I was 22 when a friend persuaded me to see a psychic in my home town on New Zealand’s west coast. At the time I was studying science and psychology at university, so I told myself psychic predictions were fanciful. But I was curious too. Like most young women, I wanted to know when I would meet the man of my dreams.
I am a hiker. But at home, no one uses a machete to blaze the trail prior to walking on it as Souza, our Amazon guide, did, creating a path in the overgrown rainforest step by step. Slicing, swatting, swooping, chopping, no branch, bush, vine or twig was safe.
The hike was one of four daily activities during an 8-day adventure exploring Amazonia. Calling the Tucano, a 16-passenger riverboat, home, my husband and I traveled more than 200 miles along Brazil's Rio Negro. For daily excursions, we clamored aboard a small power launch which took us hiking, bird-watching, and village hopping, and on night-time outings that dramatized the allure of the river not experienced in any other way.
Souza demanded quiet during our launch rides, using all of his senses to read the forest, listening for the breaking of a branch or a flutter through the trees, sniffing for animal odors, scanning leaves above and below for motion, or the water for ripples… and alerting us at every junction of what he has discovered. On our own, we would have heard, felt and discerned nothing.
Souza’s most amazing talent was his ability to identify the multitudes of birds traversing the river and forest, many of whose calls he could replicate precisely. He could imitate more birds than the most gifted comedian can impersonate celebrities. He carried on such intimate conversations, that halfway through a lengthy discussion with a blackish gray antshrike, I think they became engaged. Then Souza, fickle male that he is, romanced a colorful blue-beaked Trogan perched upon a dead branch high in a tree. As one of my travel companions observed, “If you don’t like birds, you might as well take the next flight home.”
story and photos by Paul Ross
“I would do anything for love, but I won’t
dance, don’t ask me.”
-Meatloaf & Fred Astaire
I’m an American baby boomer who doesn’t dance. It was an awkward social activity for a lot of guys in my generation and the excuse for not doing so was that I was always playing in bands –for other people’s dancing. The story is plausible because it’s partly true. But, somehow, there I was, salsa’ing mi cola off at midnight in Medellin, Colombia.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
Arriving in the capital city, Bogota, in search of stories with my wife and travel partner Judie, Chef Sofia Samper whisked us like compliant egg whites off to a large local market. There she shopped for select delicacies to be incorporated into a custom lunch at her cooking school/restaurant. Music thumped in the background throughout the marketplace.
During the subsequent lesson in Colombian cuisine at trendy Casa 95, Chef Sofia danced around her kitchen to an infectious Latin beat. And I began tapping my toe.
You might characterize me as a casual birder, which is one-step up from an armchair birder. I am married to a man who once headed the Sapsucker team for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the World Series of Birding so just through sheer osmosis I should be a much better birder than I am. But that would mean I’d have to pay attention.
words + photos by Shannyn Sollitt*
Three weeks without electricity wasn't the hard part. It was the pig and chickens in the kitchen, and the family of chickens next to my bed making grumbling baby chicken sounds beneath their mother's wings every time I moved. It rains a lot at this time of year. They have to go somewhere indoors, and so does the pig that also made nocturnal grunting and farting sounds.
I maneuvered to set up my bed in their quadrant. I was grateful not to have to sleep with the workers, or in a hammock over the rest of the family, or on the floor with the fleas. When it is dark at 5:30 p.m. and the rooster crows at 3:30 a.m., it is a big deal where one spends that much time in oscuro. (Such a great Spanish word for darkness!).
I chose to sleep with the animals rather than people. I could pop on my headlamp in the middle of the night and converse with my best friend, write in my diary, and work on translating a beautiful piece on the People of the Sierra Nevada, written by a Swiss priest in Spanish. The book was a gift to Asdrubal's father, the Governor of the Arhuaco for the past 20 years.
The headlamp worked great until the moths started pecking at my eyes. I named the pig Wilbur in honor of Charlotte the spider. I developed deep compassion for him when people threw rocks because they didn't like where he was at the moment. He appreciated having his belly scratched. No one else was kind to him.
My decision to leave Asdrubal's farm ultimately became a question of clean water - well, clean in general.
words and photos by Don Mankin
CLIMBING AUYAN TEPUI
The wet, slanted face of the boulder looks treacherous. To make matters worse, the bottom edge hangs over a precipitous drop-off with nothing below but air. I’m not sure how I am going to work my way up its slippery surface. As Alejandro reaches his hand out to help me, my boots slip and I slide out of sight. For what seems like an eternity, I am in free fall, not sure how far I will fall or what I will land on when I hit bottom.
Photo Slide Show by Don Mankin
It was the third day of an 8 day trek up, on and down Auyan Tepui, the largest of the table top mountains of Venezuela (tepui means “house of the gods” in the language of the indigenous Pemon people). There are over 100 tepuis in SE Venezuela, ancient sandstone mesas that jut thousands of feet straight up from the jungle and savannahs below. The most famous tepui is Mt. Roraima, supposedly the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World,” as well as for the hit animated movie, “Up.” Auyan Tepui is larger, more difficult to climb and receives far fewer visitors. It is also the source of Angel Falls (“Paradise Falls” in the movie, “Up”), the world’s highest waterfall at over 3000 feet. Since the tepuis are very old, the flora and fauna that have evolved on the tops of the tepuis are very different than those in the jungles and savannahs below. In fact, the tepuis are like islands in the sky, so each one has plants and animals unique to itself. One of the things they all have in common, though, is that there are no dinosaurs despite the fanciful speculations of Sir Arthur.
My wife Katherine and I were invited here by the owners of Venezuela Elite – a tour company offering trekking, mountain biking, yoga and other trips in the region – to “show Americans that there is more to Venezuela than Hugo Chavez and Miss World” (www.venezuelaelite.com). We only visited one region in our 16 day trip, Canaima National Park, and only Auyan Tepui (the focus of this story), the Gran Sabana and Angel Falls, but from what we saw in those 16 days, their claim is well justified.