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At the End of a Long Drive

Shreesh and Neena Taskar

We didn't make the decision, the decision made us. On October 20th, 2007, we left our comfortable city of San Francisco to follow a simple algorithm - go North till the road ends then turn around and then go as far South. In between those two points was the stage, the timeline, the space, where we made things happen and things happened to us.

The past is fleeting and the stories, the sights and the feelings are perishable. One sees what one wants to see, and perhaps we are not capable of more. We saw that people are kind and helpful even if they were not materially rich. Some we could understand even though we didn't speak the same language, the motivations of others were incomprehensible even though we did. In the end fragments remain - the smell of roasting chocolate, a flock of snow Ptarmigians on snow, the creaking of the rainforest, the rough feathers of penguins, and the intoxication of Curanto.

So these are our stories. Every time you visit the site you will see a random post below. Each starts with Lo que pasa es que...

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Early morning

Points of view – Meeting birders – Meeting photographers – The Pantanal & Photography. (Map this!)

One of our favorite movies is Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon“. It relates the story of a murder from four different viewpoints, including the victim’s. I often think how applicable it is in everything that we do, from work to family to traveling. In the rainforest one person sees colorful birds and beautiful insects, another sees discomfort, mosquitoes and heat. Some people reverently see ancient deities in high mountains while others see an irresistible challenge beckoning to them. A hike can be done at a quick, uniform pace that brings color to the cheeks or it can be done at a deliberately slow pace to observe wildlife.

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Observation Tower

At the Canopy Tower in Panama, we met avid birders. We are self professed “fair weather” birders, which means that we are interested in colorful tropical birds and tend to ignore the “little brown” ones. The birders took delight in every bird, of whatever shape or color. The little brown bird may have the most melodious call, or display very interesting behavior. By hanging out with these people, we learnt patience, the best birding spots and the enthusiasm for birds of every shape and size.

Sometimes, though, you are lucky enough to meet professionals who are experts in a particular area. And when these experts are friendly, outgoing and fun to hang out with, then you have really hit the jackpot. I will always remember the Pantanal as an extempore lesson in photography in the most amazing surroundings.

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Rickety bridge

We had always wanted to visit the Pantanal after reading about it in the National Geographic. And what a place it is! Although most of the Pantanal consists of private farms, this actually adds to its attraction rather than detract from it. The Pantanal is much more accessible than the Manu Biosphere Reserve in Peru, and the wildlife much more easily seen.

The unpaved Transpantaneira road, 147kms long with 126 rickety wooden bridges, is overflowing with wildlife. Crested Caracaras and Chaco Chachalacas are a common sight on the road, while the bridges span areas of swamp pregnant with herons, egrets and caiman, which suddenly disappear under the water with an unnerving “whump”. Kingfishers fly all around you, tall Jabiru stork walk gravely to join their flock or sometimes put on a dance for no apparent reason. I will always remember the walk back to our hotel one rainy night on a road littered with caiman, reluctantly backing away from the black umbrella that our guide was waving at them.

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On the Transpantaneira road.

But for me, the most enjoyable part was the long walks with the photographers, they, loaded with not one but two huge lenses and a monstrous tripod and us, with our smaller lenses and the relatively small tripod that they encouraged us to bring along.

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There were frequent stops in the sweltering heat, patiently waiting for that perfect shot to capture the bird in flight or with the early morning sun lighting up its colors. We enjoyed gathering around beer or at meals chatting about the intricacies of the camera to get the perfect exposure. Under common interests, strangers can quickly become friends.

We had set out on this trip resigned to the fact that we would not be able to photograph birds with our small 200mm lens. Our time in the Pantanal with the photographers was the perfect natural workshop which encouraged us to try, to do our best with what we had. Photography, specially with a tripod, can be quite meditative, as you tinker with your equipment, making fine adjustments for your next photo, looking at a world magnified by the telephoto lens, beautifully lit up by the golden rays of the rising sun.

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For more pictures from the Pantanal, click here.