Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Bejat, Shawn, Kaya and Alfredo at the Catolica Station tower

Posted by Bejat

The days seem to be slipping by more rapidly. Kaya left yesterday and now it is Alfredo, Shawn and I. The boys are working the bromeliads and I am photographing and painting. I am currently painting the Aechmea zebrina bromeliad bloom that we brought back to camp from the final climb with Bolivar. Bolivar gave Shawn a Wao name, Gomimo, which is a Blue Crowned Manakin. He explained this bird is high up in the canopy during the day and lower in the forest at night to sleep, sometimes even on the forest floor where it clears fallen leaves to make a bed. He calls Shawn ongine teemo inga, directly translated as man strong Tarzan. Gomimo was the name of his mentor, a highly respected leader, teacher and warrior.

Shawn fascinates Bolivar and now that he has given Shawn a Wao name he says we owe him a gift. He declares it is tradition to give a gift when a name is given. We told him we would give him our Spanish-English dictionary that he has been asking for since day one when we leave for the States. He told us he would like a camera like mine. I had to explain that was not possible and that we could only afford to give him the dictionary.

The entire day he was wanting his photo taken. He wanted to try on all the equipment Shawn wears after the climb and have his photo taken. My plan is to develop the photos and give him a copy when we are in the city at some point before we returned to this location sometime in December. He is so excited and has been a ham for the camera.

While we were waiting on the road for a ride to take Bolivar home we saw a juvenile Harpy Eagle flying by with a snake in it’s mouth! It dropped part of the snake in the road and we ran to pick it up and identify the species. It was a Chironis carinatus. The Harpy landed nearby and finished its snack and flew over to its nest and settled in for the evening. WOW! Now that was a site to behold. It is such a rare sighting to see the endangered Harpy Eagle and so close with a snake. In 2002 we saw a male fly over the Rio Tiputini carrying a Two-toeded Sloth. It landed in a grand tree next to the river to rest as we heard food cries from the mother and juvenile Harpy Eagle in the distance. On this same venture on the Rio Tiputini we saw a Puma, Peccaries, King Vulture, Macaws and more. It was Christmas Eve.

Bolivar invited us to his home after the climb and showed us around telling us about the Wao culture and how they lived then and now. The smell around the houses was atrocious, enough to make you want to turn and run. Rotting food and other unnecessary odors were overwhelming. It is a different way of life. The traditional Wao house is where they hang out now party on the weekend. Families traditionally lived in these crude structures, but now most Wao live in their cement or wood houses. After they sell their bush meat in Pompea Sur, they return home with the beer they bought and drink the rest of the weekend. They become quite drunk and shoot off their guns and fight. Researchers are warned to avoid them on the weekends. The dogs are everywhere harassing the pet baby Spider monkeys and peccaries. I must admit it was sad, but beyond it all was the sun was setting over the forest and that was beautiful. I respect them for who they are, but it can be hard to understand aspects of their culture like over-hunting, excessive clearing of the land for crops and the introduction of new species. However, this would not be happening if the Western World would not had drawn them out of the forest.

The last tree Shawn climbed with Kaya still here was near camp and we walked 1 km to the tree. It rained for the climb and it only let up once we returned to camp. Once again everything was muddy and we were wet, but it was a light rain and kept the forest cool and somewhat sweat bee free, so in actuality it was a lovely day.

Some of the Mapadores joined us for the climb to watch Shawn and were of great assistance. They helped lower bromeliads, take the DBH of the tree and carry back the bromeliads, plant specimen and rope. They are so wonderful. They make the Catolica Station absolutely charming. Our Spanish has become a bit more tolerable to the locals and we can understand more since we have been practicing. It also helps that Alfredo speaks Spanish and he translates and corrects our Spanish for us, I am grateful for his assistance.

The Mapadores were perplexed as to the genus of the tree, so I took many photos of the blooms, leaves, branches, trunk and bark. We pressed all the specimens and they are going to compare these with other specimens in the herbarium collection.

The herbarium collection is spectacular, as one might suspect with the most biodiverse tree species plot in the world. A large laboratory filled with cabinets as tall as the 15’ ceilings containing pressed leaves, flowers and fruit of trees and plants. The specimens are contained in folders labeled and organized by family, genus and species. Once a plant is collected it is identified. New species are constantly being described, making me ponder what we don’t know.

The Mapadores are brilliant. Their knowledge of the forest is amazing and the stories they tell keep me on the edge of my seat. They love to play volleyball in the afternoons and sometimes they play soccer with the Wao. Some of them have worked here for 15-20 years. Change seems to be inevitable and I can only wonder what they must think about it all, yet they are always so optimistic about everything, they are like rays of light from the sun. I have the greatest respect for each and every one of them.

Gwawopa in Wao means good-bye. It has taken me nearly 3 weeks to get it right. For some reason I have said every word but the right word when Bolivar leaves, but I do my best to impress him by saying good-bye in Wao. Every word I have said is some non-existent word. We all just laugh and Alfredo finds this to be hilarious since I am known for mispronouncing or confusing similar sounding Spanish words and even making up my own, of course thinking they are real words. But it happens to the best of us. Alfredo has had his moment too, he asked for jam instead of ham on his avocado, tomato and cheese sandwich. However strange we thought this was, we said okay and just thought it was some weird Mexican concoction, until he realized that he had the words mixed up. So, on that note, Gwawopa.

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