It’s all but official that working on the ‘Planet Earth’ team is probably the greatest job in the world. British-Dutch cameraman Michael Sanderson was invited by the BBC to work on an episode of Planet Earth II. But what does Michael eat in between filming spider monkeys, rare river dolphins and protected bearded vultures?.
“I ran into the producer of Planet Earth at a film festival. Back then I was already working on a production on spider monkeys in Guatemala. They liked what I was doing and asked if I could shoot images of the monkeys for them as well. Later they hired me to film drone images of river dolphins in Brazil. Both animals can be seen in the episode ‘Jungles’ in Planet Earth II.
It was a matter of the right place and the right time. I knew where I could find those monkeys and how I should approach them. I climb into trees to film them, sometimes I stay at the same spot for about three or four hours. How to climb into trees is something I learned during a course for arborists. Instead of a chainsaw, I took a camera up into the tree. Before finishing this course I used to film the monkeys from the ground, using a tripod and zoom lens. After I was able to shoot intimate images of the monkeys while sitting next to them with the camera in my hand instead of a tripod.
“When I hang in a tree I normally don’t eat. Usually, we stay close to the camp where we spent the night and return to that spot to eat lunch. In Guatemala, we mainly ate tortilla, which were prepared by the guides who accompanied us through the jungle. They grinded the corn themselves, made dough out of it, smashed it flat and baked it into tortillas on a large plate that hung above a fire. The tortillas were filled with eggs and black beans and with it we drank, despite being in Guatemala (which is famous for its coffee), very bad instant coffee. We had tortillas with eggs and black beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For two consecutive weeks. Because I like Mexican food, it wasn’t such a punishment to me. A greater diversity of ingredients on my tortilla, however, wouldn’t have been bad, I especially missed guacamole. Basically, I was just craving for a very good burrito.
The best moment to capture images of spider monkeys is when they eat. These monkeys eat fresh fruit, without fruit they’ll die. Fruit only grows once per year on those trees and since there is only a wet- and dry season in the rainforest, and not four seasons like here, the trees come into bloom at different times per year. Spider monkeys have one of the largest brain capacities among primates and can, therefore, remember where and when which trees have fruits on their branches.”
“In Brazil we stayed for one month in a camp on an island, that was located on the Araguaia river where we had a chef cooking for us. The food was delicious and super fresh with lots of fish. To protect the river dolphins, the part of the river where we stayed has been a no-fishing zone for 25 years. Because the locals have been respecting this prohibition, not only the no-fishing zone is full of fish but also the waters around that zone. More and bigger fish can be found there than 25 years ago, which is something the locals benefit from. I think this is a great example of a successful sustainability project. One of the dishes I ate there was piranha. Although the taste was quite disappointing, it was funny to have to those sharp teeth on your plate.
In the past one-and-half years I’ve been working, together with my girlfriend, on a documentary about bearded vultures for Japanese television. The bearded vulture lives in the Spanish Pyrenees and eats bones instead of meat. These birds take the bones with them up in the air and drop them to break them into pieces. They can swallow bone pieces up to 30 centimeters. This was one of my most difficult projects so far. The vultures live up in the mountains and nest on very steep mountainsides. With the help of an 800mm lens and cameras that we placed into two of the vultures’ nests, we were eventually able to shoot beautiful images of the bearded vultures.”
“My favourite food is Portuguese. My girlfriend comes from Portugal and she has introduced me to her national cuisine. Portuguese food is diverse and the taste of the food is in general very good. For a fair price, you can eat very well in Portugal. My girlfriend’s family owns pieces of land where they produce wine and grow olives, oranges, and tomatoes.I can very much look forward to my first bite of bacalhau com natas. That’s codfish in a cream sauce and the national dish of Portugal. The funny thing is that you cannot find codfish in the Portuguese seas. They import the fish ever since exploring Norway during the first discovery travels.”
“The flavour that reminds me of my youth is Vegemite, which is a sweeter variant of marmite. When I was six years old I went on holiday to Australia together with my parents. Back then I didn’t like anything until I tasted Vegemite. Most people don’t like it, but I do. I always have a small jar of Vegemite at home. My parents are English and when I cook, I often prepare an English pie. Shepherd’s and cottage pie are my specialties. The pie consists of a kind of bolognese sauce and a bit of red wine with on top a layer of mashed potatoes, which I put in the oven. Delicious. I learned the recipe from my father.”
Search for ‘piranha’ (or a more accessible fish) in your city at foodora.