Friday, December 31, 2004

Big turtles and starry nights

December 31, 2004
Moraka Beach, Equatorial Guinea
N 3.26537° E 8.42135 ° Elevation 15 feet. Temp: 80° F

Late last night I and Barbara Johnston, the Inquirer’s photographer, went out on a moonlit walk on the beach here to look for nesting sea turtles. Our guide was the chief of the local turtle-protection patrol, Epifanio Mualeri Biri. I wrote a story about the turtles, which is supposed to run in the newspaper in the next few days, but I’m not sure the newspaper story conveys what a spectacular sight it is to see a half-ton reptile thrashing about in the sand, laying its eggs.

The GPS coordinates above are for the location where we saw the turtles. It was breathtaking, getting a close look at an animal like the leatherback sea turtle, which has survived for millions of years but is under threat from hunters. It’s a huge creature, jaw-dropping amazing.

We woke up to a clear day today, warm and humid. Tent camping in the tropics – there’s nothing like waking up sticky and sore from sleeping on a hard surface.

But the weather was sublime today. It got up to about 86 degrees in the shade, with a mild wind from the south blowing across our camp. Half the group, including Arcadia University professor Gail W. Hearn, departed this morning to make camp in the Gran Caldera de Luba, the ancient volcano crater that offers the monkeys the most protection from hunters. With half the tents struck, this beach camp has become a bit more quiet, which is fine with me. It was rather crowded here. The group hiked out on a beach trail wearing their beach sandals – the trail crosses several rivers, including one that is waist deep, before ascending to the caldera. They hike slowly, so they will take two days to reach the main camp in the caldera. An Equatoguinean porter carrying 60 pounds can make the hike in only a day.

Here at the beach camp, I’m wrapping up the reporting and writing on a few stories that will appear in the newspaper in the coming days. There’s music in the air as the Equatoguinean students and professors hang out and listen to Cuban salsa playing from portable speakers connected to Professor Wayne Morra’s iPod. They say they’re looking forward to a fiesta tonight, New Year’s Eve. I wonder what they have in store.

After a pleasant bath in a cool stream, I settled down under the tarp that protects our power plant – the gasoline generator and the 12-volt car battery I brought in to keep us supplied with juice. The sun has set, rice and beans were served and a full sky of stars came out – Barbara was astonished there were so many stars, but those of us who have been in Africa before have experienced this delightful sight before.

My apologies for not keeping up on the questions submitted to the Web site. We were unable to make a decent Internet connection on the satellite telephone last night – I think the problem was with our service provider. It was rather strange – I could not connect to many sites, but when I tried logging on to my bank, I was able to get in clean and easy. It’s nice to know I can pay my bills while I’m here in the rainforest.

Tonight the service is restored and our spirits are soaring as 2004 draws to a close.

Happy New Year to all.
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