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. Subsequent trips will no doubt include:

Madagascar and West Africa
Costa Rica
Ecuador- currently traveling
French Guiana
Papua new guinea

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 moved on to a 5Dii, 7D, Zeiss 100mm makro planar f/2.8, canon 100mm usm f/2.8, MT-24EX twin flash, 580 EX, MPE-65mm. After frequent water damage to my 5dii I’m looking to upgrade to a weather sealed body with same specifications (Still holding out for that 1Dsiii). 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.

25 Responses to About

  1. Steve Brewster says:


    I started a group in Facebook to try to pull together the Nepal Alum since it is 10 years to the month that we crossed Thorung La.

    It would be good to have you there in FB ( you can dump it later if you choose
    to join now). You pictures are sublime and you write very well.

    Just sayin….


  2. Tomasz Przybylowicz says:

    dear Paul,

    first of all, your photos are amazing, I am truly impressed.

    I am a student of ecology and evolution at the University of Amsterdam. currently I am writing my masters literary review on the deceptive orchids and wanted to ask a permission to use one of your photos in my paper.

    there is very curious deceptive syndrome in the orchid Tolumnia henekenii which flower is thought to mimic a male of Centris ferruginea bee to provoke an attack of this territorial individuals. the assault on multiple flowers ensures pollination. I do have a picture of T. henekenii from my professor however finding a nice picture of Centris spp. bee is much more difficult. the one I found on your flicker account would work great. currently I am not sure whether the paper will ever be published.

    please let me know if I could use the photo.



    • pbertner says:

      Very interesting information, I wasn’t aware of such a deceptive syndrome existed. I knew of the orchids mimicking bees for mating, but this territoriality brings a new wrinkle. I’d be happy to help, use whatever you need! I hope that the paper gets published and good luck with it.


      • Tomasz Przybylowicz says:

        Thank you so much, I just submitted the paper and we will see if it is good enough to be published. As to the habit, it is very rare and nothing is much known about it. It is called pseudoantagonism and so far only Tolumnia bahamense has been documented. Its polliantor is believed to be Centris sp. It is also speculated that T. bahamense looks more similar to bee under UV light than under the spectra we can see. Sexual deception is more widespread with more species being documented. Recently, also the first case of sexual deception has been documented outside the orchid family. It is some amazing stuff happening out there 🙂

        Good luck with your travels, I will be checking your photos often.


  3. pbertner says:

    Many thanks for the interesting information. I have recently started traveling and photographing with a UV light. So far I have encountered quite a few insects that display original patterning under UV (365nm spectra) though I have yet to find any plants doing the same. Some genera of Harvestmen seem to be particularly suited to this mode of fluorescence, as much as scorpions. Do you know what wavelength the Tolumnias fluoresce under?


    • Connor Mcgillion says:

      Dear Paul I just want to say I am really enjoying your Flickr and your website here. You have a wonderful talent! I am truly surprised to see that so many of my favorite photos I have come to know over the years on the internet have come from one photographer! I wanted to ask you about the picture you took of the Brookesia superciliaris under a UV light. Can you explain a bit about this phenomena?

      • pbertner says:

        Hey Connor,

        Thanks for the kind words. The Brookesia photo you’re referring to illustrates fluorescence under 365nm wavelength. It is actually the underlying bones which are fluorescing (you can even see the faint traces of the ribs as well as the more brightly fluorescing spinal architecture). There have been several studies done (none involving Brookesia, but several with Furcifer, and Calumma spp.) which have demonstrated tetrachromatic vision in chameleons (isolation of UV-sensitive rods and cones) as well as behavioural responses to purported UV-patterns. But wavelength sensitivity has only been studied in 4 species to the best of my knowledge (C. dilepis, C. calyptratus, F. pardalis and F. lateralis). Bowmaker et al. (Bowmaker JK, Loew ER, Ott M. 2005. The cone photoreceptors and visual pigments of chameleons. J. Comp. Physiol. A 191(10): 925-932.). UV-fluorescence is thought to play a role in both intraspecific and interspecific communication.


  4. Joe Warfel says:

    Dear Paul,
    Came upon your flicker posts and blog while searching for images of opiliones of Guyana as I am planning on a trip there spring of 2012, though it will be a very short trip of two weeks. As an amateur natuarlist/photographer mainly interested in insects, arachnids an other small fauna I very much enjoyed your fantastic photo’s and reading your blog accounts.

    Interestingly I also am hoping to travel to Indonesian Borneo sometime in 2012 or 2013. Though I don’t have to time to explore for more than 2 to 4 weeks on my travels, your subjects and interests
    seem to parallel mine. I have photos of many of the same subjects as on your posts.
    If you don’t mind me contacting you with questions of the above mentioned locations in the future I would much appreciate it.

    Good luck on your continued adventures and good health.

  5. pbertner says:

    Hi Joe,
    Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m always glad to share my experiences with fellow travellers. So far I’ve got a very small section on my experiences with travel and advice: https://pbertner.wordpress.com/your-photography-trip-ii-where-should-i-go/ , though I do plan on elaborating in the future, so hopefully you might find something of interest there. I could also turn you on to a some friends that might have different experiences, with different places if you want to go somewhere specific.

    Anyways take care, and look forward to hearing back and sharing your experiences.
    Best regards,

  6. eben says:

    Hi Paul,

    I’m currently writing a story about “Interspecies Love”, a book chapter for an edited Cambridge University Press volume, orbiting around Ectatomma ruidum. I love your shot of Ectatomma carrying its own larvae. I’d like to print it in my essay! Any chance you have a higher resolution copy of the image? What’s the best e-mail for you?

    eben (dot) kirksey (at) gmail (dot) com

  7. Hey Paul,

    Love your macro photos! It’s awesome reading about your adventures. I just got back from Ecuador shooting a documentary on rainforest conservation, and I’m heading to Madagascar in May, so I’ll be sure to look out for the cool creatures you mentioned. Any must-see suggestions while we are there?


    • pbertner says:

      Hi Kelsey,

      Thanks for the kind words! Spider Assassins for me are one of the coolest creatures I have come across. I wrote an article on them here: https://pbertner.wordpress.com/spider-assassins-archaeidae/ . A truly unique and fantastic discovery I made was a spiny woodbug, as far as I know a species new to science. There is a plethora of chameleons to choose from, a common but lovely one is Furcifer rhinoceratus found in Ankarafantsika. The females turn a lovely shade of purple! Also the langaha or leaf nosed snake is a one of a kind, wonderful snake though it’s uncommon and is something that I will have to go back to try and find. Mantellas of course! You should be arriving in time to see the golden mantella emerge. I was too early in February but you should be there in full swing of courtship season. A large population of them are found about 10km away from Andasibe NP at Totorofotsy. Boophis frogs are super colourful, full of personality and a real pleasure to photograph. I don’t know if you’ve taken a look at my flickr page, but I have about 1000 pictures currently uploaded from Madagascar : http://www.flickr.com/photos/rainforests/sets/72157627999589758/ .

      Keep a look out and if you have trouble spotting them or other animals that you’re looking for don’t hesitate to contact me and hopefully I can give you some pointers on where to look, or what guides to hire. Have you got an idea of where you’re going yet? Do you have any freedom or is your schedule dictated by your work? A great and much cheaper alternative than Andasibe for example is Vohimana reserve off of Ambavaniasy and only 1/2 hr away from the park. It is significantly cheaper there, you can go on night walks without a guide and are left to your own devices. Also there are very few people there and so you will have the place pretty much to yourself (there’s an excellent guide that I can hook you up with as well). If you are not constrained by time then you should skip Andasibe and instead go for Zahamena. My favourite park was Marojejy. An under-appreciated and off the beaten track spot is Mananara Nord. It is seldom visited despite being one of the largest parks on the island. You also have the chance of staying with locals in a traditional village. There’s an excellent guide there as well. If you have any other questions I would be happy to help as I love the island, and of all the places I’ve visited it is certainly the most unique. With 90% endemicity in certain areas, take advantage and always, always keep a camera close at hand. Often likened to the Galapagos islands on steroids, take your time and appreciate the wildlife as there is only about 6% of the original rainforests that remain! If you have the chance to stay in one place for a long time vs. several places in a shorter time I’d recommend the former. I stayed on the island for 4 months and a bit and even so I only saw the Central and Northern part of the island. I typically allot about 2 weeks per park, sometimes more and despite not being able to see as much of the island as I would have liked, I have absolutely no regrets about how I used my time.

      Best wishes, and stay in touch,

  8. Rachel McGregor says:

    Hi Paul 🙂

    Those are amazing photos! I just looked through all 800 herp ones on the Flickriver site haha. I can’t wait to travel myself and take my own! Seeing yours made my travel bug go nuts haha.
    Sooo I have a favour to ask of you. I am an admin at a facebook page called Go Ahead, Bug Me. We post photos and facts on everything insect, arachnid, and other buggies. I was wondering if I can post some of your photos? They are simply stunning and I think the viewers will love them! I am also sure that the head admin would love to do a folder of your photos if you give permission.
    I hope your current travels are going awesomely!


    • pbertner says:

      Hi Rachel,

      Thanks for the kind words and I’m glad that you were able to find such enjoyment out of my photos/blog. I would be happy to let you share my photos on your facebook page and I hope others will get as much out of them as you have.

      Best wishes,

  9. Masaki Inaba says:

    Dear Paul

    My name is Masaki Inaba.
    I work at a publishing company named “DU BOOKS”(http://diskunion.net/dubooks/)in JAPAN and I’ve edited a book of “dumpling insect”.

    I was wondering if you could let me put your photograph on flickr in that book.
    Of course I’ll write it in a credits.

    I sent a massage by flickr.
    Please send me reply.

    Sincerely Yours,
    Masaki Inaba

  10. bee rose says:

    I stumbled unto a photo of your which led me to flickr and then this blog. Enjoy your posts as I’m a past adventurer… although I did get it up again and went to Ecuador for my 60th last year. Then just before bed I read about your cancer treatment. Then as I was falling asleep I realized I hadn’t seen the date of your last post. Well, I’m a nurse practitioner and I work with cancer; it was a natural thought. So here I am in the morning happy to see you posted last month. Look forward to reading and seeing more.

    • pbertner says:

      Hi Bee rose,
      Thanks for your concern, I’m alive and kicking, just a lazy poster who doesn’t update as often as he should. Glad to hear that you were able to make it out to Ecuador (the galapagos I imagine, or did you make it to the jungle as well?), it’s a fantastically diverse country that definitely merits a visit. Thanks for reading and commenting on the blog, it’s always very appreciated.

      Best wishes,

  11. Auke says:

    Hi Paul,

    Nice blog you got, good for bringing back memories… I especially like your writing style which, I assume, has developed itself by too many of the inevitable experiences when travelling in the tropics. The photos are of course very good too, but they make me think: “alas, neither the equipment nor the patience to rival that”.

    Given your travelling in Guyana and your plans to go to French Guiana as well, I thought you might be interested in a forum I recently created regarding the rich nature of the Guianas. It’s mainly aimed at identifying species, but there’s room for other things too. It’s free and without adverts or other annoying stuff. Posting messages and viewing pictures is only possible when logged in, but texts are available to guests too. You may want to have a look: http://www.guianasnatureforum.org.

    If this looks to much like a commercial please remove (part of) this message. I’m posting here since I couldn’t find your email address.

    Best of luck and happy travels,


    P.S.: please let me know if you ever happen to go to Suriname, my present country of residence

  12. hi Paul,

    I found your website when searching for some species info and my mind is blown away by what you photograph, how you describe it, and the incredible species on display.

    I hope you do not see this as spam, but I’m the founder of http://www.jungledragon.com, a wildlife photography community that goes beyond photo sharing and has a built-in species identification system. I’m just throwing this out there, hoping you’re willing to have a look at it.

    Whichever answer it is, I’m a great admirer of your work and attitude towards living your dream!

    • pbertner says:

      Hi Ferdy,

      Thanks for the kind words, they’re always appreciated and a nice site you’ve got there. I like the integration of the photo galleries, comments, and forums. It really gives the sense of a community. Thanks for sharing, and I’ll be sure to check in now and again.

      Best wishes,

  13. Pingback: Jungle Journal: Deception in the Amazon | Tropic

  14. spicysalamanders says:

    Hi, your pictures from flickr are fantastic. Do you also have a Twitter account?

  15. Dear Paul.

    I am working on a non-commercial book on all the leeches in the world. When it is ready in a few years I will upload it to my academia.edu blog https://independent.academia.edu/FriedrichvanderWart

    Can I get your permission to use some of your giant red leech photos of course mentioning you as copyright holder? By the way Mimobdella buettikofferi is no longer the name for the “Kinabalu giant red leech” but Gastrostomobdella buettikoferi (Blanchard 1897)

    Friedrich van der Wart

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