Insights on Travel from Costa Rica Expeditions’ Founder Michael Kaye and his Expert Friends.

One of My Favorite Guests-Bill Mackenzie

Listening to Priscilla, Luis Pablo and Nadya talk about some of their favorite guests reminds me of one of mine.

I first became aware of him when he emailed me after his first visit in March 2004.  He told me that it was his first trip out of the U.S. since he went to Viet Nam as a marine in 1965.  He thought I would be interested to know that his experience in Costa Rica might well have changed his life, because he was seriously considering retiring early to devote all his time to photography.

Attached to the email were moving photos of my favorite subject—people.

In August of that same year he visited again.  This time I spent a few days with him.  I don’t think we spent 10 minutes together when we were not laughing.

In June 2005 he wrote me to say that after 35 years as a police officer, the last 11 as Police Chief of Wenham Massachusetts, he had decided to retire two years ahead of schedule.

Shortly thereafter he accepted my invitation to join me on a scouting trip to Nicaragua that November. 

In an intense  week we biked, kayaked, and visited school that took up a whole island with all the students arrived by boat from neighboring islands.  We met  potters doing museum quality ceramics on their front porches using kick wheels and clay dug out of their backyards.  We explored churches that were among the first built by the Spanish colonists on the American continent.  We were surrounded signs of Nicaragua’s devastating civil war and also by signs of healing.

But with all that, what fascinated me most on that trip was watching Bill MacKenzie relate to the people he photographed.

Laundry Lady San Carlos


“I spotted her walking down the street, my photographic eye intrigued by the story of her life reflected in her face. Through my guide, I asked permission to take her picture. As with most people in Nicaragua, honored that you would show them the interest, she consented and began to tell Julio her life’s story. It confirmed the hardship and sadness written on her face. In her eighty years she had known many trials; the loss of her husband and raising twelve children on her own, all who had moved away leaving her to fend for herself. As she gestured, we noticed her bleached white hands from years of taking in laundry to survive. I offered to show her the image on the LCD screen, but she declined saying her eyesight was so poor she couldn’t see it. We parted, but for me, I walked away somewhat changed for having met her.”

Bill MacKensie

You can see more of Bill’s work online at

Bill did not take my favorite photo from that trip; I did.

I think Bill would have said that his greatest passion was photographing people. I came to disagree. Bills greatest passion was not taking photographs; it was sharing them.

The only time I saw Bill after that was in March 2005 when he returned with his family and came over to the house for dinner. But we staid in touch.  At least a couple of times a year I would get an email thanking me again and recounting his adventures in places like India, Amsterdam, and Cuba—and always the wonderful photos.

Bill Mackenzie died unexpectedly in Wenham Massachusetts on Dec 29 2009.  I miss him.

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Comments and Replies

  • Edimburgo tem por muitos anos retirou o esterco do esgoto (este utilizado para ser enviado para o mar em um navio especial chamado Gardyloo), que é depois tratado e passado através de leitos de carvão e se retirou e analisados ​​sem parar antes de ser enviado de volta para o sistema.
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    • At April 07, 2010
      5:47:31 pm
      Ruth Marie Lyons said:

      What a lovely story, Michael! I wish I’d had the chance to meet Bill.

      As I have said to you before, Costa Rica puts a spell on certain people. It certainly did that to Jim and me. We return in 2011 for our 4th birding trip with the outstanding and amazing Charlie Gomez! Last time we were there was for his 50th birthday party at your place. That was an evening which will never be forgotten!

      All the Best to you and Yolanda,
      Ruth Marie Lyons

      • At April 05, 2010
        1:51:13 pm
        Cindy said:

        I know my father loved to visit Costa Rica! I am sad I never got to travel there with him. I am touched that he left such wonderful memmories! I enjoyed seeing Costa Rica through his eyes. He is greatly missed!

        • At April 05, 2010
          1:50:58 pm
          Rob Berndt said:

          I was on the August 2004 trip and met Bill at that time. Though the trip was short, he always stood out to me as well and we corresponded frequently after the trip. We both loved photography and had many conversations about our photos/trips. As you can see from his photos, the thing that Bill had a great talent for was capturing the spirit of the local people. I tend to focus on landscape/wildlife, but Bill loved interacting with everyone. I went to Tortuguero mainly to see the turtles laying their eggs; Bill’s eyes lit up just as much when he saw village children playing soccer and he was able to interact with them. This mirrored Bill’s outgoing personality with his chosen profession as well. He was a people person who liked to get in the middle of things and was very observant of his surroundings. Unfortunately, I was not able to make the Nicaragua trip, but the pictures and stories that he told from the trip sounded so great, that he made me regret even more that I was not able to share in the experiences firsthand with him. Though I only met him briefly and corresponded with him for a handful of years, he had a very strong impact on how I now travel and interact with my surroundings while I am traveling. He was also very influential on how I approach the composition of my photos. It is interesting to hear that someone like you who has met so many guests over the years would find Bill to be one of your favorites, because I feel very fortunate to have met such a man and have found few others that can compare.

          • At April 05, 2010
            12:40:32 pm
            Kathleen said:

            It sounds as though he was a lovely man. Condolences on his loss to family and friends.

            • At April 05, 2010
              12:39:01 pm
              Shannon Borrego said:

              What great photos; and your tribute to your dear friend is very touching. It appears that the world lost an excellent photographer and a very fine human being.