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.

What can you do in 2 months?

I recently moved to La Paz, Bolivia for two months to serve and volunteer with the HOPE worldwide team here as well as with the La Paz Church of Christ.  Prior to coming here, I was in New Jersey helping to take care of my grandfather.


After receiving encouragement from my mom and family to move on with with my plans of going to Bolivia – I decided on Feb 26th, to head to La Paz where I would serve for 2 months.  I had to count the cost of leaving my grandfather, but his health had been a pretty steady decline and I felt very grateful for the 3 months that I was able to spend with him while he was fairly coherent and responsive.  In my absence my mom and my uncle have been looking after him and he has recently returned home to his house for hospice care.

So… I’m here in La Paz and every day I try to give my whole heart to all that I’m doing.  My goals for the two months – I want to accomplish so much while I’m here that when I look back on it all I’ll see that the ONLY way it was all possible was because of God and he will get the glory.  I’m determined to improve my spanish with private classes almost every day.  I want to love people as Jesus loves.  I want to make a difference every day in someone’s life.  I want to pour myself out for others.  I’ll write more later and share specific stories of my daily adventures… which have been pretty amazing.

There are still moments and days where I question my ‘effectiveness’ and whether or not I’m really making a difference or not – but I heard this story a while ago and I often bring it to mind when I doubt.

“Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said,

“It made a difference for that one.”

― Loren Eiseley

I also love this quote…

“To the world, you might be just one person.  But to one person, you might mean the world.”

So what can you do in two months?  A lot.  As a matter of fact, there’s a lot we can accomplish in just one day when we live intentionally and seek to love others deeply, from the heart.

Carnaval de Oruro

Today I got the once in a lifetime opportunity to go to one of the world’s largest carnival festivals in Oruro, Bolivia.  Ask anyone in Bolivia and they will tell you it’s bigger and better than Brazil’s Carnival… I’ll take their word for it!  But anyway, Kevin and Noelle Broyles told me they had been invited by the US Embassy and had an extra ticket if I wanted to join them… um, YEAH!!

OK – so this place is 4 hours away from La Paz where I’m currently living.  And when I say it’s a 4 hour drive… it’s NOTHING like driving from NYC to Boston – there are no highways… you are lucky if the road is finished, of which, in many places it wasn’t – just straight up gravel with semis and buses passing one another on a two lane road.  Completely safe.

The Carnaval de Oruro goes all day Saturday, March 1st.  Beginning at 7am and wrapping up around 4am the next morning.  It’s insane.  We left La Paz bright and early and got there at 10am.  The scenery on the drive there was really beautiful.  Once we arrived in Oruro, the city itself was nothing to write home about, but that didn’t matter, we were there for the parade that the city of Oruro has held as a tradition for the last 200+ years.  The costumes, dances and the music all tell intricate stories weaving together the country’s history and religion.

Throughout the festival, more than 48 groups of folk dancers specializing in 18 different folk dances perform.  In all, there are over 28,000 dancers, about 10,000 musicians in 150 bands, and 400,000 visitors stretching over four miles.  Like I said, it’s INSANE.

Once we arrived, we were able to to park the car literally two blocks away from the parade route, which was almost comical.  But, it’s because most people use public transportation or they walk.  My friend Gwen and I set off to find the bleacher section that we had tickets for, only we didn’t actually have the tickets in hand.  So we were just kind of winging it.  As we walked through the maze of people we quickly were attacked with water guns and foam spray, which is a huge tradition here during Carnaval.  Because we clearly stood out as foreigners, we were even more of a ‘target’.  I very promptly purchased a poncho from one of the street vendors because I wanted to protect my camera.  At one point we had climbed over the brigades into the parade route trying to find our seats and everyone in the bleachers was yelling at us and spraying us with foam.  Did I mention that it was INSANE?

We finally were escorted up to the VIP bleacher section and given two seats.  Only, we didn’t recognize ANYONE and realized we were in the Bolivian Military Section.  Ha!  So we just went with it and stayed.  They gave us food and sodas all day long and it was wonderful!  I kept waiting for them to realize we didn’t actually belong there and then kick us out.  But they didn’t, and we made friends with all of the people around us.  We were even interviewed for one of the local radio stations in Bolivia!

P.S. I just moved to La Paz, Bolivia for two months… I’ll write more about that later.

Below:  The drive to Oruro was beautiful as we passed many rolling quinoa fields.


Driving into the city of Oruro, Bolivia

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Below:  Left – The street we parked on (where is everyone?).  Right – The bowler hat is a traditional part of womenswear here in Bolivia.

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Below:  A group of girls are bombarded with foam spray.  This happened to us only a few minutes earlier!


Below:  I loved this little boy in the bear suit!


Below:  So many people!!


Below:  The masks and the costumes are so incredible!  People spend thousands of dollars on their costumes each year and they don’t reuse them.


Below:  Families come from all over Bolivia and the surrounding countries to take in this amazing spectacle.  And they watch the parade ALL – DAY – LONG!


Below:  I felt so bad for the people in bear costumes because it was SOOO hot and they must’ve been dying under there!!


Below:  Whenever there was a break in the parade the kids ran out and continued their foam fights!


March 4, 2014 - 3:38 pm

Larry - Unbelieveable….only you Vanessa….. I am totally blown away by the color and the festive nature of the the event…Now that is something I would love to attend…. better than Macy’s and St Patty’s and a lot warmer…

La Paz, Bolivia – te espera

I’ll be living in La Paz, Bolivia for the next two months and I’m humbled and incredibly grateful for this experience.  The city itself sits at almost 12,000ft above sea level making it the highest capital city in the world and also earning it’s nickname:  ‘the city that touches the clouds’.  Overlooking the city is the towering triple-peaked Illimani, always snow covered and majestic.  La Paz is best enjoyed over time – partly to get used to the altitude, but also to experience the city’s many sights.  You can wander at leisure through the alleys and lively markets, marvel at the interesting museums, chat to the locals in a comedor or relax over a coffee at a trendy café.

Since La Paz is sky-high, warm clothing is desirable most of the year, at least in the evenings. In summer (November to April) the climate can be harsh: rain falls most afternoons, the canyon may fill with clouds and steep streets often become torrents of runoff. In winter (May to October) days can be slightly cooler, but the sun (and its UV rays) is strong and temperatures reach the high 60s, but at night it often dips below freezing.  (Read more at Lonely Planet)

I am so excited to hopefully be able to explore more parts of this great city and incredible country!  I’ll be posting stories, updates and of course photos throughout my time here, so stay tuned!



Check out this awesome video and then let me know when you are coming to visit!

Winter wonderland in the Northwoods of Wisconsin

In the days following Christmas I was able to get away and spend a few days with my family in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.  It truly was a winter wonderland!  We had such a fun time together, hanging out around the fire, snowshoeing and sleigh riding through the snow, and cheering on our beloved Packers as they beat out da Bears, da Bears, da Bears!  VEmbling_131227_9331VEmbling_131227_9348VEmbling_131227_9355VEmbling_131227_9359VEmbling_131227_9364VEmbling_131227_9366VEmbling_131227_9369VEmbling_131227_9374VEmbling_131227_9385VEmbling_131227_9412VEmbling_131227_9426VEmbling_131227_9431VEmbling_131227_9432VEmbling_131227_9434VEmbling_131227_9436VEmbling_131227_9446VEmbling_131227_9456VEmbling_131227_9460VEmbling_131227_9475VEmbling_131227_9496VEmbling_131227_9517VEmbling_131228_9522VEmbling_131228_9538VEmbling_131228_9559VEmbling_131228_9560VEmbling_131228_9576VEmbling_131228_9584VEmbling_131228_9594VEmbling_131228_9610VEmbling_131228_9622


January 27, 2014 - 6:23 am

Steve - Hi Venessa, I want to hear more about your Honduras trip. I’m still not on Facebook. I saw you last at Disneyland… Make it happen… I read about your Honduras trip & it sounds amazing. Your walk with God is inspiring. Don’t have your email or new phone. Steve

Christmas in the US : here, there, and everywhere

So, spending Christmas in the US was unexpected but I am so grateful for right where God has me. I am getting settled in New Jersey and trying to help out with my grandpa.  His health seems to be declining but I’m grateful that I’m here and grateful I can help out. Since I’ve been back I had the opportunity to spend a Saturday afternoon in New York City enjoying the hustle and bustle of the Christmas Season which was really special to me.  It reminded me of my college days when I lived on 28th and 6th avenue and I was going to school at FIT.  New York City is such a magical place to be during Christmas.  It also didn’t hurt that the Saturday I went it was 70 degrees!  I met up with a few friends and we walked all around – checking out Bryant Park, Rockefeller Center, Central Park and Times Square.  It was so fun! I got to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with my best friend, Mandy and her family in Philadelphia – just 2hrs from me in Jersey – so that was really special and unexpected.  I am so grateful to have so many friends that love me so much and share their families with me! Every day I have been spending time with my Grandpa who is at the rehab center.  I’m not sure that he actually knew whether it was Christmas or not – but I was there with him.  Check out the photos below 🙂



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Now I’m headed off to the Northwoods of Wisconsin to spend a few days ‘post-Christmas’ with my family!