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Those of you who have been following this blog know that I have been undertaking a grand transition from a stock trader in the Big City to a photographer and “Gentleman Backpacker,” well, anywhere the prevailing wind takes me.
The wind last summer took me to Santa Fe, New Mexico to the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, and this past winter it carried me back to Japan, the land of my birth. This time, in the form of a Japan photo tour, I brought with me the illustrious photographer Arthur Meyerson, most famous for his great work across four decades as a commercial photographer shooting for the likes of Coca-Cola, Nike, and Apple, and a group of 13 photographers from Canada, the UK, the US, and Japan.
Last night I had the occasion to meet a friend I had come to know through Instagram thanks to our mutual love for travel and photography. This friend asked me to tell my “Top 5 travel stories,” which, along with requests for my “Top five (or ten) travel destinations,” is one of the most common questions I get asked. I am sure many of you have been asked something similar in your experiences; these aren’t easy questions to answer. Nonetheless, I will give it a shot in a series of my top ten travel stories to date.
One story that I get asked to repeat a lot, however, is my story about my time in the heart of the Amazon in Brazil. The subtitle for this story is really “Why you shouldn’t go to the Amazon and go to the Pantanal instead.” And my story, I feel, makes a compelling case for this argument, but it’s a little long so you’ll have to bear with me!
The Amazon, easily the world’s most famous rainforest, conjures images of adventure, romance, and danger, as well as visions of wild animals such as pink dolphins, jaguars, piranhas, and monkeys. The reality of the place is far different from the romanticized narratives we may have floating in our heads. The Pantanal, the world’s biggest swamp land (nearly the size of France), with its more open expanses and waterways, is the place to go to view “jungle wildlife.” The Amazon at its heart is a complex biosphere of intermingled life, extremely difficult to unlock and unravel during a short visit. Most of the wildlife you see here is the micro kind: wedged into rotten tree bark and under wet leaves; you only see the larger animals at great distances: in the canopy 200 feet above you or on the riverbank across from you. And the conditions are nearly unbearable at times.
Over the years, I have been so fortunate to meet so many amazing people on my travels. This has been the greatest gift of travel for me, and I think about my times with these wonderful people all the time. From time to time, I’d like to share some of these tales with you.
It was December of 2012. I was in Florianopolis in the south of Brazil. We were on the deck of a beach house at Santinho. The moon and the stars were out and it was a bright night–so bright we could see the whitecaps of the waves breaking on the beach. I had a drum between my legs, and recalling my high school concert band experience and my mother’s tutelage from when I was a child (she went to Jiulliard back in the day), I was focused on getting the rhythm right. My beautiful friends’ father looked at me and said in Portuguese, which his daughters translated for me: “No, with more feeling!” In a moment that was straight out of a cheesy movie a shooting star swept across the southern skies and soon we were saying our good-byes, and I had more than a little bit of moisture in my eyes.