Monday, December 31, 2012

Is Felix a photographer or does he take pictures?

Critical as I tend to be, I'd say he takes pix as almost everybody else does these days: Mediocre stuff, nothing special. Fair enough - Felix has other interests, and photography has never really gotten into his system.

Once in a while, however, Felix leaves me absolutely flabbergasted when I see the type of images he could take if he only had the burning passion to become a real photographer. One that always has the images and their composition already in his head before actually seeing them in the viewfinder.

The photograph Felix sent me today from his BlackBerry phone is, to me, the irrefutable proof that he is indeed talented. Felix recorded what has been called the hallmark of Henri Cartier-Bresson's work: Squeezing the shutter at the decisive moment.

Here is another fabulous shot taken by Felix, free-diving somewhere in the Bahamas:

And this one is, in his father's most humble opinion, the very best he has ever done. It could have made me utterly jealous for not having taken it myself - but it didn't as the credit for it stays in the family...  :-)

Click on the images to enlarge them.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Chilean seafood - it could be the best, by far, if......

...... Chileans knew how to cook.

Unfortunately, average Chileans don't know how to cook well, not seafood, not meat, not vegetables. Very strange when you consider that in one of the neighboring countries, Peru, you find the most exquisite and diverse Latin American cuisine.

Years ago I ordered an appetizer of clams in Pucon, a charming town in the picturesque South of Chile. Guess what they served me - canned clams!! Canned clams in the country that rightfully boasts to have the best seafood in the world!!

I raised hell - poor 15 year-old Felix felt so embarrased about his complaining dad that he would have contemptuously denied to be my son at that moment - but it didn't help as the owner of the restaurant probably thought: "What's the matter with this scandalously behaving foreigner? Fresh clams, canned clams - what's the difference, anyway?"

Most restaurants in Chile, even in the capital city, Santiago, serve sub-standard food, cooked without any grace and love, let alone imagination. So, eating out in Chile can be a complete turn-off.

What a frustration knowing that the culinary 'raw material' the Chileans have, the fish and the "fruits of the sea" are absolutely superb: King crabs, all kinds of mussels and clams, sea urchins (a delicacy in Chile, and to my knowledge not in danger of depletion), abalones, stone crabs, sea snails, and fish, of course, many sorts, of which the "congrio" (= conger eel) is the most popular.

During our recent stay in Iquique, Karin and I preferred to go to super markets to buy yoghurts, fruit, cheese, crackers, nuts, and cookies. Couldn't go wrong with that. It's a good thing that we can both have frugal meals, and still enjoy life.

On our last day, Karin felt like having something special: a delicious MacDonald chicken burger which I passed, out of principle - dry bread yes, anytime; junk food, even tasty one, no way.

Instead, I went to have my last dinner in a seafood restaurant right in the fishery harbor.

Look what I ordered:

Yummy, right? Wrong!

You see me smiling because Karin took the photograph right before I was having my first bite. After 'savoring' it, I felt I was done - the soup at the bottom of the bowl looked and tasted like salty dishwater, the mussels were huge and tough, the fish had an extremely fishy, almost oily taste, so much so that Karin told me that only a pervert like me could  order such a smelly "Geschlonze" *) - she almost had to vomit.

Nice to have such delicate table companions, huh?   :-)

Felix, on the other hand, would have been quite proud of his old man had he been around.

I promised some people I care for to be more civilized and courageously control my anger when I feel my 'rocky mountain oysters' moving up all the way to my throat, as we Latins poetically describe that almost incontrollable urge to spit it all out in a fit of rage. :-)

Thus, I courteously asked the waiter for the bill, and even forced myself to say the soup was "buenisima" but that much to my chagrin the numerous rolls of bread I ate with it had filled up my tummy before I could finish the "Geschlonze" *).

*) Karin made up the word "Geschlonze". It means - well, just as it sounds, quite yukky, as "Geschlonze" simply HAS to be...  :-)

PS: I just realized that I never published this blog, written five years ago. For some reason I kept as a draft - I am posting it now, unedited, as my opinions expressed therein have not changed. I am currently traveling in Northern Chile, and eating out in a regular restaurant (Chilean restaurants seem to be all 'regular') is still the same old mierda (pardon my Spanish) as it was back in December 2007...   :-)

I almost forgot to wish all the readers of our blog a VERY good 2013 with most of their wishes fulfilled!!!!

Wolfgang and Felix

Monday, December 24, 2012

Caribbean reef sharks -

- they used to be my favorite sharks before I met, and fell in love with, tiger sharks. Not difficult to understand: The tigers' distinctiveness, their size, their character, and, yes, their incredible gentleness being their hall mark, starkly contrasting with their bad "press" they still get, makes them probably the most impressive and captivating of all sharks.

During the last trips to Tiger Beach we dived a fantastic near-by spot baptized "Fish Tales" by Capt. Scott Smith. 

Scott discovered the place as an alternative to Tiger Beach proper - where you will regularly find 30 to 40 of swirling Caribbean reef sharks, some tiger sharks, nurse sharks, and, if lucky, the elusive great hammerhead shark with its huge dorsal fin.

Clean, crisp, minimalistic - Caribbean reef shark at Fish Tales
Photo: Wolfgang Leander, 2011
Click to enlarge

 Caribbean reef sharks - the quintessential sharks.
Photo: Wolfgang Leander Green Turtle Cay, 2005
Click to enlarge

When I re-discovered the Caribbean reef sharks, I felt like seeing old friends again. Reef sharks were my constant and only companions when I dived the Abacos (Bahamas), mostly on my own, without any buddies. Just the sharks and me were the most memorable  moments of my life as a diver.

An old  friendship re-discovered...
Photo: Michel Lonfat, "Fish Tales" 2011
Click to enlarge 

Caribbean reefies were the shark species  -  not self-styled shark 'experts': statisticians, Swiss or non-Swiss scientists, ego-driven pseudo conservationist magazine editors or slightly (?) megalomaniac wild animal photographers, and some smart shark dive operators  -  that taught me that they, the reefies, and sharks in general, are highly intelligent creatures, perfectly developed to prevail in their environment.

I have experienced Caribbean reef sharks in almost all types of "moods" and behavioral patterns, also charging prey (wounded fish) with lightning speed, and, boys, lemme tell ya, they were not much slower than mako sharks, the fastest of them all.

Compared to tiger sharks the Caribbean reef sharks seem to be underrated. They shouldn't. Quite the contrary:  They are, along with the Galapagos sharks,  the most elegantly shaped members of the large shark family, worthy of our admiration and - why not say it? -  our reverence.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

New Generation of Underwater Photographers.

They have come a long way, and when one looks at their work, we "oldies", meaning those stubborn seniors who still cling to film and all the rest of it, are full of envy at the new photographers' seemingly unlimited possibilities of bringing home spectacular images.  

Mind you, there aren't many dinosaurs left - I would think that you won't find more than perhaps ten underwater photographers who still use the venerable Nikonos  V. Of those very few, probably no more than five free-dive while photographing, using available light only. They are the laughable, nutty purists, me included, a soon to be extinct species.

Virtually every professional and amateur underwater photographer has now gone digital or else started out using digital equipment.  Contrary to the old photographers who used rolls of film, and were thus rather limited (one roll of 35mm film yielded 36 images), the digital photographers are in a position to shoot "indiscriminately" underwater, often switching on their machine gun-type shutter mode which enables them to expose up to eight frames per second.

Imagine: One second - trrrrrrrrrrrrrr, and all you've got to do then is to choose the best image out of eight. It is not unusual for a digital photographer to "expose" 200 or 300 images on one single tank dive. 

You could say that with such technical feasibilities, it is almost impossible NOT to get master shots, if only by sheer luck. True, but these pros have a different notion about their work. They are pragmatic and think it's the result that counts - period.  Right they are!

What is it that we oldies have to ruminate about such things? Are we not flexible enough to adapt to, and gracefully accept, the new times and the progress that came with it anymore?  Most likely so. Well, then I guess it's time for us to go... Not sure whether:  
:-(     or   :-)

Raul Boesel Jr. is a young underwater photographer and an excellent free-diver. He loves the ocean with an almost uncontrollable enthusiasm, and feels it running through his veins. Even though there is growing competition out in the blue jungle, I could see Raul becoming a widely renowned underwater photographer one day. All he has to do is never be satisfied with his work - the relentless pursuit of excellence is the main driving force behind success. 

Here is a marvelous, rather unique pic Raul took close to Tiger Beach a few weeks ago:

Not bad at all, huh?....

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Shark Warrior Lesley Rochat was here!

'Here' means Tiger Beach. Lesley Rochat was here for the second time, and she absolutely loved it! I wouldn't be surprised to meet her at the Beach again next year.

Unfortunately, Lesley had a cold, so her diving was limited (as was mine due an ear infection coupled with a sinusitis). 

However, she worked hard for an upcoming conservation project the details of which I cannot divulge at this time. She even convinced me to be interviewed by her - although I felt rotten and scatterbrained because of the medication I took against my otitis. 

Larger than life - that is the expression that best describes this small, fragile looking  ocean lady. 

Lesley has dedicated her life to the conservation of sharks, and her enthusiasm for the cause is truly contagious. Craig Baumann, a new congenial friend from Oregon, who was also on our trip, grew so fond of Lesley that he decided to join her on her dive safari during the next Sardine Run south of Durban.

I used only one roll of film (36 frames) during the two weeks on Tiger Beach. The best - and only - photograph I managed to take of Lesley is this one. I squeezed the shutter at the right moment as both ladies were swimming perfectly synchronized.

HIM - Harmony in Motion
Click to enlarge

Total Diving Freedom.....

..... is what I always said was the salient feature of diving with Captain Scott W. Smith ("Scottie") aboard his Dolphin Dream (DD) . Now, being back from my last two one-week trips to the Tiger Beach area, I could add: On the DD, guests have also total cooking freedom.  

Some of you probably know that I have had a serious health issue (gastric cancer) almost four years ago. After the removal of my stomach I had to adapt to new eating habits: eating small portions frequently, avoiding stuff that is not cooked adequately which led me straight to discover, and absolutely love, the joy of cooking.

Thus, going to a restaurant ain't no treat for me no more. But if I were invited to have lunch or dinner with the explicit permission to prepare my own simple dishes, I'd  say: "I'll be your guest!"

Needless to state, if Scottie allows me to freedive with the tigers, he has nothing against my cooking my own stuff in the DD's galley.

Normally, I am a pretty messy cook, but on the DD I really tried to be tidy which can be appreciated in this image:

Da old Wolf has a new passion: Cooking!
Photograph: Felix Leander
Click to enlarge

The asparagus was absolutely delicious. By the way: You should never steam it longer than 10 minutes so as to have it "al dente", and serve it with good ol' plain melted butter. A lot of people, also the cook of the DD, grill the asparagus with cheese which, IMHO, takes away some of the delicate flavor of this divine vegetable.

Now, as to the diving: We had some excellent days, not at Tiger Beach proper due to sub-standard viz during our stay, but in a near-by place Scottie discovered a few years ago.*) That place, christened "Fish Tales", boasts of an incredible variety of tame (call them 'conditioned') sharks: Caribbean reef sharks, nurse sharks, tiger sharks, and the occasional great hammerhead shark. It is truly a paradisiac spot for shark lovers, and it comes in very handy when the weather conditions at Tiger Beach aren't that great. 

Tiger sharks: Just as curious as we are...
Photograph: Wolfgang Leander
Click to enlarge

The best part of diving with the Dolphin Dream is the fact that Capt. Scott Smith allows  you to move freely underwater whenever you feel like it as long as you follow the basic rules of common sense and good behavior. If you want to dive at night, Scottie will ask his deck hands to accommodate you.

Those who don't like to be lead by their noses will agree with me that it is the total diving freedom that makes diving the Beach with the Dolphin Dream such an unforgettable experience.

*) It was also Capt. Scott Smith who discovered Tiger Beach many years ago.