By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
For unmatched strangeness in the garden, you can’t go wrong with Colletia anchor plant. Also known as Crucifixion thorn plants, Colletia is a surprising specimen filled with danger and whimsy. What is Colletia plant? Read on for a description and growing details for this unique South American native.
Gardeners are often searching for that unusual, second look plant for their landscape. Crucifixion thorn plants could provide just the right amount of drama and distinctive form. However, they are very rare plants and usually only found in botanical gardens where special cultural steps for successfully growing anchor plants can be taken to mimic their native range. The plants are found from Uruguay, west to western Argentina and into southern Brazil.
Colletia anchor plant (Colletia paradoxa) is a shrub that may grow up to 8 feet (2.4 m.) tall and wide. It is a tropical to sub-tropical specimen that has flat, 2-inch (5 cm.) wide triangular stems tipped with spines. These are grayish green and resemble an anchor or jet plant propeller, which leads to another common name, Jet Plane plant.
The stems are photosynthetic and called cladodes. From these, almond scented, creamy ivory flowers appear at the stem joints from summer until fall. Leaves are tiny and insignificant, appearing only on new growth.
There are very few collectors that have Colletia for sale or trade. If you are lucky enough to find one, you will need some tips on how to grow Colletia.
Anchor plants are xeriscape flora which need well drained, gritty soil and full sun. Once established, they need very little water and are deer tolerant.
Crucifixion thorn plants are winter hardy down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-6 C.) with some protection and a thick winter layer of mulch over the root zone. Any damage can be pruned off, but be careful of those spikes! The bush can also be trimmed to maintain size and keep stems dense.
Colletia produce some seed but it is difficult to germinate and growth is extremely slow. A better way to propagate the species is through semi hardwood to hardwood cuttings. Take non-flowering early side shoots in early fall and pot them up in a cold frame to over winter.
Rooting can be very slow, up to 2 years, so be patient and keep the cutting lightly moist. Transplant when the cutting has a full root mass.
If you wish to try growing anchor plants from seed, sow in spring in containers or a prepared seed bed. Keep them damp until germination and then just lightly moist.
Colletia doesn’t need much fertilizer but a good light dilution of fish emulsion will benefit seedlings once they are 2 inches (5 cm.) high.
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I just got back from my third trip to Peru. I had not been to that wonderful South American country in 10 years and many things have changed–mostly for the better. I had the opportunity to explore the northwestern coast of Peru in particular the Moche culture. This civilization existed from about 100 AD to 800 AD and in many ways was much more sophisticated than the Incas who followed. One particular highlight was the archaeological find that occurred in 1987 popularly called The Lord of Sipan. the artifacts from this find are housed in a remarkable world-class museum that resembles a giant Mochen Tomb. http://agutie.homestead.com/files/Sipan.htm. this link shows a few of the many artifacts on display.
In the Andes just outside of Cusco in the small village of Chinchero, we visited an extended family who rediscovered and is promoting traditional weaving and dyeing techniques. Here is a little video I put together of our visit.
An exert from the journal I kept on our trip to Machu Picchu:
we walk down to the train station for the luxurious Hiram Bingham train to Aguas Calientes. We even get our own little Bingham Bag to use. This Orient Express train is the most exclusive way to visit Machu Picchu and includes a hearty brunch aboard the train. At the Ollantaytambo station for train to MP (0745-0915 for 1½-hour train trip down to Machu Picchu (5600’). We are in for a real treat, Jim Carrey is on our train. I said hi to him and it made his day!
The food is over the top good with champagne and mimosas to start our day. In the last car of the train a three-piece band is jumping with SUMMERTIME among other great songs. We are the party that livens things up. The views down river are gorgeous- white-capped dippers and torrent ducks. Ancient Incan ruins, straw bridges, the Incan trail, the last dirt road and into the steepening mts as we descend. Simply incredible.
A video of the train trip. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxvdlJVFhBk
And while at Machu Picchu in the ethereal mist on July 1st, I made this little video clip.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VkaonxY6W1c. It is the 100th anniversary of Higham Bingham from Yale “discovering” this most famous archeological site in all of the Americas. The sophisticated engineering work of the incas is mind blowing even to the hydrologic engineers of this era!
Well we had a heck of a trip, didn’t we? Saw more than I could have hoped for. We had wonderful gorilla encounters, giant forest hogs (very rare sighting), chimpanzees, and tree climbing lions not to mention just being on the Nile and Lake Victoria. Though some of you did not really get in very good shape (ahem) in spite of my warnings, we all did manage quite well in challenging terrain. It was also nice to have a cultural component to this trip. There are a lot of people in this part of the world and they have been cultivating this land for quite a while.
After one of these trips into a wild area I always suggest ways to help the conservation movement in that particular part of the world. In Uganda/Rwanda I believe that the most efficient use of our money in aiding the natural world would be with World Wildlife Fund and their partners. Please see the following: http://blogs.nationalgeographic.com/blogs/news/chiefeditor/2009/09/mountain-gorillas-support-network.html
And also the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation http://www.itfc.org/. We had a research associate from this organization in the group that I went with on my own in Bwindi.
Rwanda has a tremendous amount of aid (GUILT) money pouring in so they do not need our help. For the people of Uganda I suggest we help fund Dr. Paul Williams at www.bwindihospital.com I like his emphasis on birth control, use of local Ugandans and it seems well run.
If you took any photos of your fellow trip members I am sure they would appreciate having copies. I will send everyone a DVD in November (I hope). And please send me any prints, not a cd or email image, of people (guides, staff) of Uganda and Rwanda and I will bring those photos to them in two years. They are greatly appreciated. My suggestion is to do this right now before too much time passes. I would also appreciate a label on the back of the photo as to where it was taken (e.g. staff at Bahoma Lodge).
Anyway here is the trip synopsis as I saw it. I did not see everything that you did and I saw a few things no one else did which I included in this report. Thanks again for wonderful experience. We really were a fun group. I will see you later I am sure Galapagos, Botswana, Bhutan, Namibia, Madagascar, and the Pantanal?
BELOVED clients go to see chimps, gorillas and other hairy, feathered and leaved things with their ever appreciative guide – Michael
Ably assisted by Joseph and Ham with Wild Frontiers
Thursday, October 1. I leave San Francisco on this date and after a long flight into the following day
Friday, October 2. … arrive at Entebbe and Joseph meets me. To the Windsor aka Libya aka Lake Vic Hotel. To sleep perchance to dream.
Saturday, October 3. Today I get you some shillings, do a city tour in much traffic, and get a massage by Jessica and rest.
Sunday, October 4. I have my first Boda boda ride ride and spend several hours at the Botanical Gardens it cost two dollars to get in and I hired a guide – Alex- and tipped him five dollars. Entebbe Botanical Gardens covers an area of 40.7ha (a hectare is 2 ½ acres).The gardens have a collection of species of plants of the tropical, sub-tropical and temperate zones, in addition to several shrubs and other plants which regenerated naturally over the years. The habitat has attracted a diverse array of birds. I saw little Weavers, red chested Sunbird, Bare-faced Go-away Bird, Ross’s and Great blue Turaco, Splendid Glossy Starling, Double-toothed Barbet, Black and White Casqued Hornbill, gull billed tern, stilts, Crowned hornbill, Woodland, and Pied Kingfishers, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Eastern Grey Plantain Eater, Alpine and, Palm Swifts, Palm-nut Vulture, Hamerkop, Sacred Ibis, African Thrush, Black-headed Heron Long-tailed Cormorant, Egyptian Goose, Marabou Stork, Yellow-billed Duck, black Flycatcher, cattle egrets white fronted bee eaters. Also saw Black and White Colobus Monkey, black faced Vervet Monkey (also known as green monkeys), and red tailed monkey. The latter apparently escaped from nearby wildlife Center and is living all by herself in the Park. There are also many butterflies. Uganda is well-known for its butterflies. I also saw a green snake and a striped African ground squirrel.
Everyone but Katie and Mike are arriving early because of the canceled KLM flight. Ham, Joseph, and I go to meet you at the airport. You have an uneventful flight – a very easy transfer to Entebbe Town (+- 5-minutes drive) to check-in at the Windsor Lake Victoria Hotel for immediate sleep.
Monday, October 5. The hotel is full of US military and UN troops doing NATO maneuvers and US military exercises in northern Uganda among other things. The Entebbe airport we arrived in is not the infamous one from the old days. That airport is being used by the president for his private plane and the United Nations to fly supplies into the Congo and the Sudan.
What a timely group! Well everyone but Matt who thinks he has another hour and has corrupted Pamela and Steve. We leave right on time at 845 for a very short drive to the dock. Where we catch our speedboat for the 23 km, 45 minute ride to Ngamba Island. Matt sees some of our first monkeys – black faced vervets over in the botanical garden. He has excellent eyes, as you will see. We see the worst aquatic plant in the world — water hyacinths from South America. The water lily however is native.
The Water Hyacinth was introduced from its native home in South America to various countries by well-meaning people as an ornamental plant to the US in the 1880’s to Africa in the 1950’s spreading to the Congo, the Nile and Lake Victoria also in India.
The fast-growing Water Hyacinth soon becomes a noxious weed outside its native habitat. Plants interlock in such a dense mass that a person could walk on a floating mat of them from one bank of a river to the other. The presence of Water Hyacinth disrupts all life on the water. They clog waterways preventing river travel, block irrigation canals, destroy rice fields, ruin fishing grounds. By shading the water, these plants deprived native aquatic plants of sunlight and animals of oxygenated water. As the mats decay, there is a sharp increase in nutrient levels in the water, which spark off algal growths that further reduces oxygen levels.
There are many gull billed terns, pink backed pelican’s, long tailed Cormorant’s, great cormorants. The ride is very smooth and we just get a few sprinkles. They have very nice rain jackets for us. There are only two other people going with us. They are from Holland and are staying overnight. We arrived right on time and are met by Bruce, our local guide. There are open billed storks, long tailed cormorants, swamp flycatcher, spur winged plovers, cattle egrets, Egyptian geese, black stilts, common sandpipers, Hamerkop, black-and-white casqued hornbill’s, Angola swallows, cattle egrets, little egrets, pied kingfishers, and many Nile monitor lizards.
I give you a little information on Lake Victoria while we have tea and coffee.
Lake Victoria is either the second or third largest lake in the world. What?
I discovered in doing research that Lake Michigan and Lake Huron is the same
elevation therefore to hydrologists they are essentially the same Lake.
Therefore Lake Michigan/Huron is the largest lake in the world followed by
Lake Superior and then Lake Victoria. Lake Baikal in Siberia is the deepest
lake in the world — almost one mile deep. If you’d drained Lake Baikal and
diverted every single freshwater river in the world into the basin it would
take one year to fill back up this Lake! There is enough water in the lake
to supply the entire human world with drinking water for 50 years!
Lake Victoria on the other hand is shallow — the average depth is only 130
feet in the deepest part is 260 feet. 18,000 years ago Lake Victoria totally
dried up. It is well-known for tilapia fish stocks. Non-native tilapia was
introduced here from Lake Tanganyika. The non-native tilapia out competed
the native tilapia fish and drove them to extinction.
Then Bruce gives us a nice overview of the chimpanzees on this island and history of this place. It began in 1998. Ngamba Island is a forested island about 1 km² on Lake Victoria that provides a haven to 44 orphaned Chimpanzees that are free to wander around the Island. Wild Frontiers are the booking agent and you are able to spend the night on the island if you wish. The couple from Holland is doing this. We have our great experience with chimpanzees. We know it is artificial and controlled but it is still a lot of fun to watch with their antics around feeding time. They must feed them three or four times a day because the size of the island and can only support 2 chimpanzees and if they all made nests every single night the trees would be destroyed.
We have some free time after the feeding for some bird watching and photography. There are many dragonflies on the island. Great look at Nile monitor lizards — many different sizes. Off right on time at 12 o’clock for our 45 minute ride back to the mainland. When we arrive I give you a quick overview of the afternoon’s possibilities. Back to the hotel, lunch, and rest or exploration on your own. You can also get a massage with Jessica go to the exercise room, bird watch in the gardens, or just chill.
Pamela definitely wants to take a Boda Boda ride. Good for her. Many of you walk to the botanical gardens and see vervet monkeys and other delights. At 6 PM we meet on the second floor for an orientation done by Ruth from Wild Frontiers. And I also give you an orientation that will hopefully make our trip go better. We also go around the circle and introduce ourselves. It’s going to be a good trip.
Joseph and I head to the airport and pick up Mike and Katie. Very smooth. Time for bed.
Tuesday, October 6. Our bags are out at 730 — this is a lot of luggage! Will it fit in the vehicles or do we need the trailer? I know the answer but Ham and Joseph did not. We finally leave at 830 and it is raining. We drive north toward Kampala but veer to the east and avoid the city center. The rain has stopped the traffic is heavy but fortunately going in the other direction. There are about 1.2 million people in Kampala and another million come in every day to work — at least that’s what Ham tells us. The city is 10 times larger than the next largest city in Uganda. Kampala means that Hill of the Impala — because the King used to use impalas to graze on his palace grounds Two weeks ago there were riots in Kampala — the police killed 25 people and these actions were condemned by the international community. The conflict is basically about the monarchy. Ham will give us an overview later in the trip. There are also potential oil reserves that are in Murchison Falls National Park. The kingdom of Bunyoro desires a percentage of the revenues from the oil. They are both complicated issues which have roots in the way the British governed Uganda. They divided the country in the kingdoms with varying degrees of power and then there was the central government as well. In 1962 they granted independence to this mishmash, guaranteeing conflict. There will be 10 oil wells drilled in the Murchison Falls National Park.
We pass the Ankole cattle with extremely Long horns. Photo opportunities. Out into the countryside we go many many people. Notice the competition between the cell phone companies in the brightly colored buildings and stores along the way. Zain is the bright pink, MTN is the mustard color. We have our first Bush stop. It is getting warm. Mike notices many many migrating birds of prey far overhead. We go through the town of Luwere we cross the Kafa River and take a left. There are Borassus Palm here, which are thought to be planted by elephants.
Borassus aethiopum is a species of Borassus palm from Africa. In English it is variously referred to as African fan palm, African palmyra palm, deleb palm, ron palm, toddy palm, black rhun palm, ronier palm (from the French) and other names. It also has names in African languages. The tree has many uses the fruit are edible, fibres can be obtained from the leaves and the wood (which is reputed to be termite-proof) can be used in construction . There are at least two varieties of this species: var. bagamojensis and var. senegalensis. They grow swelling, solitary trunks to 25 meters in height and 1 m in diameter at the base. The green, 3 meter leaves are carried on 2 meter petioles which are armed with spines. The crownshaft is spherical to 7 m wide, the leaves are round with stiff leaflets, segmented a third or half-way to the petiole. In male plants the flower is small and inconspicuous females grow larger, 2 cm flowers, which produce, yellow to brown fruit resembling the coconut containing up to 3 seeds.
The landscape is heavily cultivated. The Bantu people arrived in this part of the world around 1500 years ago bringing iron implements and agriculture (yams and millet) and drove the original people — the Batwa — away. The roads do not have numbers they are just named between point A and point B. We see some vervet monkeys in the road. Around 1230 we arrive at Masindi – a bustling town and pull into a nice hotel. We eat our box lunch and get to play some pool. Our guides fill up on petrol. We see some people getting ready for October 9 — Independence Day — celebrations.
We left at 145 and turn off the main rd. here we have 85 km to our Lodge. It is a good dirt road. We cross from the kingdom of Buganda to the Kingdom of Bunyoro. We finally arrived at the entrance to the park at 215. We want to pop the top but Joseph tells us about tsetse flies which are ahead. We trust him. There are olive baboons along the road as well — they are very shy and runaway quickly. We also have a look at an Abyssinian ground hornbill. A female. It is a life bird for me! We begin to drop down the escarpment and the tsetse flies get bad == we close the windows and turn on the air conditioning. Slender mongoose is also seen. We stopped for warthogs and Cape buffaloes were wallowing in the mud, trying to escape the flies. They look miserable! We dropped down the escarpment even more and arrive at the top of the falls at 345. We are afraid to get out of the car tsetse flies are there and it is hot.
Tigris is our local guide and we walked to the falls. Mica flakes all over the ground from the Gneiss – which is Precambrian basement rock which underlies much of Africa. What can you say about one of the great wonders of the natural world? The Victoria Nile poring through a gorge 7 m wide and 45 m high. What power and energy. 45 km to the west it meets Lake Albert. Then flowing north it becomes the Albert Nile. Then it is called the White Nile when it enters the Sudan and at Khartoum the Blue Nile (90% of all the water) and the river becomes just the NILE. There is a large flock of rock pratincoles on the opposite shore. And a Palm nut vulture flies overhead. We take a group photo in front of the falls in perfect light. Looking west in the far distance we can see the Blue Mountains, which are in the Congo.
We backtrack and then turn right and follow the main road toward the ferry and Paraa Lodge. We are trying to make the 6 PM ferry and we succeed. While waiting for the ferry we see our first hippopotamuses and our first elephants on the opposite shore. There are also some Cape buffaloes in the water. There is also a huge mounted Nile perch on the wall of the small building.
The Nile perch (Lates niloticus) is a species of freshwater fish. It is widespread throughout much of the Afrotropic ecozone, being native to the Congo, Nile, Senegal, Niger, and Lake Chad, Volta, Lake Turkana and other river basins. It also occurs in the brackish waters of Lake Maryut in Egypt. Common names include African snook, Capitaine, Victoria perch (a misleading trade name, as the species is not native to Lake Victoria), and a large number of local names in various African languages, such as the Luo name Mbuta.
Lates niloticus is silver in colour with a blue tinge. It has a distinctive dark black eye, with a bright yellow outer ring. One of the largest freshwater fish, it reaches a maximum length of nearly two metres (more than six feet), weighing up to 200 kg (530 lb). Mature fish average 121-137 cm (48-54 in), although many fish are caught before they can grow this large.
Adult Nile perch occupy all habitats of a lake with sufficient oxygen concentrations, while juveniles are restricted to shallow or nearshore environments. A fierce predator that dominates its surroundings, the Nile perch feeds on fish (including its own species), crustaceans, and insects the juveniles also feed on zooplankton.
Nile perch have been introduced to many other lakes in Africa, including Lake Victoria (see below) and the artificial Lake Nasser. The IUCN’s (World Conservation Union) Invasive Species Specialist Group considers Lates niloticus one of the world’s 100 worst invasive species.
We arrive at the Lodge, check-in, and meet at 730 for dinner. Fortunately for us it is not too crowded. We are told we can eat everything here so we do. So far so good…
We are perched on a high bank overlooking the mighty Victoria Nile River. The sun sets quickly here at the equator and dusk is very short. There is much laughter and dinner — we seem to be having fun. At 10 o’clock there is an elephant screaming near the Lodge. He or she must’ve been in the place staff did not want to. I went outside to see what was going on but it was too dark. We all had our bed turned down in our Mosquito net dropped. The power is on all the time. The Nile flows silently below us. Early this morning the moon came up waxing away in central Africa. Hippopotamuses are outside the rooms eating grass.
Wednesday, Oct 7. After breakfast at 830 we have a short walk down to the dock. We see red chested sunbirds, common waxbill, speckled mouse bird, bulbul, and tracks of the waterbucks and the national animal of Uganda – the kob, tracks of genets, red-throated bee-eater, and the scary olive baboons. We wait for the boat to come over from the opposite shore. We board the boat at 9 for our trip upriver to Murchison Falls. Our local guides are Isaac and Kenneth. The captain is Moses. We have 17 km to go and we are going slowly. There are huge globs of foam floating downstream as soon as the sun heats up the bubbles they pop and the foam disappears. We have great looks at hippos, warthogs, Cape buffaloes, pied kingfishers bush bucks, purple Heron, striated herons, intermediate egrets, goliath herons, gray herons, wire tailed swallow, black capped gonoleks, water thick knees, black winged terns, gull billed tern. But the highlight for me — bird wise — was the Malachite Kingfisher. Most of the game is on the north side so that is where we concentrate. Very good looks at hippopotamuses and their babies. Many of them are missing either one or both ears. Very strange probably a result of in breeding from a small population. There is an upper deck which has a great view and that can be very hot. The other group with us is the ones that were in the hotel in Entebbe they are far from international expeditions. We will continue to see them. There is a bathroom and drinks for sale on the boat.
We finally can see the Falls. On the right side of the river — that is the South — there is a group of black and white Colobus monkeys as well as vervet monkey’s. We get good looks. Also right nearby is the site where Ernest Hemingway crashed an airplane. On the north shore we cruise over to Crocodile Cove, We watch many many crocodiles — some quite large –move into the water. They accumulate at the base of the falls to catch the fish that have gone over the falls. We tied up on a small island. I jump off first and get hula hooping with Murchison Falls in the background. Nearly everyone gets their photograph taken here.
Yesterday we saw a small boat closer to the falls but apparently we cannot go that far in this boat. Bummer! We return a bit faster this time and Kenneth has promised us elephants. And sure enough there is a large family group, combined families, 44 individuals including many babies. A census of the elephants done in the 1960s indicated there were 14,000. This was probably the densest concentration of elephants in the world and Murchison Falls National Park was considered a premier Safari destination. That was all to change thanks to the last King of Scotland. Right now there may be 2000 elephants and that is a recovery from even lower population. Eventually the numbers will return but it will take some time. We certainly had our share of hippopotamuses, crocodiles and elephants and birds today. What a nice way to begin our trip into Wild Africa. We are back to the dock at 115 and we all choose to walk back up the hill to the Lodge. Past those baboons and it is hot. The baboons have social groups much like those of human beings. Multi-male troops, high-ranking individuals over low ranking individuals, lower ranking will curry favor from high-ranking, shared copulations, often uncertain male parenthood, long-lasting male friendships, female and male friendships — with or without sex, group male defense, males will care for young. 80% to 90% of their diet is grass — human beings also eat a lot of grass except we call it rice, wheat, millet, corn, barley, rye… We are not so different.
Lunch is good with many vegetables.
Rest and relaxation for a little while — swimming sleeping reading shower. We meet at 330 for a game drive. It was clear this morning with blue skies and no rain. This is the lowest elevation we will be on our trip is about 2800 feet above sea level. We are in the Rift Valley — the Western part — and close to the lowest point. The movie, African Queen, was shot in this area. We will have to watch it when we go home.
We are off at 330 and there are now dark clouds. Our first stop is for a gray hooded Kingfisher, pin tailed whydah and helmeted Guinea fowl. Soon there is lightning and then very hard rain. We see our first Rothschild’s giraffe and kob — Uganda’s national animal. The rain is hard as we continue northbound. We are on the road to Pakwach but turn left and head toward the airstrip. I can tell you now that that part of the Park still not safe. There has been a terrorist activity out there.
We see the first of many oribis- the smallest antelope in the region. Easily identified by the black spot under the ear. Looking west we can see a large body of water it is the Albert Nile which flows north east out of Lake Albert. Quick bathroom stop at the airstrip and don’t take a picture of the old, beat up tank! What tank? I don’t see a tank. Uganda is paranoid about their military. A hawk hairier is seen and many kongonis aka Jackson’s hartebeest. There is a family of elephants in the distance. We are in open grassland with scattered Borassus palms and whistling thorn acacias. Giraffes really liked the acacias. We take the Victoria track heading toward shoebill habitat. We reach a very large marsh, which is called the Delta and is basically where the Victoria Nile drops into the Lake Albert at the far north end of the lake. The rain has stopped, the tops are up. The temperature pleasant. Slender mongoose seen. We go out into the papyrus and sedges and small waterholes. Great looks at many giraffes. Also woolly necked stork and lines of cattle egrets in the distance. But no shoe billed storks, yet. We backtrack a bit and see the boat and photographing something. It is the stork but we cannot see it. However we do get to see our first crowned cranes. This is the national bird of Uganda and they are gorgeous. Many many dragonflies abound. We wind out to Delta point and take a different track home. The sun is setting, the sky is on fire. There are many rabbits (Bunyora hares) in the road, thick knees sitting in the road, nightjars, and we actually see one spotted hyena. We get back at 730 just as a number of other safari vehicles arrive. Time for dinner. This was a great start to our trip – 48 species of birds today. And 12 species of mammals. A hippo by the pool much to the delight of us tourists.
Thursday, October 8. We are off at 730. It is not raining and we are heading in the same direction as we did yesterday afternoon to the north and then west. We see our first elephant family and we are nice and quiet and we can hear the low-frequency rumbling. There are some large black long tailed birds hanging out on the Cape buffaloes. These are piapiacs — which is a new species for me. They tend to be associated with Borassus palms. We see a pale chanting goshawk at the airstrip and a mystery eagle. We are going on the Queens track and looking for leopards in the trees here. None are seen unfortunately, but we do see many common kobs and there are at least 50 giraffes on the horizon. We are in open savanna — mostly grassland with scattered trees. There are some imperfections on the giraffe skin which apparently come from a fungus. Sooty chats, Carmine bee eaters, bronze manikins, bright northern red bishops, white backed vulture, Bateleur or short tailed eagles, Silverbird, many swallows.
Then we see a male and female lion! When you see them together it usually means the female is in heat. They trot off together toward a large group of Cape buffaloes. Nearing them, they mate. The buffaloes are upset (what prudes!) and several of them thunder after the Lions — we are amused and very lucky to have seen this. It is estimated that it takes 3000 copulations to produce one viable cub! We backtrack and dropped down a bit toward the Delta. We can see the antelopes – kobs and oribis are very interested in something — it must be the Lions. Up a new track we go and we see the female again. She disappears under a tree, drops down in the shade to rest. Goodbye. Skirting along the Delta we see Denham’s bustard – another life bird for me.
Our search for the shoe billed crane continues in the marshes. We do see the crowned cranes — Mr. and Mrs. And we encounter another elephant family with a lame baby and one of the young males with an enlarged penis nearly dragging the ground. One of the females bluff charges of us and we make a hasty retreat in reverse. Alls well that ends well. We see fishermen who are from the nearby village of Pakwach. We see our first hoopoe and paradise flycatcher but alas not the special crane. Lynn narrowly avoids being eaten by a crocodile — not! We head back at 1210 into darkening clouds to the east. The light is amazing. The Borassus Palm’s especially look great, as do the giraffes. We will not see the wonderfully tall animals again on our trip. It takes us an hour to get back to the Lodge — nonstop. And it begins to rain just as we arrive — exquisite timing. There is a beautiful silk moth at the Lodge some of us get good looks and good pictures of. We have free time until 630 we meet for a little talk on giraffes (blood pressure problems), hippopotamuses (vocalizations in air and water), crocodiles (parental care, related to birds), and the Nile River (Victoria, Albert, white, blue). Tomorrow we have a very long drive and a visit to wild chimps!!
Friday, October 9. What a great group we depart the Lodge right on time and catch the 7 AM ferry. We are off on a 10-hour trip and by 845 am we have a nice overview of the rift Valley — looking at that Fat Albert Lake. The Congo on the other side. We are basically heading South West. Our first town is Holmes. We stopped for water, cookies, and gas. Across the street from the gas station is a medicine man doing a show chugging Coca-Cola’s and he has a cobra in his trunk. We don’t have time to wait for the cobra. It’s getting hot in the road is getting rough. Today is Independence Day in Uganda — 47 years. The children are not in school and many people are in their finest outfits. The soil is red, rich and planted with corn, bananas, manioc, papaya, cotton. We pass a village where some men have killed a kob — they hold the bloody head up for us to see, smiling. We see the first dogs we’ve really seen they all look the same. The road is narrow, rough, and slippery. We have a lunch stop at 1240. At a school and there are children about. The lunch is not as good as the food at the Lodge. There are ants at our picnic — imagine that.
Baboons, black-and-white Colobus monkeys, long crested eagle, are all seen this morning. At the Musisi River we get out and walk for a bit. Good idea Joseph. There seems to be a big hatch of the reproductive ants. I found out later they are called sausage flies — they have wings and are being eaten by the local people as a delicacy. We try to catch some to try them but we fail.
Dorylus From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The army ant genus Dorylus, also known as driver ants, safari ants, or siafu, is found primarily in central and east Africa, although the range also extends to tropical Asia. Unlike the New World members of the subfamily Ecitoninae, members of this genus do form temporary anthills lasting from a few days up to three months. Each colony can contain over 20 million individuals. As with their New World counterparts, there is a soldier class among the workers, which is larger, with a very large head and pincer-like mandibles. They are capable of stinging, but very rarely do so, relying instead on their powerful shearing jaws.
Seasonally, when food supplies become short, they leave the hill and form marching columns of up to 50,000,000 ants which are considered a menace to people, though they can be easily avoided a column can only travel about 20 meters in an hour. It is for those unable to move, or when the columns pass through homes, that there is the greatest risk. There have been reported cases of people—usually the young, infirm, or otherwise debilitated who could not escape—being killed and eventually consumed by them, often dying of asphyxiation. The characteristic long columns of ants will fiercely defend against anything that encounters them. Columns are arranged with the smaller ants being flanked by the larger soldier ants. These automatically take up positions as sentries, and set a perimeter corridor in which the smaller ants can run safely. Their bite is severely painful, each soldier leaving two puncture wounds when removed. Removal is difficult, however, as their jaws are extremely strong, and one can pull a soldier ant in two without its releasing its hold. Large numbers of ants can kill small or immobilized animals and eat the flesh. A large part of their diet is earthworms. All Dorylus species are blind, though they, like most varieties of ants, communicate primarily through pheromones.
In mating season alates (winged queens and drones) are formed. The drones are larger than the soldiers and the queens are much larger. They mate on the wing, and the queens go off to establish new colonies. As with most ants, workers and soldiers are sterile (or non-reproducing) females.
Male driver ants, sometimes known as “sausage flies” due to their bloated, sausage-like abdomens, are the largest known ants, and were originally believed to be members of a different species. Males leave the colony soon after hatching, but are drawn to the scent trail left by a column of siafu once it reaches sexual maturity. When a colony of driver ants encounters a male, they tear its wings off and carry it back to the nest to be mated with a virgin queen. As with all ants, the males die shortly afterward.
Such is the strength of the ant’s jaws, in East Africa they are used as natural, emergency sutures. Maasai moran, when they suffer a gash in the bush, will use the soldiers to stitch the wound, by getting the ants to bite on both sides of the gash, then breaking off the body. This seal can hold for days at a time.
Several species in this genus carry out raids on termitaria, paralysing or killing some of the termites and carting them back to the nest. 
We start to see the tea plantations mostly owned by the British originally — surprise surprise. The day has cleared up with nice large cumulus clouds. We are climbing higher and higher up to over 5000 feet elevation. Quite a change from Murchison falls. As we approach for portal we can see the Mountains of the Moon. Mount Stanley at 17,000 feet is the third highest peak in Africa. We stop for another bathroom break at Fort Portal. 425. By 530 we have made it to Kibale National park area and PRIMATE LODGE. We are in a forested area and very happy to be out of the Land Rovers. We check-in — some of us have to walk quite aways to our room er make that tented cabin. These are wonderfully placed in the forest and quite private. My kind of place. There are some gray cheeked mangabeys near my cabin. I get good looks. Lucky me. But all of us will see them later.
Tea harvesting is a laborious task that requires some training in order to yield the best results. When plucking the leaves for a high quality tea, they pluck the bud and the second and third leaves only. This is called fine plucking. If more leaves are taken with the bud it is said to be a coarse plucking and produces a lower quality tea. Sometimes mature leaves are discarded giving each bush a pruning, which enables nutrients to go into new growth. The best climate conditions are usually those that are higher in altitude and get plenty of rainfall. It also seems preferable to have cooler weather and misty mornings to shield the sun, which causes the bush to mature more slowly. A typical tea bush will generally produce about three thousand tea leaves a year. Now before you get any ideas of buying a tea bush and making a fortune, you might want to know that these three thousand leaves only make up only about one pound of fully processed tea.
Once the tea leaves are collected in baskets they are taken to the factory to be processed. The processing steps taken will depend on the type of tea desired. The types of tea that differing procedures create are white, green, oolong, and black. Black tea is nothing more than the leaves of the camellia sinensis that have been processed a certain way. It is one of the four types of teas (white, green, oolong, and black). Black teas are the most consumed of the four types of teas. They are the highest in caffeine, but still have antioxidant properties, just not quite as much as others. Processing tea is generally considered the art of tea. It is where many of the subtleties in taste, body, and overall character are created. In its most basic form, it is taking the raw green leaves and deciding whether or not, and how much oxidation (or fermentation) should take place before drying them out. Tea leaves have enzymes in their veins. When the leaf is broken, bruised, or crushed, the enzymes are exposed to oxygen resulting in oxidation. The amount of oxidation depends upon how much of the enzymes are exposed and for how long.
The processing of black tea requires a full oxidation of the leaves. After the leaves are plucked, they are laid out to wither for about 8 to 24 hours. This lets most of the water evaporate. Then the leaves are rolled in order to crack up the surface so that oxygen will react with the enzymes and begin the oxidation process. The leaves are left to completely oxidize, thus turning the leaves to a deep black color. After that, a final drying takes place. From there, it goes off to be sorted, graded, and packaged.
At 630 or so there are some local people who sing and dance for us. It is quite entertaining and the kids are real cute. At 730 as we sit down to dinner. Edison, our chimpanzee guide, comes and gives us an overview of tomorrow’s activities. We are tired and after dinner I attempt to point out a few stars.
Our Tented Camp consists of eight unique safari tents in African style. The tents are raised on a wooden platform, with a private veranda overlooking the forest. Each of them is tastefully decorated in African style, with comfortable twin beds, large windows and en-suite bathroom. Besides the safari tents, we also offer recently renovated cottages. They are privately situated in the forest, with their own veranda, spacious bedroom and en-suite bathroom.
KIBALE NATIONAL PARK. Kibale, 766 km2 is one of Uganda’s enchanting forested parks. Here, you can hike in the park for hours observing the drama of life in a rain forest. The park contains pristine lowland tropical rain forest, montane forest, and mixed tropical deciduous forest. In addition to forest, you will also notice areas of grassland and of swamp. The forest is rich in wildlife. It is most noted for its primate population. Some of these are red-tailed monkey, diademed monkey, olive baboon, chimpanzee, black and white Colobus, and red Colobus. Some of the other mammals you might see are bushbuck, Harvey’s red duiker, blue duiker, bush pig, and African civet. More difficult to spot are buffalo, waterbuck, hippo, warthog, and giant forest hog. Herds of elephant once traveled back and forth through the area. These elephants have become more and more rare, and now are seldom seen. The birdlife in the forest and grasslands of the forest is abundant. There are almost 300 species, which have been identified here. One particularly worth noting is the endemic to Kibale forest. There are 144 species of butterflies in the park and a diverse population of moths and other insects. A system of trails has been developed within the park, and tour guides are available to guide visitors.
Saturday, October 10. It rains hard in the night I kept thinking there was a stream somewhere. But it stops by morning. Breakfast is a bit late. We head downhill to the National Parks Headquarters for a guide allocation and briefing. I asked John, the director of the Park, if I can have seven in each group so we won’t get broken up. He tells me no because he could lose his job and if he loses his job his wife and children will have nothing to eat. How can I argue with that? Katie and Mike volunteered to go with another group — unfortunately their guide, Gerard, is not that good. But thanks for the sacrifice. John gives us an overview of the Park, before we set off into the forest in search of the resident chimpanzees.
I go with Aston, who is an excellent guide. He knows that we have to drive to the trailhead that the walk is too long to walk from the headquarters. Your guide will discover that as well. There are somewhere between 100 and 120 chimpanzees in this group that is habituated. There are over 1400 chimpanzees in the entire Park. There are 335 species of birds, 321 tree species, 250 different kinds of butterflies, 21 species of snakes. The name of the alpha male in this group is, Mboto, after the former dictator of Zaire. He has been the head guy since 1991! It is not raining and the weather looks good. The very common dove-like sound is a yellow rumped tinker bird. We hear a blue monkey vocalizing, but we never see it. There are huge emergent trees erupting out of the forest. These trees are of different species. The large trees have flying buttress roots that help anchor them to the moist forest floor. One species of Ficus which has very rough leaves is eaten by the monkeys to help rid themselves of worms. The common understory plant is a kind of grass. Not much light is hitting the forest floor. There are trails everywhere that help us follow the chimpanzees. We are lucky — in a very short time we have found them. There are at least six above our heads and six more nearby. We stay them a very long time. And watch them go about their daily life of being a chimpanzee. One of the highlights — at least for me – was catching the big male masturbating! Yes he was caught red-handed or should I say pink handed. Many of us are urinated on which brings us seven years of very good luck.
We can see the white tufts on the tail of some of the young ones. They keep these tufts for nine years. We also see them groom each other and clamber up and down the trees. The big male whose name in Luganda, Sabo, means Sir. He actually comes down onto the ground and walks away from us. Aston said that he is responding to other chimpanzees that pounded on one of the buttress roots. That sound can carry for 2 km and is one of the major ways of communication. The huge ferns that we see in the tree are called elephant ear ferns. There is also mistletoe and orchids as epiphytes. There are many vines clambering up large trees. We hear some more chimpanzees so we move toward those. We then call you guys because we have heard you have not had much luck and we would like to share our chimpanzees with you. So you come on over. So much for those intimate groups of six people. The fig trees are all numbered so that the guides can reference where they are.
There are many fungi everywhere and there are also many ripe fruits. It’s easy to see why there are many primates at the forest — it seems to be a rich environment for fruit eaters. We walked back all the way to the headquarters. One of the large trees is the genus Celtis, which we know as Hackberry at home. The Emerald cuckoo has a call which says – hello Georgie. We see the crested Guinea fowl, red Colobus monkeys, L’Hoests monkeys, red tailed monkeys, and gray cheeked mangobeys. The latter is flashing us. There are not many places in the world where you can see this many primates on a morning walk. The other group sees olive baboons, which we do not see. This morning we have a grand total of seven primates- very few places in the world can you see this many species on a morning walk.
Back for a late lunch just as the rain begins — hard! Lunch is good: pizza, fish fingers, potato salad, avocado salad and fruit for dessert. Five of us meet at three o’clock for a walk to the tree house. The rain stopped just in time. We are led by Joseph who gets lost, but we backtrack and clamber up into the tree house. Green sunbirds seen — male and female working on their next. This is a place where elephants are often seen, it overlooks the swamp where they like to feed. We have seen elephant sign here, droppings, broken branches and large footprints but no elephants. It does not rain on us. Again we are lucky — after all this is a rain forest. Back to our bandas, which sit nicely and privately surrounded by the forest. They are most peaceful. Some of us, most of us had hot water for showers. That feels good.
Sunday, October 11. At 830 after breakfast we gather for a little talk on the geology of the Rift Valley in Eastern Africa — a most remarkable geologic feature. The Gregory rift is 25 million years old the Albertine rift is 10 to 15,000,000 years old. The eastern one is the land of volcanoes — fire! The Western one is the land of water — deep, deep string of lakes. I review the map where we have traveled and where we are going as well. We are off at nine o’clock — a most reasonable hour — we depart for a three-hour drive Queen Elizabeth National Park. Of course we will have stops along the way especially at the equator. We turn right at the main headquarters to take what we hope is a shortcut. We pass a number of crater lakes which should more accurately be called caldera lakes. A crater is caused by either a meteor or a bomb a caldera is caused by a volcano. We pass the Lodge – Ndali- which I had originally booked but then found out it was an hour to an hour and a half drive to the chimp treks and said forget it. It has a nice view though.
Katie notices there is snow on the distant mountains — the Rwenzoris. Ham assures her this is only a cloud but no, we have a very clear view of the third-highest peak in Africa and that is snow. Lucky us. We enter the Tooro kingdom. We turn right on the next road. And eventually we hit the main road tarmac — hallelujah. We stopped at Kasese for gas and toilets. This town has seen better days when the Copper mine was operating. There apparently is an active cobalt mine however. The train used to run here but no longer does. We are entering Queen Elizabeth National Park named in her honor in 1954. There is a road that turns off to the right which leads to the Congo 40 km away. John’s GPS indicates this is actually the equator. But just a little way south we come to a monument to the equator. The photo opportunities. Sure wish I had brought my hoop.
We turn right and go to the Queen’s Pavilion where we have our lunch. In the distance we can see Lake George and there are many animals visible on the other side of the main road. Cape buffaloes, water bucks, kobs, warthogs. It is warm! Back in the Land Rovers we popped the top and continue on the scenic drive through the craters — known as explosive craters. They erupted eight to 10,000 years ago and some are filled with water, some are full of trees, some are full of grass and bushes, and some are full of sulfurous gases. We spy an elephant family down below to the left. There isn’t much game here even though the grass seems tall and healthy. But perhaps it is not nutritious.
We get to the main road and turn right and go into the small semi-deserted almost a ghost town of Kitme. We pick up a local guide from that community based project. His name is Ouma we go to the crater and dropped down into the salt works. Unfortunately since it is Sunday there is no one working here. The salt has been mined since the 16th century. It created an extremely prosperous kingdom of the Bunyoro. The salt was traded all the way up into the Sudan, west to the Congo and south to Burundi. The Germans tried and failed to create a modern salt processing facility. Another example of well-meaning donor money gone bad. It’s pretty hot out there and it sure is a tough way to make a living. The women worked in the shallow pits and the men work in deeper water. The salt is very tough on their bodies. While we were there a large truck arrives and we see across the lake men loading it by hand. Each bag of salt weighs over 200 pounds. Katie really liked it but I think I’ll leave it off future trips.
We then head over to our Lodge- Mweya. I think we can get used to this. It is large and comfortable and most importantly has a very hot and powerful shower. There are friendly banded mongoose here, warthogs, and weavers which are easy to see and photograph. Down below along with the Kazinga channel there are hippo, elephants, and Cape buffalo. Water bucks too. The channel is full of birds. Toward the northwest we can still see the Ruwenzori Mountains.
At seven o’clock we meet at the bar with Joseph and Ham. They are going to share with us some information about Uganda. I start with one question — what caused the recent riots in Kampala? 25 minutes later Ham finishes answering that question. He did a very good job of explaining a very complicated situation and history of this fascinating country. Dinner is very good. Egyptian free tailed bats and tropical geckos are eating the insects. We lose Matt to a soccer match — Nigeria and Mozambique. Another exciting game that ends zero to zero!
QUEEN ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK. The park spreads over an area of 1978 km2 in the western arm of the Great East Rift Valley. It is a home to a variety of wildlife including elephant, lion, hippo, buffalo, and Uganda kob, baboon, and, all typical of riverine and savannah habitats. In the southern part of the park is the Ishasha are with tree climbing lions and the Maramagambo, one of the largest surviving natural forests in Uganda. The northern part of the park is traversed by the equator and is dominated by the scenery of crater lakes with lots of flamingos on some of them. A launch trip from Mweya along the Kazinga channel, which joins Lake Edward and Lake George, provides one of the most memorable experiences of the park.
Monday, October 12. Hot water and tea and coffee and muffins are ready at 6 AM. What a great group — we arrived at 620. There is a Cape buffalo right in the middle of the road. And there is a sweet sweet smell permeates the African dawn. We can’t identify the plant smells good. The sky is clear I could actually see stars this morning. We get a good look at red capped gonoleks. And we encounter our first elephant family. There are flappet larks, black shouldered kites, babblers, the work harder dove — a.k.a. Ring necked. Northern black flycatcher, coucals, yellow throated long claw, Senegal plover, and grey backed shrike. This Park section is known for its extremely large candelabra trees. These are in the Euphorbia family and contain toxic sap. Remember to not camp under one.
We are on the Leopard loop, which become the channel track and into the main road. We cross the main road and we are heading toward Lake George – the Kasenyi region. We have heard on the cell phone that there are Lions visible. And sure enough we stop to find a total of four female lions lounging at the grass. There is also a small family group of elephant’s nearby. It is interesting to watch them interact. One of the lionesses strolls over toward the elephants and jumps up into a candelabra tree. Joseph and Ham are elated – we have our tree-climbing lions already! There is a staring match between one elephant and the lion. The yellow cat will probably spend the rest of the day in the shade of tree. We continue on the road going through many species of birds and some mammals — water bucks, kobs, and Cape buffaloes. Matt has an encounter with a tree branch and loses some blood. The tree is okay. We stopped at an overlook of the Salt Lake called Bunyampaka where there is salt processing going on as well. Down below we can see large numbers of pelican’s — probably pink backed and African white. But no flamingos.
Uganda Safari guide fact: a short call it is slang for taking a pee. Long call is something else.
African foods original coffee, barley. Okra. Millet. Sorghum. Watermelon. Chickpea. Black-eyed pea (cowpea). Sesame. Castor oil .tamarind. Yam. Palm oil cola
We leave at 915 head back to camp and make it just about 10 AM. Breakfast stops being served at 1030. The rest of the morning and early afternoon are at your leisure… Tour group from international expeditions is here — surprise surprise. Some of us take advantage of the massage, the pool, the bar, or just relax. The day is perfectly clear with a few clouds therefore it’s getting hot.
We meet again at 245 for our boat ride in the Kazinga channel. We thought we had the boat to ourselves but we are sharing it with some people from the Ministry of Tourism. Godfrey is our guide — enthusiastic with a bit of misinformation but we get the bird names. We cross the channel and head up the Kazinga Channel toward Lake George so the best views are on the right side for a period of time. Western Uganda has the perfect habitat for Cape buffaloes and we see quite a few. Many of them are tinged red because they interbreed what the red forest (also Cape but a different subspecies) buffaloes of the Congo. Once again illustrating the biodiversity that occurs when two major ecosystems overlapped slightly. East African savanna and West African Congo lowland forest. That is a quiz question.
There is an African fish eagle sitting on a nest. There is also a black and white Colobus monkey and a small family of elephants. We turn around and head out toward Lake Edward, now the left side is the best. But there are so few people it really doesn’t matter. No rain and great light. Hippo out of the water, crocodiles, Nile monitor lizards, an aquatic turtle (probable side necked), a nice male waterbuck, kobs up on the hill. There are 11 villages that border the Park and we pass the one called Kazinga. There are people washing in the water with Cape buffaloes and hippos nearby. It is easy to see why people are killed by hippos throughout Africa. Normally I don’t make an extensive list but on this boat trip I wrote down every bird we saw or at least I saw. Because this is one of the best boat trips in the world. It only lasted two hours and 4 MB of Jackie’s pictures. But here is the list as I saw it.
Pink backed pelican, African great white pelican, great Cormorant, cattle egret, Squacco Heron, gray Heron, little egret, great egret, African spoonbill, glossy Ibis, sacred Ibis, hadada Ibis, hammerkop. Yellow billed stork, Marabou stork, Egyptian geese, water thickknee, black crake, African jacana, African fish eagle, spur winged plover, Wattled plover, ruff, common Sandpiper, wood Sandpiper, green shank, common stilts, ringed plover, pied Kingfisher, malachite Kingfisher, white winged black tern, gull billed tern, gray-headed gull, laughing dove, morning dove, ring-necked dove, a Angola swallow, African sand Martin, long tailed starling, speckled mouse bird, yellow backed Weaver, yellow billed ox pecker, swamp flycatcher, white throated bee eater, red capped gonoleks, yellow wagtail,. Pied wagtail.
Pretty good list I’d say. At seven we meet in the bar again for the Joseph and Ham half-hour show. Both of them give us an abbreviated version of how they came to be guides. Both trained as accountants. Go figure? And then it is to dinner we go. Last night there were hippos outside grazing on the grass. Matt saw them but did not wake John. Mike went to mark his territory and had a close encounter.
Tuesday, October 13: We are off at 9 AM for our game drive down to the Ishasha region of the Queen Elizabeth National Park. We already had our tree climbing Lions but maybe we can see some more. It doesn’t take long for our first stop. Just after we left the lodge we saw two of them just to the left by the road. A male and female lion — on their honeymoon? She is blind in one eye and has a radio collar on. He is one of three males that Ham recognizes he says they have come up from the Ishasha region of the Park. That’s a long ways. Our Land Rover sees another male on the other side of the road walking toward us and then he drops into the shade and disappears. There must be one more male somewhere close by. At breakfast Brenda had said that she heard Lions, this certainly confirms it. We are on Channel track heading back to the main road when we encounter a very nice elephant family. There is a lot vocalization going on but they seem to be peacefully feeding – at least the ones we can see. But we hear trumpeting and squealing back in the bushes. The young elephants are playing, one even mounts another one. In the 1960s there were 4000 elephants accounted in this Park by 1980 they were only 150. The population is up to about 2500 right now. Through the gate we go and have a stop at the little town to pick up some drinking water. We cross over the Kazinga channel right at Lake George. If we went down the channel on a boat we would go back to the Lodge.
We take the first right and go through another gate. It is a dirt road that in very good condition. The last time I was here it was raining and it was muddy and slippery. The first turn off to the right we passed goes to the fishing village Kazinga that we passed yesterday on the boat ride. Now we have a nice long ride heading essentially due south. We pass the large forest are left, very extensive. Most of us are reading or listening to our iPods. The trucks coming toward us are coming from the Congo. We see some elephants and Ham tells me they are more aggressive here because they regularly go to the Congo where they are hunted. It makes them more ornery. We cross the river that our Lodge is located on and continue south. We turn right and enter into the Ishasha region of the Park. It is a cloudy day but also sunny, kind of warm but not too hot. Our elevation is about 3700 feet. We pass Park buildings and drop down into the valley of Ishasha River. We go into the same picnic area that I was in March. We had it all to ourselves that day. But guess what? The international expedition group is there! There is another couple there — Americans from Kampala — teachers at the international school. There are hippos in the River and you can throw a rock over to the Congo. In March we found a mother hippo with a brand-new baby. There is a young hippo there and I like to think that is the baby I saw six months ago.
At lunch I give a little overview of the social structure of Lions (sister groups, the lions share, cross suckling, primarily eat kobs here) and a little bit about elephants (sister groups, menopause, low-frequency hearing). Off we go and see our first topis. They are wearing brown socks and look a little bit like kongonis. Baboons and wattled starlings. There are large herds of Cape buffaloes, and of course kobs. Termite mounds are everywhere about the same color as Lions. We go on the fig tree circuit looking for sleeping lions in trees.
And we find two lionesses sleeping in a fig tree. Ham says they have two cubs which are probably down in the bushes at the base of the tree and we can’t see them. All of us get fantastic photographs. When the international expedition’s group arrives we decide to leave and go to our camp. On the way there we find a pair of giant eagle owls also known as Verreaux’s eagle owl. They are huge and have pink eyelids. I get the scope out for a better view. We backtrack toward the north to the Ishasha Wilderness Camp. We arrive at 330.
This is the place I said I liked a lot. Karen, the manager, gives us a nice overview and introduction. Chris is the assist. Her husband David is off shopping and will be back later today. The camp is located right on the river. There are animals that regularly come through camp like Cape buffaloes, elephants, lions, and this morning there was a leopard screaming nearby. Now we are in Africa, at least the Africa I like the best. No swimming pool, no Internet BUT cold beer and hot showers what can be better?
There are 10 cabins, we occupy eight and the other two are empty. . So the camp is ours. There are flush toilets that are shared and are very convenient. But after nighttime when you are in your tent you used a portable toilet that is they are. . No roaming around at night.
Quote: This is the only camp in the area, giving a feeling of exclusivity. Style of camp: East African ‘Meru’ Tents, ensuite shower, toilet and basin. Tents are spaced under shady trees, overlooking the river. Quote.
Free time until seven when we gather. From my tent I hear hippos and elephants. I am happy to be here. There are two species of weavers – vieillot and black headed weavers. Also a black and white Colobus monkey is doing an alarm call which sounds like a giant frog. The River is flowing hard about a meter above normal according to Dave. I give some more information on elephants, after tomorrow we will not see them unless we are very very lucky. Then Ham and Joseph had the opportunity to ask us questions. Unfortunately they pick on me. I put the scope on Jupiter which is directly above us and we can see all four of the Galilean moons. At eight o’clock we have dinner and it is really good. Cheese sticks. And strawberries and chocolate. Dave tells us that if we hear a loud slapping sound coming from the water in the middle of the night, it is a remarkably large catfish. Gray-headed Negro Finch is the politically incorrect bird I see today. I think we all like this place.
The Galilean moons are the four moons of Jupiter discovered by Galileo Galilei on January 7, 1610. They are the largest of the many moons of Jupiter and derive their names from the lovers of Zeus: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. They are the most massive objects in the Solar System outside the Sun and the eight planets, with a radius larger than any of the dwarf planets.
October 14. The night sounds I hear– spotted hyenas whooping at 5 AM, lions in the far distance, black and white Colobus monkeys croaking loudly, and a barking sound, which I think, is a Bush baby. Wake-up call 6 AM for hot tea and coffee and then we are off on a game drive right at 630. Good work.
Five spotted hyenas are seen right away and a couple of them lope right by the Land Rovers. They could keep that up all day long — they are the most successful large carnivore in all of Africa. They are able to exist very close to human habitations and in fact thrive. They are not the cowards and scavengers as they are portrayed but excellent hunters. They too have sister groups and status is inherited from the mother. Almost every single female hyena is dominant every single male hyena. I would not want one to be reborn into that mammal except as a female. Tawny Eagles are nearby. There is extensive cloud cover so that is keeping it cool. We see many topis on the hillside frolicking. One of the males is very interested in one of the females. He is doing flehmen. This is raising up his upper lip and either smelling the air or tasting her vulva for hormones using his Jacobsen’s organs which is inside his mouth. This gives him information about her state of arousal. Humans rely on moaning sounds sometimes instead though I suspect scent plays a vital if unaware role in our behavior as well.
There are also hundreds of kobs gathered as well. We are searching for a lek. While we find many kobs. There is no lek going on right now.
A lek is a gathering of males, of certain animal species, for the purposes of competitive mating display. Leks assemble before and during the breeding season, on a daily basis. The same group of males meet at a traditional place and take up the same individual positions on an arena, each occupying and defending a small territory or court. Intermittently or continuously, they spar individually with their neighbors or put on extravagant visual or aural displays (mating “dances” or gymnastics, plumage displays, vocal challenges, etc.).
Lek mating arena, modeled on the sage grouse, in which each male, alpha-male (highest ranking), beta-male, gamma-male, etc., guards a territory of a few meters in size on average, and in which the dominant males may each attract up to eight or more females. In addition, each individual is shown with variations in personal space (bubbles), where by higher-ranking individuals have larger personal space bubbles. Common bird leks typically have 25-30 individuals.
The term derives from the Swedish lek, a noun (verb att leka in the infinitive), which typically denotes pleasurable and less rule-bound games and activities (“play”, as by children). Specifically, the etymology of the word “lek” is from 1871 and means to engage in courtship displays (of certain animals) probably from the Swedish leka “to play”. A strict hierarchy accords the most desirable top-ranking males the most prestigious central territory, with ungraded and lesser aspirants ranged outside. Females come to these arenas to choose mates when the males’ hierarchy has become established, and preferentially mate with the dominants in the centre.
Larks are singing everywhere. As we continue we see two crowned cranes doing a courtship dance in the distance. Humans have imitated the European crane in the dance at the Temple of Apollo. This dancing reinforces the pair bond. There are 16 species at cranes throughout the world, every continent but Antarctica and South America have them. We have the Sandhill Crane and the whooping crane in the United States.
Suddenly running down the road we see a fairly large black-and-white animal — I immediately think that it is a Zorilla. This is the type of skunk found in Africa but no it is a black and white Colobus monkey! This is unusual to see on the ground and as soon as he can, he clambers up in the closest tree. It is probably an adolescent male who has been forced to leave his family and forge out on his own. Life is tough on the savanna.
As we approach a large marsh on our left we see hadada Ibis, a black-headed Heron and suddenly Joseph shouts – giant forest hogs! I cannot believe my eyes there are four of them fairly near the Land Rovers. These animals are famously hard to see they are rare, secretive and nocturnal. Joseph and Ham are thrilled — this will be the rarest sighting for them on this trip. I too am thrilled and elated. We are a lucky group. Mountain gorillas are rarer but much easier to see.
Here we see the toilet tissue plant like we saw Murchison Falls but here it is pink not white. We stopped for a photographic opportunity of the wattle plover. He or she is very cooperative. It is great to take the time to really enjoy looking at one of the creatures here. I am greatly appreciative of your interest in all things, not just mammals. Many groups (not mine) only want to see mammals and nothing else. As we continue toward camp we spy some vultures up in the trees. They are white backed and Nubian (lappet faced). There must be a kill nearby we look but cannot see it. But sharp eyed Matt spies a leopard in an Acacia tree far far away. Everyone is suitably impressed with his spotting ability. I may just have to add him on as an assistant. And he doesn’t bring much baggage with him — or make that luggage — not sure about the baggage. We all get out of the Land Rovers and I sent up the spotting scope and we have fantastic views. Some photos are taken to the spotting scope and they are not too bad.
Some birds that we saw in this region: African fire finch, black bellied bustard, mourning dove, ring necked Dove, white browed coucal, Palm nut vulture, gray back shrike, gray hornbill, white throated bee eater, common buzzard, Turaco, black headed Weaver, Vieillot Weaver, laughing dove, flappet lark, woodland Kingfisher, striped Kingfisher…
Back just before 10 for our late breakfast but lunch is going to be at one o’clock is sure to be good. Free time to shop etc. etc. for lunch we had beet soup, green salad, potato salad — everything was yummy. We are off at 215 to continue our journey to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Out of the Park we go and take a right back onto the dirt road we came in on. Heading south through rural Uganda. It about two hours and 15 minutes to get to Buhoma Lodge. It looks like it’s going to rain that doesn’t. Ken is the manager and Richard is his helper. Richard gives us an orientation and refers to us as beloved clients. Helen thinks that I should start saying that to all of you. Maybe she’s right. We checking into our little rooms perched above the forest. It is really quite lovely. Solar power again, hot water when we want it. And cold beer. The power is on at 6:30 PM to 8 AM. They also offer free massages after gorilla trekking. What a deal! It is Sylvia who does it.
Some of us explore the village, go shopping, sit the bar, take a real good hot hard shower, eat and relax. 7:30 PM for dinner — we are the only ones here again. Hallelujah. Pam and Steve have a L’Hoests monkey near their cabin. During dessert Ham gives us an overview of what to expect tomorrow for our gorilla tracking. He almost forgets to tell us to bring our passports — that could’ve been trouble. We are actually divided into three different groups. Unfortunately I am in a group without any of you and must leave for an hour and a half drive at 615. There will be eight of you at one group and the five of you in another. There used to be only three habituated guerrilla groups but now there seems to be six or more. I am going to wander on the other side of the mountain looking for my gorilla family.
Thursday, October 15. I get up very early and drive an hour and 50 minutes over to the other side of the mountain to the Bitukura Group at Rufuji. The rest of you divide up into groups of eight and five. Mike, Katie, John, Matt, and Lynn get the Mabare group. They have a very challenging hike straight up for two hours or so. Katie’s ankle looses a contest with a big rock. John wishes there was more oxygen in the air. Matt, of course, has a fine time. They visit the oldest habituated group in the Park. There are five members — a silverback, a black back, a female, a juvenile, and I think a baby. They see 4 out of 5 and get pounded with rain 45 minutes into their visit. They do get very wet because they forgot to get the rain gear out of their daypacks. They also see a chimpanzee and a green mambo. Bwindi is the only place where gorillas and chimpanzees coexist. They seem to ignore each other when witnesses have viewed the very few encounters in the wild.
Meanwhile the other eight have driven one hour to visit the H group. They walk through a farmer’s field where he is growing millet and bananas. They have guards to keep the baboon away. They get to see babies play, a lethargic silverback and Jackie gets too close and get touched by the female. A gentle reminder to get the #%$^%$ back from the kid. They got rained on as well
I am up at 8200 feet with a group Bitukura at Rahija which has four silverbacks, three black back, two females, some juveniles in a couple of babies. There are 12 altogether and we get to see about eight. There were 13 in this group but recently one of the young females immigrated to another group. Also the dominant silverback was replaced by the number three in line, number 2 stayed in this place., #4 to number three, and the head guy is now number four but accepted by everyone. It is a regular soap opera up here in the forest. Of course his mating opportunities are now limited but he had his time. The gorillas we saw were very social and active. We had a charge from one of the black backs – details at seven o’clock. I felt blessed. Our hike to the group was pretty easy, though that is not what some of the people thought. However I knew that we could be on a hike like the folks going to MABARE group. We did see blue monkeys, Bush squirrel, black and white Colobus monkeys, great blue Turaco, black and white casqued hornbills. The rain did not start until we had already returned — Lucky us. Several of our ladies commented on the fact that it has been a while since they have had so many hands on their butt. But they sure it helped get up the steep hills.
It may be good at least for the ones who hiked to group Mabare that we do not have another gorilla treks scheduled for tomorrow. Please check out the website for the Institute of tropical Forest conservation. They will have information about the gorillas in Bwindi National Park. Donations are of course welcome.
Though this type of vegetation is often called a jungle that were actually comes from an Indian Sanskrit word –jangala- which means wilderness. But now most people use it to mean a forest at the equator with huge amounts of plant growth. The actual term used for this jungle is a medium altitude moist evergreen forest and high altitude forest. Bwindi is one of the richest forests in Africa. There are 350 species of birds, 310 species of butterflies and 324 species of trees. Out of 320 species of mammals aren’t primates.
Just before dinner I give a very brief overview of the major human groups in Uganda and Rwanda. The most ancient peoples to live in the area are the ancestors of the Batwa people we are going to see tomorrow. They have been living in the forest at the Congo for the last 50,000 years. Basically hunter gatherers with an incredible knowledge of how to live on those resources. About 2000 years ago and agricultural revolution and the development of iron smelting occurred in West Africa. Those people spoke a language we now call Bantu. They were extraordinarily successful with the knowledge the new technology and food crops. They were able to clear the forest and more easily plant crops especially millet, yams, watermelon. Their populations exploded and they moved all across Africa, all the way to the east and all the way to the South. They both intermarried with some of the population and drove some of the San or Batwa people deeper into the forest or in the case of Uganda and Rwanda higher up into the mountains. About 1500 years ago bananas were introduced into the area, making their way all the way from Asia via a route that is unclear. But it revolutionized the agriculture here and created a beneficial source of food that was easy to grow. Around 1000 years ago a new people showed up – the Cushitic or Niliolotic- these were pastoralists bringing their cattle from the North following the Nile River into new promised land’s especially new grazing land’s. We know some of these people as Maasai, Zulus or Tutsi. They were and are tall stature, fierce warriors with very sophisticated societies. They came to dominate this region. The Batwa were driven even higher into the forest. In 1991 due to international pressure from conservationists and environmentalists the Batwa were removed from the national Park. This further this disenfranchised them and marginalized them even more. They became landless tenants at the mercy of the other tribes and could no longer use the forest for essential resources. Their health deteriorated and their own culture weakened. They are considered by all the local people to be inferior and they are heavily discriminated against. The relatives of these people still dwell in remote areas in Africa – the San people survive in the Kalahari Desert. And there are a very few Khoisan in South Africa. Carolyn, my wife, and I hunted with the last Stone Age tribe in Tanzania which are located near the lake Eyasi.
Friday, October 16. It’s Bob’s birthday today and we will try to make it memorable. At nine o’clock we walked down to the Buhoma Community Lodge for our guided walk. Our two guides are Elias and Selvan. First they say we are going to handicraft store but I override them and we keep walking. Augustine, the Rastafarian dude, is the unofficial mayor of the town. Bob Marley T-shirt and dreadlocks. We walked down the road a bit and then turned right. Bronze Sunbird, African blue flycatcher, Angola swallow, Brown capped tschargra, African paradise flycatcher, coffee growing, tea plantation, we get to the River and suddenly the folks in Mabare group get nervous that they have to cross it again. But no we stay on this side. The name of the River means the grabber. Because at flood stage it has taken people. The tea pickers only receive 200 shillings per k — this is five cents a pound. We see a local man distilling alcohol and we stopped to visit him. He is a mutwa (singular). Lynn asked our local guide. If he was Batwa. It seems to be an insult and he immediately tells us he is not a Batwa! We cross on a rickety wooden bridge and then begin to climb. First stop is to see a medicine man – Alphonse. He is from the Congo speaks French and local languages but not English. He shares his knowledge of plant floor with us and if nothing else he is quite photogenic. We passed millet growing which is a native African grain.
Next stop is to see how they make banana wine and banana gin. It is quite a complicated process but our guy does a fine job of explaining it. I am impressed with his knowledge and English skills. We sample the juice, the banana wine, and the banana gin. Dropping down the hillside we passed the elementary school and keep going to the secondary school. The headmaster, Herbert, who looks about 23, gives us a little talk. He is fund raising of course. It’s getting late so I encourage us to see the Batwa people. We retrace our steps toward the primary school and then go down to the left where they have gathered. We did not actually visit their village. We are in a neutral place. There are about a dozen of them including an old woman in 50 who gives us on little talk about their life, past and current. She says they are now happy — I hope so.
There are babies, young mothers and fathers, and some middle-aged folks. They sing and dance for us. I then hula hoop for and with them dancing and playing their musical instruments.. I think they really enjoyed it. I also passed out the warm hats that my next door neighbor’s church group (the happy hookers). They seemed to appreciate them. Then there is a little shopping. The sky is getting dark so we retrace our steps and drop down to the hospital. Our loyal guides have driven the Land Rovers up for us to take in case it suddenly rains. Dr. Paul Williams, a very personable man from Great Britain and the director, gives us an account of the successes of the hospital. It was really, really pours. Just like the rain on Group M. on the Mountain yesterday. Back for a late but delicious lunch. Nice pasta, potatoes salad, lettuce and tomatoes, dessert of mixed fruit. Matt finally getting the silverware etiquette down. I will have a chat with his mother, who I know very well.
There is a local birdwatcher – Sam- offers his services to us at 430. John, Mike, and Katie all get a free massage. Lynn says they are short on technique, very hard on pressure and overall it felt good. At 430 rain stops and Lynn, Brenda and I go for a walk with Sam. He is a very knowledgeable birder and we see a lot just around the Lodge. Across the street is the new Uganda wildlife authority headquarters — a brand-new building. We walked down toward the self-guided trail which is passed the large sign which says” no one past this point without a guide!”. But we never get that far there is too much to see. Steve tells me there are four L’Hoests monkeys that are regular visitors around his cabin I finally see them. The generator comes on to run the DVD player so that birthday Bob can view Augustine’s sale items. Since it’s his birthday we suffer through the noise, but it is nice when it goes off. The bright yellow sunflower weed is called California flower — they say it was brought from there.
Birds around the Lodge: pied wagtail, Ross Turaco, tambourine dove, blue spotted wood dove, montane oriole, African white tailed blue flycatcher, Brown throated wattle eye, green coucal, dusky tit, white eye salty flycatcher, redheaded blue bill, saw wing, yellow whisdkered bulbul, Ludher’s bush shrike, black crowned wax bill, white eye, black necked Weaver, and many more.
We invited Dr. Paul Williams from the hospital to come and have a drink with us for dinner. They’ve done some fine work. He is a good public-relations administrator and no doubt he swings by these Lodges to solicit donations. But it is a good cause. www.bwindihospital.com. Dinner is quite fun. Joseph and Ham join us tonight. We have cassava and Matoke (plantain) with peanut sauce — traditional Uganda dishes. There seems to be enough left over for the staff. Green Acres, Mr. Ed, Mayberry are just a few of tonight’s topics and Matt knows all the songs. Our guides cannot agree about what we’re doing tomorrow. Joseph says we will be walking to the Congo — that should be interesting. We get to meet the rest of the crew especially Moses the cook and Joy his helper. All the staff comes out he singing for Bob. He gets a nice cake for his 60th birthday. Congratulations. Our bills are ready.
Saturday, October 17. Early morning at 8 AM for the approximately 7 – 8-hours drive to Rwanda we retrace our road in back to the main road. Now we turn right and head south. This is the route I took to get to my gorillas the day before yesterday. There are bracken ferns growing high along the road. The biological claim to fame of this plant is that it is found on every continent but Antarctica. We reached the Ruhija gate for a toilet stop. This is where I went trekking. It is about 8000 feet. The gate opens and we continue on a rough road and we get to see a great blue Turaco on the right displaying. Out of the Park into the cultivated lands we go. The land of potatoes, not sweet but Irish. The road is no better, in fact worse. By 11 AM we are actually to the main road where it is paved — but not for long. SBI international has the job of making this road and we are on it for a long time. Around noon we had to stop — a short call. When we continue we are in a forest reserve and there is much native bamboo growing — it’s pretty tall and a wonderful all-around useful plant.
As we dropped down the hill we could see the first volcano – Muhabura at 13540 ‘it means the guide. The top is in clouds. A little while later we could see parts of a total of four volcanoes. Mgahinga = flat, Sabinyo teeth of the old man, Visoke or also spelled Bisoke means watering hole because it has a crater full of water at the top, and we can see a tiny piece of Karisimba 14,797 feet high it means cowrie shell and is the highest peak in the Virungas.
The last Ugandan town we stop in is Kisori. There were United Nations refugee camp this year last March but now they are closed. Refugees from the Congo. We have a brief stop for postcards, postage, duct tape, and powdered milk. At 1 PM we have our box lunch at the famous Travelers Rest. This was the hotel that all the researchers, expats, foreigners, always stopped at. And here it is. Mike looked at a map and estimated that we were only 25 air miles from where we started this morning!
Down the road about 10 K. is the border — Cyanika. By 220 we leave Uganda and we walked down the road into Rwanda. Volcanoes rising high above us in the clouds getting dark. We go to Ruhengeri and take a right and ascend the hill way way way up into the clouds until we reach the Mountain Gorilla View Lodge. Boy is this place disappointing. It is under construction, unfinished, depressing cold dark little hole with furniture poorly designed… one redeeming value is the location and some of the famous Intore dancers, mostly children, have a beautiful performance for us.
Lucky visitors may chance upon spontaneous traditional performances in the villages of Rwanda. The finest exponent of Rwanda’s varied and dynamic traditional musical and dance styles, however, is the Intore Dance Troupe. Founded several centuries ago, the Intore – literally ‘The Chosen Ones’ – once performed exclusively for the Royal Court, but today their exciting act can be arranged at short notice.
A quote from what Wild Frontiers –
Thirty en-suite chalets furnished with your comfort in mind. After a day visiting the Mountain Gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park, the warmth of your personal fireplace awaits you.
Well I think most fireplaces worked but not too well. We have a little meeting in my room because the restaurant is so depressing. They have just turned a room into the restaurant. Sorry about all of this. We meet in my room at seven o’clock for a briefing. I go over a little bit about primates. There are four main groups – lemurs and bush babies, New World monkeys with prehensile tales, old world monkeys, and apes. There may be three species of gorillas — Eastern Lowland, Western lowland and mountain. There are only 740 mountain gorillas left — half in Uganda and the other half in Congo and Rwanda. We head up to the restaurant and food is pretty good. Domestic beers four dollars. I will not be coming back here. And tonight we found out that Katie actually has six pairs of shoes and Helene five…
Sunday, October 18. Breakfast is ready at 545 and so are we… Off at 630 down the hill to see which habituated groups we visit. Eight of us are selected to visit the Amahoro group with our guide Hobe. It takes quite a while for the entire process to get organized. But it’s raining and we are protected under the shelter while our guides talk to us. The other group of five is lucky because they get to visit Sabinyo group. This is the one that Carolyn and I saw. It has the big male – the largest on record at 220 kg. We did not get the Susa group which is the farthest away. They leave that for younger people.
We have to drive about 40 minutes. This group is on the lower slopes of Bisoka aka Visoke volcano. Silverbacks in this region eat 250 different kinds of plants — 30 kg a day our guide said – 15% of body weight. Each one can be identified by its nose print. Our groups name means peace. The silverbacks name is Ubumwe which means unity. Peace and unity. There are two silverbacks, one black back, five females, six babies, two juveniles. By the end of the day we will have seen a lot of these. A female can give birth four to six times at her lifetime. When we get to the trailhead is quite busy with tourist groups going different directions. We have about a 30-minute walk to the park boundary and we were walking along with another group. It is pouring rain. They are going to visit Charles’ group. Charles was in our family unit and left several years ago to start his own family — there’s about 11 in his group now. It is still rainy but not hard as we enter the Park proper marked by a rock wall. We have about an hour and a half to walk to our family.
Along the way we see Buffalo droppings, Bush buck prints, wild celery — a favorite food, Veronia in flower, bed straw, Hagenia trees, and large stands of bamboo. There are few birds singing. The trail is muddy but not too steep. Just at 11 AM we get to our family. We have a very very good time. I felt very blessed to be able to look into the eyes, those gentle eyes, of these magnificent beings going about their business of being gorillas. We saw many interactions and had some very cute baby looks. A highlight was watching female cradle her baby — it was really sweet. The rain stopped the entire time we were there. We were literally surrounded by gorillas, we were in the middle. They were just sitting around peacefully eating or sleeping or nursing or just sitting like Buddha with a big belly. About half way back to the trailhead we had our lunch. And then it began to rain hard and we finally got really wet. When the Park ends, it ends abruptly. There is no gentle transition to the cultivated land. We are back into the fields of potatoes, Pyrethrum, simple buildings, many children saying hello and asking for pens and money. Women with brightly colored clothes and brightly colored umbrellas. Rwanda is crowded — the most densely populated country in Africa. At two o’clock we see Ham waiting for us. Back to the hotel for a fire and hopefully dry our clothes before tomorrow morning.
We spend the afternoon huddled in our rooms trying to keep our fires going so our clothes can dry. Some of you hop into bed to stay warm — what fun! The hot water in the shower does not seem to work very well — it is brutally hot one moment and freezing the next. Is there nothing that works right in this place? I decide to have a party at my place seven o’clock — free beer and slide show. There are even finely woven hats by Santa Rosa church ladies as door prizes. Of course now desperately poor little children won’t have those hats — oh well. Both Bob and Katie their do gorilla imitations. The food here is actually good and after dinner we see that stars are shining!
Monday, October 19. A repeat of yesterday morning. Off we go to our 2nd Rwanda gorilla trekking opportunity. We divided up into groups of eight and six — Steve is joining us today. Yesterday he stayed at Lodge — a taxi cost $40 go to town! It is the same old same old except it seems a bit faster. Katie, Mike, Lynn, Kala, Brenda, John, Matt and I go with our guide named Patience. Our group is the Hirwa family. Called that, which means lucky, because the silver back left a group and within six months had four females! So he is lucky. Now there are five females in the group and five babies and no black backs. One of the babies was orphaned and the silver back took over protection of the little one. The baby was old enough to not need his mother.
Our guide told us that he rescued one of the babies from a snare. He got there just in time as the baby was hanging suspended by his hand. He has special affection for that one now — his grandson or godson. That little one is about two years old now. The silver back is 19 so he is just beginning his legacy he has many more years of having sex, fighting, and leading. Patience said that he is a good fighter and clever. He gets females from other groups very quietly. He leaves his family nearby and goes off to the territory of neighboring groups to snatch females. Of course they want to come and are ready to come. The females emigrate from their natal group. It apparently works well.
We have about a 15-minute ride to the trailhead and then about 25 minutes at the most to the beginning of the Park. There are many eucalyptus trees being planted for fuel. The gorillas like to eat the sap of these trees. This family group lives on the slope of the volcano Gahinga, spelled Mgahinga in Uganda. The backside of this one is in Uganda and contains one of their national parks and the other site (besides Bwindi) to track gorillas in Uganda. We are off at 830 through a different kind of forest — no stinging nettle, a gradual trail, not too muddy, has some flowers (begonias, Impatiens), ground pines, mosses, liverworts. We seem to be hiking along a lava ridge with a steep drop in the right. There are forest elephant and Cape buffalo droppings along the trail. A short 50 minutes later we are at the site. That was easy and no rain. We did however, at least Kala and me, get bitten by a few Safari ants. Stinging nettle also stung her she is very sensitive to it and it swells up. Our family group is munching on bamboo apparently during this time of year when the bamboo is sprouting the gorillas are much easier for us to see. The bamboo grows lower. Later in the season the gorillas climb high up into the mountains to find food. That’s a note I will remember.
Into the bamboo we go and get to see the babies playing, females climbing high up into the bamboo forest, the silver back munching on bamboo and knocking it down to get some more. The sun actually comes out for a while — we are not sure what it is and did not know that sunshine actually occurred in Rwanda. Ha ha. We could really smell this guy. We dropped down to see the silver back from a different position. And he came toward us rocked back and forth, made a very quiet sound which the guides knew immediately meant he was going to charge. And he did. Exciting? You betcha. One last look at a female and her baby and we had to go. It was a very quick walk back out. And we had lunch sitting in the sunshine — it got hot!
Back to see Joseph, tip our porters — $10 here but they’re not as good as Uganda — and down the hill we went and got our certificate at the visitor center. The guides in Rwanda are better trained and educated than the ones in Uganda. At least in my sample size. We do a little shopping at the handicrafts shop nearby. Joseph takes us down down down into the largest town of Ruhengeri. It is now called Musere. They have changed the name of many places that hold many memories from the genocide. The country is now divided up into five provinces named for the four directions and Kigali as a separate district. We have 45 minutes to go to the shops and that is more than enough time. It is not a particularly interesting place and many people refer to us as we walk by as Muzungos.
Muzungu is a word that has become to mean “white person” in many Bantu languages of east, central and southern Africa. There are a number of variations depending on the location. Any light-skinned non-asiatic person could be addressed as Mzungu/Muzungu in the region.
John says he would like to take that as a compliment, so we will. I hear that the other group is just now getting back from their walk. I hope they had a good time. We wind our way back up into the coolness and our Lodge. It is not nearly so depressing when it is sunnier here.
The other group had a great time. They went to the same trailhead as we did yesterday and even took the same trail for a while but then continued straight where we went down to the left. They got to Charles’s group — we heard about him yesterday. They had lots of babies playing around, very close encounters with the hairy kind, got to see a baby pull poop out of a females butt – yummy. They stayed with the gorillas for well over an hour – naughty people. When they finally left, the gorillas followed them! It was about an hour and a half walk out and the same back. Their guide seemed to be superb with very good information. He talked about how bamboo gives the gorillas diarrhea but if they eat the leaf from a vine at the same time it cancels it out. They get back to the Lodge around 330. We saw this as well but it wasn’t explained to us.
We meet in my room at 630 to trade tales and to have our closing circle because tomorrow is a very busy day. We went around the circle and shared our highlights of this very diverse trip. Thank you all for being such a great group and so amenable and easy to travel with. We all really had a good time and I especially enjoyed the people. The gorilla treks were fantastic, lions sleeping in trees, Michael hooping with the pygmies, Matt finding a leopard, the Nile River, watching elephant families, seeing hyenas, challenging trek at Bwindi, Ishasha Weaver birds, huge crocodiles, hippo’s with babies out of the water, beautiful birds, every day was different. You all even enjoyed the time in the land rovers traveling through the countryside. There certainly was a lot to see on this trip and the cultural component was appreciated.
Our last dinner at this place — the food is actually very good the cooks are from Kenya.
Tuesday, October 20. We are getting used to this drill. Up early. John, Jacquie, and Steve stay back. Matt, Lynn, and I go with a fast group. But they aren’t really that fast. We go to the Kwitonda group and had a mighty fine time with some very active gorillas. A perfect way to end this trip. The rest of you go to Group 13 made famous by the researchers Bill Weber and Amy Veder who wrote In the Kingdom of Gorillas. I highly recommend that book.
We all return to the lodge to maybe take a hot, hard shower – Ha-ha fat chance! We collect our luggage and head off on the road to Kigali (approximately 2-hours drive – depends on traffic). We leave it 120 and go through sunshine, rain, fantastic cumulus clouds, eucalyptus forests, red soil, and vistas of a heavily used countryside. Average elevation is over 5k’. We arrived in Kigali and the Genocide Memorial just before four o’clock. We have until five to visit this most powerful museum. On the drive Ham shared quite a bit this own personal experience in the genocide. It brought it home for many of us. No admission price but we all donate (I hope!) Quite a moving place built with funds from the citizens of Kigali. May we never forget!! But I have little hope of that – Darfur.
Then it is to the Laico Umubano Hotel. Nice place to rest. We meet at 730 for our dinner. Our guides join us this evening.
Wednesday, October 21. Luggage out at 10 we leave it 1030 for our airport transfer. We give the tip to the well deserving guides and off we go for about 35 hours via Nairobi, Amsterdam and then get to San Francisco. Kala, Bob, Jacquie, Mike and Katie and Brenda have a different route.
Thursday, October 22 Most of us are home or very close to it great trip thanks……
During the “big” trips I keep a diary for the entire group – what we did, what we saw, the jokes, the things that went wrong, the things that went right. I refuse to pretend that everything always goes smoothly on all of my trips, but we always learn and we always have a good time. Skim through this synopsis – blemishes and all – it isn’t sanitized but I think it will give you a flavor of my trips and the wonderful people who go on them.
WEST COAST BAJA
February 15 27, 1993
with Naturalist Michael the Tree Hugger Ellis
On the Royal Star with Captain Timmy the Hyper Ekstrom, Chris the Cool Garcia, Marcus the Kid Medak, Ben the Harley Zanin, Kevin the Storyteller Shelley, Gino the One-liner Hill and Glenn the Jokester House.
Feb. 15. Boat arrives early in day, they reload, crew has quick conjugal visits and then gets back on board. Safety talk at 11:35 PM, some are awakened from their bunks. Thus begins the incredibly cruel sleep deprivation experiment on Barbara and Bonnie. The psychological effects of galley sleeping will be apparent before the trip is over. Boat leaves 11:40 and has brief stop at bait tank for some bird and sea lion watching.
Feb. 16. Important note for Mexican Authorities: we do not arrive at Todos Santos (which means the saintly toads in Spanish) at 6 AM and we do not do all this stuff. We have our first skiff ride on island at 7:20. Success! See our first Elephant Seals, harbor seals, Ca. sea lions, 10 + gray whales heading north and our first Tenebriod beetle (yawn). Island is very lush and overgrown hard to follow the trail so we make one. Plants: cheese mallow, velvet cactus, opuntia, desert tomato (also spelled tomatoe if you are Dan Quaile), Artemisia (sage), erodium, blue dicks (azure richards, please). Argiope spider hanging upside down with zig zags (aka stable lamentum). Our first member of the dead list: the todo santos white footed mouse.
Surprise need to visit Ensenada and officially enter Mexico. Left a bit after noon and soon saw our first Common Dolphins. After lunch we had our official introduction to each other. Went well, nobody except me droned on and on……We soon stopped and watched some gray whales and right about sunset we picked up some pelagic crabs out of the water. And now presenting The Scarlet Lobsterettes (sounds like a singing group from Detroit). 200 billion individuals in one group found by Russians. Evening Program on the day’s events and the upcoming West San Benitos Island adventure. Susannah sleeps through it. Travel all night through very smooth seas.
Feb. 17. 2 groups common dolphins bowride before breakfast. Flying fish, pomerine jaeger, sunny with high clouds. Arrive W. San Benitos. Only 3 fishermen on isl. Great male elephant seal fights and we witness several copulations (between e. seals that is). Ospreys galore. Bottlenose dolphins seen. Debris spider aka Oscar. Mammillaria (nipple, fishhook, etc right Rita?), mallow, tarweed, ice plant, atriplex. Great walk around north side of island up to the lighthouse. Side-blotched lizards abound. Chris, Susannah and Carol climb the peak. We head to tidepools and then back to boat at 3ish. Others dally and enjoy themselves at a different pace.
Quote of the day by Carol: I can’t speak for the rest of you but that’s the most sex I’ve seen in a long time.” Will she continue to feel that way this trip? At sunset dolphins and black-vented shearwaters and a few more gray whales. Evening program on San Ignacio Lagoon and gray whales. Susannah sleeps through it. Craveri Murrelet comes on board to see Dave. Smooth seas.
Feb. 18. Up early off SI Lagoon, whales everywhere. Entered at 7 AM anchored at 7:40 off Rocky Pt. 65.7 degrees. Immediately our Mexican Skiff operators (Cuckko, Norman and No-way) come out and we went whale-watching until noon. Great looks for most of the boats…alot of spy hopping, fluke shots, even pink floyds, breaching…Saw large flocks of Brant geese, a few bottle nose dolphins and Ca. Sea lions. Back for lunch and then immediately back in water. Some of us went for a walk into the mangroves and another group visited the old truck on the beach. Mangrove warblers and lotsa egrets and herons. Another great dinner. Evening program: sung my mother Happy Birthday, reviewed the day, more gray whale questions and answers.
Feb. 19. Tim overboard to rescue camera. We all load into the skiffs for a jungle cruise into the Mangroves. Fantastic light show on Sand Hill, is it real or is it water. Peregrine falcon just barely misses godwit right in front of our skiff. Wow, even better than public TV. Coyote seen by one group. We see tracks. Crab spider, darkling beetle, evening primrose, sand verbenas, DYC, Jatropa….
Went back out into lagoon for more superb whale watching right around the Royal Star, most convenient. One whale bumped boat hard, Markus flies. More lunch —- float em and bloat em. One group went back whale watching right after lunch. Rocky Pt. visit from 2 to 4:30 with Ron of Pacific Discoveries. Marcus and Carol go for long walk/talk. We see eel grass, palo adan, sesuvium, allenrolfea, mangrove, lined shore crab, sea cucumber, moon snail + egg cases, unicorn snail, jingle, horn snails, sea pen. Jaegers chasing terns. Evening program: mangroves, Nature Jeopardy Quiz. Susannah sleeps through it. Rain . at night.
Feb. 20. Totally miserable frigatebird sitting on the stick. Moved RS at 640 and (BIG EXCITEMENT) lost skiff, retrieved, hoisted and engine dried. Omen of things to come. Whale-watching was very poor so we opted for sand island or Isla Anna. Great beach walk..pismo clams, dead dolphin, strawberry cockle, pilsbury piddock, Belchers Chorus Shell, sea biscuit, pearly monia. Great looks at BP’s, elegant terns (please note, Dave), gulls, sanderlings, Cicindela latesignata. Sky cleared, wind began to blow, Royal Star moved through lagoon entrance, skiffs came to get us…..Waves high, Mexicans use their skills to get us safely to mother boat through exhilarating ride (E ticket) on the breakers. That excitement me and my butt could do without. Safe and sound return for LUNCH. Heading south all afternoon. I pass out the gray whale quiz. You can look at books, each others papers, discuss it, cheating is fair. Green flash at sunset 5:30. Evening program: we go over the quiz, not bad. You guys were paying attention.
Feb. 21. Boat slows at 6:45. I’m up in a flash for not whales but fishing. I smell fried potatoes so we must be at Potato Bank. 63 fathoms, 28 miles offshore. Barbara hooks a yellow-fin tuna (ahi) which weighs 15 lbs! Some of us who do not fear internal parasites will eat it later in great sushi dish. Then we encounter a large spot of Pacific Mackerel and 200+ common dolphins, thousands of black-vented shearwaters, a few sooties and pink-footed mixed in. Great concentration of life. Then found 2 humpback whales nearby that we got great looks at…All of this before 9:15! Call from Glenn and Gino went out…..hot bagels! Jeez life is good. At 10:15 slowed for hammerhead and more common dolphins. Great beautiful white flocks of Bonaparte Gulls. Wind blowing pretty well from NW. Meet the Excel heading north and we get some tomatoes, while our tomatoes pose on the upper deck. YMMM. 5 Ca. Sea lions at sea. A mystery whale seen by Tim, prob. a bottlenose whale type. 1 marlin, 1 manta ray. Head toward the town of Todos Santos. At sunset here we are right off remote Baja and Tim has got us right near an RV park…great. Common dolphins come to bowride just at sunset. Another green flash. Attendance spotty at the Evening Program (Susannah already asleep) on Las Friales, screen has to be held still. A bit Bouncy seas this evening. Southern Cross is visible at 11 PM, Rita gets up to see it.
Feb. 22. Rounded Cabo San Lucas in early morning anchored near Punta Gorda around 1:30 AM. Early breakfast call. I smelled French toast so we must be in ……Head out to Gorda Bank at 6:40, home for about 100 humpback whales. Clear blue skies, wind blowing from the north. Incredible looks at a group of 5 Humpies. Including one we named Whitey, kind of a klutz at diving. Saw somewhere between 23 and 50 Megaptera novaengliae. Leaping Manta Ray. Bonnie thought it was a piece of cardboard (you can take the girl out of New Jersey but you can’t take the New Jersey……).
Around noon pulled into leeward side of Las Friales, a big, hunk of white granite, that is protecting about 6 sailboats. Barbara rode the stick through those seas. Her drugs work. Our first snorkeling, water a bit murky but Nancy and Jerry enjoy themselves. Walk up canyon is also great…scorpions, tailed skippers, gila woodpeckers, vermillion flycatcher, desert sparrows, stilts, eared grebes, cactus wren, cardinal, cinnamon teals, yellowlegs.
Heliotrope, elephant tree, mangle dulce, tomentilla, opuntia, mesquite, pitaya agria, lycium, tronador, devils claw, Euphobia, Hyotis, palo blanco, palo verde, etc…….
Bats around boat at dusk. Dinner followed by slides on Dolphins and Humpies and then we watched a video on Alaska’s Wildlife. Susannah sleeps through it. Then the best show of all, biolumniensce all around the boat. Schools of fish exploding in all directions as we cruise around in circles. WOW, WOW, WOW
Feb. 23. Boucy ride heading north into the El Norte. Betty wonders if boat needs to be inspected after the wave shocks. Light rain again, it’s very special when…..shut up Michael. On south end Espiritu Santo from 7:30 to 11:30. Best attendance yet at Nature Walk. Most people just happy to be off the boat. Beautiful flowers…agave, coralvine, mistletoe, mimosa, Krameria, cardon, desert lavender, morning glory, passionflower, indigo bush, weird wild cucumber with fat root. Also saw velvet ant, side-blotched, antelope ground squirrel, pack rat nests, ringtailed cat tracks, desert spiny lizard, queen butterfly, ermine moth.
Fantastic birds too…gnatcatchers, mockingbirds, desert sparrows, costa hummerbird displaying, gila and ladder-backed woodpeckers…
Some of us went snorkeling, good visibility and alot of fish.
Then moved north during lunch to Los Isolotes at the north end of Isla Partida. From 1:20 to 3:50 we went swimming with sea lions and/or viewed them from the skiffs. Jerry and Nancy stay in water the entire time. 3 people nipped by the frolicking youngsters. Sea lion with gill net…bummer. Marcus catches a “Manta Ray” by hand and some of us by hook, line and sinker. Moved down to Ensenada Grande for great hike up canyon and dinner. Canyon wrens singing, great horned owls, ficus, weird volcanic formations. Evening program on Isla Carmen and wildflowers that we have been seeing. Susannah sleeps through it. Decide to make long run up to Carmen this evening to get the seas over with……but seas have calmed down and as we head north we get bowriding dolphins in bioluminscese. Calm seas all night! Lucky us.
Feb. 24. Arrived Bahia Salinas, Isla Carmen at 5:40. Rain, amazing..it’s so special to …On island at 7:15. see what happens when you forget to do routine maintenance on your property. Oldest salt works in the new world. Cat, dog, fisherman, and salt in old volcanic caldera. Few birds (osprey, house finch, ravens, least sandpipers, TV’s are waiting for us, kingfisher) but many blooming plants…. phacelia, apricot mallow, birds foot trefoil, algodon, sandpaper plant, whatever-you-want-to-call-it daisy, hey bebbia. We go to church and pass by the school.
Off island at 9:35 and then out for some whale watching. Doesn’t take long. 5-7 Fin whales are spotted and one of them flukes while I am downstairs! Not supposed to do that. Great looks at them. Kevin sights a group of Killer whales but soon they turn into short-finned pilot whales, and then into long-finned pilot whales, and then into false killer whales, then into pygmy killer whales (watch for white lips) finally the chameleons become bottlenose dolphins. Whoops our mistake. Lucky I am not one of those insecure naturalist types. Around noon we see 2 humpback whales. Can see the remoras and penellas (parasitic copepods) on their flukes. At 12:15 a large group of common dolphins came to bowride, surfer boys. Rounded Carmen and went in canal east of Isla Danzante and then headed right toward the distant burning dump of Loreto. Sighted Blue Whales. Spent the rest of the afternoon watching them, including one that rolled right near the boat. There were also some fins and a Sei whale.
Went ashore on west side of Carmen for brief hike through the wash. A glorious sunset. Evening program on Blue/Fin/Sei/Brydes ID at sea and Isla Santa Catalina. Susannah sleeps through it. Afterwards we gathered some marine invertebrates and looked at them through my little microscope- crab larvae, comb jellies, weird worms. FUN.
Feb. 25. At 3:10 AM left Carmen and arrived at south side of Isla Santa Catalina around 6. On beach by 7:30. Sunny and blue Baja kind of day. Full of singing birds. great looks at Costa’s hummingbird nest, verdins, shrike, gnatcatchers, desert sparrows, hooded oriole. Great barrel cactus and cardon. The wash was full of flowers including numerous lupines. *** Rama Parda, Parda, Parda, Rama, Rama, Parda, Parda ***** Land snails, side-blotched, leaf-toed gecko but no rattleless rattlesnakes. Hindu Bonnie goes swimming in her clothes again. Some of us went snorkeling through the rocks, great light, lotsa fish. Jannette goes snorkeling!
After lunch we decided to head over to Isla Santa Cruz for a visit to a new island. On the way the skipper encounters two large groups of fish he sees on the sonar but he cannot catch any of them and he reflects on Plato’s quote “fishes are senseless beings which have received the most remote habitations as a punishment for their extreme ignorance.” What does that make him?
Cruising along Santa Cruz we see at Byrdes type whale at 2:40. Arrive at SW end for shore party and some snorkeling. Horned lizard, jasmine, mala mujer (bad women). Whales in the distance. Venus next to crescent moon, it’s the Turkish flag. Evening program: seabird adaptations and Isla San Jose. Susannah asleep. After slide show we go out on the darkened deck and learn a few stars.
Feb. 26. Left Santa Cruz at 4 arrived Pt. Colorado, Isla San Jose at 5:30. Went ashore just south of lighthouse. So pretty. Great hike up canyon and scrambling over hills. Caught desert spiny lizard on dental floss, skeptics convinced. Lotsa fast Zebra-tailed lizards. Hang out at beach. Beauty of this Pliocene marine deposits is striking. Back on boat at 11:15. Start heading south when we see a very big group (shoal) of common dolphins. Estimated at 650. Kodak and Fuji stock goes up. The word “play” was invented for these guys. At lunch brief talk on Oceanic Society and Norway whaling problem, please do your part.
At 1:15 we arrive at west side of mangroves. Head out in skiffs against strong current into mangroves. Not too many birds, a few no-see-ums and one great sea slug. One boat gets stuck in the mud, low adventure with Chris. The rest of us take very peaceful beach strolls, alot of shells. Crew gets ready for our beach party.
Hydrocarbon torches, memorial to fishermen, moon shining bright, great bonfire, special night. No slide show so Susannah is awake. Closing circle was real fine. I appreciated all of your honest comments. Clearly the best part of this trip was the people. As the skipper Tim so succinctly put it, “There were no a–holes on the boat.” Some guitar playing and singing but the tide soon lapped at our fire and we retreat to the boat and some of us attempt to make order out of our rooms.
Feb. 27. While coming into La Paz a small group of Pacific White-sided dolphins decide to bowride and two whales – one gray and a humpback fluke goodbye to us. We clear customs and we head off into several different directions. This particular combination of folks never to recur. It was fun. Bye, bye.
Todos Santos White footed Deer Mouse, northern elephant seal, Ca. sea lion, western gull, gray whale, long-billed curlew, trigger fish, coronet fish, parrot fish, puffer fish, cormorant sp., bottle nose dolphin.
Side blotched Lizard, Zebra tailed Lizard, Whiptail, Desert Spiny Lizard, Chuckawalla, Desert Horned Lizard, Leaf-toed Gecko.
California Sea lion, Harbor Seal, Northern Elephant Seal, Bottlenose Dolphins, Common Dolphin, Pacific White-sided dolphins, California Gray whale, Blue whale, Sei whale, Brydes Whale (probable), Fin whales, unidentified toothed whale probably bottlenose type.
Lobster fishermen, burro, goats, dog, cattle, feral cat (Baja lynx), Black tailed Jack Rabbit, Audubons Cottontail, Antelope Ground Squirrel, White footed mouse and Kangaroo rat (tracks), White-footed Pack rat nest, Coyote, Ring tailed Cat tracks, Pallid bat, other bat sp.
Insects and Allies:
Ermine moth, Tailed skipper, Queen Butterfly, Sulphur Butterfly, Monarch Butterfly, White lined Sphinx Moth, Dragonfly, Antlions, no-see-ums, Bumble bee, Tarantula Hawk, kelp flies, darkling beetle, blister beetle (Spanish fly), Tenebriods, tiger beetles, Argiope spider, turret spider, debris spider, crab spider, scorpion 2 species, centipede, sow bugs, land snails.
Anemones, sea pens, sea slug, sponge, pencil urchin, purple urchin, crowned urchin, pelagic crabs, Whale lice, whale barnacles, annelids, comb jelly, bryozoans, gorgonian coral, isopods, Blue spiny lobster, tan star, purple star, feather duster worms, Porcelain Crabs, fidler crab, limpet, chiton, hermit crabs, Acanthina, tube worm, rock louse, sea cucumber, sally lightfoot, Tetraclita barnacles, tube snail, tunicates, brittle stars, horn snails, Purple clam, Pismo, Mole crab, pearly monia, Belcher’s chorus shell, sea biscuit, paper nautilus, little bean clam, Noctilucas galore.
Blue, hammerhead shark, flying fish, king angelfish, yellow fin tuna, marlin, manta ray, Cortez damselfish, sheepshead, beaubrummel Panamic sargent major, mullet, scissortail damselfish, skate sp., wounded Wrasse, Cortez rainbow wrasse, sunset wrasse, yellowtail, bicolor parrotfish, azure parrotfish, redside blenny, convict tang trumpet fish, yellow surgeonfish, blue and gold snapper, guineafowl puffer and more.
Lo Preste Sportfishing
2838 Garrison St
San Diego, CA 92106
Pacific Loon Red Phalarope
Pied billed Grebe Pomerine Jaeger
Horned Grebe Laughing Gull
Western Grebe Bonapartes Gull
Laysan Albatross Heermanns Gull
Petrel sp. (least?) Ring billed Gull
Magnificent Frigatebird California Gull
Red billed Tropicbird Western Gull
Brown Pelican Yellow footed Gull
Brown Booby Forsters Tern
Masked Booby Elegant Tern
Blue footed Booby Royal Tern
Pink footed Shearwater Caspian Tern
Sooty Shearwater Cassins Auklet
Black vented Shearwater Rhinocerous Auklet
Townsends Shearwater Xanthus Murrelet
Double crested Cormorant Craveri’s Murrelet
Brandt’s Cormorant White winged Dove
American Bittern Morning Dove
Great Blue Heron White throated Swift
Great Egret Costa’s Hummingbird
Snowy Egret Black fronted Hummingbird
Little Blue Heron Belted Kingfisher
Tricolored Heron Gilded Flicker
Reddish Egret Gila Woodpecker
Green backed Heron Ash Throated Flycatcher
Black crowned Night Heron Horned Lark
White Ibis Tree Swallow
Brandt Goose Violet Green Swallow
Surf Scoter Common Raven
Red breasted Merganser Scrub Jay
Northern Harrier Verdin
Osprey Canyon Wren
Red tailed Hawk Rock Wren
Virginia Rail Northern Mockingbird
Willet Black Tailed Gnatcatcher
Black bellied Plover Loggerhead Shrike
Least Sandpiper Orange Crowned Warbler
Spotted Sandpiper Audubon Warbler
Greater Yellowlegs Mangrove Warbler
Yellowlegs sp. Northern Oriole
Wandering Tattler House Finch
Long billed Curlew Northern Cardinal
Whimbrel Green tailed Towhee
Semipalmated Plover Savannah Sparrow
American Oystercatcher Black throated Sparrow
Ruddy Turnstone Song Sparrow
Sanderling House Sparrow
Marbled Godwit Rock Dove
Now, not all of us saw all of these all of the time did we?
During the “big” trips I keep a diary for the entire group – what we did, what we saw, the jokes, the things that went wrong, the things that went right. I refuse to pretend that everything always goes smoothly on all of my trips, but we always learn and we always have a good time. Skim through this synopsis – blemishes and all – it isn’t sanitized but I think it will give you a flavor of my trips and the wonderful people who go on them.
HEY JELLY WHAT’S UP WITH THOSE ORANGE BOATS?
GRAND CANYON RAFTING TRIP, MAY 12 – 24, 1998
May 11, Day 1: We all begin to arrive from different parts of the country to the La Quinta Hotel in Flagstaff. At 7 PM we meet Mary Ann for our orientation and last shopping opportunity. We all introduce ourselves and share our reasons for going on this trip. In short order we are already beginning to feel like community — replete with our own grandmother and granddaughter. Beer, wine, soda run. It is our first chance to stuff all our stuff in a stuff sack. Last hot shower for a while, though mine was only luke warm -a cruel send off into the cold water of the Colorado.
May 12: Up 5:30 AM Breakfast at 6, left 6:40 with Paul the bus driver into the Navajo nation. Stop for pee break at Cameron. We cross the Little Colorado which is running colorado and slide along Echo Cliff. Youngest rock we’ll see. Cross the Mighty Colorado (see the new bridge) and arrive at Lees Ferry at 9:45 and form our first but not last “bag line”. First talk by Jerry – our Trip leader – a thoroughly competent guide with a wicked sense of humor and a diabolical laugh. The only thing we are locked into is FLEXIBILITY. Into the trusted and talented hands of Steve, Jon (Jelly), Russell and Kathryn we go, we are counting on them. Deborah and Henry balance out the AzRA staff as assistants. Pee in the river, dilution is the solution to pollution. White water trip, running 12-20K cfs. We go from 3100′ to 1300′ an 1800′ drop. 20-22 miles per day. Cold water, 48 degrees gains one degree every 20 miles. Pool drop river. Some of us jump into the paddle boat and travel forward.
We are off. Great Blue herons, common mergansers, mallards, violet green swallows, raven with baby bird? hanging out its mouth. Canyon wrens are heard, their descending notes will serenade us the entire trip. At noon at river 7 we pull over to the right for our first lunch and then another orientation. Yellow backed spiny lizard and a chuckwalla. We run Badger Creek rapids (our first biggie), Soap Creek and then we pullover to the left to go on a short clamber on the rocks to see an inscription commemorating the drowning of FM Brown – a man too cheap to buy life jackets for his crew. A few more rapids and then to our intimate camp at river 14 just above Sheer Wall rapid. Anne rows searching for her path through life. I think she will find it. Bob H. and Bill hear mysterious flute music coming from the canyon walls that only they can hear. Mary falls into the river attempting to pee. She will get better at it. Bag line. Then our final orientation to the kitchen and the toilet – we all make our daily pilgrimage to the Acrapolis. And what views! Tonight there is a full moon and the wind blows pretty hard and sand blasts us! Fitful sleeps even had by the guides.
May 13 Day 2: The call of the conch. French toast. Yummy. Good strong coffee. Morning talk Kaibab (225 mya), Toroweap, Coconino (coastal dunes), Hermit Shale (Ancestral Rockies that stains everything below red), Supai Group, Redwall Limestone, Muav Limestone, Bright Angel Shale, Tapeats Sandstone. Kissing Takes Concentration. However, Sex Requires More Balance And Timing = Got it? We drop through the first 5 formations on the first two days! We are in the Marble Canyon not the Grand Canyon proper. At Phantom Ranch is the deepest part of the Canyon. We are off with a bit of wind still blowing and some coolness. House Rock Rapid and our first Big horn, a yg female on the right getting a drink. Then at mile 20 1/2 we stop on the right for a hike up North Canyon. Lesser Scaup, Lucy’s warblers singing up a storm. It is raining and cool, scrambling up the sandstone. Plants= datura, tomatillo, apricot mallow, desert rue, princes plume, sticky ring, twinning snapdragon, phacelia. Catch canyon tree frogs and red spotted toads. Back for lunch and it is over just as the rain really begins. Into the Roaring Twenties rapids. Fastest flowing section of the river is here. See twittering white-throated swifts galore. Sue is a bit nervous, feels like vomiting rather than vocalizing but she is getting used to it. Now we are into the Redwall soaring above us. 500′. We run Indian Dick Rapid which, according to local hysterian Jerry, an Indian was lost in the canyon and all tore up except for one significant part of his body. Disgusting story. We make it to South Canyon for our camp on river right at 31. However there are some backpackers already there but they agree to share camp with us, we offer them dinner. A fair exchange. We can see Vasey’s Paradise with the waterfall shooting right out of the wall. Anasazi ruins are easy to see. Paddlers had a fine exhausting day. Rain and wind stopped even saw the sun a bit. Moonlight on the walls this evening. We are beginning to get into the rythum.
May 14, Day 3: Blue morning! Stanton walked out right here, stashed stuff in a cave and walked out South Canyon. Twig figurines have been found in many caves, over 5000 yrs old. May be associated with Clovis people we don’t know. In the wet places there is an endangered species, the Kaibab amber snail (tastes good in garlic butter). Peregrine falcon flies over. In 1923 Boulder Rapids renamed for President Harding. He had died in office while engaged in sexual relations with a woman not his wife. Imagine that! What interesting things we learn in nature. Jerry reads Mary Olivers poem “Wild Geese” to us. Easy rapid day. We are off. Motor boats passing us. Passing by Vaseys Paradise KARSTS. Powerful lot of water. False hellebore orchid, Poison Ivy galore, Cardinal monkeyflower. Martha and Carol fall out of the paddle boat and are baptized by the River. Next stop is the Redwall Cavern (33). Wow you could park a couple of 747’s in here. Fun to look at tracks. Sand deposited by the huge flood of 83. Bur. of Reclamation made big mistake in 83, huge dangerous flood, 140 people rescued in one day! Fossil crinoids, bryozoans. We are in the Mississippi period, 330 mya. We float on down in the rain and cold to 39 on right for lunch in big sandy area. The sun comes out and we try to gather that heat. We hike up into the short canyon with the amazing canyon wall and little waterfall. False hellebore orchids, honey mesquite, tadpoles, maidenhair ferns. There is a great birth mother image looking out toward the river. Or is it just me Lynn? But in some ways the water – the river – is about birth and transformation. Passion and flow.
We are off into the Marble Gorge where the redwall plunges 500′ straight down into the river. limestone at depth, shale in shallows, sandstone on coast. Redwall limestone is calcium carbonate deposited as by-product of blue-green algae. Fluted walls. We pass the Bridge of Sighs on the right. Donald says that the name comes from a foot bridge in Naples that inmates took to a prison. Whoa here comes some slushy rain. Carol (and probably others) is thinking to herself that this is going to be a very long trip. Alex is thinking he is damn glad he has on a wet suit. Cruise on down river and see holes for proposed damn site. God bless the Sierra Club, for stopping that madness. Royal Arches in Redwall, impressive. Devonian river channels seen (Temple Butte Limestone). Camp stop at Mile 47, Saddle Canyon, right. Nice plants, large campsite. Hike leaves soon, up the trail into Saddle Canyon proper. A great hike. Many flowers in bloom, Rocky Mountain 4 O’Clock, Mahonia, prickly pear, hackberry, box elder, redbud, honey mesquite, hop tree, ephedra (mormon tea), mint, lemon verbena, Apache plume (fruits look like the hair on troll dolls or Don King doo), grapes, columbine (both yellow and red on same plant!). The flowering cactus were particularly superb, especially on the trail up. A mule deer female is not the least concerned about us. We have to hike through the creek for the last little bit and then get pulled up a little falls. Right purty, though. Mary does the splits. The light is beautiful. Dinner is fish and broccoli, delicious. Tonight is the final Seinfeld episode. Bob F. was hoping for a satellite feed but instead we got a Wesson Oil lava lamp with a colander for a shade. Very very cool. Clear skies for a brief star talk. Gemini, Leo, Cancer, Beehive, Berenice’s Hair, Spica, Arcturus, big dipper, pointer sisters.
May 15, Day 4: Clear blue sky! Raven steals Bob and Carols Cliff Bar and pokes a hole in my Peets Coffee bag (thems fightin’ actions). But they were here first.
HURRAY WE ARE FINALLY ON THE MAP! Basic geology lesson= sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks. River is a big slice through the giant Colorado Plateau. Like a knife slicing through an upraised layer cake. Plate tectonics = is like a pot of boiling soup the pig fat floating around the top is like the continents on the hot magma. Personally I prefer the image of skim on hot chocolate. Redwall goes from South Cal to Canada. Today the little Colorado River, my ribs are beginning to ache. Home of the Humpback Chub, rare and endangered. Can adapt to a huge range of salinity but cannot deal with the newly cold Colorado River water. Humps stabilize in current. 14 miles to the Little Co. River before dam carried 67-80 million tons of sediment, now 3 million tons. Jerry cautions us on excessive use of toilet paper and implores us to be proud of those “puppies”, don’t hide ’em. I am, how about you all? Today we leave Marble and enter the Grand Canyon proper.
So we are off and we have our first silent float to mile 50. Peaceful, I loved it. At Nankoweap we run the longest rapids on the river (one mile) and pull in right. Nankoweap means a place of battle. There was a fight here between probably Apaches and Pauites. Anasazi is a Navajo word that means “enemy ancestors” and they are probably the ancestors of the Hopi. Hopi’s don’t really like that word. Nankoweap is a large delta region that was farmed extensively by several successive groups. Yellow backed spinys. Side blotched lizards. We carefully hike through the cryptogramic soil to see the remains of the native shelters. The floral display is again lovely. Getting warm. 28 Bald eagles now winter here eating introduced trout. Many of us hike up the steep path to the Granaries. The sisters, Heidi and Debi are tough hikers. I can’t keep up with them. Good prep for upcoming hikes. They grew corn, squash and beans, maybe cotton. Irrigation ditches. What happened? drought, overpopulation, depleted soil, a combination? According to Bill the cliff dwellings of the southwest were basically defensive positions against raiding when population began to outstrip resources. Lessons to learn?? We have lunch here. Thank you guides for making our travel so pleasurable. We hike, have fun, learn, take pictures, watch birds, smell flowers and then get to come back to a ready made lunch! Back on the boats we pass the highest shear walls in entire canyon, 4000′. The Tapeats sandstone is now at river level. Good to sleep or shade under, has overhangs. We float down to the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado. Pass by the 1956 airliner crash on Chuar Butte, 128 people killed. Worst air disaster to that point, resulted in formation of FAA. Blue springs (travertine) are the birthplace of the Hopi people, where they moved from the 4th to the 5th world. The river is muddy. We quickly scoop up some buckets of clear water for filtering. We enter the River of Ten Thousand Eddies and we slide on down in the now muddy Colorado passing the sacred salt mines, off limits to us. Holy pilgrimage with males and young boys to gather this precious substance. We pass the Great Unconformity, where the Tapeats meets the Vishnu Schist (one billion years of rock is missing, who took them?). Someone is in our preferred site at Carbon and at Lava Canyon. Now the Canyon opens up wide into a grand, grand canyon. We pull in on the river right at mile 68. Plan C is pretty darn good. Just above Tanner rapids. Can see Desert View watchtower designed by Mary Colter. This is one of the few places where the river can be seen from the Canyon rim. In the Grand Canyon series, the DOX formation which is easily eroded opens the canyon up. Bright bright red rocks. And opposite of us we can see lava flows of the Cardenas series. In the land of Camel Thorn, yeech. Brittle bushes in flower. Great temperature. We watch the sunset light off the cliff, we are feeling mighty good right now.
May 16, Day 5: High overcast. Pancakes and sausages. We have been heading south but now we are trending west. Widest views great horizon. Reading from Powell, tough times sifted the flour, maggots in the bacon but still has a pound o’ coffee. Fable: Lobster and the Crab, take those small but daily risks! We run Tanner and then pull in to Unkar Ruins, the longest occupied site in the Canyon. We are careful not to walk on the cryptogrammic soil. I demonstrate thigmotropism (plants that move in response to touch) on the anthers of the Opuntia cacti. Poreweed smells like cilantro. Fishhook cacti. Desert tomato, tobacco, phacelia, brittle bush, desert trumpet. We stroll through the ruins. Kathryn twists her ankle pretty badly. Geeze we need her. Call the medic in. Russell assesses the situation and treats his wife very well. I think the cure is the magic of his loving touch and her innate toughness …but we must leave and she runs the rapids. Doesn’t complain, though I know it must hurt. Within days she is doing nearly everything with a swollen and purple ankle. One hardy gal.
We pull in on the right at mile 74 for a long hot afternoon of R and R. It is hot, how could we have been so cold? I catch a Yellow backed spiny lizard male with dental floss and intercept the bag line with my prize. Third eye, he doesn’t fall for my hypnotism. Speaking of bag line, Alex and Lynnes drink bags do not seem to be getting lighter! Later I catch a male Collared lizard. Anne and Sue make good friends with him. Upon release he quickly finds a female and mates. Fucking Lizard alert! My library is open as is Jerrys. Bathing, reading, napping. At 3:30 (though we don’t have watches so how do we know when to go??) the hike to Tabernacle Butte leaves. A 2000′ elevation gain. a bunch of you go. The wind is howling up there. The views are incredible. For dinner the pasta with sun dried tomatoes and strawberry short cake. Many many stars. Tomorrow the greatest series of rapids in the entire trip.
May 17, Day 6: Kathryn is getting better due to Vitamin I therapy. The nearby area is closed bc of breeding se willow flycatchers. Beaver sign. Blue blue day. We are going into the Precambrian. Vishnu Schist, Zoroaster granite is the oldest rock in NA at 1.85 billion yrs old. Oldest rock on the planet is 3 billion. The great unconformity is missing one billion yrs of rocks which is equal to the entire rocks we have traveled through. Eroded away or not deposited. Today we will travel about 25 miles. We can flip, fall out. We will have fun. biggies and one right after another.
The Tanner Trail comes in here at 75 mile canyon. We run Nevilles and then the Granite Gorge begins. Big pink pegmatite granite veins in the schist. Hance, Sockdolager, Grapevine, Zoroaster. Yee ha! the paddle boat is having fun. We see Golden Eagle, peregrine falcon, blue grosbeak, turkey vultures. We pull into the Cremation Camp on river left at 86 for lunch. We are just above Phantom Ranch. We choose not to stop and see the civilization and all the people. Watch jackasses hike down the trail and see the donkeys too. On river left we see three big horns. A run through Horn Creek, I think one of the best on the trip. Rolling Salt Creek Rapid. Russells boat gets out to run Granite- biggest standing waves on the river. I feel like we were in the suds cycle in this one. This rapid the crew would like to run over and over again. Every boat had a great run. And then Hermit. Pink pegmatite dikes in vishnu schist, fluted in the core of the continent. Old rocks are dark somber gray. We pull on at 96ish on left just above Boucher Rapid for camp. We are on the flight pattern for sightseeing. Write the PARK! Tarantula Hawks are everywhere. Spittle bugs in the bushes. very pleasant temperature, no wind. It is Baja Taco night. My fave. Multileveled campsites. Carolyn tells me that she is getting used to the sand in everything. Good sign for a life with me. Nice view from the toilet. During the night there is a major rock slide that many hear and feel, We didn’t.
May 18, Day 7: We get conched a bit earlier today. French toast and another clear blue day. I show everyone the ant lion (aka doodlebug) larvae. Fierce ant predator and after getting bitten by one of those harvester ants I am rooting for the antlions. Steep sided creeks resulted in all those rapids we had yesterday. There is an 8-9′ drop every mile on average. Today is Crystal and the Jewells. Jerry reads the “Reverend” poem. Some of us not wearing enough sunscreen are becoming Scripturally cooked.
We stop to scout Crystal, a rapid just formed by a 1966 flash flood. BIG BIG wave in center. The tension climbs, this is RAPID foreplay, soon we will have the BIG O. Steve tries the right run. Anna falls out and walks through Crystal in her sensible walking shoes, Don holding onto her. The paddlers have an exciting run as well. Mark takes a long swim, missing the rock garden and gets picked up by Jerry. Carolyn goes just milliseconds after Mark. Boats spins around and hit by a monster wave and Mary gets out up to her neck, technically out of the boat but has the good sense to grab onto Jerry’s life jacket and he is forced to pull her back in the boat. And I get sucked overboard the same moment as Mary. Carolyn is pulled back on by Super Anne, who then vaults forward toward the salad bar in the front giggling all the way. Ron pulls me back in before we hit the wall, but I have the discourtesy to just lie on him while Jelly is screaming for paddlers. The three swimmers were scheduled to be relieved below the rapid, but couldn’t our paddle captain have waited a little bit for the transfer?? Somehow Jelly ended up with an armful of women in the back. Well, that’s over with.
Tuna Creek rapid, we pass Nixon Rock (right of center). Then we do the jewels — Agate, Sapphire, Turquoise, Ruby (good ride), Serpentine (whee ha). We pull into river left at 108, just above Bass Rapid. The metal boat, Ross Wheeler, is just below. After lunch Walthenberg Rapids (a man never seen in the company of a woman. ). We start to pull into visit Elves Chasm but there are too many people there so we head on down the river. 3 baby bighorns and some moms seen on the right. We pass the Monument fold several times according to my guide. Great Zoroaster granitic plugs through Vishnu schist. What orogeny! Up thrusts and subduction. Oh, geology is sooo sexual. Then quiet through Stephens Aisle. We pull in on right mile 120 Black Tail canyon. Some of us walk up into the canyon and have a most fabulous time in singing and in contemplation.
by Bill Noble (a poem in progress)
You’re always upstream of Crystal Rapids
the wry and open-faced boatmen say
speaking of fate. But not here, not now.
A wave bigger than any animate thing
you had ever encountered licked you
from your boat, swallowed you. Down its throat
into its belly, into no-breath, into whirl.
What happened next is what people do:
the deep, long pull back from icy water
And now, Blacktail Canyon.
You come alone up the twisting slotted canyon
up the shadowed chattering thread of water
deep in the cool shelving thousand-layered sandstone.
Maiden hair, green, delicate, drips from every seep
this fragile fern we name
with such unexpected tenderness.
You sit for unmeasured time
feeling Crystal twine itself
into the brief chemistry of your brain
into the wavering trace of Blacktail Canyon
into the rolling Earth.
A linnet’s carol, silvered by the canyon.
A canyon wren’s music falling around you
note by note.
Stillness and motion.
You sip sweet limestone water
then move away
toward Crystal’s Rapid.
It was a healing circle for us swimmers and was most powerful. thanks. Staccato canyon tree frog and trill of red-spotted toad. After dinner Jelly Roll does a careful sand drawing of our journey through Crystal. Heidi, Debbie, Mary + their security guard Henry are setting up their space once again.
May 19, Day 8: Blue blue sky. Feels like it is gonna be hot today. It is a good rapid day. Words from Edward Abbey. The swimmers are back on the horse today. We are all paddling back by Jon so he can prod us if necessary. We begin in the peaceful water through Conquistador Aisle. One bighorn male and a golden eagle. For the last two days we have not seen the large numbers of swifts and swallows. Forster Rapid. Getting more deserty, more barrel cactus, black throated sparrows singing, Nolinas. talk of Binky the Rapid Dragon has subsided. He has raised his powerful head. Fossil rapid, Randy’s rock, Spector (a wild ride against that wall on the right!), Bedrock (tricky one), then finally Dubendorf at Mile 132. That was a good ride. Whoops our camp has some other boats but they are only day boats so we unload, have lunch and don’t set up our tents. Too hot. We are all to hike up Stone Creek until 6:30 or so. We hike to the first waterfall and spy the Nubian Goddess sunbathing with her Zen Beginner Book at her side. I casually stole a couple of hundred glances in her direction. I appreciate all the beauty to be found in nature. Many photos taken under the waterfall. How very refreshing! A few stay there but many of us head up the trail to the next waterfall. Just in time for the group there to leave. Still fewer of us head all the way up the final waterfall. Grand total of 2 1/2 mile hike, one way. Lazuli Bunting, Lucy warblers, desert sparrow, columbines, redbuds, lemonade berry. Hellgrammites. Back to camp. Henry attempts to blow the conch for dinner. He has other talents. Sue has painted a lovely card for Steve that we are all surreptiously signing. Carolyn and I are the toilet monitors. The groover is the most exposed one yet. Getting to know you, getting to know all about you……
May 20, Day 9: The women are beginning to refer to their hair as that Great Unconformity. Jerry tells us the story of Nathaniel Galloway who took the first eco tourist, millionaire Stone, through the canyon with Dubendorf (a man gritty as a flapjack rolled in sand). Galloway was the first to run the rapids by facing forward. Three men from different walks of life but sharing a love of the canyon and a love of adventure. Just like our group. Wendell Berry- A Poem of Thanks. Fire somewhere is making it hazy. Just down the river below Helicopter Eddy (135) we stop and 14 get off to hike along river right, on Indian trail. The rest paddle through the narrowest part of the Colorado River. We have a silent hike and they have a silent float. We can finally see the chicken pulling the wagon train. Walt oars his own boat with only Carol as his passenger. On the hike we see ruins, chuckwallas, collared lizards, catclaw acacia is blooming, a rattlesnake, great plants and view, most enjoyable in silence. We make it to Deer Creek in time to join the others in our group who have hiked up the steep cliff through the poison ivy and watch a dipper (water ouzel) in the creek right in front of us. There are so many other people here in this beautiful spot. I like having the canyon to ourselves.
Up on the patio good look at a singing indigo bunting. Loco weed, gray thorn. A toilet paper fire burned here in May 94 but the area is recovering. Some of us hiked up to source of Deer Creek spouting out of the Muav limestone in another dramatic waterfall. Ho hum, just another beautiful scene. Desert tobacco, yellow warblers, Costa Hummingbirds, yellow breasted chats, lazuli buntings, queen butterflies, redbud trees, cactus flowers, Chuckawallas, side-blotched lizards. Carolyn is very disappointed to realize that the real color of the rocks (greens, purples, mauve) is often masked by the red stain from above. I suggest she write to the Park and ask them to clean those rocks up so we can see those beautiful celery greens. Steve launches rubber ducky over the falls never to be seen again. Back down to the boats. It is looking like some rain! So we make camp just down river on left at 137. Steve’s big half century mark today and he is on latrine duty and has to cook in the rain to boot. But there is celebration as well as rain in the air. We scramble to put up our tents before the rain hits. We find a great tent location but Heidi recommends another perfect place so she can get our primo spot. We fall for it, big mistake. Rain comes in earnest. Pleasant sound on the tent, as long as the tent isn’t leaking. Huge flock of violet green swallows cruise down river ..what do they know?? Kitchen is under the Tapeats. Steve has lotsa help especially from Anna. Happy hour of Margaritas!! And the ceremonial BUD BOTTLE is inflated. And to boot our head guide declares an emergency campfire. Great dinner topped by Pineapple Upside Down Cake. How do these guys do it? Steve’s words of wisdom via Yogi Berra- “Observation is best done by looking.” Rain stops and stars appear. Ron and Martha prudently decide to move to higher ground out of the flash flood zone. They looked.
May 21, Day 10: Blue day. Diamond drops us off a load of beer and soft drinks, maybe those motorized rigs are not that bad after all. Geeze I am easily bought. River is running east west now. We decide to miss Havasu because of the large numbers of boats there. We are gonna do 30 miles today. Jerry tells us about his history of flipping in Upset Rapids and then wonders why he can’t get any riders. Fable- Hippo at Dinner. Dolomites and Redwall. Dorris (male Bighorn here) and Fishtail rapids. To Kanab Creek mile 143 1/2, huge drainage and place where Powell left the Colorado on his second trip. Already have gone 10 miles, fast here. At Matkatamidba (Matkat) Canyon on left, we pull boats hard into mouth of creek, all tied together. We keep our life jackets on until safely onshore. We fall in here, we drown says Jerry. I take his word for it. We are here for 4 or more hours. Lower hike up through creek is a challenge. Slippery rocks and we must chimney up some of the way. Many are challenged and rise to the occasion. The upper route is very very exposed. No mistakes please or it is an helicopter ride out. Into the Muav, no one here but us FOOTLOOSERS. Good choice, Jerry. Good swimming holes. Rock fall heard. R and R. Great ride through Upset Rapids (150). Kathryn’s boat has a grand ride. Yee Haw! We pass Havasu Creek. Now the Muav is at river level. The first Ocotillos are seen (“Adams tree” in Baja). They are in full flower and leaf. Exclamation marks. It is getting late so we decide to take the first available campsite. Only problem each one is occupied. so it goes to plan c,d,e and finally by 7 PM it is plan f. Which is Fern Glen (mile 168), our original plan. so plan f= plan a. Just before pulling in we see beavers very well and 4 golden eagles are circling overhead. Cook your own steak/chicken night, mashed potatoes. Good work Russell and Kathryn. Many bats, red spotted toads. STARS everywhere.
May 22, Day 11. Blue day. LAVA FALLS day, 37′ drop and wild ride. At least it is an easier swim than Crystal. The river has turned brown during the night. Due to rain along little Colorado?? We are off the map! Boo. But we are on the new map. Hurray. Temple Butte is here. Today we see our first Creosote bushes and enter the Basin and Range geology. lotsa faulting and the layer cake is not as pronounced. Things are changing. We hear about naked Louise oared 2 boats lashed together at night toward Lava. Glad it wasn’t me. We have a brief hike up Fern Glen. Another beautiful spot. We are heading into the world of lava flows and lava dams. Drama and 2000′ waterfalls. Lava flowed 85 miles down river. Lakes all the way into Utah. The scale is almost unimaginable. Powell- “What a conflict of water and fire there must have been here! Just imagine a river of molten rock running down over a river of melted snow. What a seething and boiling of waters: what clouds of steam rolled into the heavens!” Black and somber, but magnificent. Enter the Haualapai Indian Reservation where we will be for the rest of the trip. Alot of flat water. At mile 170 I begin to see creosote bushes, many Bell’s vireos singing and yellow-breasted chats yakking. We silently float past Vulcan’s Anvil. Can see sediments high on canyon walls from previous dammed lakes. Volcanic activity evident everywhere. Columnar Basalt, garlic basalt. We get to the sound of the 747 taking off and pull over to the right to scout it. A left or right run?? Carolyn and Mark and Mary are back on the paddle boat, good for them. Huge debris flow at Prospect Canyon on March 6th, 1995 6 major lava flows. Tension is building. Forget Prospect, let’s do the Falls and then have lunch. It is getting hot especially against the black volcanic rock. All boats decide on the left runs are perfect and smooth. Dick relaxes his grip midway through but Walt grabs his leg and keeps him in the raft. Paddle boat threads it well. Steve does a whirligig in the middle of the rapid. that is why Alex rides with him, Steve has his own way of doing things. Deborah on my boat didn’t even get wet. Just below Son of Lava (which was actually a better ride) we pull over to left for lunch. And then a very strange thing happens, there is a massive hair washing orgy. Felt good though. We cruise on down the river some gulls (ring billed) wheeling past though the basalt galore to river (192), camp on the left. The Bag o’ Wines are tasting pretty good right now. Henry finally blows the conch. It is the Uncle Bens rice night. Wide open camp so we have another little star talk. We are the stuff stars are made of. Another very warm and windless night.
May 23, Day 12: What a dawn chorus of birds. We are a bit late to breakfast and receive all sorts of hoots and hollers. Eggs to order this AM. We are now on another map. Just crossed the Hurricane Fault. Gonna slide on down to 220 or so. Took from 63 to 82 to fill Lake Powell. In 83 the Bur of Reclam screwed up big time and nearly lost the dam. Releases up to 75K. 170 people rescued in one day. Georgie in her leopard bathing suit plowed through Crystal and lost everything/body on her boat. Pulled over in an eddy, popped a Coors and said ” They just don’t make passengers like they used to. ” Great ride in Kolb. More creosote, crucifixion thorns show up, Yucca whipplea. Much barrel cactus looking like villages of aliens- “Earth people we come in peace..” Maybe you had to be there. We stop at 206 Indian Creek to see the Bundy Boys’ Bundy Jars, from Bundy Mom from Bundyville. Also agave roasting pits. We get the full Mormon story, westward expansion, and a tale of a mothers love. Trash left from previous trip was a downer. After lunch (our last river one) Walt and Alex at the oars. Stop at Three springs (215) for the triathelon. CLIMB, JUMP, SWIM. About 16 of us do it, including Jerry. A bit scary for some. Congrats to Bob H. who faced his fear and then jumped right into it. Good work. Those weird orange boats begin to pass us. No passengers, how strange. Camp 220 is occupied including a naked woman. How come our camp doesn’t have that? We camp at mile 221 on right. Bill spots Mojave Green Rattlesnake which we search for and don’t see but he does then spot a pink Grand Canyon Rattlesnake. There is also one back by the camp. Lasgne dinner and fresh lettuce in our salad on day 12!! What at trip. After dinner we gather and have a closing circle. The guides were great, each different, each superb. Going to have trouble explaining this trip. No idea a place like this existed on earth. Silent walk in a tribe of my people. Facing my limits, failures. Thought it was going to be a bunch of old people like my parents but it was OK. Black-tailed canyon church. Made me appreciate my wife. Look at all these old people, I am one! Jerry’s infectious (diabolical) laugh. Embrace those waves. Canyon wren. I need to return. Cannot separate the river from the canyon. We’ll outlive those bastards! Seamless trip. Pleasure to have a group so interested in the natural history. Connectedness, gain strength through community. Both significant and insignificant. The power of these place. The different sounds of water.
…In my dream, we do not stop here. The food and supplies are
inexhaustible, and we continue tomorrow down not to Diamond Creek or Lake Mead, but to an undiscovered country of such beauty, adventure and sweetness that it comes close to where we have already been. The River sails on, broad and fast, to a sea shining in moonlight, an empty shore. And we never go home. Never.
The food excellent, the flowers abundant, the water cold, the weather diverse, the rocks old, the birds abundant, and our fellow travelers superb, fun and knowledgable. And did you hear the one about Sven?
May 24, Day 13: We view a scorpion up close. Mountain Meadow massacre. Blood atonement. Lee of Lee’s Ferry. Canyon continues to 280. Started at Kaibab and we take out at Precambrian. Peace of Wild Things by Wendell ends our final AM talk. Golden Eagle spotted in the sun. Do you know the nose? I didn’t. very very funny. Ha ha ha. Group photo. I have the remote! Drink some water, Anne. Rattlesnake seen again. Begin with a silent float as a meditation and thank you to the Canyon. Diamond Peak rising 1800′ is the same distance we have dropped during our trip. We help take the rafts apart and deflate and pack it all up. Great lunch shrimp and Pringles. the 20 miles of dirt road out to old Route 66. Up, up, up out of the old, even world of water, rocks, wrens, and cactus into the 1998 world of school house shootings, and ugly politics. Brief stop in Seligman at Delgdillos for jokes and ice cream and we continue on to the La Quinta in Flagstaff. 20 of us have dinner with Jerry, Jelly Roll and Henry at an Indian place. We appreciate the guides for taking such good care of us for 2 weeks. We will all cherish our 225 miles of river together through one of the wildest places left in North America. And then our hugs goodbye.
Mar. 25, Day 14: We all leave in different directions. Until we meet again……. adios amoebas.
Dearest Reader: During the “big” trips I keep a diary for the entire group – what we did, what we saw, the jokes, the things that went wrong, the things that went right. I refuse to pretend that everything always goes smoothly on all of my trips, but we always learn and we always have a good time. Skim through this synopsis – blemishes and all – it isn’t sanitized but I think it will give you a flavor of my trips and the wonderful people who go on them.
REEFS, RUINS AND RAINFORESTS
January 27, 1999: Most of us fly in today from various places and
overnight at the Airport Marriot. Most convenient and we get to
take a little train. I meet Lee and feel certain we are gonna get
January 28, 1999: We begin gathering at the TACA counter between 11
and by 12 everyone is checked except for Shenny and Al who are
already in Belize. We begin to meet each other. Fun group. Plane is
only 25% full. Bob B. and Earle upgrade to first class. The rest of
us peons only have 6 seats to ourselves. Some turbulence in our 2
1/2 hr flight. Into the world of humidity. Fly over Crooked Tree
and Altun Ha. After very smooth trip through customs (the easiest
Lee has ever had) we are met by Roberto and the Batty Bro bus with
Poncho driving. Mennonites on the plane with us. Could be Amish.
Came from Pennsylvania, Canada and Mexico in the late 50’s. Amish
specialize in Mahogany furniture making. 1 US dollar = 2 Belizian
dollars and according to Roberto one US minute = 2 Belizian
minutes. Changed name from British Honduras to Belize in 1973,
independence in 81. Now only 150-200 British soldiers. Somewhat
more peaceful with Guat right now so border dispute is relaxed. all
volunteer Army. 250 k in entire country. 75K in B.City. five major
ethnic groups- Creole (black slave + English), Mestizos (Spanish +
Mayan), Garifuna (Male black slaves + Carib female indians),
Chichi? Maya and mopan Maya. There may have been 1-3 million Maya
living in Belize one thousand yrs ago! VTA is Killa. Value Added
TAx of 15%. Current government promised to repeal the VTA but
instead they have so far just changed the name. Belize River on
right, comes from Guat and is formed by 2 other rivers. Belize
means muddy water in Mayan, maybe or it is a corruption of an early
British buccaneer, Wallace. Belikan, the land beyond the sea. No
one knows for sure.
2 species of Croc- American and Morrelet. Houses are sinking.
Agouti Paca fed to the Queen now called the Royal Rat. Mahogany is
the National Tree. Swinging bridge in downtown is being repaired.
We get to the Radisson Ft. George. Nice place. Check into our room.
We meet at 6:30 in the dining room for intros and our first
orientation. Shenny and Al join us and we hear them complain about
their not-to-successful dive trip and flights (TACA aka Take A
Chance Airline). Lee tells us about tomorrows activities and what
we will need. Crooked Tree is 33 miles on Northern Highway, 2nd
National Park (1984). Altun Ha, a Maya city lasted later than most.
It had a large man-made reservoir of water nearby. There were over
40 Mayan cities each with a population of over 20K. logwood. Lee
takes some folks up on the roof for a view of B. City and it is
very easy to see the lighthouse. Great-tailed grackle, magnificent
frigatebird, laughing gulls, great egret, snail kite, rufous tailed
hummingbird. Pretty good start. Tomorrow we leave at 7:45.
January 29, 1999: We thank you for being on time. We are off at
7:45. We have 33 miles north to Crooked Tree National Park, 2nd
National Park founded in 1984. Clear sunny great day. Woodcarvings
that we will see from Zericote (Cordia in Boraginacea). Sweet
fruit, flowers good for cough. We begin with a city tour. 1838
slavery abolished throughout Brit Empire. Charles Lindberg landed
the Spirit of St Louis here in 1927. 6 million dollar National
Stadium, Roberto wants to know what happened to the rest of the
money?? British buccaneers started the lumber trade- logwood,
mahogany, chicle. Lebanese and Hindus run the businesses. Mangoes
in fruit in town. Houses on stilt for termite protection, coolness,
laundry under it, and newly married son’s apartment. Belizian
flag- saw and paddle under the Mahogany tree we will flourish.. 50-
60″ rain in the north, 80-90 in Western and 180-190 in southern.
The Barley Circus from Mexico has come to town. Coconuts are
suffering from a beetle infestation throughout the Carib that is
killing the trees and turning their leaves yellow – the Yellow-leaf
disease. Ladyville, to be near the horny British troops. Cashew
fruit is made into wine- poor mans wine it gets you twice once at
night and then again in the morn. We are driving on the northern
highway we flew over yesterday. The soil is poor, alluvium from the
sea. Sandy and the water table is very close to the surface.
Characterized by saw palmettos (treatment for prostate cancer),
Caribbean pine, sandpaper plant, live oak. Sleeping policemen in
Stopped for tree with chicle scars- Saponilla. Wrigley. Our first
looks at the northern jacana or lily trotter. The females mate with
5-6 males sequentially and let them take care of the eggs and young
– a new age bird. Little blue heron. We see the bay leaf palm- fan
shaped as the palmetto but larger. It must be cut at the full moon
and will last much longer as roofing material. A fellow from the
Yale School of Forestry is actually investigating what makes this
apparently true. The Mayans knew it. Gumbo-limba is the tourist
tree, red and peeling. Crossing the ever so slightly elevated
causeway to Crooked Tree we view our first snail kite, an immature.
They only eat apple snails which they pierce with their very sharp
hooked beak the nerves and cause the muscles to relax so they can
easily extract the snail without breaking the shell. Limpkins on
the other hand also eat snails but must crush the shell. We see the
white and purple masses of snail eggs stuck onto the emergent
vegetation (Mimosa). On the other side into the village of 600, we
meet Glenn and Hobart our guides. But first a very slow pee stop.
Osprey, savannah and black vultures.
Into 2 boats we are off…. Spiny tailed (wish-willy) iguana in
bullet tree. Omnivores. Very fringed tail. Then we see a male green
iguana in his bright orange breeding plumage. Told also by the
banded tail from the spiny tailed. White sulphur butterfly. Brown
jays, ringed and belted k-fisher. Termite crap is called frasse and
used to construct the large colonies.
fish are tarpon, catfish and snook. Mangrove warbler, vireo and
swallow. Central American slider turtle. Females are larger, both
taste good. We enter Spanish Creek. Caspian tern, lotsa neotropical
cormorants, roadside hawk, Amer. redstart, tody flycatcher,
limpkin. Glenn finds a long-nosed bat on a tree, amazing that he
saw it. I shine reflected sunlight on it. Social flycatcher, weird
orchid fruit, parakeet mistletoe. Then we have a brief oriole show-
yellow tailed and black-cowled – singing males. Fork tailed
flycatcher, Turn toward lunch at noon. But first a young basilisk
(aka Jesus CHrist) lizard. By 12:30 we are sitting down to
rice/beans with a main course of winged gibnuts. Recipe requested.
On our long hike to the bus we see great birds- vermillion
flycatcher, solitary and least sandpiper, killdeer, pied billed
grebes, cattle egrets, tropical kingbirds, social flycatcher, semi-
palmated plover. Cecropia tree properly identified by Letty.
Crooked Tree name either from shape of trees or 3 logging buddies
who always cheated. your choice. Ruddy ground dove, cashew in
Back on bus and back to main road. nap time for some but Beth is
managing to draw the birds, flowers and lizards as we bump along
and they look good. Then head east toward Altun Ha. The soil gets
richer, calcareous and the Cahune palms show up. Our guide helped
excavate AH beginning 30 yrs. In fact Richard Wallace, we all
called him Mr. Wallace, told us that he was older than the ruins.
Rocks quarried for the road and some jade found was the first
indication of the existence of the ruin. Delightful fellow with
great sense of humor but hard to understand. 4 sq mile ruin, 8-10
K pop. 200 BC to 1400 AD. Plaza A – sun, rain, wind, moon temples.
64-72 excavation done. Largest jade head found 6″ high. Ball game
winner were sacrificed. It took a long time to score but you went
straight to heaven with no more earthly labors. His theory is that
the peons overthrew the ruling class and killed all the intelligent
ones and the culture disintegrated. Climbed the second sun temple,
the one in Plaza B that was built because the other sun temple
failed to prevent El Nino. Some red pigment could still be seen on
the temple walls. Very very quiet in the bird department. I found
a rainforest toad (maybe) identified in Jeff’s field guide. We left
at 4:40 for our 30 mile one hour more or less trip to BC. Bat
falcon and lineated woodpecker. Devils Gut Cactus wrapped around
live oak at Mahogany sawmill.
Just before 6 we arrived for a little grocery shopping at Brodies.
rum rum rum. Dinner on your own tonight. Ft George. steel drums
outside our rooms, party time! Our very own Carol dances and holds
her own with the best of Belize! Great day, great beginning. Most
of the crew eats at the Fort Restaurant and raves about the food.
Jeff and Dale head out for armadillo stew but don’t get it. I eat
at the hotel, it is quiet and OK.
January 30, 1999: Whatta great group, bills paid, we are on the bus
and ready to roll at 8. Off to the Community Baboon Sanctuary. A
one hour drive 30 miles on more or less good roads. Go on the
Northern Hiway until Burrell’s Landing where we turn left and the
road is paved until the former Minister of Tourism’s House. We find
a roadkill tropical coral snake. Neurotoxin. Stop on bridge over
the Belize River for a great photo stop of male green iguana.
Looking down on it. And then low and behold Roberto spots the
howlers 5 adults and one baby. Our first, how cute. Little do we
know in 1 hour we will be nose to nose with them. We see another
with an ID wrist bracelet. At Bermuda Landing we meet the very
delightful Fallet Young, who helped Dr. Horwich begin the program
in 1984. 12 landowners began, World Wildlife Fund helped fund it
and now they have 20 sq miles of protected area. 95% of farmers are
adhering to the agreement, creating a skeleton forest that enables
the monkeys to thrive near humans. Check out the website at
www.ecocomm.org. From 6-700 monkeys there are now 2K. And we are
off behind Fallet, Sensitive plant. Cassia is pregnancy test, by
peeing on it. Billy web tree, the contraceptive that he failed to
procure for his wife, hence the new baby. Hot lips and blue morpho
butterfly. Earthstar fungus, leaf cutter ants. Bull horn acacia
with Azteca ants guarding. Lee wants everyone to get bit and have
the full jungle experience. We hear the howlers with boom boxes
playing music nearby. We find the friendly troop of howlers with
one dominant male, a juv male and female, a female with a one month
old baby. WOW. Fallet howls and he howls back. I felt a little
weird about that but the monkeys are doing well and I know the
tourists love it and it probably doesn’t really hurt too much.
photos photos photos. This is the best I have ever seen howlers.
bl-gry tanager, Yellow and parula warbler. Hey we gotta go the zoo
and get some lunch. Back at the VC for one more bathroom break and
we decide to boost the local economy slightly by buying some
tamales from the local ladies. A fun bit of local color and they
taste good too. Helped that we didn’t ask for change.
Off at 12 for a 45′ minute ride. White ibis, eastern Meadowlark.
Earle stops to look for his favorite fountain pen at the bridge to
no avail. Take a cut across road to the Western Hiway, hitting it
at Hattieville, named after the camp Belizian folks were settled in
after the big Hurricane of 61. We can finally see some elevation,
the foothills of the Mayan Mts and just beyond them is the Southern
Lagoon where we will be tomorrow am. Limestone quarry there. Part
of Mosquito Coast with Harrison Ford was filmed here. See a
community of Hong Kong escapees. At the zoo we have our picnic
lunch – ham sandwiches. This zoo only has Belizean animals. Tapir
(National animal aka mountain cow), king vulture, spider monkey,
howlers, white-lipped peccaries, humming bird mistletoe, agouti,
paca, tayra, coati, jaguar, jairubu stork (largest flying bird in
western hemisphere), roseate spoonbill, whistling duck, and more.
Acorn woodpecker, black and white warbler, red-capped and white
collared mannakin are side by side. Mating pumas, the male brought
from Florida. Black jaguar. Olive backed sparrow, hepatic tanager.
Clay colored robin. Quick visit to the gift shop and then we
leave, a bit late. To the wharf and unload our luggage, meet Scott
the massive dive master. And just before sunset we board our
vessel, the Mondriaan. Yvonne is the burser and pretty cute too.
She gives us a brief overview of the boat and then shows us to our
rooms. Roberto the barman, and pretty cute too. Captain Bram Wolff,
Hank the second mate, Bob the engineer, Sherif the cook, Rueben the
assistant cook. Bad news the air conditioner is not functioning and
they are trying to fix it. Meanwhile fans are being installed in
each room- plan B. It is very very hot down there. On deck is nice
temp. Our welcome cocktail is welcome. Captain Bram welcomes us.
Mondriaan built originally in 1910. Engine in the WW II. Much added
in the early 90’s including 30 feet in the stern and the masts.
Bram was a criminal lawyer, Hank was a chemical engineer. Crew is
rushing around installing fans, moving luggage, analyzing
compressor and dinner is a bit late. We respond to our first dinner
bell. Fans have cooled the dining room and this great group is
taking this hotness in stride. Being tested already. We have a 3
hour motor to Manatee River. Be prepared for the anchor to be
weighed. The crew is occupied with more com-pressing concerns. It
doesn’t look good.
January 31, 1999: Most of us have a fitful sleep it is pretty hot
down there. Anchor weighed at 2ish and we travel through very
tranquil seas for 3 hours to the Manatee River. We wake at 5:30
breakfast at 6 and we all in the river by 7. Crossing the bar was
a piece of cake. We meet Raymond Gentle from the village of Gales
Point. He has been studying, teaching about and now protecting
manatees for the past 15 yrs. Perhaps he used to eat them but no
longer. He makes a whole lot of money doing this. Sandwich terns
with a bit of yellow at the end of their dark bills. Our 2 Zodiacs
+ Raymonds skiff. Some land on the beach and get bit. We all stop
just outside the Southern Lagoon to listen to Raymond’s story. He
has an amusing gentle way of talking, totally charming with a great
smile. He has some stories. Off of Grassy Piece, named by the last
village chief who they got rid of. Started fishing regs this year
and he is in charge of enforcing. 2 of the manatees have radio
transmitters often with Sat navigate couple with VHF for
localization. White ibis, lineated woodpecker. We see the foothills
that we saw yesterday. Just like Lee said we are on the other
side. The foothills are limestone and the Maya Mts are uplifted
granite with the limestone cap eroded off. The light is beautiful,
overcast. Snook are popping up everywhere. #500 folks at Gales Pt.
Road in 91, electricity last year brought by politicians looking
for votes. There are about 30 manatees in this lagoon. We sit at
Manatee Hole, where a fresh water spring bubbles up through the
limestone and they are able to drink. Quietly sitting the boats –
linked – we waiting for the mermaids to come up and breathe. Many
nostril looks, Bob B. taking some photos. Manatee farts around us.
We leave at 8:50 and go to the mouth of the Manatee River. Some of
us walk on the beach and find some Jaguar tracks. Beach morning
glory, sea grape, much plastic garbage. Bugs are biting someone but
not me. We are back on the boat and under way by 10. I take a much
needed nap. 6 Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins (i.e. Flipper) come and
visit and bowride for a while. We are between Middle Long Cay and
Blufield Range. Lunch and then our boat safety talk by Hank.
Continuous bell ringing means abandon ship. Next we get our
snorkeling gear together. All of us travel in our 2 skiffs to
Rendezvous Caye, not named on our chart and just inside the Barrier
Reef, 180 miles long which we can see. There is a small rain squall
we move through. 13 Palm Tree Island. We do our first snorkeling –
good work Kindergarten Terri. Hard to get Jeff and Dale out of the
water. Yellow tail snapper, sergeant major, Creole Wrasse (eat fish
eggs), trunk fish, grouper, horse eye jack, stoplight parrotfish,
blue tang, trumpetfish, great barracuda, yellow headed wrasse, gray
angelfish, four eyed butterfly fish, Grunts, banded butterfly fish,
french grunt, brittlestars, anemones, Penicillin green algae
looking like little parasols. Shenny almost gets a hickey from a
Remora who had fallen in love with her. Ruddy turnstones. Fantastic
displays of coral (fire!), the diversity was astounding. You could
see some storm damage, alot of sand thrown around. Water
temperature is 81 but Evan still gets cold. So we take the long
ride back to the boat. Pull up anchor and head toward Half Moon
Caye. Ride is smooth water, tres calm. Brown booby flies by. Today
is once in a blue moon, so do it today. But you have another chance
in March. Beautiful sunset and full moon rises. Benign temperature.
Spare ribs, mashed potatoes. A very long and good day. We will
anchor about 11 tonight. Tomorrow Half Moon Caye- 45 acres, 3 sp
lizard, 97 sp of birds. Magnificent frigatebirds and 4K red footed
boobies in breeding colony. Dropping off the edge of the
continental shelf – 1000′ to 4000′. Everyone is tired and off to
bed they go.
February 1, 1999: Peaceful night and some actually manage to get a
good nights sleep, Is it cooler or are we getting tougher? We are
50 miles southeast of BC, just at the edge of the reef. Half Moon
Caye (Belizes first national park, part of the Lighthouse Reef
complex). Breakfast at a civilized 8 AM. A couple of dive boats
around us- the Belize Aggressor and the Wave Dancer. We have a
brief overview of the coral reef ecosystem and Lee encourages us to
get a “feeling” for boobies. One group of 4 go with Scott to do the
Resort Dive Class- me, Evan, Jill and Jean. The rest of you go to
explore the island, snorkel, etc. Then 4 more go for the Dive
School- Bob, Bob, Letty, and Beth. Beth tells me that she did very
well, she wasn’t the worst student…therefore who was? Bob and Bob
holding hands. Red footed booby colony with many fuzz ball chicks,
Mag Frigatebirds displaying and with some young. Cordia (Zircote)
trees in full flower. Smell of ammonia wafting over the island.
Very hot on the Tower but wondrous views of the nesting colony.
Back for lunch and then some of us are ready and want to go back
snorkeling. I told Lee he couldn’t keep this group out of the
Evan, Jill, Letty and Bob get a personal dive with Scott. Then Bob
F., Lee, Dale, Jean (the fish), and me with Hank and Scott. Spotted
eagle rays are seen and many giant sponges on the wall. Snorkelers
see a 5′ sting rag and more sharks. Did everyone study their fishy
today?? Barbara is getting sunburned, the first time in her life.
Should have listened to teacher.
We meet on the foredeck at 6:30ish for our fish stories. Jill
starts and is very thorough in her observations. She goes on a
little more than forever, But good job, Senora Jill. Letty on the
other hand saw a dog dung sea cucumber. Beth’s was a Nassau Grouper
that she saw change color. We later had it for dinner. Very good
too. Squirrel fish was a very popular fish. Shenny (long nose) who
witnessed the shy little fish in his little house. Big eyes
indicate night feeder. Pat’s squirrel fish did nothing, just hang
out waiting out of harms way. Bob B. veojo azule Wrasse – that
little sleazy hermaphrodite is nothing more than a worthless egg
sucker. And it fell in love with his flipper to boot. Jean with the
trumpet fish changing color and the spotted drum… way cool. Bob
F. very docently observed a four-eyed butterfly fish. one dot =
mature, 2 dots = juv. Professor Lee is still talking about the
promised grouper sex, three days after the first full moon of the
new year. Evan with a banded butterfly fish. Dale’s queen trigger
fish and finally a crab ate Kurts homework. And onto dinner,
Sheriff is outdoing himself again. Each of our dinner tables seem
to be having a very good time. Roberto the Aromatic continues to be
a whiz at clearing the table under adverse conditions. There are
only a few knives, food, and plates flying around. Lighthouse
keeper is making coconut oil in his daytime hours. Earle estimated
that he has $2500 worth of oil sitting in that drum, with no
overhead. Tomorrow to Glovers Reef and we get to sail, maybe.
Questions abound about top sailing speed relationship with length
of the ship. Slumber party on upper deck led by Shenny.
February 2, 1999: We depart Half Moon Caye at 5:30. Fantastic
sunrise seen but not by all. Good news and bad news. Good news- it
is a great day, clear visibility, no white caps, smooth seas and no
wind. Bad news- no wind. We cannot unfurl the sails, they would
just flap in the little breeze. Flocks of flying fish, one Prt. Man
o’ War, Royal Tern. Breakfast at 8. And then we meet in the tiny
shadows of the foredeck to compile our fish and bird lists. There
is a little interest. 17 degrees north, 87 longitude. The bad news
of not sailing is compensated by increased speed and sooner we get
to snorkeling. We are east of Glovers Reef, the farthest south of
the Atolls. If the seas had been rougher we would have been on the
inside of it. We first stop around 9:30 at Northeast Cay but the
buoy there is only held in my one pin. The Skipper decides it is an
unsafe mooring because of the current and the nearby reef. We
concur with his decision and continue south to Southwest Caye, the
home of the Manta Ray Resort. It was hit hard by Mitch the Bitch
and is closed for repair. They let us come ashore but no shopping.
We arrived at 11 and snorkeled off the beach for an hour or so. We
thought it wasn’t going to be good because of the piled up coral
everywhere, including the spit to the west which was completely
new according to Poppy. One of the workers on the Island said the
water washed over it 10′ deep! But the diversity of the fish and
coral was surprisingly good and the visibility was better than the
previous day. Meanwhile Lee is back at the boat taking the deepest
dive of his life to 160′ and being an example of nitrogen narcosis
for a lesson being taught by Scott to Hank and the Captain. Back to
the boat for lunch, and then back out for more snorkeling this time
from the dingy. After we discovered the wall with wondrous gardens
of coral and sponges – flounder, many comb jellies floating, sting
ray, queen angel, trunkfish, and the rest of the butterflies of the
sea. We return to the boat around 3 in time for our 3:30 dive but
little Scotty throws a temper tantrum and cancels the afternoon
dive. Second group of snorklers led by Bob B. head toward the wall.
They have fun. Hank takes Beth up the mast (our first mast
crawler) I soon follow. If Beth and I can’t go down, at least we
can go up. The view of the ship’s deck is superb but we still can’t
see the mainland. Lee and a small group go over to explore the
island. We are 35 miles offshore, tomorrow we head inside the reef
to Laughing Bird Caye. Before dinner, after sunset but before
moonrise we gather on the foredeck and the crew turns off the
lights and we have a little star talk. Venus, Jupiter, Canopus,
Aldebaran, Sirius, Andromeda Galaxy, pleiades, pointer sisters. As
Roberto is clearing the plates this time, Kurt is hit in the lap
with an errant flying potato. Roberto keeps his table-clearing
record intact with a fine shot. We would be disappointed if it went
Lee reviews tomorrow. Depart 5 AM, slumber party shouldn’t be
disturbed though Al claimed a crew member stepped on his face.
Captain Bram brings the chart so we can see the dangerous threading
that we have to do through Gladdens Spit. He has never done it
before, we are his first time. Lucky us. Should be OK. Large group
of yellow-tailed somethings off the starboard side that I shine my
bright flashlight on. Don’t know what they are. Everyone is pooped.
Off to bed. Not a partying group.
February 3, 1999: Another hot night in the inferno. Just when I
think I am getting used to it. We leave Manta Ray Resort Cay (rumor
has it paid for with money from bales of cocaine that drift up) at
5 AM as promised, by 7 we are carefully motoring through Gladden
Spit, looking for the wreckage of the previous boat- The Rembrandt.
Hank is way up in the mast, swaying in the swell. Glad I am not
there. Now we have some wind, we could sail but it is our last
snorkel. We moor off Laughing Bird Cay and there are (GASP!) other
people here. We now see the advantage of our big boat able to go
way offshore. We arrive an hour earlier than the captain predicted
– 10. Over to the beach and into the water as soon as we can.
Diving is superb, warm clear water except at the point. yellow
tail snapper, sergeant major, stoplight parrotfish, blue tang,
trumpetfish, great barracuda, trunkfish, yellow headed wrasse, gray
angelfish, four eyed butterfly fish, banded butterfly fish,
porkfish, french grunt, brittlestars, 2 sp of anemone, sea urchins,
sea cucumbers, brown pelicans feeding on the thousands of little
fry that are everywhere, royal terns, mangrove warbler singing,
laughing gulls (the island is named after), coconut palms.
Fantastic displays of coral. Mitch did not affect the area too
much. Back on boat by 12:15, some swim to big boat. Barbara
actually almost beat the Zodiac back. Immediately after lunch, 5
divers- Beth, Jean, Bob F., Dale and me go for a shallow dive. More
like a deep water snorkel, actually not even deep water but we had
fun. Everyone else is back at the beach for our last swim/snorkel
experience. It really is a fine place. Scott and Hank went diving
and found extensive Mitch damage and poor visibility. By three we
are done and back on the ship. The sails are ready and we put them
up. The wind has slightly died but it is enough to satisfy the
clients. The Jib and the Foresail and the Topsail are out flopping
in the breeze. Pat, Al, Lee know alot about sailing. The rest of us
are appreciating the aesthetics. There are many jokes about
naturalists’ hot air, electric fans, etc being used to push us
along. But the wind does increase and we actually make 4-5 knots,
maybe up to 6 by the end of the day. Jeanne and the Skipper climb
to the very very top of the mast and solve all of the worlds
problems. They are up there about an hour- mast hogs!! I think it
is great that the Captain lets us go up the mast. We almost get hit
by a large banana boat. That was close! Sunset with the few lights
of Monkey River Village due west, great clouds, Venus shining
brightly. It has been another perfect day, except for that damn air
conditioning. Lee and Poppy take the Zodiac in the darkness and
danger, trying to avoid the bar and searching for Percival. They
succeed. Another great dinner from Sheriff, slaving away in that
hot kitchen. He and Rueben make simple and good food. Lee gives us
the plan for tomorrow- early breakfast and up the Monkey River.
Could be some spray. Gross Botfly story. Wrapup of our snorkeling
and the natural history of Coral Reefs.
February 4, 1999: Up early for breakfast. Bouncy transfer at 6:30
to Monkey River Village (200 folks + kids) to pick up our guide-
Percival. Personable 30 year old with excellent English and guide
skills. We enjoy him. So up the Monkey River we go searching for
Howlers, birds and especially the Keel-billed Toucan which Lee
promised for sure we would see. The provision tree is in full
flower with giant pink flowers. Same family as Ceiba and Baobab
trees. They provide much appreciated stimulating beverage that
Percy swears by. We find some more long-nose bats disguised as
bark. Great Kiskadees, mangrove swallows, little blue heron, yellow
crowned night heron, bare throated tiger heron, Montezumas
oropendula, green backed heron, anhinga (aka snakebird), tropical
parula, yellow warbler, spot breasted wren singing, collaredseedeater, black headed saltador, black headed trogon, heard a
motmot, black hawk, pygmy (er green) kingfisher, ringed kingfisher,
catbird. We had several looks at Mexican black howler monkeys.
Green iguanas that were actually green. Basilisk (jesus christ)
lizards. Cecropia is good for high blood pressure, Cassia is good
for a purgative and Black Bay Cedar can cause constipation hence
the local name- cork bottom wood. We stop and the young fisherman
shows us his catch- tuba looks like a Chiclid. A field by the river
is being cleared for maize. We return to the village and get a
tour. Shenny immediately becomes a favorite grandmother. UDP
(United Democratic Party) and PUP (Peoples United Party) = Republ
and Democrats. A good look at a captive agouti, the infamous Royal
Rat. The village did have 1000 people when the banana plantation
was here but a disease struck and the main plantation moved to the
north. Rainbow lizard. Back to boat, gee we are hungry and it is
pizza time. Good. We head north a bit and by 1 we are sitting on
the fine sleepy town of Placencia. Into town we go to make phone
calls, buy t-shirts and just check out the local scene. Quiet
afternoon eating those way-too-good Fritos and tortilla chips that
Roberto puts out. We have an early dinner in anticipation of Dora
Williams and her Garifuna dancers. Tomorrow morning the Z Bus Line
will supposedly pick us up. Named that because it is the last name
in bus lines. Tomorrow the land of high heat, humidity, black
flies, mosquitoes, botflies….gee Lee really knows how to sell a
trip doesn’t he?? We start to watch the National Geographic Video
planning on the dancers being late but we are surprised, they are
on time. After a bit of rearranging they set up on the upper deck
for a challenging stage. The women and girls kinda have that Aunt
Jemina look. Paranda dance, the story of survival. And then there
was the Dead Body on the Beach dance. That was a real upbeat
number. Next we had the boys with Carmen Miranda headdresses
shaking their shell booties. The white people (guests) attempt to
dance. The rotating radar didn’t quite keep the rthyum of the
drums. Bob B. was doing the limbo and just plain rocking out. Party
pooper Letty was standing quietly by, just looking. The party
breaks up, the kids get some food. That was fun. Now Lee tells me
if only the bus would show up tomorrow on time!
February 5, 1999: Double rainbow this morning at sunrise. And lo
and behold the bus is waiting for us with Eric from PG (Punta
Gorda) at the wheel. Nice, competent guy. So we get a driving time
estimate from him to the Cockscomb Jag Preserve of one hour and
some change. We leave at 8:05 heading north along the narrow spit
passing many developments and resorts. Through Seine Bight, the
home of the Garifuna dancers, where a little boy flashes his little
wanger in a traditional village greeting. Then a dog is pooping on
the street, they are really rolling out the welcome wagon for us.
And on we go to Lot #99 where we all get out and pee. A coatamundi
passed in front of us. Miniature golf course. But the best birding
of the entire trip is at the fermenting banana/garbage dump –
Summer tanager, fork tailed and scissor tailed flycatcher, social
flycatcher, yellow rumped warbler, northern yellowthroat, collared
seedeater, tropical mockingbird, blue-grayed tanager. Tricolored
heron. We finally get to the Southern Hiway and head north to
entrance station to the Preserve by 10. Maya Village women do slate
carvings and they are for sale. Pent up shopping energy is released
and we finally get out of there at 10:30 for the 7 mile smooth road
in to the Visitor Center. We pick up a few kids who got lost from
their field trip buddies. They are happy. By 11 we are out and
looking at a male and female (please note this Jill) violaceous
trogon and then a crested guan in a Guanacaste tree. Wondrous start
to the trip. We get a intro by the park ranger- 100K hectares, 300
sp of birds, 5 cats, one male jaguar requires 15 sq miles and the
females half of that. 40-50 in entire preserve. Reintroduced
We begin our short hike. diversity and rarity are linked. 6 weeks
to totally recycle a leaf in the RF, 24 months in Lee’s backyard.
The rain begins. Deppes squirrel, manakin snapping. Sound of
pounding rain and we aren’t even getting wet. Uh, strike that last
statement. But it is not hot and there are few insects, so we are
happy campers and why not get rain in a rain forest?? The rain
stops for a moment and one tree comes alive with birds – chacalaca,
scarlet rumped tanager, crimson-collared tanager, Yellow billed
cacique, Black cheeked woodpecker, wood creeper sp., buff throated
and black head saltador, squirrel cuckoo and a few other birds we
didn’t id. Smell of peccaries, wine cup fungus, puma tracks. Back
to Lunch and run into the Cal. Academy of Science Mayan trip….
small world. It seems like we have this whole country to ourselves.
After lunch we take the Gibnut Trail. Roadside hawk, clay colored
robin, melodious blackbird, rufous mourner, rufous tailed hummer,
little hermit hummer. Ginger, cahune palms, hot lips, heliconias,
many legumes, mahogany, cecropia. Barbara soaked to the bone and
happy as a frog in water. Great hike and back to the road for one
last pee stop. And back we go Placencia a bit faster this time. The
dust in down but it is slow going on that bumpy road. Say goodbye
to Eric and Poppy comes to get us all and we are back to the boat.
Time to remove mud and shower. that was fun.
Our Captains dinner, he dresses for dinner, no tee shirt. Lee
announces that the Oceanwide owners in Holland have agreed to
refund you all $200. Margaret Betchart facilitated that one.
Lobster and mashed taters. For dessert we get Dale’s birthday cake
and ice cream. Happy Birthday to you, 39 again! Even presents! I
present our tips for the crew to the Captain. They did a great job,
all of them. We heartily appreciated all their work. They made our
trip comfortable and safe. A great big thanks.
And finally we have our closing circle. A few of our comments about
Didn’t like the water too much, but liked the crew, the boat and
especially all of you. Life is like a reef with fish, all different
fishes, the milieu is the ocean or the boat. Comraderie, nice
moments, underwater assignments, 100 blue tangs, rotten bananas
full of birds, Lee is great and we worked well together, expertise,
superior people on the trip, not a birder but had a great time,
wonderful snorkeling, great crew on the boat, ship was a thrill.
Trepidation about first guided trip. Gotta stop and smell the
peccaries. Any table was great company. Nobody here that I can’t
stand. Look at the reef fish in different way, making connections.
Vignettes of beauty. Underwater at 10-15 for an hour doing several
assignments, it isn’t over yet Tikal here we come, highpoint was
diving. Beth keeping her journal. Feelings of gratitude for the
life paths crossed, chance to become enriched. High point was the
water, floating. More little fish than big fish and they all get
along well. The best people on Michaels trips. The two river trips-
Manatee and Monkey. assignment of watching fish, much more to see
and learn. Sailing ship. Meeting the Belizean guides who shared
their knowledge, friendship, grace. Thanks Belize. Roberto was
good. Spectacular little country with enormous diversity. Tying to
gain more understanding. Good to pause and look at things. Lee and
I make a good couple.
We leave our mooring after 10 and begin our 7 hour transit to
Belize City. Gibbous moon rising in the east in Virgo. Might be
fortuitous or it might not.
February 6, 1999: Up early again to pay our bills. Cute dimples of
Yvonne, we will miss her smile. Dolphins in the bay. We moor right
at the deep port and have a big blob of concrete on the port side
scrawled with graffiti… welcome back to the real world. Group
photos on the foredeck. We say goodbye to Earle, Terri, Al, Shenny,
Dale, Jeff and Lee. They all made it safe and sound back to their
respective worlds. The rest of us waited until 8:35 when Ramon
Valentine (Garifuna) of Windy Hill Resort came to pick us up.
Goodbye to the crew and Mondriaan. Off on the Western Highway
heading to San Ignacio. The kids of Belize are out on the highway
doing litter pickup, very inspiring and they look like they are
having fun too. We stop at the Guanacaste National Park for a pee
break and then onto Santa Elena/San Ignacio- the twin cities over
the Mocal River, flowing from Guat. Horse balls tree used for glue.
Up into the highlands, very prosperous with large farms, esp.
citrus. Many Mennonites in this region and we pass some Amish in a
horse drawn wagon. We stay an hour in San Ignacio because it is
the special Saturday market. An hour about does it. Then a short
mile trip to Windy Hill aka Graceland. After check in we eat a
delicious lunch, amazing Belizean tortillas. Best lunch of the
trip! At 2 we are leaving for the X ruin with Ramon and 2 other
guests who are amazingly enough from Lee’s hometown of Messana,
NY!! THey don’t know him. They say it is a very good place to leave
in the winter. We pass the Rose Toilet Paper CEO’s large house.
Raoul meets us at the handcranked ferry crossing. After crossing
the river some get a ride for one mile up to the ruin, the rest
walk. Many butterflies, green jay heard. Raoul is great and he is
glad to see us. The tourist season has been way off this year with
little work for him. We all meet at the VC and he gives a succinct
and clear overview of the Mundo de Maya. Lowland and highland
Mayans depended on each other. Granite, basalt, jade. 1) Isolated
mounds on tops of mts or forks of rivers 2) Residential cities 3)
Ceremonial centers. X was a ceremonial center. It didn’t decline
until 100 yrs after the others. Breadnut like acorns in CA.
Stellae- image of king. POLITICAL PROPAGANDA, impress/intimidate.
10% ruling class only. Bloodletting ceremony, stingray spine in
finger, penis or tongue, 13 layers into the upper world to talk
with ancestors in the mouth of a serpent. It took a powerful dose
of mushrooms, white water lily, and smoked leaf of cecropia to do
that without feeling pain. We are surrounded by Mennonites on a
field trip. 13 stories in the main temple. We climb up in a rain
downpour, all is perfect. Great view from the top, Obnoxious, loud,
drunk, stoned Canadians who we secretly hope fall off the ruin. At
900 AD there are 300 Mayan cities and one million people in Belize!
Changed the weather pattern, kings couldn’t predict weather, had to
sacrifice humans, civil war, royals attacked each other (Venus War
games). erosion of the soil and the whole bloody thing collapsed.
Really we don’t know why.
Whoops the site is closing and we head back down the ferry. Raoul
tells us that the word Maya actually means mysterious or elusive.
Back to the hotel for clean up, Dinner at 7, Mayan movie to follow
in the bar. Or so I thought. We are destined not to see that video
on this trip. George Carlin is swearing instead and most of us
can’t stand that and we head off to read about the Mayans in the
comfort of our rooms. Karoke goes on late into the night. Most of
us are missing the comforting rythum of the boats motion and don’t
sleep quite as well.
February 7, 1999: Well what do you know, the wake up knocks came on
time and the coffee is ready at 6:15. Breakfast is very very slow
but we manage to leave by 7:25. We have Hugo Estrada as our guide
for the day and Ramon as our driver. To the border in 15 minutes.
$4 US or $7.50 Belize conservation tax. Save your receipt!! Then a
walk across no-mans-land and officially enter Guatemala. Onto the
bus and we are off. Gallo is number #1 beer. It is foggy and very
pleasantly cool. Peace accord signed 3 yrs ago between the rebels
and the govt. Things seem to be getting better overall throughout
the country. 48K of bumpy and dusty road, 52 K paved and by next
year it all will be paved. That will bring many changes to the
region and not all of the good. 12 million in Guat, 21 ethnic
groups, 2nd largest land in CA (after Nicar.). We pick up our armed
soldier escorts. Only Windy Hill provides this service. There
hasn’t been an “incident” in over one year. Bullet hole in
windshield. NOT! Through the Peten. This region occupies 1/3 of
Guatemala with only 100 K pavement and little government interest.
75% of population subsistence farmers. Region opened with new road
in 1970, pop went from 15,000 to 50,000 in 8 years. 60 Spanish
descent families now rule Guat. Tourism now main industry.
Evangelical in rural, still Catholic in cities. Drove through
Caoba, a village that was wiped out by the military in the early
70’s, murdered most of the people. In 1420 AD Yucatac mayan came
into area to live. Last group of Mayans to be subdued by Spanish.
Onto the pavement and on toward Tikal. After entrance it is still
17K. Coati crosses the road. Hugo says that insects love tender
white skin and foreign blood. We begin at the model and Hugo gives
us an overview. The following are some of my general notes about
Tikal. It was a ceremonial site, far from the productive easy land
was built on a hill along trade routes. 1 sq mile of ceremonial
part. Mixed limestone powder with water and sap from Gumbo limbo
tree. Made huge catchment basin and had 13 large reservoirs. Univ
of Penn. came in 1956 for 11 years or so. Katun = 20 years. Feared
Gods would destroy if not placated by building and sacrificing.
Good luck and timing for Cortes. 3 types of buildings = palaces
(lived in), Pyramids, and temples. The elite Mayan were the
interface between the natural and the supernatural. They could
predict the seasons, eclipses and controlled time. The breadnut was
the source of most food, not maize. Ate little meat, sometimes dog,
deer (mostly) and turkeys (taste like tapirs). Lost world complex
excavated 1978-85, last one. Found earliest site at 800 BC. Last
wave of humans from Asia migrated into meso America 10,000 years
ago. Domesticated corn 3500 BC, beans 2500 BC. Currency was
chocolate. Tikal the Manhattan of CA. 2019 when the Mayan calendar
comes to an end.
Then we began our hike. Occelated turkeys, young jacanas, TKs,
kiskadees. Keel-billed toucans calling, sound like frogs chorusing.
Ceiba = national tree of Guat. Hugo gives us the Mayan creation
story which I mostly can’t remember because there were our first
spider monkeys around then. There were a couple of twins involved,
and there were 13 heavens, and the Cieba tree was there. It looked
like a Christian Cross to the Spanish.
Twin pyramids complex Q. red in east black in west, eternal circle
sun wheeling through underworld. First stella stop. Mayan believe
this place is full of spirits and left it alone for along time. 29
rulers + 2 unidentified ones. Blood letting ritual, pierce that
penis. Coatis walking around everywhere. Pyrite sacred sun mirrors
traded all the way from Arizona. 2 very cute gray foxes. Copal,
incense tree smelled. We see the Temple of the Jaguar being
reconstructed. Mayans invented zero but so what that’s nothing (get
it?). It is hot and we stand in the shade of a tree full of olive
backed euphonias while Hugo runs on and on. Oh where is Raoul? We
get some free time to clamber all over the ruins and use our
flashlights that nobody brought. Now the place is filling up with
Guatemalans because it’s free on Sunday. Temple III was last one
built and the only one that was visible before excavation. Pause
for a coke and turkeys. Into the Lost World, Mundo Perdido. 800 BC
temple, was trading center, small population. Story of fig wasps
mating with their sisters. The temple we don’t climb because we are
getting hungry and there is always tomorrow was the highest
building for 1000 years in the Americas, until the Woolworth
Building! A very long 5 minute walk back to the main parking area
and we search for Ramon and our lunch. It is 3 and we are now
famished. After lunch we check into the Jungle Lodge with a pool
and showers and we relax. See many keel billed toucans, spider
monkeys, heard howlers, red-lored parrot, Montezuma’s oropendula,
We gather for dinner around 8 and sit near a group that is actually
louder than we are! After dinner we traipse outside for the leaf
cutter ant show. WAY COOL. And then there is the tarantula spider
with a beautiful red abdomen that I entice nearly completely out of
her hole. The insects are biting us so we retreat to bed. How many
are getting up tomorrow to see the sunrise from the temple.
February 8, 1999: Well 2 Bobs, Letty, Carol, Beth, Jean and I walk
to Temple IV for the sunrise. Except that it is foggy and full of
loud birdwatchers from Eagle Eye in Canada. Pat, Madeleine, Evan
and Jill I see later at the Acropolis looking at collared aricaris.
Not sure where Barbara and Kurt are, but later I found out that
they go a very special behind the scenes tour with Luis. Driving on
the perimeter of the Reserve in areas that are offlimits to the
normal tourists. Of course there is nothing normal about those two.
They were LUCKY and got to see more than most people could ever
hope to experience. Luis will be showing up in Saratoga soon and
expects a golf cart tour of San Jose and perhaps a nice pair of
binocs. His birthday is coming up soon. It twas a great morning of
birdwatching and peacefulness. I had several temples all to myself
for a long while. The weather is very pleasant, just beginning to
heat up by 11. My birds- collared aricaris, keel-billed toucans,
red-lored, white fronted and white crowned parrots, wood thrush,
Viol trogon, brown jays, bat falcon, slaty breasted tinamou,
chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Blackburnian, ovenbird warblers,
gnatcatcher, lineated, golden olived woodpeckers, vireo sp. and
In the afternoon most return to the ruins, visit the two museums,
swim in the pool and/or shop shop shop. Sunset at 5:50. Back for
dinner and Habition #8 B buys all the red wine in the Peten Region
for a goodbye toast to Bob, Carol and Jean who will head off to
Antigua tomorrow. Thank you, Kurt and Barbara. Lightening bugs
delight the youngsters in the group. Definitely one neat thing that
February 9, 1999: Howlers wake many up in early AM. A big party,
males under stress. The rest of us get awakened by the ugly
birders. Our last peaceful morning in Tikal. Howlers are all around
us, toucans frogging, parrots screaming, oropendulas bottling, this
place is LOUD! Lunch at 12 and then off with Ramon and the pickup
truck full of our luggage. We stop at the airport to check the
bags. 4 of us stay and the rest take a quick shopping trip to
Flores. Bob and Letty get new belts. Our 14 seater Cessna arrives
on time. We say goodbye to our dear friends, Bob, Carol and Jean.
They are off to Antigua, a beautiful Colonial city. Have fun. Our
50′ flight is really a highlight. We can see some ruins from the
air and the pilot goes farther south than usual so we fly right
over the Maya Mts. Cockscomb, the Hummingbird Hiway, Placencia, the
Southern Lagoon. WOW, the flight is smooth, weather perfect, light
is grand, couldn’t be better and the landing soft. Everything going
so well until….. There aint no Batty Bro Bus waiting for us. I go
to reconfirm for tomorrow’s flight and call the bus company. The
guys are at the Domestic Airport and will be here in 20 minutes
(Belize minutes). Anyway they arrive and drive us into BC to the
Fiesta Inn. Whoops wrong hotel. The Raddison is very very quiet.
They are happy to have us here. We perk up the Dining hall with a
very nice dinner, especially after the Jungle Lodge food. We are
tired and ready to go home. The piles and piles of money are nearly
February 10, 1999: Well the Batty Bro. bus is late but no problema.
We are already checked in. Everything goes smoothly. Bob gets to
shop just a bit more, another bottle of Marie’s Hot Sauce. Everyone
gets home safe and sound. Until next time.
Gray fox, puma (tracks) agouti, Paca (Royal Rat), Deppe’s
squirrel, coati, red brocket deer, Mexican black howler monkey,
Central American spider monkey, free-tailed bat, bat sp, long nosed
bat, Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, West Indian manatee.
Black-tailed racer ?, boa constrictor, tropical coral snake (dead),
green iguana, spiny-tailed iguana (wish willy), anole lizard,
striped basilisk (Jesus Christ lizard), Barred Whiptail (Rainbow)
Lizard, Central American sliding turtle.
Central American toad, marine toad (flattened), rainforest toad.
Miscellaneous Creepy Crawlers:
Tarantula, wolf spiders (eye shine spiders), magenta dragonflies,
lightening bugs, praying mantis, tree termites, leafcutter ants,
figwasp (we know they are in there), bull horn acacia ants, long
tailed swallowtail, giant swallowtail, mosquitoes, stingless bees,
tarantula hawk, brown witch moth, apple snails, morpho butterflies,