Sunday, February 28, 2010
Brad and I changed the plans for this trip at the last minute. There were some logistical hurdles and we made the call to head up the Raspaculo Branch instead of the Chiquibul Branch as there was some uncertainty regarding pickup and drop off coordination. One of the FCD rangers dropped us off at the Ballerina Rd put in and we headed up the reservoir. Derric Chan, the Chiquibul National Park manager was up river conducting a patrol with the motorboat. We crossed paths on the reservoir and were given a 'lift' to the end of the Raspaculo Branch part of the reservoir. This saved us about 4 hours of paddling...whew!
We were able to push quite a ways past the confluence of Raspaculo and Monkeytail Branches, covering 28km before stopping for the night in a low areas. We saw three pairs flying overhead on the way up and heard 2 macaws calling from the camp in the evening. A Tapir came crashing through the camp and slash into the water that night! That'll wake you up...
We found two macaws on a Quamwood near Cushtabani Camp. Then a third macaw appeared from a cavity on the tree.
On Friday the 19th, we covered 29km and observed 12 more macaws. While paddling on the Raspaculo portion of the reservoir we observed a lone macaw perched on a small snag but neither feeding or apparently concerned that we were right there. After a few minutes it flew about 25m away to a dead Quamwood where its mate was sitting in a cavity entrance. Score! Looks like the breeding season is picking up.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
We had originally tried to fly a week and a half ago but a cold front put the kibosh on that. The guys assisting me from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) had to turn around and drive back to Flores, Guatemala. We rescheduled it for this past Thursday. And another cold front blew in the night before. Clouds and fog...grrrr! Since the WCS guys made the drive, we went for it. That lasted about five minutes. We couldn't even see the mountains much less fly over and around them. Canceled...
So we just played it by ear. I could fly on either Friday or Saturday afternoon, depending on weather conditions. I touched base with Chuck Friday and we were on.
We head out to the Chiquibul Branch tomorrow!
Thursday, February 11, 2010
We made out way up the creek and it wasn't too long before we encountered three sturdy log rafts. These were obviously built to transport the xateros across the Macal River and a little way up Blossom Berry Creek. We pushed our way past these and hit the first small rapid with a tree laying across our path; the first of many.
What caught my attention was seeing two shirts laid out to dry. I then smelled smoke...must be a camp nearby. We paused for a nervous five minutes that seemed like fifteen. I didn't see a soul so we crept forward and past the area.
Continuing up the creek for 2 and a half hours, we saw no signs of people...or macaws. It was pretty quiet. There was some decent habitat but mostly hard kayak dragging. I was thinking of nixing the Blossom Berry for future nest search efforts, but it appears as though there is great habitat much further upstream. Still might be a logistic impossibility but I'll try it out at least once.
We turned back and returned to the 'camp'...approaching cautiously. Out my peripheral vision someone was coming down to the creek. It was Derric, the park manager, with machete in hand. They found a large camp above the creek where we had smelled smoke. Apparently it was quickly abandoned after we passed by. Hmmm.
We loaded up onto the motorboat again at 5pm and headed down the Macal River and up the Raspaculo Branch to camp for the night. Along the way, we observed a single pair of macaws perched on a tree at the river's edge.
After a good night's sleep, we headed up the Raspaculo Branch, stopping at a major camp for legal xate extraction in the forest reserve. The park rangers were checking out the trails in the area to install national park boundary signs to hopefully reduce illegal extraction. The camp was active with 10-12 individuals staying there and about 4 horses. The rangers headed up the trail and Derric took Brad and I upstream, close to the Raspaculo/Monkeytail confluence.
From there, we unloaded and Brad and I headed about 3 or km up the Monkeytail. That was a brutal haul. Lots of kayak dragging, slick rocks...real ankle biters and shin benders. Beautiful scenery and cool falls, but exhausting work!
Near the turn around point, I heard a couple of macaws calling up ahead. We searched around but couldn't spot them. We headed up another fifteen minutes, had a snack and chilled for a few. Then began the trip back. It wasn't long, around 1pm, before we spotted a group of three scarlet macaws heading downstream. Those were the only macaws we spotted that day.
Yup, the way back was much, much easier but still a lot of work. I was trying to head down the left side of the falls in the above picture. Had to get out and line of the kayak. The current caught it and wedged the kayak down into the falls. Eventually I just had to give it a shove and let it go and then climb down the falls and retrieve it. It took in a lot of water so when I hopped onto it it just flipped! Boom! Into the deep water. Had to swim and pull it over to the side, turn it over and climb onto it. It didn't take much dragging before I had to stop and drain the water out.
We had to boogey on down the Monkeytail for the pick up. I could tell we were going to be a little late so we just had to keep pushing hard. I had to drain my kayak again and then keep pushing. Fighting with the rocks and the river I had a different name for the Monkeytail Branch; something more...colorful.
We made it back to the boat around 2:30pm and while draining my kayak I noticed a crack above the bilge hole...man! Going to try slapping on some epoxy. We cruised back down the reservoir and loaded up the jeep and trucks and scattered. Brad and I headed to the ranger station to drop off the kayaks before heading back to town. We were craving some barbeque chicken from Santa Elena, the barbeque capital of Belize. Barbeque and a couple of stouts...mmmm. Good ending.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
We headed down the bumpy road to the Mayan village of Paso Caballo around midday and picked up a couple of the WCS crew members. Then cut across the fútbol field and headed north along a crazy road with steep, steep hills going up and down, up and down...1st gear in 4 low, and unidentifiable roads. Love the Jeep; keep rollin!
We arrived at the field station late afternoon/early evening, met the guys who were already there and unloaded our gear. Set up our tent hammocks before dark came upon us and then noticed that several of the fellas had meandered away from the field station down this road-lined trail. So, I grabbed my camera and headed down the winding path. I could see an opening ahead. The trail popped out from the canopy and an expanse opened up. Wow! We were perched atop some amazing cliffs overlooking an expansive wetland system below. Red-lored parrots were flying from the uplands down into forest below for the night.
We ate dinner and went to bed early. During the night both Brad and I awoke to the sound of a large...cat calling with this loud and raspy meow. Yikes! Crazy dreams that night.
All this said, the last nest was no problem. Brad climbed it with ease, collected the data quick, quick as they say in Belize and we headed back to the station.
We grabbed a couple of Gallos each from the Jeep. Nothin like a few brews, 'cowboy cold' to borrow a phrase from Mr. Burkett back in NM. Headed back out to the overlook to chill for the evening. It was such an awesome transition in the evening. As the sun went down, the herons went to roost, laughing falcons sang their last chorus and the paraques began their nightly nightjar calls. Then a mottled owl could be heard in the distance. The edge of twilight lit up wetland ponds amongst the darkness; mirrors of light.
We chatted into the night, watching the occasional bat or owl fly in close and away. Then our stomachs called us in for the evening to drift lazily to the open kitchen for some fresh tortillas and...
We awoke early and had corn flakes and coffee in the darkness before heading out for the morning. Today we visited a single nest which required hiking an hour and a half at a good clip along an old forest road now overgrown with trees at different points. What a road! Crazy steepness. No walking around hills for these folks. Straight up, straight down. The climbing gear begins to weigh ya down. Whew! The walk back was worse; a little warmer, a little more sun and after climbing and measuring that nest. Just had to keep sucking that water down. I don't think I've sweat like that in a while. Soaked head to toe...completely. Sweat in my eyes! Guess I'm still more used to working in the desert where your sweat evaporates quick.
The steepness of the hills, some never ending, took me back to hike Kristi and I did in the Gila this past autumn. After floating from the Gila Hotsprings campground to the confluence of the Gila River and Sapillo Creek, we stayed the night and then packed out our inflatable kayak and camping gear. The trail out required a ten mile hike starting out with a 1000' ascent before hiking over hill after hill at each side drainage. The hiking guide for this was hilarious; the writer states at one point '...and after descending 300 feet, gird your loins for the next 500' climb...' So before every climb we'd cry out ,'Gird yer loins!'. Ah, good times.
After dragging ourselves back into the station, we relaxed for a few minutes in the shade before loading up our gear and heading back out the same crazy hilly road. Wasn't fifteen minutes before some branch slashed the sidewall of my right rear tire. Pssshhhhh, flop flop flop. Okay, ten minutes and on the road again.
We stopped in Paso Caballo to drop off Chus and pick up Antonio's wife and their sick child. He might have asthma, which would be a problem out there. It was a long and quick trip back to town. After dropping them off at the hospital, I picked up a new tire; no doubt at a cheaper price than could have been found in Belize.
Brad and I hit the road, of course not forgetting to grab some of that good Guatemalan coffee, and arrived back at the Belize border just after dark. I noticed that the lights in my instrument panel of the Jeep weren't working...hmmm. Yesterday, I also discovered that the rear lights weren't working either. Fuses kept blowing but I was able to isolate the short circuit after a day. Hate the electrical problems!! But the Jeep is running again...for now!
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Dealing with border management and customs is always a tricky business for foreigners. It’s a shady realm existing somewhere between regulations and personality disorders. Luckily, knowing a local to get the process started is a great help but just a beginning.
In my attempt to make life ‘easier’ throughout my stay, I had the great idea of getting a temporary importation permit for my vehicle and kayaks. This should ease my frequent trips between Belize and Guatemala, especially as a way of being able to leave my kayaks out at the field station in Belize; the alternative is to haul them out every time I wish to cross the border at Benque Viejo. Then I would be required to drop them off at customs each time and just hope that they still reside there upon return.
So I spent half a day waiting on people, trying to learn the proper order of completing the paperwork, getting the necessary amount of money…going to point A, to point B, back to A, back to B, A, B, A, B….ahhhh!!!
And I didn’t get finished. Luckily my next trip to Guatemala was pushed back a day, giving me some breathing room to finish up tomorrow. Whew!
Off to Guatemala on Wednesday. I was also able to reschedule my habitat assessment flight over the Chiquibul for next Thursday (11-Feb)…let’s hope the weather holds.