Sunday, January 02, 2005

A village greets us, and we are entertained

January 2, 2005
Ureca, Equatorial Guinea
N 3.25587° E 8.58443 ° Elevation 486 feet. Temp: 82° F

Many of the people who live in this village on Bioko island’s southern coast are employed working for the Arcadia University expedition we’ve joined. So the town’s population of 80 adults was depleted of many men when we arrived on New Year’s Day. But that did not dampen the enthusiasm of the women who came out to greet us on Saturday after a grueling six-hour hike along the beach and through the rainforest. It seems many of them were in a New Year’s Day holiday mood, apparently enhanced by prodigious amounts of alcohol.

In short, they were blotto.

Each of our group of four Americans, one Equatoguinean professor and three porters received a bounty of hugs, kisses and cries of “¡Feliz año Nuevo! They were mostly glad to see Wayne A. Morra, the Arcadia economics professor who is the man who organizes much of the difficult logistics behind the expedition while biology Professor Gail A. Hearn concentrates on the animal science.

Since Morra is responsible for the various turtle and primate protection projects that keep this village employed, he is seen as the village’s patron. Soon there were a number of villagers lined up to greet him, and then ask for favors, gifts and shipments of goods in the future. As the most bilingual person of our entourage, it fell to me to translate between the villagers and Morra, who is still working on his Spanish. My Spanish is not perfect, so I hope I didn’t miscommunicate any promises on Morra’s behalf.

There is not much to Ureca village – dirt paths that are as slick as waterslides, a few humble wood houses with dirt floors, a military outpost where six soldiers assigned to this rainy outpost looked glumly at our credentials before allowing us to do our work. There are no cars in the village because you can’t drive there – it’s an eight-hour hike from Luba, the island’s second largest city. In the evening, after a dinner of spaghetti and sardines (which we had brought with us) and two liters of cheap boxed Spanish wine (which we bought from a local person) and some sweet local pineapple, we were entertained by one of the men who brought out a guitar with dented edges and sang, accompanied by several women. Morra recorded some of the music, and we’ll try to upload it for listening on the site.

Us menfolk spent the nights in tents next to the house of one of the turtle-watchers. They cleaned up a nice bed with a mosquito net for Barbara Johnston, the Inquirer's photographer. Alas, while the guys snored away in the yard, Barbara was visited by a bat in her room, which seemed to want to roost beneath her mattress. I don't think she had a restful night, what with nightmares of Transylvania.

I’m writing a story about Ureca for the newspaper, along with Barbara's photographs (though I don't think she got a shot of the bat). We hope to get it in the newspaper in a couple of days. Stay tuned.

Today, after doing some interviews in Ureca this morning, we hiked back to to the expedition’s beach camp. Morra and one of the expedition’s participants, Paul Jaffe, tested a GPS system they are developing that would allow the locals to count wild animals more precisely – that’s the subject of another upcoming story. We saw a few groups of frisky guenons and red colobus monkeys while hiking through the woods, along with many snares set up by the citizens of Ureca. They don’t hunt endangered animals any more, but they are poor people who live off the land, so they are not about to give up eating some of the wild porcupine and tiny antelope called duikers that keep to the ground in the woods. Their favorite game is the giant pouch rat, which they call "ground beef" because it tastes like beef and it scurries across the ground.

After returning to beach camp – a hike of about nine miles – we learned that a substantial rain had come through the camp on Saturday, swamping several tents and forcing the cancellation of the afternoon census. But word came down from the Gran Caldera de Luba, where Hearn is located with about a dozen expedition members, that there was no rain at all yesterday. So the rains that drench this area, caused by warm air coming from the south and condensing as it rises over the caldera, are very much a hit-or-miss proposition.

There was still time left in the day to take a refreshing dip in the ocean and a bath in a stream, following by a half-hour of vigorous laundry scrubbing on a log that seem to have been deposited by the creek for that very purpose. I discovered during the bath the limitations of insect repellent while hiking and sweating profusely – my arms and legs have become a swollen landscape of red welts. But my feet are still in good shape, which is a blessing

Dinner of rice, beans and sardines. No wine tonight. We’re back to roughing it. Flying ants are bouncing off the light from my laptop screen. Gotta file this report and get some sleep.

Untitled Document