Salvation Mountain

"God is Love". A national treasure since 2002 Salvation Mountain is a very interesting folk art art installation created by Leonard Knight as a tribute to God. Located in Niland just a few miles from Salton Sea and Slab City in the desert of Southern California, the mountain was built with straws, adobe, thousand of donated gallons of acrylic paint, donated money and labor. Leonard wants the people to see it  and he  hopes to spread the message of love. It is worth the visit. 


For more of my work visit me at www.necadantas.com


Don't Touch My Country - Casa Blanca, Morocco

I took this picture in Morocco a few years ago and it was selected to be part of the group show "The Peace Project" at Gallery 9 in Culver City, California last month. The funds from the show will pay for crutches for the disabled from Sierra Leone. Tomorrow, November 19th is the closing night. The show will travel to New York City and the exhibit will be at Aperture Gallery on December 1st. Here are the links about the project.
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0921-crutches-20110921,0,4879408.story and http://www.thewhole9.com/thepeaceproject

For more of my work visit me at www.necadantas.com


Trekking the Annapurna Base Camp - Nepal

Part III

In our 6th day we left to Machhapuchhare Base Camp (3700M) our last stop before reach the Annapurna Base Camp. For the Gurung people the fish tail is a sacred place and they considered it the home of a Gurung goddess. We passed the forests and we entered into a different terrain and to an open space. The mountain range of the sanctuary is a spectacular setting. We climbed steadily for a few hours the beautiful landscape trekking through waterfalls, old avalanches and streams. Blue skies with a few clouds overhead enclosed by the mountain range with snow capped peaks. The journey to MBC was very scenic and so peaceful. We can only hear the wind and the sound of the running water. As we get closer to our lodge a storm was approaching the base camp. The sounds of thunders started to announce the dark heavy clouds of rain being dropped at distance as we rushed to get to our destination. Soaked wet and freezing we arrived under hail to the teahouse. We could not see anything, but only listening to the thunders and the rain drops as it hits the roof and the floor. Behind the heavy fog an amphitheater of glaciers were being hidden. We all stay in the dinning room watching the storm pass.  It was already dark and cold when finally stars appeared in the skies. It was bed’ time.

Trail to MBC
We wake up at 4:30 AM. A 2 hours trekking in the cold and in the ice with our flash lights going to catch the first glimpse of sun light lighting the peaks at Annapurna Base Camp (4130M).  The ABC is located in a picturesque valley and offers a 360-degree view of majestic mountains peaks, which included Annapurna I, III, IV, Annapurna South, Machhapuchhare among others. As the sun starts to rise, the snow-capped mountains turned into gold. It was breath taking and the experience of being there is so hard to describe or to capture.  It was nature in its dazzling display.

After a couple hours thunderstorms and rain arrived again and a few minutes snow’ flakes started to fall heavily. Without a place to hide I just stayed right there, felling that special moment in such incredible place. I will never forget the beauty of that morning as   snow’ flakes gently fell over me.  It was magical.


At the same day we started to descend and our first stop was at Bamboo were we spent the night. It was much easier and faster but never than less a very long day. Next morning we went back to Chomorrong for another night. From there we took a different route and after trekking all day long we arrived in Ghandruk – a fascinated village. Here we witnessed very close the tradition and custom of Gurung people. In our final day we finally made back to Pokhara. I warm shower, clean clothe and changing of scenery. Watching the sunset by the lake I had a well deserved bear. It was an experience of a lifetime and the warm hospitality of the Nepalese people will not be forgotten.




For more of my work visit me at www.necadantas.com


Trekking Annapurna Base Camp - Nepal

Part II

The Annapurna is definitely very commercial and popular with foreigners. Everything is tailored for them. Teahouses are owned and operated by locals only, as their livelihood is based solely on tourism. However, it was a little bit disappointing to encounter so many foreigners. The food was very international and they served quality hot meals from local cuisine to pizza, pasta and even a German bakery selling cakes and hot bread. All very rustic but available.

April 15th-- what a day. We left at 8AM and reached Jinwa Danda (hot springs) at noon after going down all the way to the river’s bank and crossed it via the new suspension bridge. Afterwards, we came across a rhododendron forest (they were not blooming) and climbed for I don’t know how many hours until we reached the hot springs where we soaked our tired bodies for an hour.  What a treat that was. We then went to the restaurant, fueled our ourselves with a delicious apple pie, waited for the rain to pass and got back on the trail again for another two hours climbing the steep stone steps to Chhomrong (2170M).

 I never thought of Nepal being flat but the idea of climbing stone steps never crossed my mind. It was hard, but the closer I got to my destination, I felt good about this adventure. As I reached the top of the mountain (sweating and completely wet), I felt exhilarated and very happy; I never experienced anything like that before. As we got to the top on our way to Chhomrong, we met three Korean girls in good spirits who were resting in a shack. They gave me candy for my hard work. We exchanged thoughts about our journeys and after a while they left--a truly magical exchange.

Chhomrong, the last village below the Annapurna Sanctuary at the base of Hiunchuli was great. After dropping our bags in the teahouse I went out with the guys to Didi’s hut a friendly lady to drink Raksi – home made rice wine and to eat Sukuti - dry buffalo meat. It was really amazing after a long and exhausting day to finish our third day sitting around a fire eating and drinking Nepalese treats.

View from Landrung

Gurung People

We departed Chhomrong at 7:30AM and cut through the village where locals were attending to their buffalos and lush vegetables gardens on terraced slopes. Under beautiful sunny skies, rice paddies decorated the village. We crossed the river and started to ascend a hill in a series of stone steps passing through villages and teahouses all day long. We trekked the deep Modi Khola valley through bamboo and rhododendron forests.  Unfortunately, we were only able to see a few blooming red flowers. However, the view of the Annapurna mountain range was breathtaking. Macchapucchare peak seamed so close and yet it was so far away. 

As we reached higher altitudes and got closer to the glaciers everything changed. Vegetation changed from lush to shrub, vegetables gardens started to get scarce as well as the variety of food. Even our walking pace became much slower since we had to be careful with altitude and our bodies need time to adjust. At this point it became imperative to pay attention to weather conditions due to the dual threats of slippery roads and avalanche.

At this time, every day felt more difficult up in the mountains. Our porter started to leave a little earlier than us to make sure we could find accommodations since there were just a few. It was amazing to see those guys going up mountains caring our bags in such an easy and fast pace. We passed locals caring goods to sell or deliver. It was heart breaking to see the people caring all kinds of heavy loads up the mountains. There is no other way around. It made me think that back home we have it so easy and of course we don’t even notice or just don’t care.

After walking for almost 7 hours and passing through Bamboo and Dovan we finally arrived at the Himalaya teahouse (2920m). It was another long and tiring day and I was beat-up. We were very luck to have a small room waiting for us. For those who arrived later in the afternoon, since the other teahouses were packed with tourists, they had to sleep in the dinning room.

For more of my work visit me at http://www.necadantas.com


Trekking the Annapurna Base Camp - Nepal

Part I

The drive from Kathmandu to Pokhara was beautiful but frightening. My companions and I left in the early morning under heavy rain cover and drove in an old bus in two lane roads for almost seven hours. Descending into the valley and then going up the hill again, the road was narrow and scary more so because of rain and slippery asphalt. On one side were hills, on the other, houses or terraces - flat areas on a slope used for cultivation. Car crashes littered the road, as there was not even a shoulder to remove the wrecks. On the bus the anxious tourists were quiet in contrast with the few locals that were enjoying the ride. I guess it was normal for them.

Macchapucchare - Fish Tail
When we arrived in Pokhara we hired a cab for a 40 minutes drive to Phedi where the trailhead starts. The road conditions were atrocious and apparently it is not very easy to find a driver to drive you all way there--It was so exciting though. Here we were to start our 10-day trek through the Annapurna Sanctuary. I didn’t know what to expect and what I was getting into, but I was ready for an adventure.  After walking for two hours pass Dhampus, we arrived in Pothana where we stayed overnight. A very picturesque village with just a few small hotels and teahouses surrounded by colorful gardens, Pothana has stunning views of the beautiful Macchapucchare – “fish tail” - covered in snow. So monumental and yet no one has ever reached its peak. I loved Pothana, and it reminded me a small village in Switzerland.

Our accommodation was a wooden structure which faced a vegetable garden.  It was a simple room with two very small beds, white sheets, blankets and a detached bathroom. Electricity was powered via solar.  This was our room – very rustic but cozy.  For a few extra Nepalese rupees, cold beer and a hot shower was available.

Going to bed early and getting up early became a routine. The sun was shining and at 7:40am after breakfast, we left to go to Landrunk (1,550m). The trail itself was made of step stones and adorned with lush vegetation. We climbed for almost one hour surrounded by breathtaking views. We passed through small villages, saluted the locals, and after a while, it was time for our porter to take a break.

Our porter was from the Everest region and since business was a little slow, he came to Kathmandu and hooked up with our guide and came with us to the Sanctuary. He is a Sherpa – Nepal’s most famous ethnic group.  They migrated from Tibet centuries ago and settled in the high mountains. The “mountain men” who work as high altitude expedition porters are very respected and are known as the “tiger of the snows”.

Arriving in gorgeous weather, we finally arrived in Landruk. After five hours going up and down the stone steps trail, I was ready to quit. While the views were fantastic, heavy clouds were coming-in.  Apparently, it is not unusual for heavy rains in April. The Monsoon season was around the corner and during the time I was in the Sanctuary, it rained every day in the afternoon. Just like the Tropics – the water came down heavy, escorted by thunder and lighting. After a while, bright sunshine would appear again. It was gorgeous. It reminded me of home in Brazil.  And yet, I was so tired and so went straight to bed and read, leaving the door open to listen to the raindrops and appreciate the magic of Annapurna South.

Gurung people
As soon as the rainstorm ended, I grabbed my camera and went to photograph the locals. At first they were not very friendly and some asked for money. I understood but refused to pay. Nepal is a very poor country and its survival is based on tourism. I than hung out with some Gurung people – they migrated from Mongolia during the 6th century and are the indigenous people from Nepal. The are known for their unique fusion of Hindu and Buddhist cultures.

For more of my work visit me at http://www.necadantas.com


Gangaur Festival

Gauri or Parvati
Back in March I was traveling in Rajasthan, India and I stopped in Pushkar for a couple of nights since I had a few days to spare before heading back to Delhi. Pushkar is not only a religious center, but a very cool and laid-back town that attracts pilgrims and hippy types as well. I got all excited when I heard that the Gangour festival was in-town. 

The festival goes for over 18 days, but I was very luck to be there during the last two most important days. Gangaur is one of the most important celebrations in the state of Rajasthan--especially for women. Married and unmarried women worship the spouse of Lord Shiva-- Gauri  also known as Parvati - the supreme goddess of marriage. Married women pray for being blessed for their husbands and their welfare whereas unmarried women pray to be blessed for a good husband. It was common to see groups of beautifully dressed young girls—some very young, walking through the streets praying for a good marriage. It shows just how important marriage still is in Indian society.

A few blocks away musicians were tuning their instruments, Gauri’s image was already out in the streets and locals were celebrating with offerings. Apparently, her image is only celebrated on the streets once a year for procession and during the Gangaur festival.

Later in the afternoon, a party atmosphere was gathering on the main commercial street. While loud music was playing, business owners gathered in the streets to draw colorful allegorical paintings on the pavement to welcome the procession while crowds of tourists and locals watched. 

It was very interesting to watch India celebrate Gangaur. They are so mystical and traditionalists. I am glad I had the time to stop over in Pushkar.

For more of my work please visit me at www.necadantas.com


Bryce Canyon

Recently I visited Bryce Canyon National Park in Southwestern Utah. It is not a canyon but a spectacular natural amphitheater created by a different kind of erosion. Its geological structures called hoodoo  alongside the red, orange and white colors of the rocks create a very attractive and fun place to photograph. 


How he became "The Sax Man"

I don’t know about you but every year around Spring I receive the Hollywood Bowl Calender. It is not only a reminder that summer is around the corner but of great times. What a pleasure it is to know that again my friends and I are going to get together and enjoy beautiful Summer nights at the Bowl listening great music.  The experience of the Bowl begins when you walk down the steps through the tunnel and feel a warm welcome of music echoing thru the tunnel. From a distance you see the Sax Man playing suave music. A tradition at the Bowl, this being Ken’s 29th season, greets us all to another lovely night of music and good times.

An accomplished bass and saxophone player who toured Europe playing for Solomon Burke (the founding father of soul music), a native of South Central, Ken’s interest in music goes back to his childhood. In junior high he was introduced to the baritone horn though it did not last for very long. In High School he did not play music because of his interest in computers.  After graduation Ken got a job as a computer operator.  One day a co-worker played a Jimmy Hendrix record and Kenny became fascinated by Hendrix’s guitar.  Kenny went and bought himself one.  However, after two weeks Kenny realized it was not the instrument he identified with. After listening to The Sly & Family Stone an influential psychedelic soul/funk band and founder Larry Graham (ranked #3 on Digital Dreamdoor’s list of 100 Greatest Rock Bass Guitarist of All Time), Ken decided the bass guitar was what he was looking for. His early experience with the baritone horn (bass and baritone horn were very similar) lead Ken to buy a bass guitar.

Kenny doesn’t have a classical education and could not read music. He learned how to play by listening-- “You put the record on and you learn one note at time”. He practiced everyday and one day sitting in a friend’s house drinking beer, listening Latin Jazz music his friend’ wife came out of the kitchen and mentioned how good they sounded. His friend John said, “we should have a band”. Ken hollered,  “I have a bass”, another one “I have a guitar”, somebody else had drums.  A few days later there were 15 people in a room with an instrument and none had a clue of how to play. They played the record and everybody listened carefully. You learn your part and for every song they played the same routine. The neighbor hooked them up with their first gig but they never played. They were so nervous that the band broke up and the gig was canceled. After a few weeks seven of them came back but this time a saxophonist who had a little bit more music knowledge gave this group of friends who grew up together some direction and they ended up getting call for another gig.  The band needed a name and they called themselves “Acapulco Soul”.

Latin Jazz was the band’s inspiration because back then Ken’s friends were coming back from the Army and it was the genre they were listening and playing.  Latin musicians such as Tito Puente and Ray Barretto and some Jazz musicians such as Lee Morgan, John Coltrane among others, influenced Acapulco Soul. They were playing all over Los Angeles.  At the California State University Jazz Festival they had the pleasure to share the stage for a song with the legendary Herbie Hancock who played the tambourine. The band had a great time for probably three years but Ken wanted to venture out by himself and try different things.

Ken left Acapulco Soul and started to play with some blues and rock roll bands, and as he said “traveling about”. During this time Ken continued to learn and improve his bass techniques.  Around 1974 while playing with his younger brother Michael who played the saxophone, they were part of a band called Solid which played mostly Blues. He described the experience as magic to be on stage playing music with his brother. Needless to say, inspired by his brother, Kenny walked to a pawnshop and bought a saxophone. He kept it in the closet for a few months since he had no idea of how to play. Than one day Michael asked him to put his sax together and gave him a lesson. Ken was introduced for the first time to chromatic scale (musical scale with twelve pitches, each a semitone apart). A few months later his brother was assassinated.

After his brother’s passing, Ken did not touch his sax again for five years.  During this time Kenny was making a living working as a custodian at the La Brea Tarpits.  After a while and with very little understanding of chromatic scale Ken started to take his sax everyday to work and started to practice after work hours in the park. Again he had to find songs that he liked such as Stardust by Hoagy Carmichael and lyrics by Mitchell Parish, and learn by ear. Every note, step-by-step, just taking one note at time and writing the letters A, B, C he finally learn how to play. Inspired by Charlie Cox a fellow musician who played the banjo in the park but also made a little money with a little tip basket.   Ken liked the idea and decided to quit his job to play music full time.

Ken’s first place was on the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax in front of the old May Company building. At 8:00 o’clock in the morning Ken was already playing. Some days were good others were bad. Still learning songs but making a living he also went on to play outside Canters Restaurant on Fairfax. Finally in 1983 someone suggested that he should go to the Hollywood Bowl. When he got there and asked the security guard where he could play, off course the answer was no “you cannot play here”. Kenny just had finished reading a book in positive affirmation and thinking and everything positive, positive… “You acknowledge, you understand but… you don’t give up”. He asked again and again and again until the security finally pointed in the direction off Highland Avenue; it was out of his jurisdiction and he could play somewhere over there. Walking through the tunnel under Highland Avenue, halfway through, he said to himself  “I am in the tunnel and I am in Highlands”. Kenny found his spot at the end of the tunnel were he has been playing for the last 29 years.

At first there were times when life was not so good. You would think that one would make a lot of money because people come to the Bowl to listen music and would appreciate him. “It is not necessarily true”. Sometimes Kenny would play between six to seven hours and he would go home with just a few dollars.  Some days feeling discouraged at the end of the night he would sit on the bench and cry of disappointment of human kind. His love for music and the desire to get better kept him playing his sax every day.

Over the years the Sax Man has seen the best and worse in people. For him the most appreciative and respectful are the employees of the Hollywood Bowl.  At the end of the night when they are going home they show how grateful they are to have him as part of the team. When he first started to play there, back then the Bowl’s Superintendent of Operations was a fellow named Patton S. Moore. Patton sent his assistant Ed Tom now the Director of Operations of the Bowl with a dollar to give to him because he liked the way he played Stardust. For Ken it meant he was welcoming him to the Bowl. It was also an acknowledgement of his presence. Over the years Kenny’s experienced some unpleasant moments but overall he is very thankful for all the years and for so many unforgettable moments of joy. He has seen so many generations and so many people coming and going. And as he said “every year he is looking forward to come back to the tunnel at the Hollywood Bowl for another season” and in 29 years Kenny (have lost less the 10 concerts—what?). 


Varanasi - India

One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Varanasi is located on the banks of the most sacred river in Hinduism – The River Ganges.  Varanasi, the holiest of cities in India is one of the most important pilgrimage destinations for Hindus. Among the five most polluted rivers on earth, pilgrims from all over India come to Varanasi’s ghats to wash away their sins with holy water. In the open air of the burning ghats corpses are cremated day and night in the public presence. To die in Varanasi and in the Ganges one can be liberated from the cycle of birth and death – “moksha”

Varanasi once known as Kashi – “City of Life” - is a fascinating place.  It was a fascinating experience to go to the gaths in early morning to watch pilgrims practice puja (respect) and worship their gods. They pray and offer flowers and float clay dishes filled with roses and a lit candle. The water from the Ganges is not only pure but also to purify. Pilgrims come to bath and to cleanse away a lifetime of sins; they drink the water and wash their clothes; they depart taking holy water to use in religious rituals back home. 

The Manikarnika Ghat is one of the most important places for Hindus to be cremated. The details of cremation are based on hereditary class since Hinduism still applies the caste system. Piles of various kinds of wood are precisely weighed so that the price of cremation can be determined. Each type of wood has a different price.  Sandalwood is the most expensive among others. Corpses brought to the river on bamboo stretchers and covered in fabric are burned.  The ash remains are than collected wherein the closest male relative than disperses it into the holy river. Now the free spirit is encouraged to pass to the other world.

It was an unforgettable experience to watch all this. At first I did not know what to think or feel. When I touched the holy water of the Ganges and lighted a small float clay I felt deeply touched and connected with India. In my last day in the country I took a boat ride trough the Ganges and I felt an incredible peacefulness.