This really was a surprising encounter.
And I confess that when I saw him to appear out of the blue, I was scared, at the beginning.
I never bumped into something like that, not even on television.
I was making a documentary for RAI (the Italian National Television ) on the last voyage of the "Rainbow Warrior" (the famous " Greenpeace " ship, sunk by the French secret service in the harbour of Auckland - New Zealand - in 1985) and with my assistant we were diving on the seabed of the Poor Knights Islands for a few days.
These islands are a paradise for divers and hundreds of giant stingrays probably are the main attraction. At least until the meeting with this huge "underwater snake"...
Actually, I realized pretty quickly that this sea monster would not have devoured us because it was a huge colony of harmless, planktonic tunicates, belonging to the genus Pyrosoma: thousands of small, gelatinous organisms that gather together to form a translucent and hollow tube, open at one end only.
The extraordinary nature and fortune of my encounter stem primarily by the size and the "health" of this colony: it was at the height of its splendor, at the apex of its biological cycle.
One of the best moments I have ever experienced underwater.
Coming back from one of my trips to the Galapagos Islands I spent a full day in Quito, capital of Ecuador, waiting for my next day flight to Europe.
As usual I killed time strolling among the stands and pedlars in the open-air market with the idea of spending the last few dollars still left in my pockets and taking some pictures of interesting situations and fascinating faces.
During my wanderings among the Che Guevara T-shirts and ponchos moda of "fake" pure alpaca wool, I ran across one of the many campesinos' children, dressed in the traditional clothes of their culture, who wander around the city with the hope to sell some candy, sack of corn seeds and lottery tickets to anyone who comes within range.
She was a little girl, no more than a meter high, no more than 6 - 7 year old.
She came to me almost brandishing a Chinese package of strawberry chewing gum, inviting me to purchase it. Her face was ruddy , her cheeks dirty and her doing very determined. The typical doing of those who perfectly know that a package of chewing gum, trimmed to a tourist, makes the difference between a guaranteed meal and fasting.
I was bargaining for a pair of colorful striped trousers (one of those that anyone who faces a trip to the Andes buys as a souvenir and then rarely wears when in Italy...) and she slipped between me and the vendor flaunting the Chinese chewing gum under my nose; the stand operator - another kid not too much older than her - took the little pedlar by the striving arm and drove her away in a bad way, fearing that she could ruin his business.
But the stubborn campesino did not quail (I wonder how many times she was already driven away by other competitors in the race for the tourists shrapnels...) and returned to the fray, infuriating the young seller of clothes.
As a perfect Western, with the sometimes offensive self-importance which we do not even realize to possess, I decided to call a halt to this challenge for survival among children by buying the pants for four dollars and giving the last half-dollar that still reemained in my pocket to the intrepid candy street vendor without, however, taking the package of Chinese chewing gum in exchange.
With the belief that I had resolved the dispute like Solomon, went back to wander around the market but I realized almost immediately that the little campesino still was following me; the first idea that crossed my mind was that the child, feeling she had found the "right tourist", was trying to worm more money out of me and this irritated me a lot:"I cant believe it! - I thought - I magnanimously donated you half dollar without expecting anything in return and now you're trying to take advantage of me?"
I felt like an idiot when she came stretching out the package of chewin gums to cede it to me.
But the most tragicomic thing is that my ottusity had not yet given the best of itself so that I thought the little girl had followed me in the belief that I had forgotten to take the chewing gums.
With the good-natured tone of my broken Spanish I thanked her for her thoughtfulness and tried to explain to her that I had given him half a dollar as a gift and I did not need her package of chewing gum. Yet she kept looking at me from the bottom upwards with increasing frown, without stopping to hand the package out.
Even a local lady stepped in: "No quieres, no quieres (He does not want it, he does not want it)!" though reassuring her that she could still hold onto the coin.
In response, the young pedlar, her eyes now evidently angry and without saying a word, beat my left thigh with her hands, again placing the Chinese chewing gum under my nose.
She had understood very well what we had said: it was me that had not understood at all why she was so stubborn.
As I picked the package of chewin gums up she turned her back conspicuously satisfied and went away without looking at me anymore.
She was a small and poor pedlar, but a pedlar! And, as far as she was concerned, I could fit my compassionate, western charity in my backpack and bring it with me to Italy...
I could take more than a photograph of her; they would have been very good photographs.
But her gaze never authorized me to do so and taking photograps against her will would have been a violence, unworthy of anyone who aspires to be defined a true Photographer.
I always dreamed of Antarctica, the South Pole!
The last great frontier of human exploration on this Planet.
Life has been generous and has allowed me not only to reach the immense Ice Continent, but also to come back several times and to live there for many months.
I took part in 5 polar expeditions and I had the privilege of exploring Antarctica from the top of the Plateau (the endless ice desert, over 3,000 meters above sea level) up to the depths of the oceans that surround it and lie under meters and meters of sea ice.
I met the most extraordinary animals, filming them where I never thought that I could get.
I walked where Ernest Shackleton, Robert Falcon Scott, Roald Amundsen and other exceptional men bravely walked 100 years before me and any other human being.
This is "my" Antarctica, where I will be back again, soon.