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.
Michael Ellis

The Great Sandbox Trip

Namibia 2008

With Michael, Rosta, Corna, Jonathan and Callie

Wednesday, November 5.
Happy as we can be most of us are celebrating an historic election in US history. We board our planes in very high spirits!! The SFO folks to Dulles and then hook up with John, Leslie and Marsha for our very long flight (15 hrs) into the next day.

Thursday, November 6.
Arrive right on time in Joberg, no forms to fill out and luggage there and then the shuttle over to our lodging – Southern Sun International. Pat and Jeff show up and now the group is complete. We meet at 630 for dinner and a brief orientation before collapsing into bed… what time is it??

Friday, November 7.
Early wake up for our shuttle to the airport around 530. Counter 39, we are there early but it does not matter. The plane is very late in taking off. Did not make it yesterday to Windhoek and turned around and came back because the radio did not work. Took all night to fix it. There is a very happy and loud group heading to Namibia. We finally take off at 920 for our 2 hour flight. Rain and lightening. Cloudy all the way to Namibia. It is delightful to talk with every African about the election of Obama; they feel such kinship with Americans now. That a man of African descent can rise to become the most powerful leader in the world is amazing to many of us. There is such hope now.

Pat’s bag does not make it but she does not cry = yet. We are met by Rosta and Corna and our two large Land rovers. 5700’ here. 27 = 78. To Windhoek passing the Auas Mountains and the second highest peak at 2500 meters. There is rain all around us; it has been a wet year. When we return to Windhoek it will be the same weather. Namibia is called Africa for Beginners. Windhoek is cleanest African city. Very modern with many well stocked stores. Stop at the Wilderness Safaris office for a brief time and then off heading south and then west. Tarred road for awhile and then we leave it for a very long day of travel. Corna et al stop at the Kupferberg (copper rock) Pass and wait for Rosta to catch up with our lunches. Jacquie not feeling too well… Steppe buzzard, little swifts, hoopoe. Acacia erioloba – in water courses, very common, roots to 120’ into permanent water. You know it as Camel Thorn Acacia. There is a shrub in full bloom with large white flowers – Trumpet Thorn or Catophractes alexandri (Bignonaceae). Grewia or Raisin Bush with yellow flowers. Sociable weavers with huge nests, pale chanting goshawk. Stop at Spreetshoogte pass. View of the Great Escarpment; a dramatic remnant of the separation between Africa and South America. We drop down 1000’ to 4k’ elevation. Getting drier as we head this way. Next stop is Solitaire (good name for it) for gas at 5 pm. Southern masked weavers. Still warm. Heading right at the Naukluft (deep gorge) Mountains. The light is great, shadows, fossil dunes in the far distance to the west. We are heading toward them. 10% white folks here in Namibia.
Namib means huge deserted place in the Nama tongue. Kudus, springbok, ostriches. Arrive at Kulala Lodge just as the sun is setting. Dinner at 830 and Rosta gives us another orientation. Barking geckos outside. The males call from their burrows to attract mates. I look in vain for the little buggers. Some of us elect to sleep on our roofs tonight. Venus and Jupiter in the west and the moon is waxing – over half full – here near the Tropic of Capricorn.

Saturday, November 8.
Whoa up early. Magellanic clouds, Southern Cross, Alpha and Beta Centauri. Early quick breakfast and a pickup at 540 for our “balloon” ride. In 20” we are at the site. We crawl into the basket as it is lying on the ground sideways. To no avail; the ride is cancelled due to strong winds. Good call!! Sunrise is 610. We have a little geology lesson about the source of this nice red sand in our shoes and the dune formation. To Plan B, let us go wake up our guides!!! On the return to the lodge – Black backed jackal, Namaqua sand grouse, and Ruppells korhaan. Pale winged starlings, rock martins, mountain chat with pale plumage here.

So off again at 725 heading toward the private entrance gate just used by this camp. It saves 1 ½ hours of driving (3 hours total). We see our first oryx –totally desert adapted antelope. There is not enough vegetation to support Kudus. 2k’ here. We are driving between the dunes; the dunes are number 1 to 45. Red iron oxide from the Kalahari far far away. The highest dune is ahead at 375 meters. Great light, photos ops, the wind really blowing from the east now. The sand ripping off the dune slope. WOW! Gorgeous, just like all the photos I have seen for years about this place. Yin yang look. Curves make us feel good. Angle of repose is 32 – 34. Star dunes are due to wind from all directions. Longitudinal and Barchan dunes we shall also see.

To the end of the 2 x road. Here many vehicles stop and people are taken on by shuttles. Many rented RVs from the Maui Company. Self drive is very common. We continue to the parking lot for Dead Vlei. Swallow tailed bee eater, Cape sparrow, dune larks. Our walk is only 800 meters there, but it feels like more than that to many of us. Chestnut vented titbabbler. Another mt chat female, fly catching. Our first herp – the shoveled snouted lizard (just like the Mojave fringe toed lizard), gerbil tracks (look like kangaroo rats tracks with dragging tail), striped mouse tracks.
We see our first Toktokkie beetle; there are many different species and we shall see a few of them. Here is a brief description from a biologist.

On this mist, the first in three weeks, these insects’ survival depends, for here in Africa’s coastal Namib Desert, fog is a critical source of life-giving water. These glistening insects have emerged from the chill lower slip face, the downwind slope, where they had waited for a fog long in coming. They have staggered, numb with cold, up the steep sands, where they perch near the dune crests to catch the densest, wettest fog. Balanced head downward on their legs, they pirouette to hold their backs to the wet breeze. The blowing fog strikes their backs; water collects and trickles down to their mouths. Thus the head-stander beetles drink and survive.

Many many tourists on this path. Narra plant with fruits; we will learn about this later. Dune ants everywhere, walking around with large, fuzzy butts. To the dead lake with skeleton trees. Group shot taken by Jeff. Then free time for 20 minutes to wander around and be quiet. Back to the LRs; we are drinking plenty of water, it is getting hot. 97 on the way back. We circle the end of the road at the Sossus Vlei. It occasionally fills with water here and makes the headlines in the paper and everyone comes to see it. Last time it flowed all the way to the ocean was 120K years ago. The dunes block all the rivers from reaching the sea. Then back to the lodge – flocks of dune larks, small flock of Burchell’s coursers.

BT Afrikaner Borrowed words: aardvark, apartheid (separateness), commando, scoff (eat voraciously), slim (small or inferior), springbok (a type of antelope), trek (journey by wagon), wildebeest

Back at 12 lunch at 1230. The pool is cold. Lisa stays cool by swimming, many naps – catching up on the jet lag. There is a good breeze. Pat’s bag is now in Windhoek! Hurray getting closer; she has Jeff’s underwear on! At 430 we go off in one vehicle as several of us stay back to recoup. Go back out the private gate and now turn right and go upstream. We see fairy circles; another mystery. May be termites, radioactivity or actually where fairies dance in circles under the full moon. The golden brown annual grasses we see are new; they are the result of a series of wet years. Normally it would be a landscape of just pebbles no vegetation.

We leave the park and turn right to Sesriem Canyon. Down we go into the canyon amid the conglomerate rocks to a little pool of permanent water. Barn owl startled and flies over our heads. Many droppings from the Red eyed doves in here. White throated canaries come down for a drink at the little pool of fetid water here. We see fossil sand dunes with deposited river rocks on top and then due to the last ice age when sea level dropped about 300’ an increased gradient resulted in a rapid down cutting of the river beds hence this gorge.

Up and back to VC for pit stop. 4 species of doves – Red eyed, cape turtle, laughing, and Namaqua. Cape ground squirrels fighting and loving in the road. Marsha says “don’t you have squirrels in California?” Yes we do, but not Namibian ground squirrels. Stop at fairy circles. Back for sundowners after sunset. Up on the roof with the scope on Jupiter with its four Galilean moons and our moon getting larger. A little star gazing… then to dinner. The staff dances for us afterward.

Tired and to bed…. whew this was a long day. Gecko on Bob’s leg at dinner. Up on your roof?? Everyone sleeps up there or begins to. After the moon sets the stars are absolutely incredible, bright as can be…

Sunday, November 8.
Wake up call at 6 PM but we do not have to leave until 730 for our drive to Swakopmund. Road killed bat eared fox. Stop for Camp Agama – photo opportunity for me. While we retrace our road C- 14 to Solitaire. We stop for gas there again and get some good bird looks – red headed finch, pale winged starling, southern masked weavers, laughing dove etc. and then head north on a new road C-19. 240 K to Swap. We shall get there at 1230 says the confident Rosta. HAH! I think.

We find two groups of Hartman’s Mountain Zebras. Great to see these magnificent animals, later Jeff will eat one for dinner – good though. Down through the Gaub River through the mica-schist glistening in the light and Precambrian granite. Getting drier and less vegetation as we move north. Commiphora trees (small bushes) show up; relative of Myrrh and Frankincense and the gumbo limbo trees of the Caribbean. Then we watch a pale chanting goshawk eat a still living Namaqua sand grouse… hmmm Sushi Bob says. The winning bird is gorgeous, especially through the scope. We continue with Rosta driving like a bat out of hell – Jacquie swears to never get in his car again. Why slow down on curves??? We are with the bouncing CZECH!

We stop up on an overview of the Kuiseb River, where north of here the Great Sand Sea of the Namib stops. The periodic flooding of the river keeps the sand from continuing north. There are now clouds in the sky. I give a brief description of a desert and we continue on at midday to the Quiver Tree stop among the mica schist and perfectly rectangular blocks of? Basalt? Desert varnish seen well here.

Desert Varnish On Rocks And Boulders
One of the most remarkable biogeochemical phenomena in arid desert regions of the world is desert varnish. Although it may be only a hundredth of a millimeter in thickness, desert varnish often colors entire desert mountain ranges black or reddish brown. Desert varnish is a thin coating (patina) of manganese, iron and clays on the surface of sun-baked boulders. According to Ronald I. Dorn and Theodore M. Oberlander (Science Volume 213, 1981), desert varnish is formed by colonies of microscopic bacteria living on the rock surface for thousands of years. The bacteria absorb trace amounts of manganese and iron from the atmosphere and precipitate it as a black layer of manganese oxide or reddish iron oxide on the rock surfaces. This thin layer also includes cemented clay particles which help to shield the bacteria against desiccation, extreme heat and intense solar radiation.
Several genera of bacteria are known to produce desert varnish, including Metallogenium and Pedomicrobium. They consist of minute spherical, rod- shaped or pear-shaped cells only 0.4 to 2 micrometers long, with peculiar cellular extensions. In fact, the individual cells are smaller than human red blood cells which are about 7.5 micrometers in diameter. Because of the radiating filaments from individual cells and colonies, they are called appendaged bacteria. All living systems require the vital energy molecule ATP (adenosine triphosphate) in order to function. In our cells ATP is constantly produced within minute bodies called mitochondria. As electrons flow along the membranes of our mitochondria, molecules of ATP are generated. The electrons come from the breakdown (oxidation) of glucose from our diet. Although varnish bacteria do not have mitochondria, they do have a similar inner membrane structure through which electrons flow to generate ATP. However, in varnish bacteria the electrons come from the oxidation of manganese and iron rather than glucose. Herein lies the marvelous adaptive advantage for producing a layer of black and red varnish on desert boulders.
Varnish bacteria thrive on smooth rock surfaces in arid climates. According to Ronald Dorn, perhaps 10,000 years are required for a complete varnish coating to form in the deserts of the southwestern United States. In fact, dating of varnished surfaces is of enormous importance to the study of desert landforms and to the study of early humans in America, since many artifacts lying on the ground become coated with desert varnish. Boulders of the Anza-Borrego Desert region are covered with a reddish-brown iron oxide, while boulders in parts of Owens Valley are blackened by a manganese oxide varnish.
We can feel the coastal air now- cooler but still the landscape is very dry and devoid of much plant life. This area is the furthest north the quiver tree (Aloe dichotoma) is found. Cool tree lilies.

Finally we turn right on B-2 and go 30k parallel to a longitudinal dune that is 8k wide and goes all the way to the sea. Dune boarding, sky diving, and quad biking. Very few plants on this wide open road. The desert express train tracks are right between us and the dunes. Turn left next to a large water pipe that goes to the largest open pit uranium mine in the world. Finally get to Swakopmund at 215. Our reserved lunch spot is now closed so we go to the Ocean Basket for a late but very good fishy lunch.

To our hotel Stiltz right on the mouth of the river surrounded by reeds. Whoops, Pat’s bag still has not arrived – she is not a happy camper but promises not to cry until tomorrow. After check in most rest or nap. Carolyn, Lisa, John and I are in the Villa – a bit over the top but with a good view of the marsh. Weaver nests below. Bob and I head out to walk along the beach and look in the lagoon for birds – Hartlaubs, gulls, little or Artic or common or Damara tern, great crested tern, three banded and Kittliz and Black smith plovers, red knobbed coots nesting, dabchick, cape teals, Cape cormorants, common sandpiper, common moorhen, purple gallinule, prinia, grey plover, ruddy turnstone, Cape wagtail. Meanwhile the bag finally arrives… Hurray! Afternoon scenic plane ride is cancelled because of fog to the south of us.

We meet at 715 er 730 for our short trip into town to The Hansa – a very fancy hotel and restaurant. Violin and piano playing for us. We were supposed to stay here and I am glad we did not. Many other guests are dressed up and then there is Jeff. We are not really hungry but manage to eat anyway. It is raining in Windhoek which apparently makes for a very fine day along the coast – weather wise. This is one quiet town on Sunday and a very very clean place. I notice that the blacks are still in positions of servitude and there does not seem to be a very prominent black middle class.

Monday, November 9.
Wake up to overcast day – looking exactly like the Bay area. Cool temperature, the Benguela current keeps it pleasant here. We leave at 8ish for a 45” drive to Walvis (whale) Bay for our Dolphin Cruise.
Driving along the coastal road to the west of the large sand dunes that we were east of yesterday coming in. We pass by Longstrand where Angelina Jolie had her baby and came first with Billy Bob and later with Brad. I cannot believe that I know this s****! We get to Mola Mola and pay our fifty bucks for the pleasure of Captain Billy and the Clipper. A small cozy boat that just fits our 11 folks. Pat opted to stay back. There are some Himba women painted bright red with ochre, breasts exposed, making money on the tourists photographing them. We shall see them later at the Skeleton Coast. I begin a short lecture on seabirds while we wait our turn to board. Then we are off. Billy is delightful and a joy to be with. He clearly enjoys his life. A former bookkeeper. An avid fisherman he is full of good and accurate natural history not to mention jokes about the 84 year old man.

Birds and the fur seals were fed by Billy. This human activity is one that I disagree with but happens in many places now where ecotourism has become popular. It gives us a chance to see animals up close but treats them as primarily for our entertainment – not unlike circuses. That being said, we all enjoyed the close proximity of the Cape Fur seals which hopped on our boat (many known with individual stories to boot).

South African Fur Seal Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus
This is one of the two subspecies of Arctocephalus pusillus, that are currently recognized. The other is A.c. doriferus. A common name that is frequently used for this species instead of South African fur seal is Cape fur seal.

The males measure about 230-235 cm and weigh about 360 kg, although weights upto 700 kg have been mentioned. Females are about 180 cm and weigh 120 kg. Pups measure 60-80 cm and weigh 6 kg at birth. The fur of the males is dark grey on the dorsal side and lighter ventrally. Females have a brownish grey dorsal and a light brown ventral. Pups are black at birth.

This species can be found along the coasts of South Africa and Southwest Africa (Namibia). There is no migration.

The South African fur seal forages of pelagic shoaling fish and cephalopods. Among the fish maasbanders (Trachurus) and pichards are the most common, but also anchovies and hakes are eaten. Among the cephalopods Loligois the most common. Stomachs that were examined contained 70% fish, 20% cephalopods and 2% crustaceans; the other 8% was made up of miscellaneous matter. They consume an estimated 270 kg of fish per animal per year, which means a total consumption of over 170,000 metric tons of fish per year for the whole population. While feeding, the seals dive on average 2.1 minutes, with a maximum of 7.5 minutes. The dives usually go to less than 50m. The deepest recorded dive was to 204m (Kooyman and Gentry, 1986).

Population dynamics and life history
Females become mature at the age of 3. The age at maturity for males is unknown. The pregnancy rate is 74%. Gestation lasts about 1 year, which includes a delay of implantation of about 4 months. Lactation can last upto 12 months, but usually is 9-11 months. The breeding season lasts from November through December (David and Rand, 1986). There are no data available on longevity or natural mortality.

Trophic relations
The fur seal competes for food with dolphins and porpoises and several bird species, such as cape gannetts, jackass penguins and cormorants. Increases in the fur seal population have caused displacement of several bird colonies. The fur seal are predated upon by sharks and killer whales. Pups are taken by the black-backed jackal.

There is a high degree of interference with commercial fisheries, especially in the purse seine fisheries for pilchard and anchovy and the trawler fisheries for hake. They have been seen taking fish from the nets, or even from the ship and chasing the fish out of the net. Occasionally some seals will get entangled in the nets and drown. Fur seals also get entangled in lost gear, such as nets and fishing lines. In a survey 0.12% of the population was in some way entangled in lost gear (Shaughnessy, 1985).

Population size
Using aerial photography and tag recapture techniques the population has been estimate at a total of 850,000 (Shaughnessy, 1979&1982). The annual pup production is around 211,000. The number of breeding bulls is 13,000 (the average harem size is 28 animals, range: 7-66). The pup production for 1976 was between 188,500 and 249,100 (Cressie and Shaughnessy, 1987).

Every year between 60,000 and 80,000 pups, aged 6-10 (after the first moult) are taken for furs. Also about 2,000 males are killed each year. The average pup kill for 1970-1979 was 73,400 per year (Cressie and Shaughnessy, 1987). The harvest seems to be at MSY level, which is 35% of the female pups and 40% of the male pups born annually. Apart from the hunting, the fur seal population is exploited as a major tourist attraction. The South African fur seal is managed under the Sea Birds and Seal Protection Act and a quota system is inforced.

Threats to the population

None. The problem of entanglement in lost fishing gear should be looked into. This is an unnecessary increase in mortality and is non-specific: other species of marine mammals will be affected by it as well.

The breeding season for both subspecies of A. pusillus begins in the middle of October. At this time males haul out on shore at the breeding grounds, or rookeries, to establish territories by displays, sparring, or actual battle. They do not eat again until they mate in November or December.
Females come ashore slightly later and also fight amongst each other for smaller territories in which to give birth. Female territories are always within male territories and females who are located on a certain male’s territory become part of his harem. While harem sizes of both subspecies can reach as many as 50 females, or cows, the average size of the South African fur seal harem is 28 cows, the Australian fur seal harem averages 10 cows (Schliemann, 1990). Breeding occurs between the male and each of his harem members. While copulation occurs about 6 days after cows give birth to a single pup there is a delay in implantation of the blastocyst. In South African fur seals this delay is approximately 4 months while in Australian fur seals it is about 3 months (Riedman, 1990). Gestation in both subspecies averages 11.75 months (Riedman, 1990).

Walvis Bay is the major harbor for all of Namibia- controlled by the British for years. There is a large oil platform from Nigeria being worked on. IT is huge! An abandoned Russian fishing vessel is now a nesting place for hundreds of Cape cormorants. It is to be sold soon for scrap metal.

BIRD LIST: Cape and white breasted cormorants, eastern African white pelicans, Kelp or lesser black backed gulls, Hartlaubs gulls, terns (unided), sooty shearwaters, dabchicks (in flight which is unusual to see), Pomerine jaeger (skua), greater crested tern.

MAMMAL LIST: Cape fur seals (Arctocephelus pursillus), Bottle nosed dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and Benguela (Heaviside) Dolphins.

Billy feeds the pelicans and Kelp gulls which gives us fine photographic opportunities. We pass the blue drums floating which are the oyster growing sites. The Pacific Oyster. An influx of fresh water from the river killed millions of oysters this past year. The scallops that were being cultivated were also killed. There are some older platforms made out of wood that were the earlier oyster beds but wood is hard to come by here in the Namib Desert (DUH!!) Sea temp here is 14 can vary 12-16. Tidal flux max is 1.8 meters, 1.6 is average.

The overcast sky breaks up as we head to the mouth of the Harbor. The sand is being deposited along the spit at 17 meters per year eventually will block off the mouth. The lighthouse was at the end 30 years ago!! We see both bottlenose and elusive looks at the restricted Benguela dolphins. At Marsha’s suggestion we have some nice quiet time while watching and listening to the fur seal colony

We enjoy our light lunch of seafood platter watch those oysters warns Billy. Back to the dock about 1245 back to the town for a very quick overview and then we are on our own to rest or explore. Carolyn, Leslie and I go to the Krystal Gallery.

And at 4 PM five of us go on the 2 ½ scenic air flight. Simply put it was incredible but I shall not go on and on about it. But it was a highlight for all of us.

At 730 we head over to a German restaurant called Eric’s. Good food and good company. Corna talks about the time of apartheid in Namibia, I give a little overview of pinnipeds etc.

Tuesday, November 10.
Wake up to overcast sky looks just like coastal northern California! We have been very lucky with the sunny beautiful weather during our 1 ½ days here! Lucky us……. Bags ready at 7 we are off at 740 for a 400 k drive north and then northeast to a place even hotter than Sossusvlei!! We travel north past a two month old shipwreck and can see where the sea crossed the road during the recent big storms.
Then we turn right on C 35, the town of Uis is 116 K away. Still in the fog we see black chested snake eagles, a family of meerkats and we reward ourselves with some See’s Candy that Jacquie brought. Carolyn has been put in charge of the candy – a mistake! Some springboks and ostriches.
Photo stop for Brandberg (means burnt mountain due to red granite color). At 2573 meters the highest point in Namibia. The fog ends and the plants get more numerous. At 10 am we are at 2600’ and there are some actual trees, goats, donkeys, cows and people living in shacks now. Euphorbia damarana is now here. To Uis – a former tin mine town – for gas and pit stop. Cardinal woodpecker making cavity nest outside of women’s toilet. Corna misses the left turn and we see a pair of Nubian vultures. Back on the right road for a donkey cart with two people that we stop and photograph. Give them some water and some fruit. Another photo op for mountain, star flower (looks like Mormon tea), and ant tracks. We get to the mopane woodland and healthy looking cows in the river course. A small troop of chacma baboons. They are very dark.

To our gloomy, foreboding lodge on top of dark, ominous granite hill. Designed by Rhinos says John. Very black but quite nice inside. R and R until 430. Jeff goes swimming in the cold pool, very chlorinated. I give a little talk on the Benguela Current and a geologic overview of Namibia (finally).

Then we are off on a walk to the Sandstone Ridge. Yellow mongoose and ground squirrel burrows. Toothbrush tree (Salvadora persica), termite signs, mopane trees, ostrich salad, smelly Shepard’s trees, Ellie poop. We clamber up the ridge for sundowners. Elaine and the Canadian guy are there with the drinks and table. We have a moment of silence as the sun sets behind the mesa at around 715. The temp is dropping fast. And the light is fading so down we go and back on the Lrs to the lodge for dinner at 8.

Wednesday, November 11.
1500’ here. Wake up call 545 and eagle owl? calling. Horses and ostriches out grazing below. Very cool this am. We will try to remember this later when we are very very hot. Off at 720 looking for the elephants that live in this region – there are three groups of them. Desert adapted but not a separate subspecies.

Birds in the am: Auger buzzard, ruppells bustard, white backed mousebirds, probable pririt batis, Ludwig bustard, fiscal shrike, red headed finches, African hawk eagle (pair sitting in the shade of a tree), gray Lorrie (aka go away bird), common or rock kestrel, fork tailed Drongo, gray hornbill, yellow billed hornbill. We go up a river bed looking for the ellies. We find a couple of rock hyraxes sunning themselves. Nice granite boulders everywhere. Also a different kind of dune here = shrub koppies. Mounds of sand with trees and shrubs growing in them. Mopane is the dominant tree here and throughout Namibia.

There seems to be little game in the area. Rosta says because this is granite and does not hold water very well. North and south of here is basalt and many more animals. Hmmm so why are we here??

By 10 am we have arrived at the only World Heritage Site in Namibia –Twyfelfontein. This means doubtful spring because of the tendency of the water in the spring to disappear. Annalise is our local Damara guide who shares with us here information about the place. We walk for about 2 hours and have some quiet time among the rocks and petroglyphs. A baby puff adder, very friendly Dassie Rats among the rocks and trees. Back to the VC which John says was designed by a very well known American architect who specializes in “green” buildings. We all agree that this is a perfect design for this site. Rock agamas – male and female.

Rosta hears that Rosie’s elephant family ahs been sighted recently in the Huab river bed so we take a chance and head there to look for them. Lady luck is with us and after driving through some very soft sand in the river bed, we find the group of about 8-10 animals with 4 young. One of the youngsters was born very recently. Unfortunately a self drive tourist recently made the mistake of getting out of his car and approaching the herd too close and was stomped. He is now recovering in the hospital.

Corna cannot turn her land rover in the soft sand – not very inspiring!! The herd is often stressed by the tourists here but in spite of that news we get out of the lrs and walk up on the opposite side of the river to see them closer. This makes many of us nervous and others delighted. It sure is a different feeling to be on foot among these massive animals. Getting hot as promised so we head back to the lodge for a late 2 PM lunch. I give you the news that we will visit the Cheetah Conservation Fund Research area tomorrow but Laurie is in the USA so we will not meet her tomorrow. Everyone is delighted with this news especially our Zoo ladies. Good work Rosta.

We rest and thoroughly enjoy this lodge. The roof is discovered. Dinner at 730; it is crowded here with 20 rooms. And all seem occupied. The staff sings some songs for us and then we go outside and have a brief little moon talk. The moon is very close to full right now.

Thursday, November 13.
There is dew on the steps and temp is about 60. Chilly. We are packed and off at 715. First stop is martial eagle on the left side of the road and a female Steenbok. We pass by some fake Victorian dressed manikins; later this day we will see a real lady in her finest garb posing for pictures. We are at the Petrified Forest by 755 but it does not open until 8. Salmon, our dashing, very sharp looking guide, comes and leads us through the small reserve. Perfect looks at Welwitchia mirabalis

Family: Welwitschiaceae (welwitschia family)
Common names: welwitschia, tumboa, n’tumbo (Angolan), tweeblaarkanniedood (Afr.), !kharos (Nama/Damara), nyanka (Damara), khurub (Nama), onyanga (Herero)

Weird, peculiar, wonderful, strange, bizarre, fascinating, and of course, unique, are the kind of words that are used to describe the welwitschia. It is one of the few things on Earth that can truly claim to be one of a kind. There really is nothing like it.
An adult welwitschia consists of two leaves, a stem base and roots. That is all! Its two permanent leaves are unique in the plant kingdom. They are the original leaves from when the plant was a seedling, and they just continue to grow and are never shed. They are leathery, broad, strap-shaped and they lie on the ground becoming torn to ribbons and tattered with age. The stem is low, woody, hollowed-out, obconical in shape and sturdy. It grows to about 500 mm in height. The largest recorded specimen is in the Messum Mountains and is 1.8 m high, and another on the Welwitschia Flats near the Swakop River is 1.2 m tall and 8.7 m wide. Carbon dating tells us that on average, welwitschias are 500-600 years old, although some of the larger specimens are thought to be 2000 years old. Their estimated lifespan is 400 to 1500 years. Growth occurs annually during the summer months.
The sexes are separate, i.e. male plants and female plants. The male cones are salmon-coloured, small, oblong cone-like structures, and the female cones are blue-green, larger and more tapering. At Kirstenbosch, they flower from midsummer to autumn. The male flower has a sterile, modified pistil-like structure, which exudes nectar (50% sugar content) from a modified stigma-like structure. The female cone has exposed stigmas and also produces a nectar droplet.
Cone-bearing plants are often wind pollinated, producing masses of pollen and all at the same time. Welwitschia is clearly not wind pollinated, as it produces smaller amounts of pollen, with the nectar to attract insects, and the flowers open in succession over an extended period, which also encourages cross-pollination. It may be a beetle, but judging by the fact that large distances can separate plants, Ernst van Jaarsveld thinks it is more likely to be a kind of wasp, which he has seen on the male cones in habitat. The female cones reach maturity in the spring, about 9 months after fertilization.
The seeds are 36 x 25 mm and have a large papery wing and are dispersed by wind, in spring, when the female cone disintegrates. In their natural habitat, many seeds are lost to fungal infection and to small desert animals that feed on them. The seeds remain viable for a number of years. They germinate only if fairly heavy rain is spread over a period of several days. As these conditions rarely occur, it often happens that many plants in some colonies are the same age, as they all germinated in the same good year. The seedlings, once established,depend on the fog for survival until the next rains occur.
There are more remarkable features that make Welwitschia so difficult to categorise: 
Unlike any other plant, the apical growth point of the stem stops growing from an early stage. This causes the stem to grow upwards and outwards, away from the original apex (which remains dead), resulting in the characteristic obconical shape. In older specimens, continued growth results in the undulating of the stem margin. This growth habit is unique.
Like other cone-bearing plants (gymnosperms e.g. pines and cycads) it is a dioecious (male and female separate) cone-bearer with naked seeds, but the male ‘flowers’ or microstroboli are reminiscent of the flowering plants (angiosperms). 
The water-conducting tissue (xylem) is also typical of the angiosperms.
Welwitschia mirabilis grows in isolated communities in the Namib Desert, in a narrow strip, about 1 000 km along up the coast from the Kuiseb River in central Namibia to Mossamedes in southern Angola. The plants are seldom found more than 100 to 150 km from the coast, and their distribution coincides with the fog belt. Welwitschia is still common in its habitat and shows variability, which is a sign that it is far from extinction. They are neither endangered nor rare, nevertheless they are protected by law.
Welwitschia is ecologically highly specialized, and is adapted to grow under arid conditions receiving regular fog. This regular, dense fog is formed when the cold north-flowing Benguela Current meets the hot air coming off the Namib Desert. The fog develops during the night and usually subsides by about 10 a.m The leaves are broad and large and droop downwards. This is an ideal way for it to water its own roots from water collected by condensation. It also has numerous stomata on both leaf surfaces and fog-water is taken up directly through these stomata. The fog has been estimated to contribute 50 mm in annual rainfall, but in spite of the fog, the plants are still dependent on additional sources. Rainfall in this area is erratic and extremely low, only 10 – 100 mm during the summer months. In some years, no rain falls at all. The plants are often confined to dry watercourses or next to higher rainfall regions, and they occasionally grow on rocky outcrops. All these habitats point to an additional underground water supply. The plant has a long taproot, allowing it to reach this underground water.
There are other interesting environmental adaptations. The largest plants are found to the south where the rainfall is the least, whereas in the north where the rainfall is higher the plants are much smaller. The most likely reason for this is that the plants in the north have to compete with savannah vegetation whereas those in the south have little or no competition. Another interesting adaptation is the corky bark, which could be the result of thousands of years of exposure to grass fires so commonly associated with savannah.
Antelope and rhino chew the leaves for their juice during times of drought, and spit out the tough fibres. They also eat the soft part near the groove. This luckily does not damage the plant as they simply grow out again from the meristematic tissue.
Uses & cultural aspects
:The core, especially of the female plant, was used as food for people in earlier times. It is said to be very tasty either raw or baked in hot ashes, and this is how it got its Herero name, onyanga, which means onion of the desert.
Derivation of the name & historical aspects
Welwitschia mirabilis was discovered by the Austrian botanist, explorer and medical doctor, Friedrich Welwitsch, in 1859 in the Namib Desert of southern Angola. The story goes that he was so overcome by his find that he knelt down next to it and simply stared! Thomas Baines, the renowned artist and traveller, also found a plant in the dry bed of the Swakop River in Namibia in 1861. Welwitsch sent the first material of Welwitschia to Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, Director of Kew, in 1862. Hooker described it and named it in honour of Welwitsch, despite the fact that Welwitsch recommended that it be named Tumboa, its native Angolan name. Its species name mirabilis means marvellous or wonderful in Latin. The specific name was later changed to bainesii to honour both men involved in its discovery, although mirabilis is the name recognized today.
Because it is so different from other gymnosperms, Welwitschia was placed in its own family in a small order of gymnosperms called the Gnetales. It shares this order with two other families each containing one genus: the Gnetaceae (Gnetum, 30 species) and the Ephedraceae (Ephedra, 40 species). All three genera can stand by themselves, and the relationships between them are remote. There is nothing else like them, and of the three, Welwitschia is the most remote.
Welwitschia is thought to be a relic from the Jurassic period when gymnosperms dominated the world’s flora, its ancestor trapped in an environment that slowly but progressively became more arid, and all its close relatives long since disappeared.

Off in the LRs after an hour and a Korhaan is right across the road for us to photograph. We hit tarmac!!! Yea, we will be on it for most of the day. At Khorixas (capital of Damaraland) we stop for gas and bathroom. I find a solphigid in the men’s room to share with you. AKA sun spider – an arachnid.
As we head almost due north we gain in elevation, therefore more moisture available and therefore trees appear. The mopane woodland gets pretty darn thick. We hit some termite mounds for the first time – they appear to be pretty much leaning north (toward the sun). We have a photo stop for a nice white browed weaver nest and several vintage cars roll by us.
I see fires in several places and Corna says they harvest the black thorn acacia for charcoal. It is a pest and degrades the pasture for the cattle. We turn right at Outjo and head east to Otjiwarongo and then out to the Cheetah Conservation Foundation. We pass by Corna’s old farm house – she has not seen it in 30 years. I am sure it is pretty moving for her. She says it looks the same!

Up over the hill and we see the famous Waterberg Mountains. There is not water on this side only the other. Arrive at CCF and order our simple lunch of chips and sandwiches and then a tour with Gephardt. To the VC and a short movie featuring Laurie (very charismatic lady) and then to watch the cheetahs being fed. Perfect timing I must say.

Retrace our steps at 230 – white backed vultures, Marabou stork. Another stop for gas at Outjo and then we have about 80 minutes to go to Andersons Camp in the Ongava Game Reserve just outside the Etosha NP gate (which is only 20 minutes away). Welcome drink and nice wet washcloths greet us as usual. Jimmy and Sakkie give us our orientation and we check into our lovely cabins. Nice architecture and green building. Nicer than John and Lisa thought it was going to be. Water acacia in full yellow flower on the calcrete.
We watch the full moon rise. Double banded sand grouse, BB Jackal, Cape Turtle (work harder) dove, many guinea fowl, rufouscheeeked nightjars, common duiker are around the lit up water hole (artificial but nice). The best food that we have had so far. Elaine is one of the managers. Queenie is one of our waitresses. We get a great look at a scorpion which is scurrying around on the floor.

To our rooms and then immediately we have a knock at our door and there is a rhino at the waterhole. We all dress and rush out and have great looks through the scope in the moonlight at the magnificent creature. The Italians are not as loud as we are!! So much for stereotypes!

Friday, November 14.
Spotted hyenas and other sounds during the night. Dreams a plenty for many. Actually got a bit chilly in the night. Apparently according to Elaine this has been the first cool weather in three weeks. Lucky us. We are 3600’ here. Melba finch, gabar goshawk, fork tailed Drongo, red billed quelas, cinnamon breasted bunting, golden breasted bunting.
Off at 710 through the Ongava Game reserve started by 4 owners as a hunting venture from 4 cattle farms. Now in partnership with WS to do eco tours. No hunting. Lion and hyena researcher with a flat tire and no he does NOT want help.
At the gate at 730 and on our drive into to Okaukuejo (the place for official payment, toilet and gift shop) we stop at Ombika Spring and see many Burchell’s zebras and springboks. Next it is a giraffe all by herself, black faced impalas, northern black korhaan and some feisty ground squirrels with very big testicles! At 835 we are parked by the castle-like watch tower, many tourists here. Southern masked weaver, wattled starlings, white bellied sun bird. Glad we are staying out of the park. This place is set up for self drive folks. 2 wheel drive and pavement. Easy to go all by yourself. Kinda weird for me after all the game parks in Tanzania.
We head southeast toward Olifantbad (Elephant bath). 2 martial eagles in a tree next to a large sociable weaver nest. A very large group of oryx. Gemsbokvlakete is one of the many artificial water holes in this park. I can see why we did not spend much time earlier looking at springboks! They are everywhere and the most numerous antelope in Namibia. They are the national animal of South Africa.
One toilet stop just in the nick of time. I share the carbon recycling story in the karst formations.
At Olifantbad we get great reflections of the impala in the water. Black backed jackal wades right in. Pied crows and black crows. Battling impalas.
To Aus, the last waterhole on our route, there are cattle egrets, common sandpipers and one African jacana with a bad left foot. We now backtrack. A pregnant oryx, her young from the previous year and a male all come for water. 3 male ostrich, 2 female and 14+ new born chicks! Way cute. Corna’s LR has a great kudu experience while we wonder what happened to them. 2 secretary birds, one tawny eagle and a springbok with perfect reflections in a puddle in the middle of the road. It just rained a few days ago here and the water is still on the surface.
We cut over to the Nebrownii water hole for very close looks at Oryx and springboks. Then to the Pan viewpoint by 1PM, very warm now. What do you mean stay in the car?? Lisa needs to pee! Imagine a huge mass of glacier ice at the same location 300 million years ago!! Meanwhile our Italian friends are actually seeing lions! Good for them…

We head more or less directly back to the lodge, we are getting hungry. Arrive at 145 and eat immediately. Yummy. The afternoon is spent relaxing and enjoying the ambience of this converted farmhouse. The old water storage tank is now a refreshing pool, right behind the bar. Red sky at sunset and just as we sit down for dinner a cheetah comes by the water hole. WOW great looks in the scope as she/he crouches to drink among the sand grouse, doves and one BB jackal. Everyone is quiet as we luxuriant in this moment. Only the 2nd cheetah Rosta has seen here in five years!! The cheetah is very aware and nervous. The rising flock of birds startle the cat.

Saturday, November 14.
Red sky in morning….etc. Not much at the water hole early this am. But apparently there was a fight between a white and black rhino at 1230 AM. The white ignored the smaller aggressive black one. Nice dawn bird chorus. At 7 all but two of us are off for a nice walk with Frances. He has a bit of trouble getting the rifle’s mechanism (the bolt action) in the barrel. This does not inspire confidence!! We are off and have a great deal of fun. Carolyn loves the way he says giraffe and try to get him to say it for her pleasure. We see several different tracks (kudu, giraffe, springbok, zebra, and rhino – the odd toed ungulate). We actually see kudu and scrub hare. Carolyn loves the way he says giraffe and try to get him to say it for her pleasure. I give you an overview of the large termite mound Francis is destroying. Fungus farmers.

Back to the lodge in time to finish packing. We see the mopane moth – Saturnid family – same as silk moth.

Imbrasia belina (Westwood), the mopane worm or Anomalous Emperor Moth, is a saturniid lepidopteran which is widely distributed throughout southern, central and east Africa. Its distribution in southern Africa follows that of its primary host plant, the mopane tree (Colophospernum mopane), which occurs in a broad band extending from the Northern parts of South Africa into Zimbabwe and Botswana, and west into Namibia. I. belina feeds on a number of tree species but C. mopane is the most suitable host in terms of developmental periods, number of emerged adults and nutritional quality.
Plane flight at 915 with a stop after one hour at Palmag for refueling and then we continue to our camp. This part virtually doubled the cost of the trip but we will love it.

We meet Bruce and Donna who took the place made vacant by Karen and Bob. We give our tips to Rosta and Corna and say goodbye to them – the fast and the slow. Fly at 5k over 1/3 of Namibia’s black rhinos. We fly right through the Entaketa basalt flows which erupted 130 million years ago as the Gondwanaland was breaking apart. Deposits 2k thick were created. Erosion has removed all but 1 K of the lava flows, and we shall see the red basalt in several places along the Skeleton Coast. We are flying through a very familiar, flat topped, mesa, American West scene. Dropping down into Palmwag for refueling. I can see oryx, zebras, and springbok from the air. Then off to the Skeleton Coast. The pilot giving us a great tour at 2800’ and we even see one desert elephant. What a landscape, as we drop down on the 700 meter dogleg landing strip. Cessna Grand Caravan. It is 1000’ here along the river.

Walk over to lodge. Meet Callie, Jonathan and Daleen – our cute Namibian hostess. Carolyn and I immediately after lunch hike up the nearby hill. Our view from the peak looking north is an isolated oryx, standing quite still on the apparently barren gravel plain. This is an image we will always remember – the Skeleton Coast.
Lichen fields, dollar plants, tractrac chats, gray larks and Narrra fruits. Rest until 430 then we meet for tea etc and I give a brief overview of the geology that we just flew over. Then we are off heading upstream on our first “game” drive.

Three folks cans ride atop the LRs; we encounter seven desert giraffes. One is an adolescent. They always have to bend down to eat. Nothing grows tall here. We continue up and out into the granite hills and the mica schist. We can go off by ourselves for quiet time. Some however choose to make a lot of noise spitting out oryx poop. Hmmm go figure on that one. Sundowners with pink clouds. Driving back in the dark – more giraffes, clear sky, Venus and Jupiter. Dinner and then hot water bottles at the foot of our beds yummy!!!!

Sunday, November 15.
52 in our room. Fog and the jackals calling at night. They just vocalize once loudly and then stop. Hot water and/or coffee delivered to our rooms!! This is our longest day – begins at 730 AM and will end back at the Lodge at 8 PM. There are brown hyena tracks – one comes around the camp every night after things quiet down. Red billed francolins calling. Our goal is Cape Frio 100 k from here; there is much to do on this day. We head downstream; the ocean is 18 k as the pied crow flies. Be sure to take your bathing suit today — yuck yuck. Porcupine (spiny pig) tracks – one tries to break into the kitchen every night. Habitat here = gravel plains, lichen fields, ephemeral rivers, gypsum areas, hammocks.
It is foggy to start and will be foggy at the end but with sun in the middle of the day. Alarm hairs emit pheromone as warning to others. Stop for a great Narrra Acanthosicyos horridus, talk about this member of the cucumber family- dune formation around it, important food source, long tap root, captures fog, stomata photosynthesis talk, dioeciously, wean human babies with the bitter juice.

Stop for lichen view and talk. Ostrich poop – the world’s largest bird thrives here! Garnets give a red hue to the dunes here, later it will be the red basalt giving a red hue to the dunes. Kallie spies a dune cricket and we all get a mighty fine look at it. Bruce almost steps on it!! A parasitic wasp comes by and nearly nails it. Dollar Bush is Zygophyllum which means egg leaf due to the shape. Zygophyllum macrocarpon Retief [family ZYGOPHYLLACEAE].

Fantastic dolerite dykes sticking up black and in straight lines= part of the Damara mountain formation. (remember the two cratons colliding 900 to 600 mya – Congo and Kalahari).
We watch some termites for a while that are out gathering grass. Act your shoe size says Jonathan. We are, but that is not as much fun for Europeans! Up to the Viewpoint for a great look at the barchan dunes and get see a little glimpse of the salt pan and the ocean barely visible. We can also see the white structures on the far mountain where the amethyst miners stay.
The coarsely crystalline varieties of quartz are, in general, transparent and lustrous. Rock crystal, a colorless form of quartz, usually occurs in distinct crystals. Rose quartz is coarsely crystalline but without distinct crystal form and is colored rose red or pink, the color often fading on exposure to light. Smoky quartz, or cairngorm stone, occurs in crystals ranging from smoky yellow to dark brown. Amethyst, a semiprecious variety of quartz, is colored purple or violet. Many other minerals form inclusions in crystalline varieties of quartz. Rutilated quartz contains fine needles of rutile that penetrate crystals of colorless quartz. Aventurine is a variety of quartz containing brilliant scales of hematite or mica. Liquids and gases also occur as inclusions in quartz. Milky quartz owes its milky-white color to the presence of numerous minute liquid or gaseous inclusions.
The cryptocrystalline varieties of quartz are often divided into two general classes, fibrous and granular. The fibrous varieties, which include agate, carnelian, heliotrope, onyx, and chrysoprase, are all forms of chalcedony. The granular varieties include chert, flint, jasper, and prase.
The barchan (Russian word) dunes coalesce to form transverse dunes (perpendicular to the wind).
A barchan dune is an arc-shaped sand ridge, comprising well-sorted sand. This type of dune possesses two “horns” that face downwind, with the slip face (the downwind slope) at the angle of repose, or approximately 32 degrees. The upwind side is packed by the wind, and stands at about 15 degrees. Simple barchan dunes may stretch from meters to a hundred meters or so between the tips of the horns.

We get back to some of the exposed basalt from the Entaketa formation. And then we go up fast and very slowly down the barchan dunes… yee haw. Riders on top of the land rovers have fun but the photos do not make it look as exciting as it was.
We cross over west and then head back east on the other side of the pan. Stop and look at some amethyst tailings from mine diggings. They are always found in the basalt. Brazil has matching rocks from the same Entaketa formation and is famous for amethysts.
We drop down into an area that actually has water and a spring. White breasted plovers in the mud flat. We were going to stop for tea but the wind is a blowing hard so we continue on to the coast. Sunny now but windy. Head north on the firm sand right on the beach. Can go fast and we are running over many ghost crabs. Stop for a southern right whale skull upside down. Many Sanderlings feeding in the surf line. Next stop is the lower jaw of the right whale. Hot rocks and Carolyn leaves our camera in the sand= bummer!!!

We find a nice lunch spot where the sand is not blowing because it is a bit moist. What a great set up and tasty as well. We walk north to some of the fur seal groups. Graveyard of fur seals; many dead, bones, fur etc. We walk for a bit too long and then are picked up and transported to the main group of Cape Fur Seals. We climb up some rocks for superb views of the cacophonous colony. There are many, many new born pups with their dark birth coat still on. We see one that has just been born and one female whose waters break and she is struggling to give birth. We have to leave before she succeeds.

It is cold with the wind blowing and the fog is back. We must have seen 15 + black backed jackals foraging in the seal colony. Pretty easy pickings this time of year. Yummy those placentas taste good with sand on them. We leave at 450 and have a mighty long way to go back. We take a different, more inland, route back. Crossing one of the most amazing landscape I have ever seen. Virtually no vegetation, we literally could be on another planet! To Agate mountain in the cold afternoon light. The wind is howling; we have all the clothes that we brought on.
And then the mystery stone circles by the strandlopers (beach walkers). These are the San people – the first human dwellers in this harsh environment. It is assumed that they came here to harvest beached whales and take some fur seals. It might have been a bit wetter. Carolyn requests our quiet time. It is the prefect place for it but we do not have time.
As we continue inland a bit we are getting into more plants and it actually looks lush to us now!! Who would have thought these scraggly plants would be considered luxuriant? It is cold and foggy, getting dark as we rush south back to camp. We pass the dunes that we drove through on our left and circle around them. We call in our drink orders and finally get back around 8.
Dinner first (thank you Michael) and then to our cabins. A long day but really incredible. One of the striking things to me was the near total absence of human impact on the desert landscape. WS works hard to minimize our effects. Footprints, tire tracks last a very long time here. Marsha gets THE HAIR OF THE TRIP award and Donna gets the STEVIE WONDER SCHOOL OF GAME SIGHTING award for confusing a jackal with a giraffe!

Monday, November 16.
Jackals loud tonight. Get to sleep in this am. Wake up at 7 and breakfast at 730. 55 this am, foggy, overcast. We go for a walk right from the lodge after breakfast. YES!!! not in the land rovers! While all of us are still on the porch we see local family group of 4 Ruppell’s Korhaans. Callie calls and the male responds first and then the female. Bokmakierie – the beautiful yellow shrike that frequents the ground – is seen as well. Striped mouse scurrying around, hopefully not getting into Lisa’s tent. Stark lark and the usual Cape sparrows. We head down river from the lodge not making great time but seeing many things very close. I demonstrate rabbit jumping – what talent! We notice all the tracks – the morning newspaper, as our guides call it.
They id a white “lady” spider’s trap door and proceed to extract him. Way cool. Everyone gets good looks and some of us have the venomous (not poisonous – thank you Marsha) animal crawl on us. Introduced Jimson (Jamestown) weed or Datura. Another melon plant just starting out later we will see the fruits of it. One Castor plant. Dune ant AKA ball biter. Salsola the same genus as tumbleweed. Combretum and a camel thorn acacia. Tracks from the Korhaan have no fourth toe, whereas the red billed francolins do and the smaller bird’s feet are bigger. Legless skink tracks in the sand. How do you tell a legless lizard from a snake?? The golden wheel spider prefers the steeper sand dunes. Golden mole is not supposed to be here but our guides have seen some tracks that may be from them. Three tracks close together are from gerbils. Narrra plants with fruit and flowers.

Then the highlight of the day for me. Callie finds the entrance to a web footed gecko’s hole. Looks like a scorpion hole but there is no pile of sand right at the entrance due to the way they excavate it. Callie digs way down and finds the cute little nocturnal lizard over a foot below the surface. It seems so soft and vulnerable for this incredibly harsh world it inhabits. Good photos and then we return him to his sand, no worse for wear we hope. Back via the airstrip. Sun lizard – very fast. Then we have lunch and rest until 330. At tea time I go over three things = giraffe drinking, nitrogen fixing and lichen natural history. Scaly feathered finch and bokmerikie. Then we are off to the south crossing the lichen fields. Our guides demonstrate the ability of the lichens to quickly absorb moisture and turn green and soft right in front of us.
Then we get to witness a pair of oryx copulating – twice. Jeff has photos. As we head toward the clay castles we see 4 oryx with three young which are the color of lions. Ludwig’s bustards – a pair. Dramatic cliffs as we drop into a valley cleft in the rocks. We walk in a place where the water is forced to the surface by the underlying rocks and narrow fissure. Many animals come here to drink. There is possibility of cats here – Callie saw a lion once. The last rhino in the region was in 1984. The rhinos, dik dik and oryx can eat the toxic euphorbias. Mt. chat male hopping on the rocks.
We walk down the windy valley at 535. The huge clay deposits above us. Result of sand dunes backing up the river which is full of silt sediments. They drop out and accumulate through time. The river later erodes them and leaves some hanging up above us. We return up stream with a silent meditative walk. Nice.
To lr at 630 and return to camp for our sundowners at 720. John and Lisa waiting for us. Another fine dinner and to bed. Windy and foggy – we do have the 4 seasons in a short time along the Skeleton Coast.

Tuesday, November 18.
Jackals loud again this am. Overcast we do not have the morning light here often. Heading inland today. We retrace our road of yesterday afternoon, heading south 45 K to the Haorusib River. We stop for a very large fairy circle that may be caused by termites according to Callie. At the Haorusib we see a new lodge for a fly in safari. There are many non-native, pesty tamarisks trees growing in the water and there is much water at the surface!! A treat along the Skeleton Coast.
We turn and head inland east at this point following the river course. Hyphanae palm AKA ilala palms only grow where is there permanent water. Olive or Madagascar bee eaters, wild sages, Datura in full flower, Phragmites australis – the common reed, Hermania – the beautiful white pendulous flowers, wild sesame, Nicotiania weedy plant from South America, many three banded plovers, black smith plovers, Egyptian geese, flocks of the common waxbills ( a very tiny bird), fantastic looks at a pair of hammerkops, rock martins filling the air. We see the desert lion tracks and they are fresh – this morning!!
Driving along trying to follow the cats, we are close but no cigar. So we opt for tea up on a little river terrace. I find a scorpion to show you. Carolyn goes a bit away to pee. Little does she know that a pair or more of lions are watching her!!! As we drop down the hill leaving from our break, Callie spots 2 young lions lying in the shade on the other side of the river. We get off the roofs because these lions are NOT habituated to humans in vehicles and once a lion charged Callie land rovers. The guests were moving around too much. A lesson there! Eventually we see 2 of the females and all 3 cubs. The females are collared and a researcher is tracking them. An augur buzzard and a falcon fly high overhead. The scope brings the amber eyes of the cats in very close for my LR.
Off we go feeling pretty darn lucky and the day is clear, sunny and warm (getting hot). Then we see a female and a young male elephant feeding in the river. We stop at the river (creek I would call it) and watch a lone bull elephant (could this be the one we saw from the air? It was in this riverbed).

The water is slowly trickling by; bee eaters are softly calling while they hawk insects out of the air. All is perfect as we slowly follow the bull ellie up the river. There is another elephant upstream from the big guy. We encounter many cattle tracks owned by the Himba folks upstream. A troop of chacma baboons is clambering around the cliffs and playing in the stream. We watch them preen one another and go about their baboon business. Our closest relatives on this trip. One unseen elephant trumpets loudly as we pass by. We turn to find him and can just see his ears flapping through the dense vegetation.

Up above the canyon opens up into a broad valley. One more smaller troop of baboons. We have lunch under an Ana tree. Yummy and another group photo is taken; this time by Bruce. They have been folded well into our group. But Donna has quite a challenge with the quiet time.

Then to Purros (a modern Himba village) and a short visit to a school supported by Wilderness Safaris. Way high on the cute factor. Next stop is the genuine Himba village. Do not walk between the krall and the holy fire (facing east in this village). This is an interesting stop but a mixed bag for many of us. Voyeuristic and we are not really sure how we are affecting change in this village. Shopping does occur after our tour. They did make a lot of money off of us. At four we return to the camp by a different and much more direct route. We finally pass an oncoming vehicle – the first we have seen on the entire time in the Skeleton Coast. But we are on the main road after all. Many springbok pronking around… oryx as well. Ho hum….. we are getting used to these desert adapted antelopes.

The Springbok (Afrikaans and Dutch: spring = jump; bok = antelope or goat) (Antidorcas marsupialis) is a medium sized brown and white gazelle that stands about 75 cm high. Springbuck males weigh between 33-48 kg and the females between to 30-44 kg. They can reach running speeds of up to 80 km/h. The Latin name marsupialis derives from a pocket-like skin flap which extends along the middle of the back from the tail onwards. When the male springbok is showing off his strength to attract a mate, or to ward off predators, he starts off in a stiff-legged trot, jumping up into the air with an arched back every few paces and lifting the flap along his back. Lifting the flap causes the long white hairs under the tail to stand up in a conspicuous fan shape, which in turn emits a strong floral scent of sweat. This ritual is known as pronking from the Afrikaans, meaning to boast or show off.

Back at 515 and free time until 730. We have a Bar B Que under the Leadwood tree in the Boma. We have our closing circle while our lovely chef is cooking over the fire right in front of us. It was very nice to share our experiences together and good for our guides to hear our impressions of their wonderful country.
To dinner and the chef sings for Donna. We eat and then all the staff sing some more. Out into the very starry African night for good looks at the Small and Large Magellanic clouds among other stellar delights. The perfect night for a perfect trip.

Wednesday, November 19
A sleep in!!! Breakfast is not until 8. Of course Pat and I get our usual early morning delivery but I have to take mine in cabin 5 not 4. The fog lifts into a glorious perfect and clear day, very still and quiet. Many chestnut vented tit babblers around. By 930 we have packed and left our rooms. We drive up river to just the signs marking the edge of the concession. We hike south a bit up to look at our first Lithops (lineata). Also called Bushman’s Buttocks. They are way cool. They are members of the same family as ice plants – a widespread ornamental in California.
Stone Plant, common name for several species of South African desert plants that closely resemble the pebbles among which they grow. Stone plants are succulent plants and are related to ice plants.
The small body of the stone plant is almost entirely hidden beneath the sandy or gravelly soil. All that shows are the one to three pairs of exceedingly fleshy leaves, which often assume the gray or green colors of nearby stones. Except for when it blooms, a stone plant is scarcely visible on the desert floor. The flowers consist of many narrow petals and are often brightly colored and glistening. The flowers are frequently larger than the rest of the plant..
Then we have our 15” of quiet time up on the hillside. Nice. Back to camp and lunch at noon. Jonathan gives an overview of the Children in the Wilderness Program. We quietly wait for our plane.
It comes and we give our tip to our delightful guides, bid them adieu and then back in the same plane with the same two pilots. Off to Palmwag for refueling and then to Windhoek. We arrive in the rain again. Head into our line the Air Namibia flight to Joberg. We take off just as the sun is setting, incredible rainbow and golden light. A bit bumpy as we move through the storm clouds. 2 hours later we are in Joberg. Say goodbye to Pat and Jeff and to Donna and Bruce. To our nearby hotel and a late dinner for some.
Thursday, November 20.
Some actually manage to sleep in. We all opt to relax in this fine hotel rather than add another trip to Soweto to our journey. Off at 430 for our flight to NYC via Dakar. Wrap those bags. Off we go until we meet again……


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.
Michael Ellis

Searching for Sakay in Madagascar
with Michael, Fraser and Gui
assisted by Patrice, William, Mosa Inc., Rajery
September 17 to October 2, 2008

Wednesday, September 17:
Eight of us gather in Charles de Gaulle airport after spending several delightful days in the City of Light. Keith and Julia are in Joberg heading our way. The air France Airbus 340 leaves on time at 1030ish and is mostly full. We get sprayed for ag pests (I hate that) and have a long but uneventful flight to Antananarivo. Everyone got their visa in advance but me (cost has risen to $95!)…long lines but we all finally make it through to get our bags. Fraser (our – ahem- eagle eyed guide) and Gui (our problem solving local guide) manage to miss all of you…We have short drive to the Relais des Plateaux. Except our vehicle misses the turn to the hotel. Hmmm I tell Fraser “you lost the group at the airport and now the hotel and we have only been one hour in Madagascar!” We check in and go to our very nice rooms. This is our home for the next two nights and when we return to Tana. Nice place quiet and intimate. To bed and sleep. The nearly full moon is waning; it was full in Paris for some of us. At 4600’ the climate is very pleasant here.

Thursday, 18th September:
Antananarivo. Means the city of one thousand. Presumably referring to the number of soldiers that once guarded it in the 19th century when it became the capital or maybe the number of citizens at one time. 19 million in Mad, about 2 million in this capital city. We are off at 905 am. Our bus driver is Manu and his assistant is Josi. We will be with them for the rest of the trip except when we are in Berenty. What a timely group. Driving through the outskirts of the city on a bright, sunny, cloudless day we get to Lac Alarobia in about 30 minutes… This private sanctuary called Tsarasaotra Park is set within the city protects large numbers of ducks and egrets from persecution and disturbance. The small lake literally teems with White-faced whistling or tree Ducks, Red-billed Teal, Knob-billed (Comb) ducks (a few males in Breeding Plumage). We sort out the egrets and herons Madagascar Squacco Herons, common Squacco heron, black egrets, black crowned night herons, cattle egrets, dimorphic Egret. Yellow billed kites and Madagascar buzzards flying overheard. One Mascarene Martin. We hear a Madagascar Coucal and see a Madagascar White-eye and Madagascar Red Fodys. We move counterclockwise — Madagascar Little Grebe, red damselfly, blue butterflies, beggar’s ticks, Syringia trees in flower, rose bushes, non-native Eukes and pines. Brian expresses particular interest in those gymnosperms despite the fact that they are NOT known to transmit syphilis. Our first geckos – camouflaged against tree trunks, banded ground skimmer (dragonflies), bright metallic green cuckoo wasps. We have a nice long stop looking at the golden web of Nephila madagascariensis. A large female with a smaller male approaching and some kleptoparasitic small spiders that resemble small drops of dew.

Around noon we finish our circuit and then head back to our hotel with a stop at the ATM to get some arairy ariary. Rate is about 1600 per US dollar. The back to the Hotel for a late lunch. Gui picks up Keith and Julia at the airport and they are waiting for us at the Relais.

Now our group is complete and we are off at 230 for the Tsimbazaza Zoo. It about 40” or so, circling the bustling Tana town. Past the rice fields, crowded streets full of people of many colors of mixed Malaysian and African genes. Our goal is the aye-aye enclosure which mimics night for this nocturnal animal. Very elusive sights but a greased palm $$$ gets the keeper in the cage (known as Captain Aye Aye) to stir the strangest lemurs in the world up a bit. Hard to see the details but we do see them. The mouse lemurs are a bit easier – poking out of their holes and one leaping about. Very high cute factor. It is easy to see the bush baby link in these little guys.

Back to our hotel for rest (Mary Lou goes swimming) and then we reconvene at 630 for our orientation and official introductions. Jet lag is hitting. Our first dinner together and to bed and we have our first checklist. To be perchance to sleep (with help from the Ambien).

Friday, 19th September: Antananarivo to Perinet.
Another gorgeous day. We depart at 830… no wait!! We need to pay for the extra room night. The traffic is worse than usual and it is 10:00 before we get out of the city limits! We have 150 K east to go across the Highland Plateau following the RR tracks. The train only takes freight now but some day may start passenger service again. At 11 our first pee (comfort) stop and photograph the children, brick making below, rice paddies, manioc plantings. Mad wagtail, Hammerkop, Plain (Brown-throated) martin, palm swifts. At gas station for another pee stop. Bob photographs a local guy working his fighting Cocks. Mary Ellen finds a very exotic Madagascar endemic bird that she asks Fraser about.. It is a chicken. Hmmm. Then around 1 we make it to the Reserve of Perinet (otherwise known as Analamazaotra or Andasibe). Just exactly what kind of pine trees are these, Brian? I suspect European ones.

Our accommodation at Feony Ala (means “sounds of the forest”) is overlooking a lake (Lac Rouge) at the edge of the forest. And we hear the Indri’s calling us, welcoming us to the world of lemurs. After lunch we met Patrice, our local great guide. He gets (and deserves) one of the highest daily rate for local guides. I give him his photo from last year which will be prized. We drive a very short distance (50 meters!) and then get out of our bus to see the nocturnal eastern woolly lemur. Well, it is pretty hard to see the little round furry balls asleep in a clump in the middle of a tree. We will see lemurs better. Down the road just a bit the giraffe necked weevils on the Melastomas are a different story. Classic insect of Madagascar. Great looks. We see both a female who has rolled up a leaf for her eggs and a male with the longer neck. They feed on Melastomacea family which you may know the Princess Bush (not Laura!). The leaves have characteristic deeply incised veins running to the drip tip of the leaf. The family is found throughout the tropics (old and new) especially in wet forests. There are many species.

Then back in the bus for the short ride to the Park HQ. Let us go into the Park… but first we cross the busy road to see the leaf tailed gecko (Uroplatus sikorae) very well camouflaged against a lichen covered tree. Who found this?? It is hard to see even when pointed out. Photo ops galore… then back across the street on a tree fern is the elephant (because of the ears) or short horned chameleon. A male. Great! We immediately see the gecko and the chameleons that Mad is famous for.

OK let’s go into the park but wait… on a croton tree is a full grown, nose horned chameleon. Tiny but very cute as it slowly moves among the leaves. OK to the Park now… but instead, we walk down the road a bit to the Parc d’Orchids on the left. Guess what we see?? Orchids. Then we hear the common brown lemur and go up the hill to the left off the main trail. We spend quite a bit of time with them and see them quite well. I get a great photo of one just about to poop on me. Fraser’s flip flop does get nailed. There is a family and one male adolescence comes down very close to us. Neck breaking = we need to look at ground fungus for a while.

We continue to circle the lake for some more orchids and then back to the lodge.

We head to happy hour with a plan to see the greater dwarf lemurs. They have just emerged from hibernation within the last week or so. THB Fresh Beer = Three Horse Beer with some kind of sweet drink mixed in. It is tasty but sweet. White throated rails call loudly – reminiscence of frogs.

Off at 640 for a short drive down the road for a night walk into the Mitsinjo Private reserve. First time for Fraser – I read about it in the latest Bradt guide. This is so much better than just walking at night along the road.

Justin and Juno are our local guides. It is fully dark; sunsets about 545 here. Narrow trail in secondary not primary forest but still good things to see. Band bellied chameleon is the tiny little green one. At night they are pale white often hanging on the ends of branches; when a light shines on them they turn green. So easier to spot without lights. Female short horned chameleon is next, very grey. This is the same species as the male earlier in the tree fern. Boophis tree frog found when Fraser slurps through the mud for us… giant water bug. Perhaps that is the sound of fruit bats ticking above. Rain Forest Scops owl calling continuously. Sleeping Newtonias – a cute pair of birds that are amazingly undisturbed by our lights and noise. Back almost exactly on time at 8 for dinner. Dan the diver joins us. I do my crazy ball rap for you. Fun time and then we do our species list… great day. To our small little loud cabins. The hot water is very hot however.

Saturday, 20th September:
Up early for 605 breakfast and we are off at 635 for Mantadia National Park with our trusty guide – Patrice. I give you an overview of Chameleons. Here are a few gee whiz facts.

The word is the Latinized form of the Ancient Greek χαμαιλέων (khamaileon), from χαμαί (khamai) “on the earth, on the ground” + λέων (leon) “lion”, translating the Akkadian nēš qaqqari, “ground lion”.[1]
Their eyes are the most distinctive among the reptiles. The upper and lower eyelids are joined, with only a pinhole large enough for the pupil to see through. They can rotate and focus separately to observe two different objects simultaneously. It in effect gives them a full 360-degree arc of vision around their body. When prey is located, both eyes can be focused in the same direction, giving sharp stereoscopic vision and depth perception.
They lack a vomeronasal organ. Also, like snakes, they do not have an outer or a middle ear. This suggests that chameleons might be deaf, although it should be noted that snakes can hear using a bone called the quadrate to transmit sound to the inner ear. Furthermore, some or maybe all chameleons, can communicate via vibrations that travel through solid material like branches.
Chameleons have very long tongues (sometimes longer than their own body length) which they are capable of rapidly extending out of the mouth. The tongue extends out faster than human eyes can follow, at around 26 body lengths per second. The tongue hits the prey in about 30 thousandths of a second.[3] The tongue has a sticky tip on the end, which serves to catch prey items. The tongue’s tip is a bulbous ball of muscle, and as it hits its prey, it rapidly forms a small suction cup. Once the tongue sticks to a prey item, it is drawn quickly back into the mouth, where the chameleon’s strong jaws crush it and it is consumed. Even a small chameleon is capable of eating a large locust or mantis.
Contrasting to popular belief, chameleons cannot change color to their surroundings.[6][7] Chameleons are naturally coloured for their surroundings as a camouflage. However, recent research has indicated that Chameleons may use colour changes as a method of communication, including to make themselves more attractive to potential mates.[8]
Chameleons have specialized cells, collectively called chromatophores, that lie in layers under their transparent outer skin. The cells in the upper layer, called xanthophores and erythrophores, contain yellow and red pigments respectively. Below these is another layer of cells called iridophores or guanophores, and they contain the colourless crystalline substance guanine. These reflect, among others, the blue part of incident light. If the upper layer of chromatophores appears mainly yellow, the reflected light becomes green (blue plus yellow). A layer of dark melanin containing melanophores is situated even deeper under the reflective iridophores. The melanophores influence the ‘lightness’ of the reflected light. All these pigment cells can rapidly relocate their pigments, thereby influencing the colour of the chameleon.

It takes a while to drive to the park. We see efforts at reforestation. Ageratum is the very common blue composite flower that graces our path. Commonly planted as an ornamental throughout the world and a weed here. Lynn spies a beautiful tree in full flower = Dombeya a member of the Mallow family. Looks like a tree hydrangea. Our first stop we see the displaying cuckoo rollers vocalizing high in the sky. They have a character display flight pattern and call that evokes the sounds of Madagascar. Malagasy bulbuls with red bills – quite common throughout our entire trip. We almost see them every day.

In 1985 this park created. Perinet in 1970. Now they are joined as one. Bracken ferns (found on every continent) and there is spilled graphite on road from the mine. To trail head and we begin our hike lead by Corporal Patrice. “Leader come here, stand on THIS spot”. Common small pink flower along the path is an Acanthaceae called Trobilties. The Diademed Sifaka is our first lemur; we follow them up on the right up the hill a bit. Most consider this the most beautiful lemur. Several other groups of tourists as well. Then we heard indris calling. We have some quiet time to listen to them. Eerie weird humpback whale-like sounds. The Black and White ruffed lemurs watched for a while high up the trees. Dypsis lovel is a small palm with red berries.

There are many “mistletoe” cacti growing epiphytically. Rhipsalis baccifera – the only cactus found outside the new world.
Rhipsalis (from Greek, “wickerwork”) is a genus of epiphytic, mostly spineless cacti.
A berry-fruited epiphyte. The only cacti native outside the New World are Rhipsalis baccifera in Africa and two closely related derivative species on Madagascar. Why does this disjunct distribution not suggest a close floristic affinity between the Americas and Africa? Note the lack of spines on this and most other epiphytic Cactaceae. The ancestral cacti were terrestrial xerophytes, and the epiphytes were derived from these — a classic example of “preadaptation”.
The genus is found widely in Central America, parts of the Caribbean and a great part of northern and central South America. Rhipsalis baccifera (mistletoe cactus), is also found throughout the range in the New World, but also in Africa, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, India and Nepal. Several theories have been advanced to explain the dispersion of Rhipsalis baccifera. One of them suggest migratory birds having brought the species to the Old World. A second theory suggests that it was carried to the Old World as a substitute for mistletoe during Christmas.
We get back out on the road…opposite the road to the Graphite mine which is still being worked.
Graphite, mineral form of carbon. Carbon is allotropic (that is, it exists in more than one form); other forms include diamond and buckminsterfullerene. Although graphite is chemically the same as diamond, it differs greatly from that mineral in most of its physical properties. Graphite is black, opaque, and metallic in luster and has a density of 2.09 to 2.2 g/cm3. Graphite is extremely soft—its hardness rates 1 to 2 on a scale of 1 to 10. It smudges anything with which it comes in contact; it feels greasy or slippery to the touch. It crystallizes in flakes or large irregular masses rather than as well-developed crystals. A good conductor of electricity, graphite is a poor conductor of heat. It occurs in nature as a mineral that invariably contains impurities.
The cores of so-called lead pencils actually contain no lead but are made of graphite mixed with clay. Graphite is used as electrodes in electrochemical industries where corrosive gases are given off, and for electric furnaces that reach extremely high temperatures. It is used as a lubricant either by itself or mixed with grease, oil, or water. It is also used in crucibles that must withstand extremely high temperatures and in certain paints. Graphite of the highest purity has been used as a moderator in nuclear reactors, where it slows down neutrons without capturing them.
Another giraffe necked beetle, 2 different Jewell beetles (gold and silver), clouds clear and it gets warmer fast in the direct sunlight, Giant pill bug – yep it is dead. Black velvet butterfly. Back to the bus around 1150 and then a long drive to the Vakona lodge. Vakona means the Panadanus “palm”. Not a true palm however. More chickens IDed by Mary Ellen. Male and female. Why aren’t we staying at the Vakona, Michael??? Hmmmm.

Great food, which we order BEFORE we go to the bathroom. We are the best group Fraser has ever had. Dessert is delicious as promised and then we walk down hill to the lake. Elephant ears growing in the wet area – Trefordium sp… To the Island of Lemurs. They are captive and number five in species. There is only one Diademed Sifaka (he got there on his own), red fronted brown lemur, common brown lemur (black faced ones) with a tiny baby, BW ruff lemur, eastern grey bamboo lemur. They will not cross off the island for some reason I do not understand.

Photos ops and a very guilty pleasure that we do enjoy…3000’ here. Back to the same menu.

Sunday 21st September
Cloudy with some misting rain. White throated rails calling early in the am. Indris as well. Yummy homemade yoghurt- at least some of us think so. Off on time at 655 to the nearby Andasibe Reserve. 810 hectares with 62 groups of Indris with average size of 6 individuals.
We meet Patrice at the gate. Monogamous – Indris, woolly lemurs, Diademed sifakas. The rest are polygamous. Off we go through the VC, brush warbler singing. Our first Mad Magpie robin. Former fish farm got wiped out in the 94 cyclone – there went the black bass and tilapia. Our first look, but we have heard, at the Mad coucal – relative of cuckoo but not parasitic on other birds. At the Lac Verte (green lake) we see Mad bee eaters, Mad Drongo, non- mad pine trees, Chinese guavas, Eukes, We spend some time trying to see the white throated rail in the thick brush—some of us do manage to spy the elusive bird. Then there is a grand bird party over our heads – Blue vanga, Nelicourvi weaver, long billed greenbul, Tylas vanga, common newtonia, spectacled greenbul, ashy cuckoo shrike.

Crossing a bridge across the lake we ascend the hill on a steep path. Tree ferns, birds nest ferns, orchids. We find an indri family up on the top and Patrice plays a tape of indris calling. They respond and begin to vocalize loudly and then other nearby groups (3?) pipe in. Lynn says the indri calls reminds her of a balloon filled with air being let out. We are quiet and let the sounds sink in…thanks. Other tour groups show up so we leave to find one of the other indri groups that we could hear calling in the distance.

Down a steep hill (good work Susan!) we go for an Indri family of 6.They are high in the tree sitting quietly but soon begin moving and we have a very very good looks. Including a very small baby with mom. The baby ventures out on a limb exploring his arboreal world while we watch. Fraser says some young lemurs fall out of trees and die. That makes sense. I think Keith gets some good video. We watch them for a while with no other tourist groups. Nearby there is a ball of common brown lemurs resting in the high part of a tree. The mist never becomes actual rain but we get some big drops. Mantidactylus frog in a Panadus plant.

Next Patrice has a special treat for us as we climb down another steep hill. I am very happy that it is not wet like it was when I was in July 07. There is a mated pair of RF Scops owls sleeping in a tree hollow. They tolerate quite a bit of disturbance as we photograph them with flashes!

We continue down the hill to our original path and retrace our steps around Lac Verte. Male paradise flycatcher and common Newtonia seen well at the lake edge. A few water lilies in flower. On the opposite side of the lake Patrice finds Eastern Bamboo lemurs feeding at the base of a Travellers Palm. Not quite as close as yesterday but now we can really put them on our list. We Americans are happy to see that there are quite a few female Mad naturalist guides leading other groups. Tres bien! Elusive looks at a white throated oxylabis. Day gecko spotted by Keith near the garbage can. Phelsuma lineata. Crossing the big bridge Mary Lou spies a lesser vasa parrot. Good work, beat Patrice to it! The light is not good but the scope helps. Madagascar buzzard (Buteo not a vulture) flies over screaming.

Back to the VC where we get a few minutes to see the exhibits – pretty well done. Mad wagtail and Mad Drongo by the toilets. Back on the bus, to our lovely hotel run by the grumpy Chinese woman (do not loose your key again Lynn), we order food and then reconvene for lunch at 1245. much laughter as usual.

We have nearly tried every item on the menu. Must be time for a new lodge. Grilled chicken, Cantonese rice, sautéed veggies, Zebu, cassava dishes, spaghetti,

R and R until 530 when we go on back on a night hike to Mitsinjo. We order dinner in advance. In fact someone suggests that we just order dinner now for the rest of the trip. Hello Justin and Juno, off we go just as it is getting dark. This was a most successful foray. We retrace our steps from two nights ago this time; we are the only group in the forest. Nice. There are a few mosquitoes out but it is not bad. Highlights – Boophis madagascensis with the pointed elbows, several stump tailed chameleons (Brooksia the little guys), Pat has three fine sightings — the first is the Mossy leaf tailed gecko or Uroplatus sikorae!!!! I owe her a beer and apparently one from Tanzania that I never paid up on. Several nose horned chameleon, PARSONS CHAMELEON – the longest Chameleon in the world and bright green and we see two of these magnificent lizards. Justin hears a woolly lemur – a very high pitched whistle. We find a mother and a very young baby. Whatta treat. Next a furry eared dwarf lemur high up but we all manage to see the little guy. We cruise down to the Orchid Park to look for lowland streaked tenrecs in the grass by the pond. NO luck. Very loud thunder – unusual sounds for us Bay area folks. Just as the rain begins we make it back to the bus. Perfect timing on a very productive night walk!

Back for our last dinner at “sounds of the forest” lodge whew… Pat gets her beer from me! For an elephant sighting in Tanzania and a Uroplatus sighting in Madagascar what a combo for a well deserved brewski!

Monday, 22nd September: Perinet to Tana.
Nice rain on the roofs all night and they did not leak. Welcome to the Austral Spring. Pack up and leave our rooms. A Nelicourvi weaver is weaving a fine nest near the deck that we can watch. Keith and Julia find the work out equipment near the kid’s playground. We pick up Patrice and retrace our bus path back into the rare primary forest of Mantadia NP. Trying to get to the park without too many stops. At 808 we are at the trailhead to the waterfall. Fraser has told me not to expect any lemurs here but there are great looks at gray bamboo lemurs just as we stop. We are the lucky group. Cuckoo rollers are calling loudly – the call of the rainforest. Amelia is the genus of the pretty orange composite all along the road accdg to Patrice. Native that is indigenous he says, not an escaped garden species growing wild on its own.

in·dig·e·nous [in díjjənəss]
1. belonging to a place: originating in and naturally living, growing, or occurring in a region or country
2. natural: natural or inborn (formal)
[Mid-17th century. < Latin indigena, literally "born in" < gignere "beget en·dem·ic [en démmik] ECOLOGY living in defined geographic area: describes a species of organism that is confined to a particular geographic region such as an island or river basin [Mid-17th century. < Greek endēmos "native" < dēmos "people"] The rain has stopped it is overcast and not too hot. It is a peaceful gentle trail, 600 meters to the waterfall. Circuit Rianasoa. Full of ferns and nice plants. We hear the amazing fig wasp story from Fraser and get a chance to see the female fig wasps emerging from the ripe fig. Nice. Looking for the extremely rare aquatic Tenrec to no avail. Our group photo is taken right in front of the waterfall. Our return is peaceful at our own pace. I enjoy the quiet. Back to the road to a blue Coua singing. One of the “devastating” blue birds of the world. Some portions of the call are dove-like but not all. Walking stick, Dombeya in full flower, more GN weevils on the Melestoma. We walk down the road for a while. More cuckoo rollers high in the air. The Lesser or Madagascar cuckoos have just returned from the lowlands and are setting up territories calling madly now. Another characteristic voice of the forest. Madagascar cuckoo shrike is the final bird with cuckoo in the name but all are unrelated. Blue vanga and many other delightful birds are a bit easier to see. A nice large Thorn spider is watched through the scope. We hear about the oral sex of sunbirds – vent pecking as part of foreplay, go figure. At 11 we leave and by 1140 we are back at Vakona for lunch. I give you a little over view of equinox nocticum with a tangerine prop. That I then get to eat it – yummy. Off at 2, we thank Patrice and drop him off at the VC. I will see him again in 2 weeks. Back to the main road and the bustling city of Moramanga. Hey, there is no diesel in the first two stations we try. But we finally find some and we are off on our long drive back to Tana. It rains on us. Big traffic in the city, lightning, huge cranes from the US Embassy construction and we finally arrive after 4 ½ hours at 630. Checklist dinner and to bed. First class feels very good after our lodge in the forest. Day 6, 23rd September: Tana to Berenty via Fort Dauphin. At 8 we meet Kirsten’s sister-in-law - the principal of the school ( to pick up her supplies, mostly French books from the US. She is beautiful, smart, articulate and delightful. We greatly enjoy chatting with her and are very glad we could help out just a bit. Off we go to the market just after nine. Little traffic and we get there in 15 minutes. We have until 930 to buy our souvenirs. Sunny today after all that rain! Then we head to the airport and everything goes very smoothly. On the 737 on time for our one hour and 10 minute flight south to Ft. Dauphin (also known as Toliagnaro), in the south-eastern corner of the country. Upon arrival we are met by William and Jean for our 3 ½ hour drive on a crappy, pothole filled road to the world-famous private lemur reserve of Berenty. As our description says “we drive through well watered valleys packed with paddy fields and finally into the rain-shadow of the Andohahela Mountains where the octopus like Didierea trees are diagnostic of the spiny desert. As we near Berenty, this natural habitat is replaced by extensive tracts of sisal plantations stretching as far as the eye can see. Berenty Preserve belongs to the De Haulme family who have set aside sections of gallery forest along the Mandrare River to conserve its population of lemurs and other wildlife.” Yes and we also see clearly the transition forest and the rain shadow effect as we can see the clouds from the Indian Ocean backing up against the mountains above us. The three cornered Palm is a very distinctive botanical component of this transition as is a beautiful red small tree is in full flower. A legume so we name it the Mad Redbud. We meet at the bar (the perfect place to meet says Fraser) at 630 or so and venture out into the evening. Venus in the west, the Southern Cross, Alpha and Beta Centauri, Jupiter just over head in Saggitarius or the teapot . The summer triangle of bright stars = Deneb in Cygnus or the Northern Cross, Altair in Aquila the Eagle, Vega in Lyra. Right near the lodge William shows us another Oustalet’s Chameleon and a sleeping hook billed vanga (we have to take your word for the bill which we cannot see). We hear the Torotoroka Scops Owl and see the impressive White-browed Owl (hunting mouse lemurs no doubt). Susan suggests quiet time – our first. Yea! Looking at the Milky Way galaxy straight overhead in its full glory. Grey mouse lemur and white footed sportive lemur leaping around in the tall trees. Challenging to see. The pile of flattid Plant bug (true bug) nymph stage looking just like a bunch of lichens. A western tuft tailed rat – that is even harder to spot – and William has not seen one here. Back for dinner and our list. Wednesday, September 24. Lemurs playing on some of the cabin roofs. At 6 we gather for coffee and then off on a stroll. Sunbathing RT lemurs in the Eukes. Introduced legume tree – Leucaena -- results in hair lost in the Ring Tails when they feed on the leaves. Berenty is slowly removing those trees. What a perfect way to start the morning all before 830. Bald ring tailed lemurs, Barn owl roosting. Friendly Verreaux’s sifakas leaping and running sideways. This is another classic Madagascar scene. Very cute baby lemurs. Berenty browns (a hybrid and does not count as a real species – they were brought here years ago by the French owners). The largest butterfly in Madagascar is seen again – Atrophaneura anterior. Ant lion doodlebugs, Mad Kestrels mating, great looks at Paradise flycatchers - black males, Mad turtle doves, coucal calling, spine tail swifts, common Jery, Mad white eyes, Souimanga sunbirds, more chickens for Mary Ellen, posing yb kite and a fantastic view of the Sportive lemur at his day hole. Very cooperative and not shy. Back for breakfast and the off again at 915 on a short bus to the nearby spiny forest. We pick up our two local guides and have another fine time in the morning heat. We photograph a corraled radiated tortoise. I catch a three eyed lizard with an obvious third eye, praying mantis. We are walking through a forest of mostly Didiereaceae Family – an endemic plant family only found in Madagascar. Our local guides earned their tip by finding a roosting Torotoroka Scops owl and reddish brown mouse lemurs in a very dense Euphorbia stenoclada and very very hard to see. But the very last mouse lemur is a bit easier for us to see. Hiding from avian predators. Commiphora – the tourist tree with the peeling bark. Moringa - the tree that looks like a baobab, Namaqua doves - the smallest one. Pied crows every where in the sea of sisal that totally surrounds tiny patches of original habitat. This place could get depressing fast! We let the guides off at their houses and proceed to take many photos of their families and homes. The aloe is in full flower. Our two local guides are amazing at what they can find. Back to the bus and then we do the museum at Berenty at our own pace. Now time for lunch at 1230 free time until 4. Agave, genus of plants native to desert regions of the western hemisphere. The best-known species is the American aloe, or century plant, which usually flowers only once, between the ages of 10 and 25 years. Shortly before it flowers, a long stalk grows rapidly upward to a height of about 12 m (about 40 ft). The flowers are large and greenish and cover short, horizontal branches that spring from the upper half of the stalk. Some plants die after flowering, but rhizomes of suckers often develop into new plants. The plant may also be grown from seeds, bulbs, or underground stems. The agave has large, thick, and fleshy leaves, which can store considerable quantities of water. They are spiked, particularly at the tips, are evergreen, and grow to a length of about 2 m (about 6 ft) in a cluster around the base of the plant. Many species of agave are of economic importance. Sisal, native to the West Indies but now also grown in Mexico and various tropical countries of Eurasia, yields sisal or sisal hemp. Fibers up to 1.5 m (5 ft) long are obtained from the leaves of this plant and are used to make rope. Other species of agave yield similar fibers that are called sisal or, more properly, false sisal. The roots of some species yield a pulp that produces a lather when wet and is used as soap. Such soap plants are called amoles. The sap of some agaves is fermented to obtain a drink called pulque, which can be distilled to make a colorless liquor, mescal. All agave is called maguey in Mexico. One species, the false aloe, is native to the southeastern United States. Scientific classification: Agaves belong to the family Agavaceae. The American aloe, or century plant, is classified as Agave americana, sisal as Agave sisalana, and false aloe as Manfreda virginica. Port in the Yucatan is called Sisal At 4 we meet for a stroll to a different part of Berenty, toward the entrance. To more ring tails and Berenty brown lemurs. Overlooking the Mandrare River and the folks are pulling up their drowned sweet potatoes plants. The river must have risen recently. There are very large tamarind trees here, provide nutritious food. These trees are apparently native to Madagascar where they may have originated. They have been planted all over the tropics and provide food for both humans and animals. The gallery forest in a riparian riverine environment. Giant Coua. We hear some loud chattering. What is that?? Fraser asks. We do not know. We soon find the roosting area for 150+ Madagascar flying foxes. Megachiroptera. Literally the “large hand wings”. Bats are the second-most speciose group of mammals, after rodents. The approximately 925 species of living bats make up around 20% of all known living mammal species. In some tropical areas, there are more species of bats than of all other kinds of mammals combined. Bats are often divided into two major groups, usually given the rank of suborders, Megachiroptera and Microchiroptera. Megachiroptera includes one family (Pteropodidae) and about 166 species. All feed primarily on plant material, either fruit, nectar or pollen. The remaining 16 families (around 759 species) belong to Microchiroptera. The majority of species are insectivorous, and insectivory is widely distributed through all microchiropteran families. However, many microchiropterans have become specialized to eat other kinds of diets. Some bats are carnivorous (feeding on rodents, other bats, reptiles, birds, amphibians, and even fish), many consume fruit, some are specialized for extracting nectar from flowers, and one subfamily (three species in the subfamily Desmodontinae) feeds on nothing but the blood of other vertebrates. Megachiropterans and microchiropterans differ in many other ways. Megachiropterans are found only in the Old World tropics, while microchiropterans are much more broadly distributed. Then we regroup at the bar and after a tasty cold beer, leave for short drive to another spiny forest for a night walk. Very bizarre, unique world we are walking through. Oustalet’s Chameleon and our absolute best look at mouse lemurs thanks to Keith. We are able to follow the little fellow with our lights as it clambers and LEAPS in the didieras. Quiet time in the stars. Bats are out. I give a bit of a review of the stars we have seen/learned about. As we head back to the bus the locals are playing Malagasy music for us. A very small boy is jumping up and down up and down up and down. The music fades into Freire Jacques and we quickly lose interest. Fraser aims his scope at Omega Centauri – a fuzzy star cluster of a million stars. We cannot quite make out the binary star system of Alpha Centauri with the magnification of his scope. Good looks at the Southern Cross. A very short bus ride and we are back ready for dinner (again). Emmy Lou Harris is singing for us at dinner..go figure. Good though! Thursday, September 25 Breakfast at 6 bags out and off at 7. Lucky us, Mary Ellen, we get to go back on the same road! Crossing the Mandrare River Bridge there is a cart stuck, wheel dropped through the bridge. We get out to help and take some photos. Below people are loading up 55 gallon drums with mucky river water to take 30 k away and sell in a large city with little water. Sheep have floppy tails, goats straight. We pass through a village on their market day. It is very very crowded in the road and we have to move slowly through all the colorful folks and products. Cattle market scene. No time to stop. I tell you about Biological Hot Spots on the planet and of course Madagascar is one of them. And give an overview of Photosynthesis. PHOTOSYNTHESIS By Michael Ellis Ok, so here's the bottom biological line currently running on the planet Earth. There are these miracle molecules called chlorophyll, which are present in all green plants. They trap photons, particles of energy streaming from the sun and use this light energy to convert water and Carbon dioxide into a C6H12O6, which we all know as glucose - a kind of sugar. Given off from this chemical reaction is some water and Oxygen, which is released into the atmosphere. The first living things to photosynthesize 3 1/2 billion years ago were blue green algae. The ancient atmosphere of the earth did not have an Ozone layer. This protective shield as you know keeps the extremely damaging ultraviolet light from penetrating down to the surface. UV radiation causes mutations in DNA replication and is very harmful to all living organisms. When these first green plants began emitting oxygen as a by-product, the O2 changed into O3 or Ozone. By actually modifying the atmosphere, the plants changed the Earth into a more hospitable place for life. Now animals survive by basically eating green plants or eating other animals that eat green plants. Now the chemical reaction of photosynthesis basically runs backwards. Animals take the glucose from plants, in the presence of oxygen and water, they free that trapped solar energy and use that energy to live, thrive and build more animal tissue. This is called respiration and the by-product of this, as we all know when we exhale and pee, is carbon dioxide and water. So to recapitulate- sunlight plus green plants in the presence of carbon dioxide and water makes sugar and gives off more water and oxygen. Animals eat plants, breathe in oxygen and use this chemical to get energy out of the sugar and then emit carbon dioxide and water. Presto there you have it - the simple but elegant miracle of life on our planet. Litchi trees and mangos along road but not ripe until Nov. We stop at a fruit Market for cherimoyas, bananas and green coconuts. By 1030 we are at the airport. Check in is smooth and we actually take off early == before noon! ATR 42-72. We fly to the south-western city of Tulear. Right on the Tropic of Capricorn and as far away as you can be from the city of San Francisco. 300k in this city and 2k pousse pousses. Quick stop at tourist market. A bit more of a hustle here. Walk down a short line of shops back to the bus. Then out of the city heading north right along the coast. Mangrove trees in the intertidal. Rough road but not as rough as Berenty. Stuck in sand pushed out for #$$$. Cadeau and bonbon demands from the kids. Womens face painted white and yellow to protect their skin. Right Doc?? To our hotel right on the beach by about 330. Quick check in and we are off at 420 for a 15 minute drive north to Mosa’s village. Casuarinas or Australian pines are widely planted. I give Mosa his photo. Mosa is now the owner of Mosa Inc. –the ace Birding Guide Company for guaranteed sightings of the long tailed ground roller and sub desert mesite. He is rolling in cash now and I suspect has many girlfriends and kids. We have four local guides = Freddy, Relats, Angi and unnamed fellow in orange shirt. We walk into the spiny forest past homes and degraded cattle fields. This is a newly created 98 hectare piece of forest – Mosa Parc. Many trees are now labeled. One hectare equals 2.5 acres. Two baobabs here – Adansonia za (with slightly elongated fruits and A. rubistipa (fruits are round). There is another species is found in the spiny forest that we did not see - A. madagascariensis. Malagasy word for these trees is fony. Group photo in front of baobab. Many trees have the inflated bulbous massive trunks like baobabs but belong to different plant families. One common large tree is a Pachypodium. Angi says they have the elephant legs here and at Isalo they have the elephant feet. We will later see those in full yellow flower. There is also Moringa which looks like a baobab. There are two species of Delonix here which is the same genus as the famous Madagascar Flame tree which is planted all over the tropics. The common Didierea tree is called the compass tree because all the branches lean toward the south, aka Octopus tree. Our guides find a nice dark scorpion and Fraser tells us that the ones with large pinchers are not as bad as those with small pincers and big stinger. Grewia (aka raisin bush) is the common small shrub with small yellow flowers that the Souimanga sunbirds are feeding on. A very friendly Archbold Newtonia gives us quite a show right at the end of our walk. Keith continues to video our experience. He himself is never in the videos because Julia does not know how to work the camera. The blazing red sun through the spiny forest is nice. Life is good. The rarely seen though widespread Banded Kestrel cooperates for a good scope views out of the forest. Madagascar nightjars are flying low over the fields hawking insects. Back to lodge by 645 dinner at 730 and the local flavored rum is sampled by many. The seafood is fresh and tasty. Keith eats the sea cicada. Friday, 26th September: Ifaty to Tulear. From the trip description - This morning we will venture out at dawn, before the day’s heat, to stroll amongst the myriad of multi-stemmed succulents, squat baobab trees and thorny scrub. Two very special birds here are the near mythical Sub-desert Mesite, which we may find adopting its strange, cryptic posture on a thorny branch, and the Long-tailed Ground-Roller, an elusive ground dweller best located by its low, hooting call. All but Susan and Bob are up by 430 for the coffee. Well, actually the night watchman is also asleep so therefore the kitchen staff is also asleep. We have to wait a bit for our hot water and coffee. We take advantage of the cloudless dark sky and do a little stargazing. Crescent moon in the eastern sky is approaching new. The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, Orion, the Pleiades, Gemini twins, Capella. Finally we get beverage of choice (Lynn and I control our own coffee destinies). We are off traveling through the village as it slowly wakes up. Quiet now, but will be hustling and bustling later. By 530 after picking up our guides and walking quickly out to the spiny forest, we are having our quiet time – roosters, outboard motors, car horns, bird song (Souimanga sunbird, sub desert brush warbler, Mad magpie robin) – the day is coming alive. Old moon in the new moons arms. It is a great morning: hook billed vanga, climbing milkweed, Lafresnaye’s (sounds like La Fresno) vanga, running Coua, crested Coua, common Jery, mad magpie robin, Sakalava weaver nest examined, the perfect circular pickings of button quail in the trail, beautiful green and very large Phelsuma (day gecko) on the baobab. BTW this last lizard was totally overlooked by our South African guide. We are not sure how he could have possibly missed it; it must be embassingly awful for him - a guide’s worst nightmare. Glad that did not happen to me. Of course one of the highlights besides the delicious morning light - perfect for photos - was the amazing tracking skills of our guides who brought the long tailed ground roller right into our view. Then our guides found the sub desert mesite sitting quietly “hidden” in a thick bush. We follow quickly through the brush – falling over and over, cut, bruised exhausted, bloodied but our goal is in sight. Nothing will stop us now; it is almost like we are REAL BIRDERS. A proper British couple is already there and thrilled. I detected twitching coming from the husband. After some good looks through the scope we leave the bird alone. African black swifts flying over, three eyed lizard sunning in the trail as it begins to warm up a bit. Our first snake of the trip – the Mahalay sand snake. This is a young one they get to 2 ½ ft accding to Angi. We are back by 920 for bfast. After breakfast, 8 of us go snorkeling on a reef that is right off the shore called the Rose Garden. 30,000 ariary ariary or $18. Stephan the owner is making good money. Nice motor boat to take out, not a sail boat which could take a while even if it the site close by. The water was warm but eventually we all got chilled. The fish were abundant and the sightings great. Octopus, groupers, puffer fish, Pleurobranch (sea slug) and egg sacks, parrot fish and many others. Many of us have seen the same families of fish but these are variations on a familiar theme for us. Then back for a shower pack up. The French manager wife has a pet ring tail = not good. Very tranquil here. Lunch at 1 then we relax in the warm Indian Ocean air, reading resting. Off at 3 back on that bumpy road. The unspoken question in everyone’s mind….will we make it through the sand pit. Is it bigger now??” Actually there is very little unspoken in this group. It is another big scene there at the Sand Pit village. After several other vehicles get stuck and we help push them out (while the villagers rest in the shade – no money no pushy). We give it a go. Our driver does go fast this time but it is not enough. The bus noses into the sandy hole. Hmmm. After attempting for a while to not use the local “help” we finally relent and pay 20k ariary to be on our way. We actually make good time and arrive at the Hotel Capricorn in Tulear at a reasonable time. We are all checked in by about 500. This has not been a good couple of days for me – Canon g9 camera stopped working, my sunglasses/bifocals broke, I have left my coffee funnel at the last lodge. Oh yes and my I-pod broke on the first day in Paris…WHAWWWW! I call Carolyn for some sympathy. However at dinner the engineer slash dermatologist slash handy man slash canoer - Brian - fashions me a workable model from a plastic water bottle. However there may be some unpleasant side affects from the Phalates (sp). I may develop breast tissue!!! Oh well it will be something to do with my hands…… . Saturday, 27th September: Ifaty to Isalo National Park via Zombitse Forest. After breakfast at 8 with a quick stop for our lunches (which is the best of the trip). We take National RT 17. A Fiber optic cable being laid from South Africa to Tano. The trench is being hand dug. We witness the hard work, but at least they have a paying job. A little over a dollar a day! The landscape is heavily denuded and depressing. Quick stop at some tombs with a scene from the movie Titanic on one of them. We look from the bus and do not get out. Square rock piles are for the poor folks. Each tomb is for one person, not a family like they are in the Highlands. There is evidence of much burning of the land for the first bite, which is the local name for the flush of grass that appears with the first rains. Very nutritious for the Zebu but unsustainable – the soil quickly becomes depleted. A very famous female American birdwatcher who was diagnosed with cancer with a limited time to live decided to spend all her money and travel the world to see as many birds as she could. Her driver fell asleep on this road near where we are and she was killed. Who knew birding was so dangerous. We stop after 3 hours or so of driving at Zombitse Forest. Flaubert and company take us on a walk through the forest. I gave him his picture. Highlights - the dainty Appert’s Greenbul, great looks at the very cute Hubbard’s Sportive Lemur at their day time roosts, warty chameleon (the first one we see and then a brightly colored one later on our hike) and the very large Oustalet’s Chameleon (the heaviest chameleon in the world). Coquerel’s Coua, running Coua, Crested Coua, raucous Cuckoo-Rollers (displaying high overhead and a skull along the trail), long-billed Greenbul, Madagascar Paradise-Flycatcher. Of yes and then we followed a mixed group of Coquerel’s and Verreaux’s sifakas...NOPE!! Score one for Fraser, zero for Flaubert. It is just a color variation of Verreaux’s. We eat our wonderful lunch while watching a pair of Mad bee eaters right nearby. They have a nest in the dirt bank. Getting hot. 2800’ here. Head off at 2 PM on towards the “isolated limestone massif of Isalo passing through the dry grasslands of the central plateau before arriving at the scenically spectacular region of Isalo.” We pass through the infamous Sapphire towns, wild west frontier and not very safe. Precious stones only discovered recently and entire town popped up overnight. The guys in Ilakaka do look a bit rough. Pandanus growing in the wet stream beds and the beautiful gray fan palm – Bismarkia nobilis – is interspersed in the overgrazed, abused but scenic grassland. Upon arrival at the Relais de La Reine a male Benson Rock thrush and double banded iguana are waiting. Delightful place, well designed and fits the landscape. At 5 we take short walk toward the east crossing the creek looking for the rare frog (heard but not seen) into the fantastic features of Isalo. There are two locally endemic frogs, Rainbow Burrowing Frog and Mantidactylus corvus (a species in the Mantella family). Pachypodiums are in full yellow flower, nearly every one of them. Here they do not grow tall and baobab-like as in Ifaty but low, squat and elephant ‘foot’ like. They are members of the Apocynaceae Family (the dogbane). Fraser shows us a tomb of the Bara tribe, as they have used the caves in the canyon walls as burial sites for hundreds of years. Quiet time on the rocks –the best yet. It is so silent here. Quite a contrast to our last quiet time in Ifaty says Susan. Striking sunset, red sun dropping behind the highly eroded sandstone cliffs. There are some clouds…what does that mean, Fraser?? It means there are some clouds. Back by the creek we hear the very loud and frog-like white throated rails chorusing. Dinner is good - I hear the ducks lips were mighty fine. Several of us have a massage. Lynn and I had good ones; Mary Lou’s was not. Sunday, 28 September. Breakfast at 7 we are off to the nearby town of Hirorana around 730. Coffee filter is working fine; so I am happy! We get our local guide to this park – Felix and then drive to our trailhead. Quite a few other tourists have the same idea. Mostly French. Must be a tough hike coming up, Fraser has his shoes on. 7 K total and will be very hot. Susan stays back, good choice. Felix - 7 sp lemurs, dedicated in 1962 – 2nd national park. 81K hectares. 30k visitors per year the most in Mad; Perinet is second at 28k. 2800’ here. We start at 830 and climb up into a type of euphorbia woodland (Uapaca bojeri) which is fire resistant and dominates the cliffs in the park and the wooded areas. Tapia in Malagasy. More Bara tombs, closer now. Displaying Mad kestrel, wishing pile of stones, another walking stick and many many many tourists. In 1986, I read this park had 85 visitors for the ENTIRE YEAR!!! Deeply fissured bark in the Tapia, climbing fig, sunny and warm about 93 all day. Limestone on top which is red, the sandstone below white. Aeolian erosion. Reminiscent of Utah for us Americans. Many green leafless bushes of the milkweed family. Dodder is the orange, stringy parasitic plant. To the pool by 10 and it is packed with people. Most of us go swimming anyway; though Fraser and I would have been content to leave. Getting warmer now. Plant that looks like yarrow is Helycrusum and good for asthma says Felix. Leaving the pool at 1045 we finally leave most of the crowds behind as we walk across a flat exposed plateau. Great pachypodiums in full flowers. Through the Tapia woodland resting in the shade as we go. Our first - Chameleon lineatata - kind of shy. Then we drop down into a deep gorge full of trees and water. Down down down. Not for the acrophobic. Beautiful restricted palms here Dypsis sp. Many of the palm names have been changed. An elegant skink right in the middle of the trail. There are few birds, too hot to be out. Mad lark, common Newtonia, Mad kestrel. Mary Ellen is getting a bit red but hanging in there. There is a fully flowering red tree in the legume family that adds a brilliant hue to the landscape. We finally make it back to bus by 1. hurray. Fraser said that it was going be hot and take a lot of water. We drop Felix off at the village and head back home. Late lunch and then free time until 7 or so. Monday, 29th September: Isalo National Park to Ranomafana National Park. Breakfast at 7 we are off at 745. We see the silhouette of the Queen and her crown on the south side of the road. The lodge gets its name from this rock. The lodge next-door is owned by the same family from France. Through Hirorana again. Hiro is Bara for RT lemur and rana is Malagasy for water. Lemurs came down here to drink. We have a very long drive today across the highlands, gaining elevation through a mostly devastated landscape. Great time for reading and napping, I talk about laterite soils and inselbergs. The one billion year old granite inselbergs that we are driving by formed before there was multicelluar life on earth. We stop for lunch at a reasonable American time – 1145. This is local park with many guides sitting around. Large tour buses going in and out while we are there at Parc D’Anja. The local tribe is the Betsileo- a very large group. Their province goes all the way to the ocean where they grow bananas and other tropical fruits. Up here it is rice and maize. Gui brings out the Nutella and peanut butter at lunch. yum yum. He also provides the Sakay assuming we can wrestle it from Fraser. We continue through the highlands crossing passes over 4300’. We arrive at Ranomafana (hot water) by about 350 to Domaine Nature. Our rooms are up the hill and as soon as we put our stuff away we come down to the bus and head back up the road to the Park. We meet Rajery who gives us an overview of this park. From our trip description: “Ranomafana, like Perinet, is situated on the eastern slope of Madagascar’s mountainous backbone. However, this national park is much greater in extent, spanning a wide range of elevations and forest types. We will round off our adventure in Madagascar by exploring these rich forests, concentrating on the many specials of the park and any forest birds that we may have missed at Perinet and Anjozorobe.” Our first stop is for red bellied lemurs. Male and female with a juvenile. Right over our heads. Twisted steel remains of the previous bridge destroyed by a big storm in Jan 08. Across we go and up the hill, we see some researchers with traps laden with banana slime to catch mouse lemurs. We have elusive glimpse of a velvet asity. A bit later eagle eyed Pat spies a pair of Asities and we get some good looks at the vivid green caruncle as the bird eats a bright red berry. I will remember that contrast for a long while. We have now seen one or more representative of four endemic bird families in Madagascar – Vangas, Mesites, Ground Rollers, and now Asities. We saw many endemic Couas but they are considered part of the cuckoo family. Rajery finds some golden lemurs feeding on bamboo and eventually we all have good looks. Soon there are many many many tourists who have joined us. So up the hill we go heading for Belle Vue and the chance to see a Striped Civet and brown mouse lemur. The civet was fed by the park guides up until about 3 years ago but still comes back here at dusk. Ever hopeful?? We make it in time and all of us have good looks at both animals before the huge group arrives. Good work getting up the hill, Susan and Mary Ellen. Down we go and have quiet time off the trail listening to the river and several different kinds of frogs. Lights off and the forest is very dark. Back on the main trail. Rajery finds two frogs == one small one with red eyelids (a Boophis type) and a larger one that is Mantidactylus majorii – the biggest of these little guys. There is a very nice Travelers Palm right by the the Domaine Nature. The traveler's palm, Ravenala madagascariensis, is considered one of nature's most distinctive and spectacular plants. It is not actually a true palm, but a member of the Strelitziaceae, or bird-of-paradise family. Endemic to Madagascar, it is monotypic, meaning it is the only species in its genus. The plant's long petioles and deep green leaves resemble those of the banana and extend out from the trunk like the slats of a giant hand fan. The flowers are like those of bird-of-paradise, a clue to the plants affiliations. The traveler's palm gets its name from the fact that each of its leaf base traps up to a quart or more of water useful for an emergency drink by a weary traveler.Air Madagascar has very appropriately adopted the traveler's palm as the airline's logo. Tuesday, September 30. Up very early for breakfast at 5 and we are off at 530 and at the trailhead by 540. Rajery, Jimmie and the pretty Chantal. No buses, no big groups, we have it all to ourselves!! Comet moth, Saturn moth, female Rhino beetle, Silk moth, White headed vanga, Mad starling, Mascarene swallow, Mad white eye. And this is in three steps off the bus. Retracing our path from last night, crossing the bridge, we see our first lowland (not eastern accdg to Rajery who is in charge of rat taxonomy, Fraser is in charge of lemur names) forest rat – a diurnal and very cute rodent. And then the best bird of the day – Pitta-like ground roller – challenging to see but we are all rewarded with “crippling” views of this gorgeous bird. They nest underground. Up at the top of the hill there are some tombstones from when the villagers used this forest before it became a park. We have quiet time listening to all the birds sing as Rajery and assistants are off working hard for us. Peaceful. Then we hear from Rajery “there is good news from the forest”. His assistants have found some Greater Bamboo lemurs. We follow and stay with them for quite a while. Three -- male, female and young. This is the rarest primate in the world only 60 remain. The males are dominant in this species which is the exception for lemurs. We watch him displace her after she works hard to open a bamboo trunk. They really have some powerful canines?? Or incisors. And they spent most of the time eating the bamboo. We encounter our first leeches. Fraser “they suck your blood until full and then just drop off and leave”. Lynn “just like a bad love affair!” We next clamber down up down up and over to see some red bellied lemurs high up feeding on fruits from the Lauraceae family (avocados, bays and sassafras). This is the same species we saw yesterday right above the trail. Sharp-eyed Keith spots some more that give us a slightly better look. Then are red fronted brown lemurs with the males and females slightly different belly color. Dropping down a side path we have looks at one of the cutest lemurs we have seen. 10.0 is the rating by Julia. Small toothed sportive lemur peering out of his day hole. Same one I saw last year. His ears have been clipped so the researchers can id him. Rajery works closely with the scientists here including Dr. Patricia Wright. The Duke Primate Research group is very active in Rano. Rajery’s cell phone rings a very odd sound in the rain forest. Freddy has found the Milne-Edwards Sifakas over toward the river…we are off. No stopping us now, do not look at anything along our way. We do stop briefly and wait for the update and Pat finds a much camouflaged stinkbug-like insect that blends perfectly into the lichen covered tree trunk impeccably. Dropping down a steep brushy hill right near the river Namorana, we once again have the wondrous sifakas all to ourselves and enjoy fine close looks. They are in a large tree eating the fruits and even the buds of a relative of cashews. Radio collared and tagged. After 20 minutes of lemur bliss a large French group comes down. There is a hissing cockroach of a Frenchman and we leave. And up above there is a bewildered and maybe lost Red Fronted Brown lemur just sitting in the trail…where is everyone??? He does not move and we must shoe him off the trail to continue. Whatta perfect morning, sightings of four species of lemurs including the rarest in the world and with few other tourists. Back to the bus by 11. On the way up up up to our cabins Bob spots a snake eating a skink – they are close in size but the snake wins. He joins the ranks of our elite spotters (Pat and Keith). I am, alas, not included. Black velvets (butterflies) over the creek. Susan, Brian and Mary Ellen have had a very peaceful morning here at the lodge. A demerille tree boa is found, very large with his head down a hole. Lunch at 1230. Dessert comes this time but the coffee is a bit late. We meet at 330 for our closing circle to share about our Madagascar experiences. I certainly had a fine time and really increased my list in nearly everything. Most things I saw much better than in 07. We all had a mighty fine time in this wonderful country and thoroughly enjoyed Fraser and Gui. We order dinner in advance (don’t forget dessert this time!). However later we will discover that the order was not transmitted from up above to down below. Then we off on our final nature foray with beautiful Chantal and knowledgeable Rajery. Up up retracing our road here past the first trailhead and on up to the waterfall. The orchids are in full flower along the moist wall. Two species of frogs are found and the Dombeya are in full bloom right by the waterfall. Rajery takes us into a nearby cave. A bit slippery but we have some good views of bats (microchiroptera) one with two young! That is unusual but sometimes there is cooperative rearing. There are at least 2 species in here. Back to the bus for a 3k drive turning right on the old road just before the good bridge. Up a ways on the other side of a bridge. Rajery and assistants venture out to find the famous Mantella frog. We wait. Gui spies a chameleon – our old friend nasus - the nose horned little one from our first day in Perinet. Meanwhile here comes a small Mantella for us to look at. In a plastic bag with my hand lens and Mary Lou’s bright light, the colors and details of this minute wondrous amphibian come alive. Some local ladies with babes on back come by. We are crazy tourists looking at frogs. Time to go back for short rest, pack and dinner ……Which takes forever…..they run out of eel and are overwhelmed with dinner. Oh well for the most part on our trip the service has been very timely. There is a British group that is even louder than us. Our last species review boooo hooooo. Back up the steep steps to our little rooms. Wednesday, October 01. Bags out 530, breakfast until 6. We are off 620 for a very long travel day. 10+ hours and 400k to Tana through the highlands heading mostly due north. Highly degraded lands, pervasive smell of burning grass/forest/charcoal, many men working the rice paddies “forests” of Eucalyptus and Pines. We cross passes of 5k’, general elevation of 4k’. First stop for honey and comfort. Second stop at wood carving town Ambositra for shopping for 30 minutes... How did that sneak past me?? But the stop is good. I buy a reconstructed elephant bird egg for 20k. They were priced in Tano at 135K! Then we are off again heading toward lunch. The road is curvy but well maintained. In the town of Antsaribe we stop at the Hotel of the Hot Springs for lunch. Grand ole dame who has seen better days. Lunch is good and service quick. We pass through an area where the soil has been enriched with volcanic ash. It is a rich brown and most of the veggies of the country are grown here. Gui tells us about the Merina Tombs and the burial traditions of his tribe. We pass one of the Presidents factories. On into the very very busy and crowded Tano. To our hotel by 530. Dinner takes a very long time. Is it our group?? We did not order eel but then they run out of delisco cake. But Bob gets his!! At 10 as we board the bus we give our tips to Manu, Jusi, Gui and Fraser. Then to the airport and goodbye to Bob, Susan, Pat, Mary Lou, Brian and Mary Ellen…till we meet again. Velooma…………

Ecuador – Highlands, Galapagos, Upper Amazon

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.

Michael Ellis


January 14 to January 31, 2009 with Michael Ellis and local guides

Tuesday, Jan. 13
I go to Quito early. So do Verena and Jason..

Wednesday, Jan. 14.
I make some last minute arrangements and go to meet 13 of you at the airport with Susie and Frankie, our faithful bus driver. Rene drives the luggage for us. Everything is very smooth. Welcome to Quito and the Hotel Alameda Real aka Grand Mercure Hotel = your soon to be home away from home. To bed and sleep. Forget that welcome cocktail

Thursday, Jan. 15:
This is a very very good group; up and ready to go easily by 9:00 AM. We are in the Land of Eternal Spring; the sky is blue and the sun shining. We all hop on the bus. I realize that I had Susie as a guide in 1992! Quito in 1910 had 2 large lakes and few people. Now no lakes, many people. Greater Quito population 2 million. 53 volcanoes. 20 universities in Quito. Largest is Catholic U with 15k. French Expedition to the equator in 1736 to measure the earth and create the standard of worldwide measurement – the meter which is 1 ten millionth of a quadrant (1/4 the circumference of the earth).

Here are some general notes about Quito. Juan Leon Mera St. named after Ecuadorian author of the National Anthem. 6th of Dec. Spanish founded Quito. The city w. 40 miles N to S, 5 miles E to W. Bolivar’s second in command was Marshall Sucre (the airport is named for him).

We see the Gothic Basilica Church up on the hill. Started 120 yrs ago and is still not done. Pope did mass in 85. The gargoyles (throat – gargle) are condors, and animals from the Jungle and from the Galapagos. Basilica defined as ‘a roman catholic church given ceremonial privileges. Cathedral: where the bishop is.

The Colonial area of the city was declared one of the first UNESCO historic areas in 1978. We stop for a visit to a fine restaurant Patio Andalusia. Right purty the area is gentrifying much to Susie’s delight. Real estate prices have rocketed. Into the Plaza Grande or Independence Square – Liberty breaking the chains of slavery, the condor over the lion. Rufus Collared Sparrow singing. Archbishop’s house, the cathedral, the Mayors House, City Hall, the Presidents White House. NO separation of Church and State here!!. Sambucus in flower aka elderberry. French style Flag is yellow blue red, colors of the Grande Columbia. Yellow = gold, blue = sea and sky, red = blood of patriots. The Virgin Mary with wings overlooking Quito.

Then to the finest church in the Americas — La Compania. Society of Jesus. Just opened after yrs of refurbishing. Painted spiral staircase in the back for symmetry. The Golden Church of the Americans took 168 yrs to build for the Jesuits on the backs of the Indios. 4 tons gold here according to a guide in 2002 but in 2003 it was 30 lbs. and then 50 lbs from Carlos in 2007 and Susie says 75K. Facade of andesite. the Sistine Chapel of South America. Only the highest classes attended church. Jesuits banished in all South America. Why?

Then to San Francisco Plaza. There is not one single lady in a nurse’s uniform – Matt, Jason and I are disappointed. The Plaza was the domain of pickpockets but the entire city has been cleaned up by the major of Quito – their Giuliani. One of the oldest churches in the Americas built with Moorish influence (inspired by St. Sophia in Constantinople) by Catholics upon the ruins of the Incas by enslaved Indians with their own religion wrapped up Christianity. Go figure. And Susie tells some bs about the right side of the church..hmmm. The largest church in Quito at one time, 1800 people lived in and around it. We can see the hill called Panadillo (little loaf of bread) at 10,000′ is an aluminum imitation statue of the Virgin of Quito. Christmas decorations are still up there. Stop here for bathroom and tea. Johnnie is waiting for us with the bus and off we go toward the north, the equator and lunch.

We drive along the west side of town on the Pan American highway north to the Equator Monument. I give you a brief orientation about out trip as we move along to the Equator (EQUAL). . Many photo ops in the middle of the planet. Up to the top of the tower and then down through all the various indigenous groups of Ecuadorians. Information overload!! We leave Christine behind as we continuing north of monument and climb a mountain to Pululahua and the Crater Restaurant. Perched on the steep sides of an extinct (we hope; the last eruption was 100k yrs ago) caldera, not crater. Whoops Frank the driver and I head back down to rescue Christine. I hate it when that happens.

Typical Ecuadorian meal – Lorco – the famous potato, corn, cheese and avocado floating on top, empanadas, fritadas, hominy corn and all the desserts were hits – passion fruit mousse, figs and cheese and fried pineapple and vanilla ice cream. Cloudy with no view over a caldera with a large volcanic plug in the middle. The male/female decorations of the bathrooms are a highlight. Going to the “breast room”. Sleepy time. Back to the city by 400 or so.

We begin to repack our bags for the first but definitely not the last time. We meet at 6:30 for a “short” walk to our restaurant = La Ronda. OK it was 35 minutes, no, Edna says at least 2 hours. Fortunately Jason and Verena catch up with us. We are entertained by roving musicians and great food (humitas, corvina, potato soup, ahi). We eat and are happy and loud; so much for official intros!. Fun fun fun. And most of us walk back.

To bed. Power outages all afternoon and into the evening. Our hotel has a generator.

Friday, Jan. 12:
Wake up calls at 630!!! Breakfast and bags out. You are a number 9 on the scale of readiness. Yahandu comes and takes us to the airport; Rene gets our bags. I pass out 100 dollar bills (for the last time, sorry Frank). Busy morning but we flow very smoothly out on our TAME airbus 320. 6 seats across. Plane is late taking off. A stop to Guayaquil in 40 minutes. No looks at any volcanoes, too cloudy. In Guay. we wait for 30” and fly out for 1’35”. Pretty smooth. Arrive in Galapagos at noonish local time – central time. We are met by Byron, our naturalist guide. Whoa!! It is warm here and still brown, the rains have not come. Refreshing breeze. Short crowded bus ride to dock. First Darwin bumble bee. Opuntia cactus and Palo verdes. There is some fog up in the highlands of Santa Cruz. Slight wind, beautiful blue green water, and a freshening warm breeze. Some nursing and resting Galapagos sea lions on the benches greet us. Magnificent Frigate, Brown Noddy, White rumped storm petrel, Brown Pelican (same as at home), Blue Footed Boobies. Hey guys I think we are here. Our first zodiac ride to the Tip Top III. On board we have an orientation and get our cabin assignments. Great views of Daphne Major (Peter Grant’s Beak of the Finch book) and Minor. Then a snack. Then another briefing and then emergency procedures test. The Galapagos had 150 k visitors in 07!

At 4 we gather on the back and get into the pangas for a ride into and through the mangroves. Black tipped sharks galore – little ones feeding on small fish. Many Black aka green turtles and we see quite few mating. Quite a single scene in the mangroves. Yellow warblers (the ONLY yellow bird in the Islands) singing, smooth billed anis, Gal mockingbird singing, great blue heron, striated or lava heron, cattle egret, blue footed boobies, Nazca boobies, noddys, Audubon (now Galapagos) shearwaters, brown pelicans, sally light foot crabs. The tide is rising as we enter the saltwater forest. Gal carpenter bee (a black female), green sea turtle pits (they lay 80 ping pong sized eggs in three clutches up to 200 eggs per year), small ground finch, (males are black, fem brown),
Mangroves (generally) are trees and shrubs that grow in saline (brackish) coastal habitats in the tropics and subtropics. The word is used in at least three senses: (1) most broadly to refer to the habitat and entire plant assemblage or mangal [1], for which the terms mangrove swamp and mangrove forest are also used, (2) to refer to all trees and large shrubs in the mangal, and (3) narrowly to refer to the mangrove family of plants, the Rhizophoraceae, or even more specifically just to mangrove trees of the genus Rhizophora. Mangals are found in depositional coastal environments where fine sediments, often with high organic content, collect in areas protected from high energy wave action.

Red and white mangroves. We all have perfect looks at the sharks and turtles. The clouds are puffy and dramatic. Back on the boat by 6 and we immediately pull anchor and start motoring toward Rabida. But n 15” we drop anchor for our dinner. The Park does not want boats staying right off the turtle area. Great sunset into clouds but it does not last very long here at the Ecuador. The equatorial earth is spinning at about 1000 mph here, 800 mph in CA.

At 630 we meet for our formal introductions. Why this trip and what are our expectations. Then the crew comes with our welcome cocktail and Byron introduces us to the crew. They are dressed in their finest colors, well white is a color. Johnny the Captain, Orlando the first mate and panga driver, Israel the second mate and the other skiff operator, Julio the engineer, Gino the Chef, Alberto his assistant, and the steward is Paulo. Our first dinner – veggies and fish.

Our first briefing after dinner. Heading to Rabida around 4 am for a couple of hour navigation. We are tired and to bed we go.

January 17, 2009
Anchor lifted at 3:34 according to Pat and Conner (they are near the anchor and will hear it well for the next 6 days!) and we motored to Rabida arriving on the north side at 620 AM. Magnificent frigatebirds (kleptoparasites) catching a ride with us on the top deck. Our first breakfast and then we get ready and we are on the beach by 735!!! GOOD WORK. There are two other boats here including some avid American photographers — mostly male with very long lens.

The beach is bright red, much oxygen bound up. It is rusty. Along the beach I tell you bout the difference between seals vs. sea lions. And a bit about the Galapagos sea lion natural history. There are a couple of males patrolling the beach and there are several juveniles. Thermoregulation with flippers up the air. 25k sea lions. Wonderful looks at Galapagos Hawks who are polyandrous (more than one male to mate with, can you imagine?). Can see Isla Santa Cruz, Santiago and Isabella from here. 3 kinds of lava – cinder, basalt and tuff. The pelicans are done nesting in the colony at the end of the beach. There is only one juvenile hanging around. American oystercatcher, wandering tattler down from N. America, no flamingoes or ducks anymore in the lagoon. Espino (related to Ca ceonothus) and salt bush are dominant. Black and white mangroves, no red. Our first lava lizards. 1906 Cal Academy’s expedition found one tortoise here. But it was probably brought from James by pirates, built enclosures to keep them in. No herbivores (land iguanas and giant tortoises) here, hence the cactus is low and the spines are soft. Was goats, then there weren’t, then there were and now there ain’t. Round Opuntia pads are actually photosynthesizing stems. We can see green “fog” line in vegetation up on hills. Small ground finch and one cactus finch seen. A Galapagos flycatcher lands right above us. Red cliffs with turtles and marine iguanas below.

Back to the beach for our first snorkeling – most of us do very well. Was superb with great light, visibility and abundant fish. Some of the things some of us saw = marine iguanas in the water, penguins swimming by, King Angelfish, Sergeant-major, rainbow wrasse, yellow-tail surgeonfish, schools of small black-striped salema (Ojon), white-tailed damsel fish, yellow tail damselfish, bumphead parrotfish, bluechin parrotfish, rainbow wrasse, large banded blenny, bulls eye puffer, black tipped and white tipped reef sharks, a hogfish eating another fish with only the tail sticking out of the mouth, Pencil, green and short-spined Urchins, sea cucumbers, Hieroglyphic hawkfish, bumphead parrot fish, hydroids, orange tube coral, panamic-fanged blenny, flag cabrillo. A few sea lions playing around us. There are blue footed boobies diving on the fish, noddys, Pacific Manta Rays flipping, Audubon now known as Galapagos shearwaters and Elliot’s storm petrels.

Back to the boat to change right on time as Byron predicted. Change and then we begin to motor toward Bartolome and have lunch on route. Fantastic tuff islets abound and we can see the flow from Sullivan Bay – 7 sq miles. The whaling ship – Sullivan was nearly trapped by the lava in about 1903. Drop anchor at 130 and most of us are resting or napping or reading.

At 3 we go to the beach with a brief stop to watch some penguinos! 2nd smallest in the world after the fairy penguin in New Zealand. Everyone has superb looks at these cute birds. Then to snorkel. Not as good as this am – a bit murky but still some cool underwater sights. Spotted eagle ray seen by Jenn. More sharks for Conner, Matt and Pat AND THE WATER WAS WARM!!!!!! My watch’s thermometer said the water temp was 77. Back on board for a quick change and then we are off for a brief panga ride to see some more penguins. We all go to the land and climb Bartolome, 374′. A blooming and fruiting Galapagos tomato plant. Byron gives a brief geologic overview – Nazca plate moving at 3 inches per year east ward, Deep deep magma plume. 65 eruptions in the last 200 yrs. Last one was 9 months ago, in 2006 a very big one on Cerro Negra, Lava cactus, lava tubes, lava lizards, spatter cones. Great view of Sullivan 100 yr old lava flow in 1892, Daphne Major and minor and Isla Santa Cruz to the south. Pinta and Marchena seen in the distance to the north and east. Tigelia (gray mat plant), spurge (Chamaesyce amplexicaulis – a Euphorbia) lava lizards. The one/half to one million year old lava has little vegetation on it because Santa Cruz blocks the southern moisture bearing clouds. Pinnacle rock is part of a tuff cone leaning to the left, the rest has disappeared. A few jumping Manta Rays. Sombrero Chino Island. Can also be seen as well as Rabida where we just were. Back on the boat just after sunset 630.

Dinner at 7. I do a dramatic reading from an English sea captains florid account of the 1825 Isla Ferdinina eruption. Byron goes over several miscellaneous things about the Islands and we hit the sack. We have a long passage this evening.

January 14, 2007. Sunday.
Darwin Bay at Isla Tower (Genovesa). Smooth passage last night. Actually rained a bit and is very overcast. We anchored in the harbor which is a drowned caldera just before 6. On shore at 730 wet landing, Darwin Bay. Coral beach but no coral reefs here – too cold. This time of year the furthest north islands have the warmest sea tenp. Only two other boats here which is an improvement by the Park – they have banned the large boats from coming in here. Cloud cover makes the heat more manageable. Greater frigates – green sheen and young with tan on their heads. Red footed boobies both white and brown phases but brown is the dominant one here and the opposite is true in Hawaii. Masked aka Nazca boobies, Galapagos dove, Galapagos mockingbird, adult and immature yellow crowned night herons, Swallow tailed and a few young and Lava gulls (rarest in the world about 400 we saw 6 at least), yellow warblers, wedge-rumped storm petrels nest in big numbers on this island, large ground finch, sharp-beaked ground finch (vampire behaving on two islands they are found on but not here.. here they can eat Opuntia cactus flower.) The Blue footed boobies are close to islands, Nazca have obligate sibling murder, one always kills the other and it is not necessarily the big one. Nazca feeds in the inter-island area, Blue footed feeds inshore. Red-footed are pelagic and most numerous but not as often see except where we are right now. We see the red mangroves with seeds that germinate on the tree and prop roots. Fiddler crabs in tiny holes. Males with large claw. Walking to the left through the mangroves on rough rocks. Yellow Cordia and large Ipomoea (morning-glory) vine. Many young frigates and boobies. Honky tonks. K selected R selected. Seabird strategy. Precocial vs altrical. Our first hermit crabs. No blue footed nest here but do occasionally roost. Smallest of the marine iguanas are on this island. Hundreds of Galapagos doves. Palo Santo are beginning to leaf out. W walk all the way out to the navigational aide and the other group (Sobek) from the Reina Silvia joins us. Thank goodness for Americans bringing money to Ecuador.

Back to the boat for a quick change and the into the Pangas for some snorkeling along the rock wall of the caldera. very many fish and large ones too. No sharks but we did see the fur seals and sea lions swimming around us. The water was 77 and quite pleasant. Everyone’s equipment seemed to work well. The visibility was pretty darn good.

Lunch and siesta and some folks kayak in the drowned caldera. We meet at three for a brief “lecture” by me. Nautical terms in our everyday language –Bitter End, above board, head, port, starboard, cat o’nine tails, scuttlebutt and square meal. Then I go over the Island and South America geology story again. At 340 the sun is now shinning and we are off to Prince Phillips stairs. Along the way our first red billed tropicbirds and more fur seals. We climb up the steep Prince Phillips stairs – good work all you guys with replaced parts (hips, knees etc). Up onto flat lava plain. Good sounds of Nazca boobies. Palo Santos have some leaves and even some flowers. Female Darwin’s bumblebee working the Walthaia ovata and the Cordia in flower. Almost all flowers are yellow here. Galapagos doves and mockingbirds. Wonderful everything – we have our first quiet time at the very end of the trail. Several witness copulating Nazca boobies. ON our way back we do see the short eared owl out in the flats- hard to see. She has adapted to daytime eating of wedge rumped Storm petrels. There are no hawks here to compete with.

Petrels were named for St. Peter. Often these birds become more agitated and flighty when the barometric pressure drops. Mariners noted this with petrels and thought the birds could predict a coming storm. Legends about petrels abound. When mean sea captains died their souls were thought to be condemned into these birds. As punishment for their cruelty the captains were damned to forever fly at sea and never come back to land.

Back to the boat. Briefing before dinner. After dinner we begin to motor we have an 8 hour navigation to Pt. Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz. ST gulls following the boat. Stars peaking through.

January 19 Monday.
Heading south tonight around the east side of Santa Cruz. Very very calm transit! Hardly knew we were moving. South east trades mean weather comes and hits the south side of most island therefore the wet side on south, north side dry rain shadow. Guara is the misty time usually July to Nov. Late breakfast at 7 and we are in town by just after 8. Vicente our bus driver is waiting for us. Four islands have permanent populations – Pt. Ayora has 20k, 1500 Isabella, 3k San Cristobel, 150 Floreana.
Landry stop at Lava Gull and then we head up into the Highlands up through the bright red and orange African Tulip trees. There are seven ecological zones on Santa Cruz – littoral, arid, transition, sclesia, zanthoxylem, miconia, and pampas. Up the mountain on the windward, wet side through the agricultural zone — Elephant grass, papaya, cows, farms, cattle egrets, castor bean plant, breadfruit, bananas, coffee, balsa, quinine, bamboo, cedrela trees, cattle egrets, teak, smooth billed anis. Erthyrinas used for fence posts. At Belle Vista (oldest town on the Island) we have a little run through Byron’s hometown and then go all the way up to Los Gemolos – the twins. Road was paved in 1990 just built in 1971 and it goes to Baltra and the airport. Up into the Scalesia zone of the highlands, lush rain/gaura forest. Arrive at 600 meters above sea level (850 meters the highest pt.) Walk to right to view the right Gemelo, great sinkholes where the volcanic fart gas escaped causing the lava to collapse into the PIT. Then back to the other side of the road to the other one. Park is poisoning the quinine and blackberry plants. Loop hike, rough and slippery for some. Scalesia (woody sunflower family) forest, bracken fern (found on every continent, Ageratum, passionflower with batman leaves, thick mosses, mother-in-law tongue fern, other ferns, liverworts (black hanging from trees), catsclaw tree in citrus family, elephant grass, Tournefortia (borage fam.), native coffee, bromeliads, small ground finch and warbler finches singing away, Nice and sunny no rain or fog! Very unusual and welcome this time of year.

Back to bus and shortly we have a stop because sharp eyed Byron spotted a male vermillion flycatcher we all get superb looks at this startlingly brilliant bird.

Down the hill and then a right turn into Steve Devine’s farm – Tortoise Preserve. Steve’s parents sailed from Seattle in the 1940’s to Santa Cruz. The tortoises don’t belong to anyone just wander through the fincas. We see our first tortoise along the dirt road we pass it …there will be more. After getting out of the bus we visit a lava tube looking for our second owl of the trip – Barn. But alas no owl. More tortoises and they are mostly males but there are a couple of females. Group photo taken in front of particularly large one. Nice little farm pond full of relaxing tortoise. The shell is dome shaped in these – no problem getting something to eat on this island. There are 4k on Santa Cruz there was 20k. The temp is perfect and the clouds are dark and make for nice photo light. But watch out for the fire ants!! There is a white-cheeked pintail in small pool. We stop at the overlook for a sit and some lemon grass tea. Off at 1225 heading toward lunch but first there is a tethered goat that has just a few moments earlier given birth to twins! The placenta is still hanging out of her.

Back down the road and a left turn into the Restaurant Aquelarre run by Osvaldo Donoso Barrios. Nice fruity welcome drink and the food is delicious. Only one other group there. The rain begins while we are eating but stops before we are down. Great timing on my part!! Then down to town and the Darwin Research Station. 4 different mangroves- button (in sandy soil), white, red and black. Maytenus – leather leaf looks like manzanita. Medium ground finch. .

Station is nearly 50 yrs old. 560 sp of plants, 180 endemic. 500 sp of introduced plants. Baby tortoises, 15 yrs to sexual maturity. Sex determined by incubation temp == 30+ degrees for females and lower for males. Males keep growing through life. Saddleback and dome types. Lonesome George is not seen well. 14 subspecies of tortoises 250k originally now only 20K. 3 subsp are extinct (Ferd., Floreana, Santa Fe) and when George dies, the Pinta one will be lost unless those eggs hatch. In 30 yrs the Darwin Center has managed to restore 7K to the population, not many. Feed the tortoises on M, W and F. It is pretty darn toasty this afternoon. We here the heartwarming story of Diego – the lover boy. Santa 97% of the islands are in the Park, 52 tourist sites that are less than 1% of land area.

Free time in the big city to internet shop etc. Serious betting at the volleyball court. City has traffic now. We catch the zodiac back to the ship at 530. Briefing at 630.

I give you four more nautical terms – By and Large, Slush, Grog, Pipe Down.

Byron shows us a bunch of the fish we have seen snorkeling (not the fish, us!!). Dinner and then quiet time- most of us do NOT go into town to have a grand time. However we do have a lot of fun just chatting with each other. We are not exactly the party group!! Matt keeps promising to dance on a table..

January 20. Tuesday. Inauguration Day
– yea Obama in Bush out and a brand new chapter for the USA!! Eight long years is nearly over!! Pulled anchor at 330 am and motored the two hours northish to South Plaza, uplifted island has the most visitors and many friendly sea lions. But there is only one other boat!!! We manage to land safely (except for yours truly who demonstrates how slippery the guano covered, sea lion polished rocks are). We immediately take the first of 150 Land Iguana photos. The #300 land iguanas here have no fresh water must get all their moisture from cactus pads that fortunately grow low. Common ground finches – male=black/ female = brown. There is rain in the highlands just where we were yesterday in the sun. Lucky group. The Sesuvium is in full red glory (same family as Ice plant) native here but not endemic. Great cliff shots- Swallow tail gull (remember it is the only nocturnal gull in the world and maybe the most beautiful White spot on beak for young to peck, feeds on squid), Portulaca is very similar. Galapagos shearwaters everywhere, a few red-billed tropicbirds, magnificent frigate birds, blue footed and Nazca boobies. Marine iguanas including small ones. Many ST gull eggs and babies of different edges – good year for them says Byron. Jenn finds a shearwater nest with an egg. From above in the water we can see a hospital of yellow tailed surgeon fish, azure parrot fish, a diamond sting ray, triggerfish. We have our 10 minutes of quiet time. Thank you Edna for suggesting it. It is getting warm, great puffy cumulus clouds. Possible here to see cross mating male marine iguana with female land iguana results in sterile hybrids. Ruddy turnstone, semi-palmated plover and Yellow warbler. . Nursing – slurp, slurp- sea lions.
Back on boat and then we begin our motor for about 2 hours to Santa Fe. Lunch at 1200 we arrive in a perfectly protected bay with turquoise water. We are the only boat in here for a while until a small sailing boat comes in. Kayaking and swimming and jumping off the top of the vessel. Bulls eye puffer, sea lions and turtle are around the boat. A gorgeous day. We R and R until we snorkel at 300. Suddenly there are a whole bunch of boats in here. We go south east of the cove to snorkel along the shore of the main island. Many large schools of Jeff Fish (aka surgeons); we have our first real snorkel with sea lions. fun fun fun. They really know how to swim. There is a large male who keeps his mouth open watching. We do have some fun; the water temp is about 80!!!! Quite nice. Three banded butterfly fish, yellow bellied trigger fish, electric blue young giant damselfish, streamer hogfish, hieroglyphic hawkfish, banded blenny, many parrot fish, Sergeant majors galore, and rainbow wrasse.

Matt, Conner (I’m not ready yet), Jason and I jump off the top deck again and get videotaped…see it on You Tube. We head to the beach and Santa Fe Island at the same time (450) as all the other boats (3 others). We do the loop and see the endemic land iguanas. We have seen 2 of the 3 species possible for these remarkable animals. The newly described pink one is on the western island. Reptiles and birds use uric acid crystal to metabolize not water expensive urea like us mammals. Great giant Opuntia forest, very tall, old and stately.

Plants that grow in dry environments face a major problem. In order to grow, they need to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into sugars (photosynthesis) by using energy obtained from light. Plants gain their carbon dioxide by opening small pores, called stomata on the leaf or stem surface. But opening of the stomata during the hot, daytime hours leads to loss of water from the tissues. The cacti and many other succulent plants have overcome this dilemma by using a special biochemical process called crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) because it was first discovered in plants of the Crassulaceae family. Basically these plants open their stomata by night, when the temperature is cool, and absorb carbon dioxide which they store by chemically combining it with an organic compound containing 3 carbon atoms, producing a 4-carbon organic acid. During the day, when the stomata are closed, the carbon dioxide is released from this organic acid and used to synthesize sugars, using the energy of light. These plants do exactly the opposite of normal plants, which open their stomata by day when light is available for photosynthesis, and close them at night

There are some yellow flowered Cordias. Nice loop through barren rough landscape – the trail is actually from a fire break. The Park used fire to wipe out fire ants that had been introduced from the beach. It worked and now we have a new trail. Santa Fe used to have tortoises, but no more, so land iguanas get to eat the whole cactus.

The pangas race back to the ship stopping to watch 2 sea turtles, the sunset is gorgeous. Back to the ship and briefing at 640. Conner is looking mighty red…boy I sure would hate to bring her home looking like that!!!

Nautical terms for this evening hidden in the following sentences.
– By and Large you will get a Clean Bill of Health. It was touch and go but we did make it to the next Island. The Captain shouted orders and we replied Aye, Aye, SIR! Thank goodness or he would have had us all over a barrel.

We pull anchor right after dinner for a 5 ½ hour navigation to Gardner Bay on Espanola or Hood Island. Dueling PC’s compete for attention with their videos. There is a little bioluminescent on the bow you can see the lights on the horizon from San Cristobol to the east. It is the actual capital of the Galapagos Islands. The air is soft and warm, still clouds with the stars just peeking through.

January 21.
Breakfast at 630. On shore at 730 in Gardner Bay for a “free” time on the beach. Anywhere there is sand we can be. We have our own quiet time. No trash on the beach. We have the beach to ourselves for 30 “or so. I run back and forth. Then the other tourists arrive – The Isabella II is here with 42 PAX, the Galapagos Adventurer, and a small sailboat. The Hood mockingbirds are endemic and now do not beg for water like they used to do. American oystercatcher. Friendly baby sea lions. We stay on the beach until 930. The clouds are very pretty. Hot and sunny with occasional relief from the sun. Mia, Christine and Byron find 3 sea turtle eggs from a nest laid last night and then a second female came ashore and laid her eggs in the same pit and ejected the first ones from it. Mockingbirds already found the eggs to eat. Yummy…

Along with San Cristobel and Santa Fe, Hood is the oldest island 3 mya. No young lava. Is uplifted, not a volcano (except underwater). 23 sq miles, 675’ elevation. 13 Saddlebacked tortoise tortoises removed when the Darwin Station opened in the 60 and now at 1500+ tortoises have been released back to the Island. This is one of the few islands that are totally free of introduced pests. The Darwin Center is reforesting the island with cactus that the goats destroyed. 200-300 prs of Gal hawks in all the islands. Largest lava lizards are here that lay 8 eggs rather than the usual 2-3. The female lava lizard heads are washed totally in red. On Genovesa (aka Tower) there were no hawks because there are no lava lizards there.

Back on the boat and then over to Gardner Rock for some drift snorkeling. WOWWOW WOW WOW. Thousands of fish are seen, much plankton in the water and many fish feeding in large school on it. Salema, Jack and surgeonfish especially. Several rays seen by everyone. Water is still warm 78. Very good, very large schools of Creole fish, King angelfish, several different kinds of puffer, yellow bellied trigger fish, electric blue young giant damselfish, streamer hogfish, hieroglyphic hawkfish, banded blenny, parrot fish, grunts, jewell moray eel,, Sergeant major, rainbow wrasse, sea cucumbers, chocolate chip sea stars, and many other delights. The diversity is great. It was the most fish I remember seeing at one time in all my trips here.

After lunch we motor over to Pt. Suarez on shore around 300. There are six boats here with 100 tourists going onto this trail. The marine iguanas are the best we will see- head bobbing and bright green and red flush. They are only found this time of year with these bright colors. They have the longest tails and are one of the largest of any of the marine iguanas. The usual welcoming committee of very cute sea lions are waiting for us…many are nursing. This is the latest island for breeding for the sea lions well into December. Galapagos doves galore, there are only three finches on this island (small ground, large cactus and warbler finch), 4 Galapagos hawks, Striated aka lava heron, American oystercatcher. The light is very nice, dark clouds; the Nazca boobies framed nicely. This is the largest colony of these lovely seabirds in the world. It is warm and the trail rocky but a cloud blocks the sun every once in a while there is a nice breeze blowing.

Blue footed booby. Males wheeze, females honk. Remember that Blue footed they have opportunistic sibling murder, if times are tough one chick will out compete or kill the others. They prefer to nest in the trail, no clearing to do. No brood patch so they use their feet to incubate the eggs at 102. Middle nail is longer and used as preening tool. According to our guide the blue footed have been having a hard time breeding in the last several years. We also see the Nazca boobies, larger and tougher than BF and out compete them for the best nesting spots, usually near the cliff. WE see several with one or two eggs and some very tiny chicks. Remember the blue footed feed inshore and the Nazca between the islands. There are babies of both boobies, some quite large.

Croton, mesquite, Byron psthsses and all the finches come and congregate -. And we do see two waved albatrosses flying out at sea.11 lbs 7 1/2 foot wingspan, live for 30 + yrs, return to island after first six years spent at sea. They arrive in April for breeding. Tubenoses, lateral nasal glands. We see one on the land. My record of seeing them always on this islands is intact. Red billed tropicbirds. At the blowhole we have a few moments of blessed silence just listening to the sounds of the island. A Galapagos hawk lands right next to Verena during the quiet time- photos at ten. Well not Conner’s. Nice stroll back with the great clouds and sunset. Back to boat in time for red sky at night. We have the briefing at 630.

Here are the terms for this day. Admiral, The Devil in the Deep Blue Sea, Son of a Gun.

I share a bit of my knowledge about the mammalian diving reflex in pinnipeds and whales. Then Byron regales us with the soap opera story of Floreana. We even get to see the films taken by Millionaire Naturalist (that’s what I want to be!!!) Alan Hancock in the 1930’s, donkey wrestling, nurses uniforms (YEA!), mummified remains, pulled real teeth, shared false ones, BDSM, rotten chicken death killed the vegetarian,,,,, hmm you had to be there. Pulled anchor at 845ish for our 5 hour trip.

Tonight we go west across very smooth seas. The stars are in full glory so I do an impromptu star talk on the bow – Canopus, Zodiacal light, Leo, Saturn, Aires, Taurus, Gemini, Orion, Pleiades, large Magellanic clouds, false cross, Capella, part of the Ursa major, Canis major and minor, shooting stars…..Nearly as many stars as fish that we saw at Gardner Rock says Matt.

January 22. Thursday.
After a 5 hr navigation in Post Office bay. So calm I could barely tell we were moving. Floreana was the first inhabited island with a penal colony in 1833. Be shot or go to the Galapagos. Hmm let me think about that. Later penal colonies on San Cristobol and Isabella. Tortoises got wiped out in all of those islands.

Norwegian fishing camp from the 1910’s. A few of you have read Floreana by Margaret Wittmer for all the drama on this island. We drop off our postcards and pick a few to HAND DELIVER. We have some free time on the beach with the tourists from 4 other boats (same ones). Soccer game. Many eastern pacific black (green) sea turtles are all around us

Back on the boat at 915 and we move over to Pt. Cormoran (no cormorants here they are far to the west from here). Most of us hop in the dingy to snorkel at Devils Crown. The Rambo group drops in on the outside due to the strong current. However it was not present this morning for some reason. It was very calm. Absolutely fantastic, gobs of fish. The little rock just off the crown is really full of fish and many sharks just off in the sand. Moorish Idols, white-tailed damsel fish, yellow tail damselfish, bumphead parrotfish, barber fish, big body thick lips, leather bass, Creole school of hundreds, coronet fish, King angelfish, Moorish idols, flag cabrillo, white salema, striped salema, blue chin parrotfish, rainbow wrasse, large banded blenny, golden puffers, trumpet fish, thousands of yellow surgeon fish scorpion fish, great looks at sharks by everyone. The other group got us good when Pat the Judge of all people LIED and said they saw two hammerheads so being the Rambos that we are we jumped right back in.

Hammerhead Shark, common name for about ten related species of sharks found throughout tropical and temperate seas. Large flattened extensions of the head give these fish a hydroplane like lift and enable them to make sharper turns than other sharks; the eyes and nostrils, by being spaced at the ends of the hammerhead, also give them a greater ability to track prey

Pat’s camera (left by her on the Beach) is delivered to us by a personable young man from the UK named Danny from the sail boat who picked it up yesterday at Espanola. YEA!! For good karma.

Matt, Jason, Conner and I do a few more leaps off the top deck. fun fun fun. Lunch then kayaking rest reading etc until 330 and then we are off on another almost our last island adventure The wind is up our first slightly bouncing disembarkations – we have been very very lucky with good weather and sea conditions this trip…

The sun is out; the sky is blue with scattered clouds. On shore to see olivine green beach sand, pencil sea urchin bodies, hermit crabs, ghost crabs with little balls of sand everywhere, black mangrove with roots sticking up, leather leaf – Maytenus octagona. There are Christmas iguanas here – every bit as colorful as the ones on Hood.
Walked over to the other beach, very pleasant. Light is very nice. Water traps are set for the natsy introduced wasp. Mesquite, acacia, Palo Verde, Sesuvium in flower and dripping all over the vegetation, Three kids of lava can be seen from here – tuff, cinder and basalt. AA ouch lava. Pahoehoe – ropy or pig gut lava. We saw our first flamingo from the overlook (except the one that flew by the boat this am). Also white cheeked pintails. Franklin gulls, Smelling the Palo Santo tree which in not in leaf- there has been no rain so far this season. Parkinsonia in flower (palo verde). Ochilla lichens hanging in the trees were used for purple dye helped to inspire settlement of the Galapagos. The feral cats have killed the native mockingbirds on Floreana; they only exist on a small offshore island Champion that we can see from here. This is the most endangered bird after the Mangrove warbler. The lava lizards are endemic here. Getting hot now. many sea turtle tracks onto to beach looking like off road vehicles to lay eggs and back. We see many turtles 15+ in the water. Some are mating. Free time to walk and enjoy the beach. Ruddy turnstones, semipalmated plovers, whimbrels overhead,

After the peaceful beach time we wander back and get closer to lagoon. On the way a feral cat is seen skulking the bushes, a great blue heron, bl necked stilts, yg flamingoes (not so pink because they have not eaten enough shrimp yet), white cheeked pintail. Sea lions lounging on the beach. Palo Santos smell so good. The late afternoon is light is superb. Just as the sun is setting behind the rock we ponga back. Briefing 630

The last nautical terms for the Islands: Under the weather, overwhelmed, taken aback and finally (TA DA!!) Footloose.

There is a review of our trip by Bryon and the crew comes back out dressed in their whites again and we toast them with some gratis red wine. For dessert at dinner there is a cake with FOOOTLOOSE FORAYS and the TIP TOP III – what a combo!! After dinner on the upper deck is some star gazing again. Venus setting just as Leo is rising in the east. Very calm as we pull anchor and head almost due north for 7 ½ hours through he night and clam seas (AGAIN!!!!). Packing up our snorkeling gear, hopefully won’t need them in the jungle (La selva).

Tomorrow back to a different world and certainly a different sense of time. No more boat time.

January 23, Friday.
Wake up phone call at 610 (don’t answer!) onshore to Las Bachas at 635. Many sea turtle lay eggs on this beach. The name is a Spanish mispronunciation of “barge” mislearned from the Americans during WW II. We see a sea turtle female resting (exhausted) on the beach right in the surf. Good photo ops. Marine iguanas, no sea lions!, Franklin and Lava gulls, Sanderlings, ruddy turnstones, great blue herons, striated herons, imm YC night heron eating an eel, noddys landing on brown pelican heads, wc pintails, whimbrels, semipalmated plovers. The highlight were the 4 adult flamingoes in the second lagoon we visited to the left of our landing. This is our last easy birding, there are so few to chose from and so easy to see. Just wait till the rain forest! Sally lightfoot molting exoskeleton story. Two penises!! Last swim for some on the beach.

Back to our home vessel for one last jump, breakfast and final packing. We finish packing – bags out at nine. A very full week just passed and more grand adventures await us. Last panga ride to the bus and then the airport for a long warm wait. Goodbye to Byron (he will miss us; we were his best group ever). We finally board into a very cool airplane. We stop in Guay and finally make it to Quito. Back to the land of short breath and cloudy skies. Susie is there and Rene is waiting to get our luggage safely to the next place.

We leave Quito during rush hour and drive directly toward Cotachochi. Otavalo here we come. We head north toward the Equator into drier and drier landscape – agave, pepper trees, castor, acacias, and cactus. The bromeliad clusters on the wires. On the Pan-American Highway (completed in 69) about 70 miles (halfway to Colombia). Butchered pigs = fritadas. Through Cuyabamba the home of the Chirimoya fruit, aka custard apple. Cross the Rio Guayllabamba aka Green Valley. Bamba means valley in Quecha. Blue and green century plants = Agave, sisal, blue gum eukes, Scotch broom, Andean Pampas grass. Up and down through the rungs of the Andean ladder, 5000′ to 11,000′. By the time we get into Cayambe region with Holstein cows, it is dark. Greenhouses full of roses. The best roses in the world?!?!?! Hah! They have no scent! Continuing on the Pan-American Highway we turn east off the highway and pull in to Hosteria Cusin around 700. Two hours from the airport, just as promised.

This former hacienda built in 1602 and since 1991 owned by an Englishman who has remodeled it. I think we can get used to this. They have ping pong, a pool table, a library and a squash court. Very nice ambience. Dinner at 730, Lasagna, corvina or steak. Frogs tinking outside, happy for the rain. A bit of thunder.

Pan-American Highway, Alaska to Chile (taken from The Lonely Planet)

Since the Conference of American States in 1923 there have been plans to build a Pan-American Highway – a continuous roadway running the full 16,000 mi from Alaska to the bottom of Chile. Now, all but 88km (54mi) are complete, so aside from a time-consuming detour, it’s possible to drive from above the Arctic Circle down to Puerto Montt, nearly 1000km (600mi) south of Santiago, Chile. The road cuts through pretty much every kind of geography and climate possible.

Although the Pan-American Highway, or Interamericana, is more of a concept than an actual route, most say that it starts in the tiny Alaskan town of Circle, some 150km (93mi) west of the Canadian border and about 100km (62mi) south of the Arctic Circle (from which the town gets its name). And it is rough. Deadhorse isn’t just a cute name for the town, it was practically a guarantee earlier this century, and a summer drive along the dusty, potholed gravel surface will be the toughest test of your vehicle’s suspension. But an hour or two after Fairbanks you’ll hit the Alaska Highway, and it’s pretty much plain sailing then for the trip all the way through the Yukon and British Columbia and down the west coast of the USA.

The one sticking point on the Pan-American is along the border between Colombia and Panama, where the Darien Gap – a lush rain forest with one of the highest degrees of biodiversity in the entire world – forms a natural, virtually impassable border. While the completion of the highway would make these countries more accessible to trade and tourism, it would not come without a price: many experts say that a road through this region would effectively destroy it. After the long drive along the foot of the mountains in western Colombia, you bisect Ecuador – crossing the equator and passing through the charming, beautiful capital of Quito – then along the almost 2000km (1250mi) coast of Peru and, finally, Chile. Reach the strangely Nordic-style town of Puerto Montt, and you will have completed perhaps the most extraordinary inter-continental car trip possible.

My note: Actually you can get to Tierra del Fuego in Argentina where the road ends. I have been at the very end of the road a number of times.

January 24, Saturday.
Overcast day with cloudy view of Imbabura Mountain (a male) where the gods of the Otavalo dwell. Married the female mt (Cotochachi -she is shrouded in clouds with some snow) and begat the local people. The Otavlenos are the largest and most important tribe in Ecuador, 50-60,000 and increasing in number. These are the people that have been here longer than the Catholics, Spanish, and longer than there has been an Ecuador. These are the natives of this place. Otavalo males have long hair in braids, white pants, white shirt, blue poncho, felt hat. The females are hatless with cloth on heads, no poncho but shawl (matches skirt), white blouse with embroidery, long skirt made of one piece of cloth, gold beads (from Czech) on neck, and red bracelets. The amount of gold on the neck is indicative of wealth.

Breakfast begins at 645 off at 830. Heading north on the Pan American highway, past San Pablo del Lago to Otavalo. Right along the Highway is the animal market. This little piggy went to market. Geez are those piglets loud, the hawkers are barking and cell phones are jangling- welcome to the new Ecuador the blending of the old and the new. Lotsa local color. Nice photos. Done at 930 and then to Otavalo.

Susie orients us to the markets and lets us go for about 2 hours. The vegetable market is great – tropical fruits, chicken legs, exotic sights, weird smells, many people. We like it. Unfortunately Conner gets her camera lifted out of her sweatshirt. The textile market or Los Ponchos is on Saturday is the big market day. We head out — dollars in our pocket, desire in our hearts and shopping in our minds. Bargains, fun, photos, hats, hammocks, bags, bowls, food, sweaters, pictures. We meet back at the bus at 1200. 8400’ here.

Next we drive to Peguche and visit a maker of musical instruments. He demonstrates the sounds of several different instruments from various Andean countries. Then some gorgeous young girls come out and perform a traditional dance for us. Next they play some delightful music with his sons and the girls and him singing. Lovely much better than those guys at the La Ronda! We walk a short distance to the town square of Peguche and a well-known weaver family – Jose Cotachochi. He makes all the money and is doing very well. In fact I have noticed quite a few new cars in Ecuador. The dollar has made it possible to save money for those who have some. Demonstrations of weaving the traditional way. Dyes from the cochineal insect , walnut, eukes.
Cochineal Insect, a scale insect traditionally used by Native Americans to make a crimson dye called cochineal. Spanish explorers in the 1550s brought cochineal from Mexico back to Europe. Cochineal became the most widely traded and, next to gold and silver, the most valuable product of the West Indies. Cochineal production was lucrative until the 20th century when synthetic dyes largely replaced cochineal. The cochineal scale that had commercial importance is native to South America. Several other scale insects in the same genus are native to desert areas of the southwestern United States. These scales also were once used to make dye, but to a much lesser extent than the South American cochineal insect.
The adult female cochineal insect is 2 to 5 mm (0.1 to 0.2 in) long with a distinctly segmented, purplish red or carmine-colored body. Cochineal insects feed on certain prickly pear cacti and are most obvious on the flat pads of the cactus in spring. They occur in colonies covered with a fluffy white wax that they secrete. The cochineal insect’s bright reddish body is not visible unless the waxy secretions are scraped away and the scale’s outer covering is punctured. Cochineal is produced from the dried, crushed bodies of cochineal scale insects. A carefully tended cactus yields about 20 pounds of scale each year.
The cochineal industry has an intriguing history. For over 200 years after the insect’s discovery, Spain prohibited export of live cochineal insects and prevented foreigners from visiting production areas in the Americas. Many Europeans mistakenly thought the dye was produced from cactus fruit, and Spanish authorities encouraged such misconceptions in order to maintain their cochineal monopoly. The Dutch amateur scientist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek in 1704 used microscopic lenses to analyze dried cochineal. Leeuwenhoek determined that cochineal consisted entirely of female scale insects. Many people found this unbelievable. Wide acceptance that cochineal dye was produced from the cochineal insect did not occur until the late 1700s, when the insects were successfully introduced and established outside of the Americas.
Cochineal production peaked in the 1870s, when as much as 7 million pounds of dye were produced annually. The development of less expensive, synthetic aniline dyes virtually eliminated cochineal production as well as cultivation of prickly pear cacti for this purpose. A small cochineal industry still exists in the Canary Islands, Peru, and Mexico. Recent findings that some synthetic red dyes may induce cancer has renewed interest in cochineal production. Cochineal-based dye is again becoming popular as a coloring agent, especially in processed foods.

To San Pablo Lake and the restaurant – Puerto Lago. Very nice view and a good choice apparently because Danny Glover and friends dined here in 2003. Many people like this place. The service is quick and the food presentation is fine. Desserts are yummy!! Marlys shows that llama in the yard who is boss!!.

We return to our Hacienda for a quiet afternoon; it is overcast and a bit rainy. The birds in the garden I have seen in the past are scrub tanager, black mantled grosbeak, blue grey tanager, white bellied wood star, cinereous conebill, Rufus collared sparrow, spot eared dove, sparkling violet ear, green violet ears, yellow grosbeak, cinereous conebill, rufous collared sparrow, vermilion flycatcher. Larry takes a nice photo of a bright yellow one.

We have dinner at 7 and a father and his sons come to play for us. The kid on the flute is good. Car alarms all night long!!!!

Sunday, Jan 25.
Clean underwear and off at 830…right on time whatta group. Overcast but clearing!! Roses are big biz here. 20 hours cut to market in US or Europe. A perfect day for a morning outing to Guinea Pig Lake. This should really be called “sacred” Lake. Up the mountain we go. I give a bit of an overview of the Incan world. 12th century beginning to collapse in 1535 or so. They were well developed organizationally but failed to invent writing or the wheel. 10K of paved road! Lupines cultivated for treatment of osteoporosis. Not toxic like they are at home. At the Cotacochi/Guyas Ecological reserve we park the bus and begin our hike up the road to the trail that circles the lake (that would be a 5 hour walk). We have a fine overview of the caldera; just like Crater Lake in Oregon even has an erupted island in the middle. Cotacochi mountain (4930 meters) hidden in the clouds. We walk up the hill. This park has 10 different ecosystems from the coastal lowlands to high paramo. Snow level is at 16000′. There is a spectacled bear released into the park and I have seen red deer on the last trip. But many of the large animals are gone due to the activities of man.

20% of the world’s ecosystems are in Ecuador. Ecuador is one of 17 countries that have 70% of the biodiversity of the world. 117 SP of hummingbirds. 25000 SP of flowering plants. 4200 SP of orchids. I point out as many plants to you as I can. Pearly everlasting, Indian-Andean paint brush, Heather, pampas grass, st johns wort, Berberis, blackberry, virgin slipper, tongue fern, Verbena, Salvia, Bidens (beggars ticks), bromeliads, Epidendren orchids galore, native lupine. Puya is the genus for the bromeliad with the very cool green flowers. A rare color in nature. We are at 3000 meters. Lake is 700’ deep, no fish, and little life. Grebe, coot, great thrush are the only birds I see. In the middle of the lake is a large island that is a parasitic cone it erupted either 1000 or 3000 yrs ago, depending on which guide you listen to. We walk down to the bus.

Back to the bus and down to the town of Cotacochi below. Shopping in the leather town for 30”. And then we continue south on the Pan American Highway. I elect not to visit a greenhouse full of roses…yea Michael!! We turn left and go to a new place for me for lunch. La Compania. A hacienda once owned by the Jesuits and now run buy Gloria and her husband. The fine old house was built by Gloria’s grandfather in 1919. Frence neo classical and all original. It is a bit busy (the wallpaper is too much) inside but the food and service are excellent. Roses everywhere.

The Jesuit Order was founded in 1540 and came to Spanish America during the term of Thomas de Souza as governor between 1549 and 1553. At that time the Franciscan and Dominican monks were already established in the New World, but these orders were not destined to have the significant impact that the Company of Jesus or the Jesuit Order was to have on the indigenous peoples of Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Guatemala and Haiti. Through their successes with the Indians taken into their care and the resulting conflicts, the Jesuits were finally expelled from South America in 1767. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Jesuits began to defend their Indian charges and their rights against the authority of Spain. This authority was present in the new elite and the landlords and the Jesuits were forced out of one city after another. Finally, after a last stand at Ilano, the Jesuits were forced out of New Granad altogether when Pope Clement XIV dissolved the order in 1773.

We are off at 200ish back to Quito and the Mercure Accor Grand Hotel aka Alameda Real. Dinner is on your own tonight. The Magic Bean is good for most. Repack for the jungle. We are getting pretty good at this repacking scene. Rainy night in Quito.

Monday, January 26.
We get to sleep in a bit today. Motor mouth Susie comes and gets us at 945 and we go to the airport for our flight to Coca. It is TAME airline and not = thank the Greek Gods – Icaro. I give an impromptu talk in the waiting room on the amazing Amazon River and Basin.
The Amazon River or River Amazon; Spanish: Río Amazonas, Portuguese: Rio Amazonas) of South America is the most voluminous river on earth, having a greater total flow than the next six largest rivers combined. Accordingly, it is sometimes known as The River Sea. The Amazon is also generally regarded by most geographic authorities as being the second longest river on Earth (the longest being the Nile in Africa).
The drainage area of the Amazon in Brazil, called the Amazon Basin, is the largest of any river system. If the Basin were an independent country, it would be the world’s seventh largest, having more than twice the area of India (which actually does rank seventh).
The quantity of fresh water released by the Amazon to the Atlantic Ocean is enormous: up to 300,000 m³ per second in the rainy season. Indeed, the Amazon is responsible for a fifth of the total volume of fresh water entering the oceans worldwide. It is said that offshore of the mouth of the Amazon potable water can be drawn from the ocean while still out of sight of the coastline, and the salinity of the ocean is notably lower a hundred miles out to sea..

We are a little late lift off at 1225 in a Embraer 170 – whatever that is!!??!? Land in Coca thirty minutes later. The temperature is quite nice. Cloudy and cool. Lovely city, great ambiance….. frontier Texas grease town in the early 1920’s oil boom. We get on the crammed short bus with no windows, no doors either. To the safe house we go for our lunch with Gus and our luggage. And the CANADIANS!!!!

This town is actually named Puerto Francisco de Orellana not Coca.

In 1540 Francisco de Orellana (originally from Trujillo, Spain) became governor of Guayaquil, Ecuador. The following year he joined the expedition of Gonzalo Pizarro to explore the area east of Quito, thought to be rich in cinnamon and precious metals. The expedition soon ran out of food, and Orellana volunteered to lead a search party downstream for food. This expedition consisted of about two hundred and twenty Spaniards and four thousand Indians, four thousand llamas that transported the load, and everyday supplied of milk about two thousand pigs, more than two thousand dogs of hunting and many horses of spare part. Swept along by the strong river current, however, they never returned. On this journey of 1541-1542, Orellana and his followers became the first to travel the entire length of the Amazon River, named for women warriors they encountered after months of sailing downriver.

We get on a motorized canoe and head downstream with the other folks on the four night schedule. The river has risen 6 feet since this am due to rain in the Andes! Weird airplane restaurant to the left. Just downstream we see where the Coca (named for the cocaine plant) comes in from the left and meets the Napo. Much evidence of the oil extraction along the river. Our 50 miles downriver is fast because the river is high and flowing well. Not as many birds along the Napo as usual: Greater yellow-headed vultures, wh-winged swallow, trop. king birds, wh-banded swallow, white throated heron, great egrets. Urania = day flying moths with white tails fly by. We arrive at 335, 25 minutes ahead of schedule. Bathrooms are waiting for us.

We then take the trail that leads to the lake where we will take a dugout canoe to the Sacha Lodge. Oh boy we are in da JUNGLE. We see our first leaf cutter ants. The sky is blue and the light fantastic. Often it is overcast and cloudy and rainy and the colors are hard to see. Cross the lake on our first canoe ride to Sacha and our welcome drink, orientation to this wonderful lodge by Francisco. Other naturalist guides Julio, David, Gustavo (Gus) and Lars. Eduardo is the barman. Into our rooms and free time. Matt and I go swimming and most of the group is already shopping at the gift store!! until 645 for our boots and our three groups and begin our bonding with our very own guide and the local guide.

First call of the bamboo. Great food starting with soup as usual. Two groups for a canoe ride. Very nice, quiet along anaconda creek. Frogs happy and tinking. Ringed kingfish, caimans (those South American gators), hoatzins. Peaceful with just sounds of the canoe and frogs. Fish eating aka bulldog bats. 200″ of rain per year. 85 average temp. Our weather is really perfect.

The third group goes on a night walk. I fool Gus, Pablo and my group good with my feux frog. Take a picture, take a picture! yells Gus. Katydids, a female tarantula out side her hole, 2 Hyla frogs. A newly emerged cicada still drying (that was a first for me), a Bufo toad, and army ants on the move. Everyone saw the large smoky jungle frog clearly guarding his territory. Conga or bullet ants, 24 hours of pain.

Water Hyacinth. Eichhornia crassipes
Water Hyacinths are the only large aquatic herb that can float on the water unattached to the bottom. They float on bloated air-filled hollow leaf stalks. Their roots trail underwater in a dense mat. The Water Hyacinth has special adaptations to allow it to grow and spread rapidly in freshwater. They can withstand extremes of nutrient supply, pH level, temperature, and even grow in toxic water. They grow best in still or slow-moving water. Native to South America they have been introduced all over the world where they have become pests.

Tuesday, Jan. 27.
Wake up call for everyone is 530 breakfast 6 we are off at 630 all three groups heading toward ythe walkway. Pilchicocha named for the Pilchi the big cannonball fruits used for drinking gourds and cocha = lake. Maybe for the shape of the lake. 30’ deep. Black mantled tamarin monkeys seen elusively by our groups.

Our group gets there first and heads to middle tower, the second group joins us there and the third group arrives at the third tower. Completed 5 years ago at the cost of 1 million Dollars. It is what keeps Sacha ahead of all the other lodges in the region. Up we go… beautiful misty morning. Sun is coming out. Good work for those with acrophobia (Frank!) – this one is a challenge. Good birds as usual. Ivory billed Toucan, ari cari, cobalt winged parakeets. A troop red howlers calling. Second loudest sound in the natural world according to one of the former guides here. First are blue whales. One male making all that noise. Sounds like rolling thunder. Russet backed oropendulas like water drops. Tanagers, squirrel cuckoos, spangled cotingas, honey creepers, piractic flycatcher, double toothed kits, collared forest falcon, white fronted nun birds, gilded barbets, mealy parrots, and many banded aracaris, white throated toucan. I sneak off and climb all the way to the top of the tower – Matt and Jason are envious, only Jeff and Linda see me! I share with two groups the natural history gee whiz facts about palms. Two groups have their quiet time.

We all head back a different way. The three crested owls are seen by all, one is a juvenile. Other forests delights – garlic vine, clear wing butterflies, poisons arrow frog, millipedes, pambil palms (very useful with stilt roots) Helicopter damselfly plucks spiders right out of web. Peton melons with cauliflory fruits. Back at noon free time for swimming etc until lunch. And then some more free er nap time.

Julio et al canoe to the swamp and then go for a walk. Francisco et al. heads via orchida (Greek for testicles) creek to the tower. Gus et al walks to the wooden tower. Then our group paddles back and the other walks back. Night hike and night canoe. The birds are wonderful from the tower especially the vocalizing russet backed oropendulas. Spangled cotingas, plum throated fruit crow, euphonias, blue dacnis, ruddy pigeons, black caracara, yellow rumped caciques, cobalt winged parakeets, chachalaca much more. We have another 10 minutes of silence up on top of the tropical forest. thanks. Walking back we see lightening bugs with strong front headlights and back lights. Monkey frog singing. They stay up in the trees until midnight and then come down.

Here are some of the other birds some of us saw some of the time. Rufous backed oropendulas, yellow cacique, chestnut woodpecker, banded aracaris, black spotted barbet, masked crimson, violaceous jays. Tanagers- paradise, green & gold, opal crowned, opal rumped, orange bellied euphonia, white necked Jacobin, black caracara, greater yellow-headed vulture, wire-tailed manakin, black tailed tityra, bl-tailed? Trogon. Purple honeycreeper, blue dacnis.

Brief notes: Leaf cutter ants 100 sp each with own type of fungus. Atta is common genus. Presumably split from ancestral species and diversified. Colony could be over hundred years old with 10 million members. When new colony is formed there is a special slit in the belly to carry the fungus. Pambil (Iriartea sp) has fishtail leaves and stilt roots. Used for posts, table tops in lodge, trachea is used for blowguns, walkways, It strong and flexible. Mauritia Palm (dense fan palm), freshwater mangrove (Ficus family) with aerial roots). Achiote is fruit used for food coloring esp. rice here, tattoo fruit is Culsia, cedar used for canoes, Pilchi is relative that has cannonball-like fruits (Lecithidacea neo-trop.) and is used for the paddles because the wood is very hard and doesn’t rot. Peton – cauliflory fruits. Huge social spiders nest. Philodendrons (love trees). Caciques build nests near wasps for protection and later oropendulas come on in as well. Orange egg mass laid on vegetation near the water is from the aquatic Apple snail- the big one. Can blow it like a conch shell. Kites specialize in eating it.

Wednesday, Jan 28
Wake up call at 5!!!! Off at six across the lake –caiman seen well by some. Greater tinamou calling. Downstream we go, no rain. On our trip we see with osprey, black caracara, pied plover, spotted sandpiper, great egret, white winged swallow, greater ani, banded swallows, oriole blackbirds, yellow headed and black vultures, tropical kingbirds, tropical palm swifts, little woodpecker, ruddy pigeon, anhingas, hoatzins, elenia, yellow footed Amazon turtle, white eyed parakeets, wow!!!

At the parrot licks: dusky headed parakeets, Blue-crowned Parrots, yellow crowned parrots and mealy parrots. Very many and we get real close via the boat. Just off the National park Yasuni. The largest park in Ecuador and home to the Huaorani people. We drift right offshore and have some quiet with the motor off while I record the cacophony. After superb looks we slowly head back upstream at 830. Mary gets her fine looks at hoatzins and we bird the bank and the small temporary islands. We have a brief stop to get some fruit of the cecropia tree – some excellent tree climbing by our local guides. Tasty and organic “grapes” apparently from Chile according the label on some. Cecropia is in the same family as mulberries. Helicopter with film crew from the Travel Channel (?) comes in.

Back to the trail and after much needed bathroom stops we have mighty fine views of a small family group of pygmy marmosets. The world’s smallest primate again hiking toward Pilchicocha. More leaf cutters and Jenn finds a greater pootoo or a mottled owl?? The staff seems to think pootoo and I reckon they are right. Electric blue morpho butterflies flit by. A large tegu (caiman lizard) is seen by all on the left side of the canal. We yell MARCH from Julio’s canoe and witness the marching wasps that share a home with a large colony of ants. Lunch at 100 free time. Squirrel monkeys by cabin 26 and then all over the lodge. We can see them from the lunch tables. Very good jumpers.

Power naps taken by some; looks like rain but never does. We meet at 340 for a little overview catch up stuff – Myth of the Piranha, Primates, some new world monkey facts, mammals and bats.

This is unconfirmed but a good story….

Legendary Myth of Piranha Revealed
by Frank Magallanes, OPEFE

The legend started with President Theodore Roosevelt (circa 1914). While President of the United States, Roosevelt decided to explore South America. The Brazilians were excited about the impending visit by this famous American president. They also knew he liked the thrill of the adventure. So they arranged a spectacular tour of their country through the Amazon rain forest. They also found a river that President Roosevelt could “discover” himself (later called Rio Theodore Roosevelt). This river is actually nothing more than an arm of another tributary, the Rio Aripuana.

President Roosevelt was accompanied by a hundred journalists, many whom never had been in the jungle before. When the Brazilian’s took Roosevelt to “discover” the Rio Theodore Roosevelt, the Brazilians were already prepared. They had isolated a hundred yards of that river with nets.
For weeks fishermen caught piranha with hook and line, throwing the fish into this netted off area. Then the Brazilian instigated piranha myth began. The Brazilians told Roosevelt and his group not to venture into the water of this river because they would be immediately be attacked and eaten by piranhas. Roosevelt was skeptical, how could any fish be this dangerous. This played right into the Brazilians hands and their sense of humor. To validate their point, they took a cow, slit her udder, and drove her bleeding into a seething mass of starving, trapped piranhas.
The cow, needless to say, was immediately attacked and stripped to the bone in short order. The piranhas were in fact, so starved they literally leaped out of the water with mouthful of flesh which added more credibility to this setup situation. The President and the journalists stared in amazement at this scene just 10 feet from shore.
Newspapers around the world carried the story, even embellishing it more by saying anyone entering the water in any South American river would be immediately attacked and devoured by these small fearsome fish. “The terrible piranhas” have since been feared by unknowing people, conservationists and the news media.

Then we are off on our various 4 pm outings. Every day is very very full. We saw a howler well and more squirrel monkeys making a lot of commotion through the trees. Everyone has a mighty fine time. Tortoise seen dashing through underbrush – not.

Barbecue tonight on the deck, we mingle. I miss the rest of our little tribe but that is the nature of this place. Gus gives a little speech recognizing all the people who work behind the scenes. . Tell all your friends to come on down to the Amazon Basin. Fun fun fun. A spectacled caiman hanging out under the deck eating meat scraps. And this is where we swim??? Matt finally dances on the table but I missed it..

Thursday, Jan. 29:
I head off with Julio et al this time up early and we paddle down testicle creek to the wooden tower. Yacky yacky Canadians up there with us but finally I request a 5 minute quiet time. I think it was quite a challenge for them. We have some very nice sightings of many different kinds of birds. Great temperature. The two other groups have some excellent sightings as well. A 5’ anaconda is spotted by Elias from the canoe on guess what? – ANACONDA creek! Gus’s group has some mighty fine BLACK caiman looks – babies and Gus calling distress sound, mom responds by calling babies who swim away and then a very large male? Comes up right by the canoe and stares at everyone. The biggest one Gus has seen here. More squirrel monkey looks. A dusky titi monkey seen but not well. Just before 2 of the groups get back it really begins to rain hard!! It is the rain forest after all!! Our first rain!!

Sacha means jungle or wild place in Quicha. The Quicha speakers were driven down from the highlands and now are the most populous group in the region. They have learned many uses of the plants from other indigenous groups.

More miscellaneous notes: Side-necked turtles (can’t retract necks in all the way, also have powerful stink glands). In Aug fish from Napo have come up into lakes to spawn. Catfish, ciclid, boca poco, Red bellied and black piranhas, fresh water sting rays, piranhas (eat fruits and seeds, dispersal), Blood of the Dragon: “Drago” tree with red sap used as antiseptic and for stomach ulcers in Euphorbia family drips maroon but turns to white when rubbed on skin, sweet smell. Wine cup fungus. Brownia (contraceptive plant) is the bright red flowers by the lodge. Bauhinia is the cow foot shaped leaf, 2 miles of lianas per hectare. Wild papaya with thorns on stems. Tagua is fruit from palm used as substitute for ivory. Giant spittle from moth!

After lunch we meet upstairs for our closing circle. A time to share some highlights before we go back to the busy world we live in. We had a great time here saw just about everything = the weather and sea cooperated. A really compatible group we were. Then down to the dock for another group photo. The Carols take the photo for us. One of them has taken quite a shining to one member of our group who will remain nameless but his initials are MM and he eats a lot.

Well there you have it… Free time until four for most groups. The rain comes down on all of us out there in the rain forest. Dwarf caiman seen and Elias gets zapped by a bullet ant. After dinner the bats are really active and smoky jungle frogs are singing their heart out!! The stars are even out. I take off with Donaldo to record some sounds along Anaconda Creek but there is yet another generator down toward the storehouse. Long line to pay bills at the gift shop. Too bad everything else went pretty well.

Friday, Jan. 30.
We get to sleep in until 6~~ wow. We tip and say goodbye to our native guides – Elias, Donaldo and Pablo. Our cute little pygmy marmoset friends are waiting for us to say goodbye. We are on the river by 820. Great place this rain forest. We get no pee breaks and when we finally get to Coca in only a lttle over 2 hours and the safe house. The Canadians pass us in the larger boat but we have the luggage. No rain on us.

We are off from lovely Coca International Airport. We drop right out of the sky into Quito. We are back to the Valley of 14 Volcanoes and short breath. Metro tours is waiting for us. Quito with the hustle and bustle and cars and trucks and sirens wailing – what a contrast to the rain forest. Amazing how we humans meld our environments. Then back to our home away from home, the Alameda Real. Free time for last minute shopping. At 630 we all pile into the clown bus as 16 folks and 5 other ladies pile on in to the tiny thing. Through mucho traffico to our delightful dinner at Theatrum Quito Restaurant & Wine Bar. Upstairs from the National Theater group and they do still do shows. On foot we are escorted carefully through the traffic and the square to a most elegant place. I think all of you appreciated the fine dining and exquisite service of our last evening together. You really were a wonderful and thoroughly gelled group. You make my job fun and easy. Much laughter and LOUDDDDDDD singing on the way back. We all agree to wake up room 702 (or was is 905) and say goodbye at 4 am.
Hasta Luega!!

Saturday. Jan 31
Up and out with David from Metro way too early. The Renes take our luggage. Smooth check in at AA and all of us but for Jason and Verena head back to the good old USA together. Our first stop is the northern most city in Latin America called Miami; where we officially enter America. We have a new president since we left. And just in time for the superbowl. We are all glad to be home….

And you know what???


Antarctica and the Falklands

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.

Michael Ellis



Antarctica and the Falkland Islands with Michael Ellis and Marine Expeditions on the Academik Ioffe

26 February to 17 March 2000

Sat. 26 Feb. Up with too early to catch our 7 am flight to Miami. Carmen, Michi and LaVerne are already in BA having a good time. 4 hrs to Miam, far northern capital of Latin America. Long layover gives us time to have a scare about the Ellis’s “lost” coupon. Left on a big 747 packed to the gills for a 8 hr, 7000 K flight arriving

Sunday, Feb. 27. .. at BA a little after 7 AM. Through customs and onto MEI bus in the warm rain for 45′ drive through little traffic to the Hotel Presidente. Valerie and Gustafo our guias. 12 million in greater BA, only 35 M in country. Watch out for the infamous MUSTARD thieves. LaVerne and Michi got it but saved their money. the obelisk, 9 July 1832. Met by Steve from Toronto, shown our rooms, paid some fees, gave them our tickets. Took shower then met for an orientation. We are the bottom of the food chain here in the world of traffic- be careful. A walking tour is scheduled for 2ish. Rain clears. Others recover, go walking on their own. Beautiful flowering trees of the city – purple is Jacarandas and the pink is Silk forest tree or Choriso specious (in the same family as baobabs) known locally as the Palo Barracho the drunk tree. Monk parakeets, rufous horneros, chingolos. Some of us to a Tango show. Tomorrow the Estancia!! And big thick juicy steaks- yummy

Monday, 28 Feb. Good breakfast. We are READY at 9:45. Buses pull out at 10:10. Heading northwest out of town 70K to Estancia Santa Susana. Past the La Recoleta neighborhood, named for the religious orders that would recollect why they entered the faith. Dog walkers get $100/dog/ per month. one of the best jobs in BA. To our left was the Rio de La Plata. 220k in widest part but only 5-10 meters deep Brown because of all the sediments from the Paraguay and Uruguay River that join to create the river. But the highlight of the area was the recreated WORLD OF JERUSELUM, why isn’t that on our tour?? Forget the Estancia, give me plastic palm trees. 1978 World Cup soccer stadium, also Bon Jovi and the Rolling Stones played there holds 80K. Past Country Club Estates for rich white people fleeing the city. Sounds familiar? Our bus heard a very very long talk on why there are no black people in Argentina. Basically they just sold slaves here but didn’t need them to work because they had gauchos. The other bus got to taste Matte, definitely an acquired taste. To the Estancia, welcomed by genuine cowboys, we think. Can’t make no money on cows these days so North American tourists will have to do. We tour the ranch house, some of us ride horses, we birdwatch (glittering bellied emerald!). Then our asado, meat meat and more meat. wine and wine. Followed by tango, singing, and guacho dancer playing with his two balls. Lynn (17 yrs of age) gets dancing trying to get one of those belts. And finally we watch the cowboys do their horse work with the grand finale of ring games. The little boy needed glasses, Carmen cruelly said. Lynn trades a very sloppy kiss from the fat guacho for one of the rings. Was it worth it? You will have to ask her. The owner was very good at the rings and cute to boot. Off at 4 and back to BA at 5:15. It was a gloriously beautiful day and the temp was perfect. early to bed tonight or might as well just stay up. Some us went to the Ecological Area, good for birds. Carolyn and I go for a stroll to La Recolata constantly on the alert for those infamous MUSTARD ARTISTS. Suspecting many innocent people but we are ready if and when they strike. Bags are out by 10 PM, so are we.

Tuesday, 29 Feb. Leap Day. Ahgg. We do it! Off to domestic airport on time. Flying south 3 hr 30 to Ushaia, Yaghan for ‘bay extending westward. Our trip seems to be finally be beginning. Land right on time, 9:05 at 4 yr old airport. Much safer and better than old. Cloudy 50. We are with Evelyn and Coco the driver. Go 11 k into Tierra del Fuego National Park. 45k folks in USH. last time I was here in 92 there were maybe 20k. Native Indians ate 300 mussels per person per day and sealions and ducks. Only 2 pure Indians left over in Pt Williams on the Chile side. 1902-47- Prison in Ush, defined the area. Beagle Canal disc by Fitzroy, 180 k long. As we enter the Park we see the first Andean Condor of nine that we will see today!! Great day. Our first stop is Ensanada Bay for a very brief 10′. We are ready to walk! Out of the bus out of the plane. In the Nothofagus (southern beech 3 species) forest. Kelp and Upland Geese, Imperial and Rock Cormorants, giant petrels, white browed cincloides. Usnea is the lichen in the trees, Mistletoe, peat bogs full of spaghnum, beaver dams (26 pr introduced in 1946, now there are 50K!}. To the end of the Pan American hiway, 18K kilometers to other end. Great grebe, ashy-headed geese, Lapaitaia= Bay of Good Forest. ia= bay in yaghan language. Banded k-fisher, fire-eyed duicon, black-browed albatross, flightless steamer goose, y-b pintails, dolphin and kelp gulls, Indian mussel middens. Oh yes some others reported a group of the very rare Fuegian, long-necked, flying penguins. Blackish oystercatcher, black-chested buzzard eagle. On the way back to town for lunch, we stop on a bridge for a great Great grebe looks. View of Mt. Olivia and the 5 brothers, glaciated peaks. Tax free area to encourage development in the late 70’s. To lunch at the very weird dog place. The lamb was apparently good but pretty old to be called lamb according to Huge Argubrite. Overlook at the peat bog area, great light, more condors, austral parrots Lynn sees.
We are dropped off at the Hotel Albatross for a brief foray into town to buy and mail postcards etc. Back to bus at 5 and to the ship. HURRAY, the excitement builds. We check into our rooms and Carmen and Lynn attempt to steal June and Richard MacDonalds luggage, all June’s underwear no less. They are finally caught! Now Carmen won’t get to use Richards bird book.
We are cleared to leave the harbor and the horn sounds very loud as we leave. Glorious light and rainbows- Bl-browed albatrosses, giant petrels, and skuas abound. Brad Rhees, the expedition manager, welcomes and orients us. Scott is the Hotel Manager. Adam the bartender, Pablo assistant expedition manager zodiac driver, etc. Akos the Hungarian birder, Sonja the marine mammal gal, Jim the Historian. Paul, Steve (from BA), Santiago. Very very smooth as we head almost due east through the Beagle Channel. Will enter the South Atlantic sometime around 3. We dropped our harbor pilot off at 10:30. Star talk by passenger John on the foredeck. We hope to make the South Shetland, Hanna Pt. on Livingston Island by 4 PM the day after tomorrow- Thursday, Mar 2. Seas here are noted for their abrupt and dramatic changes, nature will dictate what we do. The farthest south we get will be 65′ 10″ S Peterman Island. 43 Russian Crew, homeport on Baltic. Pablo does the safety talk, we are dismissed and then shortly thereafter have a safety drill. I sure as hell don’t want to get in that lifeboat. Oh my God they say we have to MUSTARD in one place or was that muster?? We thought the artists were at work again. Magellanic penguins seen. Smooth smooth as we all drift into sleep, this was a very long day.

Wednesday, Mar. 1. About 2:30 we entered into the South Atlantic and our journey got a little bouncier. After breakfast, all of my group looking pretty good., we have a lecture on Marine Mammals by Sonja, a German gal. Seas are averaging 15′ with some occasional ones of 20-25’. Glasses, chairs and people are sliding back and forth. Engine tour at 11:30, 12-knot average, and heading almost due south, 58. Great birds until we have an official watch for them at 3:00. Wandering albatross, giant petrel (northern and southern), soft-plumaged petrel, and white-chinned petrel. I slept through the history talk by Jim, covered Greeks to right before the first polar explorers. Seas begin to flatten out a bit around 4:30. Bird lecture by Akos at replaced by Santiago because he is sick. Introductory to likely birds that we will see. Magellanic, Gentoo (3rd largest), only one with red beak and nests in small colonies. 80-90 feathers per sq. inch. Chinstrap- the little mountaineers because they choose the highest pts and can nest earlier because, the areas are free of snow. the wind blows it off. Adelaide are the farthest nesting south birds in the world. Only Macaroni penguins have 20-30 prs only on Pen. But many in the Falklands. Rockhopper sim. to Macaroni. King Penguins are very slow breeders.
Wandering, Black browed and Gray-headed albatrosses. Light-mantled sooty albatrosses are sim to giant petrel. Fulmars, Cape petrels, snow petrels, Ant petrels, 98.5 % of Ant. is covered with ice. Wandering Albatross covers 8500 k in 10 days! White chinned petrels with wedges-shaped tails. Long line fishing industry using squid as bait is killing W. albatr and other seabirds. May be too late for WA. Wilson’s, white bellied and bl-bellied storm petrels. Skuas -South Polar and Ant. Ant Tern snowy sheathbills blue-eyed or imperial cormorant.
Wow seas have really flattened out now. Good job Santiago. Up on the bridge to watch for birds and then there is almost no activity. We cross the Ant. convergence as the temp drops. After dinner we watch David Attenborough in LIFE IN THE FREEZER. And then to bed. Peaceful

Thursday, March 2. Smooth sailing all night. Whale blow first thing in am (Humpback?). After breakfast we meet in the library for some info on seabirds. Cape and Ant. petrel, Ant fur seals, Royal albatross!!, fulmars, grey headed albatross, Wandering and BB Lab., The second part of Sonyas talk on whales. We could see Minke, Humpbacks, Killer whales are 20-80 K in the area. Southern right whales have 1 ton testes. Migration of baleen whales may be a response to anti-predation against Killer Whales, which stay down there all winter against the ice-edge.. Blubber has 5 “purposes” Thermal insulation, Food storage. Resiliency to help whale with upstroke of flukes, has “memory”. Streamline.
then up on the bridge- Passing Castle Rock and our first icebergs. Ice is, indeed, very nice. The whole continent is covered with a 3-kilometer thick layer of ice which occasionally yields giant icebergs the size of islands and states (in fact, there is an iceberg the size of Rhode Island floating around
somewhere off the Weddell Sea). The ice shelves don’t calve as frequently as they do in the Arctic, because at comparable lines of latitude from the pole, Antarctica is on average 20 degrees colder than the north, due to the size and influence of the ice cap. But they don’t melt as quickly, either, so they last a long time, maybe decades. And even the small stuff that falls off the ‘bergs and the brash and pancake ice that result from the freezing of the sea are enchanting. We see gentoo and adalie, fur seals, Light mantled albatross!!! Ant. tern,
Rounding Snow Island one minke whale and one humpback. Ant tern and lotsa of Cape Petrels and Wilson’s Storm Petrels The store was open and some folks did some shopping.
At 2 Brad gives us our landing/zodiac/ethics talk. Coming around to the south side of Livingston Island. We have made better than expected time because of a following wind. Speaking of wind it is blowing at 30 knots right now constantly. We may have to change locations (Hannah Pt was the original site) and go to Plan B. We do. At 4:30 we launch our first shore party onto Half Moon Island, lies between Livingston and Greenwich Islands. 62 36 S. The landing is smooth and easy. Rain is happening and heavy overcast. Met by fur seals and Chinstrap penguins, the little mountaineers. Sure enough there are many babies and quickly losing their down and gaining adult plumage. Skuas shooting through the air, the copraphage Ant. Sheathbill (aka Ant dove.) A few blue eyed Cormorants and Wilson’s petrel flying around. We stay 5 meters or 15′ away from every animal but the Fur seals. We give them 15 meters or 50′. They do tend to get feisty!!! The top is off limits as is the Argentine Base. Most of us walk east to the other beach where there are a few Gentoos on shore. We leave a bit earlier than the promised 7 because there is a slight change in the weather. But that’s OK because most of us were ready, it is cold, rainy and windy. Livingston becomes more visible to the north, huge glaciers. Icebergs all around. COOOOOOL. We are really here. Time for showers and Happy Hour.

Friday, March 3. Very smooth ride all night as we go farther and farther south. We awaken surrounded by land, glaciers, icebergs, minke and humpback whales. We are here, the beauty is breathtaking. Grp. 2 lands first to Cuverville. The beach is littered with whale bones. There are Gentoo chicks galore with every hairstyle available. Skuas through the air, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Ant terns, Imperial cormorants. We have plenty of time to wander through the large colony. The human antics are almost as good as the penguin ones. John has his tux on and looks real good. It is profound to have some quiet time to just sit and take it all in viscerally. And to boot the sun comes out and lights the ice up bright blue. Temp is 33. I get to see an iceberg calve into the sea. Great sound, dramatic. On the zodiac rides back we see Leopard seals very well and get very close to the icebergs and motor right through all the floating ice cubes. Back on boat for our Bar BQ on the back deck. Just in time because it starts to snow!! Carolyn says we are getting the Ant sampler, a little bit of everything. We are in a very tight channel, icebergs everywhere. Way cool way way way cool. We are supposed to with our little group after lunch but we decide to postpone it until 7. Neko Harbor is our next landing site but the snow is falling hard!! It will be on the Antarctic continent! Hurray, we are all happy campers except for Carmen who is feeling a bit under the weather like several others on the ship. The Water?? On shore at 2:30 ish the snow stopped for us. In Neko Harbor and more Gentoos, an Argentine Refuge site not occupied, dive bombing skuas, one Adelie penguin. Watched and heard avalanche and calving glaciers. Delightful to just be among those penguins tobogganing down the snow, watching the chicks chase their parents, squabbling with each other, gathering pebbles into a nest. Time to just be there in spite of the fact there are 100 of us, you can find a quiet place to just BE. Back on boat at 5:30. A minke whale plays with one of the zodiacs. A leucostic (Whitish) minke is seen as well. Sun is shining we are heading south in calm seas. It is good to be alive!! We anchor off Pt. Lockroy for the night. Watch Life in the Freezer part III. One million fur seals on the S. Georgia Islands. Mean skuas kill cute penguins. Mites survive with anti-freeze in their blood.

Saturday, March 4: We pull anchor at 6 or so. Skies are overcast gray and snowy. Minke whales abound. Heading southwest into the Lemaire Channel, 1 X 7 miles. Called “Kodak Gap” but it is pretty dark for good pixs. Can be chock full of ice but it is relatively easy to navigate through. Big snow flakes. Crabeater seals on ice, have pointed heads (dog-like), Weddell seals have cat-like heads and spotted) Leopard seals have reptilian heads and are big. We get safely through the Channel, have breakfast and we are at the farthest south of our journey, Petermann Island, 65 10, only 90 miles from the Ant circle the way the tern flies. Port Circumcision, named on Jan.1 the Day Jesus was supposed to have been cut, is our beach landing. Grp 2 on first and the weather has changed – no snow, a bit of sun. Our first Adelie penguins with chicks and more Gentoos. A couple of sheathbills with bands on their left leg. blue-eyed shags, Wilson’s SP, attacking skuas, 4 crab-eater seals on ice floe, Ant. terns. Moss and the Ant Hair grass. Great views from both hills. hundreds of icebergs in all directions. Cross to lost British men. I am left on island without life jacket. As we lunch we return back through the Lemaire Channel with sun trying to shine this time. some very good scenery, dramatic cliffs capped with snow and ice. Onto Port Lockroy, Wiencke (Winkie) Island 64 49. Half go immediately to the Post Office and restored Operation Tabarin Hut. They welcome us by thanking us for bringing good weather, best they have had in days. We mail postcards, self-tour the historic structure and have a moderate buying spree. The other half od us start with Goudier Island. Carolyn describes the location of a couple of penguin chicks nests as being on the far side of the “Valley of Penguin Pooh”. It is pretty stinky over there. Though the staff says they can’t smell it anymore. The sailboat here has 6 guys doing a documentary on leopard seals. Brad gets all our passports stamped with an Ant. stamp. Many Gentoo chicks that seem a bit farther behind than many others that we have seen. We anchor here through dinner and invite the guys to eat with us. How could they refuse?? Dave Burkett and Rob come over and first take a hot shower. The station has been open and restored for five years. 1911-31 home of the whalers. 1944-62 the Royal Navy was here. And then it was abandoned. Now it is the busiest place in the Ant. We were the 99th ship to visit this year!! And the Acad. Ioffe with Brad was the first to visit in 95 when Dave first came and now we are the last for Dave since he is leaving Rob runs the busiest PO in the Ant. Dropped off 11 Nov with 6 month supply of food. Rob has been studying the impact of visitation on the nesting penguins and has not seen any difference in breeding success, only change is in habituation to disturbance. They will both be glad to return to the land of available females. There was no trouble between the English and Argentines in the Ant during the Falkland War- there were still good mates.

Sunday, 5 March. Left at 5 or 6 heading south in Neumayer Channel and then east into Errera Channel. We enter into Paradise Bay. At 9 our group meets in the library to have a talk about seal origins, ID, behavior. Our group Richard in one Zodiac piloted by Santiago. We are off at 10:30ish. 38, 12 knot winds. Almirante Brown Naval Base. This is the one burned down by the Arg Doctor who was forced to stay a second winter and then burned the station down to effect his own rescue. We had incredible encounters with Minke Whales, feeding, lunging. Best Santiago and I have ever seen. Ant terns on Icebergs, Ant fur seals, several Crabeater seals. Lichens, blue-eyed shags, sheathbills, copper staining on rock walls. Light is glorious. Supposed to be Snow Petrels around but we don’t see them. Asado at the Base and Argentine music that drives Santiago nuts. Heading north between large glaciers up to Danko Island for our landing at 2:00. We pass Neko Harbor on the way. At lunch Brad announced that the Russian doctor had a concoction that would help those suffering from diarrhea. There was a stampede to get the milky white mystery juice.
Onto Danko Island. An abandoned British Site now used by a few Argentine scientists. Big colony of Gentoos. A young skua chick and upset parents dive-bombing us. Great hike all the way to the top for a fantastic view and we justify eating all that pasta for lunch. Fun to watch all those Gentoos walking up the snowfield. Weather conditions still good, not sunny but 39 with light wind. Our zodiac goes over to see Leopard and crabeater seals on ice floes and cruising the shore. We continue north during snack (chocolate covered donuts and good peaches) out the Errara channel and into the Gerlach Strait. The Marine Expeditions staff on board is one good-looking bunch of people, they apparently don’t hire ugly people. Happy hour drinks are White Russians. I imbibe my first ones- good. I am continually amazed at how comfortable this entire experience is. Outside it is snowing, icebergs are floating around. Inside the drinks are flowing, Babe in the City is playing on the VCR, a small disco ball is turning in the bar, hot water is flowing out of the showers, someone is cooking a fabulous dinner for us, setting the table, our beds are being turned down, the boat is a very comfortable home. wow is it easy! After dinner we attempt to view Life in the Freezer, Part IV. Steve, the new guy, tries his darnest to get it rewind but alas it is the wrong tape. Take 2. Bad, mean giant petrels, We begin motoring north and encounter a minor swell, we forgot how good we have had it.

Monday, March 6. We arrive off Hannah Pt., Livingston Island at 7:30. This was our first scheduled stop but we couldn’t land and went on to Half Moon Island instead. Heavy fog, visibility is limited. We see some of our “northern” friends- Cape Petrels, Giant Petrels. The anchorage is pretty far from our landing. Onshore around 9, 32 and 15 knot. Feels a bit colder. This is our first chance for Elephant Seals and Macaroni penguins. Upon landing we go left for about 9 Macaronis mixed in with the Chinstraps, white morph giant petrels and their nests (Santiago tells me they are very sensitive to disturbance and will abandon the nest very easily upon disturbance by people). There are only 2 E. Seals in the wallow. A large female and smaller juv. male. No croutons available for the sheathbills. Pretty smelly. To the right and up the cliff we could look down on 4 juv. male E. Seals play-fighting on the beach. Another banded sheathbill. There is abundant Ant Hair Grass, that we are not supposed to walk on. Most of us back to the boat earlier than usual, a bit colder it seems. Our zodiac fills up with water, quite cold and adds a bit of excitement to the long journey back to the ship. The clouds lift and we can see the glaciers that feed the sediment so visible in the sea here. We head due south to Deception Island 10 miles away during our lunch of pizza. The Island is one of the most famous visitor sites in the Ant. Along the east side there is an abrupt ice cliffs. We enter through Neptune’s Bellows at 1:30 into Deception Island, called that because it appears to be a solid island. Port Foster. First discovered by sealers, Nathaniel Palmer 1810ish. He climbed up Neptune’s Window and was allegedly the first American to see the Ant. peninsula. It was a much clearer day than to today. Pendulum Bay for the hardcore swimmers. Carmen the support person records Lynn, Bob and LaVerne swim in it. Some of the rest of us power nap. Most of the site is protected and you cannot leave the beach. Back on the boat and we move to Whalers Bay. Abandoned about 1962 due to overharvesting the whales. At the peak in 1930-40s processed 100 whales per day! No wonder there are none left. During WWII the Allies poked big holes in the fuel tanks so the Germans couldn’t use them. The Germans sunk a Norwegian whaling ship, the only good thing the Germans did according to Sonja. A British and Chilean Research Station destroyed by lava flow in 1969. Much equipment abounds, being reclaimed by nature. It is a bizarre and wondrous lunar landscape. Back on the boat and back out through Neptune’s Bellows heading northeast toward the oldest base in Ant,, run by the Chileans. We now estimate that at least half of the boat has the BUG whatever it is. Happy hour is really catching on now, party on down, down under. After dinner a video of a collapsing 350′ iceberg that was a dramatic close-call for another ship this past Jan… Almost a “situation” as her Captain said. Then Jim attempts to run Part 5 but once again someone has sabotaged the video. We retreat to bed. Very smooth passage about midnight we arrive at Discovery Bay. Someone is stealing the Marine Expeditioners from the hallways. Is nothing sacred??? Boots are next.

March 7.At 4:30 AM one of the English Lady Birders sees Snow Petrels at the ship’s lights eating krill. A Wilson’s storm petrel is found on board, warmed up and released. The early risers catch the bird. Group A goes to the base at 9. Since it is up to nearly 40 David wears his shorts. The Chileans think he is poco loco! Arturo Prat base was the first established in Ant in 1947. 62 29’. 11 staff, 2 marine biologists. A cute museo with pictures of Captain Pardo, who rescued Shacklton’s men from Elephant Island. Visit to the chapel. Alexandro, our guia, shows us his room, the playa, the water pumps, the pool table, the gym. It is a well-run and well-maintained base. Seismograph with sat link to Washington. CNN and Baywatch. Back to boat around 10:45. We meet outside the library for the penguin prostitution story and a bit about the green plants. Alice algae took a LICHEN to Freddie Fungus and now they live together in a natural relationship. Golden algae (diatoms) colored the belly of the Minke whales cream. Gave rise to the common name Sulphur Belly for the southern Blue whales.
Penguin prostitution

PRACTITIONERS of the oldest profession have been found at work on the icy shores of Antarctica plying their trade in a dress of black and white feathers – they are penguin prostitutes. The first recorded examples of bird prostitution have been observed in colonies of Adelie penguins on Ross Island, about 800 miles from the South Pole, by Dr Fiona Hunter of Cambridge University and Dr Lloyd Davis of the University of Otago, supported by the New Zealand Antarctic Programme.

They observed how male Adelies pay for sexual favours with rocks and stones, a limited resource that can prove crucial for the survival of broods. In no other bird have such extra-marital exchanges been recorded, said Dr Hunter, a post-doctoral researcher who has made annual visits to Antarctica to study their sex life.

She described how, at the start of the breeding season, the penguins hunt for stones. Once all the loose rocks have been collected, they attempt to peck them out of the frozen mud to construct a nest platform, crucial to keep eggs high and dry above mud and chilly melt water. Stones are so valuable that they will steal them from each other, though they risk being attacked by the owners of the hard currency. In the journal Auk, Drs Hunter and Davis describe how females have developed another strategy: they lure nearby male penguins for sex in exchange for the rocks. “Females have figured out that one way to steal the stones without being attacked is to swap copulations for them,” said Dr Hunter.

They slip away from their partner and wander over to the nest of an unpaired male. Standard courtship follows, with a dip of the head and a coy look from the corner of her eye. If he shows interest, she will lie prone which, in the language of penguin love, is an invitation to mate or carry out what the scientists call “extra-pair copulation”. Once mating is over, the female picks up her payment, a stone, and carries it to her nesting platform. Sometimes their customers are so satisfied that the females can return for second helpings of stones, without having to offer more sex. Other females found that a little courtship was enough to persuade a male to allow them to play with a rock, then cart it away. One especially teasing female managed to collect 62 stones this way, said Dr Hunter. “The males were probably duped into thinking that she was a possible partner.”

The zoologists are now analysing the benefits of penguin whoredom. While

the male may lose some of his rocks, he gains the possibility of fathering
extra chicks. The benefits to the females are less clear. “I don’t think that she is just after his stones,” said Dr Hunter. “Perhaps the female mates with an extra male for another reason, say to increase the quality or genetic variability of her offspring. This seems reasonable given that not all males actually father the chicks they help to rear.”

Another reason for seeking male company could be to form a relationship with a potential mate for the next season if her partner dies. The team is now planning another trip to the frozen continent to uncover more details of the penguin’s complicated love life.

I wonder if this is the origin of the saying “getting your rocksoff” ???

Lunch is tomato soup and toasted cheese sandwiches, just like Mom used to make. Comfort food before we head out into that wild and wooly Drake Passage!! Just 4 nautical miles away is Aichto Island, in the English Strait between Greenwich and Robert Islands. A volcanic island. We have a chance to walk north on it for one mile. Southern Giant Petrel nests with chicks. Soon we head north for 2 days into the DRAKE PASSAGE! Time to put those patches on. No more eating, we sleep and fast. Falklands here we come!
Onto Aichto island at 2:30 much greener and more kelp and more human debris. Bob and his little penguin (appears to be a Kinglet penguin) was a hit with Gentoos of course and the avid Japanese photographer. There were a few chinstraps at the north end of the island. Took long walk to the north in heavy fog, surreal volcanic shapes. Elephant and fur seals, white-morph southern giant petrel chicks still in the nest and very very big and fuzzy. Some of us get lost in the fog. Many whalebones, moss galore. I felt like we as a group were not being very careful about not stepping on it. Our last Terra Firma for a while. Pulled anchor at 5:15 and heading north. Dinner has a great turnout. Relatively smooth seas. Finally see the last of ‘life in the freezer’.

Wed. 8 Mar. I see Snow petrels out my porthole at 3AM. Well maybe not. Today is a Russian holiday Day of the Woman. In Russia women don’t have to work but not on the ship, Victor tells me. Good, I did not want to make my own bed. Blue petrel, Common diving petrel, Wilson’s and white-bellied storm petrel, slender billed prion, gray-headed and BB albatross, corys shearwater, soft-plumaged petrels, unid. dolphins. Sonja’s talk on Ice Seals at 10. I fall asleep under the influence of drugs. Lunch and the sea conditions are still good. Fog but calm seas. Jim’s lecture on Scott and Admansen’s race to the South Pole. Store is open. Ships tours continue, reading. Making good time. Videos being watched. New Birds on bridge= sooty shearwater, blue petrel, 1 unid whale. At around 3 PM we cross the convergence.
Penguin talk by Akos/Santiago. Kept giving us hints for Ant Jeopardy. 38-39 body temp. 20 million Macaroni most numerous, 1 in 2 penguins. 40 sp of fossils, now 17 living sp. eyes can see in and out of water. 70-90 feathers per sq.inch! 7 sp in Ant. Emperor 1.2 million breed in very tight colony that are constantly whirling, moving outside birds into middle. Skuas, gulls and sheathbills are the land predators. Sheathbills favorite food is the snot of e. seals. Klepto-parasites. Catastrophic molting. Chinstrap adults at Hannah Pt were molting, takes alot of energy. Little penguins live 12-20 yrs big guys to 40 yrs.. In honor of the International Day of the Woman, Adam serves Bailey’s Irish Creme? After dinner there is a rousing game of Ant Jeopardy. Very clever, put on by some of the PAX. Continues to be a very smooth passage.

Thursday, 9 March. Air temperatures definitely warmer, positively balmy. Wandering, sooty, royal, grey headed albatrosses before breakfast. Pretty quiet out there on the sea. Waiting for Brad to tell us something but there is nothing to tell. Great looks at Royal and Wandering Albatross. Sooty shearwaters, white-chinned petrel, slender billed prions.
At 10 we have a lecture by Jim in the history of the Falklands. Maybe first visitors were Patagonian Indians. 1592 John Davis. Hawkings 1594. French. Every one named them different names. Pt. Louie French had first settlement 1764. 51 S. Temp is moderate 32-75, windy. Argentina sent German-born, Philly educated Vernea, to administer the Islands. Arrested 2 Americans for overharvesting the seals. USA sent warships down and they destroyed the town. Everyone left for years. Was a motley bunch of denizens, now mostly British. 320 sheep per person. 2000 April to June, 1982. Falkland/Malvinas war. 800 Argentine, 300 British, 3 Kelpers killed.. Now there are more Brit military personnel than Kelpers. Good things= Argentina kicked out the Generals, Falklanders got much more financial help from GB. South Georgia Islands were also involved in the war. Many of Jims photos are from there and he recommends that we go there next time.
We are on Drake Lake, so smooth, but no birds. After lunch Sonja continues her lecture series on pinniped (feather footed). I fall asleep again! Back out on deck we see a group of Hourglass Dolphins!! New species for me. 45′ later to the starboard side another group is seen, maybe the same species. Northern Giant Petrel, feeding flocks of prions at krill (boiling at sea surface). Akos’ lecture at 5:30 on the “Wildlife of the Falkland” is actually just on the bird life. 2 main islands east and west but total is 778 islands. Not sub-Antarctic island but temperate. Only 10-15 non-windy days all year, always cloudy, humid but temperate throughout the year. 186 sp. total birds. 61 breeding, 18 land birds, 43 seabirds, only 9 Passerines (songbirds). These songbirds are all subsp from the mainland (no endemics) but are larger, have extended breeding season, fewer eggs. Not much for them to eat due to the wind affecting the vegetation., no insects, few fruits. 163 sp. of flowering plants and ferns. 90 are exotic introductions. 2 main types of vegetation- soft camp= white grass Tussock and hard camp= woody shrubs no trees like diddle-dee. Conservation ethic is weak here. Wiped out the native fox. Put bounty on geese and killed 7 million of them. Also killed prions, tvs, all birds of prey, burned the tussock grass to improve pasture for the 5.5 million sheep! In general have not been good environmentalists. Still calm out there and not much in the sea. distribution of food resources in the marine environment is spotty. Bl-browed alba and a few Magellanic diving petrels. Roman the weird Russian has been on the boat for 8 months without seeing his wife and child. They shouldn’t let him off of the second deck so soon. Oh my god what is that bright object in the western sky?? The sun! The sunset was beautiful, great clouds, the green flash happened. And Mercury er make that Mars was underneath the Crescent moon. It is definitely getting warmer! Tomorrow at 8 AM we should be right off of Sea Lion Island. We get a long hike tomorrow. Be good to get off the boat. Rockhoppers and other delights tomorrow. Going to a Lodge for snacks and tea.

Friday, 10 March. One week from today we will be on our way home! Arrive off Sea Lion Island Falklands at around 7:00 AM. We are in heavy thick fog and 52 with light wind. Land at Cow Pt on a beautiful white sandy beach. Stash our boots and begin a long walk, not stooll. No stopping until we get to the Rockhopper breeding area. Never mind that our fearless leader, A-Kos has never been there. one hour and 15′. By the nursery we find striated cara-cara, Turkey vultures, tussock birds, Falkland thrush. Other birds upland geese, the Falkland Flightless Steamer duck, Patagonia crested duck, Magellanic penguins, PEREGRINE falcon, black-throated finch, southern house and Grass wrens, Falkland pipit, rufous throated dotterel (in winter plumage), bl-crowned night heron, brown hooded Dolphin and Kelp gulls, darkfaced ground tyrant, Common snipe,(yes Hugh they are real), blackish oystercatcher. No rockhoppers but we did find some very very large male Southern Sea Lions laying in the Tussock grass looking like bears. Meanwhile Les the jogger gets lost in the fog and nearly goes into a state of panic being attacked by penguins and nearly stepping on an elephant seal. He recovers and now has a story. Great looks from the cliff at e. seals and sea lions with yearlings. Noticed some flipper tags on the e seals – yellow and pink ones. Rock shags, Imperial cormorants, giant petrels. Getting very warm and the fog clears. Some head toward the lodge for tea and crumpets, a few of us just watch the seals for a long while. Plants- diddle-dee, mountain berry, sea cabbage (Senecio), tussock grass, chickweed, sheep sorrel, wild celery, native woodrush, Gunnera (Pig vine), native crassula, native boxwood at nursery, small ferns galore and so much kelp. The whole place feels fecund. Almost tropical Carolyn says and I guess it is true – the contrast between the Ant and here is striking. Back on the boat a bit late. Afternoon excursion to Bleaker Island, not too far away. First landing at 3:15. There is a land rover and cows waiting for us. Again onto a white, wide sandy beach. 1600 pairs of breeding Gentoo to the right. To the left about one mile away are some Rockhopper (aka Snipe Penguins). We go in search of them. Great hike. Cows, horses, Magellanic penguins, upland and Ruddy-headed geese. Rock shags with chicks, to wondrous Imperial Cormorant colony with nearly full-grown chicks. Skuas harassing them, dolphin gulls wandering around. Begging, regurgitation, usual stuff. Then to the Rockhoppers, past the surreal elevated nests of the Cormorants made of old Tusscock grass. Looked like the Dogon people of West Africa homes. Sheathbills, steamer ducks, pied or magellanic oystercatchers. Falkland skua. The sun came out several times, one of the 15 days of sun in the Falklands. Made everything more beautiful. Military meadowlark with the red chest. Our ship riding high up over the grassy plain. Double banded plovers and white rumped sandpipers. Back on boat by 6:30ish, happy hour and time for showers and then dinner. Emperor Penguin movie tonight. Hugh has figured out the system for sleeping in the same room as his SNORING roommate. Heading north and we expect to land at Volunteer Pt around midnight. Seas are calm.

Saturday, 11 March. Awoke to a rolling swell and thousands of sooty shearwaters. Landing at Volunteer Beach is doubtful. Can see King Penguins on the shore and up on the hill in their breeding colony. Cows too. 30 knot wind and high surf on the beach. So it is to Plan B, . Oh well we have been lucky til now. Factoid for the day- Union Jack is union of 3 crosses, St. George, St. Andrew, St. Patrick. Jack means flag. Heading south to Stanley for a full day in town, LUCKY US! Time to shop at the bomb store. Overcast, typical weather. Flock of 5 cattle egrets around the boat. Rumor has it they land on the stern. Entering the harbor we see two dolphins (Brad says Peale’s) leap high out of the water. Our “dry” landing is one of the wettest yet. Spray on the boat from the hard wind We invade Stanley (whoops! poor choice of words!). The ordinance place is out of signs. Bummer, was the perfect gift for my 13 yr old. Next we hit the PO, and wait in lines for stamps, first day issues. The museum at the far end of town is a long walk but worth it. Very well done. The real Horse Whisperer happens to be in town and is visiting the museum. A good ole boy from Mississippi. The entire ship is wandering around trying to elevate the local gift shop economy. We eat at the Victory Bar, others go to the Upland Goose. Bob eats Upland Goose, tough he says. At the Internet cafe we enter cyberspace with a spot of tea. There are alot of memorials of the 82 war in town, not surprising. And also from WW 1 and II. Carmen et al visit the dead people. Back on the ship by 5, we are having a Bar BQ on the deck in the rain and wind. Navigating toward New Island on the far western side of the Islands. Film is Under the Ice by a New Zealand film co. Lynn & Carolyn were both distressed by the obvious disturbance that man was causing in the pursuit of science and for us- entertainment. The sounds of the Weddell seals were extremely haunting. It seemed like a place that we should not be in. We can see lights as we round the Islands on the south side.

Sunday, 12 March. Very smooth seas. Up to mixed fog. Small group of Peales Dolphins, many BB albatrosses, Greater Petrels, sooties, C. diving petrels, giant petrels, one peregrine flew over. Sun playing hide and seek, thick fog then none then back again. Thousands of sooty shearwaters, bb albatrosses and Imperial cormorants. To West Island and the sun is shinning on Ian Strange and Tony Chators place. Beautiful light. Onshore a bit after nine. They meet us with books, stamps and posters. The old stone/wooden barn at the landing is left over from the American whalers in the late 1700’s. They named the Island New after New England, used the cove for quite a few whaling years. Abandoned ship is a former Canadian minesweeper of ancient vintage and in dire need of repair. The black crowned night herons like it. We have another one of those 15 minute! hikes to the rookery. Rockhoppers, Black-browed albatross, imperial Cormorants. Most of the albatross chicks very large and fuzzy. Skuas, red-backed hawks, striated cara-caras, Kelp gulls all flying overhead. Dramatic abrupt sedimentary cliffs, thousands of BB albatrosses in the water, their very white heads looking like golf balls in the sun. Giant petrels picking through the abundant kelp at low tide. European hare droppings everywhere, Carmen saw one and I did too. Cushion plants looking like moss. Red-breasted meadowlark, dark faced tyrant, upland goose, flightless steamers, Pat. crested ducks. Back on the ßoat for lunch, Mexican food-Very popular. Thousands of cormorants following boat. A grey backed storm petrel in swimming pool. Jim’s talk on Shackleton causes a number of folks to fall asleep. Richard announces that there are millions of shearwaters. We are west of S. Jason. Up on the bridge to see. Our first Yellow nosed albatross. Richard asks Bob to find one and he immediately complies. They are found mostly between here and Brazil. We are starting to see trash at sea now. Akos has a talk on Antarctica as a habitat. Abiotic and biotic features. most isolated, highest, coldest. 4 divisions- continental, offshore islands, Ant islands, sub-Ant islands. Reflects most light. only 2% land available to nest on. 8 sp. can be found on mainland. one land bird. Strong winds and no insects so restricts passerines. 95% of all birds breed on the peninsula. No raptors, skuas occupy the niche. Heading north-northeast toward BA smooth seas so far. Bloody Mary is the cocktail special tonight from Adam, the first name in bartending. Carolyn and I go out on the deck and witness bioluminsce in the sea, not alot but some. Seas are OK. From New Island to BA is 1140 miles.

Monday, 13 March. In the early AM the seas begin to get a little bouncier. Wind from the north, swells from the north so we are heading right into them. Better ride that way. New birds- Arctic jaeger, Atlantic petrel. Continue with Great S-waters, BB albatrosses, giant petrels, and not much else. Rainy and 12 degrees C. traveling between 12 and 14 knots. Bouncy seas. The big bird event for the day are Pomerine Jaegers, down from N.America. No make that long-tailed jaegers. I spent most of the day either on the bridge or in bed asleep. I did finally go on the boat tour with Olaf. He clearly is disappointed that science is no longer being conducted on the vessel. Sonjas lecture on Whaling and Sealing. Jim’s lecture on Mawsen and Nordskulle (?), the forgotten (stupid) explorers. Akos on bird adaptations to the Antarctic Peninsula. Great time to sleep during the lectures. At Happy Hour things are starting to calm down on the open seas. Tapes and books are being packed and we aren’t even in BA yet!!! Weather is supposed to improve. Hope so. Video tonight is Rounding the Horn. An hilarious 1980 narration by Capt Johnson of a film he shot in 1929 rounding the Horn in a classic sailing ship from Hamburg. Getting calmer.

Tuesday, 14 March. Very calm now. Foggy and occasional clearing. New albatross- Salvins. And the usual GS and AP. Very calm and beautiful. Sunbathing as we cruise into the subtropics. BA same latitude as Atlanta and LA- 36. A mystery ground dove is circling the boat, long way from land, 250 miles. Jim’s lecture on Ant in Literature and Art. The BEST is the Worst Journey on Earth, just to get some penguin eggs. Many yellow-nosed albatrosses showing up now. Wind increasing, Unided dolphins to the starboard. Conservation of Seabirds by Santiago and Akos. Much reading getting done. Time to pay bills tomorrow. 13 knots. making good time, heading north. For over an hour we travel through 1000’s of birds as far as the binoculars can see on all sides. We were on the edge of the continental shelf. I saw one insect fly by. A very bountiful sea. Many jaegers, yellow-nosed albatross, great shearwaters, Atlantic petrel, Wilson’s storm petrels. We are all getting very ready to get off this boat. Another great sunset, balmy temp to 70 today. No bioluminense tonight. seas are very very calm. Half moon. We are growing to hate the Texans. Rumors abound of a TV/VCR in their room and daily theft of electronic cords.

Wed. 15 March. Wow. It is warm. calm seas. Butterflies and moths flying by. Grey headed albatross, other boats, Spanish on the radio, 30 miles offshore. Rio de la Plata here we come. My group meets right after breakfast for closing circle. Some of our highlights: The whole thing, penguins, icebergs. Not as cold as expected. Grateful for a good roommate. Smell of the rookeries, blue of the ice. Thought the penguins would be bigger. Didn’t suffer enough for the journey. Magnificent scenery. The quiet time of just sitting and watching. Patter of penguin feet. Diarrhea talk among strangers. The sounds of the shearwaters in front of the ship. Some sadness that man is even here. Expected different landscapes, more abstract, those of the interior. Dirty glaciers. Zodiac ride in Paradise Bay. The continent is not pristine but our tourist impact is nothing compared to the sealers and whalers.

Continue north with no birds. We enter the Rio de la Plata, one big entrance. There are absolutely no birds now. Getting hot. Breanne has a surprise birthday party in the lounge. She is speechless for 15 seconds- a record! Pay our bills. ouch! We pick up our pilot, make that 3 pilots. Boat traffic has increased, Montevideo is visible. At 5 there is the final quiz. C and I opt out because we have spent the afternoon reviewing our wills and need the sunshine to recover. humid and warm. Great sunset, heading right toward it. The Captains Dinner. We thank the crew, they made our trip very pleasant. We made 16 of 17 landings. the weather was cooperative.. Pablo says that we were the worst group he has ever had. Loud loud loud, everyone having a simply marvelous time. Half moon, stars. Perfect evening temp.

Thursday, 16 Mar. Docked about 7 AM. time to pack up and get ready to hit BA. Our group leaves a bit early. Carmen, Michi and LaVerne head out to shop and bird. Bob, Dave, Lynn, Hugh, and I take the short walk (accdg. to our faithful guia – David just a couple of blocks, no problema) from the pier to La Recoleta. 2 hrs and 40 miles later we struggle to the city of the dead. We can relate to them. We find Eva’s guts and then take an expensive lunch at an Italian restaurant. Don’t even think of asking him to change the recipes, they are over 100 yrs old! Next a very crowded taxi ride to La Boca. We do the obligatory stroll and then taxi back to Dique 1 and meet the girls. The Reserve is closed due to an arson fire yesterday which the police are investigating today. We join up with Richard, Don and June and have a splendid time birding. Monk parrots (nest high in radio tower), rufrescent tiger heron, great egret, cattle egret, snowy egret, striated heron, plumbeous ibis, limpkin, guira cuckoo, red-crested cardinal, black-masked gnatcatcher, white faced tree duck, South American stilt, Rosy-billed pochard, fulvous tree duck, silver teal, white-cheeked pintail, kiskadee, pied billed grebe, yellow winged blackbird. Great looks at nutrias. Finally around 6:30 we recongregate at Los Troncos for our final meal. red wine and dead roasted cows. fun fun fun. There was quite a bit of staff/group romance and intrigue going on which most of us missed (including me) But Kim gave us some of the lowdown. Juan and the other Carolyn has a romance from day 2. Juan hitting also on Kim. Sonja with the hots for Santiago. Rumors that Brad is sleeping with Kim and /or Carolyn. The blonde Russian with the bangs is a lesbian. The one with the cute upturned nose and the loose outfits is Roman (the very weird Russian) girlfriend. Joe the Texan actually picked up a penguin. One of the guys from Arkansas (not Gerald the other one) has a screaming hisssy fit because someone took his boots and was standing in line at the dock ready to punch out the person who did it. The fat guy that Carmen observed with nasty eating habits was seen actually kicking a penguin out of his way! The other Carolyn meanwhile has a concussion, faints and demands that Juan takes her immediately to the pharmacy to get a morning-after pill. If you are feeling out of the loop, Don’t worry, I was too. We say goodbye to Bob who is staying to go to Iguazu Falls. To airport in 2 separate buses. NY and MIA. Unfortunately the NY flight is delayed until tomorrow. Some of the Canadians manage to switch to our plane and we are off around 1 AM for an 8 hr flight north. Connect in MIA but our plane is delayed finally we arrive to home sweet home around 7:15. Glad to be here.


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.
Michael Ellis


With Michael and Sonam

Quiz 2006

Take this before you read the trip synopsis.

What part of Bhutan was Sonam from? How long did it take to walk to Jakar with his family?
How many species of birds did Don count? How many was he striving for?
What is the biological claim to fame of Brachen fern?
What is yub? Yum?
Who went night hunting in our camp?
What is a dakini?
Name three traditonal Bhutanese foods we had.
How do you identify Nepali women?
Name three conifers that we saw.
Name the two rivers that join in Panakha.
What are the two greatest problems facing Bhutan according to Sonam?
What is a cobra plant?
What does Nema mean? Sonam?
Who spent the most money on helping the GNP of the country with the GNH (gross national happiness?)
What does the Snake, the Boar and the Rooster represent?
Where was Tksang?
How many Yaks left in the wild?
Which guy has the moustache? The goatee? The half closed eyes?
How many nuns at Kila Gompa?
How much does one blanket cost?
What was the highest elevation we drove to?
What was the final score in the USA vs Bhutan invitational Ura basketball game?
What hikes did Greg go on?
What is a manny? What is a Mani Wall?
Who is the corporate guy and why was he called that?
What does Tashi Delek mean.
How many valleys in the Bumtang Region?
What do the five colors on the prayer flags represent?
What does Tantra literally mean?
What century was Buddhism brought to Bhutan?
What does Rhododendron literally means,
Where did we have geezer switches.
What is a sky burial?
What is an annelid? Name one Mark found er that found Mark.
What is Ara made from?
What does the word Himalaya mean?

28, 29, 30 April into May1, 2.

We begin by converging on different days to Bangkok. Some of have some time to sightsee in the hot, humid bustling city. This is a stark contrast to where we are going. Tak tak drivers take some of us for a ride. Jewelry factory anyone? Most of us are at the Miracle Grand Convention Hotel. Modern and convenient is the word.

May 3.
Wake up calls at 3 AM. Way too early but since we are so jet lagged it doesn’t really matter. We get to the Bangkok airport at 330 AM (this is actually 430 PM in San Francisco if that makes it any better) for our 530 flight to Paro, Bhutan on the kingdom’s national carrier, Druk Air. W meet Manny/Patty and Craig/Sally all now present and accounted for. Airborne at 615. First we fly to Calcutta. Airbus 319 about 1 1/2 hour away. Mamie showed up for this flight yesterday thinking we were leaving on the May 2nd. Her only mistake of the entire trip. Soon we will find out we are traveling with the Queen of Bhutan! Bfast of sorts. Then back in the air for a 45 minute flight to Paro. On the left side of the plane we are lucky and have glorious views of the snow-capped Himalayas. Druk Air flies over eight of the ten tallest peaks of the world . We see both Mt. Everest and Kanchenjunga sticking up above the clouds. Except for Greg who changed seats and missed it. AUSPICIOUS is the word we will use over and over. And we start dropping and dropping. The remarkable and steep descent into the Paro Valley is an awe-inspiring beginning to our adventure. The pilot does a fine job and we give him a round of applause when we are safely on the ground. A very memorable plane landing.

The air is wonderful and refreshing esp. after Bangkok. 61 degrees, light wind, our lodge is 7400′.

After immigration slight problem with Mamie and Craig’s passport numbers. But what are they going to do? They have to let in the country now. We get our bags and meet Sonam (Auspicious), Palden and the bus driver Nema (sunshine). We will meet our luggage driver Uygen a bit later.

3rd largest city in Bhutan 10-15k population in Paro, 700K in all Bhutan. Himalayan Blue Pines on the hillside. Red billed cough (Crows). The prayer flags mark the sacred spots or places where monks meditated, slept, walked. The messages are carried by the wind. We are 27 degrees north which is the same as Tampa.

We pass through Paro and continue up river. We pass our lodge and follow the road all the way to the end. Indian laborers working on the road, paid by the amount of work they actually do in a day. Lady pounding rocks with a baby on her back. What karma and luck that we are in this bus and she is out there.

Out the window we can see our first prayer wheel with an old man and woman praying. These spinning wheels multiply the prayers sending hundreds of thousands of them flying outward.

” In a hundred ages of the gods, I could not tell thee of the glories of the Himalaya”…. from the Puranas.

There are essentially three ranges of the Himalaya (Sanskrit for “abode of snow”) in Bhutan. The one to the south is like the foothills – sub Himalayan range. The ones that we will be in all of our trip range to 18000′ and are called the Middle Himalayan Range. Then there are the farthest northern ones – the biggies to 25000′ and more- the Great Himalayan Range! Keep going and there is the Tibetan Plateau, the highest human occupied region in the world. In short, 25 million years ago the Indian Subcontinent broke off the east side of Africa and went running north-north east and slammed into the Asian continent. The Himalayas are still rising as a result of the powerful collision.

There is an extremely close relationship between Indian and Bhutan. At the end of the paved road several of the well-known trekking routes begin. 8202′. We park and climb up the last Dzong built in 1647 by Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel (aka The Great Unifier) to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders led by Mongolian warlord, Gushri khan 1644. It was featured in a 1914 National geographic article. Drukgyal Dzong means the Fortress of victorious Bhutanese. It burned down in 1951- another alleged yak butter fire.

We circle the lower part of the Dzong. Himalayan cypress (the national tree, which we always find around temples and Dzongs), blue pine, walnut, Osmanthus suavis is a Jasmine relative and a very common flowering white shrub we will see throughout Bhutan, wild roses, strawberries, very tiny gentians, ferns, terraced slopes below, high mts. to us but with no local names because they are less than 12K’!, simply divine. There is coffee and tea and snacks waiting for us. We will come to expect and always enjoy this. A flacon is teasing us- we cannot quite identify it. Probably a Common (Don) Kestrel. A bit cloudy slight spit of rain but it holds off. When the sun comes through we can feel the heat and the elevation. Sonam tells us that the current King rejected his palace and built a simple log house in the forest full of flowers. Each of the four queen sisters has her own house in Thimphu.

Starting to fade we are and so back down the valley to Paro Kichu river lodge where we will spend the first two nights and will return to at the end of our Bhutanese journey.

We check into our delightful rooms on very pleasant grounds. The nice sound of the Paro Chu (river) flowing nearby. Then a buffet lunch influenced by the cuisine of India and proves to be a great improvement the entire trip over my last time here three years ago. Then we have a brief orientation by Sonam and me. At 2 we all fade into naps and much needed rest.

Some of us meet at 5 for a stroll through the grounds of the lodge. Good birds- redstart, wagtail, black bulbul, russet sparrow. The light is nice. Palden our presumed expert on plants and animals of Bhutan comes with us. He is from the eastern part of the country. 2 kids one 6 and one 2. Lives in Thimphu. His wife made his gho. Wove and dyed the cloth!
Prayer flags in five colors- Red for fire, white for ether or air, Blue water, green- nature yellow-earth.

White flags are put up after someone dies. More the better esp. for the first three days. 49 days of mourning. We are just beginning to get a sense of the complexity of the religious and social customs of this country.

Dinner is shortly after 6. The food has definitely improved since I was here in 03…
There is a light rain tonight but we are bushed and ready for sleep. There are toads hopping all over the grounds- must be Himalaya toads.
May 4 Paro (altitude: 7,400 feet)

An apparition passed me early in the morning with white gloves, brown hairy legs and very short shorts. I prayed that it was not one of my group, but alas Manny was out running. A lot of us up early. Watching the children head to school. Birds along the river – ibis beak, river lapwing, oriental turtle dove, white wagtail, plumbeous river redstart, Craig walks to Paro and gets bitten by one of the “friendly” dogs of Bhutan. The dog got rabies and died soon after- that will teach him to bite an American… After breakfast we are off right at 9 the whole group in the bus on time, wow!!! That will happen the rest of the trip and Sonam and I greatly appreciate it.

Bhutan is a biological hotspot.
From Conservation International:
Two factors are considered for hotspot designation. Hotspots are regions that harbor a great diversity of endemic species and, at the same time, have been significantly impacted and altered by human activities. Plant diversity is the biological basis for hotspot designation; to qualify as a hotspot, a region must support 1,500 endemic plant species, 0.5 percent of the global total. Existing primary vegetation is the basis for assessing human impact in a region; to qualify as a hotspot, a region must have lost more than 70 percent of its original habitat. Plants have been used as qualifiers because they are the basis for diversity in other taxonomic groups and are well-known to researchers. Typically, the diversity of endemic vertebrates in hotspot regions is also extraordinarily high.
The Indo-Burma hotspot encompasses about 2 million square kilometers of tropical Asia east of the Indian subcontinent. The region includes all of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, and nearly the entire territories of Thailand, Myanmar, and Bhutan. In addition, the hotspot covers part of Nepal, far eastern India, and extreme southern China, as well as several offshore islands such as Hainan Island in the South China Sea and the Andaman Islands in the Andaman Sea.

We backtrack and then go west of the airport climbing the hill. Photo stops in perfect light. Carefully terraced and tended fields below with rice and wheat. We wind up and up and up. 46 sp of rhododendrons in Bhutan and at 8200′ we begin to see the large red one. Our first bush stop – which Manny requests. Little do we know…. We can see Mt. Jumolhari (24,500 feet) – the most sacred mountain in all of Bhutan. It was only climbed once and now it is forbidden. It offended the yak herders.
We are on the primrose path. Pieris formosa in full flower. Piptanthus is the common bright yellow legume that looks a bit like broom but is a native plant. Our first yak stop.

Bhutan Yak.

While there are over 12 million yaks in the world, most of these are domestic. Unfortunately, their wild counterparts are becoming increasingly rare. The yak is one of the most important domesticated beasts in Tibet, where it provides transportation, meat, milk, even its dried dung is used as fuel.
Bos (Latin) an ox. Grunnio (Latin) I grunt, hence grunniens, grunting: yaks are unable to moo.

Most domestic yaks of Tibet, and central Asia have black-brown, dense, woolly, and extremely shaggy coats. The wild yak of the Tibetan Plateau has a black-brown coat with patches of white. They have horns that grow up to 20 inches long in females, and 40 inches in males. The curved horns grow out from the sides of their heads and curve upwards. They use their horns to dig under the snow for food. Their bodies can grow up to 11 feet in length, their tails can grow up to 24 inches and are very bushy. The males’ weight is usually 670-1,210 pounds. The females weigh about a third as much. Yaks are wild undomesticated ox who live in Tibet and central Asia. The wild yak has adapted to living in harsh and barren areas of the Himalayan alpine region. They are one of the few animals that live at these high altitudes. Their coats have long outer hair and dense underfur to keep in their body heat. Even their digestive tract helps keep them warm. Food in the rumen ferments at 104°F, acting like an internal furnace. Their hooves are formed from two enlarged toes and spread the yak’s weight in deep snow and gives them a good grip on bare and rocky slopes.
They inhabit areas where there are lots of lichens, grasses, and tubers. The yak’s stomach can’t digest grains, so herdsman have to keep moving their domestic herds to fresh pastures.
Most of the year yak travel in single sex herds. A herd can consist of 20 to 200 animals. In the fall a bull will join a herd of females and stay with them through their breeding season. The cow will be pregnant for about eight months and give birth to one calf every other year. Their babies are born around June. Female calves stay with the herd, but the bulls move away after three years to join a bachelor herd. Their average life span is about 23 years.
They spend their summers on the high plateaus above the snow line to get away from the heat. Wild yak can easily live in temperatures of -40° F because of their dense coats, but will move to the lower plains before the freezing winter weather arives.
Yaks help to prevent grasslands from growing too tall by eating the grasses. They move around so they don’t overgraze any area. Their dried dung is used as fuel, which is very important in the treeless regions where they live.
There are over 12 million yak in the world; most of them are domestic. The wild yak was domesticated about 2,000 years ago. Unfortunately, the number of wild yak is decreasing very quickly, due to uncontrolled hunting, and by their pastures being taken over by domestic yak. There are probably only a few hundred wild yak, and they have been categorized by the IUCN as endangered. Wild yak are now officially protected in China.
Main Predators: Tibetan wolf.

At 10700′ the larches start showing up. Viburnum, dogwood, strawberries everywhere. At 1111 we arrive at Chelela Pass. We have passed though a mixed forest of blue pine, fir, maple, oak and larch, five or six species of rhododendron. Chelela is one on the highest passes (12,400′) attainable by road. The sky is blue, sun bright, light winds, perfect conditions. Prayer flags fluttering.

Passes are powerful places possessed by demonesses, so the chortens are built to counterbalance them. There are “swords of knowledge” which perched on the top of the poles. Cutting through the air.

Ha Valley to the west. Keep going and we get to Sikkim.

AD 1930 -1950’s
Pilot Officer Crown Prince Paljor Namgyal takes up bomber duty in the Royal Indian Air Force and is killed in action during World War II, while on the home front some disgruntled Sikkimese start a peoples movement to do away with the feudal system and are successful. The king takes refuge in the Political Officer’s residency and asks to be reinstated to his throne. Conceding to certain demands of the P.O., Sir Tashi Namgyal’s throne is restored and the 30-day republic annulled. In 1949, the Indian government installs a Dewan from its side to serve as the state’s chief administrative officer.
AD 1962
China attacks India. There is a massive build-up of Indian troops inside Sikkim.
AD 1963
Crown Prince Palden Thondup Namgyal marries American debutante Hope Cooke in a spectacular fairytale-like ceremony covered by Time/Life and National Geographic capturing world attention for a moment.
AD 1965
Death of Sir Tashi Namgyal. Palden and Hope succeed to the throne as Chogyal and Gyalmo.
AD 1973
Lhendup Dorji Kazi, a former Sikkim Council member leads a peoples-agitation against the monarchy making demands for a one-man one-vote system. To maintain parity between the Bhutia-Lepcha minority (25%) and the Nepalese majority (75%), a single Bhutia-Lepcha vote was equivalent to six Nepali votes. The palace administration collapses paving way for Sikkim’s merger to the Indian Union and for Kazi Lhendup Dorji to becomes it’s first Chief Minister

Dali llama has never been to Bhutan due to China. Bhutan is cautious not to offend the giant and powerful neighbor to the north.

My handy gps says we drove 28 miles and took 1′ 45″ to do it. We begin our hike fully prepared with a Ugyen “leading’ the way with our lunches. The bus will drive down below and meet us at the end of our hike. So it must be all downhill right?
We hear about Sky burial which is just two hills over where children that die who are less than 2 yrs old are laid out on the ground so the vultures can take their spirit away. They have not had time on earth to gain merit.
Start our descent only 1 1/2 hours down hill all the way says our trusty guide Sonam. Will we ever believe him again?? More sp. of rhodies showing up, ephedra, small buttercups, bluer primroses, larches up close, spruces, hemlock, blue whistling thrush, Himalaya griffons 3 fly over very high, spotted nutcracker, red billed chough and more little birdies that we will not sit still long enough for Don to id.
We headed down hill a bit too far and hit the yak herder’s shack. Whoops Uygen has lead us astray. We backtrack up and scramble back up hill. This is only Sonam’s second time on this trail!
This is a tough hike for our second day at 12 to 11K’. Finally made it to some nice prayer flags for lunch. Greg is a funny color. But everyone is being a trooper. We only hiked 1 1/2 miles but it felt longer.
Sonam says it is only 30 or 40 minutes to the Nunnery and it is all downhill..ha! But the trail leads through a magnificent rhododendron forest that is in full flower in good light. We are all overwhelmed by the beauty. Blessings of Bhutan indeed. It is really perfect in every way.

Several species of the rhododendron, clematis, lily, primula and poppy, were bred from plants and seeds collected in the Eastern Himalayas by legendary plant hunters like Joseph Hooker, Kingdom Ward, Jay Taylor, and Ludlow and Sheriff. The Chelela area is one of the best region to see the country’s rich flora.

We have the first of wonderful moments of silence. We hike quietly for 15 minutes crossing through the forest and even a bit of snow still left on the ground. The trail is steep and rocky and we are careful as we go…

By 215 we are at the chorten with the nunnery in sight. Nun sightings through our bincos and then some of the nunlets show up to haul 1 x 10’s back up the hill for a work project and these are 12 years old. Way cute. They think Mamie looks like their queen!! They are happy to let us take their picture and some speak very good English. They tell us they are studying the classics.

Kila Gompa. A private run nunnery with 41 nuns and a lama present. But first the bird of the day- long tailed minivet a brilliant red bird with a yellow females nearby. Unfortunately it is a common bird. There are also some tits. And a warbler according (greenish?) to Don.

We continue UPHILL to the nunnery. And visit our first temple. Here since the 17th century. A reincarnate hiked up here to meditate. When he died his disciples built the monastery and it has been here since. One of the few nunneries in the country and one of the few private ones. It is also most sacred nunnery in all Bhutan and very few tourists ever come here. We are very very happy. What a view looking down on the Paro Valley. A glimpse of the modern airport from a building 400 years old. Old and very new. It must get cold here in the winter we imagine. Later we will find that we can help buy some blankets for the nuns. A small gift from us directly to some in need. Compassion is the word.

Into our first temple shoes off, heads down quietly we enter a sacred space. Sonam gave us a little teaser talk on Buddhism and promised us more. Local deities still exist in the temple. We see this mean looking guy to the right on the main alter.

Guru Rinpoche (most precious teacher) brought Buddhism to Bhutan and convinced the local people that their demons would be downgraded and made to be protectors instead of scary beings. They are now linked to the well being of all the powerful local places.
Bells= wisdom. Vajra= compassion
Mark the Catholic lit a candle for all of us. Thank you.
Down we go. One of the older nuns saw how Laura was having trouble walking and gave her a beautiful walking stick. Compassion indeed!! We finally made it down at 430 except for Greg who was 25 ” later accompanied by his dutiful wife who is in much better shape.

Coffee and tea and snacks (corn flakes and cookies) waiting for us at the bus.

WAHA we scream we hit the target. We all agree it was a great start to our trip. By far the best hike for rhodoendrenons I have ever had in Bhutan. The light, the flowers, views, temple, nunlets, bright red minivet, the silence…..all perfect in every way.

Down we go back to the lodge. Russ and Blythe Carpenter join us for dinner and add immensely to our dinner conversation. Geezer switch for hot water. Rain abit at night again. Toads galore.

May 5 Punakha/Wangdi

Getting you going a bit earlier this am but there is always a reason for our madness. Off at 745 right on time whatta great group! The best I ever had. Said goodbye to Russ and Blythe Carpenter, what nice people.
We drive down the valley as I pointed out from our lunch yesterday. The vegetation changes becoming drier as we descend following the Pa Chu heading toward the Thimphu River and the Ganges and the Bay of Bengal.

Must be in a rain shadow; it is so dry. Across the river is the Temple of the Unmounted Horse. Privately owned and has been restored. They had an iron chain bridge. The only one left from the time of the great Tibetan bridge builder of the 15th century. The govt has decided to pay to restore that bridge as part of the cultural heritage of the Bhutan. We see many buildings on the hillsides that have just been left to decay. Wood and windows salvaged but there were good spirits who still want to live there.

We arrive where the Thimphu River joins the river Paro. We see the three style of chortens aka stupas side by side. Nepali, Tibetan and Bhutan. Sonam explained that Buddha’s disciples wanted to erect a statue of him but he said no I am just a teacher. He did relent and let them built stupas in his honor. Great painted trucks. We are now on a major freeway – the east west road and let’s go east. Mark sneezes and I say “sailing naked” which means long life and no diseases. This is very amusing to our guides especially Palden. Later that day some will say “naked sailor” instead.

Up river we go climbing higher and it is getting warmer. To the left we see the new 4 lane road heading into the capital, WOW impressive. Thimphu now has 70K inhabitants.

We pass the HQ of DANTAK, the Indian company that has the road concession. Workers are called dantaks. As we enter the Thimphu Valley we pass by Simtokha, the Dzong built in 1629 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, who unified Bhutan. Simtokha is the oldest of the dzongs, originally serving as a fortress to protect the region, an administrative center and the center for the monks’ religious activity. Simtokha now houses a language school where scholars of all ages study Dzongkha, the national language.

Climbing and winding up the vegetation changes. Cottonwood (alamo), aspen, maples, mistletoe, blue pine, apple orchard in flower. Up into the clouds. We have a mandatory stop for Manny to pee, no that was a police check. While here we have some great birding experiences- those pesky minivets again, white collared blackbird, plumbeous river start, oriental turtle dove. But the best is the Korntos bought by Sonan, made in Bandagdesh, eaten by all. Surprise Craig! there is corn in them. Overcast and cloudy now but OK we are on the bus.

By 1120p we arrive at . Dochu La (la means “pass”). Here we’ll see 108 special chortens (stupa) surrounded by thousands of prayer flags, dedicated to the Kingdom’s Peace and Gross National Happiness. The prayer flags on mountain slopes, bridges and high passes, transmit prayers to the Gods and keep up a constant communication with the heavens.

Nepali kids not in school are picking wildflowers and give then to us. The sun breaks through there is little wind and all is lovely. From here we all walk down to the restaurant. Buff breasted warbler. Bird highlight Red bellied woodpecker. Plant highlights – fantastic large white magnolia flowers. Good lunch. Off at 1245 we walk down hill for a bit until the bus catches up with us. wild cherry, alder, maples, many evergreen oaks, more rhodies in bloom. Birch, chestnut, Dropping quickly lovely forest, lush and full of moss, lichens, vines, we will notice the dramatic change in vegetation.

A voice from the back- I won’t mention who- but he is originally from Panama, needs to stop. Actually we all like his suggestions. Some get to pee and others bird and pee. Bonneli’s eagle, white tailed nuthatch, fork tailed swifts, Cicadas are singing as it warms up. It has rained abit and the world smells good.

At the lower elevation of the valley floor, cactus, banana plants, poinsettia and other semi-tropical plants dominate the developed landscape. Chir or long needled pines show up. Long way down. After a few hours, we come to the green terraced fields of Punakha Valley, where red rice and winter wheat are the staple crops. In the village of Lobesa is Chimmi Lhakhang – a temple dedicated to Drukpa Kuenley, who as a favorite saint of the Bhutanese people is known affectionately as “the Divine Madman”. The temple is on a hillside in the middle of rice fields and has become a pilgrimage site for childless couples.

It has begun to rain just a bit as we start our hike through the village. Common myna birds are everywhere. Ashy drongo, chestnut tailed starling seen. We walk down thorough people working either threshing the winter wheat (planted in November) or cutting it down for the cattle to eat. People work very hard here. There is even one peal of thunder. The sun is shinning as it rains, fortuitous, auspicious says Sonam. No rainbow is seen. We hike up to the temple. Big fig tree. It is a monastery now as well. monklets abound. Jacaranda in flower. Sonam gives us a little talk about this libertine monk. Shot an arrow that landed here. Born 1455.

The Tantric Buddhist Master Drukpa Kunley is one of Tibet’s foremost saints and yogis and the patron saint of Bhutan. He belongs to the Drukpa (Dragon) school of Tibetan Buddhism established by Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa and Milarepa. Well known to common Tibetans through the oral tradition of legends and songs, as well as to scholars and mystics through his biographies, he is greatly loved by all the people of Tibet as an enlightened master and an exponent of ‘crazy wisdom’. He taught through outrageous behavior and ribald humor in order to awaken the people he met to a higher awareness free from conventional morality and self-obsession. In particular he took his female friends and disciples along the path of sexual desire and relationship to free them from attachment to the illusory world and to awaken their buddha-nature. He would constantly taunt the monks with jest and insult to dissolve their hypocrisy and hidden faults. He was a Dzogchen yogi following the highest path of Yoga-tantra and his Dzogchen songs are some of the best in the Tibetan language.’
The wandering ascetic who combines preaching religion with sex and liquor. He takes them as they come his way. As a matter of historical fact homeless purveyors of faith and sexual delights were known to all religions: Rabelais has written about lascivious monks consorting with nuns; Islam has its mast-qalandars and pagal babas. Of the same genre were yogis of Mirabai’s hymns from whom Indian housewives sought spiritual and sexual gratification… Drukpa Kunley’s anecdotes are ribald beyond belief. Wherever he went he carried his ‘divine thunderbolt of wisdom’ (his penis) before him. It penetrated the mysteries of life as it did willing virgins. The bawdy tales of fornication and copious intake of chung wine are interspersed with words of wisdom, advice on how to square one’s karma, escape the vicious circle of samsara (birth, death and rebirth) and attain nirvana. The god-fearing but high-living Lama Drukpa Kunley sums up his philosophy: “The best chung wine lies at the bottom of the pail / And Happiness lies below the navel.” ‘ Khushwant Singh.
Big fig tree – the Bodhi Tree in the courtyard. We back track to the bus and then continue to our guest house. Perched on the side of a hill. Nice landscaping. After check in and a rest we meet at 630 for official introductions. dinner. What tedious food? Things have changed.

May 6

Grey treepie, oriental magpie robin, chestnut tailed starling, raven, myna, red vented bulbul- all common here. Great morning overlooking the river with mist rising in the mountains. Far down below the new city of Panakha and the river heading toward the Ganges in Bangladesh and then Bay of Bengal.

At 730 we meet for Sonam introduction to Buddhism class 1. Lotus bud open that bud. 4 noble truths, compassion for all sentient beings, Tantric means teaching and you need a teacher. Dangerous to practice it without one. Too much energy and powerful that can get negative.

The Four Noble Truths
1. Life means suffering.
2. The origin of suffering is attachment.
3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.
4. The path to the cessation of suffering.

1. Life means suffering.
To live means to suffer, because the human nature is not perfect and neither is the world we live in. During our lifetime, we inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death; and we have to endure psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression. Although there are different degrees of suffering and there are also positive experiences in life that we perceive as the opposite of suffering, such as ease, comfort and happiness, life in its totality is imperfect and incomplete, because our world is subject to impermanence. This means we are never able to keep permanently what we strive for, and just as happy moments pass by, we ourselves and our loved ones will pass away one day, too.
2. The origin of suffering is attachment.
The origin of suffering is attachment to transient things and the ignorance thereof. Transient things do not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas, and -in a greater sense- all objects of our perception. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardour, pursue of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving and clinging. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow. Objects of attachment also include the idea of a “self” which is a delusion, because there is no abiding self. What we call “self” is just an imagined entity, and we are merely a part of the ceaseless becoming of the universe.
3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.
The cessation of suffering can be attained through nirodha. Nirodha means the unmaking of sensual craving and conceptual attachment. The third noble truth expresses the idea that suffering can be ended by attaining dispassion. Nirodha extinguishes all forms of clinging and attachment. This means that suffering can be overcome through human activity, simply by removing the cause of suffering. Attaining and perfecting dispassion is a process of many levels that ultimately results in the state of Nirvana. Nirvana means freedom from all worries, troubles, complexes, fabrications and ideas. Nirvana is not comprehensible for those who have not attained it.
4. The path to the cessation of suffering.
There is a path to the end of suffering – a gradual path of self-improvement, which is described more detailed in the Eightfold Path. It is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism); and it leads to the end of the cycle of rebirth. The latter quality discerns it from other paths which are merely “wandering on the wheel of becoming”, because these do not have a final object. The path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to karmic conditioning. Craving, ignorance, delusions, and its effects will disappear gradually, as progress is made on the path.

Prayer- May all the sentient beings have happiness and may that be forever. Let there be no suffering only happiness. No higher being in Buddhism.

I followed only some of his talk but I believe I gained merit just by listening.

Breakfast of eggs and then we are off at 9. Pass the Saturday vegetable market. Too bad we cannot stop but must keep going. New temple on the left built by the queen’s father. Huge Chir pines on the left right on the road sometimes have Scops owls in them but not today.

Then we come to the most beautiful Dzong in the world. Photo stop for the joining of the two rivers, Punakha Dzong, the “Palace of Great Happiness” built in 1647 by Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel, the man who unified Bhutan. The Dzong lies between the Po Chu (male river) and the Mo Chu (female river), and is the winter home of the central monk body. It is believed that the Mo Chu and the Po Chu were once lovers, flowing in the same bed. One evening, after a quarrel, the Mo Chu left silently during the night, moving to the next valley. Ever since, the Po Chu has been rushing down to the confluence, trying to catch his estranged lover.

When the Shabdrung arrived in Punakha, he set up a camp at the confluence of the two rivers and that very night had a dream in which he heard the prophecy of Guru Rinpoche. He then built a Dzong on that spot and placed the Rangjung Kharsapani there, the most sacred relic that he brought with him from his monastery in Tibet.

A devastating flash flood in 1994 washed away a major part of the Dzong. Flood caused by an ice dam breaking up the Himalayas. His Majesty the King personally supervised the reconstruction of the Dzong, a project that has occupied thousands of skilled craftsmen and builders during the past twelve years. The results of the restoration are amazing. It was just consecrated in an elaborate ceremony in May, 2003. I was there then by luck…way cool.

We keep driving up along the Mo Chu Passing another one of the Aman Resorts (there are 5 in Bhutan) that apparently cost $1000/night.

At around 10 am we have stopped by a bridge that leads to Khamsum Yuley Namgyal Chorten (Stupa). This is a good introduction to Tantric Buddhism in all its complexities. It contains some of the best Tantric art in Bhutan, and a visit there will serve as a balance to the more traditional Buddhist statuary and wall painting visible at the Punakha Dzong. The shapes and forms of the Tantric statues may surprise most visitors. Many penises everywhere. The terrifying divinities are manifestations of peaceful gods, which assume these forms to subdue evil spirits that are hostile to Buddhist doctrine.

The nudity of most of the deities show that this world’s conventions are of no importance on higher planes, and the persons being crushed by the wrathful deities are either spirits hostile to Buddhism or primordial negative concepts such as ignorance, jealousy and anger. In Tantric Buddhism, numerous statues and paintings are also in the form of sexual union, which represents the union of knowledge and wisdom that permits the attainment of sublime state of enlightenment.

It is 4139 feet above mean sea level; our hike will climb 606′ in .82 miles. How is that for exact info? The hike follows a small creek through cultivated fields of pole beans, buckwheat, Chile peppers, some corn, eggplant, cattle grass. We see folks working the fields. 70% of the people of Bhutan work in ag. There are chir pines on the hill as we begin the climb. The trail is well maintained. This is the Queens chorten only finished in 2001. There is a beautiful orobanche (broom rape) growing everywhere. Semi parasitic plant related to Indian paintbrush. Oregon grape aka Berberis. I catch a lizard and hypnotize him.

Name: Indian Gooseberry
Biological Name: Emblica officinalis; Euphorbiaceae family
Other Names: Indian Gooseberry, Emblic myrobalan, Amla, Amalaki;
Parts Used: Fresh Fruit, Dried fruit, the nut or seed, leaves, root, bark and flowers. Ripe fruits used generally fresh, dry also used.
Description: The bark of Amla is gray in color and peals in irregular patches. Its feathery leaves, which smell like lemon, are of linear oblong shape and size 10 to 12 mm length and 3 to 6 mm width. Its flowers are monoecioius having greenish yellow color. They grow in auxiliary clusters and start appearing in the beginning of spring season. Amla fruit, depressed globose with six vertical furrows, start developing by the middle of spring and the fruit ripen towards beginning of autumn. The color of the fruit is pale yellow. Amla has been regarded as a sacred tree in India. The tree was worshipped as Mother Earth and is believed to nurture humankind because the fruits are very nourishing. The leaves, fruit and flowers are used in worship in India. In Himachal Pradesh the tree is worshipped in Kartik as propitious and chaste.

We arrive at chorten at 1125. It is warm but not hot and the hike was not a problem for anyone. Oh yea except for Greg who did not get in shape for this trip and is hanging out at the river right now. But I should not mention the fact that Karin was encouraging him to start walking in SF but alas. His excuse- “I had to work to pay for the trip”. And that is true.

Up on the grounds waiting for us is Ugyen w/ some tea coffee and goodies. Population control in Bhutan is by monkhood says Sonam. Many boys and some girls enter monasteries.. Only 8 % of the land is arable. Family planning is encouraged and the population increase has declined a bit in recent years,.
We enter this amazing temple. The coolness and incense is immediately calming. It is wonderful to be in a holy place. This is a good country to be in during these trying times Especially for Americans who have to deal with our country’s horrible foreign misadventures.

Sonam’s first explanation is about Vajra kila who subdued demons and incorporated them into his body. He looks very scary but is actually a good guy. He has taken their power and made it his own and turned it to good. Evil does have power and the Buddhists recognize that.

Next we have our local deity lecture. The Queen attempted to seduce a holy man but he would have none of that royal jelly. She of course being spurned, clawed her face, ripped her clothes and cried RAPE to her daddy. They grabbed the spiritual guy and buried him up to this head for week. Dug and him up and then decided to stab him with spears. He was doing OK for a while, a lot of compassion but there was this little bit of anger left. That then expanded like an atom bomb. Eyeballs showed up in every pierced hole in his body and he got PISSED OFF. Destroyed the kingdom and crushed everyone. Guru Rinpoche however was able to convince him to become a good guy and there he is shown- nice and painted in the Queen’s Chorten..

Up we go onto several more floors until we reach the roof with the talking Buddha. Now the views are superb, the midday sun beating down and we have our 10″ of silence. Don et al see a Black Eagle; I chill with my eyes close and just listen to the sounds. I feel like they must be the sounds that have been heard here for 1000 yrs except for that chain saw!!!

Garuda is the mythical bird above Buddha.

Time to head down to lunch off to the southeast side to go down. Blue capped Rock thrush seen very well on top of a pole on top of a building gorgeous birdie. To the bus to Greg, cows, dogs, lunch and then leave.

No such thing as a stupa question.

Back down river to the Dzong. No other buses but ours, that is rare. At 230 cross the bridge and see big brown trout. The jacarandas are in full flower, Wind is blowing, and temp is perfect. Just before we enter the temple Sonam tells us the cups thrown under the Kings Throne story. The massive Dzong, was built in 1647 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and is the winter home of the Central Monk Body. The monk body moves from Thimphu to Punakha during the winter so, depending on the time of year, we may or may not be allowed access into the courtyards of this fortress.

THE FOUR FRIENDS greet us upon entry
Seed. Bird, Rabbit, Monkey, Elephant, fruiting tree
cooperation story.

Large Bodhi tree growing the courtyard. As luck would have it we are just in time for a prayer ceremony. Lucky us to witness the chanting. Bells, drumming, horns blessing of food (mostly prepackaged junk food- good though!) We witnessed this for about 30″ or so. Some of the little monklets were falling asleep. Sonam said this form of Buddhism does not have quite as much compassion; there is more discipline here.

1000 Buddha’s. The Bhutan trinity: Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal the great uniter (he has a goatee) , the Historical Buddha and Guru Padmasambhava aka Rinpoche (he has a fine little mustache) who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century. We will see these three guys over and over again. 20 dzongs in Bhutan all built in the 17th Century.

Afterward we get an overview of the WHEEL OF LIFE, just outside the main temple. Newly painted and looking good.

Round balls = wish fulfilling jewels.

Then into the temple we go prepared to know what we are looking at. Sonam does have faith in us! The paintings are all new. In this very peaceful place I hear the ring tone of a monk’s cell phone as he checks his instant messages. Bizarre.

We are done around 4 PM. A BIG WAHA!!!! Sonam says that we are an auspicious group. Gee I bet he says that about all his groups!!!

The chief Abbott passes us going home. We stop and watch some guys doing archery. We are impressed and give them a big WAHA!! Crested bunting. And we are checking on the status of Sally’s underwear hanging out side on the fence. It appears to be ok and dry.

Our lodge is called Meri (fire mountain) Pen (joining)’ the fire mt is in the Ha Province where the owner is from. Free Time until 630 when we get a little overview from me of the Himalaya. Geology etc.

More fun times at dinner and good food. Showers are great. Laundry was not too expensive.

May 7 Punakha/Wangdi to Jakar, Bumthang

Early and longest day of driving today so bfast at 7 (raise your hand for boiled eggs) we give the lovely staff an unexpected tip and thank them for all they have done to make us comfortable. Off at 750 right on time as usual.
We back track a bit to the east /west road and then continue east.
At Wangdue we walk across the bridge and barely avoid getting hit by dough balls tossed from above by little monklets no doubt. Don and Palden spot a mallard, heading for 100 sp of birds!!!
Up we go through the bustling little town of Wangdue following the Dang Chu River. A DEADBODY passes us in a funeral caravan and this of course is auspicious. All obstacles are removed and it is said that you may see monkeys later in the day when this happens.
The redbud looking small tree is Indigofera sp. quite lovely and the diversity of the trees is striking. Eicher trucks are everywhere.

Eicher Motors is a part of the Eicher Group. It was founded in 1982 to manufacture a range of reliable, fuel-efficient commercial vehicles. It is one of the leading manufacturers of commercial vehicles in India. It manufacturers and markets trucks, buses, automotive gears, motorcycle and deals with the exports vehicles, aggregate and components. It began its business operations in 1959 with the roll out of India’s first tractor.

Albizia in flower looks like a mimosa tree. Smell of skunk reminds Mark of home.
TSA TSA are the little chortens we see along the road. Sonam says there are two kinds. One is associated with specific prayers. The other more common are created with the ashes of a cremated loved one. You put a little ash in them and distribute to places that are holy or that the person liked.
Yet another BUSH stop and this one yields some very good sightings. But this was not a coincidence we were looking for this spot. A troop of 35 red Macaques foraging on the cliff eating raspberries among other things. A very large wild bee hive totally exposed on a cliff and very active. Above it is one very rare bird- the yellow rumped honey guide. Last year Sonam searched with a birding group 1/2 day to no avail. Many people and cows on the road.
The only primates with a broader geographic distribution than rhesus macaques are humans (Southwick et al. 1996). Rhesus macaques are found ubiquitously throughout mainland Asia; from Afghanistan to India and Thailand to southern China (Rowe 1996; Smith & McDonough 2005). M. m. vestita, M. m. lasiota, and M. m. sanctijohannis are found in western, central, and eastern China, respectively (Groves 2001; Smith & McDonough 2005). Another Chinese species of rhesus macaque, M. m. brevicauda, is found on Hainan Island, off the southwest coast of China. The Indian-derived rhesus macaques are separated by region with M. m. villosa found in the Kashmir and Punjab region of India (the northern part of the country), Pakistan, and Afghanistan and M. m. mulatta found in India, Bhutan, Burma, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam Rhesus macaques are exceptionally adapted to coexisting with humans and thrive near human settlement, in both urban and agricultural areas. It is impossible to characterize their “natural” diet without considering the impact of humans. Because they are found in higher densities in areas of human disturbance compared to forests, in some areas rhesus macaques derive, both directly and indirectly, a substantial part of their diet from human activities (Richard et al. 1989). In fact, up to 93% of their diet can be from human sources, either from direct handouts or from agricultural sources (Southwick & Siddiqi 1994). Rhesus macaques are omnivores and feed on a wide array of plant and invertebrate products. By raiding crops, they have access to a huge variety of cultivated fruits and vegetables, and in highly urban areas, they forage by picking through garbage (Goldstein & Richard 1989; Richard et al. 1989). Throughout their range and especially in India, they inhabit temples and are fed as a form of worship by local people (Wolfe 2002). Some of the most common foods given to rhesus macaques in temples include bread, bananas, peanuts, seeds, other fruits and vegetables, and assorted miscellaneous foods like ice cream and fried bread (Wolfe 1992). In less human-influenced areas, they focus on fruits, flowers, leaves, seeds, gums, buds, grass, clover, roots, bark, and they supplement their diet with termites, grasshoppers, ants, beetles, and mushrooms. Rhesus macaques also eat bird eggs, shellfish, and fish (Fooden 2000). During the driest parts of the year, they may even eat the dirt from termite mounds (Lindburg 1971).
Green backed tits singing as we walk up a bit to join the bus. Good to stretch our legs. A pair of Kalij pheasants seen right in the road. Common, says Don disappointingly. White capped water redstart flitting around small mountain streams. Blue whistling thrushes very common. The forest is so beautiful as we keep climbing and climbing heading for our first pass. Then we see a yellow billed blue magpie. Great! another chance for a bush stop. We are getting good at this. White orchids growing epiphytically. Coral bells heather tree – Maples with nice red stems and fruits. As we continue up the rhododendrons really begin to get big 30 and 40 feet height and in full flower. Now at 9K we are in a forest of massive hemlock and fir trees. Finally the pass Pelela (10, 825′) a
we yell Lha jalo! Pronounced ha jay low. MAY GOD WIN! This is a traditional shout at a pass. Himalayan dwarf bamboo and yaks. Cross a yak and cow to get a YOW. I tell you a bit about those endangered animals.

But did stop for food at Dochala Restaurant called Chendebji. Very good food; once again I am proved wrong. We look down on the nomad village Rukubji, where there is a large long field and a temple which was built on the head of snake demon which had been terrorizing this area, powerfully evil spirit. We are now going along the Nikka Chu river. Drove over bamboo placed on the road to be flattened by bamboo weavers whom we saw working alongside the road making mats. We pass on our right the Chendebji Chorten, a Nepalese-style chorten & has eyes painted on it. It was built to subdue a demon so that it could not rise again; it is a copy of the main chorten in Kathmandu, Nepal. We pass a haunted forest to the right, very steep and full of very large trees. The local people don’t enter this forest. It is too spooky. It is the Black Forest National Park.

Kay wants to know when we are going to see the longest Dzong. I explain the laughter to Sonam when we stop for the view of the Tongsa Dzong, the largest in Bhutan. It is right opposite us across the valley. But the road winds another 12.5 miles before we’ll actually get there. It was built in 1647 (all of the dzongs were built in the 17th cent). It has a round watchtower (the only Bhutanese structure that is round) above it on the hillside. The crown prince was sworn in as controller of all 8 eastern districts on June 2, 2003. It is tradition that each king must be leader of this Dzong in order to become king. Magnificent views around every turn.

We go a bit out of town to top off with gas and the ascend ascend ascend and ascend into the clouds. Yutong La (11,155′) pass

More pee stops! Poor Nema has never had a group with the tiniest bladders before us. At least we are drinking plenty of fluids. We really are getting tired of this drive. My GPS lost the signal so I am not sure of the total distance traveled Best guess is 130 miles and 8 hours of driving. Feels like it

We enter the Bumthang province, there are 4 valleys here. We are now in Chumey and soon have a straight road for about 3/4 mile! We will visit the Ura Valley (higher with nomads -sheep and yak) and Chholing (agricultural). the other one is Tang (nomadic) which we will not visit. Here they grow barley, wheat, potatoes and apples in this productive valley. There are scarecrows in the fields and very regularly spaced cow poop waiting to be spread. Flying phalluses hanging from the eaves = fertility. The Bhutanese air force.

We finally get to Jakar, the central village of the Bumthang district. Once in Jakar, we will settle into our lodge for two nights. Check in around 6 into our rooms in a brand new building. Now I feel we are in Bhutan, still striving for the tourist comfort. Wood stoves are burning, making Craig real nervous. To dinner and for the first time we have traditional Bhutanese food – chilies as a main dish, fiddle neck fern fronds. We like then. We pass on the ara for tonight. Much laughter. We keep seeing the same folks we saw on the plane flying in and I guarantee you we will see them at Ura. Gee it’s 815 time for bed…

May 8 Jakar

aus•pice `’s-p©s n, pl aus•pic•es -p©-s©z, -—s‹z [L auspicium, fr. auspic-, auspex diviner by birds, fr. avis bird specere to look, look at more at: aviary, spy] (1533)
1) observation by an augur esp. of the flight and feeding of birds to discover omens

Bumthang is one of the most beautiful and sacred areas of Bhutan, known for the visits of Guru Rinpoche, when he was bringing Buddhism to Tibet and Bhutan in the 8th century. Guru Rinpoche is considered the second Buddha and the founder of Tantric Buddhism. The open and wide valleys filled with fields and farmers, and the gentle slopes of beautiful mountains dotted with many sacred temples and monasteries, make for an unforgettable experience.

Dogs barking last night but the pleasant sound of the Chaumkaur Chu flowing below helped a lot. For breakfast we have our first buckwheat pancakes – heavy and full of tiny pieces of the grinding stones. We leave right on time as usual. Laura fails recognize the crossed phalluses.

This valley known for apple juice, honey and Swiss cheese. Jakar means black necked crane vision of Guru Rino that he saw a white bird and built a temple here. Our first stop is at the oldest temple in Bhutan from the 7th century. The temple of the future Buddha. Statue landed on the ogresses’ navel and they could not lift it. Tibetan head guy said to build a 108 temples on the body of the ogress under the Himalayas. Kichu is one of the temples in Paro that was built. The one we are visiting is on her left foot.

The steps into the temple are slowly sinking and when the final one sinks the next Buddha will come. This Buddha’s eyes are closed but will open at the coming of the future one. The caretaker unlocks the inner sanctum and we go in. We are not used to things this old in CA!

Bhutan had a record 9k visitors in 2005.We see alot of constriction going on and yesterday we passed a new building that is going to be a training school for the construction trade. This may take some of the concessions away from the Indian companies.

We drive to the end of the road bearing left. At 905 we begin our hike up to Shukdrag Gompa, an ancient meditation monastery built around a sacred cave. This is where Guru Rinpoche meditated during the 8th century. This is a place for us to be thoroughly “off the beaten track”. We leave Greg with Palden and drop down a muddy path to see our first jack in the pulpits aka cobra plants. Lithocarpus (tanbark oak) and cross the bridge with many planks rotten or missing and enter the Thangbi Valley. 8791′ The rain that we thought may come has held off, the temperature this morning was about 58 and it is very pleasant hiking weather today. There are beautiful traditional farm houses, smiling children and moms and grand moms, and hard-working farmers of both sexes weeding the potatoes fields. AN acre of land = the amount of land that can be plowed in one day with an oxen.

There is a new bridge across the river connecting the road we are on it goes to Ngang (Swan) Village. We pass our first Mani Wall -like a chorten but longer. Comes from Tibet. These walls are built to invoke a blessing from Buddha about compassion. We chant Oh Money Pay Me Home. Or at least that is Michael’s rotten interpretation of the sounds.
Five colors on the prayer flags Blue = water, Red = Fire, Green = nature, Yellow = earth. White = ether.
We meet an Englishman helping with a soil analysis of all Bhutan. This is a rich valley for Bhutan. We are on elevated river terraces maybe 10 K old.

A cuckoo heard and seen in a tree and it is the Eurasian cuckoo. The classic one from the clock and quite surprising. We see a hoopoe feeding in the field as well.

We bear left and begin to ascend the hill through cows and primroses and past a school. Up gradually we climb. On the way we pass a small hut with a stone grinding wheel, turned by water and used by the local people to grind buckwheat. From five sacred springs associated with dakinis. Buckwheat ground here is considered fortuitions. Craig takes a face dive into the creek. Sally yells “is the camera OK?” Patty N. rescues Craig.
A dakini is a Tantric Buddhist concept particularly prevalent in Tibet. The Dakini is a female being, generally of volatile temperament, who acts as a muse for spiritual practice. Dakinis can be likened to elves, angels, or other such supernatural beings, and are symbolically representative of testing one’s awareness and adherence to Buddhist tantric sadhana.
Many stories of the Mahasiddhas in Tibet contain passages where a Dakini will come to perturb the would-be Mahasiddha. When the Dakini’s test has been fulfilled and passed, the practitioner is often then recognised as a Mahasiddha, and often is elevated into the Paradise of the Dakinis, a place of enlightened bliss. It should be noted that while a Dakini is often depicted as beautiful and naked, they are seen not sexual symbols, but as symbols of natural humans. There are instances where a Dakini has come to test a practitioner’s control over his or her sexual desires, but the Dakini itself is not a being of passion.
The Chinese and Tibetan terms for dakini literally mean “she who travels in the sky”; this is sometimes rendered poetically as “sky dancer”. Invariably, their bodies are depicted curved in sinuous dance poses.
Now we climb steeply up to the temple. A black eagle flies right below us. We enter the small temple and each of us lights a candle to dispel ignorance in the world. I am in particular thinking of the right wing Christians in our country, George Bush and the Muslims who were destroying Buddhist monuments in Afghanistan. We could all use less ignorance and more tolerance. Our chant is OM AH HUM VIARJA GURU PADMA SIDDHI HUM. Taken from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. We are being witnessed by an old lady and a young monk.

We have our 10 minutes of silence only hearing the wind and the large billed crows cawing- timeless sounds similar to the ones that Guru must have heard so many years ago. Some things do not change. We all feel very very blessed as we quietly offer a small donation and leave the cave.

Ugyen has, as usual, carted our lunches all the way up on his back. He is 22 and his wife just gave birth to their second child 5 days ago. Sonam said he did not have to work but he wanted to. Probably needs the money no doubt. I think he was recently in the Army, he has legs of steel. Eating on top of the world. Mark realizes he left his binocs up at the temple and goes to retrieve them. Good to remember now and not later.

We head back down and it only takes us 1 hr and 30 minutes to cover the 3.12 miles one way and 800′ elevation gain. Girls in the field are yelling and laughing at us and Sonam interprets a bit of it is about night hunting which you will learn about later. Back to the bus and the little store there is tea and goodies waiting for (we are spoiled and liking it).

Quick drive back to the lodge by 4 or so. Many micro wavers coming home from school. Showers and rest time. They come to build a fire for us in our rooms.

We meet at 615 to hear Sonam’s story about his life, we have all been waiting for the tale. It is a good one. But first. I give you a brief overview of Betelnut use.

Areca nut is the seed of the tall, slender areca palm (areca catechu), native to the fringes of the Indian and west Pacific Oceans. With its husk off, the nut is a little smaller than a walnut. It is solid throughout, has a marbleized grain, and is as hard as a knot in a pine board. Its active principle is the alkaloid arecoline. In pharmacological terms, arecoline stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, resulting in a contraction of the pupils and an increased secretion of tears and saliva.

The areca’s sister in crime, betel leaf, comes from a tree-climbing vine (piper betle) of the pepper family. The shiny green leaf is heart-shaped, and about the size of the palm of your hand. Its essential oil contains a phenol (betel-phenol) similar to the aromatic eugenol found in the oil of cloves. Betel-phenol probably contributes stimulant properties of its own, but scant information is available on its pharmacology.
Like the coca-chewers of the Andes, betel users somehow discovered that the addition of lime helps to extract the vital essence of the plants into the saliva (and from there, of course, through the mucous membranes of the mouth and straight into the bloodstream). The catalytic lime is either powder (calcium oxide) or paste (calcium hydroxide). In either case, it is typically made from kiln-baked seashells.

How these three substances were ever married together as one drug is a question whose answer is lost in prehistory. Archeological evidence from Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines suggests that they have been used in tandem for four thousand years or more.
The traditional form, betel quid, consists of chopped areca nut, lime paste, and various spices, folded up neatly inside a betel leaf. The quid resembles a Greek dolma, only bigger, and it makes for an awkward fit inside your cheek. Size notwithstanding, a fresh quid is betel in its most charming and potent form.
Anyone who’s ever dined at an Indian restaurant is familiar with mukwas: the bowl of anise-flavored seeds and candy placed by the door as an after-dinner treat. Betel mukwas is just what you would expect: mukwas mixed with chopped areca nuts. It is a pleasant dessert chew, but a little too sweet for regular consumption. Like the fresh quids, betel mukwas is made by hand, and is only rarely seen at the local market.
What is it like to chew betel? Enthusiasts recognize three delightful aspects of the experience: the exhilarating lift; the mysterious flavor; and the cleansing, compelling salivation.
In the rare instances where scholarly literature mentions its subjective effects, the news about betel is uniformly good: “It imparts the… repeatedly described sensation of well-being, good humor, excitation, and comfort…The consciousness, of course, remains unimpaired, and the chewer’s capacity for work is in no respect affected.” (Hesse). “It creates a feeling of energy, appeases hunger and assuages pain.” (Henry Brownrigg, Betel Cutters from the Samuel Eilenberg Collection).
These authors don’t lie: betel makes you feel strong. Your chest feels broader, your inhalations deeper, your back straighter; and an almost electric invigoration seems to run through your bones. This is a good, healthful, and positive sensation.
On the other hand, some first-time users claim to experience no stimulant effect whatsoever; but they are probably expecting too much. Betel is not an amphetamine, after all. It is a complex of dilute plant alkaloids absorbed slowly through the mucous membranes of the mouth. The result is subtle and “natural,” and offers none of that teeth-clenching, palm-sweating, eye-bugging overstimulation so familiar to users of stronger drugs. Betel is less jarring than espresso, and it never leaves you feeling “jangled.”
How long-lasting is this lift? Because the feeling is a relatively subtle one, and because it wears off so gently, there is never a distinguishable moment of now-I’m-up/now I’m not. But it would be fair to estimate that betel has a duration comparable to that of caffeine. A morning chew will usually have worn off by mid-afternoon.
Betel, or specifically areca, is an acquired taste; but for those who have acquired it, the flavor is darkly fascinating. Behind the spices, candy, or menthol, the primary essence always comes through. It is spicy, though not hot-spicy like cinnamon or ginger. It is tannic, but without sourness. It is sweet, though in no way is it sugary. It is a little reminiscent of chocolate, and a little reminiscent of dirt. But these contradictions all fall miserably short. One betel novice, yet to be won over by the habit, says sneeringly that it reminds her of chewing incense. Above all, the flavor of betel is exotic; and maybe it’s best left at that.
The most unusual (and visible) aspect of betel chewing is its effect on the salivary glands. You don’t just salivate, you pour; and the saliva emerges from your mouth tinted a deep brick red. It is not at all uncommon to spit four fluid ounces of “betel juice” in a single session. And spit it you must; swallowing is not recommended, since it may cause an undesirable sensation of heartburn.
Perverse as it may sound, betel-drooling is quite pleasurable indeed. There is an almost orgasmic satisfaction to be found in the experience of saliva-ducts open to full throttle. Delicious above all is the aftermath: when the chew is finished, your mouth is left astonishingly fresh and sweet. You feel uniquely cleansed, drained, and purified.
Despite its charm for the initiated, however, this saliva-rush is probably the greatest obstacle to betel’s acceptance in the West. Salivation is just too “primitive” for the sanitized First World. Travelers to India are frequently shocked by the red splotches that cover the streets and sidewalks; clearly this secretory excess strikes many Westerners as not just unaesthetic, but downright filthy. But how do those sidewalks really differ from our own, studded as they are with flattened gray globs of chewing gum? At least betel spit doesn’t stick to the sole of your shoe.
No discussion of an exotic drug would be complete without some consideration of its potential dangers. In the case of betel, the most commonly-voiced concern is a cosmetic one: the issue of teeth blackening. The few Americans who have ever heard of betel ask almost invariably, “Oh, isn’t that the stuff that turns your teeth black?” From all available evidence, the reassuring answer is that it won’t happen to you – as long as you remember to brush your teeth once or twice a day. Apparently, the concern about teeth-blackening stems from the fact that Western-style dental hygiene is looked upon as a silly pretension in certain betel-chewing cultures of Southeast Asia. In these cultures, not surprisingly, older people’s teeth do stink and turn black. Whether this is the result of betel build-up or just general decay is hardly relevant to an American with a toothbrush.
Then there’s the more serious accusation brought to bear by the US Food & Drug Administration: that betel contains “a poisonous or deleterious substance [arecoline]” and that habitual chewing may be linked to oral carcinoma. Despite its authoritative tone, the FDA does not provide any medical data to support its allegations, and an examination of the available literature indicates that no conclusive studies have been carried out. Hardly half-a-dozen articles on betel chewing, areca, or the alkaloid arecoline have been listed in the Index Medicus during the past 15 years, and none offers compelling cause-and-effect evidence of a connection between betel chewing and cancer.
Some medical authorities even contradict the FDA. Dr. B.G. Burton-Bradley wrote in The Lancet that “Betel chewing is practised daily by no less than 200 million people, the vast majority of whom do not have oral carcinoma;” German pharmacologist Hesse stated that, “Chronic excesses [of betel] do not cause any permanent health disorders;” and Sushruta, the “father of Indian medicine,” went so far as to claim in the first century AD that betel “acts as a general safeguard against disease.”
And what about dependence? Sad to say, almost every source makes mention of the addictive nature of betel. If a persistent craving defines an addiction, then even personal experience confirms this. But as addictions go, betel is not a very cruel one. Nowhere will you find a description of physical withdrawal symptoms, and it appears that as soon as the user’s supply is cut off, his urge for betel simply dwindles away. The contrast to a popular American addiction is telling: often I go months without chewing betel, but I never go a morning without caffeine.

Sonam begins his story. Father made to marry his father by the King, Middlemost child. Granddad is a lama, monastery, cow herder, 22 days walking to Tongsa, failing school, Army Uncle with influence, bridge without water, boarding school, top of the class, government job, married, father in-law business, one son, saw mill, divorce, remarry, 2 kids, tour business.
We get Ara delivered to us. The kick comes late, TASHI DELEK! Greg likes it.
Downstairs for dinner and we shall get the rest of Sonam’s story later.

Craig, Heidi and I try some betel. We drool and get red tongues and maybe think something is happening. Could be the combo Heidi says – company, Ara, betel, Bhutan, mediating. Anyway we are having dinner near the CIRCUS people, as Laura calls the nearby table. Gee it is 830 time for bed.

May 9 & 10 Ura Bumthang

Up real early and pay our bills eat bfast and I ask if we will be ready to go in 10 ” the problem is, As Patty D points out, it is only 8 and I said we were leaving at 9. Whoops! Sonam is off getting some candles for our later ceremony so we walk to town looking for the bus and Sonam. It is a chance to see a typical Bhutanese small town waking up. We walk across the bridge and get picked up.

At 9 we are on our way for just a few moments and then we stop at the national HQ for Bhutanese beekeeping that Greg and Palden went to yesterday. I give you an overview of bee natural history. Beekeeping was introduced by the Swiss. Some of the honey has the smell of old socks. We will eat some bananas in honey that is definitely weird. Then we continue east climbing up and we keep seeing Jakar Valley for a very long time.

By 9445 we get to Membartso or “Burning Lake.” This is actually a beautiful gorge along the Tang River. Pema Lingpa found several of the treasures hidden by Guru Rinpoche in the water here, and, as a result, Pema Lingpa is known as a terton (a discoverer of religious treasurers). We walk the short distance uphill to the river Tang. There are big yellow peonies in flower. Dropping down by many tsa tsas and we cross a rickety bridge one at time.

Down by the water we each make a wish and float a lighted candle, mounted on a piece of wood, down that sacred section of the river. No competition according to the proper Buddhist thought but MINE did kick some ass!

Continuing through Spruce, blue pines at 8500′. We cross the Ura La pass actually 2 passes at 11315 and 11600′ . We did not see magnificent views of Gangkhar Puensuum (24,800 feet), the highest unclimbed mountain in the world as promised in the intinerary.

We stop for a bush stop. Which has become known by now as a “Manny stop”. More yak photos as some of us hike down the hill along the road, then an overview of the URA Valley. I read a quote from the Lonely Planet Guide on the old and new Ura valley.
This is the old and the new story right now in Bhutan and many places in the world that have been “untouched”.

Ura is the highest of the four smaller valleys that make up the Bumthang Valley. Ura, unlike most Bhutanese villages, is made up of closely clustered houses. The people of this region are primarily sheep and yak herders. Recently, the introduction of potato farming has helped to increase the local people’s prosperity.

We arrive at our delightful camp at 1250 after a drive of 28 miles and 1′ 50″ of driving. We stopped a bit. We are amazed at the lycopodium (aka ground pine) lined gate and the carpet of pine needles that grace our camp. Stones making the boundaries for foot paths. Great touches. A perfect view from high above the village. Much better than Geo Exp I tell Sonam. That makes him feel good because GeoEx are the big operators in Bhutan and do very expensive trips that do not always deliver. We keep seeing our friend Professor Steve from SAC State and his two traveling companions. They are telling me a few things wrong with their GEOEX $$$$ trip. Tea and goodies offered us and then lunch. Yummy.

We move into our tents and then walk down into the village. We will be visiting Ura during the height of their annual Yak festival. The Gaden Monastery is right by our camp. We are in this perfect place because Sonam is related to the lama of this village. It is nice to know people,. Camp is 10460′.
At 230 we walk right from camp following the route that the procession will take tomorrow. Children surround Craig looking at the pictures he has taken of them. Boogers and snot galore. Human petri dishes as our two doctors refer to the sickly children. M and P tell me that maybe one out of every three people on the planet may have TB. That is an astounding statistic.

At the temple in Ura we get the story of the history of this celebration. Lepers, snakes, relict. Guru Rinpoche, the usual. Don is working on this DOGS OF BHUTAN calendar for 2007. We enter the temple and watch some fellows make some yak butter candles. Green Tara (Queen Mamie’s favorite) is to the right of Guru Rinpoche – the guy with the moustache. Local scary deity on the left. The astrologer will come late tonight and let them know what time to bring the relict down from the upper Monastery temple. That time will determine the rest of the activities for the celebration here.

On our way back to camp the old Americans, wheezing and struggling for breath, did their best at playing the younger Bhutanese at a pick up game of basketball. Craig (the fool) wanted to play full court. We did very well up to 5 points and then we ran out of oxygen. They finally beat us 10 to 8. None of us died so we considered the game a success! Thank god we have 2 doctors and a nurse in the group. It was really fun and exhausting at this altitude.

Back to camp for campfire and light rain and Sonam tells us the amazing story of his now 8 yr old son being discovered as a reincarnate. By coincidence in Jakar I happened to be at the festival with 10,000 monks, the lama from India and Sonam’s son. I probably have a photo of him! Small world.

Next we get the low down on night hunting. Though not all of us heard Paden’s good stories; I did hear the laughter from the back of the bus. We eat around the fire and some actually pretty good jokes are told.
The moon is over half full and trying to peak through the clouds I tell you a few moon facts when it is visible but we never really get a night sky talk on this trip. As the rain stops and we head back by the fire. The dogs are barking as promised and you get to wear all those clothes you carried 7000 miles, halfway around the world.

May 10 it must be the Ura Valley.

Dogs last night finally stopped barking around 3 and then it was so quiet I woke up wondering what had happened. Rain on the tent is most peaceful. Apparently Craig went night hunting in Greg and Karin’s tent. I am pretty sure he was looking for Greg (Rufous).
There is hot water available for a “shower” Just splashing on your face and other places but it is nice. Breakfast is tasty. We have a mandala lesson at 8 and then some free time until we walk over to the nearby monastery. We have a meeting arranged with the son of the current lama. His name is Thinley. 37 yrs old university trained and speaks perfect English. He has been in the secular world in business but about 5 yrs ago returned to this village to begin his training to take over from his dad. We can see the container that the relic is in, but you can never see the actual relic.

Mandala is Sanskrit for circle, polygon, community, connection.
The Mandala is a symbol of man or woman in the world, a support for the meditating person.
The mandala is often illustrated as a palace with four gates, facing the four corners of the Earth.
The Mandala shown here is connected with the Buddha Vajrasattva, who symbolises the original crystalline purity.
In the centre is a lotus blossom with eight petals, resting on a bed of jewels.
In the next place are the walls of the palace with gates towards the four corners of the earth.
The gates are guarded by four angry doorkeepers.
Before the meditating person arrives at the gates, she must, however, pass the four outer circles: the purifying fire of wisdom, the vajra circle, the circle with the eight tombs, the lotus circle.

Thingley has found the same teacher in south India that recognized Sonam’s son as his spiritual advisor. This is the guy who is the incarnate of the destroyed the Tibetan monastery. We drink some Ara made by Tingleys wife, Karma just three days ago because their cousin Sonam was bringing guests. Wheat, rice and maize smooth as silk.

Laso lasso means OK. We get a great talk from Thingly about Buddhism. Three lineages – teacher to disciple (mainstream)
Incarnate lineage (master dies and he is reborn)
Blood lineage (father to son)

Basic Buddha’s teachings are called Sutra. Orthodox is basically moral teachings. Tantra began after Buddha died. Prophecy is that we are coming to a dark age and then we enter a time when no Buddhist lessons are learned. Right now is the window for the Tantric Buddhist teachings. Very important time now. Ground path fruit

This temple founded in the 13th century Drukpa Kargyu school. About 7 generations ago there was a lama that died early and only had a daughter so they went to another region and brought a son to marry the girl. The son came from the Nyingma school. So the two schools are linearly combined now. GEE this is confusing!

Thingly has 3 sons. We connect to enlightenment energy and it becomes us. We are sitting cross legged the best we can. And trying hard not to point our feet at the Buddha.


We do our prayer chanting mandala ceremony. We practiced after breakfast holding our hands the proper way. We are doing the best – we can – 4 planets, Mt Meru. We toss the rice up into the air. Wishing wishing wishing. Next butter lamps are lit for us, dispelling darkness into the whole universe. We are feeling very peaceful and content. I let a small irritating thing from my California life go away at this moment of lighting the candle. It really worked!

Next it is shopping for the group,. This money goes directly to the temple they are not supported by the Government. Kay finds something she really likes for $1k but alas Mark doesn’t buy it for her. Karma is a sales woman capital S. Prices are very high for things but it does go to a good cause.

Now back to camp for darts. Fun fun fun. Don is determined to get a WAHA before the day is done and he does (eventually late in the afternoon after 6 hours of continuous playing and many curses under his breathe).

The procession comes up to get the relict while we eat lunch. They have prayers and tea. By the time we are done and Don is still playing darts – no waha. They go back down to the village. Many tourists following behind and taking many pictures. We follow the parade down to the temple. We are in BST right now Bhutanese Stretchable time. So who knows when anything will actually start? But this is their celebration, not ours.

They come out around 3 and dance a bit without the masks. They are practicing for tomorrow. Many tourists have already left. The rain has stopped it is a peaceful world. Back to camp, we walk through the concessions and we see gambling and smoking. We almost lose Craig to the evil sins of betting. Palden has met an old friend and is doing bettelnut and gambling. The sinful ways of youth.

Back to our fire and Don plays more darts.

We officially meet the staff
Kanchi – the cute female office staff
Dawann Lama – carpenter
Tenzin (help set up)
Karma (helper set up)
Nawang (camp setup)
Kado (meals) very good!

Sitting around the campfire words like pumpernickel, scuttlebutt. Palden played his pleasure flute. Which is not quite built to the right specs so it could fit in his pack. We enjoyed it immensely. Then the staff came and sang a few songs for us. That too was nice.
Don asked Sonam what were some of the problems facing Bhutan? Unemployment and the change to democracy esp. with powerful and corrupt India so nearby and so influential.

We were so content that we did not go down to see the fire ceremony. But Prof Steve said it was great.

May 11 Tongsa

This morning the horns begin blaring at 4 am. The temple was all lit up. The dogs esp one persistent one disturbs our sleep all night. The rain began just before dawn but stopped as we awoke. We took our group photo. Lucky we did too as it was raining later. The n at 845 we walked down to the temple. A rosy pipit was displaying high in the air. Don, Patty and Palden ided it.
There is scattered sun, even some blue sky. Nga is the water and snake spirit. Manny tells me they get naglyhide from them.
Down at the temple it was definitely BST as we patiently waited for something to happen. The lama and monks were having breakfast. Finally some dancing began and then we were called up to have tea with the lama. This was yet another grand experience that Sonam arranged for us. Nice to be in the presence of a holy man. I felt I gained merit just by being there. We also had our scarves blessed by him. Another consideration by this best of guides. I am getting to actually like yak butter tea because it has now such spiritual connotations.

Elaborate, spellbinding masked
Dances at the festival are performed by specially trained monks. From the roof of the temple, monks blow on a pair of long horns, and the sound of cymbals, drums and trumpets fill the air. These dance festivals revive the people spiritually and in many ways refine them culturally because the dances communicate moral lessons, and both the performer and the observer benefit from the exchange The Bardo dances, the main event of the festival, serve as a reminder to people of their future destiny depending on their past and present deeds. The dance of Noblemen and Ladies tells the story of flirting princesses who are punished for their indiscretions. The dance of the Stag enacts the tale of a hunter who was converted to Buddhism and gave up hunting.
This festival is also an occasion for seeing people and for being seen. In olden times it provided the most important opportunity for unmarried men and women to find their life partners. People dress in their finest clothes and wear their most precious jewels. Men and women joke and flirt.

We watched more dances esp. the Black Hart dance and then the village girls doing their thing. Rain began so we hightailed back to camp which was being dismantled before our eyes. Our last very good lunch at camp and then we give the staff their well deserved tip.

Off at 1245 to the Park HQ for Don and Patty. No one home but we went in anyway. We left and begin our very winding drive of 4′ 32″.

Mithun bred cows and yak along our route. We stop at the promised wool shop and have a shopping extravaganza.

There are two stores to choose from:
Woman’s cooperative or mean Tibetan businessman; one with no bargaining or be prepared to haggle; One with a toilet or none?

Perked up the GNP just a bit. Craig keeps apologizing but it is a very good way to transfer wealth from one region to the next.

We have a new experience driving in the dark on winding curving dangerous roads in the fog and clouds. Nema does a fine job and we arrive safely around 730. All looking forward to eating, showering and drinking, Craig buys drinks for us because we had to wait soooo long for him in Jakar.

The Falkenhagens get a hold of their verbose boy. Yea mom dad fine sure good, OK, love you too gotta go, bye.

It is 6976′ here. We go to bed soooooo late for us must be after 9 here in Tongsa at the Yangkhil Hotel, located on a ridge overlooking the Dzong.

May 12th.

Nice shower hot water. I find out that some children I photographed three years ago are the kids of the cook here. I give him and his wife the photos and they are tickled pink. Our lodge is owned by a Tibetan business man who lives in LA. Go figure. and we are off at 8. Back track a bit to visit the Tongsa Dzong. Built in 1647, it is the largest Dzong in the country. It is also the ancestral home of the Royal Family, and both the first and second kings ruled the country from Tongsa. The Dzong sits on a narrow spur that sticks out into the gorge of the Mangde-Chu River and overlooks the routes east, west and south. It was built in such a way that in the olden days, it had complete control over all east-west traffic. This helped to augment the strategic importance of the Dzong which eventually placed its Penlop (regional ruler) at the helm of a united country when His Majesty Ugyen Wangchuck became the first king of Bhutan. To this day, the Crown Prince of Bhutan becomes the Penlop of Tongsa before ascending the throne, signifying its historical importance.

We see our first Verditer flycatcher a brilliant blue bird that (guess who?) Don spots right below the bus. Some are wishing they had taken my advice on the nice binocs. Heidi is thoroughly enjoying hers. Some local village girls are carrying very large rocks on their backs up to the Dzong. This is payment for taxes due. The rocks are big, the girls small. Kay is delighted we are finally going to the longest Dzong in Bhutan. Greg is happy because there were apparently two Englishmen held captive her in the Duar War
Their arms were cut off and they are supposed to be somewhere around.

The Duar War was a war fought between British India and Bhutan in 1864-1865.
Britain sent a peace mission to Bhutan in early 1864, in the wake of the recent conclusion of a civil war there. The dzongpon of Punakha — who had emerged victorious — had broken with the central government and set up a rival druk desi while the legitimate druk desi sought the protection of the ponlop of Paro and was later deposed. The British mission dealt alternately with the rival ponlop of Paro and the ponlop of Tongsa (the latter acted on behalf of the druk desi), but Bhutan rejected the peace and friendship treaty it offered. Britain declared war in November 1864. Bhutan had no regular army, and what forces existed were composed of dzong guards armed with matchlocks, bows and arrows, swords, knives, and catapults. Some of these dzong guards, carrying shields and wearing chainmail armor, engaged the well-equipped British forces.
The Duar War (1864-65) lasted only five months and, despite some battlefield victories by Bhutanese forces, resulted in Bhutan’s defeat, loss of part of its sovereign territory, and forced cession of formerly occupied territories. Under the terms of the Treaty of Sinchula, signed on November 11, 1865, Bhutan ceded territories in the Assam Duars and Bengal Duars, as well as the eighty-three-square-kilometer territory of Dewangiri in southeastern Bhutan, in return for an annual subsidy of 50,000 rupees.

There are great vistas from here of our hotel and the river far below. The biggest Himalaya cypress we have ever seen growing patriotically on the grounds of the Dzong.
Done at 9 and we are off. Continuing west retracing our steps. We walk across the Japanese bridge made of Cortine steel our resident container expert tells us. The river is flowing harder. We bomb countries, the Japanese build bridges and roads. The sun is breaking through. Driving by the Black Mountain NP is simply incredible. The trees are glorious.

Pass the restaurant we had lunch in. But soon we need a “manny” so we stop for the bushes. Ascending the hill past the serpent. Himalaya dwarf bamboo getting thick as we head into the clouds. Back to yak country. The Nikka Chu is the river we are following now. Finally after 2’25” of driving we reach Pele La at 11061′ or so after traveling for 38 miles. We walk down the old road birding and flowering and watching the light play on the mountains far below. A mama yak intimidates the group but we muscle past. Gotta remember who is the dominant mammal on the planet.

Many birds seen – rufous vented yahina and Mrs. Gould’s sunbird are highlights. Back to the bus for a HOT lunch. Yummy it is good and we are hungry. The clouds come and go and the temp rises and falls but it is actually pretty warm for 11k feet. Down the hill we go at 2 and I give a brief but fascinating talk on cattle. I run on until I notice quite a few of you nodding off. White capped redstart. More Indian and Nepalese road crews.

Dropping down under the clouds it is warming up and the vegetation is definitely changing. We reprise the honey guide stop and have some tea while we are at it.
To our lodge by 415 after a total drive of 4′ 15″, 67 miles, we stopped along the way for 2 1/2 hrs to hike and eat and pee. Elevation here is 4687. We are happy to relax in the lovely gardens. Barking deer mom and babe are seen on the hill opposite the lodge, half way up. Hikes are taken up the road and across the foot bridge. Nice temp., rooms, ambience. The food here is vegetarian.

May 13

Great to sleep by the very loud sound of the Dang Chu. It began to rain in the morning but in keeping with our superb luck stopped at sunrise. Granola and porridge and bread for breakfast. Not quite enough for the power hike that 10 of us are about to make. At 8 all but Greg, Sally, Mamie and Laura hop on the bus with our snacks. We drive back up the road for just a bit and turn left and follow the Sha Chu. There is actually some old asphalt from a formerly govt owned shale quarry, now private. We cross the river and ASCEND the mountain on a very narrow, winding muddy road. Good work again Nema!
This hike is called the “hanging gardens of Bhutan” hike. We insist on a photo op and find our first native rodent of the trip. A chipmunk like critter on a chir pine. Cute. The Himalayan striped squirrel.

Finally not quite to the top of the mountain but about 55″ of driving and we are at 5800′ we begin our hike. Following irrigation ditches. The Egans suffer their first but not last BLOOD EVENT of the day. We clean Kay’s barb wire wound at a little village. Craig takes some photos which he promises to send. Very cute family. The day is overcast. We are tromping along terraced fields of wheat, buckwheat, and hay for cattle. I find a terrestrial leech to show all of you….later….

Today is one of three auspicious days of the month and people have been going to the temple to light butter lamps. They are dressed in their finest kiras. Eurasian cuckoos calling. Bulbuls out the Yazoo, crested bunting. We can see the temple and village buildings. They sure are far away. It is a challenge to keep balanced on the ditches. This is actually the first time we have gotten muddy feet. There is a full moon today. We find a spot to stop and eat our cliff bars (thanks Manny and Patty) and rest for a while. Then we finally get to the temple. no wait!!! that is not it!! we still have 20 minutes to go.
We can see Ugyen waving to us amid a flock of little red robed monklets. We reach the base of the temple amid large quantities of Cannabis sativa. We have walked 4.4 miles and it took 2 hours and 15 minutes of walking. But of course we stopped alot on the way IT is 12:15. Bush stop and final assault. It is warming up at midday. To our lunch we climb. The top is 6680′. Great view from the Sha Gompa built in the 18th century. Tasty lunch and great pictures from up there.

This Gompa has one of the finest historical Buddha in all Bhutan according to the Chief Abbott. .We go in with our shoes on. Ugyen has carted some yak candles up there as well as our lunch. We light them and make a wish. 20 young monks are here.

Meanwhile down in the valley at the Wangdue Dzong the others in our group are watching young monks learn their lessons or get whacked.

We start down at 105 in 40 minutes down a very steep trail the bus has driven up the valley to get us. We have dropped down to 5776 in one mile. That was pretty steep but fast. Nice irises just starting to flower. It still takes a half an hour to drive back to the lodge where our 4 buddies are waiting and so are tea and cookies. Mamie is looking good, thank god for Cipro, good genes and good vibes from the fellow travelers.

Suddenly there is a cry! a shout! a ripped off sock and blood. Mark has given some of his life force to another sentient being. I am sorry that this will have to go in the alternative journal. In the real trip with Michael Ellis and Footloose Forays, this did not occur.
Off we go at 3 retracing our route and it begins to rain. Aren’t we lucky? As we go west the traffic increases.
I make us stop in a hemlock forest for the most amazing Asarum aka Jack in the Pulpit. Looks like an elephant. Great chance for a bush break as well.

Many of the hoarded snacks are passed out as we realize we need to lighten our loads and the no reason to take all this stuff home. We arrive at Thimphu after driving 50 miles for 3 hours and 10 minutes with only stopping for 10 minutes a record for us!!!

7600′ in Thimphu. We are at the Pedlilng Hotel right next to the Swiss bakery and very convenient to town.
We go for a quick shower and then meet for dinner at 7 downstairs. We are the only dinner guests which is very nice since we are so loud. We give you our plan for the morrow, our urban experience. And our local guides head home to be with their family.
Dogs barking how unusual.

May 14 Thimphu

Major Dog fight last night but some of us slept well. The noise kept the Dogs of Bhutan calendar maker awake though. Off at 9 right on time with Palden in charge up the hill to see the takins.
Game enclosure overlooking Thimphu to view Takins (Bhutan’s national animal). We also see the musk deer and Sambar deer. Pretty depressing sight so we head down.

Takin Budorcas taxicolor tibetana
Classification and Range Little is known about the takin in the wild. There is only one species of takin (Budorcas taxicolor). It belongs to the subfamily Caprinae. The Mishmi takin (Budorcas taxicolor taxicolor) is distributed from Bhutan, Assam, northern Myanmar to the Chinese province of northern Yunnan
Habitat Summer: uppermost limits of treeline, reaching elevations ranging from 4,000-12,000 feet (1,219-3,658 m) Winter: forested valleys at lower elevations Size Male length, head-to-tail: 42-98 inches (105-245 cm) Male height, shoulder: 27-55 inches (68-137 cm) Weight Male: up to 880 pounds (400 kg); Female up to 550 pounds (250 kg) Life Span Life span in the wild is unknown; in captivity takin have lived for nearly 16 years Diet In the wild: Takins primarily forage in early morning and late afternoon hours. During summer months, they browse in alpine environments on a variety of herbaceous plants and the deciduous leaves of shrubs and trees. In winter months, takins feed on the twigs and evergreen leaves of a variety of woody species. At the zoo: Alfalfa, herbivore pellets, seasonal browse and some fruits and vegetables. Reproduction Little is known about the reproductive behavior of takins in the wild. They most likely sexually mature at about 2 years of age. The seasons for mating and birth of young may vary between subspecies. A gestation period of 200 to 220 days has been recorded in captivity. Birth is usually given in March or April to a single offspring, which is referred to as a kid. Captive birth weights range from 11-15 pounds (5-7 kg). Within three days of their birth, a kid is able to follow its mother throughout most types of terrain, which is critical when attempting to evade predators or traveling long distances to food sources. Life Cycle Takins appear to seasonally migrate to preferred habitats. During spring and early summer months, they begin to gather in large herds of up to 100 animals at the uppermost limits of treeline. During cooler autumn months, when food is less plentiful at higher elevations, herds disband into smaller groups of up to 35 individuals, and move to forested valleys at lower elevations. Groups mainly comprise females, subadults, kids and some adult males. Older males usually remain solitary throughout most of the year, but gather with females during the rutting (breeding) season. Although takins are mostly slow moving animals, when angered or frightened they can move quickly over short distances. If required, they possess the ability to leap from rock to rock on steep slopes as a means of escape. Takin Talk Takins use a variety of different sounds to “talk” amongst themselves. If danger approaches, a takin will emit a loud warning cough, alerting other takins in the herd. During the rutting season, males are often heard producing a low bellow as a warning or challenge to other competing males. Although takins have no skin glands, their entire body secretes an oily, strong smelling substance that is said to have a burning taste. It is believed that this smelly, thick substance serves as a moisture barrier on the animal’s coat, protecting it from moisture caused by fog and rain that frequents its grazing grounds. Golden Fleece – Impressive Horns Greek mythology tells of the quest of Jason and the Argonauts, who sailed the high seas on the ship Argo in search of the magical Golden Fleece. Jason may very well have been seeking the long, shaggy coat of the takin, which can be golden in color. Takins appear much like an ox, with strong legs and broad, round hooves. Their coat is dense and shaggy, with a stripe along the back. Coat color varies from whitish-yellow, reddish-gray, darker brown or gold. The tail is short and bushy. A bull’s face is often dark, while only the nose is dark on females and calves. All takins have an arched nose and hairy snout. When looking at a takin, the first thing likely to catch the observer’s attention is their impressive horns. Carried on both sexes, the horns arise from the midsection of their massive head, quickly curve outward and then sweep backward and upward to a point. Horns may reach up to 25 inches (64 cm) in length. Fascinating Facts Using their weight, takins often push over saplings to reach tender vegetation that would otherwise be out of their reach! Takins often travel long distances to naturally occurring mineral deposits “salt licks” to replenish minerals needed in their diet! China considers the takin a national treasure and affords the animal full protection under law!
Although takins are not currently considered an endangered species, increased human activities in the takins’ natural range are having a negative effect on their populations. There are less than 5,000 Sichuan takins and about 1,200 Shensi takins left in the wild. Less than 10,000 wild Mishmi takins remain. Deforestation caused by logging and agricultural expansion is reducing, or eliminating altogether, habitat required by takins during their seasonal migrations. Poaching is also having a dramatic effect on their numbers. Local native peoples hunt takins for their highly prized meat, which is contributing to their decline.

Sonam catches up with us. I guess he has been conjugating with his wife. We go back up the other side of the valley to the paper factory. Not working today but we get the overview and get to help the GNP of Bhutan, right Sally? It is a gorgeous day blue sky sun and warm bordering on hot.
Next to the handicraft store called Sangay Arts and Crafts. Golf excitement is really building. Mark and Craig hurry down to get a shirt at least but to no avail- all should out. More nus and tc and $$$$$ spent. Fixed price but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

We swing by the hotel and drop off the goodies and me, Patty and Don. We go have lunch at the Hotel Jumolhari with some government officials. Sangay the head of the Parks, a botanist and two women who run environmental education programs. The food is good (even the coffee) and the conversation stimulating. No birds seen however. Don refused to wear a gho but looked good in hisas coat and tie.

Meanwhile there is even more shopping, market viewing, archery watching. Craig and Laura go play golf and are very nice to the little caddie (let them play) and have a grand ole time. Manny and Patty watch archery and Manny gets to close. Some of us see them hit the target WAHA and do their little dance. Back for clean up laundry arrives and we are off at 5. LIFE IS GOOD!!!!.

We go up the hill to Sonam’s sister’s house. She is a master weaver and we watch some of her students do their weaving and then we buy buy buy buy. Much talent and work goes into this handicraft. Sonam’s sister’s husband is a former champion and I think the national archery leader. The park guy can pull the bow and eventually the corporate guy could as well. The tour guide however cracked some bones.

Good food and a national dance troupe came to entertain us. They are heading off to Holland soon. They dance the dances from each region of the country. We meet many interesting people mostly in civil service since the private sector is small here. We end the evening by dancing. Don thinks that the American male can’t dance but I think Manny was pretty good!! Of course he is half Panamian and half French. Back to the hotel way past our bedtime, pay our bills and tomorrow our last full day in Bhutan. Hopefully those bags are not too heavy with goodies!!

May 15 Paro

More dog fights, really big ones. They rule Thimphu! Early departure at 730 to drive back to Paro. Beautifully sunny day perfect for Dragons Nest. I saw my first Bhutanese snake but it was a road kill! As we were driving into Paro the plane flew right over our heads! Way cool. We can also see the nunnery we visited on our first day high up on the mountain. Quick stop by our hotel for a pee and then we continue up to the trailhead. By 1010 am we are on our way. Begin at 8500″

In one hour or so we have climbed 1000 feet in 1.5 miles to the tea house. Hurray! Everyone makes it. The path takes us through a forest of oak and rhododendron, arriving at a small chorten surrounded by prayer flags. With a little more effort, we will reach a teahouse and a spectacular view of Taktsang. Sonam tells us the story of the tigress and Guru Rinpoche.

We have some tea and goodies and then continue. Lunch may be a bit late on this day but many of us are stocked up on Manny and Patty’s cliff bars. Mark is out of Snickers, time to go home. Up we go… In the sun plenty of rhodos and a Dutchman’s pipe or pipe vine, vibrunusm, clematis, Hemlock, blue pine, To the overlook WOWOW Christmas card shots taken once again. Kay is glad she has some more film. Forktail swifts gliding around. This is spectacular! Now for the final event. Down the steep steps to the waterfall, prayer flags everywhere, Borage in flower. And then more up all the way to the temple where a guard checks our papers to make sure we have our permits. Of course we do Sonam is in charge. Thunder fills the valley, the weather is changing, The temperature coming up was a bit warm, and now the world is pregnant with rain. This huge rock wall does not appear to be granite to me.

We are at the Dragon Kingdom with a hike to the magical temple known as Taktsang (the “Tiger’s Nest). Taktsang is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in the Himalayan World. The temple itself is perched on a granite cliff that drops 2,000 feet to the valley floor. The name is derived from a legend that Guru Rinpoche flew across the mountains to this spot on the back of a tigress, reaching a cave in which he meditated for three months, converting the people of Paro Valley to Buddhism during his stay.

In 1998 there was a fire that burned a lot of this temple. It was a wake up call as Sonam tells us for the country. Many people cried because they had not made the pilgrimage. It has been rebuilt within the last five years and just reopened recently. We start with the first or uppermost temple the biggest. It has the largest roof on it. The tigress is here and fierce. The next one below has the most sacred relic in it that was not burned in the fire a stature of Guru Rinpoche. We see the sexual embrace of Yub (male) and Yum (female). The scary figures are different aspects of the same embrace. The disciples are on the wall directly painted onto the rock wall which bulges into the room. Finally to the third and the lowest as the thunder resounds; all is perfect. The most sacred spot in all of Bhutan the man responsible for bringing Buddhism to this country mediated in the cave here. We can peek into it and make a wish and drop a small offering of money. A monk is here and he blesses the beads of a young man who comes in with us. We are lead in chant again by Sonam and then we have our 10″ of silence in this most holy place. Another powerful spiritual unexpected event on our trip.

Down we go takes about 20″ to get back across to the overlook. Rain is spitting but never falls. The lucky club we are! From here to the teahouse is .8 mile takes 25”. Around 3 we have our lunch, one of those late ones I told you about. White throated laughing thrushes below us. 1000 feet down to the bus, Laura can’t believe she did the hike.

To the lodge to see our friends Mamie, Karin and Greg relaxing in the peacefulness of the Paro Chu. We meet at 7 in very poor neon light for our closing circle. This is our chance to share how the trip has affected us and our highlight.

Our shared sentiments-
Tea with the lama was very powerful, Queens Chorten esp. the silent time at the top. Need to all work to the common good, Dogs of Bhutan. Expecting little got much. THE LEECH. Kind and caring staff and fellow travelers. Tough to be sick in a foreign land. Wonderful Bhutanese people. Guides sharing their passion. The first day to the nunnery and the last day to Tigers nest. Roommate Heidi was great. Sonam did a superb job. Camping in Ura. The lama-to-be and our tea and conversation with him. The Queens’s chorten. Lighting the yak butter candles the first time. The group was fabulous. Meeting all of you. Felt sorry for other travelers that weren’t with us. Lama was great. Spiritual part of the trip was a surprise. Meeting people at the party rounded out the experience. Trip was well lead (except for MJE). Best group Sonam every had including Blythe and Russ groups. No problem clients! Insider Bhutan origin. The boss is right on every account. The whole place is a national park deserves our support to preserve.

Then we pass an envelope around for the blankets to buy for the nuns. We are a very generous group. We also donate many things that the people here can use. Next our last dinner together in this particular combination. You are a great group…

May 16 Paro to Bangkok

Another beautiful day in Bhutan; sun is shining, clouds clinging to the hills. Off at 830 we give the Sonam, Pelden, Ugyen and Nema their tip while we are still in the bus at the airport. This is an appropriate place considering how much time we have spent there.

Through security into the airport and then to the ticket counter. Window seat on right is supposed to be the best. Off and maybe we see some tall mountains. To Calcutta 90 and humid in the northern flats of Indian along the Ganges River. We stay in the plane and then continue or our 2 1/5 hour flight to Bangkok. The party breaks up here with 9 of us heading toward the Miracle and the rest scattering. Patty and Manny have 3 more days in Bangkok.

May 17th

I fly to London and the rest of you fly home. This was a great trip.

Tashi Delek