Friday, December 30, 2011

The Old and the New: Top 11 of 2011 - Viewer's choice

Last year, I posted the Top 20 + 10 Viewer's Choice of 2010 from the Mira Terra Images archive. The popularity of some of those has continued throughout this year, while many new images made their way into the rankings, based on views by YOU, the internet public. As I noted last year, what's interesting about this list is that it doesn't reflect the most licensed, sold, or published images; and perhaps it more accurately reflects a list of images which ranked highest in Google search results. Only one of these Viewer's Choices was actually taken in 2011, and it hit and held the #1 spot for most of the year. Here are the TOP 11 Most Viewed Images in 2011 - 10 of your choice, and 1 of mine:

10 - Young Peruvian Boy, PERU

9 - London Eye Capsule, UNITED KINGDOM

8 - Architecture of Brasilia, BRAZIL

7 - Maasai Beadwork & Crafts, KENYA

6 - Estonian Teens, ESTONIA

5 - Guatemalan Textiles, GUATEMALA

4- Chinese Girl in Traditional Dress, CHINA

3 - Ladies & Llamas, PERU

2 - Moroccan Mosaic Detail, MOROCCO


1 - Monk at Wangdu Phodrang Dzong, BHUTAN

Here's where I get to tie it all together with my end-of-year mantra "Out with the Old, in with the New", and share how images speak to me. Look again at the #1 most popular image by viewer's choice - pictured is a monk walking through a gate, wrapping up his robe and heading away from the camera. What I see in this image is the end of a year, the work accomplished, and the wisdom gained. Reflecting upon the challenges met and lessons learned of 2011, it's time to wrap it up and move on. Thus, Out with the old.

Enter, MY #1 PHOTOGRAPHER'S CHOICE (personal favorite) IMAGE OF 2011:

 Young Monk of BHUTAN

Pictured is a young monk, skipping innocently through a gate, and heading toward the camera. What I see in this image is the beginning of a year, embracing a new path ahead, and a readiness to engage with circumstances yet unknown. Thus, In with the new

THANK YOU all for your interest and support of Mira Terra Images - 2011 was a record year of image sales and licenses that began with this AAA Magazine Cover of Machu Picchu, and continued with my debut as Photo Editor for Travcoa's 2012 World Traveler's Dream Book, right through to a recent appearance of this image of a Terra Cotta Warrior Horse which adorned a booth and print literature at WTM Travel Mart in London. Moving in to the new year, 2012 kicks off with this image of Talinn by Sea published in Jan/Feb issue of AFAR magazine. And there's still more coming to print out there so keep reading those tiny photo credits - you may spot them before I do!

THANK YOU also for your engagement with my travel blog - your TOP 10 FAVORITE BLOG POSTS are listed in the sidebar to the right ->.  My personal favorite post of 2011, while we're at it, should come as no surprise. It's the one titled: Travel Photography Nirvana (illustrated with images from Bhutan).  Check it out, you'll find there another of my favorite images -  a young monk blissfully skipping in a field of prayer flags. I imagine that boy is still skipping his way into the New Year, and that's the vision I choose to carry forward with me for 2012.


Peace and Pleasant Journeys,


Love travel photos? Be sure to check out Budget Travelers Sandbox every Thursday, and Delicious Baby's Photo Friday.

Friday, December 16, 2011

It's A Small and Festive World

"Dear Santa,
What I want for Christmas is a doll from It's A Small World.  No, make that ALL the dolls from It's a Small World. Or just one doll with all the costumes from It's A Small World. Whatever works, I think you get the picture."

Oh the big dreams we have as little kids.  That was one of mine, and though I never did get any of the dolls from It's A Small World, I still enjoy visiting them at Disneyland every year for the holidays.

"It's a Small World" is to credit for being an early inspiration for me,  fueling my desire to travel the world and discover the many different peoples and cultures represented with the colorful costumes and brightly painted scenes of far away places. As an adult having traveled to many of these places, I now appreciate it all the more.

So, in honor of Disney's power to inspire, and the "Festive" theme of today's #Frifotos on twitter, I present, in photos,

The far away places....

The costumes of culture...

And....the magic of SNOW and Sleeping Beauty's Castle....


For more festive photos of Disney Holiday Magic, check out:

The 12 Lights of Christmas


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cats, Cameras, and Caring Less

So it's "BIG CAT" week at National Geographic. As much as I'd love to say "big deal', I do hold a certain fascination for these creatures, and I respect those photographers and filmmakers who spend weeks and months with the big cats to fill a good hour episode. I watch with awe and envy. I know what goes into every frame, and what it takes to get the shot that tells the story.

My own experience with cats and cameras, however, is not so glamorous. I've spent some time on safari and have learned a great deal about these cats, and I can tell you this much -

Cats couldn't care less about cameras. They couldn't care less about people with cameras, too. It doesn't matter if it's a cat person with the camera, or a filmmaker, or an idiot. The cat couldn't care less.

I have many friends who are cat people. They post silly pictures on facebook of their cat asleep in the sun or looking pissed off about something. When I go to their homes, I am overwhelmed with smell of cats. The cats, however, are nowhere to be seen, they couldn't care less that I've arrived after a long absence. They couldn't care less about a lot of things, and well, cats are just like that.

I'm not really a cat person in my every day life. When I come home from my travels, I actually like to know I've been missed. The pets I own physically rush to the door, wag their tails like helicopters, and smother me with affection. They're called dogs. There is no doubt in my mind how they feel about me. They care.

I can appreciate cats, however, especially if they are really big and live in the wild. When I observe cats in the wild through the lens of my camera, even the smell doesn't bother me. I watch long enough, and soon find myself reading their every thought (click). I get into their minds (click), and really connect in ways that I never experience with other people's kitty cats (click, click, click). And you know what I've learned? Cats couldn't care less. (delete, delete, delete).

Cats love to torment (click). Cats love to play games (click, click). Exactly what they gain from these games is nothing more than the satisfaction of having proven that they care not about anyone or anything other than themselves (delete). They certainly don't care if I've got the right lens on (delete), or need to change the battery (delete), or only have 3 frames left on the memory card (delete all? press OK to confirm).

Hang on, cats. I'm not going to let you off that easy. I can still get in your mind through my lens, remember? My camera is able to freeze a split second of your life, and even though in every frame your "I couldn't care less" subtext remains clear and consistent, there can be more to the story, and more to reading your thoughts, too. Well, at least this much more: "it's all about me."

Case and point: During a recent safari in the Maasai Mara, we happened upon a pair of lions laying in the grass. While the male was lost in his "all about me" thoughts, the female quite clearly "couldn't care less" about the male; she had something else on her mind.

With absolutely no concern for the fact that I still had a telephoto lens stuck to my camera, the lioness came right to the tree which stood literally within arm's reach of our vehicle.  She could care less about the vehicle being there, and she could care even less that I was fumbling for a different lens in anticipation of what she might do next.  Nope, she showed no consideration whatsoever, it was "all about her", and up the tree she leapt.

Turns out this was more than just a display to express how much she didn't care about my getting the shot with the right lens. At least, up in the tree, she was again distant enough that I could fit the cat entirely in the frame. She made quite a show of finding just the right spot to settle.
"now what...."
Remember what I mentioned earlier? That bit about cats loving to torment and play games? Turns out that is exactly what she was up to. I mean, why else would she bother fighting gravity to get herself up in that tree?
"oh good, this'll show him...."
"I don't care that it's extremely uncomfortable...I look good"

Well yes, lioness, of course you look're in a tree and surrounded by wildlife paparazzi! But I have news for you, dear cat. As far as my camera is's not "all about you".
Cue the male.


"That B*#@%!!!!"
The photos tell the story. Cats couldn't care less. Cats love to torment. Cats live in an "all about me" world. But maybe, just maybe, they might actually care that there's a camera around.
"Are you looking at moi??"


More about cats:

Killer Cats of Kwandwe

Tharu, Rice, Tigers, Grass

African Wildlife Photo Gallery

Dedicated to the memory of Sacha, a cat who exemplified the essence of caring less. 

Thursday, December 08, 2011

UPDATED: Win 2 tickets to the Tournament of Roses Parade, hotel & more!


UPDATE: The sponsor (YMT Vacations) has extended the offer to be redeemable for EITHER this year (December 30, 2011 - January 3, 2012) OR next year (December 29, 2012 - January 2, 2013), so you can take your pick and plan ahead! 
It's that time of year, when Passports With Purpose conducts the annual fundraiser organized by travel bloggers that raises money for deserving non-profits throughout the world. It's a wonderful way to give back to the places we, as travelers, visit.

This year, Room to Read was chosen as the 2011 beneficiary of Passports with Purpose. The goal is to raise $80,000 to build two libraries in southern and eastern Zambia. Wow, that sounds ambitious, right? After last year's target of $50,000 was surpassed by over 25% and an entire village was built in India in partnership with Friends of LAFTI, clearly this community of travel bloggers and PWP founders are not content to rest on any laurels.  We love to travel, we love to blog about it, we love reading blogs, we love reading books, and we can't imagine what our lives would be without the gift of reading. But perhaps above all, we love the idea of bringing the gift of reading to others.

In my last post, I shared the story of how I found the room to read on the floor of an orphanage in Calcutta, with children climbing all over my lap to stare at the words on the pages and listen to my voice. I realized right then and there just how powerful the gift of reading can be, and I hope that you will take just a moment to share in my reading with purpose.

Read it? Good. Now you're set with inspiration to help make a difference, too. And that means, it's time to talk prizes!

Here's how it works:

Each participant blogger provides a prize and blogs about it. You can find the complete list of the prizes at Passports With Purpose website. Between now and December 16, 2011, for each $10 in donations that you make to Room to Read, you will be entered to win the prize (or prizes) of your choice.

Thanks to the generous folks at YMT Vacations, whom I've had the pleasure of working with over the past year, I am thrilled to present....


5-Day Tournament of Roses Parade and Los Angeles Tour

 Tour Includes  (for 2 people)

  • 4 nights accommodations based on twin/double occupancy in a luxurious Los Angeles Airport area hotel.
  • Rose Parade viewing from reserved Grand Stand seats, complimentary YMT seat cushion & an official Rose Parade program.
  • Exclusive evening of behind the scenes float viewing at the Pasadena Rosemont Pavilion.
  • Los Angeles City tour including Beverly Hills, Mann’s Chinese Theatre, & the home of the Academy Awards, the Kodak Theatre.
  • The service of a professionally trained and accredited tour driver/guide who is licensed, bonded, and insured. 
  • Baggage handling for one 50-lb. bag p/p.
  • Taxes and Fees of $149 per/person.

    Tour Dates:  December 30, 2011 - January 3, 2012 OR December 29,  2012 - January 2, 2013

    Tour starts and ends in Los Angeles, California

    Important Stuff:

    * The Rose Parade only happens once a year, so this prize is only valid for either of the dates indicated: December 30, 2011 - January 3, 2012 OR December 29, 2012 through January 2, 2013

    *Airfare to and from Los Angeles is NOT included, and is sole responsibility of winner.

    So, what are you waiting for? Head on over to Passports With Purpose Donation Page to make your $10 donation via paypal and enter to win before midnight, December 16, 2011.  Winners will be announced on December 23, 2011.  Good luck!

    Monday, November 28, 2011

    Reading with Purpose

     Earlier this year, I had a very powerful experience that has stayed with me, and the story of which ties in beautifully with the focus of this year's Passports With Purpose fundraiser.

    It all happened in Calcutta, India, when I went to Mother Teresa's Ashram.  No words can describe the overwhelming emotional impact of visiting not only the Ashram itself, but the nearby orphanage established by Mother Teresa.  In her words, it is a refuge for...

    "The hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone." --- Mother Teresa
    Before entering the orphanage, the nuns laid out one simple rule:  "please don't pick them up."

    I stepped into a room where knee-high children with big brown eyes surrounded me, reaching their arms up to me, longing desperately to be held and carried.  This was tough. I wanted to hold them, to touch them, to love them, to let them know they were loved.  I wanted to smother them with affection and motherly care. I wanted to embrace them.  But I could not pick them up!

    How was I going to engage with them? What could I do to connect without attachment?

    I stood dazed and numb for a moment, towering over them. Then, one child came forward with something in his hand. It was a book.

    From his hand to mine, a book. 

    I looked over at the nuns were sitting on the only bench in the room.  They did not move to make room for me; so, taking the book from the child's hand, I sat down on the floor right where I stood.  The kids climbed onto my lap and leaned over my shoulders and touched my hair and watched my face as I was able to engage and connect with them without ever picking one up. The nuns lost sight of me as I was engulfed in a sea of curious children, and there in my hand, a book.

    This was an undertaking not for the weak of heart, and all I could think about was finding my strength in compassion and focusing on the power of love. Pure love. The Mother Teresa kind of love - love for all, and attachment to none. Because I was so moved by the emotional investment these children placed in me when I sat amongst them, I had to focus that love on one thing. The book.

    Fortunately, it was a basic board book, with only one word on each page.  BALL. CAR. BOY. GIRL. And so on.

    I read each page as if I were reading a love letter. With each word, there was a little drawing to illustrate it, but when I read the word, there was only meaning. LOVE.  Word by word, page by page, I read, and the children listened. I read, and the children watched. I read...and the children felt loved.

    I somehow made it out without adopting a dozen children - although not without shedding a dozen tears. Photography was not permitted in the orphanage and I would have left the camera anyway.  These children just wanted to be loved. And read to.

    So there I found my own little room to read on the floor of an orphanage in Calcutta.  At that moment more than any other in my life, I realized the incredible power of the gift of reading. 

    By sharing my story, I hope that you will be inspired to share the gift of reading wherever you are, and wherever you go, in your travels and in life. To that end, please join me in the annual Passports With Purpose travel blogger fundraiser, kicking off on November 30.  The goal is to build two libraries in Zambia. 

    Where to start? Keep reading! Check out these 2011 blogger participants who use their gift of writing so that others may know the gift of reading. Be inspired by words, and purposeful in action. Let's do this!

    Wednesday, November 23, 2011

    Our African Wedding Story

    November 25 marks the anniversary of a dream come true. This is the story of our African wedding as it unfolded in the pages of my hand-written travel journal. 

    November 24, 1999     Ngorongoro Crater.  Full Moon.

    Fur blankets drape a king size bed in the Kimba Suite with glass doors overlooking Ngorongoro Crater. The moon is full and bright, and the lake below glows silver in her reflection.  We are on the rim, 8,500 feet up, and below is a vast caldera crawling with wildlife. This place is spectacular.  There are simply no other words to describe it.

    [Earlier in the day, we had stopped at a rest point overlooking the crater. As I took in the view and held back tears of joy that I was actually here, my fiancĂ© informed me that this is where we will get married. Not next year…..but tomorrow! He left only one small detail of planning up to me. What time. Since we had a full day wildlife safari scheduled and I didn't want to miss one moment of it, my decision was easy. Sunrise.]

    November 25, 1999     Ngorongoro Crater.     OUR WEDDING DAY!!!

    As the sun rose and crept over the opposite rim of the crater, we were whisked off escorted by Shawnab, Francis and Shaibu. The moment we emerged from our room, Shawnab took my camera bag and handed me flowers. The other cameras flashing as we walked through the lobby was the sign of a very special event, which I soon came to realize was our wedding.  I don’t think either of us had any idea just what a production this would be. Apparently we were the first non-Maasai to get married at Ngorongoro Crater, and the first wedding of any guests to the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge.

    We were escorted out to the jeep with colorfully dressed hotel employees following and surrounding us, then we all piled into jeeps and drove by caravan to the beautiful large fig tree which stands tall and majestic on the rim of the caldera. Visible from most parts of the crater, this tree would mark the location of our very special event.

    We arrived at the spot which was still embraced in fog. As the gentle early morning winds nudged up the crater wall, the fog lifted and revealed the incredible setting for our ceremony.

    For the wedding party, I was accompanied by three beautiful women in colorful Swahili dress, and my groom was accompanied by three handsome men also in traditional Swahili attire. Waiting at the site to welcome us with song, the local Maasai villagers!  We were introduced to the magistrate - a small man who had traveled by foot from his village to officiate our wedding. Knowing we were westerners, he had dressed in his very best western attire for the occasion - denim blue jeans, a red holiday sweater, and a Reebok baseball cap.

    It all happened so quickly, full of colors and sounds and songs and smiles.  And languages! The magistrate first spoke in his tribal language, which Killian then translated to Swahili for our witnesses, and then in English for us.  As he handed us the certificates, he explained...

    "There are three types of marriages: one that is monogamous, with one; one that is polygamous, with many; and one that is potentially polygamous, the first of many. You must declare which type of marriage you are making here today."

    Giggles and laughter ensued, as we gave considerable thought to "potentially polygamous",  just for kicks, knowing that it would only translate into one type of marriage back home. We marked the box, signed our names, exchanged vows, kissed, and toasted with champagne. All the while the cameras flashed and every one in attendance seemed to have a Swahili blessing to shout out! But the recurring word "paparazzi" strewn throughout the Swahili words was unmistakable, followed by buckles of laughter - apparently the hotel manager took great pride in being asked to take pictures with my camera for us.  Had we understood more Swahili, we'd probably have been laughing a whole lot more, but as it was, we could not keep from wearing ear to ear grins. My cheeks are still hurting.

    After the signing, vowing, and legalities were done with, we were presented with gifts from the Maasai guests. I was adorned with a beaded bracelet, and my husband a beaded necklace to wear, indicating he is married. Then I was handed a stick which only married women can carry. My husband was also given a stick, more of a beaded club, which he was to use for cattle raids. Then I was presented with a gourd, decorated with beads and a leather handle.  They explained that this is used to hold blood and goat's milk to "nourish little ones." Thankfully, I was not expected to drink it until "later....when it is time....."

    The cake arrived, and we managed to cut small pieces to exchange...but chewing it was another feat. Then a breakfast buffet awaited, with the hotel chef preparing eggs to order, and everything from cereal to fresh fruits to coffee. We could barely eat with all the excitement, not to mention everyone watching our every move and taking pictures...our wedding paparazzi party.

    After breakfast, the Maasai continued with celebratory song. The men wore red kangas and had elaborately decorated earlobes and necklaces around their necks. The "elder"male leading the group had tinges of red henna in his hair. For the most part, they all stood around leaning on their sticks. The females were much younger - it seemed only the unmarried girls were allowed to attend. They sang beautifully; it was as if the melodic voices rang out from their hearts, as their faces and lips barely moved at all. They wore around their necks wide beaded disk necklaces, which flapped up and down to the beat of the men's drumming. Strings of beads adorned the girls' foreheads.

    I felt truly honored that these were our wedding guests, who had allowed us to marry on their sacred land of the Ngorongoro Crater next to the giant ancestral fig tree. We were, in fact, their guests. And what an honor it was. A very special honor for which we were extremely grateful.

    The wedding party escorted us back to our jeep, which they had cleverly decorated with a "JUST MARRIED" sign on the back window.  Brilliant. They all squeezed into the back of the jeep with us, on laps and in bundles, singing a traditional wedding celebration song, including each of our names in the verses.  A few remaining staff chased the vehicle waving palm fronds, singing, and laughing. It was so joyous, we were surrounded with music, smiles, and positive wishes and energy.

    Upon arrival back at the Serena Lodge, EVERYONE was standing outside to welcome us as husband and wife. The Maasai danced again, creating a directional path for us to walk while onlookers cheered and took pictures. We felt like royalty.  After a few steps I could no longer contain myself, and the tears began to flow - tears of overwhelming happiness and gratitude. 

    We were lead, escorted, and followed by the bouncing Maasai, the singing hotel staff, and the colorful wedding party attendants to the lobby, where even more hotel guests watched and congratulated us. We sat to sign the guest book as "Mr. & Mrs." while the young Maasai girls bounced and sang behind us. Then the entire party lead, escorted, and followed us back to our Kimba Suite, bouncing so heavily that there was concern the board planks of the walkways might break! At last we reached our door, where we turned and thanked everyone with hugs, teary eyes, and endless "Asenteni" (thanks). 

    What happened once we closed the door was just priceless. A split second of silence, broken by a giggle, joined by some snickering, growing into roars of laughter, then bursting loudly into song.  It seemed the ceremony was to involve one more element, for which they felt thundering song, drums, dancing and voices RIGHT OUTSIDE THE DOOR would be most conducive.....

    We looked at each other and burst out laughing. Who knew that changing batteries, loading rolls of film, cleaning lenses and packing filters for a full day safari in the crater would be such a festively celebrated activity?! ;-)

    [The End of the story...the wedding story, that is. But the heartfelt gratitude endures and grows with each passing year. I never lose sight of the blessings in my life and my travels, and though years may fade the pages of the journal, they add glue to the binding.]

    THANK YOU for reading my story, and sharing in the joy, wonder, and appreciation of a dream come true, a dream made possible by people in a far away land.  Gratitude means counting my blessings, big and small, extraordinary and ordinary....and I have far too many not to pass along, share, and give back in whatever way I can.

    This year,  I will again be participating in the travel blogger's fundraiser event, Passports With Purpose. The funds we raise are going to make a big difference to the lives of people in a far away land, with the building of two libraries in Zambia through a partnership with Room to Read. Full details are forthcoming, meanwhile....

    Here's wishing you a heart full of gratitude for blessings big and small, on Thanksgiving Day and every day. Asante sana.

    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    Andean Skies

    Could the skies possibly get any more blue? I'm wondering about this as I have just returned from another part of the world where the skies took my breath away, and where I was awed and mesmerized by looking up.

    I'm certain that the high altitude has something to do with the deep clear blues of Andean skies, but a blue sky on it's own is just that, a gorgeous blue sky. What makes the blue skies of the Andes all the more interesting to photograph are the clouds that float through, changing shapes and transforming the scenery as they pass. Sometimes the clouds form dark ominous storm fronts, other times they dance through as puffy white "happy" clouds. Both are stunning against the backdrop of the Andes mountains and plateaus.

    As a follow up to the popular post African Skies, I present here the Andean Skies, showcasing new images from my recent journey through Peru from Cusco to Puno aboard the Andean Explorer Train.

    Thursday, November 03, 2011

    For the Love of Elephants - Sheldricks and Amboseli

    “It is easy to love elephants….because they will love you back”
    - Caretaker, Sheldrick’s Elephant Trust

    The anticipation was growing, and by the time we pulled up the dirt road at Sheldrick’s we could hardly contain ourselves. The day had come, the moment was near - we were all about to meet our adopted baby elephants face to face!

    Two days before I left home to lead this very special Travcoa's 2011 President's Journey: Grand Safari to Kenya & Tanzania, my September 2011 issue of National Geographic arrived in the mail, featuring an entire article on the very elephants we were about to meet, titled Orphans No More. The baby elephant featured on the lead page was in fact Travcoa's own adopted elephant, Shukuru!

    We gathered round the feeding stations where caretakers held big full bottles.  Then, the first group of baby elephants came happily down the path toward us.

    It all happened so fast - these were the youngest bunch, still learning their way, and the next thing we knew there was milk everywhere as the babies eagerly emptied the bottles fumbling and slurping for every last drop.

    Then, they were escorted out as quickly as they came.

    But wait! The next group was not far behind, and these babies had been around longer and had somewhat better manners as more of us got to hold bottles and meet our own adopted elephants.

    Then these adorable kids were allowed "playtime" to wallow in the mud for a bit while we watched and took pictures and oooh'ed and awwww'd.  They were simply so darn cute we just wanted to bring them all home with us.  I somehow I managed to keep myself from running in to the mud to play with them....that probably would not have been so great for my camera, which I was using to make possibly the cutest elephant video ever:

    Wait, there's one more baby elephant bow....

    They are a tough act to follow, for sure.  The good news is, you don't have to travel all the way to Africa to foster an orphaned elephant! You can read all about the elephants and select your own online here, at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Orphan Project.

    But should you already be in Kenya,  then there's no better place to learn more about elephants in the wild than Amboseli National Park, and a visit to the Cynthia Moss Research Station (Amboseli Trust for Elephants).  If we could have stayed all week, we'd never have tired of hearing stories from Field Researcher Vicki Fishlock, who hosted us and enthralled us with her knowledge and enthusiasm.

    Of course, there is no shortage of opportunity in Amboseli to observe elephants in the wild, and sometimes the encounters are quite close!

    Whether up close or from a distance, spending some time watching a matriarch and her family is a real treat, especially when there is a very young one at her side.

    I think I could go back to Africa again and again and again and never tire of watching elephants. But for as much wonder and heartfelt joy that I get watching elephants in the wild, nothing will ever compare to the few precious moments experienced with the orphaned elephants at David Sheldricks. That was truly one of the greatest highlights of my life. And guess what....I'm already planning a return in 2012.