Finding the Best Margarita on the Island!

With a group of trusted friends we embarked on a journey few would dare. We were in search of the elusive and rare “perfect Margarita”. We began our journey on the island of Isla Mujeres in Mexico on Miguel Hidalgo Street. The contestants were told to bring us their best Margarita. Each judge awarded between zero and 10 points to the Margarita entry and the totals were averaged between the number of judges for the final score. Judges included Bonnie, Tom, Ronda, Michael, Neena, Bruce, Kathy, Roeland, Anita, Debbie, Derek, Andrea, Ruth, Virginia, and Juanita. Here are our results.

Don Cheapo – The first place we visited was a small family owned restaurant. Don Cheapo used Antiguo de Herradura Reposado and their own mix for a pretty good start. At $200 pesos this was a great deal with an average score of 5.125 from eight judges.


Amigos Restaurant – This place did a fine job with Jose Cuervo Gold Tequila making a yummy margarita for $300 pesos. Average score 6.5. Food here was also amazing.


Argentina Grill – at $500 pesos this one looked like a real winner in the pretty glasses in which they were served, but at first sip we quickly concluded the recipe had fallen short of our expectations. Ten judges and nobody gave them a score higher than 6. The Tequila they used was Herradura Reposado, but they tried to impress us with the alcohol and not the taste of the Margarita. Ice cubes were too large also. Crushed ice might have helped the flavor. Average score 4.2.


Lola Valentina – We were drawn in by the swings, but the mixologist and Margaritas captured our hearts. We presented the same challenge and this guy took it seriously! He worked up a sweat as he prepared his first masterpiece, the Skinny Margarita with Jalapeño. It was simply delicious. Next he brought on a Patron Margarita that was the perfect recipe of Tequila, fresh lime juice, and Cointreau, followed by cucumber rosemary, pineapple ginger, and strawberry habanero. Each recipe was carefully and eloquently prepared as we gazed on in awe. The prices were higher at about $680 pesos per drink, but worth every penny. Ten judges didn’t give any of the drinks less than an 8 and Lola Valentina was the ONLY one that got a score of 10! The average score was a whopping 9.1. Some of the judges gave up after this place, realizing they would not find a better Margarita on Isla Mujeres. Most of us ordered a second round of our favorite concoction! Without a doubt, the BEST MARGARITA on Isla Mujeres!


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As our responsibilities shifted to another island we felt is our duty to carry on the search to follow-up on a place we had been hearing about for years. We packed up the judges and headed for Wet Wendy’s in Cozumel. They impressed us with their pretty glasses and massive slushy-type drinks, but most judged complained that the drinks were just too big and too slurpy. Very strange flavor combinations, such as peanut butter banana and some kind of deep pink drink tasted more like a milk shake than a Margarita. The premium lime Margarita wasn’t bad and scored highest (7 by three of the judges), but the other flavored drinks were left to melt in the pretty little glasses. Average score of 5.6 with 13 judges doing the test.


It was a tough job, but our judges were up for the task. We still have a lot of work to do. Stay tuned!

Photo Etiquette Goes Both Ways

When I lead photography workshops and excursions I emphasize the importance of being courteous and professional to all the people who get into a picture, whether they are wanted there or not. When shooting for the media I feel this is even more important, because I am representing another company or group. I am also hoping to do an excellent job for my clients and come home with perfect documentation of whatever event it is I’m shooting.

Press passes are issued in part, so media photographers can avoid having to compete with hundreds onlookers with iPhones, tablets and GoPros at any particular event, and so they can come away with the best event photos that will be used to publicize that event. Media photographers are also given access to people and places that the general public might not have access to, so we can interview them for the story.

There will always be freeloaders who sneak in with a press pass, but when those people start pushing their weight around by posing as “media” to promote their own club, cause or business, that’s where the line is crossed. Recently I experienced the most unprofessional behavior I’ve seen in a long time by individuals who represented themselves as “media”. Several individuals said they were from a non-profit dive club in order to get a press pass. A dive club is not media. They started cutting in front and photo-bombing our shots by flashing the logo of the person who sent them. To add insult to injury, they didn’t make any effort to use their images or video to promote the event and its cause, but only used them days later to promote their dive club. Sad that anyone would need to be on such a power trip.

I try to keep my own ego in check when shooting and hope I am never perceived as being unprofessional. This experience reminded me that as a spectator I need to be even more courteous of media photographers when I encounter them. As a media photographer I may not be as nice if someone elbows me or jumps into my shot again.



Tips For Photographing Whales & Dolphins

Capturing big animals that move fast is not easy. You’re juggling delicate electronics & glass, a rocking boat, sea spray, stealth animals that give us only a spit second to see them, a myriad of technical issues, and other photogs who also want to get the shot. If you know what to do and where the whales are there, you will get the shot with the right preparation.

Know what you’re looking for. Humpbacks are especially fun, because the breach, fin slap, lobtail, spy hop, lunge and porpoise. Not all whales do this, so study up on and be prepared for the kind of whale you are hoping to see.

Camera Gear
Use the longest lens you own, but don’t go overboard. Something in the range of 100-200 is just fine. Remember that a long lens also requires more light, so anything over 200 may come out blurry if you don’t know how to quickly adjust for the situation. Also keep in mind that a polarizing filter on a long lens cuts down on light.

For point & shoot cameras use full zoom, but stay within the optical zoom range and skip digital zoom. Consider a zoom add-on lens, but understand the consequences.

Whales just below the service should definitely be shot with a polarizing filter. Even with a small point & shoot camera filters are available. Don’t get on the boat without it.

Bring extra batteries and memory cards. Never start with a half-charged battery. Memory cards fail, so have extras and have them formatted before hand.

Designate one camera for the whales. Don’t try to switch lenses to get people shots on the same camera. Bring a point & shoot for that.

Bring a lens towel with you and keep it in your pocket.

Set your camera on the fastest shutter speed your camera, lens, and conditions will allow for. Splashing water will blur with a shutter speed less than 1/500th of a second. When shooting anything that is likely to jump out of the water you need to be at 1/1000th of a second, or higher to capture the action. Anything less may give you Facebook quality photos at best.

Better your odds by shooting continuous high speed if you have that option, but know the limits of the camera and card you are using. If your cache is full and your camera is trying to catch up, you won’t be able to shoot until it does. Make sure you have a high capacity card that has been formatted to the camera before you start.

Automatic modes don’t work! The camera doesn’t know that everything is moving so fast. If you’re using a point & shoot camera and can’t override the automatic functions, try using a “Sport Mode” or “Action Mode”. This will give you a faster shutter speed with lower light.

If you’ve got a DSLR you should never be in Automatic or Program mode. Set your camera to Shutter Priority so that you can force the camera to shoot fast. This will significantly cut down on your light, so you have to pay close attention to the f-stop the camera gives you. If the aperture is wide open and your shutter speed is too high your images may be too dark.

Don’t be afraid to try Manual mode. Use the setting your camera picks in Shutter priority mode and manually enter them, adjusting if necessary.

The long lens, high zoom, polarizer and fast shutter speed will work against you when trying to get enough light for the shot. It will help to change your ISO to 200 or 400 for lower light. Be careful not to go too far, because low ISO settings will cause grainy images. If you have a DSLR turn on “Low ISO Noise Reduction”.

Shot at 1/250th of a second appears sharp enough for online images, but when you zoom in you’ll see the image is not sharp.

Be ready to get the shot. If the boat captain tells you there are whales nearby, your camera should be in position and ready to shoot with all the camera settings already set.

Watch for animal behavior! Tail and fin slapping is a great opportunity to get some good shots. Not all whales breach, but if you’re around humpbacks, have your camera ready.

You’re going to get many more crooked horizons and big splashes than you’ll get whales, but if you’re lucky you might just capture that one spit second of a perfect photo opp.

Try to keep the sun to your back if at all possible, so you don’t get harsh shadows where you want detail.

For your eyes only!
You’re not always going to get the shot. Don’t beat yourself up about it. The story you bring home to your friends will always be better than anything you capture with a camera.

Whale watching in California
Getting another boat in the background helps to provide a size reference and makes your image more interesting than an image without.

Help raise funds for Hurricane Odile victims in Cabo San Lucas

Since Hurricane Odile ravished Cabo San Lucas there are thousands of people living there with no fresh water and no electricity. Their homes were wiped out. My friends at the Solmar V have set up a fundraiser to support the delivery of donated water purification systems to the area. You can donate here:

I have decided to put three of my stoneware plaques on ebay for the cause. 100% of the proceeds of these auctions will go toward the Hurricane Odile Baja Relief fundraiser.

CLICK HERE TO BID: Hand-made stoneware tropical fish wall plaque

CLICK HERE TO BID: Hand-made stoneware sealion pair wall plaques

CLICK HERE TO BID: Hand-made stoneware shark wall plaque

About the plaques

Each plaque is hand-made by me and each piece is one-of-a- kind.

The process starts with a chunk of clay. I like working with Black Mountain, because it has a lot of iron in it and fires really dark. I’ve also been playing with porcelain, which fires white.

I roll it into a slab and let it sit for about a day. When the slab is leather-hard I start decorating. Most of the shapes are from photos I’ve taken, but some of my older designs are from stock images or just freehand drawings.

The patterns are created using small shells that I have collected from the tropical beaches I’ve visited around the world. I look for texture and have a nice collection of favorites. I roll the shells into the clay until it is completely decorated. Then I cut the outline and let the piece dry. After smoothing down the rough edges the dry clay (greenware) is fired the first time.



The Black Mountain clay is now a warm brown color. In most cases I’ll immediately put the piece into the kiln for the second firing. I don’t glaze these pieces, because I want to keep the detail the small shells create. The second firing is done at around 2700 degrees for a couple of days. The finished piece is very hard and dark brown.

Then I apply a colored underglaze to the surface and rub away the top layer leaving color in the deeper areas of the texture. The next firing is low fire in an electric kiln. This fixes the underglaze so it is permanent.

For a porcelain piece I sometimes will use oxides, underglazes, and glass frit on the top surface texture to get a colored glass finish.

Porcelain detail

On a porcelain base I applied two layers of underglaze and a top layer of glass frit.