Tuesday, August 8, 2006


At the airport in Atlanta, the customs agent is very nice, we have a happy exchange and wish each other well. I recover my walking stick, pass through the customs baggage check and am waved through and welcomed back to the US. I joke around with James at Luigi's Pizza that I’ve eaten nothing but rice and beans for 4 weeks, and am really looking forward to a slice of pepperoni. I go about 20 gates out of my way to get starbucks coffee. I sit at the table nearly flinching from all the noise, lights, and activity. Concentrating on the tomatoey goodness of that pizza slice and the creamy carmely sweet iced macciato, I realize that I’ve heard nothing but crickets and birds for weeks. What a harsh transition an airport can be, chair legs scraping tile, babies crying, lights, signs, store fronts all competing for attention. Beep, Beep, Beep, a gate shuttle wisks past. It's good to be back.

Monday, August 7, 2006

Return to Base Camp, Party at Buenos Aires

Day 28, Monday, August 7
Today we return to Base Camp from Cantiles. I get up and head down to the latrine field for the last time. I have not even attempted to use the funnel (to pee) at this camp. At each camp, we are to pee in a pvc pipe that goes into the ground, and that is done separately from the area for "solids". But these urinals are very tall, obviously made by men who didn't consider that it is easier for a woman to squat, and are pretty much impossible for me to use. On the way down the muddy path, which runs with water from last night’s rain, I run into Steve who points out a female quetzal sitting in a tree. Her green, red, and white colors are hard to distinguish where she sits so high up and still. I am happy that this is my last trip to the trenches, but the quetzal is an awesome reminder of the beauty all around out here, even along a morning walk to the bathroom, I see one of the most beautiful birds in central america. I am excited to pack up and have been overtaken for days with thoughts that my month out here is coming to a manageable close. I can now handle any hike, or anything else that I have to do because I know I will be home in my own bed, talking with people who know me, very soon. We finally leave around 9 hiking at a moderate steady pace. I am light on my feet on the hike out of Cantiles. I talk with one of the students from UK about her travels to Africa, and talk to the primatologist Kim for a good portion of the hike. .At the river my foot slides off the rock and my foot is doused in my boot. Along the trail I slip my boot fully in the mud a couple times, but mostly I have sure footing and my legs and knees hold up well over the hike. As we near the end, we are told that the time has changed back an hour in honduras, which strikes us as being quite random. We are not sure if this has just occurred and there are rumors that honduras had gone on daylight savings a while ago, but had decided to change back, prompting this seemingly out of the blue conversion. At any rate and whatever time it was, we made it back to base camp and I felt euphoric that my hiking treks were done. Email checking and an eventual final bucket shower were next on the agenda, followed by clothes sorting and repacking. Had a rum and coke with Kym. Talked with Mandy and Sarah.
All that is left after I return to Base Camp is to reorganize my stuff for one last time and decide how best to spend my last night. I decide to walk the hour down the mountain to Buenos Aires, because there'll be a party at the Ecolodge. Sergio is going, and insists on carrying my pack since my knees are a bit sore from my long hike earlier today. My larger pack will go down on a pickup that is heading down later. That way, I’ll be ready to go to the town of Cofradia, and then the airport tomorrow. I hike with Sergio, Edwardo, and John, who has returned from his evacuation adventure and 2 day stay in the hospital. He is going to be fine. Also, the senior herpetogist, the NM herpetologist and Kim the primatologist. It is a nice group to walk with. I get the scoop on John’s evacuation and hospital stay, which was top notch. Along the way, we stop to visit a well liked family. A guide and his guide son (the young fast one that raced the antivenom serum back to camp after the snake bite). The guide’s wife, and their children, and her mother are all so gracious, invite us in for coffee. The mother wonders if I am from latin america. It is so beautiful to share a cup of coffee with happy gracious strangers, proud of their beautifully simple home and willing to share their time and smiles. On down the hill we go.

Party at Buenos Aires, sleeping bag blues (intoxicated Steve plays his guitar, supine in a sleeping bag); about 12 bottles of vodka and whiskey, as well as two cases of beer are consumed by young people who have had nothing but rice and beans and an occasional coke for the last few weeks. I doubt I need to explain the joy, intensity, urgency they had to make up for lost time. To somehow get it all back, that time they were without.

Tuesday, August 8, Early departure to San Pedro Sula.
Wake early despite very little sleep. The ecolodge is a mess of empty beer cans and two liter bottles of coke, and in the night some dogs have come and pulled everything out of the trash. One by one everyone is waking up, some have slept on floors, others on benches, outside and inside rooms, wherever there was an open spot. Amid the still passed out on the porch and the hung over faces of the arisen, I eat 2 fried breads plus some porridge and two cups of fresh coffee, which is quite good. I eat slow, drink my coffee and think, "I am here, right now." Then, I quickly pack my things, hike the very steep hill to the little toucan restaurant where I wait for my pickup with the others.

Sunday, August 6, 2006

How to think like a bat

Day 27 , Sunday, August 6
Although we finished our netting last night, we decide to put up two nets, a 12 m and 6 m, to see if we can catch any bats. Sergio and I teach Helen and Fernie how to go through the thought process to put up nets, where to place them, what sort of things to think about. We describe to Helen and Fernie how to think about bat flight and where a bat typically would be flying. In the jungle, bats fly along trails and the open space above streams, using them the same way we use trails. A bend in a stream is a great place to put a net. As the bat flies around a corner it may not see or have time to maneuver around a net that is in its path. We set our nets at a bend in a nearby stream and capture 5 Sturnira ludovici. We go through the identification process and ecology of bats with the students back at camp.

Saturday, August 5, 2006

Is that mud or chocolate on your cake?

Day 26, Saturday, August 5
Last official bat netting night, but we don't catch any bats. Sergio and I pass the time talking about bands we like. He checks out the music on my ipod and the large selection of 70’s tunes confirms that I’m old. We meet up with Edwardo and Dom and two volunteers, and hike back to camp. Two large pieces of chocolate cake, specially made for the last night at camp, have been saved back for us. I drop my piece in the mud, but don’t think twice about picking it up, removing the dirty part, and eating it. Chocolate is a rare commodity out here. We eat the cake and make a fire in the fire pit. We are evidently fairly noisy because Bruce soon comes over and is angry because he has to be awake in a few hours to do bird surveys. Understandable. Our little party breaks up, and I go to my hammock.

Friday, August 4, 2006

Bat netting in a muddy slippery jungle

Day 25, Friday, August 4
Tonight we go out bat netting and catch 11 bats, including Myotis keaysi, Myotis albescens, Sturnira ludovici, and a new species for me as well as a new record for the park, Enchisthenes hartii (Velvety fruit-eating bat). The six bat nets we have set out are pretty far apart. Bat netting in the tropics is really a lot more work than I've ever done in Arizona. I can't believe how much effort goes into capturing these 11 bats, the hiking is so steep and muddy, each time we check the nets is quite an effort. I am happy that I only have one more night of hiking ahead. This terrain is unforgiving and incredibly difficult to work in. The trails are pure mud and slide, steep, difficult to access, and after just a couple checks of the nets I am tired. Fortunately, the nets aren’t so busy and an hourly check suffices. Also our camp is not too far away, compared to the mile or so we were hiking to get to the sites in Buenos Aires.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Snake Bite!

Day 24, Thursday, August 3
I leave for the remote camp called Cantiles this morning, around quarter to 10, hiking with a school group. Cantiles is farther away than Guanales, but the hike in is not as steep, though there are a few steep climbs along the way. The hiking suits me pretty well, although I am glad when we arrive. This time I packed a little more minimally than I did for Guanales, taking only 2 tshirts, 1 pair of trousers, my camera, minimal toiletries, 2 pullovers, hiking boots, sleeping bag and thermarest.

When I arrive, John, a herpetologist from the U.S., is walking to his tent with Jen, his arm and hand wrapped in gauze. He looks focused, and when someone asks if he’s okay, he mutters, I’ll be alright. I make an assumption that he has just fallen, perhaps spraining his arm. I continue to walk into camp, happy to discard my pack near the fire pit. Bruce and others are there already, having arrived the day before. I learn that John has just been bitten by a snake, called a "timbo" by the locals, a poisonous viper also called Godman’s viper. It is small and brown, very cryptic. John had been handling the snake, trying to get a good photograph and showing others. He reacted badly when the snake tried to get away, doing something he knew better than do, grabbing it by the tail to pull it back. The snake turned in an instant and struck John on the hand. From all descriptions he drew his hand back behind him, immediately sat down on a nearby log, and stated calmly I’ve been bitten. His arm was immediately wrapped and elevated and a shiny wrap meant to maintain body heat was draped around John's shoulders. The head medic had fortunately just hiked in with my hiking group, but what a thing to walk into. She was shaking as she grabbed a stethoscope and blood pressure gauge from the medical kit. The Honduran guides were all instructed by Sergio and Eduardo to go to the river and whack away all trees and vegetation to clear a landing area for a helicopter. At some point John was walked to the river area. Incredibly, not long after, we heard the sound of a military helicopter. The heavy chopper sound was such a foreign thing to hear in the jungle. I hadn't heard or even seen any sort of aircraft for 3 weeks. The quiet of the jungle and lack of any motorized sounds made the helicopter sound that much louder. It hovered for a bit and then flew away for about two minutes. I later learned it had to land at Base Camp to shift things around. Despite the huge swath the Hondurans had macheted clear, there still was not room for the chopper to land. They planned to lower one of the rescue team members who would strap himself to John. When the rescue seat came down it got caught in some branches, as well as on its back way up with John and the rescue team member. Overall, everything went off incredibly well.

After the adrenaline rush and helicopter sounds faded, the camp quieted. Everyone involved with the rescue effort tells their version of what happened. All the stories blend the to form a complete story and it is a good one. Sergio and Eduardo can best tell the part about organizing the Honduran guides to machete a massive clearing next to the riverbed. Over and over everyone mentions how incredible these Hondurans were at rapidly cutting thick vegetation and large trees to prepare the spot. Joe the medic (female) tells how nerve wracking it was to hike in and have to deal with such a dire situation immediately upon arrival. A bite by Godman's viper is truly a serious matter. Everyone is amazed at how calm John was throughout. During the rescue Sergio was given a camera by the camp manager, a Canadian named Dave, who that evening puts together a digital slide show, complete with some sort of rambo sounding music. Pictures of the chopper, of John looking very stoic in his body heat wrap. Maybe one of the most amazing tales of all is how one of the young guides (Alex) ran from Cantiles halfway to Base Camp and then back to meet another guide who had ran from Base Camp to the halfway point with the antivenom, incredibly in less than an hour. A hike that takes an average hiker about 4 hours and a very good one, about 2. The stories and speculation go on all night. We all hope John will be okay. We can’t believe he was whisked away in a military helicopter. Dinner that night, however, did not live up to the exciting events of the day. Actually, dinner was awful. A cold hotdog and some cold beans. The cooks don’t have their act together. They don’t seem to know how to cook with the ingredients they have on hand. Sergio has a lengthy talk with them (since the camp manager cannot speak spanish, he is unable to effectively run the camp – communicate with both the english speaking biologists and students as well as the Honduran speaking guides and cooks). There'll be no bat netting tonight, we've had enough excitement today, not to mention we are tired from the long hike in.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Send Me on My Way

Day 23, Wednesday, August 2
Movement day, we are headed to Cantiles sometime mid morning? Not really sure, there has not been an announcment and Sergio has not yet returned from Buenos Aires. I am packing, very lightly for the time in Cantiles. I will bring one change of clothes and another set of work clothes, but Sergio has taken my laundry to BA with him, and the clothes I intend to take are with him. I am quite happy that as I write this, there are only a few entry dates that remain. Now I have the word that I will go to Cantiles tomorrow with Sergio. Today will be another day of writing, sorting, and cleaning, I will wash my hair so I can be that much cleaner through the weekend. I can also study up on the bats that Sergio and I have captured so far. I am happy about the group that will be travelling to Cantilles, which includes Dom and Eduardo (bug guys), Dr. Bruce Byers (UMAS bird guy), Ferny (small mammaler), and certainly others I have spent a fair amount of time with. It should be a good group to spend my last few days in the jungle with.

I hear guitar strumming from outside, Steve is playing the opening lead from Rusted Root’s “send me on my way”. I go out to take a picture of him. He plays various song starts from the Dave Matthews Band and I am exhilirated to think that in a couple weeks I will be sitting outside at Cricket Pavillion listening to some of those same dmb songs. He plays the Beatle's Blackbird quite nicely. We chat about music; Steve’s been learning the guitar for 4 years. He is from Pennsylvania, one of the few folks from the U.S. out here. Dave and Max from Canada join the conversation, which evolves to the beauty of Moab and their trip last summer to the southwest. We also talk about the wages of the Honduran guides, $5 per day, and Dave mentions he bought one of the guide’s machetes for $20, which made the guide ecstatic. I am thinking of doing the same, if possible, from one of the Cantiles guides. Sergio will be able to set that up for me. $20 dollars is the equivalent of $377 Lempira, and I need to retain $605 Lemps for the ~$32 departure tax at the airport. I will count my cash after lunch, and also wash my hair. I am filling in gaps in my journal, and am listening to KGSR, the Austin radio station that I listen to at work. Love that station!

Spaghetti with tomato sauce and SPAM tonight for dinner. Not a meal I’m going to miss.
Sergio exclaims, "got it!" and goes running joyfully out of the science room. He’s always doing things like that.

Nils Navarro (nilsarts@yahoo.com) of the cuban bird society shows us the diversity of cuban wildlife. He is also a fantastic artist, showing us his oil paintings of wood ducks, macaws, and watercolor illustrations of toads, chameleons, spoonbills, orchids, boas. He is working on a field guide to birds of Cuba. Next year he is planning to teach a field course on painting and sketching wildlife in the field. He is an amazing artist - his paintings look like photographs. I am inspired to sign up for a watercolor course when I return to Tempe.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Malaria Tuesday

Day 22, Tuesday, August 1 Malaria Tuesday.
If I haven't said it before, I call Tuesdays, "Malaria Tuesday" because it helps me to remember to take my anti-malaria pills, which need to be taken on the same day once a week. Today is a writing day and I will sort my gear if there is afternoon sun, or at least in the afternoon even if there is no sun. I plan to set aside some things for discard and begin to pack away things that will not be used during my last week. I will take minimal clothing to the Cantiles flycamp, expecting to wear the same clothes through the week, with only 2 changes, though if it is like Guanales I will only change my clothes once. That will minimize the amount of dirty clothes I pack for departure. Sergio took a load of my laundry to Buenos Aires when he was called away last evening to assist with camp management. I have heard rumors that one of the volunteers or staff was threatened by a local with a gun. I will find out the scoop when Sergio returns tomorrow.

Matt announces that there’s a snake in the showers and 8 scientists jump up from the science room tables and run out the door and down the wooden stairs in a comedic burst. In their haste, the three herp biologists leave a small black snake, a new species discovery for the park, loose on the table. It is recovered by a fourth disgruntled herp team member who chides the others for leaving this incredible find in their rush to grab a common blunt nosed snake. All in good spirits. A couple new snakes as well as three salamanders have been discovered, new records for Cusuco Park. Ima, one of the young volunteers (dissertation student?), singing one minute checking emails suddenly begins to shake and tear up, as she has been sent an email that her uncle has died. Whomever has chosen to pass the information on in an email to a poor girl who can do nothing productive with this information in a remote jungle, with no means for comfort, has done so in bad form. She can do nothing with that information, except feel awful and alone. It was not well thought out.