Sunday, November 25, 2018

Pantanal, Brazil 2018

Pantanal is the largest tropical wetland in the world encompassing parts of Bolivia, Paraguay and mostly Brazil. I consider it as a flooded Serengeti due to the diversity of wildlife. I visited there first in 2011 and as everywhere in the world it has gotten more crowded since then; all want a photo of a jaguar. It is an easy adventure since one is in a boat 100% of the time. 

 Jaguars are my favorite of the large cats, not the biggest, but have the most powerful jaws and their stare really surpasses that of the leopards, tigers and pumas - kind of hypnotizing.  They are easy to see since they tend to walk at the edge of the rivers looking for prey.  One can follow their routines as the one below that decided to take a siesta and slept for about 2 hours, woke and went looking for lunch but failed in his first attempt.

Our jaguar found a family of capybaras resting on a small island and went for the chase.  Fortunately they lived to experience another chase; the cat took a look at me and decided that I did not look tasty.  Capybaras are the largest rodents and semiaquatic and I call them the hippos of South America because of their similar behavior.  Interestingly they eat their own feces to obtain bacteria that help in the digestion of the cellulose in the grass they eat.

The giant river otters live in families and very playful and always communicating with penetrating squeaks.  Very efficient fish catchers since they work in groups.  After meals they go to the shore to sleep but they are very alert and when a jaguar approaches the alarms is sounded and all go to the river and watches the frustrated cat.

Caymans are the most abundant and are everywhere; they are a regular staple of the jaguars and in their turn they prey on whatever they can get including their smaller siblings.  They are hunted and the meat has the taste and consistency of chicken, so don’t hesitate to try it.

The waterways are surrounded by thick vegetation with all kinds of fruits and flowering trees.  Below is what I recognize as an anon; these fruits have various name throughout the Latin American countries.  It has a very tasty white meat from which milk shakes and ice cream are made.  Next is a young strangulating fig tree that eventually will kill the host and grow into huge trees.  It happened that when I was there all plants were flowering and a few samples are below…there is a scent of perfume in the air.

The orchid flower with the pod resembles those I saw in Madagascar from which vanilla is extracted; but this is a different species.  Ironically Vanilla was first cultivated in Mexico but the largest commercial supply comes from Madagascar.  It the second most expensive spice after saffron and causes dermatitis when one comes in contact with the sap.

Pantanal has been overrun by ecotourism that when overdone becomes detrimental and is getting extreme here. When a jaguar is found, the tour company boats arrive within minutes and overwhelm the area without respect for those already there.  The struggle begins among the boats to get the preferred spot to photograph the cats. I observed this time just plain tourists not interested in photographing; when I was there before all were photographers and only small boat with a capacity for 2-3 persons were used; 15-20 are the rule with some of the boats with a lower and higher platforms with swivel chairs like those using in fishing boats…pretty soon they will be air-conditioned too.

The by-product of tourism below is a trash pile in one of the lodges.  But there the locals also made a living by fishing.  The fish are numerous, colorful and great tasting; to me they are better than ocean fish. And by the end of the day, a great sunset is in store.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

In search of the Aguara Guazu

Searching for the Aguara Guazu or Maned Wolf, I ended up in The Sanctuary of Caraça  in Catas Altas, Minas Gerais , Brazil.  I first learned about this wolf from a photograph I saw in Argentina 3 years earlier which started the chase.  The Aguara Guazu is nocturnal and rare so it is a big challenge to photograph.  First arranged to go to a national park in Brazil where it is found but was not assured that I would even see and even less to photograph so opted to go the Sanctuary. The painting below was done by a German artist George Grimm at the request of the Brazilian Emperor Don Pedro II who visited here in 1881. The following image is a close-up of the church and the area looks now very similar to the painting.

 Going to Caraça was in search of the Aguara Guazu or Maned Wolf (Chrysocyion brachyrus) whose images are below.  Due to darkness good quality images were not obtained and the ones below, the first one was taken with an iPhone6 and the next one with a Canon 5DIII. These animals are fed every night in the church yard that has become a tourist attraction, a practice beginning in the mid-1980s’. Honestly the fact that I was not able to get an image of this majestic animal in a natural setting was not a disappointment, just watching it was a great reward.

 Aguara Guazu means large fox in the Guarani language and is also called red wolf but is not closely related to either as well as dogs and coyotes. It is the taller than those mentioned before. They prey on small mammals, birds and fish but largely feed on fruits and vegetables. Avoids man, it is usually solitary and are a threatened species.

 The Sanctuary was a surprise as to how in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of Brazil, it came to be erected beginning in 1774 by the efforts of Brother Lourenço who died in October 27, 1819, about 96 years old. He arrived at the site in the early 1770’s and started construction of the original hermitage which was demolished in 1876 and the new Gothic Style Sanctuary consecrated in 1883. The tower is about 160 feet in height and the cross on top is said to contain slivers of wood taken from the Christ crucifixion cross. The interior of the church is impressive and below the altar (next image) is the body of St. Pius who was martyred in Roman times; the body is covered with wax and was sent by Pope Pius VI. I wander what caused these remains to end up here.

 After Lourenço’s death, a congregation of Portuguese priests arrived and established a boarding school resulting in additional expansions to the complex. The School teachings resulted in various prominent students, two of those eventually ended as presidents of Brazil.  It ceased as a school in 1968 due to a fire.

 The dining hall that survived the school fire brought back ancient memories of my youth that I spent in a Catholic boarding school. The hall was very similar in the lay-out and I recall marching into it and not allowed to seat until prayers.  Then the battle started for the food on the table; if not fast enough in grabbing the grub, one may have to be content just with bread and milk. At the end and far right of the hall is a painting of Don Viçoso whose photo is below. That  face is the stereotype of some of the priests that maintained law and order in the school of my youth.  The scowling look implied that you were going to hell.

Overall the visit to Caraça brought me not only finding the Aguara Guazu but youthful memories that fifty years later are not so somber, the bars were broken.

 The Sanctuary is located in a nature preserve with plenty of opportunities for landscapes and wildlife pictures.  The variety of flowers is amazing with lots of orchids and birds. There large forests in the complex with trails with excellent opportunities that reward with a variety of birds.

 The birds below are the saffron finch, the southern house finch, the chestnut bellied guan and the ferruginous pygmy owl followed by a Brazilian chipmunk.

Time to move on and write the Pantanal blog.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Graffiti or Street Art Exhibit 2018.

I have not done a public exhibit since back in 1998 and it was mostly about wildlife photography. Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s I did several at various art centers, bank lobbies and others but retired from public life and dedicated just to roam the world in search of wildlife. I have visited about 100 countries but continue to return to a few. Travel photography has become a big business and there are very few places left to photograph, and the crowds spoil the landscapes and harass the wild animals.  Below is the flyer for my exhibit opening 9/7/2018.  For those that are unable to attend the work displayed is below the invitation postcard.

 Graffiti has been defined as illegal or illicit writings, paintings in buildings or public transportation surfaces and can be found dating back to ancient empires. It is mostly considered as vandalism but recently has been attaining acceptance as street art.  Graffiti are expressions of political and social protests or just plain artistic expressions. In certain cities such as in Brooklyn, New York, there are programs protecting and preserving these images. Most of the photos below depict art created with spray paint cans except for Image 3 that was made with ceramic shards and Image 8 with charcoal.

Description of Images.

1 and 2.  These are shown first since they are the oldest ones.  Photographed in April 2018 in the Cuevas de las Manos (Cave of the Hands) near the famous Route 40 in Patagonia, Argentina.  They were created between 8-9000 years ago consisting mostly of hands stenciled on the cave walls by blowing the pigments with hollow bird bones. Most of the hands are left ones since the artist held the spraying pipe with the right one.  I observed that the hands are more numerous close to the ground where the walls were more accessible to short people and diminish in numbers at the higher levels. Illustrations also include animals, hunters and geometric patterns. In Image 1 there is a hand with 6 fingers; can you find it?

 3.  This colorful image of an Indian woman is from the Northern area of Argentina’s Route 40 closer to Bolivia. It is different because instead of pigments, shards collected from a nearby ceramic factory were used to make the elaborate composition. Route 40 is about 3000 miles long paralleling the Andes; so far I have covered 1/3 of the route.

 4.  A wall in Lujan, Argentina.  Has vivid in colors and introduces a figure of an extraterrestrial. It was in a state of deterioration and who knows what was in the mind of the creator.

 5. The Blue Woman was photographed in 2017 in Guatemala City; I found it striking and kind of reminded me of the 1970’s hippie life styles.

 6. The Two Winged Monsters also came from Guatemala City and found not far from the previous image.  It appears to be influenced by India’s religious paintings.

 7.  The store front image comes from Nice, France.  It is possible that although it looks like graffiti, it may a mural.  I define the difference between Graffiti and a Mural in that the former is illicit and the latter probably contracted and paid for.

 8.  The Horses also differs from the others in the collection in that it is black and white on a wall inside the famous Carrara marble mines in Italy. These have been mined since ancient Rome and as to when these horses were created are hard to determine.

 9.  My favorite comes from the Bridge arch closer to the shore of what is left of the Pont Saint-Benezet over the Rhone River in Avignon, France. The colorful composition and the simple drawn lines remind me of a Picasso. 

 10. This one comes from Louisville, Kentucky, in an alleyway between a restaurant and a garage; the graffiti was on the wall of the latter. It was very large and about half of it is depicted here. I just happened to stop at the restaurant for lunch; otherwise, I would have never seen it. So I got an eye and a stomach full from one stop.

 11. This image and the following ones (12, 13) are from Bushwick, an area Brooklyn, New York where the highest concentration of graffiti in the USA may be located.  The anatomical representation of two hearts connected by blood vessels is most unusual and beautiful done.

 12.  It is the most intriguing since it includes graffitoed truck parked on the street in front of a business also covered by graffiti. As to the real origin of this combination, it appears to be intentionally done and who knows whether the truck moves at all.  In this case, the question is really an illicit creation or rather a composite mural.

 13.  This image is a heavily edited HDR image of a corner building.  Although the heavy concertina wire on top of the walls makes it appear as a jail, it is really a business.

 14.  The Shark is from Manhattan and probably a mural rather than graffiti; wonder if the shark was drinking an Indian IPA.

 15.  Finally the end…this graffiti of a woman with an owl on the head was found in one of the narrow alleys in Barcelona, Spain.  Thanks for visiting.