Archive for January, 2010

Surama: rainbow land

Bird watchin’ at 6am

“Wanna climb Surama mountain to a look-out?”


“Who would like to climb the mountain with Miss Julie?”

pause, then one hand goes up, then all

a few mangoes later,

a rabble of children and us three adults set off

through green forest web

chased by spider monkeys tossing down branches

to look out over charming Surama

and many surrounding mountains

steep descent back onto savannah

then to misguided wildlife sanctuary

where the puma paces

hope he is released soon

capuchin monkey presses his back to the mesh to be petted

clivlin, the young tapir, & me hang out

we rub his itchy spots and make sure

he keeps his teeth to himself, sharp below dexterous nose

a few token paddles on the farine parching

i do battle with coconuts for lunch, inefficient deliciousness

i leave a brief check-in with The Net

to be greeted by a rainbow

it crystallizes into a full ark partially doubled, slightly lighter the sky above the forest under the rainbow

rain hits, but low sun still shines through leaves

all sparkles,

light & water, sun & rain.


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off to Surama

in old pickup with a dozen others

and buckets and bags

watching savannah grow to rainforest

the temperature drop when we reach tall trees

the road to Surama a tree tunnel

golden sunset held so gently

                so briefly

                                so tenderly

in translucent green leaves

the tree-tunnel opens to mountain vistas

i can no longer resist the camera


to capture a shot over the beaten tin pickup roof

 of sunset glow behind mountains

walk on PEI-red dirt to Emily’s

                brimming with her family

                                and mangoes

steady drone of generator competes with rasta

i spin green glow poi under full full moon.

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a dog

“who’s dog is that?”

“no one’s.”

“what will happen to her”

“that kind of dog should be shot so other dogs won’t get the sickness.”

Light brown, painfully thin, coat rough and patches of fur missing, she spent most of her time lying down, scratching her mange infested ears and rump so the open sores bled.  One story was that while the other dogs were considered to be Bina Hill’s, she was considered a stray.  No one’s responsibility.   Her ears were so bad, they were kept at a strange half-mast position, making her look a bit like a gremlin.  So I dubbed her Gizmo.

“you’re worried about that dog.”



“she’s suffering.”


“so I care about suffering.  anyone’s suffering.”

That a dog should count in our moral calculus was politely tolerated in public, who knows what was said later.  Like with the glue traps and mice in Georgetown, me caring about the suffering of an animal was considered weird. 

“so no one will care if i get the vet to either treat her or kill her?”



The vet assistant showed up to use the phone.

“i have a dog for you to see.”

“OK, just now.”

Diagnosis was severe mange that was getting secondarily infected, and worms to explain her skeletal frame.  He gave her a subcutaneous injection of Ivermectin for the inner & outer parasites and a Vitamin shot, then an intramuscular injection of antibiotic.  The whole veterinary intervention cost $600 GYD, about $3 CAD.  I also learned about the recommended vaccinations for dogs in this area, and confirmed the epidemic I saw in Yupukari n 2006 was distemper.  The antibiotic had to be jabbed into her rump muscle, which hurt and caused her to yelp and escape from these treacherous humans.  She forgave me later when I fed her. 

That afternoon, she became the focus of my lesson on Observation.  One type of observation relevant for budding wildlife managers is to be able to observe an individual animal carefully.  We went through what to look for to assess an animal’s health.  Most of the students said she was just an old dog, but I pointed out how her eyes were clear, nose good, and teeth in great condition.  She didn’t look old to me, just sick.  Turns out she is quite old for a dog here, 5 ro 6, maybe even 9 yrs old, and survived the distemper epidemic in 2006.  The students took more interest in this ignored dog now that they had to observe her carefully.  I got them to compare her to a healthy dog.

Now I wait to see how the treatments go, which can also teach my students about measuring change over time.  I wonder if my $3 investment will have a Lazarus effect on her, and increase empathy in the students.

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I decided to spend part (or all) of the weekend back at the Iwokrama field station. Friday was Andy’s birthday, and lots of Iwokrama folks were converging at the Field Station for a tour guide refresher course. Now that I was suddenly teaching the Wildlife Management course, this was a great opportunity to try to get advice and resources. The tourism folks from NRDDB were going, so I tagged along on the Intraserv bus. R & I got dropped at Oasis (close to the upscale RockView lodge where scruffy wanna-be researchers like me can’t afford to stay), a rest stop a 10 min drive away where the Intraserv bus stops, a bit of a travel hub. Chatted a bit with a chap who had just done jungle survival training near Surama, a village I can’ t wait to visit. The climax of the course is to spend two days alone in the forest. It was quite the site to see all these white men troupe onto the bus with their blow-darts and bows and arrows they had bought as souvenirs as carry-on. I joked with R that security on the Rupununi’s Intraserv bus sure was different from that of a plane headed to the US!!! I dozed during the trip through the rainforest. It was great to be back at Iwokrama. Especially for the shower! There are water problems at Bina Hill, and the evening before, the water had to be pumped from a well that turned out to be contaminated, so they had to pump out the water to clean it. So Iwokrama was luxury to me, I got to take a shower! Also, poor Margaret, the cook at Bina Hill, is having some trouble making stuff I can actually eat. The milk allergy isn’t a problem, but being allergic to tomatoes and vegetarian has been a bit more tricky. And the menu is just generally more limited than at Iwokrama Field Station. So more luxury was C’s awesome food. Then onwards to b-day cake for Andy, which I lived vicariously through others since it had milk in it. J made a nice fire to sit by near the river, so a bunch of us hung out there sipping El Dorado, chatting, and playing with my propeller LED glow poi. Yep, no need for batteries, except the propellers break really easily. Which is why Nick stocked me with dozens of replacement propellers. The only thing missing was singing, I missed my capoeira family, there’s no way a fire would have escaped our music, even if it were just our voices and clapping.

After such a lovely time back at Iwokrama, I was optimistic that everything would be just fine about me sleeping in a hammock. It was a busy night, so no beds were available. Back in 2006, I tried to get used to sleeping in a hammock, but was pretty hopeless at it, ended up on a bedroll on the floor in Nappi, and lucked into a bed at Yupukari. But I was enchanted by the idea that with my hammock & mosquito net under my arm, I was good to go anywhere and have a place to stay. The first problem was that my hammock-neighbour was watching Bourne Identity on his laptop, and I couldn’t find my earplugs to drown it out. Finally that was over, but now I wasn’t so sleepy. Then it started to get cold. Then the ants started biting me. Although it was nothing like the Ant Attack poor Andy suffered the night before, it was enough to keep me awake. Then I could feel something even larger crawling on me. Which turned out to be a cockroach. Fed up with everyone else’s blissful snoring, I got up and worked in the Field Station main building since there are lights in there, and was kept company by many bats and a frog that lives in the corner of Angie’s office. In the end, I slept less than an hour.

Predictably, my brain was not working to well the next morning. Unpredictably, I had an epiphany about my research: why not use the Bina Hill cohort as a sample for my study? These are young people who are interested in the environment, but only some of them had the opportunity to be in wildlife clubs. So I could compare the knowledge, beliefs, values, and intended behavior towards the environment of Wildlife Club alumni vs. those who didn’t get to be in a wildlife club. I was excited enough to work on this idea, rather than roam around the forest or take a nap The next two nights I was back in my old room, so I slept.

I went to parts of the tour guide refresher course, a highlight being the walk through the forest Raquel took us on to improve our plant identification skills and learn about the properties and uses of the trees and other plants. My favourite find was the resin of the Haiawa, which has a lovely smell and in burnt as incense and to repel mosquitoes, and the burnt resin can be used as waterproof pitch to fix boats. A good point was that ecotourists often want to see animals, and that can’t be guaranteed. But if you know your plants, every tree can tell an interesting story so the tourist should still be happy at the end of the tour, whether or not any charismatic megafauna were sighted. A highlight for me was learning about the forest fauna from Wally Prince. I wish I could download all the Wildlife and Wildlife Management info in his brain, and use it to teach my wildlife management class!monkey ladder

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Waking up at 4:50am to run was not as excruciating as I thought it would be.  The knock on my wooden window came promptly at 5am “Miss, Miss, you coming Miss???” I mumbled some inarticulate assent & stumbled out.

It was dark. Spectacular stars, yes, enough light to see where the heck I was going, no.  But I ran.  I kept a girl in view, almost the only form I could see.  “You’re all crazy” I hissed.  They just laughed.  “Crazy, crazy, CRAZY,” hitting a puddle shut me up.  I learned to recognize the slight gleam to avoid other ones. And soon all was good, only sounds our feet hitting the ground, our breath, some birds & bugs.  Only stars above and faint outlines of fellow runners near me & mountains far away.  And I just had to trust my feet to keep going one step in front of the other, and that would carry me to the unseen but known destination: the junction with the main road.

We paused, stretched a little and back we ran to the compound.  Then onwards to the Big Benab (round structure with thatch  roof) where the Bina Hill students get their classes.  We took over the main room to stretch and exercise.  After a few stretches lead by a student, they put me on the spot, they wanted to do  some capoeira and yoga stretches.  I threw in some nasty abs for good measure.

if I have to get up at 5am, expect funny balance stretches

Then they went off  to work in the garden.  Which is why they get up so early to exercise.   Sure its dark, but the temperature is right, and they have to get to work in the garden by 6am, so its way they squeeze in some training.  I went up to the second floor of the Benab to do sun salutations, literally, since I could face the dawn.  And watch the panorama view of the savannah and distant mountains come to light.

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It was hard to leave the Iwokrama (“Refuge”) Field Station, it is so beautiful!  But Bina Hill is the hub for research in the Rupununi, its close to key communities, and lots of young people who used to be in Wildlife Clubs are going to school there.  So it was time to shift from the lovely rainforest to the breezy savannah near Annai (“Corn”).  I hitched a ride with the patrol, which picks up garbage along the road and keeps track of what they pick up, as well as what wildlife they spot.  So it was a long & sweaty ride, but free and great company!

I arrived, and tried to get oriented in my new digs.   Lots of young people and Elders on the North Rupununi District Development Board, a community radio station – the palce is buzzing. The compound has the Bina Hill Institute itself, a secondary school, housing for students and teachers, and a huge two story benab where classes are held.  The upper floor was MADE for capoeira, hard wood, gorgeous view, all in a circle.  A new tourist attraction perhaps, roda on the Rupununi?  So of course I was trying it out, and turns out one student trained capoeira for a few months.  This also lead to me being invited to run & exercise the next morning.

It was high time to work off all those bakes I’d been eating, so I eagerly accepted.

“What time?” “5am.” “Pardon, could you tell me what time again, it sounded like you said 5am.”  “Yes, 5am”  “5am.” “Yes, 5am.”  “Really?” “Yes.”  “Are you sure?” Laughter.

The students have lots to do before class in the morning, so they run & exercise from 5-6am, then garden or clean until 8am, then classes start at 9am. 

So I set my alarm for 4:50am, told them to knock on my window, and went to bed…

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rainforest paradise

There was so much to do before getting on to the big Intraserve bus to make my way back to the North Rupununi.  My last time in was 16hrs in the back of a Bedford truck with 12 other victims and all our gear.  So really, anything would be better.

Unlike everything else on Guyanese Flex Time, the Intraserve bus actually left early, 8:30pm instead of 9pm!  Less than half full, so J, Iwokrama’s Tourism manager, and I were able to take over two seats each.  I still didn’t sleep much.  I was surprised how much of the rainforest I could see out the window, those headlights are amazing!

Iwokrama Field Station is AWESOME, river, trees, birds… we were greeted around 8am by a fabulous view from the main building, bakes for breakfast, friendly folks…. In short, a rainforest paradise.

J took me on a short hike in the rainforest next to the Field Station that afternoon, which finished by the dock.  And there was Shankir, Iwokrama’s three legged “pet” black caiman.  At 12 feet long, he is not to be trusted.

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