Tuesday, July 20, 2010Indonesia Travel Photos – now up…
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Highlights as moments...What stand out as some of my favourite moments, on a very personal level:
The moments..."where" - "what"
- "La Bombonera, Boca Juniors' stadium, Buenos Aires" - "...a period of confusion, the Boca keeper had come off his line, the River striker saw his chance and curled off a floaty shot towards the goal. As it was heading to cross the line from my angle I decided it was definitely going in, and, being well impressed with the shot I flung my fist into the air. In a tense situation surrounded by manic supporters who all appeared ready to kill for their club, the following period of time - which must have been about half a second - seemed to pass by over a couple of hours as thoughts, worries and emotions all cannoned through my mind instantaneously. I was sure that I was the only one celebrating this inevitable goal and unsure whether I was about to be majorly embarrassed, slightly strange looking or soon to be pummelled. Anyone in a rational calm state of mind would not have had this moment of, pretty much, panic and everyone would have appeared to react in a routine synchronised way. As the milli-seconds ticked by I was joined by many thousands of fellow River fans and the stand completely erupted with more force than I have ever known of any fans or for any group of humans doing anything..."
- “Iguazu Falls, Argentinan Side” – “arriving at the top of the edge of The Devil’s Throat – the concentrated part of the huge falls – after a long day exploring the falls and park. The utterly immense natural power hit me hard, not literally luckily, as I watched individual drops and flows take their course down the fall and disappear among the mass of misty spray.”
- "Portillo Ski Resort" - "Snowboarding down untouched areas of big sweet soft snow and even throwing in some little girlie jumps off rock mounds; the view of the surrounding mountains and lake at the bottom helped."
- "River Paraguay" - "the 3 day passenger & cargo boat trip up the river on the Brazil border including the week spent stranded in Bahia Negra; a great adventure period with great people (fellow travellers – Irish, English, French and Spanish, locals and military officers) - just a great crack."
- "National Park Noel Kempff Mercado" - "floating on my back swimming slowly backwards across the lagoon created by the magnificent waterfall 'El Encanto' - my only view in front of me and my ears underwater so completely silent and in my own solitude"
- "National Park Noel Kempff Mercado" - "drifting along in a dug-out canoe before sunset in a totally serene but wild river and having our first big caiman suddenly leap out of nowhere from the reeds next to us. That was after spending time fascinating a troop of monkeys and having no effect whatsoever on a pair of capybara taking an afternoon snack on a bank.”
- "A cliff trail near Chachapoyas, Northern Peru" - "being led by some local small children (without asking any help at all, just because they were so joyful and assume with little better to do) to the site of several ancient sarcophagi - like ritually painted coffins - stood scattered across a seemingly inaccessible cliff face. For me the sarcophagi were one of the most amazing historic artefacts I have seen"
- "Gocta Waterfall, near Chachapoyas, Northern Peru" - "after a good hike, edging closer to the world's 3rd tallest waterfall via a few roughly-made tree branch ladders and some slippery and thick mud trails. The others including the guide were happy with how close we had made it but, of course, I needed to edge those 15 metres closer and standing in the shocking force of the spray coming off the falls was one of a few truly life-refreshing experiences"
- “Machu Picchu, Peru” - “Early in the morning whilst the site was still really quite empty we were exploring a set of terracing off in one corner. I, of course, had to go down the terracing as far as I possibly could just to see how far they went on. Doing that though I found a classic perch to sit, on the edge of the Inca wall, with a magnificent drop into the beautiful gaping valley in front to my left and a bit of an unusual view of Mach Picchu ahead that included terracing and other features leading all the way down a slope that – if you didn’t come round to this corner of the site - you wouldn’t even see. Sitting there with the breeze from the gorge, swallows hunting ahead and a tranquil scene of one of the most magical historic sites I’ve been to, was one hell of a moment.”
- "In the jungle of river Shiripuno" - “Marching through the forest on a round of ‘the traps’ and our local colleague-come-guide doesn’t just stop in his tracks but bolts backwards a couple of metres. We then stood and watched an incredible Boa Constrictor - unbelievably thick and about 5m long with such beautiful patterns over its scales with red towards the tail. That was enough to make it into my most memorable moments but to add to the scene a few Monk Saki monkeys (lovely shaggy monkeys that I did not see again; at least not with certainty) came down to low branches completely in view wondering why we were stood in silence below them. Sweet as.”
- “Isla Isabela, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador” – “It’s tough to pick just one out from our time on this island. Free-diving with a turtle? Watching sharks swim by? Watching rays swim by within a metre if you? Sharing a beach with no one but 50 marine Iguanas? Nope. What sticks out more is when there was some major activity in the sea on the long beach at low tide with birds and sealions feasting. We were strolling along and, getting closer, we saw that birds would suddenly dive underwater having been floating on the surface. They looked like penguins but surely not. Besides, we never see penguins in groups of more than 15 resting and 3 hunting. This was a group of maybe 40 odd! Must be some other common sea bird. As we arrived to where they were fishing I could see for sure they were penguins and not far out at sea. Excited like the child I so often proved I am over the 12 months away, I used a sharp rocky outcrop that led out into the sea to get closer and was able to stand in the sea and watch loads of penguins pass right by me 1 or 2 at a time as they changed hunting sites. It was so cool.”
- “Roraima, La Gran Sabana, Venezuela” – “Sitting by (not quite on as it was one hell of a scary drop) the edge of one of Roraima’s faces doing much contemplation and enjoying a stunning view of the savanna below and beyond.”
As well as all this there were so many other highlights that stick out in my mind but to try and list too many is pointless. Many of you will undoubtedly hear about plenty of the others over many years to come and often over many a pint I’d imagine.
HIGHLIGHTS - the placesMy top top personal highlights - the elite of the cream of the crop - things that stand out in my mind:
- 1. The region of Santa Cruz, Patagonia - Lake Posadas, Cave of Hands, town of Perito Moreno and La Casa Amarilla, Patagonian countryside, tranquility, wildlife.
Wrapping up warm in the south
- 2.Puente del Inca (Inca bridge) - natural bridge of beautiful colours from minerals in the mountains; surrounded by deep snow when I stayed there in a mountaineers hut.
- 3. The Carretera Austral region - lush temperate rainforest, mountains, fjords/lakes, rivers, autumnal colours, cute villages.
View from window over a fjord in the Carreterra Austral region
- 4. National Park Noel Kempff Mercado - remote and rarely visited huge park of jungle/rainforest, pampas and floodlands full of amazing wildlife and natural beauty.
- 5. Region around Chachapoyas, North Peru - rivers, canyons, remote pre-inca ruins and the world's 3rd tallest waterfall.
- 6. Huayna Picchu; the tall peak looming over Machu Picchu - a good, fairly quick hike up the mountain which itself has cool Inca ruins, awesome views of the surrounding mountains and valleys and a bird's eye view of the Machu Picchu ancient city.
- 7. The river Shiripuno and its surrounding rainforest - wild, absolutely full of life, beautiful, peaceful and challenging.
- 8. Isla Isabela, Galapagos Islands - from the relatively tiny corner of the island that we saw it is in a fantastically unspoiled state and literally alive with wildlife with idyllic beaches.
- 9. National Park Tayrona - a tropical paradise but also very wild with untamed seas and forests and scenery that makes you want to just stay put.
- 10. Roraima - the Tepuy (table-top mountain) with unique vegetation and even animals, awesome views and one of the strongest and strangest mystical atmospheres I've experienced.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Atlantic Rain Forest - Tijuca National ParkJust came across this quote about the big national park I was impressed with in Rio de Janeiro...
"The Atlantic Rain Forest The Tijuca National Park is the largest urban natural reservation area in the world, covering an area of 3.200hec. and sheltering an enormous variety of birds and butterflies as well as "prego" and "sagui" monkeys. It is also home to hundreds of species of wildlife and plants, nowadays only found in the Atlantic Rainforest, many of them threatened by extinction."
I can believe it's the biggest urban reserve.
We saw both those species of monkeys there! The sagui is actually a marmoset (apparently the same as a tamarin but not certain) and it was the only time in the year that we saw 'monkeys' of that kind.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Some StatsDays I spent in each country:
- Florida, USA: 12 + 5 = 17
- Argentina: 41 + 18 + 1 = 60
- Chile: = 44
- Paraguay: = 20
- Brazil: 4 + 16 + 3 + 1 = 24
- Bolivia: 33 + 1 = 34
- Peru: = 29
- Ecuador: = 80
- Colombia: = 25
- Venezuela: = 32
TOTAL = 365
1 year, 10 countries
El fin del viaje maravillosoSo, I'm back home now but I'll throw in one more travel entry as I don't expect life's going to be quite so interesting for a while now...
I went on a great 6 day trek up Roraima, a large table-top mountain renowned for its many endemic plants - including loads of carnivorous plants - and animals such as a hummingbird and frog.
Here are the clouds rolling over the edge from up top:
The 2 days we spent on top were fantastic, getting to know the unusual landscape, the quartz crystal 'rivers', freezing cold but stunning natural pools, the little animals including a scorpion and a rare big oilbird, almost blind, that relies on echo-location like a bat and lives in Venezuelan caves.
This is the group I was with and Roraima is the mountain on the right dominating the horizon.
Clare's polishing off tangy home-made caipirinha in the flat before heading out...
Twas cool to have one place to stay put for 2 weeks. The flat was in a proper residencial block where the locals chuck rubbish bags out of the window into a mass rubbish bin courtyard below...nice. By normal terms it was a scummy kind of place, well more the block than the flat itself, but it was really quality compared to the standards of the majority of people that I'd been seeing since leaving Argentina and heading through Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela.
So, along with a nocturnal lifestyle that had gone from:
WAKE UP: SUNRISE
BED: WITHIN AN HOUR OF SUNSET
WAKE UP: 1PM - 4PM
BED: 4AM - 8AM
we also managed to check out some of the absolutely shockingly well preserved national parks right in or around the city. In them we even saw monkeys, hummingbirds, loads of butterflies, iguanas, a squirrel and other lizards. Really surprised me being on the edge of such a city.
I also had to swallow my pride on the last night. Clare and I had spyed a cool looking little seafood restaurant and planned to pop in to celebrate 7 whole years together; however, that day Clare found out this little restaurant appeared in the 'ever so Lonely Planet' which quoted it as being "the best seafood restaurant in Rio de Janeiro". My pride was swallowed along with a couple of cans of beer and we still went there and, I hate to say it, but the book may have been right. It was at least the best meal out we had had in the past year.
So, lots of indulgence in Rio meant lots of cash spent which, in turn, meant the question "Can we still afford to do our final little excursion and ride 23 hours across Brazil (and another 23 hours back) to Iguazu Falls???". The true answer is really "no, we can't afford it" but we went anyway...
There's the beauty of the sets of falls; the amazing force of them; lush forest around and even treats of seeing some cool animals I hadn't expected to see such as more monkeys, coatis, agoutis, toucans, (wild) guinea pigs, a river turtle and even a caiman (see left below)!
As for Brazil, I only spent a short time in 3 of its many many corners (Pantanal, Iguazu and Boa Vista up near Venezuela) plus enough time in Rio. There's obviously loads to see in South America's biggest country (and the 5th biggest in the world) - its own trip perhaps?
"Vamos a ver."
Sunday, March 11, 2007
South America - The MusicIf I was to try and summarise the music I might say it's confused, confusing, vibrant, tacky, passionate and as varied throughout the continent as the landscapes.
Music is absolutely everwhere and mostly very loud and often closer to noise than anything else. That's probably partly because a lot sounds tacky to me but also, since it is everywhere, because bus's might have growling engines and wind rushing through the windows to combat the immense heat of the day; a street has cars, barking dogs and other sound systems to contend with; a shop or internet cafe is full of chattering, shouting kids, crashes and screams from x-box games, squeeky doors and people singing along; so assuming the sound quality is actually good there's not much chance of it sounding that great amongst everything else.
Sounds like a rant that, but it's all just real observations. Better than saying "Music is everywhere in South America" would be "South America is noisy".
At least the music varies an incredible amount with so many different genres being massively popular.
The mothers of all genres would probably be Salsa and Reggaeton. Salsa you probably know - full of energy, spicey, bongo type percussion, often brass instruments, often a superb lead singer and typically a group of 3 or 4 backing male singers. I still can't dance it. I've never had a lesson, but, sometimes you don't get much choice but to get up and strut.
Reggaeton is a beast in itself. It has a chunky beat with a ska/reggae kind of rhythm and usually ganster style kind of rapping and not much else - but it's catchy, fun and massive. Some artists are doing well in the States too; the big guns include Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, Tito El Bambino and Calle 13 - a clever rapper along the lines of a Spanish speaking Eminem but probably a lot more racist and controversial but great lyrics all the same.
The bigger stars seem to be from Puerto Rico.
As for the other big genres there's Merengue and Cumbia which are widely popular. I thought I was starting to understand these two until I was recently confused and gave up on telling Cumbia apart from Salsa and Merengue, they seem to merge to me.
On top of all these there are loads of styles of 'music' that you find regionally: Tango is great, mostly heard in Argentina and is usually one of the higher quality styles, typically using no synthesised instruments. Colombia has Vallenato (instruments in pic below) music using an Accordian, a scraping instrument called a Guacharaca and a drum along with a singer, and has appeal stretching into neighbours Ecuador and and Venezuela. Colombia also has a not so well known seldom listened to music termed Momposina - one of my favourite of the whole continent - with African roots and a female singer with a tribal chant style.
Venezuela has one of the more comedy genres called Joropo or Musica Llanera coming from the lowlands (Los Llanos) is a guy half rapping as he sings about how he is a humble Llanos cowboy and likes to ride horses accompanied by a harp, maracas and a small type of guitar. On first listen it sounds terrible. On 2nd, 3rd and 4th listen it still sounds awful. BUT, eventually, after enough bus/pickup rides you can start to almost appreciate it if you listen, at least, to the lyrics.
One running idea nearly every music type is to fit as many words into each line of song as possible causing the singer to rush them out as quickly as possible. This happens a lot in the soppy cheesey ballads, very popular everywhere, and just sounds awkard to me, surely leaving the guy out of breath on every line.
About these "soppy cheesey ballads". They really are soppy - incredibly lovey dovey, something the macho guys don't seem to be in their everyday lives. One classic is a very popular Argentinian singer, Axel, who has one particular tune called "I love you" that goes on and on like this:
"I love you in the morning
and in the afternoon
I love you in the body
and in your spirit
I love that which you love
I love you"
...and on and on and on...
As I'm writing this they've turned the soppy rock balad tunes up. Great. I've already sat through the spanish version of "Unbreak my heart" twice.
I bought loads of CDs, including some of the very chessiest stuff as souveniers, so remind me to sample you some when you come round...
>>> Note that I wrote all of the above about 5 weeks ago whilst I was still in Venezuela.
I'm now back home in Blighty (arrived yesterday) and didn't want to post this until I had given Brasil a chance to influence me.
So, in all I spent about 3 weeks in Brasil - a tiny period of time for such a huge country but I did pick up on some of the music.
The most obvious is Samba. Being there for Carnaval I obviously heard tons of it. I love it. It's one of the most energetic styles of music I've heard, all positive with some of the sweetest percussion imaginable (pic left shows one of many types of samba drum). A day before leaving Brasil I saw a parade in a small town. The parade was mostly made up of youngsters and kids but still the drumming section was awesome.
Other than that I didn't get exposed to a lot else apart from a very easy-going style with accordians. Don't know what they call it but it's fun and I have a CD from one band. As well as that I noticed that they love to cover big classic English songs (like Beatles) and translate and create Portuguese lyrics - strange and cool to hear.
So that's my South American music experience in a rambling nutshell about as coherent as the music itself.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
How to dress for a night at.......the YMCA???
No, the Rio Carnival, aparently...
Number of Bird Species...No wonder I got into all the amazing variety of birds down there...
Number of Different Bird Species in the Continents:
3,200 South America
2,000 North America (from Panama north + Caribbean)
1,700 Australia + surrounding islands
Sunday, February 04, 2007
La Republica Bolivariana de VenezuelaVenezuela is a country with shockingly diverse landscapes.
Los Llanos is a region that's seasonally flooded but right now is the dry season. It's mostly open savanna and is generally full of wildlife. I climbed this tree to get some better photos of the Howler Monkeys who didn't quite howl at my encroachment on their territory but let open plenty of intimidating grunts whilst shifting about the tree to get better views of me - which was ideal for me with the camera (prob have to click on the monkey pic to appreciate it).
Another great treat in Los Llanos was going to see river dolphin on a boat trip - Clare swears they were pink (one of the two river dolphin types in the continent) but I'm not too sure...
The South American music scene has managed to keep on surprising me with another quite unique style here - Joropo - almost rapped by country folk about how they're humble horse-riders etc; and this is over music including a harp. You can have a listen at some point; I've got a view CDs (pirate of course, it's almost the only way to buy music).
So we headed off to the far north east corner of the country which is a stunning coastline. We managed to get to some isolated parts with empty long beaches backed by hillsides of tropical forests. However, these areas are known for being a bit dangerous and so we weren't able to properly enjoy them; more kind of travelling (hiking/boat) through them. The ones we did make good use of were very typical carribean, lined with palms and mostly empty too, in the region around a fishing village (pic below).
Further west in a more popular coastal region we went on a couple of boat trips to visit some excellent beaches and islands - enjoying some of my favourite snorkelling ever over coral reefs. They were different to anything else I'd seen because of the varieties of coral of so many shapes and colours - an underwater tropical garden.
We also saw loads of dolphins from the boat, plus I jumped of a cliff/rock into the sea - my highest crazy/stupid (but not my last!) leap of about 8-9m.
The theme since the coast has been waterfalls. I'm in the Gran Sabana; a beautiful natural region of rolling plains, palm forests and dotted with table-top mountains from where most of the rivers round here are born. A great 2 day tour took a fun group of us to loads of varied waterfalls - a wide ribbon one (6m high, 60m wide), a tall classic one and numerous smaller falls some with natural water slides and a couple flowing over bright red jasper rock. Plenty of fun was had swimming and jumping off the higher rocks. I also purchased a cool mini blow-dart pipe....sweet.
By the way, my switching from "we" to "I" is because Clare set off for Brasil today whilst I'm hanging around in Venezuela to go on a 6 day trek tomorrow. Wandering along earlier I saw Spurs Vs Man U on a TV in a kind of bar so sat down, ordered my BBQ/grill chicken and sat through my first English footy match since March or April. Well, I managed to catch 60 mins or so - enough to confirm Spurs were gonna lose - when the president suddenly appeared on the screen. Hugo Chavez was being driven on a procession of horses, cars and security through some big avenida, waving at the crowds. Five mins later he was still saluting and waving so I guess the TV channel agreed with me that Spurs had no hope of a comeback and so gave up on the game.
Feels like the final leg of the trip now. We don't have enough money to stay on so should be back in Blighty mid March. Before that though there's plenty going on...so you'll probably be treated to a few more entries yet...
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
A few scenes from Colombia..."La mano de Dios" = "The hand of god".
I just had to have a pic of an Englishman stood next to that...even if it wasn't in Argentina.
We went to a town called Mompos, which involved some of the most effort to get there of any town so far. Of course buses, then pick up truck, a boat ride upriver (they boat's engine messed up after 15 mins so we took another 45mins instead of 10 or so), then the most intense motorbike ride yet over a dusty road - the type you'd look for to mountain bike.
The town was full of cool old architecture and worth the visit.
The pic below is another real nice village in a different region. We camped in a cool site; a small field shared with big white rabbits and a sheep.
Above is a scene from that village's main square.
Paragliding was awesome fun. Starting up a hill overlooking farm fields, beyond them a big canyon and on the horizon were a few small table top mountains.
Once set to go I looked down and saw a group of vultures circling way below me but still high above the valley. We were waiting for the right thermals to set off. Then suddenly the vultures caught one and soared way way above us. A few seconds later and I was gliding above everthing!
The photo to the left was snapped up on the Colombian coast in tropical forest. We walked down a stream as the quickest and easiest way to get back to the beach (the path meandered loads).
I'm about to jump a log with a cool line of leaf cutter ants running along it.
That day on a walk to a pre-hispanic settlement up the mountain, I came face-to-face with a snake. Climbing up the boulders I was leaning forward because of the steepness and looking up it was right in front of my nose - luckily just as scared of me as it had started to crawl off...
We also saw bats in daylight, great big bright green iguanas, various coloured crabs and lizards, squirrels and a big rodent called an Agouti as well as the acient settlement hidden among the forest.
That was all a while ago now. We've now been in Venezuela about 3 weeks or so - a country full of fantastic countryside but people who are "generally" a bit daft and/or annoying.
In the Northern Hemisphere...We've been back on the Northern Hemishere for a while now but are disappearing off to the south again in about 12 days...
Monday, January 22, 2007
¿El hijo de Dios?I've now lost count of the number of people who have told me I look like Jesus Christ. I mostly only get it when the beard's gone wild.
They have this classic image of the great man in this coninent - fairly white (at least relative to locals), long face, long dark brown hair and beard. Sometimes his eyes are bright blue but sometimes brown. He's THE biggest celebrity here.
Yeah I know, the similarities seem minimal to us Europeans, but not to the local people who see few westerners especially in the last 2 countries - Colombia and currently Venezuela.
Sunday, December 31, 2006
A tropical xmasWe spent Christmas at Tayrona national park staying 4 nights in a cabin room on the top of a hut which you can see at the bottom right of this website:
Happy New Year everyone!
Saturday, December 30, 2006
Las Islas Galapagos - wow!The time we spent in the Galapagos was just fantastic.
We did some big day trips on different types of boats, numerous day trips on land by walking or biking and saw such an amazing variation in countryside - for example wild cliffed islands, paradise style beaches, lava flow areas with cacti forests - constantly changing vegetation and of course the most awesome wildlife you could imagine.
The marine life was definitely a major highlight since we saw things I'd wanted to see all my life but some I never thought I would. Pods of dolphins diving in and out of the sea passing our boat, a group of killer whales also diving in and out later that day or the ocasional sea turtle - I even swam about with one - but more often seen when coming up for air. One night we were sat at the bay of the most populated town in the islands and I thought I saw something in the water with the streetlamp light; a few seconds later a turtle popped up right in front of us for a gulp of air and dived back under!
That's the way it was pretty much. There's life everywhere, of course far more in the less accesible parts but even right on the edges of populated places.
Without a doubt our favourite island was Isabela, the largest, even thought we only saw a relatively tiny fraction of it. From the port village walking along the beach we found the most idyllic individual beaches I've seen; and some less than an about 40mins walk. What adds superbly to these quality, secluded beaches is the life. You're usually only sharing it with big marine iguanas, some sealions, bright crabs and, with luck, penguins or rays! On the main beach I watched a group of at least 20 penguins hunting in front of me whilst I was chest deep in the water. Until then we had never seen groups of more than 8 or so! Plus the birds and sealions would get in on the act and take easy pickings among the feast. It was natural events like that that made it such an awesome experience.
I think what surprised me most, and ended up being my favourite animals to see, were the rays. On the first boat trip we watched the 'wings' of huge Manta Rays flipping about on the sea surface, then soon after we watched them leaping well out of the water and belly flopping or sometimes flipping and back flopping on the surface. Then one passed right by the boat at the surface and i saw its shocking size and beauty as it drifted by. After that we saw rays loads in various situations - often the big mantas jumping and flipping whilst we chilled on the beach. Occasionally, however, we saw beautiful Spotted Eagle Rays swim close to shore and a few times we swam with them including a time when we were snorkelling with loads of Galapagos sharks and Reef Sharks on a day trip and a group of 5 Eagle Rays came along and drifted around proper peaceful. So cool to watch them 'flying' through the water. Then there were the smaller sting rays we'd see hiding in the sand in the shallows which were cool to snorkel with and once we saw a school of Golden Rays off a boat - a stunning sight.
Getting between the major islands we took what was probably the worst boat ride experience of my life - thank f*ck it was only 2 and a half hours - and after that dodgy journey we decided on a flight to skip 2 more similar boat trips. The plane was a cool 8 seater with 6 people. I jumped at the chance to ride up in the co-pilot seat like the little child that I am. It was coooool!
As you can probably tell, this was all ideal for me. An amazing trip and still sooooo much more I could say.
Oh well, hopefully the snapfish pics will say more than a thousand waffled words....
Friday, December 22, 2006
Merry ChristmasA simple Merry Christmas to everyone who reads and hopefully enjoys my blog.
Not entirely sure where I'll be for Xmas day yet but it's looking like in a hammock, by a beach, next to tropical forest in the far north of the continent in Colombia.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Suited to the Jungle?Here's a recent quote from a friend, Mr JB:
"Easy Bugg. The jungle sounds perfect for you, no work, no need to wash, no need for cash, you should move in!"
Friday, December 01, 2006
Jungle Life - All GoodSo I've just spent almost a month in the rainforest and absolutely loved it.
Clare and I were there volunteering at a Jungle Lodge primarily for tourism but which also plays an important role in some research. This research took up our first 6 days.
Getting there involved us taking a 9 hour bus from the capital to a big jungle town called Coca. Then took a pallet mobile (rickety all wood thing) for about 3 hours along a pure bumpy road built by oil companies a while back.
Arriving at a bridge we set off in a huge canoe down the river Shiripuno and into a National Reserve of the indigenous people the Huaraoni, a certain few tribes of whom still live as they always did as hunter gathers deep in the forest. 4 hours or so in the canoe we arrived having already seen some cool birds, turtles and 1 caiman on route.
The main research going on is with Butterflies. They have 50 traps set up throughout the forest - 25 hanging close to the ground and 25 up in the canopy. So those 6 days involved carrying heavy buckets of rotting bananas, filling the traps, recording info, lowering and cleaning the traps, checking them and taking any butterflies.
We just weren't able to kill the things, so we left that job to Oscar (Oscar is Fernando's brother and a guy with the knowledge of most of this region of forest including all paths and traps and who also very quickly became a good mate). All this through numerous winding paths and many small trails throughout varying jungle, over streams and through mini swamps.
The walk for this job lasted at least 4 hours and sometimes up to 6 which would bring you into the harsh heat of the afternoon. The paths - at least for me - were completely confusing mixed with the heat and me being knackered usually after halfway. The trap job started really cool though with us finding a big and real heavy tortoise wandering through the forest on the first day.
I only started to understand all the roots after several walks through them and after extracting Oscar's knowledge in the form of a map; and a classic map at that indicating locations of cool places like swamps, a hummingbird nest, a nest of green eggs, streams and known sites of animals etc...
Of the various sites our favourite we named "La Isla" (The Island) because you had to cross a river over fallen trees and, when you got across, the vegetation was suddenly really different - it included a huge Ceibra tree, plenty of mud, low plants and plenty of vines and roots. Difficult to explain but it's just well different to the normal jungle. It's wild image is stronger because it is the farthest place from the Lodge on the current paths. What also made it our favourite were the animals we would often see and always loads of cool footprints; mostly of peccary and some deer. A lot of experiences with animals in dense rainforest is often seeing tracks, hearing them move or call and sometimes smelling their scents. All this is interesting and exciting when you know they're closeby but just don't give you a proper view. Of course the ultimate is to see the animals and we saw plenty, a fair amount of which was quick sitings of them rushing off.
On La Isla, however, we saw great views of the bigger species of the Peccary (White-lipped) and plenty of different species of Monkey.
THE ultimate day for us was a Monday when we were out doing the traps and on route saw a few groups of different monkeys, one of which was pretty feisty and did a good job of intimidating us. We also saw a cool snake (our first here) up close as he was chillin in our path. Later, on La Isla, we were plodding along as usual when all of a sudden Oscar froze and started scampering backwards. An increidle Boa Constrictor was right in our path! A beautiful, shockingly thick and real long (4-5m) snake with fantastic scale patterns which turned red towards the tail. We spent ages admiring it - it just didn't seem real. Right there in our trail, in a mysterious part of the forest surrounded by bending roots and vines.
As we silently observed the Boa Oscar pointed up and the coolest looking Monkey was staring down at us from a relatively low and open branch! It was a Monk Saki species which is not how you imagine a typical monkey - full of shaggy black/grey speckled fur, big wide fluffy tail and an undescribable face. There were a few more about bu the view I got of that particular one was just awesome - watching animals with binoculars adds another dimension.
I saw that species several times after that but never such good views and never so tranquil as they're renowned for fleeing soon after realising they've been spotted.
After the first week of doing the trap work we would spend the mornings doing various jobs including making a bench, clearing and making new paths, making signs, putting them up throughout the paths, making a few bridges, trying to teach some English and helping around the cabins. The making of the bench, bridges and paths involved loads of using a machete, which was great fun to learn and practice - boys and their toys eh...
One proper cool one-off job was when I acted as translator for a couple of days. Fernando (the boss) set off up river when a load of food failed to arrive with a group of tourists and after a few days of using up what was left he had to hitch a lift with a passing canoe of lumbermen.
Whilst he was gone a couple of ductch tourists with their motorist, guide and cook turned up looking for him to act as a translator - the guide didn't speak English and the motorist had been learning (for 2 months!) and was meant to translate. So Oscar suggested I go with them so headed of down river as they were on a camping trip.
I had a cool time learning loads about the plants (including drinking from the water vine) and animals as I was interpreting everything the guide said, had great sitings of animals including various Monkeys, Caiman, cool Frogs and Lizards, Peccary and even a group of 4 Giant Otters right by our canoe on an early morning leisurely trip downstream!
So I learned a hell of a lot about the jungle from everyone - guides, colleagues, local people - and went for sooo many walks (many alone) through the many paths of varying vegetation and scenery.
We thought about it and decided it's fair to say that we'd see at least a group of monkeys during 9 out of every 10 walks and that's not to mention squirrels, lizards (one big one about 1m - yellow striped), frogs, incredible insects, other mammals like Peccary, a shocking variety of spiders plus tarantulas, soooo many birds and the odd fish.
We got into the Naturalist scene as we'd read up on things we'd seen using the books back at the lodge. Most of the frogs I'd find were proper tiny with the exception of a couple - one of which was the very poisonous and huge Smoky Jungle Frog (this pic shows his patterned back).
As well as he walks Clare and I also dabbled in some "artesania". I attempted to carve a local nut (Tagua) into a tortoise, we made several friendship bracelets, did some drawing and painting and I enjoyed taking loads of photos. As well as the low light levels in the forest, plus the fact that most animals run a mile at the sound/sight or smell of you, there was also the fact that even the smaller animals weren't keen to pose for the camera. However, some came out ok, many insects...
We also took the little canoe for a paddle a few times...
Leaving the lodge was classic too. A proper case of "sit back and enjoy the show".
During the canoe ride upstream plenty of interesting birds (colourful parrots, cool tucans, hawks etc) either flew by in front of us or were perched on an open branch.
Plus we visited a community of the local tribespeople - the Huaorani. They keep a mad range of pets (anything you might find in the forest really) and I saw the hands of a Woolley Monkey which was being smoked on a fire. Their hunting method is impressive - the use a long and damn heavy blowpipe. The pipe, darts and poison are made by them - the poison is gathered from various vines, frogs and other plants. It often just immobilizes the animal (e.g. monkey) so it falls to the ground when the muscles are paralyzed.
So that was my month in the amazon. Of course there were plenty of other mini tales but you've got the idea...
Note: All the photos here will not be included in the Snapfish set. Enjoy.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Forgot to add...Missed out the 4 ticks I had in the jungle and I suppose I should mention getting completely lost once after following a troop of cool monkeys...
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Jungle Life - The Bad SideWhat I had which I would have been happy without over the past month in the jungle:
- 3 Bee Stings
- Several (6-12) Wasp Stings
- 3 Maggots
- 2 Burning Ant Stings
- 2 Thorns in Fingers
...and finally lots and lots of Butterfly and Bee saliva and pee over most clothes.
- Bee Stings - 2 in bed after a poor effort (on Clare's behalf) of clearing out the mozzy net one night.
- Wasp Stings - when 'cleaning' some paths I cut down a branch, which I soon realised had a wasp's nest on it, and instantly saw a small cloud of insects flying towards me and next felt numerous stings on my face and hands. I then let out a classic yelp and ran. The next time I cut down a wasp's nest by accident I was much much quicker to run and did not get stung.
- Maggots - horse-flies follow mammals, including me, around and plant an egg or larva under your skin. This gradually grows and has small spines on its skin so stings whenever it turns, especially if you aggrevate it. Ba$tards! I had 3. To get it out you have to stop it breathing by covering its tiny breathing hole with glue or something. Later it dies and you have to squeeze the tiny thing out and it's fairly deep under. The things look as grim as they sound but cause more aggro than you'd expect for something so tiny...
- Burning Ant Stings - along with the numerous small bites and stings that weren't a problem, I got stung by an infamous tiny little ant known for its sting that keeps burning for about 3 hours.
- The thorns were nothing really - especially compared to Fernando's (boss/friend) who had a couple go proper deep into the palm of his hand.
Don't worry though, I absolutely loved the month out there and did and learned loads. The good side of the jungle will follow but not until I get a fair few photos up so maybe a week or two.
Monday, October 16, 2006
Update from: The EquatorEcuador's a real varied country from what I can tell and I've only seen a corner of it so far!
Quito's cool and I'm enjoying doing some voluntary work in a centre where kids (5-16 years old) come outside of school hours. Don't worry though, I'm not working hard! We tend to play basketball, football, dance, cook, I help with their homework - mainly their English - and other random things like today I taught two girls to play a bit of guitar.
Just to emphasize that I'm not working toooo hard I'll tell you that after the first week I decided to take a week off and travelled around the north east of the country for 9 days which included some stunning countrysides of cloud forest where I saw loads of waterfalls, hummingbirds, various other brightly coloured birds and heard the howling of a troop of Howler Monkeys echo through a valley. I also briefly swam in a lovely, wild, caiman infested lake.
After that sort of scenery it was off towards the coast where I sampled some truly fantastic food (the general South American food isn't great but this was damn good) including lovely shrimp and prawns and fish dishes (one in particular in a fresh coconut sauce). Spent a good few days in the mangrove region in a tiny community, chilling a lot on a hammock watching the fishing boats pass, crazy kids play and supping on beers.
The mangroves were all new to me and real interesting but not the most beautiful of areas since there's plenty of mud and insects but impressive to see.
One of the biggest shocks was that the community had a club! Furthermore, it was fooookin awesome! Definitely in my top 5 favourite clubs in the world. A very mad night was had for a local's birthday.
That's about it right now. If all goes to plan we're both off to the Amazon Jungle in two weeks for 1 month! (For the attentive of you, the original plan whereby I should already be in the jungle fell through so shuffled things round).
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Satelite Views of Top Places..so farWe've past the half way point in our trip now so looking back, these images show views of some of my favourite places over the last 6 months:
Lakes Lago Posadas and Purreydon in Patagonia, Argentina:
Ollantaytambo, a village in the Sacred Valley near Cusco, Peru:
Impressive Inca terracing in a valley near Ollantaytambo:
The glacier Perito Moreno in Patagonia, Argentina:
The unbelievably rainy village of Petrohue set on a lake near a volcano:
The pics are taken from Google Earth which patches together satelite images from all over the globe to varying degrees of detail.