Vanessa Embling » A blog about my life & photography

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    I love photographing people. I love telling stories with pictures. I love watching people and capturing emotions and feelings in an image. I love to have fun. And Laugh. And be silly.

    I am an endless wanderer and my middle name means 'bringer of light' so I try to do that wherever I go! I just moved back to the U.S. after living in Bolivia for the past two years working for a non-profit there. My life is an adventure as I strive to pursue my dream of being a photographer, adventurer, humanitarian and storyteller all at once.

Road trip with my mom

We closed up the house in New Jersey and my mom and I drove the van (packed full of stuff from my Grandpa’s house) cross-country back to Wisconsin.  It was a fun road trip and I was so grateful for the time I got to spend with my mom.  Who gets to do that kind of thing with their mom?  We listened to music, we talked, we laughed, we ate food, we searched for a starbucks, we took a detour, we took the scenic route, we stopped to see the sights and we drove.  And, three days later we made it to northern Wisconsin – our final destination.  Below are some photos from the trip.

What I learned from this experience: If you get the chance to take an adventure or an opportunity that you wouldn’t normally take or maybe it doesn’t sound all that fun at first to you… step out of your comfort zone and embrace life, go for it and embrace the blessings that God puts in your life when you take a road less traveled!

We had tea and scones at High Societea before we left Jersey – it was soooo good!  IMG_8169We stopped at a scenic overlook in Pennsylvania…IMG_8294Driving through Indiana, we stopped in South Bend to see the Golden Dome at Notre Dame.IMG_8309I also got to have lunch with my Dad in South Bend – I hadn’t seen him in about a year!  IMG_8315Driving…drivingAlways love driving through Chicago, such a great city!
IMG_8337Made it to Wisconsin!  Stopped at my brother’s house for dinner and I got to meet my newest niece, Auden!  Embling family_8393We stopped at the Dollar Store and picked up some mustaches for the boys, oh the fun we had!  VEmbling_140605_8358VEmbling_140605_8360


And then we finally made it UpNorth Wisconsin!

As we drove through Ohio and Indiana I couldn’t help but think of Jason Aldean’s song “Fly Over States”


Did you know….

Spotify has a ‘comedy’ playlist!?  How cool is that!?  I am almost embarrassed about how excited I am about this.  Here’s why:  I am currently in the US and I’m driving a lot to go here, there and everywhere… and sometimes I need a break from music or I get a little bit tired and stand up comedy is so much fun to listen to while you’re driving!  AND, because we should laugh a little every single day!  So – check it out!  I think you might have to be a premium user to access the playlist… but yo, it’s so worth it!  #IloveJimGaffigan #IloveToLaugh #hotpockets 

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Lake Titicaca :: Bolivia :: A Must-See!

Copacabana is a small, enchanting town set on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca.  This lake is the highest navigable lake in the world – which makes it quite spectacular.  It’s about a 3.5 hour bus ride from La Paz, Bolivia and it’s an inexpensive like-no-where-you’ve-ever-been weekend getaway.  The bus ride can cost anywhere from $3 to $10 depending on the quality of bus and how many stops it makes along the way.  There are two red stars on the map below – one marks Copacabana and the other is the point we visited on the Isla del Sol (a 2 hour boat ride from the port of Copacabana).  The whole weekend trip (including transportation to and from La Paz, a place to stay, good food and an all day excursion ) can cost less than $50.00 US dollars.  And I promise you, it’s like nowhere you have ever been in the world.

lake titcaca copacabana mapOnce we arrived in Copacabana, we found a hostel and dropped our bags.  We stayed at the Hostal Colonial for 50 bolivianos (about $7 US dollars) /per person per night – it was bare bones but totally fine (clean rooms, central location, hot showers and breakfast was included).  All of the nice places were booked – but if I were to go back I would book a room at Las Olas or La Cupula = totally worth it. Below: a photo of the outside of our hostelVEmbling_140427_4040Below:  Lisa and I shared a room – it was spacious and comfy enough.VEmbling_140427_4033As we walked down to towards the beach, there are plenty of little tourist shops to pick up an alpaca wool sweater, or some warm gloves and hat.  It’s such a cute, quaint little town.VEmbling_140425_3708VEmbling_140425_3710Below:  The iconic ‘anchor’ on the beach.  Reminds me of the song “Anchor for the Soul”…VEmbling_140425_3716Below:  We sat and watched the sunset from the beach – it was beautiful and peaceful as the mountains of Peru glowed off in the distance.VEmbling_140425_3715Copacabana Sunset, lake titicaca, boliviaSunset, Copacabana, Lake Titicaca, BoliviaAfterwards, we hit up La Orilla Restaurant for some stuffed trucha (trout).  It’s a cute little hole-in-the-wall place.  The next morning we headed down to the beach to jump on our boat for an all day excursion for 30 bs (about $3.00 US dollars).  The boat left at 8:30am for a two hour boat ride out to the northern tip of the Isla del Sol.VEmbling_140426_3735VEmbling_140426_3736VEmbling_140426_3738VEmbling_140426_3739I was nervous about getting sea sick and I didn’t have any dramamine but I kept reminding myself and everyone around me to keep your eyes on the horizon!  And we finally made it to dry land!VEmbling_140426_3742VEmbling_140426_3743VEmbling_140426_3746VEmbling_140426_3749VEmbling_140426_3751We of course made some friends on the boat (one of my favorite things about traveling is all the cool people I get to meet along the way!).  So we all stuck together and hit the trail for an adventure on the Isla del Sol!VEmbling_140426_3752VEmbling_140426_3753VEmbling_140426_3754VEmbling_140426_3755VEmbling_140426_3756Isla del sol beachVEmbling_140426_3764VEmbling_140426_3766VEmbling_140426_3779VEmbling_140426_3782VEmbling_140426_3783VEmbling_140426_3786Below:  Me, Matt and LisaVEmbling_140426_3790VEmbling_140426_3792VEmbling_140426_3794VEmbling_140426_3803Below:  There are over 80 ruins on the island. Most of these date to the Inca period circa the 15th century AD. Archaeologists have discovered evidence that people lived on the island as far back as the third millennium BCE. Many hills on the island contain agricultural terraces, which adapt steep and rocky terrain to agriculture. Among the ruins on the island are the Sacred Rock, a labyrinth-like building called Chinkana, Kasa Pata, and Pilco Kaima. In the religion of the Incas, it was believed that the sun god was born here. (info from Wikipedia)VEmbling_140426_3804Below:  Making friends with donkeys along the way.  VEmbling_140426_3805VEmbling_140426_3812Below:  Several times along the hike we literally had to push donkeys out of our way because they were blocking the trail.  I was so scared I was going to get kicked!!  VEmbling_140426_3810Below:  Wow, what a view!! VEmbling_140426_3814Below:  What the photos can’t convey is how amazingly crisp, clean and fresh the air was.  It was so amazing and I didn’t want to leave.  I loved just hiking along the trail, feeling the cool breeze on my face, the hot sun on my back and the cleanest air ever in my lungs while taking in these spectacular breathtaking views.  I just kept thinking… “most of the world will never get to see or experience this in their lifetime… I feel so blessed and so grateful.”VEmbling_140426_3815VEmbling_140426_3820Below:  We searched all over for the inca site “The Sacred Rock” (there are theories that it was used as an execution block for those convicted of wrongdoing) – and after a much longer than necessary detour… we found it (no signs, no trail markers… nothing… we only found it because we asked a 10 year old girl who was selling jewelry along the trail if she could show us).  And so here we are… at the Sacred Rock… Lisa, sitting on top of it – which I feel like totally contradicts the fact that it’s ‘sacred’!VEmbling_140426_3829Below:  Brett discovered another ancient ruin right next to the rock… an old wheel chair.  #Amazing.VEmbling_140426_3826VEmbling_140426_3835Below:  All of the houses are built out of adobe bricks (straw and clay) which hardens in the sun.  They are pretty remarkable and resourceful!  VEmbling_140426_3836VEmbling_140426_3839VEmbling_140426_3842VEmbling_140426_3844VEmbling_140426_3845VEmbling_140426_3846VEmbling_140426_3847VEmbling_140426_3848Below:  We made it to one of the most incredible lookout points… and I really could’ve stayed here all day.  There were some other backpackers that were playing guitar and singing.  It was amazing.  I want to go back and take more time hiking the trail and just soaking it all in.  VEmbling_140426_3850VEmbling_140426_3851VEmbling_140426_3852Below:  Matt, Lisa and I with all of our new friends!  (Left to right: Julia, Matt, Brett, Lisa, Me, Maria & Samantha)VEmbling_140426_3854VEmbling_140426_3859VEmbling_140426_3866Below: We continued further down the trail to the other major inca ruin sites… VEmbling_140426_3867Below:  By this time, we were running out of time because we needed to make it back to the beach to catch our boat back… so it was pretty rushed.  Which just gives me another reason to return!  VEmbling_140426_3868VEmbling_140426_3871Below:  Mesa Ceremónica (Ceremonial Table) – it’s thought to have been the site of human and animal sacrifices… VEmbling_140426_3875VEmbling_140426_3878VEmbling_140426_3892We were back on the boat – this time sitting on the rooftop so as to avoid getting sea-sick but also to enjoy the beautiful weather!  We made more new friends – this group was from Santa Cruz, Bolivia.VEmbling_140426_3899VEmbling_140426_3895VEmbling_140426_3893VEmbling_140426_3904VEmbling_140426_3905Below:  We then stopped at one of the Islas Flotantes (or floating islands) where we got to enjoy some freshly caught trout or trucha frita – it was yummy!   Here’s the story behind the floating islands:  The floating islands are man-made islands made with reeds sprouting from the lake bottom.  The construction of these islands is weaving reeds in areas where it grows thickly, forming a natural layer that called aurochs Khili ; on this layer called the reed mat, they build their houses. Each house is one room and they cook outdoors to prevent fires…VEmbling_140426_3915VEmbling_140426_3917VEmbling_140426_3918Below:  After our yummy late lunch, we headed back to Copacabana.VEmbling_140426_3928VEmbling_140426_3930Below:  This is the flower that supposedly was the inspiration for the Bolivian FlagVEmbling_140426_3931Below:  It was nearing sunset so we headed up the giant hill – Mt. Calvario (or Mt. Calvary)  It was a tough hike up lots of stairs… but totally worth it!  VEmbling_140426_3932We stopped at La Cupula and Las Olas (both hostel/hotels that I highly recommend to stay – they were full for the weekend we were there but when I go back I’m totally staying here!)  They are nestled into the side of the mountain and the properties are scattered with hammocks and cozy little spots to just chill and soak in the beautiful scenery.  La Cupula also has a fabulous restaurant that we made dinner reservations for that night (highly recommend making reservations because it’s a small place and it books up).  VEmbling_140426_3933VEmbling_140426_3935Nearing the top of the mountain… VEmbling_140426_3939VEmbling_140426_3940Finally, we made it to the top… and it was SOOOO worth it!!!VEmbling_140426_3943Also at the top of the mountain…VEmbling_140426_3947Below:  My new favorite spot… I really loved the view from here and it was so peaceful and relaxing watching the sunset…VEmbling_140426_4004-EditThe view of the Church… VEmbling_140426_3967The next day we stopped by the church before we jumped on the bus back to La Paz…VEmbling_140427_4034VEmbling_140427_4038And then 3.5 hours later we were back in La Paz and it was a spectacularly sunny day with barely any clouds in the sky… and a clear view of Mt. Illimani VEmbling_140427_4065

The Red Tour Bus :: La Paz

The city of La Paz is so breathtaking and beautiful and different from anyplace I have ever been or seen before.  So, I was super excited to jump on the red tour bus with my friend, Lisa, to get to know the city and it’s history a little better.  The best part about the whole tour was when we got off the bus to enjoy the lookout over the city at Killi Killi.

Here are a few photos from Killi Killi.


la paz pano




6 things I learned from college students

The other night I was invited to hang out with the campus ministry here in La Paz, Bolivia.  We gathered together at a family’s house, ate dinner together and enjoyed sweet fellowship.  I was incredibly humbled and honored to be there, spending time with these college students and I left with a heart overflowing, filled with God’s love.  Here are six scriptures they reminded me of last night as I watched their example.

1. Encourage one another daily (1 Thessalonians 5:11) – We all gathered around the dinner table and Rodrigo handed out hand-made awards to every single person with their name on it and it included three qualities they were known for as well as a scripture on the back.   It was really special, thoughtful, and encouraging.  


VEmbling_0014_84092. Be joyful always (1 Thessalonians 5:16) – Everyone that came to the gathering was joyful in their own way – but I think it was because everyone was focused on the greater purpose of being together as a group, being unified and building each other up.  I was amazed at the joy that overflowed from these kids – and that made it contagious.  Not that we’re not allowed to have a bad day or bad moments – it happens, trust me, I know – but when the overwhelming majority are joyful it makes the room electric.


VEmbling_0005_00383. Continue meeting together (Hebrews 10:25) – We need each other and life is just better when we can see each other frequently, spend time together and be actively involved in one another’s lives.  Simple concept… but it’s easy to get too busy and this takes a back seat.  When I’m spending time together consistently with my close friends and other spiritually minded people, it has a huge influence on me, sharpening me, and encouraging me.  In contrast, when I’m isolated and out of touch with those people, the effect is not a good one.

VEmbling_0016_84124. Give honor where honor is due (Romans 13:7) – This particular evening we were celebrating Maya’s birthday and also saying ‘farewell’ to Milton who had been leading the campus ministry.  Additionally, they surprised me and officially ‘welcomed’ me to La Paz and to the Campus Ministry.  Every person shared about Maya, Milton and Me – and the things they shared were really heartfelt and encouraging.  When they said they were going to share about me I immediately felt uncomfortable because I barely had met half the people in the room and I didn’t want people to feel like they ‘had’ to share – but everyone did and I was blown away by the kind words and deep insights they shared.  Overall, it just reaffirmed for me the power of one life, one person and the impact you can have – often times we don’t even realize it.  But how special to have times like these when people actually verbalize and put into words the impact you have made on their lives and the gratitude they have.  It inspires me to make the effort to share these things with people every day – no need to wait for a special occasion…

5. Show hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:2) – I walked into that house a stranger to many but I never once felt out of place.  Everyone welcomed me as though I was a part of the family and made me immediately feel at home.  I hope that I can do that for others when they are in a strange place and don’t know anyone.  A lot of times it takes being aware of those around you, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, and stepping outside your comfort zone to talk that person you don’t know that well as opposed to talking to your best friend the whole night because it’s ‘easy and comfortable’.

6. Give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18) – Life is just better when we’re grateful.  I know for me, when I’m negative and critical, I am lacking in the area of gratitude.  But the whole night was filled with people expressing gratitude towards one another.  Gratitude for small things and big things… shared together creating stronger bonds of unity and love.  Their example inspires me to make an effort everyday to express my gratitude to God and to others.




April 7, 2014 - 9:53 pm

Robert B. - Well put together. I love this :]

April 7, 2014 - 10:25 pm

Vanessa Embling - Thanks Robert!!

April 8, 2014 - 2:08 pm

Andrea - Thank you Vanessa it’s such an honor to have you here!!! You encourage us with your example 🙂