Robin Tams, Assistant Cameraman

Robin maintained a complex camera and lens system and controlled the camera at the Director of photography's direction.

What was the most stirring or surprising experience for you in each place?

Greenland: It's interesting that people can eke out an existence on the fringes of a barren ice sheet at all; it's beautiful, but it's not possible to grow much there. The ice sheet surprised me, too. As thick as it is, it still moves incredibly fast--roughly a meter an hour.

Madagascar: The brown lemurs there behave surprisingly like a group of people. Whereas ring-tailed lemurs have a pecking order and move in a line with leaders and followers, the browns are more like people and tend to come in a swarm. They're a bit slapstick and quite entertaining to watch.

Chang Tang Plateau: For me, Tibet was the most stirring of all these places. The nomads are a deeply spiritual people, and it surprised me to see how they're being oppressed by the Chinese. It's pretty depressing to find we live in a world where one country can completely overrun the culture of another country, especially a culture as special as Tibet's. In spite of the oppression, the Tibetan nomads are the most happy people of any country I've ever seen: They may not have much, but they're truly happy.

Iguazu Falls: I've seen alot of waterfalls in my life, and this is one amazing waterfall! I was surprised by its sheer size, how wide an area it encompasses, and by its color: When it's rained upstream, the water comes over the falls looking like milk chocolate.

Amazon River: It was stirring to see the close relationship the macaws have with Pancho--the cook that runs the facility--and his daughter. They've raised them from eggs, and he feeds many of them from his kitchen. Pancho calls them, "Chica, chica, chica!" and they come down to the compound to visit, sitting on his head or shoulder as he walks about.

Namib Desert: Nothing in Namibia particularly stirred or surprised me, although it was interesting to see the enormity of the sand dunes.

Okavango Delta: I found it stirring to watch huge elephant herds moving along the water. I watched one herd, two or three wide and a good quarter mile long, walk down to the edge of a flooded area and make a 90 degree right turn: It was beautiful. Also, the concept of an inland river delta surprised me--the idea that an enormous river can flow into the river delta and then simply disappear into the Kalahari sands. It's boggling to think of a river just disappearing like that, and before seeing the Okavango Delta, I'd never heard of such a thing.

What animals did you find to be the most interesting?

There were lots of interesting animals in Madagascar. We saw a chameleon whose two eyes worked independently until it spotted a grasshopper: Then it latched both eyes onto its target and aimed forward. And the lemurs there crawled all over the camera equipment; we had to keep pushing them off. At Iguazu Falls, it was interesting to watch the swifts that nest underneath the waterfall; they're constantly darting in and out of the torrent of water. And animals were pretty much the whole point of our trip to the Okavango Delta: We interacted with all kinds of large animals every day there. It surprised me to see the giraffe munching on treetops. We all know that's what they do, but it's still odd to see them chomping away. There are all kinds of antelopes, and elephants are everywhere. You can find hippos near the water, and if you're lucky you might encounter a lion somewhere. They surprised me, too. At night, lions make a muffled, low, rumbling sound instead of that classic MGM or circus lion roar you always think of. We filmed a den of wild dogs there, too, and it was interesting to see their hierarchy and how they interact as a society.

One of the most interesting animals I saw anywhere, though, was in the Amazon. We were in a small boat, crossing a lake at the end of the day. I looked off to the side of the boat and spotted a tarantula, walking across the water just like a water bug! The hairs on the sides of his legs were able to support him on the surface tension of the water. Not many people know tarantulas can do that.

How was the sky different in these places?

The sky was stunning in the Amazon. Everywhere you looked, every single day, the sky was a deep blue with beautiful cumulus clouds. The sunsets and the clouds were incredible. You can't go wrong with the Amazonian sky from a cinematography point of view! The sky in Greenland was unique in that it never got dark. And, in Madagascar, instead of feeling directional like they usually do, the sunsets felt like they encompassed a full 360 degrees;. I most enjoyed the night sky in Madagascar, because that's where I first discovered the Southern Cross.

What handy tool or piece of equipment would you recommend be taken along when traveling to these places?

Presuming you're going as a tourist? Medication to deal with travelers' diarrhea! You will absolutely need that, if nothing else. Be sure you have a good general antibiotic, coupled with something for stomach and diarrhea problems, particularly if you're on your way to Tibet, Madagascar, or the Amazon. Beyond that, as long as you research your destination first and pack appropriately, you should be fine.

What are your favorite anecdotes from your experiences in these places?

I remember being in the Dalai Lama's official chambers in a palace in Lhasa and thinking, "I'm standing here in this guy's office, and he hasn't been here since 1949. I know more about what it looks like today than he does!"

In Tibet, what began as an impromptu language lesson turned into my trying to teach a group of Tibetan children the game "Rock, Paper, Scissors." They got the words down right away and kept repeating them to me, but I never did succeed in getting the concept of the game across.

What one thing or experience typifies each place for you?

In the Amazon, that would be the sight of that tarantula walking along the water's surface. The things that really typify a place for me, though, are likely to be experiences involving other people, and we didn't have that in many places.

In Madagascar, I was surrounded one day by children ranging from two years old to their mid-teens. I drew a star on a piece of white tape and stuck it on one kid's forehead, and all the kids went wild. It started a feeding frenzy to see who could collect the most pieces of this worthless camera tape, and that really startled me.

Another time in southern Madagascar, 2 of us were exploring a town on our own and ended up following a couple of teenage boys who acted as our guides. They were barefoot and wore ragged T-shirts; they obviously had very little. When we got back to our hotel, we offered them some money for their services, but they asked for shirts instead. The next morning the boys showed up again, wearing their new T-shirts over their old ones. The people there are desperately poor, especially in the cities. They're just barely scraping an existence together.

Did any place engage your senses more than the others?

In Greenland, the glacial environment and the extreme cold create a sort of seventh sense, but I don't know that I can describe it! The glaciers have their own scent when you walk across them, kind of like the stale smell you get in your freezer sometimes when the ice is old: Not a bad smell; it's kind of sweet, very unique. And the Amazon has a wet, tropical rain forest smell. That was where the lackof sound hit me most: The absence of that classic "jungle sound" you hear in all the old Tarzanmovies--it's really a kookaburra, an animal that lives in Australia--not in the rain forest!

Do you have a story that has to do with the geography of a place?

The inland river delta of the Okavango is fascinating geographically. Water comes down from the mountains in the north--the snow melt comes in, floods the wetlands and then just stops and stays right there. It eventually disappears during the dry season, and then it starts all over again in the winter.

Another geography fact that intrigues me is that Greenland--which is covered in ice--was called that to try to encourage people to go there, while Iceland--which is really quite green--was named to try to keep people away.

Did anything strike you about how the native people of each place interact with their geography?

It's sad to see the Malagasy people chopping down their rain forest, burning up their most valuable resources as they turn brush and wood into charcoal to sell. The Amazonian rain forest is being chopped down as well. Once the forests in these areas are gone, the natives move in cattle. That lasts for a couple of years, and then that's it: They've depleted the resource; the land just isn't good for much after that.

Back to crew page

Greatest Places Online © 1999 Science Museum of Minnesota