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Pterochroza ocellata displaying prominent eyespots in response to threat.
Yesterday the tire flew off my minibus, I cut the head off a pit viper and I was banned from a commercial flight by associating with a narco-trafficker. Today I am bushwhacking through the jungle in the remote trail-less backwaters of Guyana, waist deep in water and praying to make it through the rest of the day alive. What will tomorrow bring? God only knows. The adventure starts HERE
Green vine snake (Oxybelis brevirostris) displaying defensive gaping.
I scream for help from my mule driver as I sink calf…knee…hip deep into the mud. He continues walking ignoring my frantic pleas. And then I realize…he’s robbing me! Thousands of dollars of camera gear strapped to his mule and he is making the slowest getaway ever! The adventure starts here HERE.
I throw myself off the steep embankment and clutch at the crumbling roots and plants. I turn off my flashlight. Pitch dark. My breathing comes in ragged gasps. And then voices. I cover my mouth to kill all sound. Flashlight beams scan the trail. “They’re walking slowly…too slowly!” cries the voice at the back of my head. I clench my teeth and brace my body but I feel my feet slipping on the wet clay. And then they stop, not 5 metres away. My eyes flicker upwards and I feel the searchlight slowly skinning the hide from my back. “It’s over…it’s all over”. The adventure starts HERE.
Costa Rica (2012)
Yellow eyelash pit viper (Bothriechis schlegelii) taken in La Selva biological station, Costa Rica.
The adventure starts HERE.
Caterpillar from Khao Yai national park, Thailand.
‘Sunrise’ on Gunung Kerinci, Sumatra, Indonesia.
As we drove up the steep gravelly road, I could feel us losing momentum but the ojek driver urged his bike on until finally it stalled at the road’s steepest point. For a brief moment time stalled as well, and then the bike slid backwards and I could feel myself falling. The camera hit the pavement first, and I wasn’t sure if the harsh crack was the sound of the camera or of my head which followed swiftly after. The adventure starts HERE.
Large eyed pit viper (Trimeresurus macrops) taken in ACCB conservation centre, Cambodia.
Three days we’ve been trekking into the rainforest of Virachey NP. Perhaps we should have turned back when first I showed signs of fever. But now, trembling and weak, suffering from seizures and blackouts we couldn’t proceed any further. My guide handed me a handful of pills, “they’ll help” he told me. I dutifully swallowed and sat back down, my heart pounding and I wasn’t sure if my current crop of sweating could be attributed to the ‘medications’, the unknown illness or my steadily rising state of anxiety at having ingested an unknown quantity of amphetamines… The adventure starts HERE.
Camouflaged fungus longhorn beetles mating. Photo taken at night in Cuc Phuong national park, Vietnam. Copyright Paul Bertner 2014.
Blue armoured ant (Polyrhachis cyaniventris) an endemic species to the Philippines. Photo taken in Mt. Isarog national park, Philippines. Copyright Paul Bertner 2014.
Usambara peacock frog (Leptopelis vermiculatus). Photo taken in the Usambara mountains, Tanzania.
The adventure starts HERE
Forest stream. Photo taken in Nyungwe national park, Rwanda. Copyright Paul Bertner 2015.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (2015)
View of Karisimbi volcano from Nyiragongo. Photo taken in Virunga national park, DRC. Copyright Paul Bertner 2015.
I glance back at the Rwandan border, it is only few hundred metres away and yet it is a different world. I turn my attention back to the post-apocalyptic scene this side of the border. Ruinous streets still marred by the lava flows which had engulfed and destroyed the city 10 years past, people warming hands over oil drum fires, vast refugee camps, the involuntary flinch at the passing of an endless stream of military convoys. It is a country with a notorious reputation, and one with an irresistible draw – Virunga national park. I took one step, and then another into the bleakness and willed myself forward into the heart of darkness. The adventure starts HERE.
Spider assassin (Eriauchenius sp.) with prey. Photo taken in Andasibe national park, Madagascar. Copyright Paul Bertner 2015.
Tips, tricks and techniques for rainforest specific photography
Equipment and Reviews
And some advice on planning your own rainforest trip
I found a word in Malay which seems to describe my ‘occupation’ – Pengembara. A kind of traveler, adventurer, backpacker, vagabond- all the above.
My background is in Cell biology and genetics. I thoroughly enjoy microbiology and the study of tropical diseases. Though having first traveled to the Peruvian Amazon in 2004, I was bitten by the bugs. And since I’ve been traveling off and on to whatever rainforests I can reach, the more pristine and untouched the better. Being surrounded by the natural biota has led to me to diversify my interests into zoology, rainforest ecology, and the interesting yet challenging disciplines of tropical systematics and taxonomy. Only recently have I gotten into macrophotography, but I find it immensely satisfying and hope to continue traveling and photographing for many years yet, since each new discovery fuels the existing passion.
I have been asked many times how I fund my seemingly endless travels. The short answer is by treeplanting during the summers, and picking up odd jobs like fruit picking wherever I can. However the more accurate response is that I could do any kind of job and travel the way I do, since I travel extremely cheaply and independently. After an initial outlay of costs for camping gear and camera equipment, subsequent trip costs have plummeted so that I can comfortably live a month in the jungle in my hammock for $100, just the amount required for groceries and travel. All that is required is the will to step out of our fixed notions of what we can and can’t do. The moment we let other people’s notions of what we are capable of determine our own actions is the moment that we have ceased living for ourselves and are governed by the standards of others. My lifestyle provokes a variety of responses from people, from the person who thinks it a lofty goal and says “Oh, if only…”, to the somewhat derisive “yes but what kind of a life is that…when will you grow up and settle down…”. For me simply this is what I enjoy, and if I enjoy it, I will keep on doing it…some decisions in life are just…simple.
Others are more complex. Like partway through my travels in Borneo I developed a list of worrying symptoms like a temporary blindness that was complete, yet resolved itself within 5 minutes or so. Upon my return to Canada I was diagnosed with stage III testicular cancer that had metastasized to my lungs and spine. With such concerns it is easy to question one’s life and goals, etc… However, after undergoing a regimen of chemotherapy and surgeries I am again traveling, trying to put those hard months of recovery behind me and enjoying with renewed enthusiasm what the natural world has to offer. Traveling to rainforests all over the world is my goal and passion with no desire to stop in the immediate future.
Papua new guinea (2016-2017)
*If you plan on visiting any of these places or on traveling to some of the places I’ve already been to, I would be happy to trade experiences.*
Gear is slowly evolving:
Started with a Pentax K200D and macro Pentax 100mm f/2.8 DA lens.
Currently using a Canon 5D II, 5D III (X2) and Sony a7R.
(2)MT-24EX twin flash, 580 EX II
Zeiss f/2.8 100mm makro planar T*, Zeiss Luminar 16mm, Zeiss Luminar 40mm, Zeiss ZE 21mm wide angle, MPE-65mm, Canon f/2.8 100mm USM IS L, Zeiss 15mm, Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS L, Canon 1.4X extender, Canon 2.0X extender, Schneider-Kreuznach 40mm enlarging lens
Olympus 65-116mm telescopic extension tube, Nikon PB-6 Bellows, Canon 12mm extension tubes
Gitzo tripod, ArcaSwiss Z1 monoball, RRS macro-focusing rail, Newport linear stage
For a more in-depth list of the equipment that I use you can check out my equipment and reviews
which gives a brief synopsis and overall opinion of most of the equipment that I use.