Journal
Home | Documentaries | Research | CV | Courses | Publications | Lectures | Books | Photos | Tours | CPI
 

JOURNAL OF VENEZUELA EXPEDITION

January/February 2006
by
D. Bruce Means

Saturday, January 14, 2006

4:10 p.m. I'm in the Atlanta Airport terminal with Jim Valentine waiting on our flight to Caracas . I had a sad parting with my beloved Kathy at the Tallahassee Airport an hour ago. Now begins the six-week journey to tepui land to get photographs for a book on tepuis and to get some video footage of tepuis that might be the basis of a documentary film about them.

~ 9:30 p.m. Amazing! I told Jim when we entered the Atlanta International terminal that we needed to adjust our head-clocks to “mañana-time,” and what do you know? We got boarded on our plane for Caracas about 5:20 —the flight due to take off at 5:30 —and mañana set in immediately. In spite of the captain's repeated pleas for everyone to get seated so we could take off on time, we didn't get away from the terminal gate until 6:30, apparently over a problem with a couple of passengers who didn't seem to have a plane ticket. We then taxied down the runway for a while, stopped, and then returned to the gate, with the captain saying that they were called back for a “baggage mixup.” When we got to the gate, Delta officials boarded and again questioned the family who didn't seem to have tickets, taking their passport numbers and going off for a while. We were then told that the reason we had returned to the gate was because there was 134 passengers on board instead of the 133 that they had a manifest for. Eventually, when we were released to leave the terminal again, the captain came on and said we had had a “baggage foul-up,” whatever that means. I suspect the problem was really related to the strange mixup with the mystery passengers. We finally got airborne about 7:30 , TWO hours late!

I'm tired and apprehensive about the next few hours. I'll feel relieved when we pass through customs with all our gear. We have nine bags full of stuff. Jim has three check-ons, necessitating a $100 extra bag charge and I have two large check-on bags, each overweight. I had to pay $25 each for that. Each of us has two carry-ons, and Jim's are quite large. Both of us have our expensive camera equipment in these bags.

We were told on the plane that a bridge on the main highway up to Caracas is out, so the drive, which normally takes 45 minutes, now takes 3 or more hours. And the taxis charge more than twice the amount to make the trip. We do not have to go up into Caracas , thank goodness, so our option is to stay in a hotel near the airport. Alas, we were also told that all the hotels are booked because of the highway bridge. What we are prepared to do—and fervently hope we will be able to do it—is to stay overnight in the Maiquetia Airport . If we can do this, and if we get through customs without any hitches, my anxiety will be extinguished and will begin looking forward to this trip with much enthusiasm.

The flight to Caracas from Atlanta takes about 3 1/2 hours.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

We arrived at Maiquetia Airport about midnight and were pleasantly surprised when we had no difficulty passing through customs and immigration. Before we left the bcaggage claim area, however we learned that we could take up a position on the polished terrazzo floor for the night. We were besieged by hand-truck operators who wanted to take our bags for us, but because we were not going anywhere, we hired none. We just blew up our Thermarest mattresses and slept uncomfortably on the hard floor for about three hours.

We learned that the National Terminal, about a five-minute walk away from the International Terminal, opened at about 5:00 a.m. , so at 4:30 we woke up and readied to hire a porter to help us with our baggage to a ticket counter in the National Terminal. I exchanged $400 US for Bolivares (at 2200 Bs per dollar!) with a black market money-changer in the terminal and we hired a man to transport our gear to the National Terminal. I paid him $20,000 Bs (about $10 US) for the work, then lost another $20,000 in a money exchange with a fash-handed money changer at the ticket counter of Aeropostal.

The Aeropostal ticket counter was difficult. There were aggressive money-changers busy soliciting our help, making us believe that they were employees of Aeropostal. {I don't know why Aeropostal doesn't clean this annoying business from in front of their ticket stations. When I finally got to a check-in girl, she said that the noon flight was full and we could only fly on standby. We sort of panicked, not knowing what to do, so after mulling around and trying to get rid of the money-changers, who were swarming around in our face. One guy said he could get us confirmed on the noon flight for $50 US. I smelled a rat and went back to our original ticket girl. I asked her in my pidgin Spanish if there were any other flights to Puerto Ordaz today, and so she played with her computer for a while, then said she could get us on a flight leaving at 11:30 a.m. ! I said I'd take it, and purchased tickets for an 11:30 departure. I had to pay an extra 114,000 Bs for the excess baggage using my Visa. After accepting my Amex, they wouldn't take it again for the excess baggage charge!:?

We got our 5 big bags checked, paid the airport tax (35,000 for both of us), and then entered the land of no return by passing through the security checkpoint,which was almost as stringent as those in the US . Alas, I forgot to put my pocket knife in my check-on baggage, so I walked it back to the ticket counter and gave it to our check-in girl, who seemed to appreciate it very much. Back in the gate area, Jim and I had our first taste of real Venezuela when we had a fresh-squeezed orange juice and a delicious jamon y queso arepa. It was yummy! Now comes the long five-hour wait until 11:30 a.m. when our flight takes off for Pto. Ordaz.

9:23 a.m. I found an electrical outlet in the airport terminal and discovered that it had the same configuration as an American outlet. That's good news, that I don't have to have an adapter for my equipment. I've been dozing off and on while watching my computer as it gets charged. I had a scare about the computer. It took me about 5 minutes of playing around with the off/on switch to get the thing turned on. I was wondering if the electromagnetic radiation that they shot through it while I passed through two security checks might have had something to do with its malfunctioning. The good news is that, when I get it fully charged, I will only put it to sleep by shutting the lid, not requiring that I reboot it to start up.. Jim's asleep on the floor and I am dozing off and on in the chair nearest to the window. Outside is a beautiful, clear day. I can see about 8 Aeropostal planes sitting on the tarmac in varying stages of preparation for a future flight.

7:00 p.m. Wheew! All our travel woes are over (I hope). I'm sitting on my bed in the Residencias Torre in Puerto Ordaz. Jim and I got here about 1:30 p.m. after an hour's flight from Maiquetia Airport . The weather was building with small convective clouds, so our view of the ground was intermittent. We flew over the ocean for about half the way here, then turned inland over some relatively non-mountainous terrain. We got our baggage intact at the terminal and were relieved to have gotten all our bags, apparently without any pilfering of items even though the bags were unlocked.

Meeting us at the airport was Freddy, a nice young man who runs an ecotour business and is hooked up with Raul Helicopteros. Freddy has a very nice Toyota Land Cruiser 4WD vehicle in which we will make the trip to Santa Elena de Uairen. We had Freddy take us to a barbecue place and we ate the most delicious meal of parilla—barbecued beef. We had very tender steak grilled medium rare, and all we could eat. The side dishes were boiled yucca (manioc) and assorted grilled vegetables. We couldn't have had a more splendid meal to inaugurate our arrival, and we were hungry, having eaten only an arepa very early in the morning.

I was quite thrilled to discover that Freddy originally came from Puerto Ayacucho and he grew up knowing my old friend Delfin Sanchez. Freddy told me the gruesome details of Delfin's demise. Delfin had made some repairs to his outboard motor and was cranking it out in the middle of the Orinoco River when it cranked up and somehow caught Delfin off balance. Delfin fell into the river but tried to get back in the boat, which was going round and round. While holding onto the gunnel he lost his grip and was horribly injured when the blade of the motor chewed him up. He was rescued from the water by a colleague in another boat, but he was so far away from a hospital—and no helicopter was available to rescue him—that he died from bleeding to death. Freddy knows everybody I knew in Puerto Ayacucho, including Pepe Jaimes, who is still living. So, too, is Otilio Turon, as far as Freddy knows.

We decided to get up tomorrow at 5:00 a.m. and have Freddy drive us to Santa Elena. We will have to pay $130 for each of two days, one going in and one for his return to Pto. Ordaz. Freddy is quite knowledgeable about the sights to see in La Gran Sabana, and tries to entice us into hiring him for more than one day's sight-seeing and photographing. We could have left for Santa Elena today and driven halfway, staying in a hotel on La Gran Sabana. We elected to stay over in Pto. Ordaz, however, to clean up, rest up, and get our gear sorted and ready to go in the morning. That way, Freddy will only charge us one day's going rather than two. I like Freddy and may use his services in the future.

Freddy deposited us in Residencias Tore, a small touristic hotel in a suburban area of Pto. Ordaz. We had a most delicious shower and I washed out my travel clothes while showering. Jim busied himself organizing his photography equipment as did I, and then we took a 30-minute nap. About 7:00 p.m. we attempted to have a snack and drink across the street in a small restaurant, but they were closed for Sunday. So, we are sitting in the room killing time. We will get a good night's sleep tonight for an all-day trip tomorrow. I made a telephone call to my beloved Kathy, and was outraged when presented with a bill for $18 for only about five minutes of talking. I must not use hotel phones to call her again!

Goodnight dear world. We are off on a new expedition and I am now looking forward to the adventure.

Monday, 1/16/2006

Freddy Vergara of picked us up at our hotel, the Residencias Torre, at 5:00 a.m. sharp. We were on the road to Santa Elena de Uairen in the dark hours before dawn. Freddy turns out to be quite an interesting young man of 32 who has had much experience guiding ecotours since he was about 15 or 16. I was particularly engaged with him conversationally because he knew all the players in Puerto Ayacucho, my old stomping grounds.

We drove well past sunrise and then stopped for a great breakfast of arepas with cheese at a little stop called El Cintillo on Highway 10, also known as Transamazonica Road (because it goes all the way to Manaus). Freddy pointed out a new road running north into a virgin rainforest in the far NE corner of Venezuela . He knows of the active nest of a Harpy Eagle there at this moment. It is a good birding road and worth visiting for birds. Freddy told me of a great place for the bushmaster. It is a place he calls Yunek, between Camarata and Santa Elena. He thinks it would be an ideal place to do a radiotelemetry study of the snake.

We passed through Las Claritas, El Dorado , and Km 88, all of which have grown a lot since my last visit with Kathy in about 1992. We reached the foot of La Escalera at 10:00 a.m. and drove up to Km 103, at a site on the righthand side of the road which leads uphill to a lookout over the virgin rainforest north of Sierra Lema, with the long escarpment called Sierra Lema stretching out across the horizon. Apparently the high lookout we were standing on is part of Sierra Lema.

To reach the lookout, we walked up a bare granite slope with seepage water flowing over parts of it. Immediately I found dozens of small (size of a quarter) frogs that I believe are a species of Adenomera. I caught and photographed four then turned them loose and soon found the much larger adults under large, flat pieces of exfoliating granite. I caught and photographed one of the adults. This species has a red wash over the skin of the under-thighs. Under another rock I found a Leptodactylus with a bold, yellow dorsolateral fold. It looked superficially much like a Rana sphenocephala. I took two photographs of it, but they didn't turn out because the frog jumped and escaped before I got my pop-up flash to work. I saw an Ameiva-like lizard under one rock, but I was unable to catch it.

There are huge tank bromeliads along the seepages here. I thought I saw eggs of a cf. Colostethus in the axils of several leaves on several plants. Once I thought I saw the frog, itself, but I am not sure of it. I trashed about ten of the large bromeliads, including pushing over about five to see what came out, but I found no tadpoles, frogs, or other interesting animals and only one very tiny dragonfly nymph. These are some of the largest tank bromeliads I have ever seen, though. The site is not far from where I found the huge earthworm when I drove up La Escalera with Kathy.

We next drove to a sacred waterfall of the Pemon Indians called Sakaika Falls and stayed for an hour and a half, photographing the falls. I wandered around and found a Tropidurus and a bat in an abandoned churuata. The drive in went through a waterhole so deep that the water came up onto the top of Freddy's hood.

We stopped to get gasoline at a Pemon Indian run facility, which also had a restaurant. Since it was after midday and we hadn't had any lunch, we ordered what I thought was going to be a light meal. I had a half of a roasted chicken and with the side dishes, got stuffed. Freddy says the Pemons have learned to do business on their tribal lands with tourists and are faring well for it.

Jim, “Did Freddy leave us the machete?!” I had made a big deal about having a machete—a lifesaver up on a wooded tepui like Maringma—and Freddy had insisted on loaning us his. On the first flight he forgot to throw it into the chopper, but at lunch I specially requested that he remember, and when we loaded up for the second trip, I saw him with it in his hand. BUT GODDAMMIT! The f------g machete is nowhere to be found and we are stuck on a very difficult tepui without one!

It was about 4:30 when we offloaded and the skies were looking like they might cloud-up again. The sun was setting behind the true summit just west of us, so we were about to be out of direct light well before true sunset. I realized that the most urgent thing we needed to do was to get our tents up. Well, good luck! The ground everywhere you look is deep in squishy peat, with water oozing up into your boots at every step. I couldn’t see any chance for ground on which to put tents, so I walked into a gnarled and stunted Bonnetia roraimae forest and kicked around looking for a tent site. I found one—ONE, that is. I kicked, snapped, and pulled at plants for about 30 minutes, then had a place for a tent with broken plant parts about a foot deep to insulate the undersurface of the tent from standing or flowing water. Then, since dark was fast-approaching and mists were enveloping us, I hailed Jim who had been out looking for a dry spot, and gave him the tent site. I busied myself looking for two stout trees far enough apart between which to string my new Hennessey Hammock. It took me about 20 minutes to find such trees, since B. roraimae is so small and the wood so brittle.

I rigged up my hammock with its fly to protect it from rain, and then I wandered out into the wet flat west of the tent and worked my way alongside the Bonnetia patch going uphill from the tent. My idea was, when full dark fell, to get into the Bonnetia forest and search for frogs going downhill through the forest, eventually leading to my tent. The forest, a narrow stringer of trees, would ensure I wouldn’t get lost in the mists. And the mists did come, almost blindingly.

Just before entering the Bonnetia forest, I came to a puddle of water that looked deep enough for tadpoles. And there I saw some large ones! Eureka! The first scientific result of the Maringma part of our Venezuela expedition. I was unable to catch one, but tomorrow I can use my hat to scoop one up. I’ll photograph and draw the details of the tadpole, then preserve it in 95% ethanol, which will allow me to determine which species it belongs to using DNA analyses.

After the chopper left, I was thrilled when I could hear from all over the tepui little Colostethus frogs calling. They make a plaintiff little “peeeep” sound—a single note. These little guys are difficult to find in the dense vegetation, but I must find some. They may be a species endemic to the top of this tepui—or they might be C. roraima, the dendrobatid frog I found at the base of the prow of Roraima on the National Geographic Expedition of 2003. Some of these normally diurnal frogs were calling into the first hour of darkness.

I entered the Bonnetia forest and soon heard the chucking sound of a frog. It was a single chuck sound, and I tried to imitate it by sucking air quickly from under my tongue. The sound I made didn’t seem to me to be very much like that of the frog’s, but it worked on the frog. I have learned over the years that if you can imitate a frog’s sound, even poorly, it often stimulates them to think you are a competitor (always the males make the calls). This makes them continue to call as you approach so you can home in on their position. Sure enough, as I continued to chuck, the little guy—who was quite hidden in the low bushes—called more frequently and eventually, as I stood peering at the spot where I thought he was lurking, my chucks stimulated him to come out into view, looking for all the world as though he was pissed off at the intruder. I nabbed his little ass! And what a nice surprise. It was the beautiful Hyla sibleszi, the treerfrog with the brilliantly blue undersides, bright green dorsum, bright yellow eyes, and yellow toe-tips. And this little fellow sets an altitude record for the species. Previously, neither I nor anyone else has taken this species above about 5,500 feet in elevation. That’s the highest point on Wokomung, where I took a frog looking very much like this. Maringma is at least 6700 feet high. I heard a couple of others calling, but I did not sleep much last night and it was threatening to rain, so I worked my way to my hammock and crawled in for a night’s slumbers.

2/7/2006

Oh drear! Oh misery! I had a bad night. To begin with, when I got into my hammock, I was quite damp and after I took off my soaked pants, my feet were wet and full of wet, black organic junk. Then, as I settled in, the nylon ropes of the new tent stretched so much that the hammock slumped to the wet, nasty, peaty ground. My butt, back, and thighs were touching wet peat through the hammock. And then the rains came—and the wind. It blew cold and rained and I was miserable. My sleeping bag got wet and everywhere my body touched the ground I was cold. After a couple of hours the rain abated and then I woke to find that I had tied off my rain-protecting fly too high and the left side of it was sagging with about five gallons of water trapped in it that would dump on me if I moved just right. I had to get out naked in the misty, cold night and dump the cold water—which spilled on on my legs—then retie the fly.

But my worst problem overnight was not being wet and cold. For some unknown reason my bladder decided to work overtime. I didn’t drink much water or any beverages all day, but I woke with a very painful bladder no less than 7 times in the nasty night. Fortunately, I was smart enough to leave a pee-bottle outside my hammock so I didn’t have to get out of the hammock to pee. I just bring the hottle inside the hammock and drain my bladder while lying down, hoping not to spill the contents of the bottle. When I got out of the hammock during a break in the rain in the morning, I had to pee twice again. I estimate that I evacuated no less than two and a half liters of liquid in 9 pees! Where in the world did I get so much excess water in my body? It made for very unsound sleeping.

10:00 a.m. I’ve been lying in my hammock writing up yesterday’s journal entry. The misty rain has not let up. I ate one quarter of a large, beautiful papaya I brought with us, and Jim made a protein powder drink using some pear juice we also brought. Dendrobatid frogs are peeping all around me. I need to get up and do something!

First, I walked around in the Bonnetia roraimae stand looking for a tent site. This Bonnetia stand seems to be on a rise in the terrain, so the opportunities for a higher spot on which to pitch a tent are better than out in the herbaceous bogs on both sides of the Bonnetia forest. I found one place, but it was so heavily impregnated with tough Bonnetia roots that I gave up. I am really pissed off that we did not remember to toss the machete from the helicopter. It would have made life so much easier for us.

Next, I carried a plastic pan uphill to the water pool in which I saw tadpoles last night and dipped out six or seven. These might be the tads of the adult Hyla sibleszi I caught last night. Then, when I got back to camp, I found six little Colostethus species hopping around the cleared area under the Bonnetia roraimae where I have my hammock slung. I guess that the males were out trying to dominate the new space for their territories. Anyway, I caught them and have a nice sample of what I think goes “peeep” during the day.

After catching the dendrobatids, I took the plastic pan and emptied the water contents of about a dozen tank bromeliads, Brocchinia tatei, and found tadpoles in every one. The tads are most probably those of the Colostethus that is so abundant by daytime. I collected a whole series of them from small ones to large ones with hind legs erupted, to metamorphs. One metamorph looks like the adults, so I think I am right that these tads are of the Colostethus calling here. I preserved the lot in 95% ethanol, so we will find out by doing DNA tests on the adults and larvae. A really good find was a clutch of eggs that were laid above the waterline inside the leaf of a bromeliad. These are not food eggs for tadpoles, either, because I can see the well developed embryos in the black eggs. There are four to six eggs in the glutinous mass. I’ll have to check them tomorrow for a final count. So, in an hour’s work, I got the whole life series of the Colostethus here. Aside from the tadpoles, I found little else alive, in contrast to bromeliads I examined at about 7,000 feet elevation at the base of Mt. Roraima’s fringing cliffs below the Prow. In these I found a large number of glossoscolescid earthworms and other invertebrates.

After a delicious lunch of a can of tuna, I took off uphill to explore, but the mists were too thick to see where I was going. I walked west and uphill from camp through a stair-stepped wet flat full of squishy ground under a cover of dense herbs, many clumps of the sun-pitcher, Heliamphora nutans. Others were short Bonnetia roraimae plants and low, woody subshrubs. I found a wonderful composite, thick-stemmed like Chimantaea species, but obviously not a Chimantaea. It has a large inflorescence, the size of a teacup in diameter (the largest ones). I found none with flowers, but with well developed seeds inside a ring of stiff yellow bracts that look like the ray flowers of true sunflowers. Almost all of those with seeds appeared to have been torn apart by a bird, I would guess. The seeds do not have a fluffy parachute (pappus) that would render them susceptible to airborne distribution like a dandelion. Rather, I would think that birds distribute the seeds in the relatively small area of the summit of this small tepui.

I walked to the foot of the ultimate hill that marks the very top of Maringma. It must rise about 500 feet higher than the shelf we are on. From the air, Maringma’s top appears mainly to be this terrace, with the hill an eminence in the middle of the otherwise flat summit area. I was afraid of losing my direction in the fog, so I made my way back to the stringer of 20-foot high Bonnetia roraimae where Jim and I have our camp. He’s in his tent and 50 feet away I am hanging from my Hennessey Hammock. I made a place to sit down under the hammock’s fly and I sat there for several hours while it rained and misted all afternoon. No opportunities came for exploring, since the dense fog could be lethal if one walked to the edge of the 2,000-foot high cliffs that fringe three sides of this tepui.

Jim was as restricted as I today. He spent the better part of the day in his tent, much drier—and much warmer—than I. About 4:30 I sat on the soaked ground under my hammock, which I had readjusted to be higher off the ground. I got cold so I pulled out the tent fly and wrapped it around me for a blanket. My clothes are totally soaked, including my raincoat, and I’m hunched down to keep warm and avoid the misty rain that has fallen off and on all day. The tent is not erected because I still have not found a flat place with proper drainage. I sat there in the mists for an hour, shivering.

At 5:30 p.m. I fired up the Whisperjet camp stove and heated water for a package of Mountain House foods for each of us. Jim joined me under the hammock fly for supper and we ate in the mists and the wind and the light rains. After supper he went inside his tent and I sat all alone in the cold waiting for dark to fall.

At about 7:00 p.m., full dark, I set out in the cold, windy, rainy night to see if I could find some frogs. Drat! It must have been too cold and windy for them, because I saw none and didn’t hear very many like I did the night before. I noticed on Wokomung that frogs don’t like to be out in rain, and in wind—forget it! After an hour in which I started to come down with the intense chills and shivering that precedes hypothermia, I decided to get the heck into my hammock.

2/8/2006

I spent another miserable night in this goddam Hennessey Hammock. It rained and misted, with cold wind, all night long. When I went to bed I congratulated myself on my intelligent thinking. I took a large, heavy-duty plastic bag into the hammock with me and pulled it up over the sleeping bag with my feet in it. This prevented the sleeping bag from my thighs down from getting wet. However, the rest of my sleeping bag got wet in places, especially on my bottom, which was cold and wet all night. I slept off an on in the hammock, having difficulty moving because of the cold sides of the hammock. I laid in my hammock on my 3/4-length Thermarest mattress, but the damned thing shifted all night and I was continually slipping off of it. When on it, I am properly insulated from the cold, but if I move off of it, I get cold where my sleeping bag touches the hammock.

It rained and blew all night. I was just marginally warm, but uncomfortable most of the night. And the pee thing was also a nuisance. Last night I had to pee only five times, but reaching down out of the crack in the Hennessey Hammock to find the plastic pee jar was a problem because wherever I touched the sides of the hammock, I got wet. Anyway, I made it through the night only to awaken to rain and wind. So we stayed in tent and hammock until about 10:00 a.m., when I had enough of hammock life even if wet and cold outside.

Jim got up and prepared me a protein shake for brekky and I gave him a large chunk of the delicious papaya I brought with us. Then Jim headed back to the tent and I decided to find a spot for my tent. After a while searching, I found a suitable spot in the Bonnetia forest about 100 feet from my hammock, so I spent about 45 minutes stomping the vegetation and filling the holes with plants. This job would have gone much faster and easier if I had the machete that was not tossed out of the helicopter. Grrrrrr. I got the tent erected, and then about noon, what to our wondering eyes should appear but the sun! It was the first sustained sunlight we have seen since arriving. We jumped up and took the video camera out into the wet flat and did some video filming of me explaining where we were and what the vegetation was all about. Next we walked through the Bonnetia forest to the bog in the next terrace and I talked about the strange and new composite I found here.

The mists came and went while we were filming, but the summit cleared. I told Jim I wanted to climb to the top while I could see to get there and back, so I took off and soon lucked out. The slope leading to the summit is heavily forested with woody shrubs and small trees, making for very difficult going. But I located a human-made path, well trod into the vegetation with machete marks on the woody plants. I ascended the hill quite easily following this ready-made trail. When I got to the rather small summit of about half an acre, I discovered that it had been cleared for tents. Then I followed a very large trail downslope on the other side of the summit and discovered, shortly, a large area cleared for tents. I’m sure I found the trails and summit camp of Dr. David Clarke’s botanical expedition of a year ago. We are not the first people up on Maringma’s summit, therefore. And it occurs to me that David might have gotten the idea to climb Maringma from me because when I met him on Wokomung, I spoke enthusiastically about wanting to climb Maringma and told him how to get to the summit from the village of Wyaline. Apparently he followed through.

The skies cleared and I had some marvelous views in 360 degrees. I could see down into the rainforests of Guyana to the north and east, and into Brazil to the south and southeast. Way in the distance further east into Guyana, I could see Mt. Ayanganna, and to the southeast I think I saw the dim outline of my favorite mountain, Wokomung. Back west loomed Mt. Roraima, with Yagontipu and Weiassipu in between. Apokilang was obscured behind Yagontipu. Yagontipu is at least 500 to 1000 feet higher than Maringma., as is Weiassipu–-and Roraima is 2000 feet higher.

I’d like to come back and do an altitudinal transect for frogs from Wyaline up to the summit of Maringma. David Clarke has already pioneered a trail to the summit, and I have some data on summit frogs already. Most of the interesting frogs will be in the 4,000 to 5,000 feet range, however, below the Bonnetia forests of the summit. Standing on the summit, curiosity got the better of me. I wondered just where David Clarke’s trail led down over the edge of Maringma into the cloud forests below. The west, north, and south sides of Maringma are vertical cliffs, so David had to come around to the east to ascend the tepui. I followed his very broad trail downhill to the edge of the tepui, for about a mile. Sure enough, it runs west for a long way before dropping over the rim. I didn’t follow it downhill very far because the going got steep and the forest dark and thick. But I do now know where his trail first tops the edge of Maringma—on its sloping western side. How it winds its way from Wyaline is something I need to find out.

I made it back to camp about 5:00 p.m. and busied myself making supper. The ##@@!! Whisperjet is clogged up again, but I will be damned if I will blacken my hands cleaning it tonight. So I put chicken and rice into the pot and added a large can of minced tuna. I let it heat for about 30 minutes, and still it was only warm when we ate it. Jim came in bushed from carrying the video camera and tripod, but he ate like a champion.

[Transcribe my paper journal here. My laptop was so down in battery charge (15%) that I entered the events of the nighttime frog hunt in the paper journal.] 10:00 p.m. I caught two Hyla sibleszi treefrogs tonight after much effort. Starting with the first frog I caught night before last, here are some natural history notes on these frogs.

Specimen #1. About one hour after dark, I was working my way through a narrow strand of Bonnetia roraimae forest when I heard a chucking sound. It was the “chuck” that I could not imitate exactly, but by sucking air quickly over the side of my tongue by pulling the tongue sharply down from the roof of my mouth, I made a good enough impression on the frog, a male, to stimulate it to call back when I chucked. The sound I made is the sound you make to stimulate a horse to giddy up. Anyway, this enabled me to creep up on the frog. Otherwise, when approached, frogs shut up and you can’t localize them. Eventually I got to within five or six feet of him and was pleased that the closer I got the more he responded, even in the glare of my headlight. When I was about four feet away, suddenly I saw him crawl out of some thick ground vegetation of a small bromeliad (Navia?) and other plants—very thick. As I chucked away, he got more animated in my light and crawled even farther out into the open. I would never have found him had he not come out into view.

Specimen #2. Tonight I waited until about an hour after sunset before going out for frogs. It was a still night, but fog was quietly rolling in. The stars were visible through the fog at first, then later, not. I walked south along the eastern fringe of the Bonnetia stringer, past the breach in the trees where a small trickle of water flows through, and tried to find a chucking frog (Hyla sibleszi) that I heard in some Brocchinia tatei. The frog got quiet as I approached. I heard some chuckers farther east out in the large wet flat that I have not yet explored, so I worked my way towards them. After about 50 yards, I was in very short vegetation only about six inches high. Then, to my surprise, as I approached the first frog, I suddenly realized that I could be in trouble. The ground began to shake and undulate like a magic carpet. I had walked out onto a quaking bog and no telling how deep the muck might be under the mat I was standing on. The bog plants had formed a false floor with interlocking roots. I abandoned the search for the first frog I was homing in on. Then I got to some firmer ground chasing another frog, but the little devil wouldn’t call when I approached. Frustrated, I got out of the quaking bogs and made my way into the dense Bonnetia roraimae forest, choked with Brocchinia tatei and other groundcover plants. The going was difficult, but I spent 30 minutes searching for frogs without luck. It was a good-looking habitat for species of Stefania, but none were showing themselves.

When I got out of the Bonnetia forest, I was close to the very first chucker I had sought earlier and he seemed a little more willing to respond to my crude imitation. Therefore I began stalking him and with good results. He did what Specimen #1 did last night. He got more vocal as I approached, even though my headlight was illuminating brightly the area around him and even though I was making some noise and moving the vegetation with each step towards him. Soon I was standing almost directly over the little sweetheart, but couldn’t see him in some very thick, sedgy vegetation. After much peering and dozens of back and forth vocalizing with him, I decided to reposition myself on the other side of him, so I worked my way around to my right, making more noise and movement than I wanted, in the thick, thigh-high vegetation until I was 180° from my former position—on the other side of him. No luck. He continued to respond vigorously to my chucks, but I couldn’t see him. Then, suddenly, I spotted a rather large Hyla sibleszi sitting on the leaf of a 24-inch high Brocchinia tatei about where I could hear my Specimen #2. I watched as I got him to vocalize and was thrilled when I discovered that this was a different frog altogether—not calling. I tried to find Speciemen #2, hoping I could capture them both, but I decided to go for this new Specimen #3. I carefully leaned forward and quickly caught her by cupping her between both hands, vegetation and all. And the exciting news is that she appears to be the female of the species. She may have been moving toward my valliant male, who by now, after all the commotion, was silent. I bagged my prize and then went back toward the quaking bog because by now it was very misty and the frogs out there were more vocal.

Well, out in the quaking bog I got worried again about falling through, so I abandoned the effort. It was by now so foggy that I couldn’t see the Bonnetia forest, so the only way I had to navigate was by going uphill. Step by step, I moved uphill and soon heard another chucker. This one seemed as cooperative as Specimen #2, so I slowly crept towards him and got within three feet—and then realized that I was right back vocalizing with Specimen #2, the horny little devil! Since I stood in my same tracks where I had caught the female (Specimen #3), I still couldn’t get a visual bead on him, even though I carefully parted the dense grass-like vegetation to see inside where I thought he sat.

Finally, out of frustration, I walked around to where I thought he was calling from and got another angle on him. I was almost back at where I originally sought him. He continued to chuck vigorously following my own chucks, and VOILA! I spotted him. He was backed down into the axil of a Brocchinia tatei—the same plant from which I nabbed the female and she had been immediately over his head. He was a beautiful pea-green color dorsally. I grabbed leaves and all and had my prize. In total, it required two hours to catch two frogs tonight., When I got to my tent it was 10:10 p.m. And into my welcome dry—and warm—tent I did crawl.

2/9/2006

It’s about 11:00 a.m. and I’m sitting partially in my tent, with my wet legs and boots sticking out of the door. This is to avoid getting the inside of the tent wet and slimy. It’s still misty outside, a holdover from the fog and rain this morning. The reason I am in my tent is not the fog, but I am recharging my laptop and downloading the photos I took this morning. Here are the events of the morning as they happened.

I woke at 6:30 a.m. and wrote the account of finding all three Hyla sibleszi in my paper journal. Then I sneaked out of the tent naked in the fog, barefooted in the squishy peat, not wearing any clothes so I wouldn’t wet the clothes that are now dry. I fetched a jar of peach juice and my last large quarter of papaya and stole back to my tent. I had to wipe the peat and water off of my legs and feet before pulling them into my dry tent. I had a nice brekky of fruit and fruit juice, topped off with a chunk of milk chocolate candy we brought with us.

Overnight I slept wonderfully well in my tent. Rain splattered against the fly all night, but I was dry…and warm! The floor is lumpy, but I can twist and wriggle my way around the annoyances under my Thermarest mattress. And now begins the long wait for the sun to come out. Yesterday was glorious up here, well worth waiting for. I now want to explore the quaking bog to see how deep it is underneath the floating mat of plants. The quaking bog will be an additional wetland phenomenon I can use in future lectures about the wetlands of tepuis.

I walked around naked again in the wet vegetation of the bog looking for suitable plant props in order to do macrophotography with my frogs inside the tent. I spent about an hour and a half, filling up two 1.0 gigabyte memory cards with images. Next, I put on my cold, wet, slimy boots and pants and then walked to Jim’s tent and fetched the little generator. I have been sitting here for about 45 minutes downloading the photos I took of the frogs and writing on the laptop. While it is charging is a good time to use the laptop, since I am not drawing the battery down.

The misty drizzle continued throughout the morning. By noon the fog was thinning and threatening to clear. I got the generator going and began recharging the laptop and batteries. About 2:00 p.m. the sun came out and Jim and I video filmed a segment about Colostethus roraimae breeding in tank bromeliads. I showed how the water in the axils between leaves is an ecosystem in its own. I produced tadpoles and frog eggs from one bromeliad. Then we went out into the large wet flat and filmed me talking about tepui wetlands, using a quaking bog as an example. I accidentally fell through up to my crotch. Before I pulled my leg out, it seemed a good time to test what was under the quaking mat. I reached down a full arm’s length and pulled up some very wet organic matter with lots of roots in it. The mat was also full of one of the two Genlisea spp. What was under the quaking mat was very liquid peat, not just water.

I had an idea that I might walk a couple of miles down David Clarke’s trail this afternoon, carrying food and water, and coming back to camp slowly tonight. After I fell into the quaking bog, I was cold and wet and lost enthusiasm for what would have been an arduous task, and taken a lot of time in the misty night. Besides, we are scheduled to be picked up tomorrow and I should be hale for taking down camp and readying for the helicopter.

I cooked us a package of beef stew into which I threw a giant can of minced tuna for supper. We slurped it down greedily, and had the last nip out of our bottle of rum. I tried to reach Kathy by satellite phone about 6:45 p.m., but was unable to get service. I’m waiting now for the satellites to come into view so I can call her and find out if new funds will be forthcoming and we will be staying the remaining three weeks or if we will have to leave soon after arriving in Santa Elena. I’m also concerned about Mom, who I have learned has been having quite a bit of difficulty with surgery on her back. Then, after 10:00 p.m., I will call Raul and see if he still plans on getting us off Maringma tomorrow.

8:00 p.m. Oh woe! I just got a call through to Kathy and it looks like we will be going home sooner than we planned. Our benefactor was unable to come up with the extra funds that would enable us to stay the entire six weeks. We quite understand and thank him for considering our request. We know that he has many other commitments and he would have helped us out had he been able. We got an amazing amount of work done in the month we have been here and we intend to use what we have accomplished to advance our cause further for a book and documentary film. What we have accomplished in terms of images and video footage should help us find additional funds for our projects.

Mom isn’t doing so well, either, so it is just as well that I return. I may have made a mistake, however, in when Raul intended to come and pick us up. He said Saturday, five days hence. Well, tomorrow could be considered five days if you count the day we got here, but tomorrow is Friday and not Saturday, says Kathy. We may not get off Maringma tomorrow then. I’ll know more when I call Raul in the morning early. I hate to be leaving Venezuela early, but our funds are way over-extended. I don’t know how in hell we will pay for the helicopter flights to and from Maringma. Raul said he would carry us on a bill for a few weeks, so at least I don’t have to come up with it before leaving the country! That’s damned nice of him. And now the rain is coming down with a fury—the heaviest we have experienced on Maringma. Good night dear world.

2/10/2006

The rain came down all night long. Not the misty rain we have experienced, and not a tropical downpour such as I experienced on Wokomung, but a pretty stiff rain. I lay daydreaming about how I will organize my lecture on tepui wetlands, and then on the ruination of tropical rainforest by Amerindians, by means of indiscriminate burning. In addition to the scientific research paper I have already written on this topic, I have a large inventory of substantiating photographs. For instance, at the most remote edges of La Gran Sabana, where the rainforest meets savannah, I have shots of rainforest trying to recover ground it lost by a fire some time previously. There are patches of old burns with rainforest in different stages of post-burn recovery. This contact zone is so far from active Amerindian settlements that it does not get burned as frequently as the rest of La Gran Sabana. I need to get satellite imagery going back in time as far as possible to compare with more recent images, showing the migration of savannah into rainforest following Amerindian burning. The burning is definitely anthropogenic. I have seen no evidence of any fires set by lightning. In fact, as much as it rains hereabouts, I rarely ever hear thunder nor see lightning.

I woke at 5:30 and noticed that the sky was ablaze with orange color. I peeked out of the tent and saw a narrow strip of the horizon lit by sunlight under a layer of high clouds, although the sun was still below the horizon. However, before direct sunlight came into view, mists quickly formed and I lost the view altogether. It is now 30 minutes later and the air is foggy and gray.

I was unable to reach Raul at home at 6:00 a.m., but I got Karina. She said that Raul was in Puerto Ordaz and the helicopter was with the Germans based at Kavac. Raul is not scheduled to pick us up until tomorrow, Saturday, or even Sunday. So we will have another day—or two—to spend on Maringma. I told her to tell Raul that the only times when this summit clears is between 2 and 4 p.m., and not to come for us until that window of opportunity on either day.

2:00 p.m. The day has been mostly misty, with fine rain early, and a few spots of weak sunlight off and on after midday. I busied myself with a long nap while it was rainy, but after about 11:00 a.m. I got up and started the generator in order to recharge this laptop and be able to write. Also, the satellite phone needed recharging.

I spent several hours before and after my nap working on “Memories of a Naturalist,” my biological autobiography. I am writing it primarily for my kids and grandkids to read. I think I will have it privately published via Vantage Press, which has been bugging me for a book for a couple of years. It’s crazy that I am writing about my Alaska and college days in north Florida while sitting in a wet tent on top of a very remote tepui on the border of Guyana and Brazil.

Jim has been out taking 4 X 5 photographs in the misty weather. I’m not moving from this tent until either the weather clears or I get the mood for some exploring. Basically, I have explored the summit of this little tepui from one end to the other. I need a break from the mushy ground and misty air. No better way to do that than to write.

Notes on Maringma.
1) The principal habitats on the summit of Maringma are threefold as I see them. First is the forested parts, dominated by Bonnetia roraimae. Inside these forests grow large aggregations of tank bromeliads, Brocchinia tatei. Bonnetia roraimae has multitudes of very tiny, dark olive leaves on many tiny branches. The leaves and the tiny pink flowers are arranged like a hat over the canopy of the tree, with few leafy branches underneath. B. roraimae can be stunted down to a few inches in height out in poor soils in full sunlight or up to 25 feet tall on long, slender stems in peaty ravines and along stream courses. Up here, the stems are draped with drab green mosses embedded with slimy brown algae. When you grasp a stem of B. roraimae, your hand comes away with black, decomposing bark and wet, glutinous goop.
2) The second habitat type is a low shrub community on deep, sometimes quaking peat. It is dominated by another, larger-leafed (only by 2X) species of Bonnetia with white flowers. Co-dominant with this Bonnetia are large clumps of Heliamphora nutans and single plants as well as masses of Orectanthe sceptrum, the large Xyridaceae with prickle-tipped, whorled leaves Sometimes these subshrub communities have clumps of Briocchinia tatei and Stegolepis guianensis. Also, growing in the low shrubs one can find the mysterious, clubby stemmed composite with huge inflorescences—the composite whose name I haven’t a clue. It could be endemic to Maringma. Wouldn’t that be something?
3) The third community is the short vegetation bogs that are not common except at the east end of Maringma where we are located. There is a wet flat of about 100 acres all across the relatively flat ground of the east end of this tepui. When out in it, one can plainly see that it is not exactly flat, but stair-stepped with little terraces that hold lots of water. In the low places on these flats, one can plainly see that water one time existed in pools. There are a few small pools of up to ten feet across left. These pools are being encroached by wetland plants and the peat held together by their roots from all sides. Moreover, organic matter is accumulating in the bottoms of such pools, too, and the pools are filling in just like swampy lakes with long hydroperiods. It’s the hydroperiod that governs whether a pool will continue to fill with peat or deepen if drought exposes the peat to air and thus the oxygen required for decomposition.
4) Dendrobatid frogs appear to like all the habitats up here so long as they have the large tank bromeliads, in which the frogs breed and spend their larval life. The commonest call they make is a single-note “peep,” but another call, a series of “peep-peep-peep-peep-peeps” may be another species of Colostethus OR another variant of the single-peep vocalizations. I have not found a second species up here, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one.
5) I was also amazed to find Hyla sibleszi calling from all the different kinds of vegetation, particularly from the huge herbaceous bog. I’m used to this frog living in low vegetation along streamsides on Wokomung and Roraima, although on Roraima I must admit some were five to ten feet high in vegetation clinging to trees. This is a bright green treefrog that hunkers down in the vegetation and probably rarely comes to the tops of the plants in the bogs. There is enough microhabitat in the stems and under the dense subshrub canopy for them to live out their lives out of the desiccating winds at night. Even when I found H. sibleszi inside the Bonnetia forest, it was down in the low, dense groundcover, and that is where I hear most of them calling from.

The day passed slowly. About 5:30 p.m. Jim came down from the hillside west of camp where he had been taking 4 X 5 photos of the vegetation. It was late and neither of us had eaten any lunch, so I fixed up a couple of Mountain House packets of chicken a-la-king for supper. We are out of rum, so we were unable to toast our good luck for being on Maringma, but we drank swamp water mixed with instant tea (Jim) and I had a couple of cups of Tang in swamp water. Neither of us has had a bath in five days, nor been able even to wash our hair. I think we will have a fight over who gets the shower first when we return to Santa Elena!

Night came on fast. It was getting dark and misty about 6:00 p.m. when we finished our supper. The Whisperjet got clogged again and I won’t be able to use it until I clean out the gas line and the little hole through which the gas squirts. This operation gets my hands filthy with black carbon that is difficult to wash off. We had full sunlight again from about 2:00 p.m. to about 5:00 p.m., but no sooner had I crawled into my tent about 6:15 when misty rain began to blow against the tent fly. That we have had clear skies for a couple of hours between 2 and 4 p.m. is good news for our getting off of Maringma on schedule—if this trend continues, hopefully.

2/11/2006

It’s 2:00 a.m. and I have been awake for an hour or more thinking about writing projects. Right on schedule, the misty rains began falling soon after dark, and developed into gusty rain that sounds like sand being thrown against the tent fly. As a backdrop to the sheets of blowing heavy mists, large drops of water pelt the tent fly as they drip off of the Bonnetia roraimae trees overhead. My tent is nestled in a Bonnetia forest, so I get a double sound effect of rain and dripping water.

Today is extraction day #1. I say #1 because Raul has left tomorrow, Sunday, open as extraction day #2. He may not be able to fetch Jim and I from Maringma today because of other commitments. I’m ready to go, but the timing of our departure lies in the weather, first, and Raul’s hands, second. 6:50 a.m. I just got the bad news that Raul is not coming to get us today. I called him on the satellite phone and learned that the Germans are still using the helicopter and won’t be through with it until tomorrow. WE HOPE! So, we have to sit tight on Maringma for another 31 hours until the chopper comes to get us. Grrrrrr. Both of us are quite ready to go now, especially since we are out of funds to continue our tepui activities. I had hoped we could do a couple of fixed-wing flights to finish off photographing the eastern tepuis. That will have to wait.

I stayed up in the wee hours writing until 5:00 a.m. I wrote down some thoughts about how I might revise my book, Herpetophilia, and I organized my book, Memories of a Naturalist. This latter book will be my natural history autobiography from childhood through my days at Tall Timbers Research Station, 1941-1984. The weather sucks. It is gusting and misty/rainy well after sunrise, which we surmise happened because we can see clouds, not because we can see any golden orb.

2;00 p.m. I’ve been in my tent all day writing on my laptop. I ran down the battery one time and recharged it, now I am running it down again. It has remained misty for most of the day, but about 30 minutes ago it rained pretty hard. Jim just came by and has been outside taking more photographs. Poor Jim, he doesn’t have a laptop or any writing or reading materials to while the time away. As a writer, this is just fine with me. I get hours and hours of uninterrupted time to create text. Normally, I am bitching about having too many interruptions during my day to make any progress with writing projects. I am always looking for ways to run away and hide so I can write. Here I am in a forced exile that gives me plenty of time for writing. Unfortunately, I did not load many writing projects onto the laptop because I was saving space for digital images. Still, I had my memoirs in a file and I have been working on them. Now it’s 24 more hours until we are rescued.

8:20 p.m. The day finally passed. I wrote on computer files most of the day, then stopped at 4:30, cleaned the carbon out of the Whisperjet, and made supper. Jim was up the hill waiting for sunset, so I wandered out into the wet flat and took some photos of plants and the bog. He got to the camp about 5:30 and we ate a mixture of chicken and rice with beef, onions, and potatoes. We followed it with half a can of minced tuna. Normally this would be a yucky meal, but we have no options. I deliberately kept from eating lunch again today, as yesterday, to keep my caloric intake down. Jim brought me a protein shake for breakfast, which was the only other food I had all day.

As we sat eating, both of us expressed how much we want to get off of Maringma now. It’s grating on Jim more than me, I believe, because he doesn’t have the luxury of a laptop on which he can spend his time and keep his mind occupied.

Right on time, as soon as the sun set, mists formed and enveloped us. Soon thereafter, just before dark, the mists turned into fine, blowing rain and has continued ever since. It will most likely do this all night. Fortunately, for the past four days we have had clearing skies on our camp from about 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. If this holds—and if Raul comes to get us tomorrow—we will finally be rescued. So far we have sat idle for two days. We still have all of tomorrow morning and some of the afternoon to wait. I hope the Germans got finished with their use of the chopper today and that they won’t hold us up tomorrow.

I investigated all the applications I have on this new Mac iBook and discovered that it has the World Book Encyclopedia. Sure enough, there are all those accounts I have written for it, with my name fully credited.

Good night again, dear world. I will pass the night well, since I like long nights for thinking and snoozing. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? I surely hope it will bring a change of scenery for us.

2/12/2006

6:45 a.m. Ohmigod! A nastier morning I have rarely experienced. It rained all night and continues to blow a misty, medium force rain over the landscape. I woke sporadically from 4:00 on to keep track of the time so I would call Raul about 6:15. When the time came, the blowing rain increased and I could not get satellite connections out of my tent. I donned my raincoat and shirt, and then walked out into the big wet flat so the satellite phone could have an unobstructed view of the sky.

I got Raul, but lost him several times. The good news is that he says he is coming to get us today. The bad news is that I couldn’t seem to convince him that it will be cloudy here all day until about 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. That has been the pattern in the past four days. On the fifth day it was cloudy all damned day. So we are supposed to have everything packed up by 10:00 a.m. and sit around waiting. Raul said he would sit in a savannah waiting until he sees the tepui top clear. Good luck! That won’t happen until the magic hours of between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m.

When I got back to the tent I was soaked through and through. I don’t know why they call this thing a raincoat, because it gets soaked and my shirt underneath was soaked, too. At least I was smart enough not to wear any pants, which would have been wetted too. I don’t have anything in the tent to dry off with, so I have to sit nude waiting to dry before touching my sleeping bag or Thermarest mattress. The chill bumps stand up as high as a mountain all over me as I write this.

5:15 p.m. Another interesting day in paradise. I lay in my tent sorting things I need to pack until about 10:30 a.m., then heated some water for what we hoped would be our last meal on Maringma. Afterward, I began to pack up my sleeping bag, air mattress, clothes, camera equipment and everything else, including trash, all of which we will take off of this pristine tepui. By 12:30 p.m., the fates laughed at us. The sky cleared early and stayed that way until we were finally retrieved.

After packing everything carefully, keeping the wet things insulated from the dry, I hauled most of our stuff to where the helicopter would land to pick us up. Then I crawled into my tent for a nap. The tent is the only thing you are supposed to keep erected so that if the chopper doesn’t come at least you have some protection from the weather for your body and your most valuable things. After the nap, I sat in the door of the tent looking out over the splendid wet flat, and damn! Right in front of me crawls a coal black lizard about 3 inches long, It sat in the sun, sunning, and was just out of my reach. As I tried to sneak up to catch it, it bolted. It was definitely a gymnophthalmid, not a Neusticurus species, and I do believe it was a Riolama roraimae, the black gymnophthalmid that lives on the summits of both Roraima and Kukenan. At least that’s what this lizard most reminded me of. It was quite fast, too. I might not have caught it had it been in reach. I could have used my son, Ryan’s, fast lizard-catching hands for this lizard.

About 2:30 we heard the chopper coming. We raced to take down our tents, then ran to the chopper. Raul had come as a helper with another pilot. They were afraid of the spongy peat, worried that the chopper might sink and not be extricated. The pilot kept the chopper on partial lift, just to relieve some of the weight on the skids. We loaded the chopper and had a wonderful flight off of Maringma’s west side. Damn! My camera wasn’t quite ready, so I missed the most spectacular part, just when the chopper went over the edge of the 1500-foot drop.

The sun was out over most of the landscape so I got to take two gigabytes of photos. Roraima was clear, so I got some shots of her. Then we did a baddy. We had the chopper set us down in front of Roraima and Kukenan, and had it fly off while I narrated to camera the beginning of our documentary. Roraima is the most famous tepui, so it is fitting that we introduce the doco with her. We got some splendid stills and video shots, then the chopper returned and we flew to Santa Elena de Uairen.

We checked-in to Amazonas Hotel again (60,000 Bs) and I had a fantastic 30-minute hot shower. Gawd! I really needed it. I’m typing this while Jim is bathing. I’m also up and down watching our clothes, sleeping bags, tents, hammock, and everything that got wet or damp on Maringma. We have it all spread out on the concrete apron in front of our room and that of the adjacent room. And, wouldn’t you know it? The skies are threatening rain! Grrrrrr, again!

Good news. It didn’t rain and most of my clothes got dried out. Jim and I walked up to the Hotel La Gran Sabana and had their churrasco supper again. No one else was there, so we figure that they stayed open for us, since Raul must have mentioned that we would eat there tonight. The entire town is quiet tonight and there are no Brazilians in town, which usually is choked with them. When we enquired why, we were told “Carnival.” Apparently it is the week of Carnival and Brazilians everywhere celebrate it in their home towns. The biggest one close to Santa Elena is Boa Vista.

On our way back to the hotel, walking the shoulder of the highway in the dark, three youths were ahead of us. I told Jim to stay back a while until they were gone, because this was a dandy recipe for a mugging of two gringos. When we resumed our walk, they were sitting in the dark at a cross street, watching us. I told Jim if they approached to run to the Hotel, and I picked up a large boulder and carried it openly in my hand, ready to use it if needed. Nothing happened when we passed, but in South America you have to be prepared for a mugging in every town.

I went to sleep with a belly full of meat and veggies, and with visions of my beloved Kathy and family in my mind. It won’t be long before we are reunited. We are having to cut short our Venezuela expedition by two weeks because we are grossly over-budget, drat it. How in the world we can come up with what we owe Raul is to be discovered.

2/13/2006, Monday

I slept irregularly overnight. Jim said I talked in my sleep. I got up at 8:15 a.m. and quickly packed my belongings into two check-on bags and two carry-ons. And man-o-man, are they ever lighter. I will not have to pay excess baggage fees for my bags, but Jim still has one extra bag.

8:30 p.m. Another interesting day. We walked up to Raul’s office and sat around with Karina for an hour waiting on Luis to come pick us up, and also for Raul to come by. Karina worked up the total bill for our helicopter and fixed-wing flights and presented it to me. I was quite pleased that she deliberately left off a $1360.00 charge for the flight that didn’t deposit us on Maringma. When Raul came in, I told him to check the bill to see if he agreed with it. He asked me if I thought it was too much. I said, on the contrary, that I wanted to be sure he charged enough. He sat down with Karina for a few moments and then surprised me completely. He accepted the #1360 deduction, plus gave us another discount from $935 to $425 for the second flight to Maringma. I was stunned, and very grateful. Our total balance now is $1,380, a very good price. And we are going to work up a brochure in English for him, which will offset this charge, even. So we may not have to pay him the $1,380 at all.

Raul said that when we come back that he would like to spend three days taking us to some very special places that only he knows (a fabulous cave called Ghost Cave is one), and then do the flying we want afterward. We can exchange our photography for his flight time. Sounds like another great deal of mutual benefit.

Freddy had arranged for a friend and guide named Luis to drive us to Puerto Ordaz. Luis arrived at 11:00 a.m. and we left at 11:30. We had a very sweet time saying goodbye to Raul and Karina. They treated us very well and Rail was complimentary to us, saying that we didn’t put any undue pressure on him to come get us or do our bidding, which helped him out with the Germans.

On the road through La Gran Sabana, the weather cleared better than at any time in the past month. All the eastern tepuis (south to north: Uei, Roraima, Kukenan, Yurani, Guadacapiapue, Ilu, and Tramen) were lined up under clear skies. We got Luis to drive off the main highway to a vista overlooking all the tepuis and filmed it. I got some great photos of them all, too. I had Luis stop at the place on La Escalera where I caught the Adenomera at the Mirador de Sierra Lema and took a GPS reading for my field notes. We stopped at the mining town of Km 88 at the bottom of La Escalera and found a dingy little roadside “restaurant” that served wild game. I bought us a lapa dinner, my favorite meat in the world. Lapa is the Venezuelan word for Paca agouti, the large jungle rodent that has white spots along its sides. I also bought Luis a meal of venison, and we had fresh boiled yucca (cassava) for a side dish. Yum.

After lunch at 3:00 p.m. Luis took off down the highway as fast as he could gun the Toyota Land Cruiser, going about 120 km/hr (72 mph). For a while I was freaked out worrying about his dangerous driving on the narrow highway with lots of local traffic and no road shoulders—and then I had enough. I politely asked him in my pidgin Spanish, “Por favor, un poco mas despacio.” He got the message and Jim and I breathed much easier as he drove about 100 kph afterward (60 mph).

About 6:30 p.m. we stopped at the good hand-made cheese place on the highway where we had breakfast because Jim just had to have some more cheese. I had a bite, but was still satisfied after my lapa meal. The lapa had been chopped up into stew pieces and was cooked in a stew. It is one of the tenderest meats one can eat and it was good, but not as tasty as when smoked.

We got into Puerto Ordaz about 9:00 p.m. and Luis drove us to Residencias Tore where Freddy had already checked us in and paid for the hotel room. When we got there, Freddy was just checking in his British group of 19 birdwatchers. We were ushered to our room right past the Brits, who were queued up registering for their individual rooms. Freddy came by and we gave him our tents and sleeping bags at our wholesale cost of $150 each. In other words, we exchanged the drive to Puerto Ordaz and hotel room for $600 worth of merchandise. He paid me $150 for my tent, and owes me $200 for the sleeping bag and some other items I gave him such as the Whisperjet camp stove and some freeze-dried foods.

Freddy did us many favors in turn, such as act as our taxi driver in Santa Elena, arrange lots of services for us, and—in spite of being responsible for 19 Brits in the morning—he offered to pick us up at 6:00 a.m. and deliver us to the Pto. Ordaz airport. We accepted. So I am lying in my bed in the hotel room while Jim is organizing and packing his gear. Mine is packed and ready to go.

2/14/2006

11:25 a.m. Venezuela time (10:25 EST). Jim and I are in the air over the Caribbean Sea en route to Atlanta!! Wonders of wonders. It has never happened before that I got so lucky as to smoothly, without any problems, exit South America. And we did it with no prior reservations.

We got up about 5:45 a.m. and had our bags outside the hotel about 6:15 just as Freddy drove up, bless him. Freddy drove us to the Puerto Ordaz airport and I purchased two tickets on a Rutaca Airlines flight to Caracas. I had to pay extra for Jim’s third bag ($40), but the flight left on time at 7:00 a.m. and was not full. We had a quick flight to Caracas, landing at 8:00 a.m. I paid a nice old man 20,000 Bs (~$8.00 US, and my last of Venezuelan money) to cart our large inventory of baggage from the national to the international terminals, and then was completely surprised when we had no lines in which to wait and were given good emergency exit seats on the next flight leaving for Atlanta at 9:50 a.m. (the same flight we would have taken had we departed on the day of our original ticket, March 1st). I had to pay $150 each for changing the flight date (ouch!), and an excess baggage charge for Jim’s extra bag (all charged on my Amex).

We passed through security with a little fuss, because I demanded that they hand-check my beloved laptop, and Jim insisted that they hand-check his large bag of film. We got through into the international waiting area and heard our boarding call. I purchased four bottles of Cacique extra aged rum for gifts to my sons and we boarded the plane. All went so smoothly that I am still reeling with disbelief. Everything took place like clockwork, without any hurrying, anxiety, OR waiting! And now we expect to land in Atlanta at about 1:30 p.m. EST. Kathy hasn’t a clue that I am coming home today. I haven’t been able to call her since I was last on top of Maringma. It was easier to call using the satellite phone from the summit of a remote tepui than to find a phone in Venezuelan civilization—or the time to make the call.

It was my intention to stay over in Caracas one day and visit the Museo de la Salle and hit the best bookstores, but we learned that because the bridge is still out to Caracas from Maiquetia Airport, the cost of any kind of transport is $200 US each way! They have to use 4WD vehicles over a very difficult track to get back and forth. Freddy telephoned a pal in Caracas and talked him into only charging us $100 each way, but still I would have had to pay $200 for transportation and probably $75 for a hotel and expenses getting our baggage from the airport to the hotel and back, plus meals. Since I am out of money and going deeper into debt using my credit card, I decided to go straight home, especially when I learned that we could get right on the plane soon after arrival in Maiquetia Airport.

I am having reverse culture shock, returning to the hustle and bustle of civilization. All was so wonderful on the tops of the tepuis in pristine wilderness that coming back to the crush of PEOPLE on this planet is very depressing. I haven’t seen TV or heard any world news for one month—and it hasn’t hurt me one iota. The same old crap is taking place with over-population, environmental pollution, preoccupation with material wealth, and political assininity that was going on when I left. The good news is that there are a few places on this planet that are remote from all of it, and one can find solace and escape from the human rat-race in visiting those places. Now I’m day-dreaming about ways to return to my beloved tepuis.

We got in to Santa Elena de Uairen after dark about 7:00 p.m. , after being on the road for 14 hours. Immediately we drove to Hotel Gran Sabana where Raul has his office and met with the man. We met Karina, a nice young woman in her late thirties, I'd guess, and sat around with both of them talking about flights we'd like to take. Raul said that flying fixed-wing to Neblina would require about 10 hours of flight time. At $300/hour, that's $3,000, a large chunk of our money.

We returned to talk with Raul. He escorted us into the Hotel Gran Sabana Restaurant for what I thought was going to be a light meal. There was a nice spread of light snacks including lots of fresh salad makings, so I filled up a plate thinking that was all I would eat. When I finished stuffing myself on the food bar items, the cook brought out churrasco—barbecue—on long skewers with delicious barbecued chunks of beef and chicken cooked to a tee. He scraped off whatever amount one wanted, and the amount you ate was unlimited. All the meats were delicious, as good at in Puerto Ordaz or better. It was some of the best meats I have eaten, so we sat there talking, and stuffing ourselves on protein. I really did not exercise the proper restraint on the meat and paid a price of a sore stomach when I was though. Both in Puerto Ordaz and now here in Santa Elena I have had some of the most delicious barbecued meats I have ever had in all of Latin America . Normally, the meats are cooked like hell and tough. Not so in the past two days.

We booked a room for the equivalent of $27 per night at Hotel Amazonica about a block from Raul's office. The room is really great. It has a large bedroom with two double beds and a smaller room with a refrigerator and a table and chairs. There I set up our electronic equipment and I stayed up charging batteries and doing chores for several hours.

1/17/2006

We agreed last night to take a fixed-wing plane ride to scout where to sit down the chopper on Maringma or Yagontipu, but early in the morning we heard rain falling hard. It continued until about 6:00 before sunrise. Freddy came by at 7:00 a.m. and we went to breakfast at a small café in downtown Santa Elena, eating empanadas (deep fat fried arepas). We then drove around and purchased a few items we needed, including some special batteries for Jim and some nuts and bolts to assemble the stabilizer that he brought with him—sans the crucial hardware.

At last, the skies seemed to be clearing and we drove uphill to see if Roraima was clear. It was. We took off from the Santa Elena airport in Raul's single-engine Cessna STOL. The clouds were dissipating and our flight to Mts. Roraima and Kukenan were lovely over the Gran Sabana. I saw more evidence that a large percentage of the savannah was created by Amerindian burning. Even this morning, only a couple of hours after an all-night rain, there were grass fires burning!

Raul took us up to about 9500 feet in elevation as we approached Mt. Kukenan , passing first over the Pemon Indian village of Ptarai-tepui , the jumping off place for hikers to Roraima. We began photographing the summit and cliffs of Mt. Kukenan ,and then Kukenan Falls . Raul flew several times in large circles over Kukenan and Devil's Canyon between Kukenan and Roraima. We had the passenger side door off so Jim could photograph and I took my shots out of the open window of the co-pilot's seat. It was truly a spectacular morning, probably the best eye-candy I have ever had in one plane flight, although some Alaskan helicopter flights in my younger days were pretty good, too.

I took exposure after exposure at a speed of 1/500 th of a second and wide open. The air rushed in and was quite troublesome. Raul circled around the north end of Kukenan and I got some spectacular shots of large waterfalls off of Kukenan's east face, and of the isolated part of Kukenan on its north end. Devil's Canyon was also easy to photograph, and I took a lot of shots of it, including the west face of Mt. Roraima . Next, Raul flew us several times around the Prow of Roraima and I got some even better shots of the rejuvenated waterfalls off of its summit. There are at least two spectacular waterfalls off of Roraima's east face, too.

Finally, we flew over Yagontipu, which was almost obscured by clouds, and discovered that it is quite vegetated on the summit (wetlands herbaceous stuff, not brush or trees), and not very conducive for landing a helicopter. So we took a look at Maringma and found that it was larger on the summit and more amenable for landing a helicopter. In fact, Raul said that he deposited a German and British botanist on the summit of Maringma about two years ago, after the National Geographic Explorer Expedition I was on. We flew back towards the middle of the east face of Roraima and I got some good shots of Weiassipu. The two mushroom rocks I walked by in 2003 were silhouetted against some white skirting clouds against Roraima. As we flew past Roraima's SW corner, I got off my last shots of the tepuis this morning, but took a couple of La Gran Sabana to demonstrate that fires burned in the savannah up to the edge of slopes and wetlands along creeks. Altogether I shot off 243 images and ran completely out of flash cards. I shot almost all my images on raw setting to get the maximum use of my 10.2 megapixel D200 Nikon camera. I filled up two 1 GB, three 512 MB, and three 256 MB flashcards totaling 2.8 gigabytes of memory. When I got back to the hotel, I downloaded all the images into a file in this laptop, and then burned them onto a DVD . It was scary and difficult to erase such beautiful images from my flashcards.

We spent the afternoon catching up on equipment maintenance and then we took a 30-minute nap. Afterward we repacked all our belongings so that we can fly tomorrow. We had a light supper with Raul in the La Gran Sabana Hotel restaurant and talked politics and business. Raul hates President Chavez and told us many horrible stories about Chavez's abuses of power. Then we settled on what we will do tomorrow and the next few days.

Weather permiting, we will overfly the Chimanta complex of tepuis tomorrow in the fixed-wing Cessna. We will take the camping gear we will need for about a week, then land in the village of Yunek and store our stuff and take off the plane doors. After we fly around and photograph what we want, we will be deposited in Yunek for an overnight stay. Raul will then go to Puerto Ordaz and pick up his helicopter, then fly to ferry Jim and me onto a site we will select tomorrow. We will say goodbye to our friend, Freddy, who will accompany us until Raul comes and then stay up to a week on the summit of Chimanta. Can't wait until tomorrow. Goodnight dear world!

1/18/2006

We got up at 6:30 and then Freddy came by to pick us up at 7:00 a.m. Today is to be another amazing one. We drove around Santa Elena to purchase some miscellaneous items that we need for camping. We ate arepas at a little café, then we purchased some toilet paper, three spoons, three bowls for eating cereal, powdered milk, cups, a pot to boil water in, and other items. We got to the Santa Elena Airport at 8:30 and then waited around for the generator to be brought to us. Finally, after several holdups (mañana-time), we boarded the Cessna and took off with Raul flying.

Our flight path took us across the confluence of the Rio Apongwao and Kukenan, where the two become the Caroni . La Gran Sabana looks much the same on this low-elevation route west of the highway, except that there are more patches of unburned rainforest to see. The Indians have not destroyed such a large percentage of the original forest by indiscriminant burning. For the first 20 minutes or so, we passed over gently rolling terrain with lots of grassy savannah. I could see long pathways that people use walking from place to place. This would be a lovely place for a long hike of several days duration. Raul told me that once he rode for several days on a mountain bike throughout this part of La Gran Sabana.

Eventually the mountains of Chimanta tepui loomed ahead and we passed over the village of Wonken , with a large airstrip. I photographed the small tepui on the north of our flight path that I have photographed in the past. It will be interesting to see how much of the rainforest has been lost in comparing the two photos that are about 12 years apart. Then we circled over the village of Yunek and landed practically in their village square. I thought we would clip one of the thatched roofs with our wingtip when we went past it.

The bad news was that the tepuis were socked in with clouds and Raul couldn't overfly Chimanta as I was expecting him to do today. We got to Yunek so late ( 11:00 a.lm.) tdhat the daily moisture had built up to much. I was pretty disgusted with the weather, and it showed on my face. Raul hung around for a couple of hours, and, ljust by good luck, the clouds lifted—a little—and we jumped in the airplane and took off for one of the most wonderful flights I ever had. I ‘had no idea just how amazing Chimanta is. We first flew around Upuigma tepui, a lone tepui not connected to Chimanta. Then we flew over the south flank of Chimanta and the scenery on top was just wonderful to behold. I don't know whether the newness of Chimanta was the reason or whether it really was so wonderful, but I liked what I saw of Chimanta more than Roraima and Kukenan. Chimanta is huge and sort of star-shaped, with the points running away f rom the central massif and supporting tall cliffs on both sides of their arms and ending is some spectacular tepuis when viewed end-on,such as Acopan.

Jim and I spotted some wonderful places that we can be off-loaded from the helicopter. They will make for great base camps from which to do our photography. Numerous waterfalls were seen on the top. Both rugged rocky and also flat, wetlands alternated over the landscape. Where we flew over the outside edges of Chimanta, the cliffs were forbidding and the views superb. I shot off 198 photographs and Jim about 100.

9:21 p.m. Soft winds blow into my tent. The tent is pitched inside a churuata on the outskirts of the tiny accumulation of huts called Yunek, a Pemon Indian settlement at the foot of Acopan Tepui in Estado Bolivar , Venezuela . I flew here this morning with the expectation of bring lifted by helicopter to the summit of Chimanta Tepui in two days. Jim Valentine and I are on a photographic expedition together and we are accompanied by Freddy Vergara, a 32-year old Venezuelan guide who drove Jim and me to Santa Elena de Uairen from Puerto Ordaz.

We had a marvelous overflight of Chimanta Tepui from about 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. and were totally thrilled with the amazing beauty of the rugged landscapes we saw. I'm recording some of the details of the day here in this paper journal because the generator we brought with us has broken down and I need to conserve battery power of my laptop iBook computer where I have been keeping this journal.

The view from Yunek is spectacular. Acopan Tepui rises abruptly behind the village looking like a castle with towers or fingers of rock jutting into the sky. Dark falls here about 6:30 , so in the absence of artificial lights, one has little else to do except to try to sleep all night. To bed at 9:30 p.m.

19 January 2006

7:30 a.m . Rain overnight chased Jim inside the churuata. He began the night sleeping outside on the ground in front of the churuata because the cockroaches inside the hut were horrifically abundant. They came out of the porous walls and palm-thatched ceiling to forage on anything they could find or eat their way into. Zipped up in my tent, I was safe from their marauding little squishy selves.

The air is cool this morning, and very refreshing. Mists and clouds drape all the tepuis visible from Yunek and it is overcast in all directions. Acopan has a ring of mists skirting her midriff, but her crown of rocky fingers rises above the ring. Waterfalls, waterfalls, waterfalls—everywhere you look on the visible cliffs of tepuis below the cloud cover. Overnight rains recharged them. A gorgeous one drops straight down out of a deep cleft it has etched into Acopan's summit. It falls into the dark green of the cloud forest growing on the talus sloped at the base of Acopan's cliffs. An even taller and more splendid waterfall drops in a long, white ribbon off of Churi Tepui across the shared valley to the right (west) of Acopan.

12:15 p.m . I'm sitting on a large, block of Roraima Sandstone about halfway up a small, box-topped tepui in front of the southern end of Churi Tepui to the west of Yunek. A stiff breeze blows out of the east and it has been overcast all morning, as now. The clouds are fairly thin, however, and I can feel the heat of the tropical sun through them. The village of Yunek sits squarely in front (south) of Acopan Tepui, but I have walked four hours across the valley mouth and I am now sitting on the western slopes of the valley. Acopan is the terminus of the eastern side of the valley. It is a long, flat-topped tepui that forms one of several arms of the larger Chimanta Massif. Churi is another arm of the larger Chimanta Massif. Acopan ends in a high promontory of high cliffs skirted with a classic inclined talus slope. Churi terminates similarly. The summit cliffs are vertical and at least 1,000 feet high, making the summits of both Acopan and Chimanta accessible only by technical cliff-climbing—or as we will experience, via helicopter. [Drawing here.]

About 8:00 a.m. Jim and Freddy walked north to the Yunek River to do some 4 X 5 photography. At. 8:11 a.m. I set out west to walk alone in the vast savannah towards the small tepui that is an outlier of the higher and more dramatic western valley sidewall of Churi. I made it to the rock I now sit upon in four hours, walking slowly and taking photos of things that interested me. One of those things was a couple of wet flats, bogs full of Brocchinia reducta , a carnivorous bromeliad that grows in wetlands and poor soils.

The savannah bogs that I walked through were similar to our wet flats in the Gulf Coastal Plain. Water ponds up on flattish terrain after rains and either slowly sheet-flows away or evaporates. Several large wet flats that I walked over this morning were just like that. On the slopes of the small tepui, however, I encountered true hillside seepage bogs whose water I observed leaking out of the ground at the upslope end of the bogs. The underlying bedrock is horizontal layers of Roraima Formation sandstones with cracks, fissures, and weak bedding planes. The bedrock no doubt holds lots of water as well as the sandy sediments overlying the bedrock. There must be myriad, small, perched aquifers that bleed out onto slopes to create hillside seepage bogs of La Gran Sabana. The water is so abundant that in addition to squishy ground there are little rills of water flowing through them. I was thrilled to see many of the same families of plants growing there that I see in Gulf Coastal Plain seepage bogs: Xyridaceae, Eriocaulaceae, Cyperaceae, Droseraceae, and others. I also found a one-inch long frog, Adenomera species, hopping around in the thin sheet of water flowing through the bog and photographed it. It appears to be the same Adenomera with the red underthighs that I photographed at the Sierra de Lema Mirador off of La Escalera.

1:05 p.m. I took a short nap on the top of my rock and woke to see a very densely black Tropidurus rock lizard next to me. I believe he was attracted to the flies and sweat bees that were working my sweaty clothes. He scurried off when I moved. From my rock I walked uphill halfway to the fringing cliff, and then I walked laterally to the west in order to get up close to the edge of the rainforest growing up the tepui slopes. The Amerindians (here the Pemones) have fired the grasslands so frequently that fires have run upslope to the cliff base of the little outlier tepui I am climbing. [Drawing here.] I was curious to see why savannah and rainforest transitioned so abruptly along a sharp line running straight uphill. My hunch was confirmed when I saw that the contact was a mountain creek that repeated fires have not been able to cross.

I began my descent of the little tepui and long walk back to Yunek at 1:30 p.m. , and then quickly got a soaking from a rainshower. I pulled a large, folded dry bag out of my daypack and then dropped the daypack with its valuable cameras and other electronic equipment into it to keep my valuables dry. As for me, I lied down on the lee side of a large sandstone rock and got some partial protection from the wind-blown rain. After ten minutes the rain subsided to a light sprinkle, and I took off downhill. The going was slow because of the steepness of slope, and now the ground, vegetation, and rocks were slippery. At one rocky/weedy, vertical bank of a small mountain stream draining the little tepui, I lost my footing and crashed down hard sideways. The flesh of my upper left thigh hit a round rock as I fell and I remember thinking as I continued to fall how lucky I was that my hip, just a smidgeon away, had not collided with the rock. I got away with a massive bruise, but could have suffered a fractured head of my femur had I hit that rock just a few inches higher on my leg.

Getting down to the rolling savannah required using my downhill-braking muscles, which rarely get a work out. By the time I reached flat ground, my legs were shaky and I then really had difficulty with my balance. The walk back was very tiring. I first chose to walk across the savannah, not following the series of ridges running down from the slopes of the little tepui that I had walked going uphill. I had to cross several creeks that ran down from the long series of ridges I had ascended. Alas, I soon learned a big lesson—but made some important observations about savannah wetlands. The savannah is replete with wetlands, although to the eye the grassy vegetation of the drier parts of the savannah and that of the the wet flats in the low places all looks pretty much the same, unless the bogs have Brocchinia reducta in them, a very distinctive, yellow plant.

In all the swales in the savannah, extensive wetlands are dominated by grasses and sedges and sometimes with Mauritia flexuosa palms in them. Wetlands of the swales are deep in peat and the palms grow right in the peat, usually in the wettest parts of the bogs. Wetlands with Mauritia flexuosa palms are called morichales. Well, I quickly learned that they often are almost impassible. I crossed three morichales and got mired down in all three. In two, the peat was so wet and infirm that I had to get down on all fours to cross. It helped also, that in one hand I carried a walking stick that I laid prone atop the marsh vegetation to help hold me up!

Again, I think the Brocchinia favors seepage slopes without very much organic matter in the soil. Low on savannah hillsides where water first seeps out onto sandy soil, one finds many such Brocchinia bogs, but the bottoms of the swales are deep in wet peat. I found in some swales in which the roots of the vegetation formed a mat that undulated when I walked upon it—a quaking bog. I was loathe to fall through for fear of the difficulty of extracting legs and maybe even one's body from a fall-through. By the time I had crossed three large morichales I was very tired from the extra work required to walk on such difficult ground. I hot-footed it to the top of the ridge I had originally walked and kept to high ground all the way back to Yunek.

The hills in the savannah are also quite interesting. I noticed that as I climbed several of them, I found pea-sized limonite pebbles and sand at their bases, but increasingly large limonite rocks as I ascended the hill slopes. The normally flattish hilltop is densely strewn with a sort of pavement of large limonite rocks. I have seen this geological phenomenon all over the world. What I think happens is this:

The flat hilltops are the level at which limonite formed in valley sediments underneath what at one time was a deeper overburden. Iron-rich water percolating through the iron-rich sandy sediments precipitated out the limonite on top of some aquiclude: a clay layer or some tightly packed fine-grained sands, or just simply at the top of a local perched aquifer that has long ago been bled away. Later, as erosion cut down into the overburden, washing it away, the limonite is the last to erode away, sort of like a coin left on a tiny hillock of sand after a rain. The limonite acts like a cap on the tops of the flat hills, eroding into ever-smaller pebbles down the hill slopes. And, of course, the limonite pebbles, when ground together, produce the ochre that has long been used to adorn tribal peoples all over the world, and no doubt some of my ancient ancestors, too. Just for fun, I ground up a little of the most reddish limonite I could find and I painted my forehead and upper face with ochre. The latitude and longitude of the limonite hills is N05° 11' 49.2” X W06° 55' 14.9”.

When I finally came into view of the churuata, the sun had set and twilight was fast waning. Jim and Freddy spotted me coming, and both hailed me with upheld arms. Not knowing where in hell I had gone all day, they were quite worried about where in the dickens I had gone off to. I had to tell them that it was my custom to take off for hours on end, and not to worry about me in the future. If I have an accident, it will be my fault and I am quite prepared to rely on myself to get out of my predicament. I did not tell them about my fall.

1/20/06

8:30 a.m . First light came about 5:30 a.m. We woke to high clouds and Jim was out the door of the churuata to take some panorama photos of Acopan when the first light of the sun hit it. The sunrise wasn't very good, however, as the sun peeked through some clouds on the eastern horizon and cast shadows on the tepui. We had a leisurely breakfast and then the village chief brought me two cassava tortas (the large round, thin, white, native bread made from ground yucca, or manioc) that I had ordered.

Jim and Freddy left for a long six-hour round-trip walk to view some ancient Indian rock paintings, but I stayed behind because I want to photograph one of the largest Brocchinia bogs I saw yesterday, and besides, I want to recover from yesterday's nine-hour walk. They left the churuata about 8:15 a.m. and I left at 9:00 . I walked out into the savannah to the NW for a couple of miles and took photos of Acopan and Churi from hillocks. I also made some panoramas that I can put together with my Panorama software program when I get back to Tallahassee .

Today I learned a lot of interesting things about the savannah and its wetlands. First, most of the hills are flat on top and as you ascend them it is quite noticeable that suddenly you see tiny pebbles which become larger as you go uphill. These rocks are limonite or iron ore that once percolated downward in solution, coming to a halt at some sedimentary horizon and precipitating out as iron ore. The limonite strata now serve as caprock to the underlying strata, so that rainfall and runoff erode the hills from the edge of the exposed limonite strata rather than gullying it. The hills erode inward from their edges, in other words. This is quite evident all over the landscape and I took some photos to illustrate this.

Interestingly, rainwater percolates into the ground and seeps laterally along the slopes of these hills, creating Venezuelan hillside seepage bogs, and the Brocchinia , especially, seem to like this. This is where one finds the most extensive Brocchinia bogs. Going downhill it is quite dramatic to be walking on dry soil and suddenly the soil is wet. As you go downhill, it can even be sheet-flowing through the bog, depending upon the size of the hill (and thus perched aquifer) that the water is seeping from.

I've been quite impressed with the extensive peat bogs in the swales between the hillocks. The landscape looks uniformly grassland up hill and down dale, but when you look close, you see that the swales are choked with wetlands grasses and sedges. When you walk out into them, you begin to sink immediately into the peat, unless the vegetation holds you up. In many such places I found the top layer of peat, interlaced with roots, to act like a quaking bog. I could thrust my walking stick through the top layer and sink the stick five feet and still not touch sand or inorganic soil below. I was fooled several times when I assumed that I could make for firmer ground under the Mauritia palms. Heck no! They grow in the wettest part of the swale, or at least when I was near them I fell through the peat up to my knees and would have gone deeper had I not assumed a crawling position.

I examined several Brocchinia plants and got some photos of the slick inner sides of the leaves, the sides that insects must try to crawl up when they fall into the cylindrical water trap. The sides are waxy looking which may be wax, but may also be microscopic hairs. I found insect parts in the soup, although not so many as you find in Sarracenia back home. AND , I found mosquito wrigglers in the soup as well. Apparently mosquitoes (or midges) live in side the soup of Brocchinia like they do in Sarracenia .

About 12:30 I sat down on a lovely little hill with a view into the canyon between Acopan and Churi and had lunch of cassava bread and water. I sat there about 30 minutes and simply enjoyed the wilderness ambience. Then I walked over to the large Brocchinia bog I saw from the little tepui I climbed yesterday, and found just an amazing hillside bog running at least 200 yards along the lower side of a long hill. I got some really superb photos of the bog with Acopan in the distance. I started back to the churuata about 2:00 p.m. and heard and saw a helicopter landing at the village about 2:30 . I was at least two miles away, so I was unable to hump it back in case it was Raul looking for us. I got back to the churuata at 3:30 p.m. , having been walking for 6 1/2 hours (minus lunch). So I got six hours of walking in today on top of my nine hours yesterday! Wheew, I am sore, but today, since I walked mostly on flat to gently rolling terrain and walked three hours less, I was not so tired as yesterday.

Neither Jim nor Freddy were at the churuata when I got there, so I assumed that they had gone on a sight-seeing flight with Raul, to some secret place Raul knows. However, about 5:00 p.m. they came dragging in after their own long walk today of about 9 hours. I had supper cooked and we ate like hogs—all except Freddy who came in with a huge headache. I gave him some aspirins and he retired for the evening. They gave me one quarter of a tough chicken that they had barbecued for them by their Amerindian guides on their walk. It went down very well. I must remember to bring Adobo seasoning on the next jaunt, however, to add some taste to my food.

1/21/06

2:00 p.m . I can't believe it! I'm sitting on top of Acopan Tepui in my tent recording this. The sound of running water pervades the site, since my tent is located on bare rock at the very edge of the stream. Here the stream is an amazing 75 yards wide, running over bare Roraima Formation sandstone. What's unusual about this place is that I walked 250 yards upstream and then out in the adjacent wetlands looking for a couple of boulders onto which I needed to tie my tent fly. I DID NOT FIND A SINGLE LOOSE ROCK !! Everything that looks like a rock, either in the stream or on land, is attached to bedrock. There are no rocks, pebbles, cobbles or anything but bare bedrock and a little sand in the stream bed. I finally broke off a piece of rock that was part of a wonderful erosional pediment. Apparently free rocks quickly erode into their sandy components soon after becoming free of the bedrock. Maybe that attests to the force of runoff waters here during heavy rains.

This morning in Yunek, we woke at 6:30 a.m. and Freddy called Raul via the satellite phone. Raul said he would be in Yunek in one hour and a half. The weather in Santa Elena was getting bad. I was surprised to hear this because I thought that Chimanta was socked in, but Freddy said the clouds were stratus clouds and that the tepui top would be clear when Raul got here. Sure enough, it was. We spent a furious morning repacking our gear for the helicopter lift to the summit, and Raul came just as he said he would. It's a beautiful little helicopter, a four-place Bell Ranger III .

The chief of the village arrived with two other men and presented me with the bill for our stay in Yunek. It was 185,000 Bs (~$84.00 US ) and included 12,000 Bs for each of the three of us per night for three nights in a vacant churuata, a chicken that we had roasted over a fire, and $50,000 Bs for the hire of a guide for Jim and Freddy yesterday.

Raul flew Jim and me up the east face of Acopan Tepui onto the summit and we flew around a few minutes looking for a campsite. We flew over the deep canyon formed by the west fork of the Rio Tirika and then circled back onto the summit of Acopan. Eventually, we want to be put down onto the summit of the main massif of Chimanta near what is called Apakara. That's where Chimantaea mirabilis is found, a fantastic tepui composite that looks like a Dr. Seuss plant. For now, though, Acopan offers a warm invitation.

Jim and I spent a couple of hours getting our camp set up. The big problem is finding a high, dry place in a world that is ALL wetlands. Whether you are on bare rock, which gets inundated at times, or on sand, which always gets flooded, or in the herbaceous vegetation—which is always a bog—you almost can't find a place for your tent. I chose a flat square of bedrock next to the creek and Jim chose a sandy flat about 25 yards back from the creek. He had to pull out all the plants on it and he wisely dug a trench around his tent so water would flow away from the tent.

We got settled in and had lunch, then took a bath in the stream. I washed out my clothes and laid them on the black rocks in the sun. Within an hour they were dry. The stream flows over a wide stretch of Roraima Sandstone, half wet and half dry. The wet places are flowing only inches deep. I walked upstream to where the stream becomes sluggish and deep. Because it is a blackwater river, I can not tell how deep it is, but it looks too deep to step into safely. I then walked onto the slope of the stream's true rightbank (as facing downstream) and found a large herbaceous bog stretching several hundred yards back to camp. I walked further away from the steam, towards the valley sidewall, and encountered a quebrada (small canyon) cut by a smaller creek draining all the water off the higher valley sidewall. One thing to remember about tepuis, the sedimentary layers are laid down horizontally and the landscape that emerges as the sedimentary layers erode is stair-stepped like a wedding cake. In tepui land, everything is either horizontal or vertical, rarely sloping much or very gently over the top of a gently inclined sedimentary layer.

A forest mostly of Bonnetia roraimae grows in the canyons. B. roraimae is in the Theaceae, the tea family, and has beautiful five-petalled flowers, often large and waxy. It may grow in canyons for hydrological reasons. Gullies often have more permanent water either flowing in them or seeping into them. The large, expansive flats, so long as they are rained upon, are true wet flats forming savannah bogs, but here's the rub. During dry periods, the flats dry out, and plants there become severely stressed by the lack of water. In gullies into which water flows or seeps, the hydroperiod of the soils is much longer, and so plants in gullies thrive better, usually are bigger (pitcher plants are a good example), are not so exposed to high-altitude and low-latitude sunlight, and do better, generally.

I fired up our new Whisperjet camp stove and heated water, which we poured into our Mountain House packages of lasagna. We ate heartily and then toasted ourselves for our good luck with some of the most wonderful rum I have ever tasted. It is Ron Anejo Cacique, made in Venezuela , and is as smooth as any rum I ever drank. Usually I don't imbibe alcohol, but we asked Raul to bring us a bottle for celebratory purposes. I'm telling you, this rum is superb! When we retired, I sneaked a couple of hits from the bottle and simply loved it.

Lying alone in my tent after dark about 7:00 p.m. , I thought to myself that no self-respecting herpetologist would just fall into sleep and enjoy a long night's rest. So I got up and spent two hours walking upstream looking for frogs. I walked into a few woody places, but searched the streamside vegetation thoroughly, and then I worked some herb bogs. Later I tried the mixed woody/herbaceous vegetation perpendicularly away from our tenting area and was totally unsuccessful. This was depressing. I was hoping I would find several species. Tonight: nada!

1/22/06

What a lucky devil I am. It started raining within minutes of my returning to my tent from two hours' of frogging last night and it rained all night long. The river was up this morning, only a foot from my tent. Jim and I both are in real trouble from high waters. We searched about for a while this morning for better (=higher) sites, but none exist! The folks that live in La Gran Sabana have all told me that this year and last have been unusual for having much more rain during the dry season than normally.

I slept long and hard last night, waking periodically to listen to the rain pelting my tent fly all night long. This morning it was overcast, but not raining. As the morning progressed, the clouds lifted and we had partly cloudy skies for most of the day, until about 5:00 p.m. when a fast moving squall hit, and then quit within ten minutes.

I got up at 7:00 a.m. and fixed us breakfast. It consists of heating water on the Whisperjet camp stove that operates on gasoline (and most other kinds of fuels). We then pour hot water over oatmeal that I brought and Jim prepares us a power drink of some powdered protein mix he brought along. We might have a cup of hot tea made from a powdered mix that Freddy gave us.

About 9:00 a.m. I wandered off into a bog downstream and on the right bank and found some lovely Brocchinia hechtioides , the large carnivorous bromeliad. I searched several of these large bromeliads for frogs, but found none. I then found a large patch of Heliamphora minor (several thousands of sun pitcher leaves and hundreds of flowers in bloom) and Jim came and did a video shoot with me on camera talking about plant carnivory. I climbed the hill beyond and got a view down canyon. Our stream flows over rock for a while, then becomes channelized into a deep, narrow fissure and sluggishly progresses for maybe a couple hundred yards, before running over rock again. I climbed around in a Bonnetia roraimae forest for a while, noting that the ground is covered in sphagnums, Cladonia-like lichens, or true mosses. The shade under the Bonnetia is considerable and affects what grows there.

I was not contemplating lunch, but about 12:30 Jim said he was starved, so I cooked up two Mountain House packets for two and he ate one and one half packages. I ate only one-half a packet because I wasn't really very hungry and besides, I'm losing weight and want to continue doing so. After lunch, I wandered off to the west, across the river, and ascended a small escarpment up onto a flat boggy area. These wet flats are very common on tepuis, and especially here. I entered a very dense Bonnetia roraimae forest beyond the bog, but the vegetation was so thick that I came out again and walked north across the bog towards a slope that has rock pinnacles, or rock pediments on it. These are erosional columns of sandstone that are sculpted into amazing forms. Most are columnar, some are squarish or very blocky, but many are round and cylindrical. Beyond the pinnacles, I found a higher wet flat, and this one was marvelous. In it I found my very first Chimantaea , a genus of composites endemic on Chimanta. This one is C. humilis , and it is quite wonderful. It grows on a single, thick stem and has strongly leathery leaves that are revolute [I think revolute means the sides are curved under]. Only two- or three-inch long leaves come out of the stem at the top, and when in flower, the inflorescences are nestled in the middle of the top of the bird's nest of leaves.

I photographed lots of scenery and plants in this bog and in the surrounding environs today, then made my way across the bog towards the cliffs of the valley wall beyond. There I found at least one branch of our creek still entrenched in a deep crevasse, so I was unable to pass. I turned back and then got caught in a quick squall that blew up. I sheltered in a rock pinnacle that had a hole in it big enough for my body with a rock roof overhead. Eventaully I made my way back to camp, arriving about 5:15 p.m. Jim was doing some 4 X 5 photography when I came in.

I started up the generator and began recharging the many batteries of both of us. It is now 8:30 and the generator is still running. This laptop takes quite a while to recharge, but so too does loading my digital images into it. Right after I got into the tent at about 5:30 , it began to rain and hasn't let up since. It is quite miserable, but then that is what living on top of a tepui is all about. We tried to use the satellilte phone to call home, but Kathy seems not to have been there.

I made supper using the Whisperjet under my tent fly with me sitting inside the tent. This is dangerous because the tent is flammable and there are tags on the tent warning about the danger. Aside from that danger, one of my problems is that some of the damned exhaust of the generator has been blowing back into my tent, so I have been breathing its fumes for three hours. I hope this won't give me some problems later. I'm smart enough not to go to sleep with the damned thing on for fear that some of what I am breathing is CO. As soon as my second Nikon camera battery gets charged, I'll turn it off.

1/23/2006

7:00 a.m . I had an uncomfortable time sitting in my tent trying to recharge batteries last night because of the incessant rain and exhaust fumes from the generator blowing into the tent. About 8:30 I got tired of the fumes and turned off the generator, with the idea that I will start it up in the morning when I can reposition it and/or get out of the tent. After I turned off the generator, the ambience of the night was lovely. I love being in a tent with rain pattering on the fly and wind blowing and shaking the tent. And because of our remote location, it all feels so isolated, a feeling I have always loved, for some strange reason.

The more remote I am from civilization, the more at peace I am with myself and the world. Even as a kid of 7 or 8 years old in California , I loved walking in arroyos or on ridgetops where nobody knew where I was. In Alaska I had a favorite place across the ravine from the log house and up on top of a forested slope to which I would snowshoe in winter. It was a couple of white spruce trees whose branches hung down to the ground and were surrounded by a ring of dense, low brush. I could snuggle down under the branches and look out in all directions without being seen.

I tried out the satellite phone last night from inside my tent. It worked! I called my beloved Kathy and she reported that all was fine with the family. I was especially concerned that Mom was OK. I had to hang up quickly to conserve the 120 minutes I purchased with the phone, but I was loathe to stop hearing the voice of my sweet girl. She's a great partner, and I love her very much.

A blowing mist fell all night. I woke periodically and peed in a plastic bottle, so I wouldn't have to step out in the dreary weather. I'm in love with my new NorthFace tent. It is larger than the other tents I own, and gives me a little more room to stretch out and to place my belongings. It is more of a working tent than a backpacking tent. It weighs 7.4 pounds versus the 5 something of my others.

The stream roars outside my tent, but is not up substantially from the overnight misty rains. It did not rain so hard last night as the night before, although it was inclement all night. This morning, like yesterday morning, the highest points of the tepui are covered in mists, but at my tent there is no fog. There will be no morning sunlight to brighten up the cliff faces for pretty photos.

Roraima Sandstone is pink, but where it is exposed to air, it gets covered with a blue-green alga that is coal black. White, crustose lichens grow on it, giving it a salt and pepper appearance. The sand that erodes from it is also pretty pink. Sometimes, on cliff faces, especially when the sun hits it, Roraima Sandstone appears orange.

Up here I see several types of wetlands. Wet flats are common, with water standing after rains and getting choked with vegetation. The vegetation grows, dies, and the litter accumulates in the water, causing the build-up of peat. Water has a difficult time running off of these wet flats because the peat and dense vegetation impedes its sheet flow. Often plants that grow ubiquitously over the landscape such as Heliamphora minor, Brocchinia reducta, Tepuia sp., Orectanthe sceptrum , and many others are stunted in wet flats. This must be because of the harsh conditions there in full sunlight, which dries out wet flats in those few days or rarely weeks when it doesn't rain. I suppose the acidity from the decomposition of the plants sitting in place might also influence growth.

Another type of wetland is the Bonnetia roraimae forest, which I mentioned earlier lives in places with more water, usually where water flows in a channel, a low place in the terrain. This could be a gully or just a low place in a wet flat where water collects as it works downhill. And, I suppose, the peat is deeper in these places because of the more continuous presence of water, even during drought.

Very few birds are found up here. Yesterday I saw a large, green hummingbird and heard a squeaker in a Bonnetia forest, but never saw it. One good thing, there are very few biting insects. No blackflies! Hurrah! But in the twilight of late afternoon, we have a few husky, black mosquitoes. I heard what I believe is the treefrog, Hyla sibleszi, calling yesterday from the forest along the creek. It is the only frog I have evidence for up here. It may also be a species of treefrog in the genus Ololygon . Reading what Steve Gorzula has written about the frogs he collected on Chimanta, apparently Stefania ginesi hangs out in Bonnetia forests. I really want to see this frog. Young Stefania and Hyla sibleszi can be found in the large Brocchinia hechtioides bromeliads inside Bonnetia forests. I've been looking but haven't yet found one. Maybe today.

The thought hit me last night in the tent that looking for frogs conflicts with doing photography on these expeditions. After a long day of walking all over the terrain, I am dog-tired at night and not very motivated to go out again. When I am on a frog-hunting expedition, I work up my notes and nap during the day, and spend two to four hours at night out hunting. I am rested, therefore, and able to work at night. When I was on Wokomung, I didn't do anything else but organize my time for my main purpose, searching for frogs at night. Here it's the opposite. I use my time all day for the main purpose of photographing all the wonderful scenery and plants I can find.

About 1:00 p.m. while I was just taking off for my long afternoon's hike, a small fixed-wing plane flew into the area and made a large circle and buzzed us only about 50 feet off of the ground. It must have been Raul showing another group the tepui top. He said he had a group of botanists lined up for a helicopter visit here. When he flew us to this site, he said maybe in four days he would come by in the helicopter and move us to another site. That will save us some money, since the other group would pay for the flight here and we would only pay for the time it takes for him to ferry us to another site.

And now to exit the tent and face the cold, windy morning. Ah, Wilderness!

I ate some dry cereal with powdered milk reconstituted with water and then Jim and I walked upstream, across the bog on the far side, and into the rock pediments near the top of a ridge. Mists enveloped the tepui summit this morning, creating a mysterious ambience. We video-filmed me talking about geology and some of the tepui plants ( Aphanocarpus steyermarkii, Maguireothamnus speciosus, and Notopora chimantensis ). This took all morning, so when we were finished, I walked back to the tent feeling very poor. I was shaky and weak and very lethargic, a rather unusual condition for me. I made us a hot lunch, and Jim gave me some vitamins. Afterward, I lied down and took a nap, but I still felt lethargic when I woke. This unsettled feeling persisted for several hours and eventually disappeared in the late afternoon. I attribute it to CO inhalation last night. One of my symptoms seemed to be not getting enough oxygen when exercising.

I finished charging our batteries and my laptop during midday , and away from having to breathe the fumes of the generator. This laptop requires a lot of time on the generator, at least two hours for a complete recharge!

The afternoon from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. went much better. We returned to the rocky ridge and I spotted a flowerpecker, Diglossus major , working some Notopora smithiana flowers. I was fascinated with this bird's acrobatic antics. It even hung upside down to reach some of the nodding flowers. I alerted Jim to this and we set up the camera to film it, getting a little footage. I hope it turns out. After a while, I wandered down the little ridge a few yards and had a big surprise. I found another Chimantaea species, I think C. similis . It grows as a low shrub with a substantial woody trunk. I got some great photos of its inflorescence in full bloom. I'll have to send this and some other photos to tepui botanist, Otto Huber, for verification when I get back to the States.

The day was waning, so we walked down into the lovely wet flat with all the large Brocchinia hechtioides and Chimantaea humilis and set up to catch the sunset light on the bog. We watched the flowerpecker work Maguireothamnus speciosus and missed an opportunity to film it. Then we saw a sparrow common on tepuis, Zonotrichia capensis .

I was most delighted when I found my favorite bladderwort, Utricularia humboldtii , in full bloom in the bog. We filmed me talking about plant carnivory and the bladderwort, which has the largest bladders of all Utricularias in the entire world. This bladderwort commonly grows its bladders in the axils of bromeliads, so sure enough, I found it growing in the axils of the Brocchinia hechtioides . Bladders are large as a pea and it also has huge phyllodes. I saw it growing out in the bog, too, not as a “parasite” on the animalcules of the Brocchinia .

All in all it was a great day. We got back to camp after sunset and I fired up the Whisperjet stove as it was getting dark. We ate our Mountain House freeze dried foods and had some hot tea laced with the wonderful rum Raul delivered the other day. I was having some trepidation about trying to do a documentary film out here, wasting time that could better be put to getting images for a book. But after devoting today to video filming, I may change my mind. I have the freedom to expound on all aspects of the ecology of this wonderful part of the world, so let it be filmed and we will see if we can market it. If not, at least I will have a lot of takes of me explaining the ecology of tepuis that I can make into a DVD for my kids and whoever else is interested.

1/24/2006

I worked on transferring my digital photo images into the laptop after supper last night and then thinking about tepui ecology and adventures hereabouts. A great idea hit me. I now have some wonderful photos of the hidden waterfall in Devil's Canyon between Roraima and Kukenan. The waterfall that the Amerindians told me 12 years ago was better than Kukenan. Well, the other day when we flew over Mt. Kukenan, I got to see the hidden falls and damned if it might just be taller than Salto Kukenan. In fact, I photographed both of the falls within minutes of each other for comparison.

Here's an idea. Since Kukenan Falls is listed in many sources as the world's third tallest waterfall, I could mount a small expedition to come back and measure both Kukenan Falls and what I am calling “ Hidden Falls .” All that is required is a device that measures distance accurately. I could have Raul helicopter someone with the receiver to the bottom of Kukenan Falls and land on a rampart of Roraima and take the distance measurement, including the angle from horizontal to the base of Kukenan Falls . I could then determine the height of the falls using the angle and one leg of a right triangle. This could be repeated for Hidden Falls by putting off a person with the measuring device on top of Hidden falls on Kukenan, and then landing on the summit of Roraima to get distance to the top of Hidden Falls and angle to the bottom of it. Wow, what an interesting article for South American Explorer Magazine—in color!

We got up about 7:00 a.m. to a misty morning. Jim brought me a whole handful of vitamins (C, B, E) and I fixed us some hot oatmeal. The light was not so good this morning for video shooting, so I used the opportunity to do some exploring—WHICH I MOST LOVE TO DO! I told Jim I would be back around 1:00 p.m. and we would finish filming up in the big wet flat in the afternoon from about 3:00 p.m. onward.

I have had a hankering to explore the series of benches that rise to the south of our camp (behind us), so I took off with my camera, a tripod, and a dry bag in which to put all my sensitive equipment if it rained. I worked my way across the swamp behind our tents and then climbed the vegetated, rocky slope. About 100 feet above the camp, the slope became a gently inclined plane with short herbaceous seepage vegetation, easy to walk in. Shortly flat bedrock began to show through and Eureka ! I found my third species of Chimantaea . It was quite clearly C. huberi , named after my friend and one of the most accomplished tepui botanists, Otto Huber. It is a little short thing that grows down hugging the ground and has a couple dozen tiny, sclerophyllous leaves bursting from the top of a thick, short stem. All you see looking down is the whorl of leaves of numerous plants growing together along the edge of rocks and peat. I suppose it could also be the species, C. acopanensis , but I don't think it is. In Huber's edited book, Chimanta, I see two pictures that look very much alike and can't tell them apart. I took many photographs of the plants au natural and anatomically.

Then I continued working uphill and soon found myself in a fairie land of rock pillars. I photographed some and walked through them to the summit of the hill they were perched on. I had grand views of the valley we are camped in, but to my delight, when I looked on the far side of the hilltop, I discovered that the land fell off of a cliff into a deep valley with a high tepui cliff valley wall on the other side, maybe 1,000 feet higher than the hilltop I was standing on, which served as the other valley wall of the canyon. It was spectacular and soon the mists began to blow in and—on and off—I was covered in misty silence.

I perched my tripod at the edge of the cliff I was standing on and I leaned against a rock to watch the changing weather. I swear, mists evaporated in seconds when a certain dry wind blew, or any breeze that changed the elevation of the mists. Then I worked my way down the side of the valley along the ridge top with rock pediments above me on my left hand side and the steep drop of the cliff on my right hand side. I walked a beautiful herbaceous meadow on a 50-feet wide terrace to reach the promontory of the ridge. As I rounded the ridge and could begin seeing into the mouth of the valley that Jim and I are camped in, I found another example of what I think is Chimantaea humilis , with large leaves and rusty, hairy underleaves growing out of rocky ledge like the ones I saw yesterday.

The far end of the ridge inclined down a long, gentle slope with a short, herbaceous bog all the way to the river we are camped on. Since we had not gone downstream to where the creek makes a fall into upper Yunek Canyon (which we saw by helicopter), I decided to continue downhill to the creek, which I could now see clearly. We have been unable to go downstream from our camp because the stream, after flowing a long way over gently inclined bedrock past our camp, reaches a flat place where it runs down a wide, deep track full of dense, hardwood forest ( Bonnetia roraimae and other trees, brush, and undergrowth) that we had not penetrated. The creek here must run down a linear fault in the bedrock, which I see happening to creeks up here a lot.

As I began my descent, I could see across Yunek Canyon to the huge escarpment formed on its south side, the summit of which is called Churi Tepui. I got some good shots far out into the deep valley with different terraces going ever downward in elevation. Then I came to a ledge and to my delight I discovered my fourth Chimantaea on Acopan, a fuzzy-headed thing called C. eriocephala . It was growing on a rocky outcrop that sloped downhill, with peaty bog surrounding the rocks. I spent about an hour and got lots of photographs of it, with details of the rusty fuzzy hairs at the bases of the leaves. All of the Chimantaea seem to be plants on a stout stem with leaves whorled around the top of the stem and the inflorescence in the middle of the circle of leaves.

I walked downhill and eventually came to the stream that we are camped on, but downstream of the swampy part we have not passed through. After it passes through about 200 yards of swamp, it spreads out over bedrock again all the way to an impassable cliff off of which it plunges. I walked downstream, finding the walking very easy on the bedrock in only a few inches of sheet-flowing creek water. I had to be careful not to slip, but the going was easy. The creek is magically beautiful, with tea-colored water flowing over pink sandstone. There are black lichens on the rock which makes for interesting contrast, and then stretches that are pure yellow in color. Quite beautiful. I got lots of photographs while the sun was shining, a rare event on Acopan and the greater Chimanta. I could see off of the 50-yard wide creek down into the canyon below and was quite awed by the spectacle. I'm sure my eyes are among the very few human eyes to have seen this wonderful sight.

I walked back upstream to where the creek flows deep and sluggishly through the swamp, then found an easy way along the hillside bog back to camp. I got there about 1:15 p.m. , just about when I said I would. I had a lovely 4 1/2-hour exploration and loved every minute of it. Jim surprised me by having our lunch cooking. I wasn't terribly hungry, but ate half a bag of Mountain House spaghetti with meat sauce.

After I told Jim what I had seen and done, he was convinced that the best thing for him to do this afternoon was to go downstream and photograph what I saw. After lunch, while he was getting ready to go, we got a quick rain for about five minutes that wetted everything, leaving no bare rock dry. This makes for slippery footing for my boots, drat! I carried one of his tripods and his panorama camera back downstream several hundred yards to where the stream emerges from the swamp and left him there with his equipment. He will spend the afternoon photographing the spectacular views, and I walked back to camp to run the generator and recharge all our batteries, plus recharge my laptop again.

As luck would have it, a frog jumped into the river from the low bank as I was returning. I could see it hunkering down where a few inches of tiny bankside vegetation curled over the water. I made a grab for it and as I got the frog in my hand something long and slender dove out into the water. With my other hand I caught it, too. It was a juvenile Neusticurus rudis and the frog seems is a species of Ololygon (a treefrog). I'm excited about the frog because it means if I make a good effort to find frogs in the streamside vegetation, I should find the adults. This one is either a juvenile or a female because the chin shows no signs of being used for a vocal pouch. These are the first herps I have actually seen here. I have heard only three individuals of what I think is Hyla sibleszi calling in the past two days, but may be the adults of this species.

I have been sitting inside my tent with my wet boots sticking outside writing this while the mists came and went. Also, I downloaded into the laptop all 172 images I took on my walk. They amount to 2.46 gigabytes of computer storage and I am getting worried that at the rate at which I am taking photographs (only good ones, too) I could run out of storage space in the laptop. I brought 4.7 Gigabyte DVDs onto which I plan to transfer my images, but at the rate at which I am taking photos, the ten diskettes I brought to Venezuela with me will not be sufficient!! It's 3:47 p.m. and I'm going to stop writing for a while. The laptop is 94% recharged and will be nearly fully recharged in another 30 minutes.

I used my Garmin GPS to get a fix on our location. It is N05° 10' 48.6” X W62° 00' 57.5”.

10:30 p.m . Jim returned to camp about 6:00 p.m. and I cooked up a turkey and a chicken dish for supper. While we were eating a quick rain blew up and we had to scramble for our tents. At 7:00 p.m. I tried to reach Raul by satellite phone, but his cell is not easy to reach until after 10:00 p.m. So I went out in the misty night to see if I could catch a frog or two. Alas, by 8:45 my lower back was giving me fits so I called it quits. More because of NO FROGS anywhere, rather than the painful back. I swear, I don't understand where in hell the frogs are up here. I'm at 6400 feet in elevation with hugely abundant vegetation, but I haven't herped up a frog yet. Only the Ololygon that I accidentally kicked up this afternoon while not looking.

Tonight I scoured by eye the banks and edges of the stream on both sides all the way down to the deep, slow water and in the bankside vegetation. Then I walked through the thick brush towards the escarpment behind us, and searched about 12 large Brocchinia hechtioides , hoping I would see some frog. NONE! I did see several large snails grazing the sides of the Brocchinias (I think that's what they were doing). I spent a long time searching woody vegetation and clumps of Stegolepis , which seem to me to be ideal places for a treefrog to hang out. The ground, on the other hand, is so choked with herbaceous vegetation that if there were a frog underfoot, I'd never see it. I returned to the creek, crossed it, and entered a Bonnetia roraimae forest across from our camp. I spent a good half an hour searching the boles of the trees, large Brocchinia hechtioides , and large Stegolepis clumps inside the forest with no luck at all.

Had I spent an hour and forty-five mintues on Mt. Wokomung at 5,000 feet elevation, I would have come up with at least a dozen frogs, seen if not caught. What's the problem here?? I got back to camp at 8:45 p.m. and was amazed at my bad luck. Just as I was about to enter my tent, a hard rain began to fall! I got in without getting wet. Quite lucky once again.

1/25/2006

Finding no frogs last night got me to thinking about what the heck is going on, ecologically, up here. I see very few spiders, as well. No spider eyeshines and no spider webs anywhere. In fact, insects seem to be rare in general, on Acopan. In the past, only three frogs ( Otophryne steyermarki, Ololygon sp., Stefania ginesi, and Hyla sibleszi have been recorded from the Chimanta Massif in spite of the herpetological efforts of Roy McDiarmid and Stefan Gorzula. Maybe my impression of the lack of insectivores really reflects something going on on Chimanta Massif. On Wokomung, for instance, I would have seen 10 – 20 frogs while out for an hour and a half, and Wokomung has a frog fauna of about 30 species, at least. (This does include the entire elevational range from 2000 to 5400 feet, however.)

One explanation might be the insectivorous plants, which are hugely abundant in the vicinity of our camp on Acopan. Five species of bladderworts, Utricularia , two species of carnivorous bromeliads in the genus Brocchinia, one species of sun pitchers, Heliamphora minor , the sundew, Drosera, and others.

7:15 a.m. Shit! I tried a dozen times to reach Raul by satellite phone and was unsuccessful. He said that the cell service in Santa Elena is awful, which accounts for my trouble reaching him—or Karina. Santa Elena has facilities for handling about 1,000 cell phones but there are about 10,000 cell phones there, Raul says. Thank goodness I was able to reach Freddy, though, whose phone is on a service located in Puerto Ordaz. Freddy is in Santa Elena, though, and will communicate with Raul for me. Freddy said that Raul transferred aviation fuel to Yunek yesterday for the helicopter (which must have been the plane noises I heard). He intends to bring three Germans up here today, and plans to ferry Jim and me to another location. Freddy told me to leave the satellite phone on until 10:00 a.m. so he could get in touch with me. Apparently we will move today, but alas! Jim is way the hell down canyon this morning trying to catch the early light off the spectacular waterfall there. I'll have to bust my butt to go help him retrieve all his gear and get the tents and our equipment ready to go. Grrrrr.

7:15 p.m. Atlantic Time , Venezuela . Rain pattering down on my tent fly. The river making burbling noises outside. Darkness of a tropical night envelopes me. Cool air at 6,400 feet in altitude on a remote tepui raises goose pimples on my arms. Today has been one of those exasperating days you wish never happened. When Raul dropped us off here by helicopter, he told me that in four days maybe he could move us to another location when he brought the “Germans” to Chimanta. I said, “Great,” thinking that this would save us some money since the helicopter would already be in the area and he would only charge us for the air time in the transfer. So last night I began trying to reach Raul by satellite phone…no luck. I rang the number at least 10 times and got a message in Spanish that the lines were busy and to try again.

So, this morning I tried again at 7:00 a.m. Raul had already told me that cell phone communication in Santa Elena de Uraien was awful, but after numerous times dialing his number, I got no answer. Jim took off downriver to do some early photography, carrying all the rest of his camera gear. There was no way he could bring it all back upriver by himself in one load if the helicopter showed up, so I realized that when—and if—I found out that Raul would be coming to get us, I would have to hotfoot it downriver and help him with his gear. Then I remembered that I had Freddy's number, so I dialed it, and damned if I didn't get him (he was still asleep). Freddy told me that Raul had flown the Germans to Yunek yesterday and also a load of aviation fuel. That meant to me that Raul intended to helicopter the Germans to a site on Chimanta today and that he would move us today. Freddy agreed that that probably was the plan. I agreed to keep the satellite phone on until 10:00 a.m. so that Raul could contact me and tell me the plan.

After other tries to verify this with Raul and with his assistant, Karina, I was unable to reach either of them. So, I laboriously packed up all our gear, struck my tent, and made sure all our gear was waterproofed. I then walked downriver with the satellite phone and stood around with Jim while he was taking some breathtaking photographs of Churi Tepui and the waterfall.

When the urge of a little diarrhea hit me, I had no idea that I was about to make one of the most interesting animal behavioral observations I have had in years. I walked off into a beautiful Bonnetia roraimae forest on the cliff off of which our creek falls and made a small clear area in which to squat, peacefully. (I love to take a shit in the woods.) The forest ambience was enchanting, the river cascade sounding in my ears, and the view off the forested cliff was nothing short of Shangri-La. I did my ablutions, stood up, and was adjusting my pants, shirt, and belt when, with nothing pressing to do, I turned and took a look at what I had just done.

Now a good biologist doesn't miss a chance to observe nature, even at the micro level. All over the world there are insects that come to feces, where they get a huge nutrient hit and some find a place to mate and to lay their eggs. Flies are the among the most notorious for this, as are rove beetles, scarab beetles, and others. I was curious to learn what on Acopan might be interested in my leavings. Nothing much out of the ordinary was obvious. There were the usual flies arriving in numbers. I mused to myself how keen their sensory perception must be to smell shit from however far off they must have been and then make a direct flight right to it. I saw a couple of sweat bees and even a honeybee come to the very soft, almost liquid pile.

Then, while counting the different types of insects that were attracted to my crap, my attention was suddenly drawn to two little white things moving on the stool. Aghast, I thought they looked like worms. “Surely I don't have worms of some kind,” I thought to myself. Then I looked very hard and confirmed that I was, indeed, seeing white worms crawling in my stool. How in hell did worms get there so fast if they didn't exit my body only a minute before?! [It's raining like hell now. I hope the river doesn't come up tonight!] This was a serious puzzle. I had to learn more. I kneeled down and used my hand lens to examine the worms. They were fly maggots! Aha! These little white fly maggots couldn't have come out of my body, but how in hell did they get into my stool within a minute or two of my depositing it??

The only explanation that made any sense was that the flies were laying live larvae on the stool and not fly eggs. I have never heard of flies laying live larvae before, so I had to verify this. I began watching the flies and by doing so, was fascinated by what I saw. Sure enough, a tiny fly lit on the wet stool and stood still for a brief moment, then I saw her anus open and a white larva was pooped out onto my poop! I was thrilled to see this. I watched again and saw another fly do the same thing. Each of about five flies laid two larvae, and then I lost track of them in the confusion of a dozen flies flitting around laying larvae. The larvae were quite large in respect to the body of the mother fly, so I was certain that the mother is limited in the number of baby maggots she can produce. Then I watched one fly and counted no less than 7 maggots that she produced in quick order, walking a couple steps, pooping out a maggot, then walking a little bit more and repeating the birthing. The adult flies were faintly white-striped on their thorax and had the normal red fly eyes. Nothing else distinguished them except their wonderful birthing behavior. The little maggots took off out of their mother's butt like little dynamos, crawling like maggots do through the liquid stool and scarfing it up, no doubt. It would be interesting to know how quickly they grow to pupation and metamorphosis. Obviously this is a wonderful adaptation in the fly for quickly colonizing a good food source for your young, so that they more quickly can get fed and pupate before something bigger gets the dinner—including your young. This behavior in some dipterans may be common, but I have never heard of it. I am no entomologist, but watching the birth of a live and active maggot from the rear end of its mother was quite an interesting way to spend a few minutes. I'll definitely ask some entomologist friends about this when I am back in Tallahassee .

Jim was loathe to leave, so I pressured him into letting me take the video camera back to our camp. This left him with only one load to bring. I walked back uphill to camp alone. Walking upstream on the streambed bedrock is quite tolerable, but hiking through muskeg-like bog is taxing on the legs. By 10:00 a.m. I had not received a phone call from anybody, so I turned off the satellite phone because the battery was running down.

I waited in camp for a couple hours, knowing that Jim was having a good time getting some awesome photographs. I figured one of us had to stay put to deal with Raul whenever he showed up in the helicopter. Time passed and then about 1:00 p.m. Jim came in hungry. I fixed us a hot lunch and we sat pondering what to do. All day the weather did what it has been doing all the time we have been here: clouds building, mists forming, rain falling briefly, and then the sun popping out just as quickly. We knew that if Raul was in Yunek with the Germans, he would wait for the best opportunity in the weather to quickly deposit them on the summit, and then come to take us to another location. And about 2:00 p.m. we were reinforced in this notion when Raul's fixed-wing plane made a quick single flight onto the tepui, came right over us to see what we were doing, wagged his wings, and then flew back down to Yunek. We were SURE he was about to come and get us. Alas, just as he left, however, the clouds began to build again and the weather socked in and it was impossible for him to fly up here.

About 3:30 when nothing else happened, I couldn't wait any longer, so I called my beloved Kathy in Tallahassee and got her right away. I asked her to telephone Raul's office and talk with Karina to see what in hell was happening. About 4:30 p.m. I called back and found out that Raul hadn't come to Yunek in the helicopter at all. He was in Santa Elena. The Germans had been flown to Yunek in the fixed wing plane. I gave Kathy instructions to give to Raul about when to come, but I was left with some nagging questions about what really is going on. It sounds to me like the Germans are only using fixed-wing flights, so we probably won't be able to capitalize on their helicopter usage. I ran the generator and recharged the satellite phone so I can call Raul tonight and try to dope out a plan for our removal to another site on Chimanta.

Meantime, after the last call to Kathy, clouds formed and it began to rain. It was now obvious that I had to re-erect my tent and get my things reorganized for at least a couple of nights more at this site. It's quite all right by us to stay here for several days more, but hanging around camp thinking the helicopter is coming all day, when it is not, is no fun. In contrast with other days in Venezuela prior to today, I took no photographs today but about 200 on each previous day.

1/26/2006

A good night in paradise. It rained a lot early, from darkfall at about 6:45 until I went to sleep about 10:30 p.m. I was afraid that if the rain kept falling hard all night the river might come up and evict me from my tent. Fortunately that didn't happen.

I stayed up trying to make a phone call to Raul to find out about moving from this site to another, but never could get through to him. I think the phone rang at his house, but he wasn't there. Anyway, this morning at 6:30 when I rang him at his house, the phone rang but he still didn't answer. So when I finally reached him on his cell phone, he had left his house and was already at the airport. He told me that in the future I should call him even earlier, from 5:30 to 6:00 a.m.

We had a nice long talk. He said it was him flying the plane that buzzed us yesterday and could see that we were sitting here prepared to be picked up by helicopter. He also said that the Germans were willing to share some of the costs of the helicopter flights when he comes to move them—and us. That probably means that we will pay for one leg of the flight to or from Yunek and then the air time moving us. He said it rained all night in Santa Elena and he was waiting at the airport for the clouds to lift. It has been a very rainy “dry season” so far. He is not scheduled to pick up the Germans until the 29 th or 30 th , several days hence. At that time he will move us. He suggested that I call Kathy and have her email Karina what things we want him to bring us when he comes.

I then did call my beloved, waiting until 6:00 a.m. her time so she would be awake. I timed the call just right. She had just heard the alarm clock a couple minutes earlier. I gave Kathy our list and she will email it to Karina. Then I called Freddy and brought him up-to-date, affirming that Jim and I like him a lot and want him to be associated with at least one of our trips, but that we probably won't be doing another one until the second week in February. He said that was fine and that he would organize getting stuff for us for Raul to bring. Bless him.

We had breakfast in a misty morning. The river was up from yesterday. The sky was so brooding that we felt sure it would rain. I spent an hour photographing the Ololygon sp. treefrog in my tent using natural props of a Brocchinia reducta . Jim came by and said that he had set up the video camera in a nice swamp forest and he wanted me to come and talk to camera about what we are photographing. We filmed several sequences, including explaining what a Bonnetia roraimae swamp is, and the Drosera species up here and how it works to catch insects. While Jim was taking some B-rolls of the Drosera , I took off exploring the Bonnetia swamp. It grows in a little canyon protected from the wind and with much more water seeping into it and flowing through it as a small, swampy stream. In these protected places, the woody plants do best. Of course, under the dense canopy of Bonnetia roraimae , the shade requires a whole suite of plants living in it that can tolerate the lower light conditions. And so, in this forest, I found the ground totally covered with huge tank bromeliads, Brocchinia tatei . I beat down a path through the bromeliads and surprisingly dense undergrowth (especially Didymiandria sedge and Yanomami grass) to a waterfall I could hear coming off the canyon sidewall. Retracing my steps over a couple of hundred yards, I made sure I beat down the ground vegetation so I could find my way along the path at night, for a frog and animal reconnaissance. The little cascade came down over a nearly vertical rocky cliff with a large area of wet rockface. I hope tonight that I can find something interesting on it.

Then we went to camp and I fixed us a light lunch (one-half pack of Mountain House freeze-dried food for two). Jim then began video-filming the treefrog in a Brocchinia reducta and I found some lovely caterpillars that he also filmed. While he was doing that, I got an idea.

Because I was so fascinated by the fly that laid larvae instead of eggs, I walked out in the middle of the wide stream and found a low rock pillar that I could sit on comfortably with my 105 mm macro lens posed. Then I took a wet bowel movement on one end of the rock and, when finished, I positioned myself on the other end and waited…for shit flies, of course! Not a minute passed before here comes a female of the species I was interested in. I got positioned and BAM! She performed just as I wished. She laid six larvae and left. I got several shots of her with my 4X close-up attachment on the macro lens. Shortly another fly came by and performed for me, too. Then another, and another. Before an hour was up I had taken about 50 shots of female flies laying live larvae. I also photographed another, slightly bigger fly, that looked very much like the species that lays larvae, but seems darker and did not lay eggs, only ate shit! There were about half a dozen of this larger species. Jim came over to see what in the world I was doing and got grossed out. We had about five minutes of unabated laughter. What fun.

At 3:30 p.m. we hiked uphill on the far side of the river through the pillars of stone, and down onto the large wet flat I found a couple of days ago. There we filmed me talking about carnivorous plants using Utricularia humboldtii and Genlisea sp. as models. We finished by filming me talking about Chimantaea species, using C. humilis growing in the bog and C. similis , growing out of rocks. The light on the bog and surrounding tepui cliffs was spectacular this afternoon as the sun lowered in the western sky. I left Jim there at sunset while I carried half of his gear back to camp and made supper. He hadn't shown up when it was getting quite late, so I returned to the rock pillars and found him struggling along slowly. One of the problems we have is that Jim brought every damned camera he owns and wants to have them all and two tripods out every time we shoot. This puts pressure on me to help him carry all his gear, but I didn't come here to be his baggage lackey.

The skies cleared this afternoon for the first time since we have been at Acopan Camp. We sat in the twilight eating supper (and fighting off mosquitoes!) and hoping that it would be as clear in the morning. Jim was optimistic, but I said I'd bet that we would get some rain in the night, even if it is clear in the morning. Guess what? I was right.

About 7:00 p.m. I stole off into the dark night (no moon, broken clouds with Orion showing through occasionally) and found my way to the path in the dank Bonnetia roraimae forest that I made earlier. I carefully stepped, stopped, searched by headlight, and progressed, looking for animal life in the bushes and on the ground. I looked and looked. To my disappointment and utter amazement, I saw no frogs coming and going, nor at the cascade. Moreover, I saw NO spiders or spider-eyeshines, the most common reflections one gets during night-time headlight prowling. I saw no insects of any kind except a very few little moths and a rare mosquito. The bromeliads were barren of life except an elongate snail that seemed to graze the leaves or the crud in the axils. And no spider webs at all.

Something is quite significantly different, ecologically, hereabouts. The absence, or extreme rarity, of insects or insects that eat insects (spiders) indicates that the invertebrate portion of the local food web is missing or at least strongly truncated. I have never seen this before anywhere else, and certainly not expected in a in a place so rich in plant life. The plants form the basis of all terrestrial ecosystems, and then the herbivores are the most important consumer part of the food webs. And yet it appears after many days of observing this place, that the invertebrate portion of the food web is tremendously reduced below what one normally finds almost anywhere else. Why?

The only thing I can think of is plant carnivory. This place is totally vegetated by ground-dwelling insectivorous plants such as Heliamphora minor and the two Brocchinias. The latter, by themselves, would not account for the missing invertebrates, but the sun pitchers sure could. They occur over the landscape in the tens of thousands. And if the sun pitchers don't get them, the sundews just might. Drosera plants are even more common all over the ground than the sun pitchers. Maybe a poor beetle or spider just gets caught in the pitchers or sundews and is unable to form large populations on the ground. Surprisingly, though, there also seems to be a dearth of invertebrates in the arboreal habitats, so far as I can tell.

I dragged back to camp dismayed at my lack of sightings of any kind of animals at all. I was particularly watchful for spider eyes because in many places spiders form the largest component of the insectivore food web. I saw NONE at all!!!!

1/27/2006

We had a short rain overnight, but when first light shone about 5:15 a.m. , the skies were pretty much clear. This meant we would have spectacular light on the few clouds up here, so we jumped up and got our cameras positioned on tripods for the coming show. And it was beautiful. We both shot off a dozen or more images, and then Jim went down-canyon to set up for the light show on the southern cliff face of Churi Tepui across Yunek River Canyon . I stayed in camp and fired up the generator to recharge batteries and the laptop. The laptop sucks down its charge more quickly than I like and takes about an hour and a half with this generator to recharge. We brought about three gallons of gasoline with us, but it won't last the total time up here. I have asked Raul to bring more gasoline when he comes to move us on the 29 th , two days hence. Now for some brekky.

7;35 a.m. I fixed myself a packet of instant oatmeal and then did a naughty thing. I sneaked the satellite phone and called my beloved Kathy just to tell her I love her. I caught her in the shower, but I hope the thought counted. Oh what a life I lead. A month or so ago I was grousing in my daily journal about being slightly depressed. Well, I suppose the reason was that I had been in Tallahassee for some months without traveling or doing something wild and adventuresome. And now that I am doing so, I am happy as a fly on you-know-what. I've had a fantastic life and am looking forward to much more of it. Later this morning, after the batteries get charged, I am going off towards the west to see if I can find a way into the next valley, a larger one than the one I am camped in. That should take the day and give me some more exercise and uplifting things to see and photograph.

7:00 p.m . I'm snuggled in my tent after a physically hard, but exhilarating, day on Acopan Tepui. I stayed in camp until 9:00 a.m. charging camera batteries, the satellite phone, and the laptop. Then I turned off the generator and got my dry-bag packsack, tripod, camera and photographic paraphernalia and headed off west for the pinnacles and beyond. Several days ago, I pioneered a trail across our wide creek, across a herbaceous seepage bog of about 15 acres, and uphill through rock pillars to the summit of a low ridge. Beyond the ridge and downhill to the south lies the big wet flat in which I discovered Chimantaea humilis. The ridge, however, runs further west and rises, the rocky ridge becoming more and more a labyrinth of 10-, 15-, and 20-foot high rocky, knifelike, ridges and pillars that are difficult to walk through because of the narrow passageways between the ridges and the sometimes very dense woody vegetation that grows in the crevasses between the rock pillars.

I had a difficult time ascending the ridge. First, because as I walked further in the seepage bog along the toe of the ridge, the going got boggier and second, because the vegetation got denser. Eventually, I made it to a place where I thought I could climb to the summit of the ridge, which at this point had become a large plateau fringed by cliffs. My first attempt was a disaster. I got halfway up through tortuous passageways between the rocky walls and could not make the final ascent without a technical climb. So I backtracked and walked further west along the escarpment until I saw what looked like a better way up. It was tough, however, because of deep crevasses in the rocky ridges and slippery bog vegetation growing on the cliff face. This pathway was where water on the summit sheet flows down the very cliff face I was trying to get up. Anyway, after much clamboring among rocks and wet, slick vegetation, I finally pulled myself up. The summit was rewarding.

Tepui landscapes are largely either vertical or horizontal, or if sloping, full of giant, squarish blocks of indurated (hard) sandstone talus that is difficult to climb through. The summit was flat with pinnacles of uneroded rock here and there, some like lone sentinels standing a few feet tall to ten or even twenty feet tall, and in all shapes and sizes. The flat places are a mixture of bedrock with pools of shallow water, some dry spots, and peaty bog vegetation that has built up in some of the cracks and fissures in the rock. I walked all over the plateau, which I estimate was about five acres in areal extent. At the west end I could see well into Acopan's interior, but rolling landscape and vegetation kept me from seeing the bed of a larger creek than that on which we are camped. I might have walked there if I could have seen it, but the distances up here will fool you. Besides, the rough, rocky terrain was more formidable than that which I had just punched my way through.

To the south I could see that the big wet flat continues between the rocky ridge I was on top of and the five hundred to maybe a thousand feet high vertical cliffs of the far valley sidewall. I could see a branch of our creek coming out of a large perched valley beyond the cliff face, and that the main branch of our creek continues west gently inclining to a bench, beyond which water flows in the other direction. I took lots of photographs of the scenery and vegetation.

To the north I could see down into the humongous valley that has been eroded by the Yunek River , and the one- to two-thousand-feet high vertical cliffs of Churi Tepui beyond. These cliffs form the northern valley sidewall of the Yunek River . My view east was across the landscape in which my little creek flows, making a 90° turn out of the wet flat I see to the north. I lounged on the summit a while, enjoying the scenery and the remoteness. I could die up here and nobody would ever know what happened to me. Jim was a mile or more away and had no clue where I was. This is not a problem, however, because I am often on such treks all alone, so I'm used to being totally incommunicado. Besides, I can't imagine better places to make my final repose than some of the lovely wildernesses I've been privileged to wander in, especially in the Guayana Highlands.

I had a more difficult time getting down off the plateau because I butt-headedly tried to descend by walking closer to camp on the pavement of the summit. I had to descend into some deep rocky crevasses and fight woody shrubs for about 30 minutes. In two places I dropped my backpack and tripod down about 20 feet into some bushes and then leveraged my body down between rock walls and unsure footing. I had to balance on thin rock ridges by walking down their lengths, then jumping a few feet from one to the other over deep rock crevasses. I've got to admit, though, I felt hearty and hale this morning and was chuckling to myself that I can still do these things at almost 65. Friends and family would probably s__t if they knew what I was doing.

I got back to camp a little after noon , feeling good about my three-hour rock-climbing adventure. Jim was not in camp and I knew he was half a mile away down river at the cliffs off of which it plunges. I did a few camp chores such as washing out my socks and dirty clothes and laying them on the black rocks to dry. Then I cooked up a Mountain House meal and had a bright idea. I would take Jim a cooked meal and see just how deep the water is in the long, deep, dark portion of our creek we have had to bypass. In my tent I removed all my valuables from my pockets, made sure I had on only trousers, shirt, boots, and hat, then placed Jim's meal and my camera, a lens, and flashcards into a dry bag and sealed it up. I walked downstream and immersed myself in the deep, black waters.

This part of the creek runs very sluggishly over a flat stretch of about 200 yards. The creek makes a couple of obtuse bends and is deep, deep, deep. At first it turned sharply to the right and I found the water well over my head. The river flowed under low hanging branches of some small shrubs and trees that almost touched the water. I worked my way under them in the deep shade, never finding bottom with my feet. Deep tannic stained water looks almost black and it foams up. Under the canopy of brush the water had a layer of white foam across it. I noticed some straight lines running through it, then I remembered that I have seen this before. The lines were the swimming traces of Neusticurus rudis , an aquatic lizard that lives in tepui streams. As I bobbed along, I think I saw one plunge into the water ahead of me.

Had I not been holding the drybag above water to be sure to keep water off of my valuable camera, I would have had an easier—and safer—time of it. As it happened, holding my hand and bag out of water caused my head to submerge. I had on my eyeglasses and Tilley hat, which got tangled in the overhanging brush. I soon realized that I could lose my glasses in the inky water and be without them for the remainder of the trip, a real disaster that must be avoided at all cost. Holding on to a branch, I took off my glasses and put them into a shirt pocket that zips shut. Then I began moving downstream by grabbing any overhanging vegetation I could grasp. Problem was that the bank was undercut and I couldn't find a purchase for my feet even on any bank sides.

Well, this is what I wanted to find out: just what was it like in the sluggish waters of creeks up on Chimanta Massif when they run slow and sluggish down linear fault lines in the sandstone, many such creeks of which I saw by helicopter and fixed-wing flyovers. This creek is more than six feet, four inches deep for its whole length! I couldn't hold my breath and sound it deeper because of the valuables in my hand. The banks are undercut, and the bankside vegetation is immensely dense. Eventually I made it all the way downstream and was damned glad it was over because I was tiring of the hassle of keeping the dry bag out of the water. Had I not taken it, the trip would have been a more pleasant, and safer, swim. I must say, though, the cold water (and it WAS cold at 6400 feet elevation) really pepped me up. I felt like a million dollars when I got out. I walked down the rest of the creek in and out of deep parts with reckless abandon, since I was already soaked and had been through the worst of it.

I reached Jim about 1:30 p.m. and he was overcome with gratitude for the meal, no longer hot since it was in the bottom of the bag and that was the part that often touched the cold waters of the creek. As I neared him, I played a dirty prank on him. The wide creek bed often has deep linear pools because of faults in the bedrock. Right near the edge of where the water plunges over the cliff was a six-foot wide, six-feet deep such linear cleft with dark, tea-stained water. Jim stood in about two inches of water that flowed over the flat ledge at the edge of the plunge. He turned away from my approach to check the sunlight on the valley he was photographing, so I made a huge splash and cried out like I had slipped and fallen into deep water. It shocked him so badly—and he made a beeline to help me—that the joke was on me. I had to holler, “It's only a joke, Jim, I'm OK!” Until I got out of the water he was unaware that I had been ottering down the river in my clothes. The meal and a drink I brought him made up for my mischief.

Standing in soaked clothes on top of the wide falls and looking down into the vast canyon below, I got the exploration bug again. I could see that, in staircase fashion, the river cascaded down several levels of the escarpment that we stood on top of. To the left and right I had already found the cliff too precipitous to attempt without technical climbing gear, but I had not done a thorough search of ways down to the next level. While Jim was waiting on the sun, I slinked off into the woods to the north and found a way, with the river roaring below me, to jump across a deep crevasse onto rocks that allowed me to step out and get a view backward to the cascade we stood on the top of. I took my camera in the dry bag just in case I could get some good photographic vantage points.

Soon I found that I could hop from pillar top to pillar top, and let myself down and then back up by leveraging my body. Eventually, I found myself about 30 feet out from the escarpment on top of a group of pillars. I studied the spaces between the pillars and soon found a tight squeeze that would let me halfway down. I wriggled my body down into the squeeze, then saw that I could leverage my arms and legs against rock and make it to a wide shelf of sandstone at the bottom of our cascade. The only problem was that I might have some difficulty getting back up into the crevasse, having to elevate myself up sheer rock about eight feet to reach it. I thought to myself that I would find a way, so I dropped down onto the ledge and walked out onto the sandstone shelf and got a beautiful view of the cascade coming down over the broad rim of the streambed.

From there I took off downstream and descended several more terraces, each with their own beautiful cascade plunging over the horizontal sandstone sedimentary layers. Finally, I made it to the final plunge of the river, this time down a dangerous vertical drop of at least one hundred feet and I was unable to go any further. Besides, this last drop fell into a deep, longitudinal canyon that our little river was only a small tributary to. This canyon is one of the fractures in the sandstone that the upper Yunek River has eroded down into, with canyon walls only tens of feet wide and no telling how much impassible boulder rubble choking the bottom, as well as the raging torrent of water passing through it. And dark was soon to come visiting.

I was satisfied with my exploration and took a lot of photographs going back up the series of wide cascades. By the way, the width of the cascades is truly amazing. From one fixed bank to the other the distance was one to two hundred feet, while the water flowed in sheets mostly several inches deep. Running perpendicularly across the stream bed, however, were deep cracks full of deep water often over my head. These cracks were usually too wide to jump over, so I had to walk zig-zag up the creek bed to find narrow passages, and shallow ones. All in all it was a fantastic afternoon.

My most dangerous moment was trying to leverage my body back up into the rock crevasse that I had dropped out of. As I suspected, it was difficult. I studied the rock walls before me intently, thinking about a plan. I found some slippery handholds, but was glad for one really good foothold about four feet up. Using my body to wedge itself between rock walls, I heisted myself five feet above the starting point, but then had to go upwards into the crevasse while at the same time moving my entire body around the proximate corner of the two pillars I was trying to squeeze between. I held my breath, looked down to see what to do if I fell (very rocky below), and I inched my body left to right while my arms were outstretched hugging the rocky corner. This was the moment of truth. When my torso inched around into the opening of the crevasse, I was able to quickly shift my right leg to the right and found solid ground on top of a boulder wedged at the bottom of the crevasse. From there it was a matter of using my arms, legs, and body to leverage myself between rock walls into the crevasse, and then to wriggle up the crevasse wedging myself upward. Eventually I made it and found Jim waiting with trepidation in the forest I had jumped out of onto the pillars. I made a loud scream as I catapaulted myself across the torrent in the narrow canyon between me and Jim and surprised him as I climbed up into the woods with a big grin on my face.

I was hot and tired from my labors, plus helping Jim carry his heavy gear back to camp. When we got to where the stream came out of the woods after its 200-yard deep, sluggish run, I got an idea. I told Jim to set up the video camera and I would come swimming into view explaining about the depth of the stream and its bankside vegetation. We videotaped two sequences of me doing this. The water was cold and the banks were undercut, as I noted before. I was unable to climb out of the stream because I had no place to put my feet and the grasses and sedges gave away when I pulled on them. I dove down feet first to show the depth as my outstretched hands disappeared underwater. I was amazed that I never touched bottom. I would really like to know just how deep these sluggish blackwater stretches get.

The cold swims were completely rejuvenating. When I got out of the water, I had no more sore muscles or joints. I literally bounded through the bog en route to camp. By the time the sun was ready to set at about 6:30 p.m. my thin nylon clothes were all dry except for my booted feet.

1/28/2006

Today was another humdinger. It was misty and rainy when first light came and continued so for an hour or more afterward, so we stayed in our tents. I got up first and made brekky of hot oatmeal, then the skies began to clear and it looked like we might have at least a couple hours in the morning with sunlight. Usually we have mists and fine rain.

We decided to film the huge bladders of the largest carnivorous bladderwort in existence, Utricularia humboldtii , but alas! I had left the plastic bag in which I had collected a handful of the bladders up in the wet flat beyond the pinnacle rocks. I took off at 9:00 a.m. to retrieve the bag. Jim hollered, “Aren't you going to take your camera?” I replied that I was only going to get the bag and get right back, and if I dragged the tripod and camera along, they would hold me up.

I got to the site in quick order, after about fifteen minutes of walking. Then, since the morning was so fine, I looked east down the large wet flat and decided to try to walk back to camp around the end of the ridge that terminated at the creek, which bent at right angles around it. We hadn't gone up the creek past the promontory of the ridge because the creek became deep and inky black, no doubt over my head. But something else was enticing me to see what it looked like over there. Across the creek was a gently, upwardly inclined low-vegetation seepage bog that went up the bottom of a deep canyon with five hundred foot tall cliffs on the north side and thousand-foot cliffs on the south.

When I got to the black creek, I was delighted to see that where I encountered it was several hundred yards above where we had turned back—and it had a walkable rocky bottom. I crossed the creek and made my way up into the long bog and into the canyon. Most days I had seen huge clouds and mists billowing out of the canyon, giving me the impression that the canyon terminated at the main escarpment wall of Acopan Tepui, dropping four thousand feet to the plains of La Gran Sabana below. I was curious to see if I could find a vantage point through which I could get a look off the tepui.

The walk became a struggle. I reached a low drainage divide, ever so gentle, but still perceptible and then began encountering woody, brushy vegetation. Walking in a bog full of clumpy plants is very tiring to begin with. Your footing is unsteady by stepping on tufts of plants, and then in between the plants the ground is mushy and sometimes your foot sinks to the ankles in wet peat. Add to that twisty, procumbent stems of woody plants and you have a tiring agony for walking.

As I progressed, I saw more and more plants and scenery that I wished I had my camera to photograph. I should have known that if I didn't take the camera, I would have need of it. The going got brushier and brushier. I began to think about turning back, but huge breakdown boulders the size of two-, three-, and four-story buildings laid along the eastern valley sidewall ahead of me, so I thought I might find one to climb so I could see further down the canyon, and maybe out into the valley 4,000 feet below. When I got abreast of the first huge squarish block of breakdown, I was clearly not able to climb its vertical sides. Then I spied a smaller rock, the size of a two-story house, in the middle of the canyon beyond, so I made for it.

When I finally got to the rock, it had a nice plant community on top of it, but it was a large, squarish block that was sitting on top of some other rock rubble and had overhangs all around it. I found one tree that I tried to climb that would have let me onto one edge of the big rock, but the tree felt like it was giving away, so I aborted the climb halfway up. Then I found some enchanting spaces underneath this almost giant balanced rock. I walked under one end of it that was 20 feet high from the dry ground to the ceiling and when I looked up, I could see what appeared to be ripples in the sand of a shallow lake bottom. Of course, I was looking at the ancient ripples formed when a layer of sandstone was wave-washed 1.6 BILLION years ago. This rock shelter was really cozy, never getting any rain, with the only dust I have seen in days on the dry floor. The room it made was like a small warehouse, at least 2000 square feet of floor space. I found some great ferns growing in the shade, and then got the idea to come back and get the photographs I failed to take.

I got back to camp at 11:30 a.m. . Jim wondered where in heck I had gone. I was bushed, but told him we had to go back. I said that we should take the video camera and the camp stove and I would make our lunch in the rock shelter. En route, we detoured. I showed Jim the deep black creek with foamy water that I had crossed earlier in the morning, so we decided to do another blackwater stream video sequence if I were to come slowly swimming around the bend talking about the depth of the water and explaining the bankside vegetation. It took me a while to walk upstream, since the streamside vegetation was so thick, but I got way upstream and then jumped into the chilling water fully clothed. Since I am wet in the mists, wet vegetation, and stream all day, anyway, it really didn't matter if I got my clothes wet and besides, it gives me a bath and the clothes a gentle washing. Again, I found this part of the stream also to be so deep that when I tried to sound it by diving feet first, I never touched bottom after about 8 or 9 feet deep. Because of technical difficulties with the video camera, I had to swim the stream twice, but I was once again totally refreshed by the cold waters by the time I was finished.

We hiked in rare full sunlight through the bog en route to the rock shelter, and we got very hot and tired. I took some photographs of a lovely small tree, Schefflera chimantensis , some orchids, and other plants. Jim fell back some distance so I waited on him to move to the rock shelter a little at a time. When we got to the rock shelter, I fixed us a hot lunch as I promised. There were some great flat rocks projecting from the dirt under the shelter rock, which made for great seats and a table on which to use the Whisperjet stove. Jim filmed for quite a while and I narrated some things about the geology of tepuis. We got some spectacular shots of the vertical cliffs on both canyon walls in late afternoon sunlight, then I hefted Jim's heavy video camera backpack and hauled it back to camp for him.

We got back to camp at 4:00 , totally bushed from our unsteady walking in bog vegetation. It would not have been so tiring had it been on hard ground or even in the rocky stream bed. I tore off my sweaty clothes, grabbed a bar of soap, and took a delicious medicinal bath in cold water, washing out my clothes at the same time. I laid them out on the bare warm bedrock of dry parts of the streambed and then had a sip of rum. It went down smoothly and gave me a nice warm feeling of relaxation. Rarely has a shot of booze felt so good internally as the alcohol ran into my veins.

I cooked us some freeze-dried chicken teriyaki and crawled into my tent just as a few pesky mozzies came out at twilight.

1/29/2006

7:15 a.m. Rain fell all night and comes down as I write this. Some very hard showers periodically. Rain began falling about 9:00 p.m. last night. When I heard a break in it, I got out in the cool night air and moved all the camp paraphernalia (my clothes, Whisperjet stove, pot, bowls, spoons, etc.) up onto high ground just in case the river came up high enough. Flotsam in the bushes on the banks indicates that this stream is a real torrent that would flood my tent totally down canyon if a real flash flood happened—which obviously does take place now and then.

I called Raul at his home by satellite phone at 10:30 p.m. , waking him, and had a chat about what to do. He said that the German botanists had not called him so he wouldn't be coming to move us today, the 29 th , but tomorrow, the 30 th . He affirmed that he would bring us a working generator. Our generator would not start up yesterday afternoon, and this morning it still won't. We must have a generator, otherwise our time on any tepui is worthless since our main mission is to get photographs, do some videotaping, and I need to recharge this laptop so I can write my journal. Actually, I do make entries in my paper journal when the laptop is out of battery power. In fact, half of 1/28/2006 is transcribed from my paper journal into a computer file because my laptop was out of juice last night. And I transcribed this day's entry later, too.

Just to be sure I heard the final word from Raul, I called him again this morning at 6:45 a.m. , in case the Germans had reached him overnight. They had not, and so the plan for our removal to another site remains tomorrow. I then called Freddy who is still in Santa Elena and asked him if he could arrange (or have Karina do it) to have Raul bring us two barbecued chickens! We are so starved for meat. Anyway, we are down to two bags of Mountain House food packs for today and a bunch of oatmeal packets. I really am not worried about being low—or out—of food. We could coast (our bodies could) easily a week with very little and we have abundant water. We should now try to be relatively inactive physically, so as not to burn off too many calories. I'm pleased that my body feels like I have lost possibly ten or more pounds already this trip, but I still have a good ten pounds of fat around my waist that I‘d love to lose. Maybe starvation will do the trick!! Haw.

So far the satellite phone is still holding a charge. This is crucial to our survival because it's the only way we have of arranging our extraction off of Acopan Tepui. We would have an almost impossible time trying to walk off of this tepui. The only way off for us is down the Yunek Valley but it is deeply entrenched with deep river-cut canyons that have high, narrow cliffs that we would have to descend. And then the canyon bottoms are littered with huge rocky breakdown that we would have to do technical climbs to get over. If the helicopter were to become unavailable for weeks….

Today is the 9 th day we have spent at this one location on Acopan Tepui. We have probably been here three days too long, but we are trying to make the best use of the helicopter costs. So, all I want to do just now is lie in my tent, read, and write. Unfortunately, Jim is antsy and is searching for ways to occupy his time. He wants to do some filming today because that is what he does best, but we're not sure the weather will permit any attempt. So far this morning (to 10:30 a.m. ) it is the worst weather day we'v e had.

12:30 p.m . The most abundant insect up here may have had a tremendous ecological impact. It is the introduced honeybee, Apis mellifera , which is now Africanized. I wonder what effect this alien insect has had on native pollinators. A bee fell into my cup of water when I was not looking and stung me on the roof of my mouth when I sipped it in. I had to work carefully with a grass stem to dislodge the stinger and its two venom glands. I'd hate to encounter a hive or a swarm of these little devils. Because they are now Africanized throughout South America , they might be unusually aggressive and even dangerous.

3:20 p.m . It stopped raining about 1:30 p.m. I had taken a nap when Jim awakened me with a bowl of cold oatmeal. We are down to two bags of Mountain House freeze-dried food and will split one each today and tomorrow. It could happen that we might get weathered in here for another day or two and our rations then would be slim. “We video-filmed the large bladders of Utricularia humboldtii and a scene out in our now roaring creek of a rock crevice with ferns growing out of it. I then walked upslope through the short vegetation bog to rock pillars that are the continuation of the pillars on the far side of the creek that we have spent some time in. There I found some small patches of Chimantaea either huberi or acopanensis .

1/30/2006

I woke Raul this morning at 5:45 a.m. to learn whether he was going to fly me and Jim to another part of the Chimanta massif and bring us much needed food and a generator. He was asleep, and took a minute to get lucid, but he basically told me that the damned Germans had decided to stay another day or a day and a half. That would put us in a difficult position because we are out of batteries, have no way to charge them—or the satellite phone—and are out of food. So he said he would make the trip and move us sometime around noon , if the weather permits.

We sat around in good weather overhead all morning, but we could see clouds hanging on the highest parts of Acopan and Churi, so we figured that the helicopter wouldn't come until the heights cleared. We packed up camp and sat on the bedrock of the creek and waited…and waited, etc. We ate a brief meal at about 8:00 a.m. of a packet of oatmeal each, but were ravenous by noon . Finally, at 12:30 the chopper arrived with our friend, Freddy, and piloted by another man. Jim and I flew north across the giant Rio Tirika canyon to the main part of Chimanta. A magnificent double waterfall drops maybe 500 to 1000 feet into the canyon on its north side, and we proceeded upriver from it. We flew past another glorious waterfall of a hundred feet or more—the site at which Raul once suggested we be set down—but we ventured further upstream because we would have been trapped in a box canyon we couldn't get out of had we been put down at the base of the waterfall.

Then, soon I saw a nice, broad cascade up the river in a wide, gentle valley and I suggested that was the place we be situated. First, though, we had the pilot fly us around in the vicinity to see the lay of the land and take photos. Migod, it was magnificent. Up the stream it makes some sharp angle turns, following fractures in the bedrock. We flew over some of its course and got some aerial photos of it and the valleys and landscape. And then I had the pilot put us down on the edge of the cascade. We arrived at 1:30 and began preparing our camp.

First, though, we sat down on a beautiful overlook of the cascade and devoured a whole roasted chicken that Freddy brought to us. It was delicious, not having any meat for 12 days. We downed it in quick order, and I used some of the chicken fat on the top of my poor hands, which have been sunburned unmercifully.

After the helicopter dropped us off with a little of our gear, it had to ferry the rest of the gear in another flight. Soon it came accompanied by Freddy, who has done us many favors. As he was about to depart, I pressed a $100 bill into his hand for all the expense he has gone to. He was reluctant to take it, but yielded to my insistence.

It took us quite a while to decide where to set up our tents. At first we tried to find an overlook on the massive cascade, but we would have been too far from water for cooking and drinking. Also, I discovered that the falling water either makes some of the rocks hum or the sound of the falling waters reverberates off the canyon walls in such a way that it makes a low-frequency humming sound that annoyed me. So I set up my tent about 75 yards away on a flat reach of bedrock and Jim found a place next to the river—and the hum. The hum sounds like a machine groaning away.

The best part of my day was at about 4:00 p.m. when I took up tripod and walked up the broad, shallow valley we are situated in. I got all our batteries and laptop recharging on the little Honda generator that Raul supplied—and which works— and then I mosied out into the flats. Immediately I was struck by how much water affects the vegetation. The ground, unless bare rock, is ALL covered in a slippery peat under whatever vegetation is growing on it. I walked in a true wet flat, at first dominated by a new plant, Bonnetia multinervia . This is a nice plant with thick stems and a burst of sclerophyllous leaves whorled around the top of each thick stem. The leaves end in a pointed tip and their margins are outlined in reddish color. It is quite a lovely plant, growing in large aggregations. I haven't seen the flower yet, but it surely must be beautiful as are most flowers of the tea family, Theaceae.

Beyond the B. mulitnervia zone, I walked into a large expanse of very low vegetation dominated by Stegolepis ligulata , a small, strap-leaved plant whose leaves are ranked like a hand, that is, all the leaves clasp each other in a semi-circle. In this plant, the tops of leaves die and fall off, leaving the base of each leaf intact and assisting in making a sort of short, stiff fan that is crunchy to step on. It resists one's footfall sufficiently to cause walking to be a little dicey because your ankles are continuously having to accommodate to the deflection of one's foot off of each clump of S. ligulata as one walks. S. ligulata is a Chimanta Massif endemic and one of the most abundant plants here and on Acopan.

I found some large aggregations of Heliamphora minor , the sun pitcher plant, and then looked up and my heart stopped. My eyes fell upon one of the most wonderful biological sights I ever beheld. Rank upon rank, like soldiers lined up for battle, stood a phalanx of Chimantaea mirabilis , one of the Chimantaeas that stand six to eight feet tall and look for all the world like Dr. Seuss had imagined them. The valley was completely filled with thousands of these wonderful plants as far as my eyes could see. I walked into their ranks and began photographing as fast as I could. The sun came out briefly and gave me some splendid late afternoon light.

When the sun became dimmed behind a cloud, I walked to the upper edge of the wet flat (which the C. mirabilis occupied) against an escarpment of sandstone and found a large boulder that I climbed on top of and took some panorama photos of the myriad C. mirabilis plants in the valley below. They are magnificent, and populate the valley all the way to its head at the foot of stone-walled escarpments. A wide, gentle-sloped valley filled with tall, floppy-headed Chimantaea mirabilis has got to be one of the most impressive plant visions I've seen in the world. It would be the plant version of the massive wildebeest migrations in Africa . Strangely, I don't understand why C. mirabilis doesn't fill up the whole valley because the gradient from where it stops and our camp superficially appears to be the same gentle wet flat.

Behind me and uphill I saw some wonderful silhouettes of rock animals (erosional pediments) and took a few photos with the waning daylight behind them and some lovely skies and clouds. Then I walked back to camp and asked Jim, “When did the helicopter crash and we die today? I don't remember it. Obviously we died and went to heaven, since I have been walking around in it.” When I told him about the Chimantaea mirabilis , he understood the look of wonder on my face. Night fell and the temperature was definitely somewhat colder than on Acopan since we are about 1,000 feet higher in altitude, at about 7,400 feet elevation. The coordinates of our camp are N05° 18' 27.0” X W62° 11' 46.3”.

I heated water for some Mountain House packets of new food varieties and we chowed down. We now also have a new bottle of rum, so we had a nip and saluted ourselves for our good fortunes.

1/31/2006

I slept harder last night than any night in the past two weeks. The temperature is about ten degrees colder up here and the wind blows all night. About 6:30 a.m. Jim came to my tent all fired up and woke me. He wanted me to call Raul on the satellite phone and tell Raul when he comes to move the Germans today, to stop by here and pick us up for an hour of flying around and taking aerial photographs of this marvelous tepui. I was sorry that I had to throw cold water on his idea. Last night I calculated approximately what we owe Raul. I showed Jim that I have exactly $6100 on me to pay for our expenses in Venezuela , but we already owe Raul about $6900! He charges $300/hour for fixed-wing flights and $850/hour for helicopter flights. We are already over-budget! I told Jim that we might even have to cut our expedition short, since our grant monies are gone—and I certainly don't have the personal money to donate to furthering the project. Neither does he. Our best use of our time is to stay put and walk the tepui out as much as we can because we have our food, water, and equipment. Staying up here is not costing us a dime, whereas if we leave we will incur hotel, food, and transportation costs. We came here to photograph and enjoy the magnificent ambience of tepuis, not to get ourselves so deep in debt that trying to pay for it later will spoil the memories of the trip.

He was depressed to hear that news, but daylight was waxing, so I got up, dressed and we hot-footed it up the valley to photograph the Chimantaea mirabilis in warm, early light. I got there in time, climbed a very big and high rock, set up my camera on the tripod, and shot off about 50 images. Jim came up later and got more images. He had been photographing the valley en route to the Chimantaea mirabilis grove. And the valley was spectacular in early morning light. We got back to camp at 9:00 a.m. and I heated up some water for oatmeal. We also had a protein drink made from some special protein mix Jim has.

I took care of some camp chores, and then got my camera system and tripod and walked over to the huge cascade. Jim was nowhere to be found, so I waded out onto the rocks at the top of the falls and found a way down to the first level below the top of the cascade. The going was very slippery and I had to take each step with special care. One slip and I could twist an ankle, break a bone, or worse: fall into the raging water and be swept to my death.

At the first level below the top of four cascades, I got out to the edge of the next fall and took photos back at the cascades I had descended. Then I got some great views down-canyon and walked back and forth for about 150 yards from one side of the cascades to the other looking for a way down to the next level, about 50 feet below the level I was on. This level terminated in rock promontories and the next cascades fell as a series of small waterfalls to beautiful plunge pools below. Eventually I found my way down a steep declivity. I leveraged my arms and legs against rock walls to lower my body down. The next level was even more spectacular than the first. I got photographs of all the falls and, interestingly, noted that the river splits and runs off like a Y, down the same canyon, but along each side of it. The left side was an open canyon, with water rushing and tumbling over large boulders, and many deep pools in between.

The half of the river that flows down the right hand side of the canyon did something amazing. It flows for about 150 yards in a deep, black lagoon (remember, tepui waters are always heavily tea-stained with organic acids) to a huge swallow hole into which it disappears with a huge roar at a small box canyon. What's really beautiful and spectacular to see is that the water is funneled into a long, deep linear crack in the sandstone bedrock. The crack is only about ten feet wide, but narrower at both its origin and terminus. I was able to spread my legs across the abyss, set up my tripod, and take photos of the water plunging into the deep. One fall, of course, and I would have been sucked into the bowels of the earth. But I got some spectacular photographs and the thrill was worth it.

Next I saw short-vegetation hillside seepage bogs leading up the western valley sidewall, so I began to climb. Eventually I got to a flat bench and walked downstream a few hundred yards, then climbed up on some rock pinnacles and was able to work my way over to the edge of the river's main canyon. By now I was downriver from where the water should have come out of the small box canyon where half the river went underground. The river valley bottom was 300 or more feet below me, and I could not see any place in the rock walls of the canyon bottom where the water emerged. I got some great photos of the canyon, its vegetation, and then I worked on the botany of the rocky outcrops on which I was standing.

Among the amazing plants I saw was Bonnetia huberi . I was quite taken aback when I recognized it because it was a bush about the same size of a B. roraimae right next to it. In nature one nearly never finds two closely related species growing together because, over time, one will become better adapted to living conditions and out-compete the other—to the other's exclusion. This is the competitive exclusion principle, and it really works. Either the competitive race for dominance between these two species has not yet been worked out, or, more likely, they do different things and don't compete very strongly. One may actually be better adapted for the drier soil conditions of rocky outcrops and the other for wet soils of swamps, as I think the case might really be. Anyway, B. roraimae has very tiny leaves for a plant, only a few millimeters wide and a centimeter long. B. huberi, on the other hand, has leaves twice or more as large. The habit of the bushes is different, too. B. roraimae is compact with a very tight canopy. B. huberi 's canopy is more open. Visually, the most important difference is that B. roraimae has pink flowers and those of B. huberi are bright yellow and slightly larger.

Where tepui valley sidewalls are eroding, often a series of relatively flat benches are vegetated with short vegetation growing on seepage. Then there are cliffs anywhere from a few feet high to hundreds of feet high. In this valley, the benches and cliffs are arranged in stairstep fashion. Softer sediments must have eroded away under the harder sediments, causing benches and undercut overhangs. I worked my way up several of these alternating benches and cliffs, to the penultimate bench below some cliffs that had been eroded into pillars, the top of which were at the same altitude, but huge crevasses were worn in between them. One might climb one pillar only to be isolated there from the others by chasms of 10s or 100s of feet.

One of the abundant plants here at this locality, which I did not see on Acopan, is a plant that looks somewhat like Bonnetia multinervia . It is smaller but has the same habit of long, thick stems terminating in a whorl of leaves at the tip of each stem. I have been calling this plant in my mind the “spitting plant” because, for some strange reason, it maintains water in the axils of its leaves. Apparently the leaves clasp each other tightly enough at their bases that they hold rainwater. As you walk among these plants touching them, the water spatters on you and you get a good wetting. I have not been able to identify it because, out of literally thousands of plants I have seen, none has been in flower. Then, as I was working my way uphill, BANG! There was an inflorescence growing out of the whorl of leaves of ONE plant among hundreds. It is Adenanthe bicarpellata , in the family Ochnaceae, an uncommon family on tepuis. Interestingly, many plants of several families have converged on the same morphology on tepuis, the whorl of leaves at the terminus of a thick stem. I believe this has much to do with water retention, which many plants of tepuis have dealt with in many ways, one of which is sclerophylly (leathery leaves).

After reaching the highest level that I was able, I was several hundred feet above the level of our camp at the multiple cascades. I decided to try to venture further down the larger canyon by dropping down to a lower bench and trying to follow it parallel with the river. This became difficult because of deep gullies that intersected the bench. I had some difficulty getting through the thick woody brush to achieve the open bench, but the bench was not always flat. I turned back after coming to another brushy climb and a gully that was too deep to cross.

I found it easier to retrace my steps down to the bottom of the canyon and then walk upstream back to the cascade and make my way carefully up the THREE levels of cascades. I got to the tent at 3:00 p.m. and felt the exercise—and the altitude. I spent the rest of the afternoon recharging batteries and my laptop.

Having had nothing to eat all day except a packet of oatmeal about 9:15 a.m. , I was ravenous. I waited until 4:30 and then hollered to Jim that I'd like to have supper early. He was just fine with that. In fact, he told me that twice today he had fallen asleep for half an hour or more in his tent, almost like he had passed out. Jim spent most of the day doing what he does so well, taking spectacular photographs of scenery with his panorama camera and his 4 X 5 camera. So, we greedily devoured the second roasted chicken that I had asked Freddy to bring us, which sat in my tent since yesterday afternoon. I figured the cool mountain atmosphere would keep the cooked bird well enough for us to eat it 24 hours later. It went down about as good as the other—the warm chicken—that we gobbled up yesterday after the chopper let us off.

2/1/2006

Oh what a day. I awoke at first light hearing rain pattering on my tent, so I rolled over and went back to sleep. By 7:00 a.m. it still was misty and overcast, but Jim called me so I got up and we had a power protein shake for brekky. Jim was hopeful that it would clear soon and we could spend the day video filming me talking about the ecology of Chimanta . Unfortunately, the overcast skies and misty light rain continued and did not allow for any photography in early morning light. By 8:00 a.m. the skies socked in and it was obvious that they wouldn't clear for a couple of hours.

I grabbed my tripod and stuck my camera gear into my large backpacking dry bag and headed off up the valley, not exactly knowing where I was going, but generally exploring. At first I examined the rocky uplands behind my tent, thinking they might give me access to the highest bench of the valley sidewall. However, there were more rocky benches to ascend, blocked by steep rock walls and heavily wooded gullies, so I moved parallel with our river along the valley sidewall for a while. Then I decided to walk across the valley to the riverside and see how the walking might be if I tried to go up-valley along the stream bank. This turned out to be impossible for deep, squishy soil and deep grassy/sedgey vegetation. When I came to the edge of the Chimantaea mirabilis grove, I walked along the edge of it for a while, then turned inland and walked a beeline through the Chimantaea to a headland of rocks I could see in the distance. This headland extended along the river as the river's valley wall, but the going along here was also rough, so I walked west around the headland and into a gently inclined valley in which the Chimantaea also grew.

A pretty little wren, Troglodytes rufulus , visited me quite closely and I got a good photo of it with my 105 macro lens. Birds are darn rare up here. I have seen several individuals of a blue-green hummingbird , the Slatey Flowerpecker ( Zaglossus major ), the Collared (?) Sparrow ( Zonotrichia capensis ), and today I saw a hawk, but was unable to identify it.

The going was pretty difficult through the Chimantae mirabilis , but after a while, I found a meadow of Stegolepis ligulata and followed it. It led to another, slightly higher meadow and soon opened into a substantial meadow of great beauty. Large aggregations of Heliamphora minor grew in it and there were interesting rocks jutting up along the sides of the meadow.

One of these pinnacle rocks caught my eye. It was in the rough outline of a horse, standing on four thin legs that the wind no doubt fashioned through the ages. It was so intriguing a wind-sculpted rock that I spent 45 minutes breaking down the brush that obscured my view in getting just the perfect photograph of its silhouette. And what a picture it made. I continued walking upstream but on the far side of the ridge of rocks between me and the river, following a lovely succession of Stegolepis ligulata meadows stair-stepping upward as I went. Eventually I could see a breach in the rocky ridge between me and the river, so I made for the breach. Wonder of wonders, a beautiful wet meadow spread right through the breach and I found myself standing on a bench of exposed bedrock a hundred yards long overlooking the river. Between the river and the bench was a fantastic grove of Chimantaea mirabilis , which actually follows the river without a break. The bedrock bench allowed me to walk unimpeded by any kind of vegetation over its flat surface, broken only by small pools of water in shallow depressions so typical of bedrock outcrops on tepuis. The series of wet meadows allowed me to walk upstream in easy fashion, avoiding the thick, wetland vegetation along the river proper.

I kept walking upstream and very soon was totally surprised to come to a rocky promontory that marked the end of the valley sidewall. Our river makes a very sharp, acute angle turn of about 60 degrees and then follows a linear fracture in the bedrock. We got some amazing photos of this from the helicopter. I found myself right in the acute angle where the stream makes its sharp turn. I climbed onto a flat rock about 50 feet higher than the valley floor and had a marvelous view of the elbow the river makes and the spreading valleys beyond. At the very point where the river makes its 60 degree turn, another languid blackwater stream comes in so that the confluence of the two rivers is almost a perfect “Y”, the main river making the sharp turn at the top of the Y. I walked down through the Chimantaea zone to the bank of the river coming through the narrow, linear canyon and found a substantial pink sandy levee. Of course, water charges down the deep canyon during heavy rains and carries a load of sand which, when the water spreads out onto the flat valley at the confluence, overtops the banks and lays down sand just like most rivers do in flood stage. I was able to walk to the confluence on the sandy levee with no trouble, in fact, having sure footing in the sand (which was sparsely vegetated).

All the while it took me to walk to the confluence (about 4 hours), the skies were cloudy, the atmosphere misty or hazy with rain, and it rained lightly off and on. I had to keep taking my camera out of my dry bag for a photo, then put it back. When I got to the river confluence, I took photos of the exquisitely beautiful landscape, of a few orchids and some other plants. Then it began to rain, so I lied down to take a short nap and the most amazing thing happened. No sooner than I was supine, when suddenly the rain stopped and I felt the hot sun bearing down. I couldn't believe it. The rainy day broke so fast that, in truth, one minute it was raining, and the next minute the rain stopped and the sun came out. It was obvious that the clouds were breaking up and that the day for a while would be sunny. That ruined my nap because of the heat, so I decided to head back for camp over the same route. This time, however, I would have to retake all the photos I took in the rain now that the sun was out and the lighting had changed dramatically.

Before I left the river, I realized that I hadn't eaten anything all day except a protein drink Jim mixed for me, and that I did not have any food—or water—with me. I had walked four hours without taking a drink, and I was tired. So, I remedied the situation by making sure all my valuables were out of my clothes pockets and then I let myself down into the deep, black waters of the river. By the way, the river not far upstream from camp runs very languid and very deep. I tried to sound the depth but when I was eight feet deep I still had not reached bottom. Also, the banks were undercut, or the vegetation along the banks had grown out over the water by firming up peat with roots. I bobbed in the water fully dressed, drinking to my fill, and letting my body cool down. The water was chilly, probably about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. After about 15 minutes, I emerged quite refreshed. Over the years I have learned that nothing rejuvenates the body's tired muscles like a cold soak in a stream or one of Florida 's cold springs (which are about 69° F).

I left the vicinity of the confluence about 2:30 p.m. and began the walk back to camp. I progressed slowly, taking time to make the photos I will cherish all the rest of my life—and may use in a book about tepuis. I found another Ololygon sp. treefrog when I was crossing the Chimantaea bog. I dragged in to camp at about 5:00 p.m. sharp. Jim had been worried about my long absence, but honestly, he should be used it by now. Wandering over unexplored and/or wilderness terrain for eight to ten hours is one of those things I most love doing.

While walking, I usually am not hungry. I heated water and had a freeze-dried meal with Jim about 5:30 and wouldn't you know it! Damned if it didn't cloud up and begin lightly raining!

It's now 8:15 p.m. I have been in my tent downloading and editing the 210 digital photographs I took today. Migod! They are splendid. I am about to be in trouble, though. Since I got here in Venezuela I have shot 2400 images with my new Nikon D200 digital camera. All of them were shot on raw, the highest density of which the camera is capable. That is because I want to publish images so they must be of the highest quality possible. Unfortunately, I am about to max out my 60 gigabyte laptop. I have loaded it with 29 GB of digital images so far and only have 11 GB of memory left. I have some DVDs with me to write my images to, but they only hold 4.7 GB each. It takes so long to burn a DVD that I have not done so out here in the wilderness for the sake of conserving battery power. Even though we have a generator, we do not have enough gasoline to keep the laptop running long enough to burn DVDs. I will have to devote at least one day when we return to Santa Elena so that I can transfer a lot of images to DVDs, before our next trip to another tepui.

Good night dear world. I love life and can't wait to live some more!

2/2/2006

It rained all night. I woke at first light about 5:15 a.m. , heard the rain on the tent fly, turned over, and went back to sleep. Overnight my legs were stiff from all the walking in muskeg-like vegetation yesterday. They don't feel so bad this morning, thank goodness.

While the rain was still pattering on my tent about 7:00 a.m. , Jim ran by and said, “Bruce, get up! Rainbow!” I crawled out of the tent naked and watched him run off into the wet flat with his camera and tripod. I grabbed my camera with the wide-angle lens and climbed a pinnacle next to my tent. It was one of the most brilliant and pretty rainbows I have seen in a while, a double one at that. I got off some photographs before it did like they all do, slowly fade and become only a memory.

It's 8:30 a.m. as I write this. The sky in all directions seems to be clearing—except over us. This part of the tepui is in deep cloud shade. I'm sitting in my tent with the generator on full blast to recharge all our batteries. The satellite phone needs it as do Jim's video batteries, my camera batteries, and my laptop.

I got some bad news from home via satellite phone. Mom is in the hospital with reactivated osteoporotic back pains and Kathy is in Atlanta with her mother who is also in the hospital getting ready to have surgery on her rotator cuff. Mary Alice, my mother-in-law, is on cumadin, a blood-thinner, to keep the risk of strokes down. However, while she is having surgery, she needs her platelet count up, so they are taking her off the cumadin and monitoring her as she readies for surgery. I wish both moms speedy recovery and quick discharge from their respective hospitals with no further complications. I'd have one helluva time trying to get off Chimanta and back to the States if a dire emergency developed.

And now the sun has popped its head out, but for how long?

About 10:30 a.m. the skies finally cleared, so we trucked uphill onto a bedrock bench and set up to video me talking about colonization and succession of plants in the cracks and fissures in bedrock. We did an initial take involving the tiny plants of Chimantaea huberi invading a crack in the sandstone, then a second take showing a larger crack and many more plants. We finished by shooting a flat bedrock bench that had been entirely covered by plants, whose decomposing parts add to the peat accumulation which increases the water holding capacity and therefore the buildup of peat. In other words, many of the seepage bogs on tepuis have been created by plants that have colonized bare rock and whose roots have captured sand and organic material, causing the creation and buildup of soil. We intended to film the Chimantaea mirabilis wet flat, but by 12:30 p.m. , Jim thought the sun was too intense and the light was too flat, so we retired to camp and I fixed us water for a lunch of half a bag of Mountain House freeze-dried chicken a-la-king.

I took a 30-miniute nap, then walked up the riverbank to the point where the deep, black lagoon stops and the water begins to fall over rocks down a steeper but gentle grade. Two hundred yards downstream is where the river suddenly crashes downhill over a series of three cascades into a deep canyon it is cutting. Eventually, as the river cuts into the rocks of the cascade, the steep profile will migrate upstream and the now gentle valley through which the black lagoon flows will become a deep, rocky canyon…in say, a couple of million years or so.

Jim was standing in the middle of the river at the place where the deep lagoon sheetflows over bedrock and begins its more rapid downhill pace. He had his 4 X 5 camera set up taking pictures of the moody scene. I waded past him across the river, gingerly, since it has quite a good flow and over algae-covered slippery bedrock. I haven't yet mentioned that when we first arrived here I noticed something geologically different about the landscape across the river compared to everywhere else. In every direction you see the

Roraima Formation sandstone eroding in blocks. The landscape is either horizontal or vertical, but across the river rises a hill that has the silhouette of a “normal” hill, gently sloping upward to a low, long summit with no evidence of rocky outcrops and certainly no obvious sandstone vertical outcrops or rocky pillars. In addition, the vegetation is totally different from that of the entire rest of the tepui. It is densely forested with woody plants, mostly Bonnetia roraimae , but lots of other kinds of trees and shrubs. In looking around one sees woody plants almost always in arroyos and protected cracks in the sandstone, or growing at the feet of escarpments. On the hill across the river, the entire mountain is forested, lushly.

There is a good reason for this. The large hill (or small mountain) is the erosional remnant of an ancient basaltic intrusion into the sediments of the Roraima Formation. The soils on this little mountain are very different from those of the rest of the tepui. In the first place, they are innately much richer in nutrients because the soil developed from igneous rocks (or metamorphosed igneous rocks) is much richer than soils developed from pure sandstone. Second, basaltic rocks erode into even finer materials such as clays and silts than does pure sandstone. Sandstones of the Roraima Formation are the left-over silicious rocks that eroded out of ancient mountains and lost any of the nutrients and other materials that were in the parent rock. The bedrock of the little mountain has plenty of silicious material in it, but it also has lots of other minerals, and that gives the plants that have colonized the mountain many more nutrients than are found on the rest of this massive tepui.

Knowing this, I couldn't resist the chance to investigate. When I passed Jim, he said, “It's almost 3:00 o'clock . Let's go over to the Chimanta mirabilis grove and do the video take.” I said I'd be right back and climbed into the dense vegetation of the far bank. And it was rank. Trees, shrubs, vines of a viney fern, tall, stiff grasses and huge tank bromeliads full of water. I began an uphill climb breaking vines and limbs of shrubs and trees and stomping on the tank bromeliads to see if any animals jumped out. Soon I was preoccupied with this and noticed that I was making pretty good progress, step at a time, uphill. I stomped and broke by hand, pulled down vines, ripped limbs and generally was making a noticeable path uphill through the thick vegetation. Thirty minutes went by and I spotted a more open area ahead with few trees and only terrestrial vegetation hip high. I made faster time through this and kept on my uphill climb. In one opening I saw bare soil and guess what? It was the first muddy clay I have seen in weeks. Moreover, the ground was firm to walk on because water runs off the clay and leaves it relatively unsaturated. On any of the rest of the tepui, your footing is always in squishy, peaty soil because the sand allows more water to move through it and the plants sop it up in the peat they create.

I was pleased with myself when I reached the crest of the hill, but forward progress had slowed because I was now back in dense trees and woody vegetation. I was hoping I would find some sort of grassy bald on top, but it was not to be. Realizing that some time had passed and we really did want to film the Chimantaea mirabilis bog, I climbed a Bonnetia roraimae tree, breaking off most of its brittle branches to get a view of where I was and what was left to do. I was several hundred feet in elevation above the river, but could see that the true top of the mountain was several hundred feet higher. Moreover, I have not been able to spot—either from my treetop or from across the river—any sign of a rocky outcrop so I could inspect the rocks this hill is made of. I saw no point in going on, so I began my descent over the very clear trail that I had stomped on my way up.

I met Jim across the river anxious to cross the big wet flat and position ourselves to take advantage of great afternoon sunlight. We struggled across it, sinking sometimes to the middle of my calf in wet peat. I climbed a house-sized boulder, part of the breakdown of a sandstone escarpment, and Jim set up his video camera on a tripod on top of another large, flat rock.

We had a spectacular view out over the broad valley between us and the river in which grows thousands of this wonderful Dr. Seuss plant, Chimantaea mirabilis . While we were setting up, the sun shone spectacularly on this amazing sight, probably the most inspiring biological scene we will have filmed on the entire trip. Then, when Jim was ready, suddenly clouds ran across the sun. And, would you believe it, for an hour we stood there waiting for full sunlight to shine on the valley, but it never did. In fact what happened was ominous. Clouds began to form and build up into dark, gray, moisture-laden storm clouds. We had missed our chance by only a few minutes!

At 5:00 p.m. we packed up the video camera and 4 X 5 camera in dry bags and stuffed them under a rocky overhang, which will protect them from rain overnight. We intend to return in the morning—weather permitting—and do the video thing. After we do that in the morning, I offered to help Jim carry the heavy video camera up the valley to film the wonders that I saw on my nine-hour long walk yesterday.

When we got back to camp we could hear occasional thunder and the skies had blackened from horizon to horizon. We continually are amazed at how fast the weather changes up here. I cooked some rice to supplement our Mountain House foods, but the stupid Whisperjet stove got fouled up somehow and wouldn't heat any water to reconstitute our freeze-dried meal. I cleaned out the little valve three times and still couldn't get much fire. Apparently the fuel line is clogged and so to have hot water I must try to take it apart and clean it. I was unable to do so tonight because right after I cooked the rice, it began to rain and I had one helluva time working with the damned stove under my tent fly. Jim stood by under his umbrella, but eventually we had to settle for freeze-dried food reconstituted with luke warm water. I hope I can get the little camp stove fixed tomorrow. If not, we will be eating all our food mixed with cold water.

So, here I am in my tent, wind blowing outside, occasional rain pelting the tent fly, my clothes damp, my body chilled, the roar of the cascades in my ear, a feeling of remoteness enveloping me—since we are about as far from civilization as you can get in South America—and I am content as a bug in a rug. It's almost 8:00 p.m. , so we have about 10 hours of night left to pass before sunrise. And, if tomorrow morning is like most others up here, it will be raining for a couple of hours after sunrise. I love these long nights, though. I sleep, I wake and think good thoughts—some of my best brainstorming comes in these times—and I write. And now, these days, I have a great laptop that sits on my belly while I lie on my Thermarest mattress with my head propped up on a bag full of clothes for a pillow and type away. It is more efficient and quicker than handwriting in a paper journal and then, later, having to transcribe the journal into a computer file. I do have my paper journal with me, however, because this laptop depends heavily upon being able to be recharged. If we run out of fuel, or if the generator goes on the blink, I simply switch to my hand-written journal.

Adieu, beautiful world. I'll see you when the sun warms my tent.

2/3/2006

At 6:30 a.m. I called Raul. He said that he helicoptered the Germans down off of Churi yesterday and they are back in Santa Elena! Goddammit! That means we will not be able to split the costs of flying from Santa Elena to Chimanta tepui with them, so we will have to pay for the helicopter flight coming and going! That also means that we will not be able to move to another location on Chimanta because it will require two helicopter flights to and from Santa Elena, one to move us and one to fetch us when we are done. Each flight to and from Santa Elana costs $1700 for about 2 hours of flying time. We'd really like to stay up here on another location for 5 or 6 days, but now finances are entering the picture heavily. Grrrrrr.

Raul said he was available to come get us tomorrow or five days hence. Now, I'd love to stay here five more days, but we have about exhausted all we could explore and film, so five more days would be simply loving the chance to loaf around in a wilderness we love and enjoy ourselves. We didn't come here on a vacation, however, so we called Raul back and asked him come for us tomorrow, weather permitting. We asked for a caveat, that he fly us to the highest part of Chimanta called Eruoda where another wonderful Chimanta plant is commonest: Chimantaea lanocaulis . It has a long stalk like C. mirabilis , but has round, cupped leaves instead and also lives in groves. I really want to see and photograph this plant. It is the most Dr. Seuss-like plant up on Chimanta of all. Raul also agreed to fly us around to get photographs of any other part of Chimanta we wish. Moreover, Jim talked him into an hour of free flying time so we can take photos for Raul for a brochure advertising his helicopter service. Tomorrow should be great.

7:00 p.m. Today was great, too. We had the clearest skies all day that we have had in the entire two weeks we have spent on Acopan and Chimanta. We left camp about 7:30 a.m. and walked to the beginning of the Chimantaea mirabilis wet flat, where we set up the video camera and filmed me talking about the marvelous plant. It is every biologist's dream to visit some spot on the globe that he or she has dreamed about all his/her life. This spot was one of mine. It is my Shangri-La. I explained to camera all about the biology of this amazing plant, and then we filmed inside the grove. I showed the floral parts and explained what was so wonderful about these plants. We then crossed the bog with the intention that I would show Jim the path I took and all its wonders en route to the elbow curve made by our river at the Y-confluence. We both agreed that we would take only the video camera because it would be too much for both of us to lug the 4 X 5 camera, too.

We crossed the C. mirabilis wet flat and filmed it from a rocky headland we met on the other side. We filled our one canteen with the swamp water we found trickling downhill there and then I showed Jim what I call “Pony Rock,” the amazing rocky erosional remnant I photographed two days ago. We reconstituted a bag of Mountain House freeze-dried food with cold swamp water and let it sit while we walked. When we reached Pony Rock, the food was quite well rehydrated and tasted great, even cold. Mountain House should advertise on their bags that in a pinch the food is great even with cold water, only let is sit a while longer, like 30 minutes.

Pony Rock was spectacular with the blue sky behind it. We shot off tens of photographs with our 35 mm cameras, and Jim filmed it and the lovely wet flat full of sun pitchers with the video camera. Another of my favorite rocks was a 20-foot tall round erosional remnant that looks for all the world like a Brontosaurus head and neck. Against the blue sky it looks terrific.

We had our rare lunch at Pony Rock and then walked farther north, eventually reaching the rocky promontory that marks the apex of the confluence of two canyons—at the Y-confluence of our river and a second one. Jim was able to do a 360° panorama of the coming together of the two canyons and the rocky headland we were situated on. And the light was perfect for filming. We turned back at 2:30 p.m. and began our trek back to camp. I had agreed with Jim to carry his heavier backpack with the video camera in it in exchange for my lighter backpack, so I was top-heavy for the entire walk back. We stopped at the high point vista overlooking our part of the Chimantaea mirabilis wet flat and photographed it in absolutely wonderful afternoon crosslight. I got some great shots, also, of the canopies of Bonnetia roraimae that were backlit by the sun. Their canopies with shiny backlight on their leaves look like round rocks.

We got back to camp at 5:00 p.m. and I set about the odious task of taking apart our Whisperjet camp stove and cleaning all the parts so it will heat water. I had to do this twice, getting my fingers terribly stained with black carbon. Finally, I got the thing to work and we had hot water galore. While I was fussing with the stove and preparing supper, Jim was getting some wonderful 4 X 5 photographs of the canyon below the cascades. I sneaked a couple of tugs at our bottle of rum and was feeling fine when Jim showed up for supper. I poured him a very generous portion in his tea and the two of us got shitfaced with glee, loving the day and the time we have spent on greater Chimanta. [Since I rarely imbibe, two drinks make me quite tipsy.] We celebrated our good fortune of having fifteen days on this wilderness wonderland and not getting hurt, and bagging some of the most wonderful photographs either of us have ever taken—and that's saying a lot.

We retired to our tents feeling happy about our accomplishments, but sad that tomorrow will terminate our precious time in this amazing wilderness. I don't anticipate ever returning here, but who knows. Just like the fickle weather, who knows. After such a sunny day, a light rain patters now against my tent fly.

2/4/2006 , Saturday

The sun rose over the edge of Chimanta this morning and promised to give us a day like yesterday. We were wishing for just such a day because yesterday was wonderful with full sunshine almost all day. It would be perfect for flying around the rest of Chimanta and seeing—and photographing—the sights.

I made us some oatmeal and Jim shook up a protein shake for breakfast. Then I called Raul and he said he had some tourists to take to Roraima this morning, but that he would come after us in the afternoon, weather permitting. So I carefully packed up all my gear and made sure it was waterproof, then took it over the helicopter landing site and then the worst happened. The weather took a turn for the worse. It socked in and kept any helicopter from coming for us most of the day. We sat around and sat around, waiting and waiting. The sun came out a few times right over us, but clouds hung low on the fringes of the tepui so that looking up from the lowlands, one would be sure not to try to fly to get us.

Noon came and went. By 1:30 p.m., I turned off the satellite phone because there was no way Raul could contact us anyway, since the phones in Santa Elena don't work in the middle of the day, and even if he was nearby in Yunek, his cell phone would be so far from a cell tower that no contact would be possible. Two o'clock came and went. And then the rains came. I got wet sitting out in the open with no tent to retire to. By three o'clock it was still misty and the skies threatening. By four o'clock the skies were broken with some lifting of the heavy clouds, and as I was sitting on some rocks looking down at my feet, I heard the chopper coming. Hooray!

Raul got there in a huge six-place Bell Jet Ranger chopper, quite larger than the little four-person chopper that we flew in before. We loaded all our gear and Raul said we could fly to Eruoda, the high part of Chimanta Tepui, where I was hoping to find and photograph Chimantaea lanocaulis . We took off and flew down canyon first, and Jim had Raul land at the bottom of the double waterfall where we got out and photographed the scene. Jim had Raul hover the chopper near the waterfall so Jim could produce some promotional material for Raul's company and then we flew to Eruoda. Fortunately, the clouds became more open and we had a great flight to Eruoda, but unfortunately, even though I had Raul fly close to the ground so I could look for C. lanocaulis , I was unable to see it. I had him set the chopper down at one point and I ran around looking at C. mirabilis , but was unable to find C. lanocaulis . Drat!

We then flew from Eruoda across a big valley and over another part of Chimanta that seems not to have a specific name. Then we flew over Churi, the easternmost part of the Chimanta Massif and Raul showed us a couple of caves in the sandstone. Finally, he flew us over the Rio Yunek valley and right at the face of Acopan Tepui above the village of Yunek, where he showed us a couple of caves in the cliff. At least one seemed quite deep. These caves are carved out of sandstone by water and are not karst features.

We had a long chopper ride back to Santa Elena de Uairen. Raul flew low to the ground over the rolling terrain and it was quite thrilling to fly up and down with the lay of the land. He passed over some hills almost touching ground and once came so close to a tree that I thought I could reach down and pick a leaf. I continued to confirm my conviction that most of La Gran Sabana is anthropogenic, seeing dozens of grass fires set along the Amerindian trails that criss-cross the landscape. It is very telling that all the conucos are made in forest and no farms are in La Gran Sabana. The nutrients needed for growing crops comes from burning the trees that are cut down in the conucos, but there are no trees in La Gran Sabana to provide any nutrients for farming. The Pemon Indians are stupidly ruining lands that they could grow crops on IF they didn't burn the savannah and allowed forest to grow up. Then they could cut their conucos in forest and create the nutrient beds they need for crops.

We got back to Santa Elena about 5:30 p.m. and Raul drove us to the Hotel Amazonas. We had delicious warm showers and changed into clean clothes, then walked up to Hotel Gran Sabana and had churrasco in the restaurant associated with the hotel. While we were eating, the three Germans came in and introduced themselves. Their names are Urs, Andreas, and Joachim. They sat down and we spent the next three hours talking about our different explorations of tepuis. They have done a lot, including climbing Neblina from the Brazilian side. They also had Raul fly them to the summit of Maringma, a couple of years ago. They said that Maringma was very wet and difficult to find places to camp. [But it might be very good for frogs.]

Urs, Andreas and Joachim told me some great frog stories. They said that when they were on Neblina, they saw frog eggs in Heliamphora there. That could be a Colostethus . Up on Churi last week, Urs saw large tadpoles in pools of water. I'm guessing these are tads of Ololygon , but I don't really know, of course. Then, when Urs was on Murosipan Tepui, a very isolated, small, and rocky-topped tepui, he saw a large frog that reminded him of a European ranid. This probably was a species of Stefania , but we all were quite amazed that a population of a large frog species could survive on such a small, isolated place. They said that Murosipan was one of the most lovely tepuis they had ever been on and is a must for our book.

A couple of the guys showed me digital images of a treefrog they found while climbing Acopan. It was at about the 4,000 foot level in cloud forest. I was amazed that it was closely related to Hyla (Hypsiboa) roraima , the yellow-eyed treefrog I have collected on my Roraima and Wokomung transects. However, this one had lots more light coloration on its dorsum and could well be a different species, since it is so isolated from the eastern tepuis by the expanse of La Gran Sabana. They also kindly dumped many of their images of the frog into a flashcard for me.

We paid up our food bill and left for our hotel at 10:30 p.m. Tomorrow in the morning our good friend Freddy will pick us up for breakfast about 8:00 a.m. and then at 10:00 a. m. we will meet with Karina in Raul's office in order to find out what we owe for our flights. What the bill is will determine what else we can or cannot do here on this trip to Venezuela .

Jim, “Did Freddy leave us the machete?!” I had made a big deal about having a machete—a lifesaver up on a wooded tepui like Maringma—and

Freddy had insisted on loaning us his. On the first flight he forgot to throw it into the chopper, but at lunch I specially requested that he remember, and when we loaded up for the second trip, I saw him with it in his hand. BUT GODDAMMIT! The f------g machete is nowhere to be found and we are stuck on a very difficult tepui without one!

It was about 4:30 when we offloaded and the skies were looking like they might cloud-up again. The sun was setting behind the true summit just west of us, so we were about to be out of direct light well before true sunset. I realized that the most urgent thing we needed to do was to get our tents up. Well, good luck! The ground everywhere you look is deep in squishy peat, with water oozing up into your boots at every step. I couldn't see any chance for ground on which to put tents, so I walked into a gnarled and stunted Bonnetia roraimae forest and kicked around looking for a tent site. I found one— ONE , that is. I kicked, snapped, and pulled at plants for about 30 minutes, then had a place for a tent with broken plant parts about a foot deep to insulate the undersurface of the tent from standing or flowing water. Then, since dark was fast-approaching and mists were enveloping us, I hailed Jim who had been out looking for a dry spot, and gave him the tent site. I busied myself looking for two stout trees far enough apart between which to string my new Hennessey Hammock. It took me about 20 minutes to find such trees, since B. roraimae is so small and the wood so brittle.

I rigged up my hammock with its fly to protect it from rain, and then I wandered out into the wet flat west of the tent and worked my way alongside the Bonnetia patch going uphill from the tent. My idea was, when full dark fell, to get into the Bonnetia forest and search for frogs going downhill through the forest, eventually leading to my tent. The forest, a narrow stringer of trees, would ensure I wouldn't get lost in the mists. And the mists did come, almost blindingly.

Just before entering the Bonnetia forest, I came to a puddle of water that looked deep enough for tadpoles. And there I saw some large ones! Eureka ! The first scientific result of the Maringma part of our Venezuela expedition. I was unable to catch one, but tomorrow I can use my hat to scoop one up. I'll photograph and draw the details of the tadpole, then preserve it in 95% ethanol, which will allow me to determine which species it belongs to using DNA analyses.

After the chopper left, I was thrilled when I could hear from all over the tepui little Colostethus frogs calling. They make a plaintiff little “peeeep” sound—a single note. These little guys are difficult to find in the dense vegetation, but I must find some. They may be a species endemic to the top of this tepui—or they might be C. roraima , the dendrobatid frog I found at the base of the prow of Roraima on the National Geographic Expedition of 2003. Some of these normally diurnal frogs were calling into the first hour of darkness.

I entered the Bonnetia forest and soon heard the chucking sound of a frog. It was a single chuck sound, and I tried to imitate it by sucking air quickly from under my tongue. The sound I made didn't seem to me to be very much like that of the frog's, but it worked on the frog. I have learned over the years that if you can imitate a frog's sound, even poorly, it often stimulates them to think you are a competitor (always the males make the calls). This makes them continue to call as you approach so you can home in on their position. Sure enough, as I continued to chuck, the little guy—who was quite hidden in the low bushes—called more frequently and eventually, as I stood peering at the spot where I thought he was lurking, my chucks stimulated him to come out into view, looking for all the world as though he was pissed off at the intruder. I nabbed his little ass! And what a nice surprise. It was the beautiful Hyla sibleszi , the treerfrog with the brilliantly blue undersides, bright green dorsum, bright yellow eyes, and yellow toe-tips. And this little fellow sets an altitude record for the species. Previously, neither I nor anyone else has taken this species above about 5,500 feet in elevation. That's the highest point on Wokomung, where I took a frog looking very much like this. Maringma is at least 6700 feet high. I heard a couple of others calling, but I did not sleep much last night and it was threatening to rain, so I worked my way to my hammock and crawled in for a night's slumbers.


2/7/2006

Oh drear! Oh misery! I had a bad night. To begin with, when I got into my hammock, I was quite damp and after I took off my soaked pants, my feet were wet and full of wet, black organic junk. Then, as I settled in, the nylon ropes of the new tent stretched so much that the hammock slumped to the wet, nasty, peaty ground. My butt, back, and thighs were touching wet peat through the hammock. And then the rains came—and the wind. It blew cold and rained and I was miserable. My sleeping bag got wet and everywhere my body touched the ground I was cold. After a couple of hours the rain abated and then I woke to find that I had tied off my rain-protecting fly too high and the left side of it was sagging with about five gallons of water trapped in it that would dump on me if I moved just right. I had to get out naked in the misty, cold night and dump the cold water—which spilled on on my legs—then retie the fly.

But my worst problem overnight was not being wet and cold.

For some unknown reason my bladder decided to work overtime. I didn't drink much water or any beverages all day, but I woke with a very painful bladder no less than 7 times in the nasty night. Fortunately, I was smart enough to leave a pee-bottle outside my hammock so I didn't have to get out of the hammock to pee. I just bring the hottle inside the hammock and drain my bladder while lying down, hoping not to spill the contents of the bottle. When I got out of the hammock during a break in the rain in the morning, I had to pee twice again. I estimate that I evacuated no less than two and a half liters of liquid in 9 pees! Where in the world did I get so much excess water in my body? It made for very unsound sleeping.

10:00 a.m. I've been lying in my hammock writing up yesterday's journal entry. The misty rain has not let up. I ate one quarter of a large, beautiful papaya I brought with us, and Jim made a protein powder drink using some pear juice we also brought. Dendrobatid frogs are peeping all around me. I need to get up and do something!

First, I walked around in the Bonnetia roraimae stand looking for a tent site. This Bonnetia stand seems to be on a rise in the terrain, so the opportunities for a higher spot on which to pitch a tent are better than out in the herbaceous bogs on both sides of the Bonnetia forest. I found one place, but it was so heavily impregnated with tough Bonnetia roots that I gave up. I am really pissed off that we did not remember to toss the machete from the helicopter. It would have made life so much easier for us.

Next, I carried a plastic pan uphill to the water pool in which I saw tadpoles last night and dipped out six or seven. These might be the tads of the adult Hyla sibleszi I caught last night. Then, when I got back to camp, I found six little Colostethus species hopping around the cleared area under the Bonnetia roraimae where I have my hammock slung. I guess that the males were out trying to dominate the new space for their territories. Anyway, I caught them and have a nice sample of what I think goes “peeep” during the day.

After catching the dendrobatids, I took the plastic pan and emptied the water contents of about a dozen tank bromeliads, Brocchinia tatei , and found tadpoles in every one. The tads are most probably those of the Colostethus that is so abundant by daytime. I collected a whole series of them from small ones to large ones with hind legs erupted, to metamorphs. One metamorph looks like the adults, so I think I am right that these tads are of the Colostethus calling here. I preserved the lot in 95% ethanol, so we will find out by doing DNA tests on the adults and larvae. A really good find was a clutch of eggs that were laid above the waterline inside the leaf of a bromeliad. These are not food eggs for tadpoles, either, because I can see the well developed embryos in the black eggs. There are four to six eggs in the glutinous mass. I'll have to check them tomorrow for a final count. So, in an hour's work, I got the whole life series of the Colostethus here. Aside from the tadpoles, I found little else alive, in contrast to bromeliads I examined at about 7,000 feet elevation at the base of Mt. Roraima's fringing cliffs below the Prow. In these I found a large number of glossoscolescid earthworms and other invertebrates.

After a delicious lunch of a can of tuna, I took off uphill to explore, but the mists were too thick to see where I was going. I walked west and uphill from camp through a stair-stepped wet flat full of squishy ground under a cover of dense herbs, many clumps of the sun-pitcher, Heliamphora nutans . Others were short Bonnetia roraimae plants and low, woody subshrubs. I found a wonderful composite, thick-stemmed like Chimantaea species, but obviously not a Chimantaea . It has a large inflorescence, the size of a teacup in diameter (the largest ones). I found none with flowers, but with well developed seeds inside a ring of stiff yellow bracts that look like the ray flowers of true sunflowers. Almost all of those with seeds appeared to have been torn apart by a bird, I would guess. The seeds do not have a fluffy parachute (pappus) that would render them susceptible to airborne distribution like a dandelion. Rather, I would think that birds distribute the seeds in the relatively small area of the summit of this small tepui.

I walked to the foot of the ultimate hill that marks the very top of Maringma. It must rise about 500 feet higher than the shelf we are on. From the air, Maringma's top appears mainly to be this terrace, with the hill an eminence in the middle of the otherwise flat summit area. I was afraid of losing my direction in the fog, so I made my way back to the stringer of 20-foot high Bonnetia roraimae where Jim and I have our camp. He's in his tent and 50 feet away I am hanging from my Hennessey Hammock. I made a place to sit down under the hammock's fly and I sat there for several hours while it rained and misted all afternoon. No opportunities came for exploring, since the dense fog could be lethal if one walked to the edge of the 2,000-foot high cliffs that fringe three sides of this tepui.

Jim was as restricted as I today. He spent the better part of the day in his tent, much drier—and much warmer—than I. About 4:30 I sat on the soaked ground under my hammock, which I had readjusted to be higher off the ground. I got cold so I pulled out the tent fly and wrapped it around me for a blanket. My clothes are totally soaked, including my raincoat, and I'm hunched down to keep warm and avoid the misty rain that has fallen off and on all day. The tent is not erected because I still have not found a flat place with proper drainage. I sat there in the mists for an hour, shivering.

At 5:30 p.m. I fired up the Whisperjet camp stove and heated water for a package of Mountain House foods for each of us. Jim joined me under the hammock fly for supper and we ate in the mists and the wind and the light rains. After supper he went inside his tent and I sat all alone in the cold waiting for dark to fall.

At about 7:00 p.m. , full dark, I set out in the cold, windy, rainy night to see if I could find some frogs. Drat! It must have been too cold and windy for them, because I saw none and didn't hear very many like I did the night before. I noticed on Wokomung that frogs don't like to be out in rain, and in wind—forget it! After an hour in which I started to come down with the intense chills and shivering that precedes hypothermia, I decided to get the heck into my hammock.

2/8/2006

I spent another miserable night in this goddam Hennessey Hammock. It rained and misted, with cold wind, all night long. When I went to bed I congratulated myself on my intelligent thinking. I took a large, heavy-duty plastic bag into the hammock with me and pulled it up over the sleeping bag with my feet in it. This prevented the sleeping bag from my thighs down from getting wet. However, the rest of my sleeping bag got wet in places, especially on my bottom, which was cold and wet all night. I slept off an on in the hammock, having difficulty moving because of the cold sides of the hammock. I laid in my hammock on my 3/4-length Thermarest mattress, but the damned thing shifted all night and I was continually slipping off of it. When on it, I am properly insulated from the cold, but if I move off of it, I get cold where my sleeping bag touches the hammock.

It rained and blew all night. I was just marginally warm, but uncomfortable most of the night. And the pee thing was also a nuisance. Last night I had to pee only five times, but reaching down out of the crack in the Hennessey Hammock to find the plastic pee jar was a problem because wherever I touched the sides of the hammock, I got wet. Anyway, I made it through the night only to awaken to rain and wind. So we stayed in tent and hammock until about 10:00 a.m. , when I had enough of hammock life even if wet and cold outside.

Jim got up and prepared me a protein shake for brekky and I gave him a large chunk of the delicious papaya I brought with us. Then Jim headed back to the tent and I decided to find a spot for my tent. After a while searching, I found a suitable spot in the Bonnetia forest about 100 feet from my hammock, so I spent about 45 minutes stomping the vegetation and filling the holes with plants. This job would have gone much faster and easier if I had the machete that was not tossed out of the helicopter. Grrrrrr. I got the tent erected, and then about noon , what to our wondering eyes should appear but the sun! It was the first sustained sunlight we have seen since arriving. We jumped up and took the video camera out into the wet flat and did some video filming of me explaining where we were and what the vegetation was all about. Next we walked through the Bonnetia forest to the bog in the next terrace and I talked about the strange and new composite I found here.

The mists came and went while we were filming, but the summit cleared. I told Jim I wanted to climb to the top while I could see to get there and back, so I took off and soon lucked out. The slope leading to the summit is heavily forested with woody shrubs and small trees, making for very difficult going. But I located a human-made path, well trod into the vegetation with machete marks on the woody plants. I ascended the hill quite easily following this ready-made trail. When I got to the rather small summit of about half an acre, I discovered that it had been cleared for tents. Then I followed a very large trail downslope on the other side of the summit and discovered, shortly, a large area cleared for tents. I'm sure I found the trails and summit camp of Dr. David Clarke's botanical expedition of a year ago. We are not the first people up on Maringma's summit, therefore. And it occurs to me that David might have gotten the idea to climb Maringma from me because when I met him on Wokomung, I spoke enthusiastically about wanting to climb Maringma and told him how to get to the summit from the village of Wyaline . Apparently he followed through.

The skies cleared and I had some marvelous views in 360 degrees. I could see down into the rainforests of Guyana to the north and east, and into Brazil to the south and southeast. Way in the distance further east into Guyana , I could see Mt. Ayanganna , and to the southeast I think I saw the dim outline of my favorite mountain, Wokomung. Back west loomed Mt. Roraima , with Yagontipu and Weiassipu in between. Apokilang was obscured behind Yagontipu. Yagontipu is at least 500 to 1000 feet higher than Maringma., as is Weiassipu–-and Roraima is 2000 feet higher.

I'd like to come back and do an altitudinal transect for frogs from Wyaline up to the summit of Maringma. David Clarke has already pioneered a trail to the summit, and I have some data on summit frogs already. Most of the interesting frogs will be in the 4,000 to 5,000 feet range, however, below the Bonnetia forests of the summit. Standing on the summit, curiosity got the better of me. I wondered just where David Clarke's trail led down over the edge of Maringma into the cloud forests below. The west, north, and south sides of Maringma are vertical cliffs, so David had to come around to the east to ascend the tepui. I followed his very broad trail downhill to the edge of the tepui, for about a mile. Sure enough, it runs west for a long way before dropping over the rim. I didn't follow it downhill very far because the going got steep and the forest dark and thick. But I do now know where his trail first tops the edge of Maringma—on its sloping western side. How it winds its way from Wyaline is something I need to find out.

I made it back to camp about 5:00 p.m. and busied myself making supper. The ##@@!! Whisperjet is clogged up again, but I will be damned if I will blacken my hands cleaning it tonight. So I put chicken and rice into the pot and added a large can of minced tuna. I let it heat for about 30 minutes, and still it was only warm when we ate it. Jim came in bushed from carrying the video camera and tripod, but he ate like a champion.

[Transcribe my paper journal here. My laptop was so down in battery charge (15%) that I entered the events of the nighttime frog hunt in the paper journal.]

10:00 p.m . I caught two Hyla sibleszi treefrogs tonight after much effort. Starting with the first frog I caught night before last, here are some natural history notes on these frogs.

Specimen #1 . About one hour after dark, I was working my way through a narrow strand of Bonnetia roraimae forest when I heard a chucking sound. It was the “chuck” that I could not imitate exactly, but by sucking air quickly over the side of my tongue by pulling the tongue sharply down from the roof of my mouth, I made a good enough impression on the frog, a male, to stimulate it to call back when I chucked. The sound I made is the sound you make to stimulate a horse to giddy up. Anyway, this enabled me to creep up on the frog. Otherwise, when approached, frogs shut up and you can't localize them. Eventually I got to within five or six feet of him and was pleased that the closer I got the more he responded, even in the glare of my headlight. When I was about four feet away, suddenly I saw him crawl out of some thick ground vegetation of a small bromeliad ( Navia ?) and other plants—very thick. As I chucked away, he got more animated in my light and crawled even farther out into the open. I would never have found him had he not come out into view.

Specimen #2 . Tonight I waited until about an hour after sunset before going out for frogs. It was a still night, but fog was quietly rolling in. The stars were visible through the fog at first, then later, not. I walked south along the eastern fringe of the Bonnetia stringer, past the breach in the trees where a small trickle of water flows through, and tried to find a chucking frog ( Hyla sibleszi ) that I heard in some Brocchinia tatei . The frog got quiet as I approached. I heard some chuckers farther east out in the large wet flat that I have not yet explored, so I worked my way towards them. After about 50 yards, I was in very short vegetation only about six inches high. Then, to my surprise, as I approached the first frog, I suddenly realized that I could be in trouble. The ground began to shake and undulate like a magic carpet. I had walked out onto a quaking bog and no telling how deep the muck might be under the mat I was standing on. The bog plants had formed a false floor with interlocking roots. I abandoned the search for the first frog I was homing in on. Then I got to some firmer ground chasing another frog, but the little devil wouldn't call when I approached. Frustrated, I got out of the quaking bogs and made my way into the dense Bonnetia roraimae forest, choked with Brocchinia tatei and other groundcover plants. The going was difficult, but I spent 30 minutes searching for frogs without luck. It was a good-looking habitat for species of Stefania , but none were showing themselves.

When I got out of the Bonnetia forest, I was close to the very first chucker I had sought earlier and he seemed a little more willing to respond to my crude imitation. Therefore I began stalking him and with good results. He did what Specimen #1 did last night. He got more vocal as I approached, even though my headlight was illuminating brightly the area around him and even though I was making some noise and moving the vegetation with each step towards him. Soon I was standing almost directly over the little sweetheart, but couldn't see him in some very thick, sedgy vegetation. After much peering and dozens of back and forth vocalizing with him, I decided to reposition myself on the other side of him, so I worked my way around to my right, making more noise and movement than I wanted, in the thick, thigh-high vegetation until I was 180° from my former position—on the other side of him. No luck. He continued to respond vigorously to my chucks, but I couldn't see him. Then, suddenly, I spotted a rather large Hyla sibleszi sitting on the leaf of a 24-inch high Brocchinia tatei about where I could hear my Specimen #2. I watched as I got him to vocalize and was thrilled when I discovered that this was a different frog altogether—not calling. I tried to find Speciemen #2, hoping I could capture them both, but I decided to go for this new Specimen #3. I carefully leaned forward and quickly caught her by cupping her between both hands, vegetation and all. And the exciting news is that she appears to be the female of the species. She may have been moving toward my valliant male, who by now, after all the commotion, was silent. I bagged my prize and then went back toward the quaking bog because by now it was very misty and the frogs out there were more vocal.

Well, out in the quaking bog I got worried again about falling through, so I abandoned the effort. It was by now so foggy that I couldn't see the Bonnetia forest, so the only way I had to navigate was by going uphill. Step by step, I moved uphill and soon heard another chucker. This one seemed as cooperative as Specimen #2, so I slowly crept towards him and got within three feet—and then realized that I was right back vocalizing with Specimen #2, the horny little devil! Since I stood in my same tracks where I had caught the female (Specimen #3), I still couldn't get a visual bead on him, even though I carefully parted the dense grass-like vegetation to see inside where I thought he sat.

Finally, out of frustration, I walked around to where I thought he was calling from and got another angle on him. I was almost back at where I originally sought him. He continued to chuck vigorously following my own chucks, and VOILA! I spotted him. He was backed down into the axil of a Brocchinia tatei —the same plant from which I nabbed the female and she had been immediately over his head. He was a beautiful pea-green color dorsally. I grabbed leaves and all and had my prize. In total, it required two hours to catch two frogs tonight., When I got to my tent it was 10:10 p.m. And into my welcome dry—and warm—tent I did crawl.

2/9/2006

It's about 11:00 a.m. and I'm sitting partially in my tent, with my wet legs and boots sticking out of the door. This is to avoid getting the inside of the tent wet and slimy. It's still misty outside, a holdover from the fog and rain this morning. The reason I am in my tent is not the fog, but I am recharging my laptop and downloading the photos I took this morning. Here are the events of the morning as they happened.

I woke at 6:30 a.m. and wrote the account of finding all three Hyla sibleszi in my paper journal. Then I sneaked out of the tent naked in the fog, barefooted in the squishy peat, not wearing any clothes so I wouldn't wet the clothes that are now dry. I fetched a jar of peach juice and my last large quarter of papaya and stole back to my tent. I had to wipe the peat and water off of my legs and feet before pulling them into my dry tent. I had a nice brekky of fruit and fruit juice, topped off with a chunk of milk chocolate candy we brought with us.

Overnight I slept wonderfully well in my tent. Rain splattered against the fly all night, but I was dry…and warm! The floor is lumpy, but I can twist and wriggle my way around the annoyances under my Thermarest mattress. And now begins the long wait for the sun to come out. Yesterday was glorious up here, well worth waiting for. I now want to explore the quaking bog to see how deep it is underneath the floating mat of plants. The quaking bog will be an additional wetland phenomenon I can use in future lectures about the wetlands of tepuis.

I walked around naked again in the wet vegetation of the bog looking for suitable plant props in order to do macrophotography with my frogs inside the tent. I spent about an hour and a half, filling up two 1.0 gigabyte memory cards with images. Next, I put on my cold, wet, slimy boots and pants and then walked to Jim's tent and fetched the little generator. I have been sitting here for about 45 minutes downloading the photos I took of the frogs and writing on the laptop. While it is charging is a good time to use the laptop, since I am not drawing the battery down.

The misty drizzle continued throughout the morning. By noon the fog was thinning and threatening to clear. I got the generator going and began recharging the laptop and batteries. About 2:00 p.m. the sun came out and Jim and I video filmed a segment about Colostethus roraimae breeding in tank bromeliads. I showed how the water in the axils between leaves is an ecosystem in its own. I produced tadpoles and frog eggs from one bromeliad. Then we went out into the large wet flat and filmed me talking about tepui wetlands, using a quaking bog as an example. I accidentally fell through up to my crotch. Before I pulled my leg out, it seemed a good time to test what was under the quaking mat. I reached down a full arm's length and pulled up some very wet organic matter with lots of roots in it. The mat was also full of one of the two Genlisea spp. What was under the quaking mat was very liquid peat, not just water.

I had an idea that I might walk a couple of miles down David Clarke's trail this afternoon, carrying food and water, and coming back to camp slowly tonight. After I fell into the quaking bog, I was cold and wet and lost enthusiasm for what would have been an arduous task, and taken a lot of time in the misty night. Besides, we are scheduled to be picked up tomorrow and I should be hale for taking down camp and readying for the helicopter.

I cooked us a package of beef stew into which I threw a giant can of minced tuna for supper. We slurped it down greedily, and had the last nip out of our bottle of rum. I tried to reach Kathy by satellite phone about 6:45 p.m. , but was unable to get service. I'm waiting now for the satellites to come into view so I can call her and find out if new funds will be forthcoming and we will be staying the remaining three weeks or if we will have to leave soon after arriving in Santa Elena. I'm also concerned about Mom, who I have learned has been having quite a bit of difficulty with surgery on her back. Then, after 10:00 p.m. , I will call Raul and see if he still plans on getting us off Maringma tomorrow.

8:00 p.m. Oh woe! I just got a call through to Kathy and it looks like we will be going home sooner than we planned. Our benefactor was unable to come up with the extra funds that would enable us to stay the entire six weeks. We quite understand and thank him for considering our request. We know that he has many other commitments and he would have helped us out had he been able. We got an amazing amount of work done in the month we have been here and we intend to use what we have accomplished to advance our cause further for a book and documentary film. What we have accomplished in terms of images and video footage should help us find additional funds for our projects.

Mom isn't doing so well, either, so it is just as well that I return. I may have made a mistake, however, in when Raul intended to come and pick us up. He said Saturday, five days hence. Well, tomorrow could be considered five days if you count the day we got here, but tomorrow is Friday and not Saturday, says Kathy. We may not get off Maringma tomorrow then. I'll know more when I call Raul in the morning early. I hate to be leaving Venezuela early, but our funds are way over-extended. I don't know how in hell we will pay for the helicopter flights to and from Maringma. Raul said he would carry us on a bill for a few weeks, so at least I don't have to come up with it before leaving the country! That's damned nice of him.

And now the rain is coming down with a fury—the heaviest we have experienced on Maringma. Good night dear world.

2/10/2006

The rain came down all night long. Not the misty rain we have experienced, and not a tropical downpour such as I experienced on Wokomung, but a pretty stiff rain. I lay daydreaming about how I will organize my lecture on tepui wetlands, and then on the ruination of tropical rainforest by Amerindians, by means of indiscriminate burning. In addition to the scientific research paper I have already written on this topic, I have a large inventory of substantiating photographs. For instance, at the most remote edges of La Gran Sabana, where the rainforest meets savannah, I have shots of rainforest trying to recover ground it lost by a fire some time previously. There are patches of old burns with rainforest in different stages of post-burn recovery. This contact zone is so far from active Amerindian settlements that it does not get burned as frequently as the rest of La Gran Sabana. I need to get satellite imagery going back in time as far as possible to compare with more recent images, showing the migration of savannah into rainforest following Amerindian burning. The burning is definitely anthropogenic. I have seen no evidence of any fires set by lightning. In fact, as much as it rains hereabouts, I rarely ever hear thunder nor see lightning.

I woke at 5:30 and noticed that the sky was ablaze with orange color. I peeked out of the tent and saw a narrow strip of the horizon lit by sunlight under a layer of high clouds, although the sun was still below the horizon. However, before direct sunlight came into view, mists quickly formed and I lost the view altogether. It is now 30 minutes later and the air is foggy and gray.

I was unable to reach Raul at home at 6:00 a.m. , but I got Karina. She said that Raul was in Puerto Ordaz and the helicopter was with the Germans based at Kavac. Raul is not scheduled to pick us up until tomorrow, Saturday, or even Sunday. So we will have another day—or two—to spend on Maringma. I told her to tell Raul that the only times when this summit clears is between 2 and 4 p.m. , and not to come for us until that window of opportunity on either day.

2:00 p.m . The day has been mostly misty, with fine rain early, and a few spots of weak sunlight off and on after midday . I busied myself with a long nap while it was rainy, but after about 11:00 a.m. I got up and started the generator in order to recharge this laptop and be able to write. Also, the satellite phone needed recharging.

I spent several hours before and after my nap working on “Memories of a Naturalist,” my biological autobiography. I am writing it primarily for my kids and grandkids to read. I think I will have it privately published via

Vantage Press, which has been bugging me for a book for a couple of years. It's crazy that I am writing about my Alaska and college days in north Florida while sitting in a wet tent on top of a very remote tepui on the border of Guyana and Brazil .

Jim has been out taking 4 X 5 photographs in the misty weather. I'm not moving from this tent until either the weather clears or I get the mood for some exploring. Basically, I have explored the summit of this little tepui from one end to the other. I need a break from the mushy ground and misty air. No better way to do that than to write.

Notes on Maringma.

•  The principal habitats on the summit of Maringma are threefold as I see them. First is the forested parts, dominated by Bonnetia roraimae . Inside these forests grow large aggregations of tank bromeliads, Brocchinia tatei . Bonnetia roraimae has multitudes of very tiny, dark olive leaves on many tiny branches. The leaves and the tiny pink flowers are arranged like a hat over the canopy of the tree, with few leafy branches underneath. B. roraimae can be stunted down to a few inches in height out in poor soils in full sunlight or up to 25 feet tall on long, slender stems in peaty ravines and along stream courses. Up here, the stems are draped with drab green mosses embedded with slimy brown algae. When you grasp a stem of B. roraimae , your hand comes away with black, decomposing bark and wet, glutinous goop.

•  The second habitat type is a low shrub community on deep, sometimes quaking peat. It is dominated by another, larger-leafed (only by 2X) species of Bonnetia with white flowers. Co-dominant with this Bonnetia are large clumps of Heliamphora nutans and single plants as well as masses of Orectanthe sceptrum , the large Xyridaceae with prickle-tipped, whorled leaves Sometimes these subshrub communities have clumps of Briocchinia tatei and Stegolepis guianensis . Also, growing in the low shrubs one can find the mysterious, clubby stemmed composite with huge inflorescences—the composite whose name I haven't a clue. It could be endemic to Maringma. Wouldn't that be something?

•  The third community is the short vegetation bogs that are not common except at the east end of Maringma where we are located. There is a wet flat of about 100 acres all across the relatively flat ground of the east end of this tepui. When out in it, one can plainly see that it is not exactly flat, but stair-stepped with little terraces that hold lots of water. In the low places on these flats, one can plainly see that water one time existed in pools. There are a few small pools of up to ten feet across left. These pools are being encroached by wetland plants and the peat held together by their roots from all sides. Moreover, organic matter is accumulating in the bottoms of such pools, too, and the pools are filling in just like swampy lakes with long hydroperiods. It's the hydroperiod that governs whether a pool will continue to fill with peat or deepen if drought exposes the peat to air and thus the oxygen required for decomposition.

•  Dendrobatid frogs appear to like all the habitats up here so long as they have the large tank bromeliads, in which the frogs breed and spend their larval life. The commonest call they make is a single-note “peep,” but another call, a series of “peep-peep-peep-peep-peeps” may be another species of Colostethus OR another variant of the single-peep vocalizations. I have not found a second species up here, but that doesn't mean there isn't one.

•  I was also amazed to find Hyla sibleszi calling from all the different kinds of vegetation, particularly from the huge herbaceous bog. I'm used to this frog living in low vegetation along streamsides on Wokomung and Roraima, although on Roraima I must admit some were five to ten feet high in vegetation clinging to trees. This is a bright green treefrog that hunkers down in the vegetation and probably rarely comes to the tops of the plants in the bogs. There is enough microhabitat in the stems and under the dense subshrub canopy for them to live out their lives out of the desiccating winds at night. Even when I found H. sibleszi inside the Bonnetia forest, it was down in the low, dense groundcover, and that is where I hear most of them calling from.

The day passed slowly. About 5:30 p.m. Jim came down from the hillside west of camp where he had been taking 4 X 5 photos of the vegetation. It was late and neither of us had eaten any lunch, so I fixed up a couple of Mountain House packets of chicken a-la-king for supper. We are out of rum, so we were unable to toast our good luck for being on Maringma, but we drank swamp water mixed with instant tea (Jim) and I had a couple of cups of Tang in swamp water. Neither of us has had a bath in five days, nor been able even to wash our hair. I think we will have a fight over who gets the shower first when we return to Santa Elena!

Night came on fast. It was getting dark and misty about 6:00 p.m. when we finished our supper. The Whisperjet got clogged again and I won't be able to use it until I clean out the gas line and the little hole through which the gas squirts. This operation gets my hands filthy with black carbon that is difficult to wash off. We had full sunlight again from about 2:00 p.m. to about 5:00 p.m. , but no sooner had I crawled into my tent about 6:15 when misty rain began to blow against the tent fly. That we have had clear skies for a couple of hours between 2 and 4 p.m. is good news for our getting off of Maringma on schedule—if this trend continues, hopefully.

2/11/2006

It's 2:00 a.m. and I have been awake for an hour or more thinking about writing projects. Right on schedule, the misty rains began falling soon after dark, and developed into gusty rain that sounds like sand being thrown against the tent fly. As a backdrop to the sheets of blowing heavy mists, large drops of water pelt the tent fly as they drip off of the Bonnetia roraimae trees overhead. My tent is nestled in a Bonnetia forest, so I get a double sound effect of rain and dripping water.

Today is extraction day #1. I say #1 because Raul has left tomorrow, Sunday, open as extraction day #2. He may not be able to fetch Jim and I from Maringma today because of other commitments. I'm ready to go, but the timing of our departure lies in the weather, first, and Raul's hands, second.

6:50 a.m. I just got the bad news that Raul is not coming to get us today. I called him on the satellite phone and learned that the Germans are still using the helicopter and won't be through with it until tomorrow. WE HOPE! So, we have to sit tight on Maringma for another 31 hours until the chopper comes to get us. Grrrrrr. Both of us are quite ready to go now, especially since we are out of funds to continue our tepui activities. I had hoped we could do a couple of fixed-wing flights to finish off photographing the eastern tepuis. That will have to wait.

I stayed up in the wee hours writing until 5:00 a.m. I wrote down some thoughts about how I might revise my book, Herpetophilia, and I organized my book, Memories of a Naturalist. This latter book will be my natural history autobiography from childhood through my days at Tall Timbers Research Station, 1941-1984. The weather sucks. It is gusting and misty/rainy well after sunrise, which we surmise happened because we can see clouds, not because we can see any golden orb.

2;00 p.m. I've been in my tent all day writing on my laptop. I ran down the battery one time and recharged it, now I am running it down again. It has remained misty for most of the day, but about 30 minutes ago it rained pretty hard. Jim just came by and has been outside taking more photographs. Poor Jim, he doesn't have a laptop or any writing or reading materials to while the time away. As a writer, this is just fine with me. I get hours and hours of uninterrupted time to create text. Normally, I am bitching about having too many interruptions during my day to make any progress with writing projects. I am always looking for ways to run away and hide so I can write. Here I am in a forced exile that gives me plenty of time for writing. Unfortunately, I did not load many writing projects onto the laptop because I was saving space for digital images. Still, I had my memoirs in a file and I have been working on them. Now it's 24 more hours until we are rescued.

8:20 p.m. The day finally passed. I wrote on computer files most of the day, then stopped at 4:30 , cleaned the carbon out of the Whisperjet, and made supper. Jim was up the hill waiting for sunset, so I wandered out into the wet flat and took some photos of plants and the bog. He got to the camp about 5:30 and we ate a mixture of chicken and rice with beef, onions, and potatoes. We followed it with half a can of minced tuna. Normally this would be a yucky meal, but we have no options. I deliberately kept from eating lunch again today, as yesterday, to keep my caloric intake down. Jim brought me a protein shake for breakfast, which was the only other food I had all day.

As we sat eating, both of us expressed how much we want to get off of Maringma now. It's grating on Jim more than me, I believe, because he doesn't have the luxury of a laptop on which he can spend his time and keep his mind occupied.

Right on time, as soon as the sun set, mists formed and enveloped us. Soon thereafter, just before dark, the mists turned into fine, blowing rain and has continued ever since. It will most likely do this all night. Fortunately, for the past four days we have had clearing skies on our camp from about 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. If this holds—and if Raul comes to get us tomorrow—we will finally be rescued. So far we have sat idle for two days. We still have all of tomorrow morning and some of the afternoon to wait. I hope the Germans got finished with their use of the chopper today and that they won't hold us up tomorrow.

I investigated all the applications I have on this new Mac iBook and discovered that it has the World Book Encyclopedia. Sure enough, there are all those accounts I have written for it, with my name fully credited.

Good night again, dear world. I will pass the night well, since I like long nights for thinking and snoozing. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? I surely hope it will bring a change of scenery for us.

2/12/2006

6:45 a.m. Ohmigod! A nastier morning I have rarely experienced. It rained all night and continues to blow a misty, medium force rain over the landscape. I woke sporadically from 4:00 on to keep track of the time so I would call Raul about 6:15 . When the time came, the blowing rain increased and I could not get satellite connections out of my tent. I donned my raincoat and shirt, and then walked out into the big wet flat so the satellite phone could have an unobstructed view of the sky.

I got Raul, but lost him several times. The good news is that he says he is coming to get us today. The bad news is that I couldn't seem to convince him that it will be cloudy here all day until about 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. That has been the pattern in the past four days. On the fifth day it was cloudy all damned day. So we are supposed to have everything packed up by 10:00 a.m. and sit around waiting. Raul said he would sit in a savannah waiting until he sees the tepui top clear. Good luck! That won't happen until the magic hours of between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m.

When I got back to the tent I was soaked through and through. I don't know why they call this thing a raincoat, because it gets soaked and my shirt underneath was soaked, too. At least I was smart enough not to wear any pants, which would have been wetted too. I don't have anything in the tent to dry off with, so I have to sit nude waiting to dry before touching my sleeping bag or Thermarest mattress. The chill bumps stand up as high as a mountain all over me as I write this.

5:15 p.m. Another interesting day in paradise. I lay in my tent sorting things I need to pack until about 10:30 a.m. , then heated some water for what we hoped would be our last meal on Maringma. Afterward, I began to pack up my sleeping bag, air mattress, clothes, camera equipment and everything else, including trash, all of which we will take off of this pristine tepui. By 12:30 p.m. , the fates laughed at us. The sky cleared early and stayed that way until we were finally retrieved.

After packing everything carefully, keeping the wet things insulated from the dry, I hauled most of our stuff to where the helicopter would land to pick us up. Then I crawled into my tent for a nap. The tent is the only thing you are supposed to keep erected so that if the chopper doesn't come at least you have some protection from the weather for your body and your most valuable things. After the nap, I sat in the door of the tent looking out over the splendid wet flat, and damn! Right in front of me crawls a coal black lizard about 3 inches long, It sat in the sun, sunning, and was just out of my reach. As I tried to sneak up to catch it, it bolted. It was definitely a gymnophthalmid, not a Neusticurus species, and I do believe it was a Riolama roraimae , the black gymnophthalmid that lives on the summits of both Roraima and Kukenan. At least that's what this lizard most reminded me of. It was quite fast, too. I might not have caught it had it been in reach. I could have used my son, Ryan's, fast lizard-catching hands for this lizard.

About 2:30 we heard the chopper coming. We raced to take down our tents, then ran to the chopper. Raul had come as a helper with another pilot. They were afraid of the spongy peat, worried that the chopper might sink and not be extricated. The pilot kept the chopper on partial lift, just to relieve some of the weight on the skids. We loaded the chopper and had a wonderful flight off of Maringma's west side. Damn! My camera wasn't quite ready, so I missed the most spectacular part, just when the chopper went over the edge of the 1500-foot drop.

The sun was out over most of the landscape so I got to take two gigabytes of photos. Roraima was clear, so I got some shots of her. Then we did a baddy. We had the chopper set us down in front of Roraima and Kukenan, and had it fly off while I narrated to camera the beginning of our documentary. Roraima is the most famous tepui, so it is fitting that we introduce the doco with her. We got some splendid stills and video shots, then the chopper returned and we flew to Santa Elena de Uairen.

We checked-in to Amazonas Hotel again (60,000 Bs) and I had a fantastic 30-minute hot shower. Gawd! I really needed it. I'm typing this while Jim is bathing. I'm also up and down watching our clothes, sleeping bags, tents, hammock, and everything that got wet or damp on Maringma. We have it all spread out on the concrete apron in front of our room and that of the adjacent room. And, wouldn't you know it? The skies are threatening rain! Grrrrrr, again!

Good news. It didn't rain and most of my clothes got dried out. Jim and I walked up to the Hotel La Gran Sabana and had their churrasco supper again. No one else was there, so we figure that they stayed open for us, since Raul must have mentioned that we would eat there tonight. The entire town is quiet tonight and there are no Brazilians in town, which usually is choked with them. When we enquired why, we were told “Carnival.” Apparently it is the week of Carnival and Brazilians everywhere celebrate it in their home towns. The biggest one close to Santa Elena is Boa Vista.

On our way back to the hotel, walking the shoulder of the highway in the dark, three youths were ahead of us. I told Jim to stay back a while until they were gone, because this was a dandy recipe for a mugging of two gringos. When we resumed our walk, they were sitting in the dark at a cross street, watching us. I told Jim if they approached to run to the Hotel, and I picked up a large boulder and carried it openly in my hand, ready to use it if needed. Nothing happened when we passed, but in South America you have to be prepared for a mugging in every town.

I went to sleep with a belly full of meat and veggies, and with visions of my beloved Kathy and family in my mind. It won't be long before we are reunited. We are having to cut short our Venezuela expedition by two weeks because we are grossly over-budget, drat it. How in the world we can come up with what we owe Raul is to be discovered.

2/13/2006 , Monday

I slept irregularly overnight. Jim said I talked in my sleep. I got up at 8:15 a.m. and quickly packed my belongings into two check-on bags and two carry-ons. And man-o-man, are they ever lighter. I will not have to pay excess baggage fees for my bags, but Jim still has one extra bag.

8:30 p.m. Another interesting day. We walked up to Raul's office and sat around with Karina for an hour waiting on Luis to come pick us up, and also for Raul to come by. Karina worked up the total bill for our helicopter and fixed-wing flights and presented it to me. I was quite pleased that she deliberately left off a $1360.00 charge for the flight that didn't deposit us on Maringma. When Raul came in, I told him to check the bill to see if he agreed with it. He asked me if I thought it was too much. I said, on the contrary, that I wanted to be sure he charged enough. He sat down with Karina for a few moments and then surprised me completely. He accepted the #1360 deduction, plus gave us another discount from $935 to $425 for the second flight to Maringma. I was stunned, and very grateful. Our total balance now is $1,380, a very good price. And we are going to work up a brochure in English for him, which will offset this charge, even. So we may not have to pay him the $1,380 at all.

Raul said that when we come back that he would like to spend three days taking us to some very special places that only he knows (a fabulous cave called Ghost Cave is one), and then do the flying we want afterward. We can exchange our photography for his flight time. Sounds like another great deal of mutual benefit.

Freddy had arranged for a friend and guide named Luis to drive us to Puerto Ordaz. Luis arrived at 11:00 a.m. and we left at 11:30 . We had a very sweet time saying goodbye to Raul and Karina. They treated us very well and Rail was complimentary to us, saying that we didn't put any undue pressure on him to come get us or do our bidding, which helped him out with the Germans.

On the road through La Gran Sabana, the weather cleared better than at any time in the past month. All the eastern tepuis (south to north: Uei, Roraima, Kukenan, Yurani, Guadacapiapue, Ilu, and Tramen) were lined up under clear skies. We got Luis to drive off the main highway to a vista overlooking all the tepuis and filmed it. I got some great photos of them all, too. I had Luis stop at the place on La Escalera where I caught the Adenomera at the Mirador de Sierra Lema and took a GPS reading for my field notes. We stopped at the mining town of Km 88 at the bottom of La Escalera and found a dingy little roadside “restaurant” that served wild game. I bought us a lapa dinner, my favorite meat in the world. Lapa is the Venezuelan word for Paca agouti , the large jungle rodent that has white spots along its sides. I also bought Luis a meal of venison, and we had fresh boiled yucca (cassava) for a side dish. Yum.

After lunch at 3:00 p.m. Luis took off down the highway as fast as he could gun the Toyota Land Cruiser, going about 120 km/hr (72 mph). For a while I was freaked out worrying about his dangerous driving on the narrow highway with lots of local traffic and no road shoulders—and then I had enough. I politely asked him in my pidgin Spanish, “Por favor, un poco mas despacio.” He got the message and Jim and I breathed much easier as he drove about 100 kph afterward (60 mph).

About 6:30 p.m. we stopped at the good hand-made cheese place on the highway where we had breakfast because Jim just had to have some more cheese. I had a bite, but was still satisfied after my lapa meal. The lapa had been chopped up into stew pieces and was cooked in a stew. It is one of the tenderest meats one can eat and it was good, but not as tasty as when smoked.

We got into Puerto Ordaz about 9:00 p.m. and Luis drove us to Residencias Tore where Freddy had already checked us in and paid for the hotel room. When we got there, Freddy was just checking in his British group of 19 birdwatchers. We were ushered to our room right past the Brits, who were queued up registering for their individual rooms. Freddy came by and we gave him our tents and sleeping bags at our wholesale cost of $150 each. In other words, we exchanged the drive to Puerto Ordaz and hotel room for $600 worth of merchandise. He paid me $150 for my tent, and owes me $200 for the sleeping bag and some other items I gave him such as the Whisperjet camp stove and some freeze-dried foods.

Freddy did us many favors in turn, such as act as our taxi driver in Santa Elena, arrange lots of services for us, and—in spite of being responsible for 19 Brits in the morning—he offered to pick us up at 6:00 a.m. and deliver us to the Pto. Ordaz airport. We accepted. So I am lying in my bed in the hotel room while Jim is organizing and packing his gear. Mine is packed and ready to go.

2/14/2006

11:25 a.m. Venezuela time ( 10:25 EST ). Jim and I are in the air over the Caribbean Sea en route to Atlanta !! Wonders of wonders. It has never happened before that I got so lucky as to smoothly, without any problems, exit South America . And we did it with no prior reservations.

We got up about 5:45 a.m. and had our bags outside the hotel about 6:15 just as Freddy drove up, bless him. Freddy drove us to the Puerto Ordaz airport and I purchased two tickets on a Rutaca Airlines flight to Caracas . I had to pay extra for Jim's third bag ($40), but the flight left on time at 7:00 a.m. and was not full. We had a quick flight to Caracas , landing at 8:00 a.m. I paid a nice old man 20,000 Bs (~$8.00 US, and my last of Venezuelan money) to cart our large inventory of baggage from the national to the international terminals, and then was completely surprised when we had no lines in which to wait and were given good emergency exit seats on the next flight leaving for Atlanta at 9:50 a.m. (the same flight we would have taken had we departed on the day of our original ticket, March 1 st ). I had to pay $150 each for changing the flight date (ouch!), and an excess baggage charge for Jim's extra bag (all charged on my Amex).

We passed through security with a little fuss, because I demanded that they hand-check my beloved laptop, and Jim insisted that they hand-check his large bag of film. We got through into the international waiting area and heard our boarding call. I purchased four bottles of Cacique extra aged rum for gifts to my sons and we boarded the plane. All went so smoothly that I am still reeling with disbelief. Everything took place like clockwork, without any hurrying, anxiety, OR waiting! And now we expect to land in Atlanta at about 1:30 p.m. EST. Kathy hasn't a clue that I am coming home today. I haven't been able to call her since I was last on top of Maringma. It was easier to call using the satellite phone from the summit of a remote tepui than to find a phone in Venezuelan civilization—or the time to make the call.

It was my intention to stay over in Caracas one day and visit the Museo de la Salle and hit the best bookstores, but we learned that because the bridge is still out to Caracas from Maiquetia Airport , the cost of any kind of transport is $200 US each way! They have to use 4WD vehicles over a very difficult track to get back and forth. Freddy telephoned a pal in Caracas and talked him into only charging us $100 each way, but still I would have had to pay $200 for transportation and probably $75 for a hotel and expenses getting our baggage from the airport to the hotel and back, plus meals. Since I am out of money and going deeper into debt using my credit card, I decided to go straight home, especially when I learned that we could get right on the plane soon after arrival in Maiquetia Airport.

I am having reverse culture shock, returning to the hustle and bustle of civilization. All was so wonderful on the tops of the tepuis in pristine wilderness that coming back to the crush of PEOPLE on this planet is very depressing. I haven't seen TV or heard any world news for one month—and it hasn't hurt me one iota. The same old crap is taking place with over-population, environmental pollution, preoccupation with material wealth, and political assininity that was going on when I left. The good news is that there are a few places on this planet that are remote from all of it, and one can find solace and escape from the human rat-race in visiting those places. Now I'm day-dreaming about ways to return to my beloved tepuis.