Tuesday, January 04, 2005

It’s not the heat, it’s the stupidity

January 4, 2005
Camp Peter, Equatorial Guinea
N 3.29093° E 8.46678° Elevation 390 feet. Temp: About 80° F

We’re camped for the night in a spooky place in the rainforest, a stopover on our hike up from Moraka Beach to the Gran Caldera de Luba. The African guides on our expedition named this place Camp Peter a few years ago in honor of the husband of Gail W. Hearn, the Arcadia University biology professor who is leading our expedition. They named it in the hopes that Peter Hearn would someday come over and visit this place that has enchanted his wife.

Peter, let me spare you the airfare: If the only incentive for you to visit Equatorial Guinea is to visit this camp named for you, I’d hold out for a better place. This is one lonesome camp: dark, wet and uncomfortable.

Perhaps the steady rain that greeted us on our hike today has distorted my objectivity. Or it could be that there are only three tent sites here under the forest canopy, all of them conveniently shaped like bowls, so they efficiently collect rainwater. We dug a few trenches with my plastic trowel to drain the water, but I think we’re in for an unpleasant night.

We only hiked about four miles this afternoon. We’re told the hike to the caldera, the ancient volcano crater that is our holy grail and the home to many endangered primates we want to see, is too difficult to make in one day. So Hearn and her academic partner, Wayne A. Morra, created this camp here to make the hike less stressful. Today’s hike was pretty easy, a clear path up a gentle grade through rainforest with only a few interruptions where the trail descended to cross modest creeks.

The forest is dense and green, and in many places it is impossible to see more than 50 feet deep into the woods because of the undergrowth. The forest floor is covered with rocks and roots and little soil – many of the trees have root structures that begin a few feet off the ground. Much of the ground is covered with luminescent green moss. Some rocks are so densely covered with moss that small ferns have sprouted from the rocks.

The hike took a little longer than expected because one of our group left a pair of shoes behind in camp – I’ve promised not to mention Wayne’s name. But that allowed us to spend about 45 minutes parked on the rocks beside a river where it flowed into the sea while one of the porters dashed back to camp to find the shoes.

The rain began as we hiked into the forest and only stopped around sundown. I’ve discovered the first casualty of the rainforest, which is my digital thermometer – I’ve just got a blank screen. There won’t be any more temperature readings on this trip.

I’m writing this under battery power while sitting on a log under a tarp, where the African guides prepared us a dinner of spaghetti and sardines over the fire. We’re being swarmed by bees that seem particularly excited by the sweaty spots on our backpacks.

This morning we packed up our tents and packs at Moraka Beach while the three Spanish tourists who dropped in yesterday slept in. They’re on holiday – two dentists and a biologist. They also spent the evening on a walk looking for nesting sea turtles. They hired one of the African turtle watchers, offering to pay $1 for his services before agreeing to pay $10. The Spaniards complained that was an “American” price but went on their walk until 1 a.m. and saw two turtles, including a giant leatherback as she laid her eggs. What a rare treat they had.

This morning, after the Spaniards woke up and went on a day hike, the Africans approached us and complained that the tourists had refused to pay for the turtle walk. The Spaniards decided they were paying too much for the other costs of the trip and decided to stiff their turtle guide. What stupidity, to cause a lot of ill will to save $10. I don’t think this sets a good example for other tourists who follow. I hope nothing bad happens to those chintzy Spaniards. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.

I’ll try to upload this blog when the rain ceases. There’s a gap in the trees near the camp where I can get a faint satellite signal on the telephone. But no questions and answers on the Web site tonight.
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