Discovering Easter Island 4

Discovering Easter Island 4

Discovering Easter Island 4 – Exploring Rapa Nui Solo, part I

October 02, 2016: I deliberately took my time in the morning, not wanting to get to breakfast too early. About 8 o’clock I sat outside the dining room under the overhanging roof, setting up my tablet computer on a table and finally connected to the internet; it was very slow and I wasn’t able to do more than send out a couple of emails and couldn’t attach any pictures.

Seeing me sitting outside, Ramon brought my coffee out and at 08:30 told me breakfast was ready; pretty much the same as the day before but still delicious and filling. He sat with me and we discussed what I’d seen the day before and what I planned for the day. The tour company offered three tours of the island; the full day tour I took the day before and two half day tours to other parts of the island closer to Hanga Roa for 15,000 pesos each. They offered the full day and half day tours on alternate days so I could take at least one or both of the short tours or go exploring on my own. We talked about bike, motorbike, 4-wheeler ATV, and car rentals and he found a flyer from one of the rental agencies. It looked like rain and not being a great motorcyclist or bicycler, I quickly discounted those options. An ATV sounded fun, but when I saw it was more expensive to rent than a small jeep, I decided to rent the jeep for 45,000 pesos per day, their smallest and least expensive car; not really a Jeep but a Suzuki Jimny, all little 4-wheel drive SUVs are called Jeeps. Definitely more expensive than the tours, but it gave me a lot more flexibility and there was plenty of room inside the fence to park at the hotel.

Since I didn’t have to rush for a morning tour, I took the opportunity of a slow morning and about 10 o’clock walked down the street to the car rental agencies in town. All the agencies offered the same vehicles for the same prices so I went to Insular rent-a-car, whose flyer Ramon showed me earlier. The lady at the desk quickly filled out my rental agreement, took a photocopy of my driver’s license and I was outside checking out my little car in about 5 minutes. In her broken English, the only specific instructions she gave me was to drive slowly, which she repeated several times. I drove it back to my hotel; with light traffic on the road it was not a problem getting back into the habit of driving a stick shift. They drive on the same side of the road as in the States with good lane discipline and slow traffic, so driving on my own was a snap.

At the hotel I loaded my shoulder bag with water, map, camera, binoculars and the left over sandwich from the night before, then headed out. I planned to follow the same route the tour took the day before so I could get more pictures of the sites I saw the first day and spend more time exploring some of the sites plus some the tour bypassed.

Out the hotel gate, I turned left onto the road leading past the airport and out of town to the highway that crossed the island. I knew I had to turn onto the south coast road but I passed it sooner than I expected and missed the turn. Farther up the road I came upon a bicycle tour with riders stretched out over about half a mile and had to slowly make my way past them on the narrow two lane road. Past them I realized I’d missed my turn and found a wide spot to turn around and headed back the way I came. Since the island is so small with only two paved roads, there are nearly no road signs so when I came back towards town, I turned left on the only paved road I passed, across the a field at the corner I saw what must be a small hotel with 3 concrete Moai standing in front; I noted those as my landmark to find the road in the future.

As soon as I reached the shoreline it was clear I was on the right road and quickly saw where we stopped the day before. I found the road to the parking lot and spent some time at the ruined Viahu site, taking the pictures I missed because of my low battery during the tour. I spent some time there not just looking at the ruins of the Ahu and Moai, but also along the rugged coastline. Next to the site was a small rocky cove that was once the fishing harbor for the ancient village, I couldn’t imagine how difficult launch or bring boats ashore would be, even dugout canoes. Today, a boat launch is carved from the rocky shore so modern fishing boats can be launched but there is not much more than a cleared channel and breakwater. While I was walking around the harbor, a young lady on a bicycle was leaving and headed down the highway and as I left a different woman also passed by on her bike; obviously bicycle tours were popular both in groups and solo.

After leaving Viahu I did the same thing at Aka Hanga, checking out the ruins and the surrounding area. It was desolate with many stone walls and piled rocks that are of unknown origin. Some may be from the ancient villagers to separate plots of land, or they may be from the 19th century when the island was used for grazing cattle and stone fences built then; the stones are silent.

I continued down the highway, enjoying the beauty of the rocky shore. The land near the coast was open, rocky grass land with stone or barbed wire fences and usually horses on both sides. Of course not all the horses were feral, some wore halters, but how the owners kept track of their own I’ll never know. There were a few scattered trees, usually growing inside low stone wall about 1 meter high that encircled it. All along the road as I stopped at different sites and driving between them, I kept passing the two young women peddling their way around the island.

After stopping at Tongariki for a few more pictures of the impressive 15 Moai, I went back along the coast road to a wide open area at the top of the cliffs on the shoreline. I pulled over and parked between the cliff and road, opened up the rear door of the little Jeep, sat on the back and enjoyed my lunch overlooking the rocky coast that strung out in both directions, undisturbed by buildings or civilization. There were few cars passing on the road, and no sign of life anywhere I looked, except of course one of the bicycling ladies. Other than that, the only movement was windblown grass and birds. As I wrote earlier, all of the native land birds originally found on Rapa Nui by the first Polynesian settlers became extinct. Except for sea birds which have recolonized the island, there are only four species of birds on the island; House Sparrows and Pigeons that seem to make a home where ever men live, and Common Diuca Finch and Chimango Caracara were introduced. The Caracara are related to Falcons but behave almost like crows; gregarious, numerous and unafraid of people, they will even form into small flocks. Along with other land bird species that were also introduced but didn’t establish viable breeding population, the Caracaras and Finch were introduced from mainland Chile.

When Europeans started to settle on the island, it was leased by a British company from Chile to be used to raise cattle. The major problem was that the besides no trees, the island was infested by rats, both the smaller Polynesian rat which arrived with the first Polynesians on their canoes and later the larger European rat came on the European’s ships. To control the rats the Caracara were introduced because they would prey on the rats and nest on the cliffs; today the rats are controlled and the Caracara are everywhere; the other birds were introduced to fill other niches.

I’ll stop here and continue my journey around the island next time

Enjoy the Journey

Scott C. Ames
 

Discovering Easter Island 3

Discovering Easter Island 3

Discovering Easter Island 3- Beginning my exploration of Easter Island, part II

October 01, 2016 (cont.): After finishing my lunch at the Rano Raraki quarry, I wandered through the gift shops outside the gates. There were lots of the usual tourist kitsch for sale, most of the stalls had the same things with very few handicraft souvenirs; everything at very high prices. I was able to find a few things I did like, and at the same time able to change some of my larger currency to get the 5000 pesos I needed; when we boarded our bus I paid the guide the money I still owed for the tour.

From the quarry we continued along the coast to Pito Kura. The site had just one Moai, reported to be the largest ever erected except for one at Tongariki. It was also the last one ever raised, estimated by archeologists about 1600 A.D. Legend holds it was commissioned by a widow in memory or her husband. Islanders are working to raise funds to have the Ahu and entire site fully restored.

After that stop, we continued to the north side of the island to Anakena. This is the only sandy beach on the island and reputed to be where the original Polynesians came ashore all those centuries ago. The beach itself is at the end of a small valley and only about 100 meters across on a small bay between low rocky headlands. Tall palms and grassy lawns with picnic tables make it a welcoming and popular spot for tourists and locals alike; with a few cabanas with small cafes, souvenir stands and restrooms next to the parking lot. Across the narrow valley from the road and concession area stand the partially restored Ahu for the village that once sat at the head of the valley. The large Ahu has several Moai standing, 4 have red lava stone Pukao atop them.

From the Moai I walked across the beach, dipping my toes in the chilly waters of the cold Pacific Ocean current that circulates up from Antarctica. There were a few people sunning themselves on the beach and swimming; families spread out their towels on the sand or lawns. We had a long stop here to give people a chance to go swimming if they wished, and several in my group had brought their swimming suits. I retired to one of the small round cabanas that served as cafes, sat at the rough wood table to drink a beer and ordered an empanada, the meat pies that are so popular in Chile; mine was huge with flakey pastry, chicken and cheese and delicious.

There were fewer souvenirs than I saw at the lunch stop, but they did have a couple different things, including a Ao, or ceremonial club. It was wood, about 30 inches long, tapered with a head carved on the wide end. It was interesting but seemed fairly crude plus they wanted 60,000 pesos, nearly $90; definitely not worth that.

When nearly all of those in my group gathered at the bus we boarded and then waited for one Chilean family with a small son who had gone swimming. They took quite awhile to finally get dressed and ready to go. But this was the last stop of the tour and no one seemed impatient waiting except the driver and guide who moved the bus up closer to the buildings so it was more visible.

When we were finally all seated on the bus, we headed back to Hanga Roa along the main highway that runs across the center of the Island. It took us over a pass between two of the island’s volcanoes then down through the eucalyptus forest. This is the main road on the island and most of the islanders, who don’t live in the town, live on small farms along or near the road. With very little automobile traffic, the many horses and cattle running loose were the biggest driving hazard on the road; nobody speeds so it was a slow drive back, taking about 30 minutes.

We came into town past the airport and they dropped me off at my hotel about 4:30 PM. I washed out some clothes and hung them out on my patio before lying down and falling asleep. I woke about 6 o’clock, and then went out for dinner, walking out the side gate of the garden directly to the street to down town; it was about a 5 minute walk to the business district. Instead of going all the way to the water front I stopped at a open air café across the street from the car rental agencies called “Club Sandwich”; instead of club sandwiches as I know them, it was more a burger joint. Being a bit hungry, I ordered a salad and a chicken club sandwich. What I got was a huge salad with lettuce, avocado, asparagus, sweet corn, cheese, and the cubes of bacon. The sandwich arrived and it was on a thin hamburger bun about 8 inches in diameter, layered with cubes of chicken and stir fried vegetables; the entire sandwich was about 5 inches tall. I ate all the salad and less than half the sandwich and was stuffed. I took the remainder of my sandwich back to the hotel since there was a refrigerator in the sitting room.

Like the night before, Ramon had left the thermos of hot water and I enjoyed my evening cup of coffee before turning in around 10:30.

As a last note about my first day of sightseeing, the night before I hadn’t checked my camera and if I had, I’d have noticed that the battery was very low and recharged it. All day while going to the different Ahu and Maoi sites I had to ration my picture taking. I knew I would not get another chance to visit the quarry so saved the battery power for that visit. Luckily the camera had enough power so I got all the pictures I wanted there. I had several more days on the island so knew I would have more chances to get pictures of the other sites. So before turning in I made sure the battery was charging to be ready for the next day.

Enjoy the Journey

Scott C. Ames
 

Discovering Easter Island 2

Discovering Easter Island 2

Discovering Easter Island 2- Beginning my exploration of Rapa Nui, part I

October 01, 2016: As is my habit, I was up early after a good night’s sleep. It cooled off at night enough that I was happy for the thick blanket on my bed. The cold ocean surrounding the island kept the temperature moderate in the day and cool at night and I never found mosquitoes or bugs a problem.

Ramon told me breakfast would be ready at 08:30 so I went to the reception area early and sat outside enjoying the view of their gardens and tried to connect to the very slow internet on the island. About 8 o’clock I saw and heard Ramon working in the kitchen and setting out my breakfast so I went inside and sat down at the table. I’m sorry I did that because I think it made him rush to finish which wasn’t my plan; I just thought I could sit there instead of outside. It was a great breakfast, strong coffee from a French press, fruit juice, fresh sliced fruit (Papaya, Pineapple and Strawberry), warm bread and a very nice omelet plus sliced tomatoes, ham and cheese.

When he finished in the kitchen, Ramon joined me for breakfast and we talked about my plans for the day. He was very knowledgeable and gave me a lot of information. Easter Island is volcanic, just one island made up of several volcanoes. Triangle shaped, about 20 kilometers along the southeast coast, 15 kilometer long northern coast and 17 kilometer west coast. Hanga Roa is in the southwest corner with one paved road across the center of the island to the north coast and a paved road along the southern coast. It doesn’t take very long to get anywhere. Since nearly the entire island is national park, there are no trash cans anywhere outside of Hanga Roa; everyone must carry out their rubbish when visiting the park. The main attractions for most tourists are the Moai, the large statues the island is famous for. The coastline is rocky and uninviting except for one small sandy beach on the north coast. The interior of the island is forested, mostly with eucalyptus trees introduced in the 19th century, the rest is grassland and volcanic rock exposed by erosion; most of the island is open range for cattle and horses; over 8 thousand feral horses roam wild.

I wanted to join a tour to get an overview of the island so Ramon called a tour company and they told him a full day tour was available that could pick me up at the hotel. It cost 40,000 pesos including lunch or 25,000 pesos without lunch, about $37.00; I ate a large breakfast so opted for no lunch. I finished eating and went to my room to grab my camera, etc. Before I had everything packed into my shoulder bag Ramon came by and told me he confirmed the tour and they would be there in 15 minutes. He also brought a couple of bananas and a sandwich made with the bread, ham, cheese and tomatoes leftover from breakfast; the morning was a little cool so I took a light jacket and bottle of water.

I waited on the covered porch outside the kitchen chatting with Ramon and petting the friendly guard dog and about 09:30 a friend of Ramon’s walked through the gate, he was the tour guide and I followed him across the street to the gas station (the only one on the island) where others on the tour were picking up snacks and water. We made a couple more stops to pick people up then at the tour office so I and another couple could pay, they didn’t have change so I gave them 20,000 pesos and they asked me to pay the rest to the guide when I had it. By 10 o’clock we were on the road out of town.

We turned off the main highway heading across the island to the road that follows the southern coast; our first stop was at Viahu. We pulled off the paved highway onto a dirt road to the parking area outside the stone wall surrounding the site. We showed our National Park tickets to the gate guard and walked about 100 meters. In front of the Ahu, stone platform for statues, ran a low wood rail fence, less than a meter high, that separated visitors from the ruins with signs telling people to not touch or walk on the artifacts.

The 8 Moai were all toppled over, and the Ahu badly broken and eroded. When the island was first visited by Europeans in 1722 most of the Moai were standing, by the mid 19th century they were all toppled by warfare between villages and clans and one of the objects of attacks was to topple the Moai of the opposing group. The statues were never representations of gods, but ancestors. That is why they faced inland; the ancestors watched over and protected the family groups. The original damage was done by the toppling of the statues but erosion from storms, earthquakes and tsunamis made it worse. Many of the Moai were originally erected with tops of large round carved stones of red volcanic rock called Pukao; these lay scattered around the Ahu. In front of the Ahu was a circle of stones where ceremonial rites were performed.

During our stop the guide told us legends of the Moai, why they were erected, what they represented and why they were toppled. To the tourists from Chile he gave his spiel in Spanish then in English to those from Europe, Australia and me, the only American. Most Easter Islanders speak English and Spanish plus those of Polynesian descent also speak Rapanui, their Polynesian dialect.

After about 30 minutes we moved on to the second stop of the morning at Aka Hanga. It was much like the first site with fewer Moai and had foundation stones of ancient houses. The foundation stones were carved into long smooth sided rectangles with holes drilled in the top. The houses were narrow and long, the holes in the stones held wooden hoops that the thatched roofs were attached to. The homes were small, used just for sleeping and in front was a patio of stones that served as the outside living area. There were also examples of stone gardens. When the forests were gone the cold winds off the ocean made farming very difficult. The islanders developed a method of planting the taro and other crops in piles of rocks that both protected them from wind and trapped moisture.

Our third stop of the morning was at Tongariki, the largest and best restored Ahu on the island. There, 15 Moai are restored and now standing on the Ahu, one with a Pukao placed on its head. We spent more time there because it had the most to see and is one of the most popular sites on the island. A Japanese company donated several million dollars to have the site restored as both an advertising opportunity and a cultural donation to the island, when they completed restoring the Ahu and raised the Moai they left the heavy equipment on the island to be used to restore other sites.

From there we drove inland to the base of one of the island’s volcanoes. Our 4th stop was at Rano Raraki, the quarry where the Moai were carved from the volcanic rock. This was the only volcano with stone soft enough to carve. The road to the quarry passed several fallen Moai, mostly face down on the ground. At the foot of the volcano was the only developed area within the park with restaurant, gift shops, toilets, and picnic area.

This was also the only site on the island where our tickets were stamped. At all other stops anyone with a pass could visit as many times as they wished, but only allowed to visit Rano Raraki once. We walked along the well groomed trail around the volcano; on both sides of the trail stood Moai, most buried over half way with only the head exposed. The Rapa Nui carvers cut the statues from the rock of the volcano then moved them downhill into pits where they finished the fine details of the statues. Over the years several of them were excavated by archeologists and at the base of each were found tools where the workmen dropped them. It’s theorized that when the carving of Moai stopped, the workmen dropped their tools then buried the statues to protect them, making toppling them impossible without digging them out first.

We climbed up the side of the volcano to the cliffs where the Moai were cut from the rock, several statues remained in various stages of carving, including one massive statue bigger than any moved off the mountain; it remains part of the volcano, forever staring skyward. One carved into the side of the mountain looks like a giant, sleeping in its niche, protected from the weather.

After an hour walking amongst the giants, we were all tired and hungry so we returned to the entrance for lunch at the picnic area behind the restaurant. I could have hiked around the quarry longer since I wasn’t having the included lunch, but decided I was too tired. I joined everyone else in the picnic shelter where the tour guide and driver set out their lunches. They had huge boxed lunches of either fish or chicken with rice, vegetables, fruit and a bagel plus soft drinks. I sat and chatted with them while I ate my sandwich, bananas and drank water; well satisfied since I doubt I could have eaten their huge lunches.

I’ll stop there for now and continue with the day’s adventure next time.

Enjoy the Journey

Scott C. Ames

Discovering Easter Island 1

Discovering Easter Island 1

Discovering Easter Island 1- A New Adventure to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) Begins

September 29-30, 2016: My Amazon Expedition ended and my next adventure began at the Lima Peru airport where I boarded my flight at 11:30 PM and took off at 12:15 AM heading to Santiago Chile. There I went through passport control and then to pick up my checked bag to take through customs. In baggage claim, I waited and waited and waited, then finally asked one of the LAN employees about my bag and he told me to please wait, thirty minutes later another baggage handler told me to wait. After another 30 minutes both of those men had disappeared and I asked a young lady at a counter who took my information then checked her computer and in 2 minutes found my bag, in her limited English and my nearly non-existent Spanish, she let me know that the bag was classified as “Connection” then told me not to worry and just go through customs without it as if that was the normal procedure.

After clearing customs with just my carry-on bag, I went to the check-in counter for my flight to Easter Island and the lady there assured me the bag would be routed to my flight. I still felt something was wrong, I’d never had luggage routed to connecting flights without going through customs when arriving in a new country so when I finally found my boarding gate in the domestic terminal I asked the supervisor there who told me the same thing, my bag would meet me on Easter Island.

Finally, resigned to the fact my bag would either be lost in limbo forever or meet me on Easter Island I went to find an ATM to get Chilean Pesos. The one ATM in the domestic terminal was out of order so I went back through security and finally found a bank of machines in the international arrivals area. The screen set-up was new to me and it took several tries before I figured out how to get to the English menu, International Cards screen, and get maximum pesos when the bank fees were included but finally succeeded; the exchange rate was about 680 pesos to 1 US dollar. On the way back to the domestic side I walked by two banks of machines I passed at least twice while looking for the ATM. When I finally got back through security and the full length of the terminal to my gate, they had already called my flight and I caught the last bus to the airplane; I’d been running around looking for luggage and ATMs for nearly 4 hours.

The flight to Easter Island was on a Boeing 787, only the second time I’ve flown on one and it was very comfortable; it was also full. There is one flight a day from Santiago to the island and it brings about 250 new tourists each day; in high season LAN Airline adds additional flights. I closed my eyes and was asleep before we took off and slept for the first two hours, then spending the rest of the time watching movies or listening to Jazz.

We arrived on Easter Island at 1:30 PM, with the 2 hour time difference it took 6 hours from Santiago. On the way into the terminal was a counter to buy the $60 tickets to the National Park, which makes up nearly the entire island. If I didn’t buy it there, I’d have to go to the park headquarters to get one; they only sell them at the two locations and the tickets are needed to visit all of the sights on the island outside of the town of Hanga Roa.

At the luggage claim area I was prepared to be disappointed but much to my surprise my bag was one of the first off the airplane with a large “Connection” tag attached; I never did find out why it didn’t have to go through customs when I entered Chile.

A small crowd of people waited outside the terminal to greet the new arrivals; many raising signs of tour companies and hotels with names of arriving guests. In the front row was a large, smiling Polynesian man holding a sign with my name. This was Ramon, my host at the little hotel/B&B I booked. He greeted me with a happy “Aloha” and draped a lei of green and purple flowers over my head. He was also meeting a neighbor returning to the island on the same flight so we had a short wait while she worked her way out of the terminal.

It was just a short drive, less than 5 minutes from the airport to his hotel, the Aloha Nui. It was his old family home converted to a 6 room accommodation with reception, kitchen and dining room in a newer building next door. He and his family lived in another house on the property; the beautiful gardens and buildings all surrounded by a stone wall. The six en-suite guest rooms opened onto a common sitting room with TV and couches; the island has only 3 TV channels, all in Spanish. I was the only guest and given the room with a private covered patio overlooking the garden with hibiscus, bananas, and coconut trees.

As I checked-in I met Ramon’s wife Josie; smiling and friendly they made my stay more like visiting friends than checking into a hotel. As soon as I settled into my room Ramon came by to take me on a short tour of Hanga Roa, the only community on the island. It was just a short drive down the street bordering the house which led to the center of the small town. We passed several restaurants, souvenir shops and car rental agencies before turning at the public market down a short street to the waterfront. Ramon pointed out the two ATM machines at the banks, several restaurants he recommended and community recreation center and soccer field then the fishing harbor and around the corner past expensive hotels to the freight harbor; there was no pier for ships so they anchor offshore and transfer cargo to small lighters to bring containers ashore or pumped fuel through a underwater pipeline to the tank farm. In about 20 minutes we’d seen everything and returned to the hotel.

Since it was late afternoon I just relaxed and settled into my room before walking downtown at 6:00 PM to find a restaurant for dinner. I stopped at the Haka Hanu restaurant with open air seating overlooking the harbor where I watched the few surfers brave the rocky coastline as they rode the waves into the small harbor past the manmade swimming beach. I ordered ceviche appetizer and grilled fish, both were excellent and serving size large enough that either one would make a satisfying meal; I was full to bursting when I finished. I chose that restaurant because Ramon recommended it but also it was next door to the bank with the only ATM on the island that accepted VISA cards. After dinner I stopped at the bank to get more cash, Easter Island is very expensive and I knew I would need it; dinner cost about 30,000 pesos, around $45.00.

I got back to my room about 7:30. There was no electric kettle in the room so earlier I asked Ramon about getting hot water and waiting for me outside my room was a tall thermos of hot water and I could relax on my patio with a cup of hot coffee as I watched night settle in on my first night; I always carry instant coffee and a tin cup when traveling in case of emergencies such as a hotel without complimentary coffee in the room. The rest of the evening I finished sorting my Amazon pictures and reviewing my plans for touring the island before turning in.

I think most people are familiar with Easter Island as the site of the famous and to many the mysterious stone statues carved from volcanic rock and moved to the shoreline around the Island. It’s one of the most isolated places on earth; over 2,000 kilometers to the next dry land and first discovered by Polynesians sailing double hulled canoes from islands in the central Pacific between 800 and 1200 A.D.; they discovered a pristine, thickly forested island with birds but no native mammals or reptiles. Between then and around 1600 A.D. the population grew to an estimated 15,000 people with a very distinct culture that put much of their effort and resources into the carving and transporting the progress ably larger and larger statues which along with the introduction of rats completely destroyed the ecology of the island until there were no trees and no native bird species remaining.

With no trees to build fishing boats or houses and soil washed away by erosion, the people starved and the culture disintegrated, population plummeted to 2,000 to 3,000 in about a century. The first Europeans to find the island arrived on Easter Sunday, 1722; the island’s Polynesian name is Rapa Nui but named by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen as Easter Island; Isla de Pascua in Spanish. When the Europeans first arrived the people were living in caves and the island very desolate, by the early 19th century introduced diseases and slavers seeking labor for guano mines in Peru caused the population to fall even further; by 1877 only 111 Rapanui remained and much of the oral history of the island lost forever. From that point the population slowly recovered and in the 2012 census the population of the island was 5,761 with 60% Rapanui and 40% Chileans from the mainland. The native population and the native language are both referred to as Rapanui.

Visiting Rapa Nui had been on my bucket list for many years and I looked forward to seeing and learning as much about the island as I could in my short visit.

Enjoy the Journey

Scott C. Ames
 

My Amazon Expedition 12

My Amazon Expedition 12

My Amazon Expedition 12 – The Adventure Ends

September 29, 2016: I was awake early, out on the deck at 04:30. It was a quiet and peaceful night and I felt alone in the universe listening to the sound of fish jumping near the boat. Then I heard another noise and the sight of a flashlight casting its beam across the water and Nutria tied up alongside. Because we were tied to the shore close to houses and farms, the crew posted a night watch who recognized me and continued on his rounds, obviously not considering me a threat to life and limb on the boat; he continued making his rounds checking the bow and stern lines to shore and lines tying up the launches.

For the last time the 05:30 alarm, generator came on, waking everyone on the boat and we were soon unmoored and underway once again. I had a wonderful chance to see the beautiful dawn as the sun came up over the Amazon, my last opportunity to enjoy it. I watched as the crew were out early getting ready for the day, they swabbed down the decks wet from an overnight rain and had everything ship shape by the time everyone else was up and about.

The morning was spent chatting about the adventure we just finished together and planning for our return to Iquitos. I passed around a couple of envelopes to my group, one was for tips to the Crew, we would give it to the captain before leaving the Clavero for him to divide among the crew and guides as a thank you for their wonderful support and one for Bar Bills. We had to pay for the beer or sodas taken from the salon refrigerator; I didn’t have a bill since I only drank my own Scotch, in fact a couple shots remained in my bottle of Chivas Regal so I put the bottle in the cabinet in the salon for the next team to enjoy.

Those of us who were leaving things on the boat put them in the salon. I was donating my Birds of Peru book, it was heavy and in better shape than the copy in the ships library so leaving it both lightened my load and benefitted the research project. I also left other things I wouldn’t need plus took up valuable luggage space and would also be useful on board such as my rubber boots and insect spray; others left similar things. The night before I’d given my waterproof bag to Kimberlyn, she’d noticed it on the surveys and joked about the Rubber Ducky logo, I’ve seldom used it since I bought it and knew she would get much better use of it in the wet environment they worked in daily.

Because we were headed downstream with the current we traveled a lot faster than the upstream journey, traveling about 40 kilometers in just a few hours and arrived in Nauta about 8 o’clock. We moored in Nauta next to the larger historic riverboat Amazonas, it is also part of the historic boat collection used by the project for use when they had larger groups and needed more cabins; it accommodates up to 40 volunteers such as us or 100 students. Euclides jumped ashore and scrambled up the steep bank to tie the stern line to a piling at the top and we maneuvered all the small boats between the Clavero and the bank except for the Nutria which was still tied along the port side. We weren’t able to pull up to the walkway and steps cut into the bank so the crew pulled the Fitzcarraldo up between the Clavero and the shore then laid out a narrow wood gang plank to reach from the bank to the Fitzcarraldo and then we could cross it to the shore.

On the tip envelope we’d each written short notes of thank you to the captain, guides and crew and we met in the salon to make a presentation of the envelope to the captain. He would divide and distribute it among everyone and deliver Rolin’s share to him in San Martin. I spent most of my Peruvian currency buying souvenirs so used US dollars for my tip; Richard told us they would convert everything to Peruvian Sols.

Richard asked if anyone wanted a walking tour of Nauta but it was so hot, none of us was interested; this pleased Kimberlyn since she would have led the tour and didn’t want to be out walking in the heat either. Don had to leave the boat first; his flight from Iquitos to Lima was at 3:00 PM so he and Joseph left by taxi at 11 o’clock to make it in time. We all said goodbye and waved them on their way; Don was to fly to Lima then on to Cuzco and visit Machu Picchu before heading home to the United States.

The rest of us stayed on board and had lunch. Our last meal onboard was huge; rice, beans, grated carrots, tomatoes with olive salad, chicken baked with tomatoes and onions, and spaghetti with squash sauce (strange, but very good) and fruit cocktail for desert.

At 2:00 PM it was time to leave; I left my room key in the door and placed my bag outside on deck for the crew to collect. Then after final goodbyes to Richard and everyone else we crossed the railing to the Fitzcarraldo, walked across the narrow gangplank to the muddy shore and climbed the steps cut into the bank to the top where the boat’s captain shook our hands and said his farewell; it was just a short walk from there to our bus where Kimberlyn and Tula joined us for the ride to Iquitos. Our small Hyundai Tourismo bus took off for the long drive to Iquitos; breakneck speeds over bumpy roads and most of the passing done on corners made taking a long nap a better option than watching the road. I slept most of the 2 hours it took to get to Iquitos, when I woke I could only wonder what embarrassing pictures Shannon managed to take of me while I slept.

We unloaded at the Casa Morey Hotel where Alice, Shannon and Judy checked in; they were staying one more night in Iquitos before flying to Lima. From there Alice would return home to the Netherlands and report to work the day after her return. Shannon and Judy were going on to Cuzco to visit Machu Picchu and wondering if they would see Don there.

Jay and I would both fly out later that evening on the same flight to Lima so we stashed our gear in the lobby and went to the library and used the hotel computer to check the internet; our first opportunity in over two weeks. Tula left for home and Kimberlyn worked on her computer in the library finishing up some of the paperwork for the project.

After sending out emails to family telling them I was alive and well and confirming my hotel reservations on Easter Island I adjourned to the hotel dining room where I joined Shannon, Judy, Alice and Jay for a beer and we reminisced about the adventure we shared. I wanted to say goodbye to Kimberlyn before leaving for the airport, but she had left for home before I got back to the library.

Jay and I left at 6:30 PM for the airport, we said good bye to the girls then left in a taxi provided by the hotel. Check-in was a breeze at the small airport and just a short wait for our flight to Lima. There we both had a couple hours to wait until our flights, Jay heading to the United States and home and me to a new adventure on Easter Island. We sat it out in a bar until time to report to our boarding gates. After saying goodbye to Jay my Amazon expedition was over but not the end of my adventures, Easter Island and Chile awaited me.

Epilogue – Wrapping up My Amazon Expedition

This adventure was much more than I expected. I’d wanted to see the Amazon for some time and I looked at options like river cruises and tours that included eco-lodges and jungle walks but by going through Earthwatch and spending 10 days on a conservation research project I learned much more. I paid for the opportunity, but it cost no more than other options I looked at, in fact it was less expensive than many; after getting home I looked up a river cruise to see what they cost; I checked out one of the cruise boats we saw that goes to the same area, 2017 prices for a 4 day, 3 night cruise to the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve started at $3100, for about the same amount I had 15 days including one night in Iquitos and I was perfectly comfortable and well cared for on a historic boat instead of a new luxury boat with no character.

Being on the research team was more informative and we got to know the ecology of the region better than a cruise or tour staff guide could provide because we were on the river every day, trekking through the forest and closely observing the birds and animals; we watched river dolphins daily, saw birds in greater numbers and variety than I ever experienced at one time, had time to sit back to enjoy the scenery, closely observed river otters, watched sloths climbing in slow-motion through the trees, watched monkeys watch us, and saw Fishing Bats that I never even knew existed plus visited a local indigenous community and saw how they actually live instead of the usual cultural dance show or historic village designed for tourists; a four day or even two week cruise wouldn’t offer half of that.

More by luck than design I was there in September during low water and there was a noticeable lack of mosquitoes which I doubt can be said for other times of the year. It was also low season for tourists so Iquitos was very quiet and I got to enjoy it without hordes of visitors crowding sidewalks and restaurants. All in all it was a wonderful experience with just 6 volunteers on the project with Richard, Tula, Kimberlyn and Joseph, we became close and everyone worked together as a team wonderfully. For anyone interested in experiencing the Peruvian Amazon my first and only recommendation would be to check out Earthwatch; please contact me if you’d like more information.

Thank you for sharing my expedition to the Amazon, I hope you enjoyed my recollections. Stay tuned for reports of my continued adventure on Easter Island and in Valparaiso Chile.

Enjoy the Journey

Scott C. Ames
 

My Amazon Expedition 11

My Amazon Expedition 11

My Amazon Expedition 11 – Village Visit and Heading Downstream

September 28, 2016: We were treated to a nice slow morning, no 06:00 surveys. Everyone shuffled into the salon at their own pace, some choosing to sleep late and others, such as myself, came in before breakfast was set up. We all took our time eating, chatting and talking about our ten days of surveys and exploring this one small part of the Amazon basin. We brought gifts for the village school we would visit that morning and helped Kimberlyn sort and break down packages of pens and pencils to be distributed. At 09:00 we loaded everything and ourselves into the green launches and headed up the Samiria River to the village of Bolivar we passed every day.

On the way to the village we stopped at the ranger guard station to drop off paperwork to document the 10 days of surveys completed and who participated, then we continued on to the village. About 20 families live in Bolivar, a collection of unpainted wood building elevated about one meter off the ground on pole foundations. We unloaded on the shore next to the small floating dock among the villager’s long open boats and dugout canoes pulled up on the mud and then walked up the grassy slope where we were greeted by the young children of the village

The buildings were built in a long line facing the river with a wide concrete walkway in front, running the length of the village. Between the walkway and the river, palm frond thatch used for roofs and walls was drying in the sun and derelict boats pulled high out of the water where they slowly decayed but were handy for anyone needing wood to repair other boats. The dogs, chickens and ducks of the village lived under the houses and behind each were out buildings and small garden plots. Our first stop was at the home of the village president, the leader of the community, to formally request access to the village although our visit was planned days in advance. This village was Euclide’s home and Rolin, from San Martin about 10 kilometers upstream on the lake, was well known, as were Kimberlyn and Joseph because they visited often. After the village president gave his okay for our visit, Kimberlyn and Joseph took us on a walking tour of the village. As we walked along the kids all followed close behind, nearly mobbing Joseph who seemed to be their favorite visitor.

The walkway led past the last house then at a dry channel made a 90˚ turn away from the river. At the corner was a small concrete monument with brass plaque commemorating the building of the concrete walkway by the regional governor; no good deed goes un-publicized. Near the corner was a small water purification plant that provided clean drinking water for the village. As compensation for oil spills an oil company was required to set up water plants in every village and maintain them for 5 years; what happens after that remains to be seen.

Down the path past the water plant were a couple more houses, including Euclide’s. His house was empty as he no longer lived there, but it was still his home village. The last building was the small wood plank school house, a simple building with one large room and no glass in the windows, walls covered with pictures and posters, the tables and chairs stacked along the wall. Small wooden animals hung from the ceiling, each with a tag identifying it by name. This was only an elementary school; students going to high school took a boat each day the 10 kilometers up river and across the lake to San Martin. When we headed back into the village each of the kids carried a chair.

In the middle of the village was the community meeting house that also served as the kindergarten; we went inside and the kids set their chairs along the walls. Richard met us there along with the village president we met earlier. The president gave a short speech welcoming us to the village in the local language; Richard then translated it for us and thanked everyone in their language for their hospitality and thanked the people of the community for their support in the conservation projects. The children did several dances and songs then played a game with us where they each acted like or made the sounds of a forest animal and those in my group had to guess what each was then it was our turn and they did the guessing, it was really a lot of fun and a little embarrassing for everyone.

Kimberlyn then passed out the gifts we’d brought. At first I was apprehensive because of a similar experience I had in Rwanda years earlier when a group I was with gave out gifts and school supplies at an orphanage and the children rioted, fighting over everything. Here though it was not anything like that. The kids all lined up orderly and patiently waited their turn, then ran with their booty in hand to give to their mothers seated on the wall opposite my group, just keeping the soap bubble blowers for themselves. As the kids blew bubbles everywhere, we walked down to another building and up the short steps to the large open room of one house. Laid out on the floor on tarps and blankets were handmade crafts and souvenirs for sale; each family with their own space. There were necklaces, earrings, bone-knives, painted wood carvings of animals and birds, painted and woven fabric bags plus lots of other things. Everything was made from local materials like fish bones, feathers, caiman teeth, local wood, palm nuts, plant fibers and petty red and black seeds.

Of all the souvenirs on display, there was only one mask; I made a bee-line to that as soon as I laid eyes on it. It was carved from balsa wood so very lightweight but brightly painted yellow and white with black spots of a Jaguar; a great addition to my growing mask collection. I paid 20 sols for it then from another lady bought a knife made from a cat fish bone and necklace with piranha jaw for 10 sols each. Everyone seemed to find some treasure they liked and we were able to contribute a little to the community economy while getting wonderful locally made gifts directly from the sources at reasonable prices.

About 12:30 we headed back to the Clavero and were soon back onboard. Shortly before we left, Euclides took one of the green launches to take Rolin home in San Martin, we all stood at the railing and waived farewell; he waived back with one hand while holding a plate piled high with his lunch in the other. When everyone was back onboard the crew was able to tie up all the launches and pulled in the lines to shore as we got underway and headed down river; traveling with the current we made much better time than we did coming up river.

After a great lunch where I over did the carbohydrates, I showered and shaved then stretched out on my bed and fell asleep almost immediately. I awoke to Alice’s knocking on my door at 3 o’clock; I was late for a final lecture by Richard in the salon where he explained the Community Based Conservation program in the Amazon. He explained how it was set up to benefit both the communities and the environment and how it was succeeding plus the continued challenges faced.

About 6:00 PM the pilot and captain pulled our boat over to the bank opposite the village of San Regis. Euclides jumped from the bow to the shore then clambered up the steep bank through very high grass to search for trees strong enough to tie up too. That we were nearing civilization was evident by the houses with porch lights on a couple hundred feet from where we stopped. We had to maneuver a bit to get bow and stern lines tied up properly but finally all was secure for the night just as it began to rain.

It was a quiet final night onboard, after a great dinner we had a couple of night caps and discussed tips for the crew and told stories of our adventure. Everyone sad our expedition was ending but also happy we had such a wonderful time. The only ones really happy it was ending were Kimberlyn and Joseph since they would get a month off to spend with family and friends.

When we finally turned in for the night, we returned to our cabins to finish packing since we would arrive in Nauta the next day and the adventure would end.

Enjoy the Journey

Scott C. Ames
 

My Amazon Expedition 10

My Amazon Expedition 10

My Amazon Expedition 10 – Hummingbird, Eagle, Bats and Tourists on the last day of surveys

September 27, 2016: As always I woke well before the generator alarm and by 06:00 was ready to head off on the AM McCaw survey. This was our last day of surveys so everyone was anxious to see everything go well and have a great day. As for the McCaws, they were slow in making an appearance, at the first stop on the river not a sound of one. At the second stop we were tied to a tree overhanging the river. We soon realized that a hummingbird was hanging around and the reason soon became apparent, directly over the boat its tiny nest rested in the limb of the tree. It was only a few feet over our heads and once in its nest, both bird and nest were nearly invisible; in its nest no larger than a golf ball cut in half, the Glittering-throated Emerald merged seamlessly into the foliage. Since we didn’t see or hear any McCaws we had lots of time to sit and observe the tiny bird. We continued for two more stops and in the end recorded 13 McCaws. While we were tied to the shore, Richard and Tula passed by in the white speedboat on their way to observe the Otters, just a little ways upstream.

For the last stop of the McCaw survey we crossed the river to tie up on the opposite bank. Just as we neared the shore, Joseph motioned to a tree on the water’s edge and pointed out the dark splotches on the bark, as we neared we could see they were not just discolored bark, but tiny bats clinging flat to the bark of the tree. They were about 1 inch wide with legs poking out to cling to the tree. As we nosed closer, Judy moved up close to get a better picture and they flew off directly at us which gave a bit of a start. As they flew off we tied up to count our McCaws.

When that survey was complete and were untying from the shore, a large grey bird swooped down directly over our heads and flew across the river, not more than twenty feet off the water. Joseph pointed and said excitedly, Harpy! Meaning it was a Harpy Eagle. They are huge birds, the dominate raptor in the forest and very rare; they are among the largest eagles in the world with relatively short wings because they live in forest habitat. Unlike Bald Eagles which soar and hunt in the clear skies over water, Harpy Eagles fly among and around the trees in the forest hunting monkeys and sloths; they are very powerful birds to hunt and carry such heavy prey.

As the Harpy swooped across the river it disappeared into the forest and we soon got back to heading downstream. We didn’t go more than 50 feet when Joseph pointed to the opposite bank and told us the Harpy had landed and now perched on a branch of a tree. We tried to hold our position in the river to keep it in view but there was a lot of foliage between us and the bird, so we drifted down stream in hopes of a better view. Sure enough only about 50 feet farther we came to an opening in the trees and got a magnificent view of the eagle as it perched on a bare branch. We held that position for some time in order to get a good observation. Joseph then noticed that about 50 meters from where the eagle sat, a sloth was holding on tightly as it sat in the crotch of a tall tree. The Harpy hunts by swooping down and grabbing prey from limbs so as long as the sloth was clinging to the tree trunk, there wasn’t enough room for the eagle to fly by and grab it with its talons. The Harpy is the heaviest eagle in the world, even if other species have wider wingspans and high on my wish list of birds I wanted to see in the Amazon, and one I never expected to actually see. I was excited that I saw it just fly by, to be able to sit and quietly observe it for such a long time was unimaginable. I even got a fairly good picture with my little pocket camera.

We watched for about 20 minutes before it flew off. Then we headed downstream again to the Clavero and the sloth must have seen it fly off too, because it moved down the tree from the fork it had taken refuge in. Once back at the boat we compared our photos of the Harpy as we finished our breakfasts.

After the excitement of seeing the eagle, it was a quiet morning on the boat; I even worked in a short nap before lunch. After lunch things were a little more exciting on the boat. A storm came up suddenly with strong winds. The crew was out adjusting the lines to the shore and moved the stern line to a larger tree farther up the bank. The river was dropping and they had to keep letting out the lines to keep from grounding on the mud. They eventually started the main engine to swing the stern farther from the shore and moved Richard’s little riverboat the Nutria between the Clavero and the bank.

When it was time for the 4:00 PM Wading Bird survey everything seemed to be secure. A luxury cruise boat moored a couple hundred meters astern of us and its speed boats loaded with tourists were zooming up and down the river. When we started the Wading Bird survey there were noticeably fewer birds along the shoreline, many very likely scared off by the speed boats racing by to see the otters. There were still massive numbers of cormorants at the Cormorant Corner, my count was 3300 birds while Joseph counted 4500, but I considered that close. We continued our survey along the shallow channel between the river and the lake which we normally didn’t use. Along the channel the cormorants were massed for about half a kilometer. My count was 2650 to Joseph’s 2700; finally after nearly two weeks I made a count reasonably close.

After finishing the survey we crossed the lake and stopped at Rolin’s house along the shoreline near the village of San Martin and said hello to his family. Heading back to the Clavero we passed the sandbar beach with massed cormorants and egrets; this time there were fewer cormorants and more egrets than we saw previously, but since the survey was ended we didn’t try to count them. We lingered on the lake for one last sunset; this was our last trip to the lake.

Back onboard the Clavero I showered and shaved then relaxed in the salon with a scotch and water before dinner. We had kept asking the cook for fish, in particular those we caught on the Fish Surveys and finally we had grilled fish for our last dinner at the Samiria River.

After dinner I emceed the last briefing which had become the new routine. After the briefing and before sitting down, I told Richard how much I had really enjoyed the time on the river and the experience of being a part of their research project. Also that I thought I was speaking for everyone in the group when I said thank you to him and the biologists and how impressed we were by the project and the people involved. Kimberlyn the Dolphin Wizard and Joseph the McCaw Whisperer were both wonderful to work with.

Richard let us know of a slight change of plans for the next day. A visit to a nearby village was always scheduled but he’d also arranged for a visit to another village downriver and see an archeological dig nearby. However internal politics in the village prevented our going; we couldn’t visit without approval of the village leaders but we and the archeological dig became bargaining chips between community factions so no one would okay our visit.

There was one last Caiman survey at 8:30 but I didn’t go on it, those of us onboard played the charades game on Shannon’s IPad instead. I turned in shortly after to start packing up my gear and finish writing up my notes. I wanted to be ready for the village visit the next day before we headed back down the Amazon to Nauta.

Enjoy the Journey

Scott C. Ames