is what we were after. Luck was on my side as we were able to see multiple of them as well as the Macaws and silver backs. I am amazed at well these guys can negotiate the trees. They are so fast and make absolutely amazing leaps from branch to branch. After an exhilarating time watching these guys it was time to let the sun set and go out under the cover of dark to see the trees light up with fireflies. Coming from Colorado, this isn’t something I am used to seeing. They gathered in the trees and lit up with a slight strobe these trees. The moon was full on this night and it made for an amazing night.

Day 5 I traveled from Kota Kinabulu to Mt. Kinabulu. Now, I initially booked this whole trip with the intention of hiking this mountain as it was the highest mountain in southeast Asia. Unfortunately due to some quakes in the area the trail to the top actually became blocked. There were no tours up the mountain until everything was cleared. So, I had to accept to be able to drive around it and go to the botanical gardens near the trail head. I stayed the night at a hotel that had a front seat view to the mountain. I watched the clouds move over its peak for what seemed like hours as the sun set. Absolutely beautiful area, and even though climbing wasn’t possible I am thankful for being able to visit the area!


Thank you for going on this journey with me. I hope you enjoyed and got some ideas of places to go if you head out to Malaysia. See you in the next post!

Reflection and a New Year

Life moves fast. Quicker as the years go by it seems. Another New Year in the books with 2018 in the rearview mirror. If you are anything like me, I am often left with an empty feeling inside as the clock nears midnight. Especially with the many New Years spent alone. I feel as if I could have done better and I think to myself “Is this it? I could have done more.” This post is for the dreamers out thee like me who think too much. Those who question the adequacy of their life and forget to celebrate the achievements and strides they have made.

It is important to look back and call out the good in the year, the time you spent living. Or better yet the times you may have helped someone else in their time of need. Lucky for me, I ended 2017 with a bang. I had just come back from a vacation in Indonesia. A trip that truly had an impression on me. I learned a lot and saw so many wonderful things:

This catapulted me into 2018. It was like coming down from a high going into this year. I wanted to sustain it. It was also mid December 2017 in which I was promoted at my job (yes I do work a full time job). Thenm when I thought things couldn’t get better, one of my photos was chosen for National Geographic’s Daily Dozen.

Daily Dozen, Feb 27, 2018
A couple of ladies on holiday explore the tea fields in Central Java Indonesia. This field was attached to the back of the best little tea cafe! Good food and a good drink, just outside of Solo.

Yes, 2018 I thought, was going to be the best year ever. Just like any high though, one must come back down to Earth. We begin to look toward what is next. My new job responsibilities along with working through my photos from Indonesia occupied me for the better part of the first four months of the year. I learned new editing techniques and tried different things to set my art aside from others.

The first leg of the Pikes Peak trail is pretty calm. It seems to lull you asleep before springing the real hike onto you. This section is very peaceful.

 It is never enough as an artist. As intelligent beings we are constantly analyzing our own work. Scrutinizing it harsher than the general public. I doubt I am the only artist to ever look at a completed piece and say “this sucks, absolutely terrible.” I have quite often wanted to scrap it and start over. Social media intensifies this feeling tenfold. There are so many amazing artists out there on Instagram and for me landscape and portraits photographers that are seemingly untouchable. I have to refrain from beating myself up too much though thinking they are on a level that I could never attain. This is an important lesson I had to learn in 2018. Sometimes we need to take a step back from our dreams and get back to our roots.

I have typically done a lot of these hikes by myself. There is something liberating about being out in nature on your own. At the same time, sharing it with good company is always worth it.

I am grateful I live in Colorado and with a short drive be in mountains such as Quandary Peak. I rarely have company on hikes, but this year I found myself in good company several times. Good company and great views never fails to be a breath of fresh air and a reminder that life is much bigger ourselves. This really got me thinking about what Links Productions is to society.

The Link in Links Productions, well that’s me. Derek Garcia. I originally got my first camera for the sole purpose of showing the world to my parents. My hope was that they could go on a journey with me via my lens and that anyone else who wished to join could. I wanted to help open people to the possibility of travel with landscape photos. At the same time, any portraits I took wanted to bring out an individual’s true person in their photos. It makes me proud that some of my clients have full prints hanging on their walls at home. I have had some kind of impact as those prints will hang on their walls for years to come. That is who I am, and that dream still lives. So I continue posting photos hoping to take people on a journey.

Even as I am writing this I have noticed improvement. That is my measurement of course, not necessarily the public’s. That after all is the most important opinion. If you cannot see your current self improving then it is all for not.

Travel, as I see it, is an important aspect of growing and improving as an individual. I believe it instills a general idea of acceptance and understanding that a completely different world exists outside your own community. This year I was given the opportunity to travel to Ireland and Japan. Two firsts for me and experience I will not forget.

So far with these images too I have learned more techniques for editing and bringing out what I saw in my mind while taking the photo. Of course, I am still learning and figuring out new ways to express myself as an artist.

Looking back and writing this post has definitely put me in a better state of mind entering 2019. I hope you all can look back and see just how far you have come in this year. Even the smallest amount of growth is progress. Keep moving forward and discovering more about this world, about each other, and about yourself. Here’s to 2019 and all that it may offer!