“You’re not going on vacation! Vacations are supposed to be RELAXING!!”

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Hey! They’re RELAXING!!!

This is what my co-worker told me today.  I said, ‘YOUR vacations are relaxing…mine are EXCITING!’  He can’t fathom that this IS my relaxation and what I work for just to get two measly weeks out of the year.  I get it, I realize what I do is not for everyone and I’m happy about that!  Less people around!  So what exactly IS the reason for this trip?

One is that I’ve never been this far south before and I’m curious about different kinds of animals I have never seen.  The Giant Anteater comes to mind.  They look so majestic as they glide through the Savannah, but so odd too.  You’ve never seen anything like it!  Giant River Otters…one of the most endangered mammal species in the neotropics.  Diane McTurk has worked with them for years and I’ll be staying with her.  Anaconda resting their big snakie bodies on logs hanging over riverbanks would be very exciting!  Harpy Eagles would be an amazing sight to see.  They have a 5-6 1/2 foot wingspan and can easily carry away a monkey or sloth.  The heaviest weighs about 20 pounds. The Victoria Amazonica Lily will be an amazing sight to see.  You may have seen pictures of babies asleep on the giant 9′ diameter lily pads before.  At dusk, the flower opens up, smelling wonderful and beetles crawl inside of it to feast.  When the sun rises and the beetle is still disoriented from the wonderful smell and all of the food inside, the flower closes up on it.  The beetle stays trapped during the day and must wait until nightfall to emerge.  When dusk comes, the flower opens up again, the beetle crawls out but the flower has turned from white to pink!  It actually changed sex overnight!  The beetle had pollinated the flower and turned it!  Now it has male pollen all over it so it goes looking for the next white female flower.  Whatta life….

As far as finding plants go, I’m very interested in medicinal plants.  And what always makes you stop and go ‘hmmmmm’ is when you find that one tree or plant in the jungle can rely on another tree or plant sitting just yards away from it.  I’ve heard of trees with thorns and if you got stuck by one, a bush should be nearby that has the antidote to help stop the bleeding.  Nature is so amazing.  I am going to try and capture as much data on this each time I go out with a guide in hopes of turning it into an ebook.  Everything you need to cure you lies in the forests and jungles.

I want to meet the locals and interact with the kids and lend a hand where I can.  I will be relying on them to show me around the jungles, point out animals and tell great stories of their experiences.  I hope to gain a lot of information that will help me survive in the jungle if need be.

I’d love to see a jaguar in the wild and it is possible here, but you never know.  The pink toed tarantulas are piquing my interest and I love bats to death.  I’m looking forward to the fish and will try to catch a piranha or two.  I hear they don’t have much meat on ’em. Of course I’m looking forward to the usual suspects…monkeys, birds, snakes, lizards and caiman.

Sound relaxing!?!?  Ok, so he may have a point…

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Gettin’ Ready to Get Ready

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Can you refer me to a good dentist?

So all plans have been finalized and I’m allegedly set to go!  Now the challenge comes in finding how I’m going to pack what I need into a carryon backpack.  I’ve never traveled with a ‘backpackers’ backpack so I bought one that was small enough to take on board.  Well, I took it out and saw that it was about half the size of my normal carryon suitcase.  Not good.  A test pack is in order.  If all fails then I may have to resort to taking my normal suitcase (with wheels).  I just felt that wasn’t a good thing to have down there considering if I got stuck out in the middle of nowhere and had to walk, a rolling suitcase would certainly NOT be the smart choice considering there are no real paved roads.

So what do you bring to the Amazon, you may ask?  In regard to staying safe and healthy, one of the first things you should consider is health insurance.  My company health insurance doesn’t cover out of country problems.  So I got Ingle International to cover me while I’m away. They are backed by Lloyds of London and endorsed by Robert Young Pelton, one of my heroes.  I paid about $50 for 16 days of coverage, zero deductible with $500K in coverage.  Makes me feel a little better than not having it.  And the $50 is a drop in the bucket at this point.

I’m figuring as few clothes as possible since I do have a weight limit on the small flights within the country (20 lbs.). Also the fact that since I’ll be sweating like a piglet the whole time, I should be washing clothes  every other day anyway so why weigh myself down with extras?  Obviously, long pants and long sleeve shirts are top on the list.  As hot as it sounds (and they always are), it will protect me from the sun (if/when it comes out) as well as the lovely insects that will be drawn to me like a slab of fresh meat imported from the U.S.  I’ll take one or two pairs of shorts, some tank tops, hiking boots, my new weird looking croc ballet flats that are mighty comfortable and some very flat flip flops, which likely I will leave behind.  Bandana and small dishtowel to soak in water and put on my head if need be, some goggles for swimming in the rivers so I can look out for Sabertooth fish (shown above) and watch for piranha nests and electric eels and god knows what else.  A small hand held fan (with sucker base) for those nights that could be unbearable with no breeze.  I highly doubt there will be a breeze and seeing that there is no electricity (generators get shut off after 9pm), there will be NO fans.  Although checking the weather, I see I might actually be chilly at night…saying 72 for the low.  I sleep at 77 at my house under two covers, so the fan may not be needed after all.  Except to keep the bugs away from the mozzie net.  Yeah, good luck there.  I should probably take a picture one night of all the crazy bugs that will be stuck to my net while I’m under it, trying to force their way in.  Think I’ll try to gather up some frogs, bats and geckoes and employ them for the duration of my stay.  Don’t forget the waterproof poncho since I’m sure it will be raining everyday and hats!

As for electronics, three cameras (1 for real photos, 1 underwater so I can prove that I was brave and take videos/pictures of the creepy stuff that lurks beneath and 1 for the kids in the village).  I want to let the kids use the camera (after a show and tell of how it works) and let them take pictures of each other, families, etc. so that I can bring that memory card home with me and leave them the camera and extra memory cards for them to use as they wish.  I’ll take an ipad to blog with, although internet will be non-existent at one lodge for the first week but I’ll update as I can.  Then all of the dumb chargers and converters.  Oh, lots of silica gel packs and big ziplock bags to put them in so they MIGHT not die while I’m there.

As for shots/medications I’m going in for my 2nd round of Hep A next week then to fill the malarone for the anti-malarial, the cipro for stomach issues, the med for when I get nauseated from the malarone and the anti-fungal pill for when the humidity plays havoc on my skin.  Plenty of band-aids, anti-itch cream, all natural insect repellent (we’ll see how that goes) and just in case, a small deep woods OFF w/ DEET.  I’m not crazy about using DEET and won’t if I don’t need to.  I’ve had a lot of luck repelling mozzies with Badger Balm so I’m taking that in addition to the No No See Ums spray I got recently which basically has the same stuff as the Badger Balm, but in liquid form.  I feel confident the combo of citronella and geranium will do the trick.  Of course, I’m going to find the plants that will help do the same in the jungle and test that out as well.

Oh, and the Go Berkey of course and a stainless water bottle.  Water is supposedly purified at the lodges (or you drink rainwater), but A) I’m not crazy about using plastic bottles and B) I trust my Berkey to do what it should, which is remove 99.9999% of the nasties.  Now bathing is going to be interesting.  At least 1 lodge runs river water through the showers so who knows WHAT will show up in there.  I assume you don’t open your mouth and swish it around.

So this isn’t quite the WHOLE list since I’m also bringing down books, vegetable and pepper seeds,  cd’s and fun things for the kids.  All of a sudden the backpack is looking smaller in my head.

As mentioned earlier, the lows are showing 72 and the daytime only high 80’s!  That is a big relief.  Heat index of low to mid 90’s which I can deal with.  It’s been over 100 here lately so I may be going to South America to get relief from the heat!  That will be nice.

OH!  I’m also planting some trees down there for my company.  We celebrated our 20th year in business last month and I was put in charge of planting 20 trees.  I’ll plant between 5 and 10 down there to help the villages out (provide fruits or nuts to eat and feed guests) so that should be fun and rewarding.  I like to know that I can make a difference for people and also have trees that will outlive ME.

Phew!  So that’s the gist of the planning process…now to see how it actually works out!?!

Planning for Guyana!? HA!

My first attempt at blogging!  I’ve decided the best way to do this is to start with my trip to Guyana this summer.   So far, planning ahead of time has not paid off much.  Red Jet has ceased operations in Trinidad so the flight I booked is probably never getting off the ground.  I made reservations instead on Caribbean Airways and paid three times as much.  The next day I found out that Air Guyana has changed their schedule so that I can no longer fly to Karanambu on the day of my arrival.  This means doing everything in reverse from what I had planned.  I’ve just stopped thinking about it for now.  I’ll get a better handle on it as the time grows closer.

It’s useless to plan things in Guyana, as I’ve heard many times before.  The lack of tourism infrastructure is exactly that.  For the flight inside of the country, you can’t find a flight schedule on their site; you can only pay using a bank transfer unless you’re there in person and THEN you can pay by credit card; email response is very slow and when you do finally get the schedule, it has no detail in it at all as to where they fly.  It’s all assumed.  A little bit of legwork on their side would go a long way to just simply post it on their website instead of having to answer 5 emails.  I even mentioned that and of course, it went ignored.

So the (sketchy) plan is taking me to Maipaima lodge, Caiman House and Karanambu Lodge (owned by the infamous Diane McTurk).  Speaking of which, I was really bummed (once again AFTER I made the reservation) that Diane is no longer ‘hosting’ the otters.  She has helped care for orphaned and injured Giant River Otters for many years.  Naturally, the year I decide to come she has ceased doing this.  I would still like to meet her though, as I have seen her bubbly personality and her love of wildlife.  The $200 price tag per night doesn’t sit very well with me, though.  The accommodations are extremely basic and even with the promise of ‘all the rum punch you can drink’, it still hurts the wallet.  If anything must be dropped from this itinerary, I’m afraid it will be that.

Just for those of you who might want to go to Guyana and have the need to save some money, I’d like to let you know how I’m doing the flight.  Apparently there are only two hubs from which Continental (and I think one or two other airlines) fly to Guyana from.  Florida and New York.  I really hate flying.  So if you get on Continental’s site and plug in your dates, you’ll notice that regardless of where you live, you WILL be flying either to NY or FL and then going to Guyana.  This literally added and extra 8-10 HOURS of time onto my schedule.  I refuse to go that far out of the way and pay out the nose for it.  The cost of the flight was something like $1075 with 3 layovers (this was 14 1/2 hours altogether).  Some flights even made you spend the night in Trinidad.  I ended up buying a ticket straight to Trinidad instead from San Antonio (then Houston) for $754 after taxes and I had bought $80 worth of seat upgrades as well.  So basically it would’ve been around $670 for the flight.  I found a nice b&b in Trinidad to spend the night ($80) and the flight that WAS on Red Jet could have only been $70, turned into $185.  So overall, it would come out to less than taking the flightmare that takes over 14 hours.  The only downside being that you do lose a day of getting into Guyana.  In hindsight, it would have worked out better for me to actually be in Guyana on that first day so I could have caught the 7:30 flight into Karnambu.  But I think I can still make everything happen without having to spend a whole day in Georgetown.

Speaking of Trinidad, it sounded like a great place to hit the beach.  Until I found out there is only 1 beach in all of Trinidad!  And it’s nowhere near the airport.  You have to go over to Tobago if you want beaches.  Weird, huh?  There are no good beaches in Guyana, either.  So I’m without a beach this year unfortunately.  On the subject of where to stay in Trinidad, there were no good/decent budget choices AT ALL.  The airport hotel was seedy at best and charged over $100 a night with pretty bad reviews.  Luckily I happened across what appears to be a lovely b&b by word of mouth.  As mentioned, she only charges $80 which includes airport pickup and dropoff and breakfast.  I’ll give her a plug here since it could be a very good option for those of you who find yourselves in Trinidad: http://www.airportinntrinidad.com/