Wednesday, December 29, 2004

A beach landing in the rainforest

December 29, 2004
Moraka Beach, Equatorial Guinea
N 3.25878° E 8.48594 ° Elevation 8 feet. Temp: 79° F

There’s a reason they call this a rainforest.

In the four hours since our expedition to save endangered species arrived at this remote beach on the southern coast of Bioko island, we’ve probably seen at least one inch out of the more than 30 feet of rain that falls here every year. We’re pretty much drenched. Fortunately, our gear was stored in rubberized dry bags, so our stuff is in good shape.

The boat that brought us here just departed with a toot of its horn. Amerada Hess, one of the oil companies drilling in Equatorial Guinea’s waters, gave a huge gift to the Arcadia University project by using one of its work boats to bring the expedition here.

We loaded our gear on the 152-foot Seabulk St. Tammany this morning at the port in Malabo, on the north side of Bioko island. Last year the expedition had to make its way to the remote southern beaches in locally built wooden boats called cayucos. Crammed into the boats, expedition members said it took eight hours last year to sail around the island to make the landing at Moraka beach. All day in a hot boat, and no toilets.

Our journey was luxurious by comparison. The St. Tammany steams along at 18 knots, so it got us here in three hours. The crew provided us with cold soft drinks and Danish. “Oh, I like this boat,” said Gail W. Hearn, the Arcadia biology professor who is leading the expedition. “This is the way to travel, eating pastries.”

As we rounded the southwest corner of Bioko island, the group paused to observe a local custom – taking a sip of rum, but throwing some of it overboard to acknowledge the ancestors. Claudio Posa, one of the local professors who has joined the expedition, said the custom would bring us good luck and good weather.

Soon thereafter, it started to rain.

As we circled Bioko island, the dramatic landscape played out in front of us – the base of an ancient volcano, its sides cut by deep ravines and covered in dense forest, with misty clouds rising from the chasms. About 20 porters were waiting for us on the black-sand beach – word had been sent ahead that Doctora Hearn’s group from Philadelphia was returning for its annual expedition. There were hugs and abrazos all around. The people here seem very fond and loyal to Hearn and Wayne A. Morra, the other Arcadia professor who leads the mission.

The St. Tammany’s captain kept the vessel a few hundred yards offshore while we ferried the group and our goods to shore (the expedition numbers 24 people – less than anticipated because there were a few late cancellations). It took nearly four hours to bring all our luggage ashore in two small inflatable boats. The boats had to thread through the surf without hitting an outcropping of volcanic rocks upon which the Atlantic crashed. The crew of the St. Tammany did an expert job. Only once did the inflatable boat capsize as it made its way through the surf. No damage, thanks to the dry bags.

We’re setting up our tents around a wooden house that was built here in the 90s with the hope that tourists soon would come. It’s now occupied by some of the guards that Arcadia employs to keep poachers away from the sea turtles that nest on these beaches.

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