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Saying Goodbye to Tres Palmeras

Sarah Faegre | Aug 08, 2008


A sudden change in plans requires us to leave Tres Palmeras earlier than expected. We say goodbye to the nearly-fledged Isla Grade chick and prepare for a difficult journey across the flooded savannah.

January 13th 2008

And now, two days later, I am back in the blind at Isla Grande for the last time.  Igor called by radio and told Carmen that the plan has changed and we will need to take advantage of the next bit of dry weather to fly to Trini.  What is the new plan?  No one knows.  I find myself once again in the realm of complete uncertainty. 

Carmen, knowing since her return from Trini that our length of stay at Tres Palmeras was uncertain, has been trying desperately and unsuccessfully to get in touch with Igor since his intended arrival date (in Trini) more than ten days ago.  Finally, the day before yesterday, she talked to him, or, more accurately, heard bits and pieces of phrases through the static that sufficed to tell her we needed to gather all the project stuff and get ourselves to an estancia with an airstrip...but we could not hear through the static well enough to understand where, when, or, more importantly, how to move all our stuff from Tres Palmeras the 10 or 20 kilometers across the flooded savannah, through any number of deep, swampy streams and, depending on the departure location, a rather wide river.  And to complicate things further, there were no horses available to help transport our heavy loads of project equipment and personal baggage.  "Worse case scenario," said Carmen, "-we have to walk, making as many trips as necessary to get all our stuff to Nueva Hora."  (Nueva Hora is the closest and more preferred departure site).

It is hot in the blind and the mosquitoes are relentless today.  Steve is sitting next to me, grabbing his camera every time we hear the quiet croak of a BTM-one of the parents sitting nearby.  The parents did finally show up and feed the other day that I was here, writing, and I took dozens of photos.  Sadly, only a few turned out to be worth anything and none were great because my camera was acting up and chose a very slow shutter speed despite the good lighting conditions.  We were taking turns in the blind at that point and Steve was disappointed to have missed the action, especially since he hasn't seen the macaws attend a nest yet.  We have spent so many hours building the blind, sitting in it, and hiking back and forth to Isla Grande with photos in mind, but this pair of parabas (Bolivian word for macaws) has proven to be unusually shy and difficult to photograph.  This difficulty is amplified by the fact that the chick is going through his pre-fledging weight loss stage, during which the parents only feed him twice a day.

January 14th 2008

I can't believe it was only yesterday that we were taking pictures of the macaws at Isla Grande-it seems like several days ago at least.  But it was a successful morning-we got pictures of the male and female parabas before mid-day and then wandered around by the lagoona, birdwatching until early afternoon when we returned to Tres Palmeras.  And now, I am writing from Nueva Hora, where I sit on a crooked, sagging bed, under my mosquito net, gloating over the fact that the bloodthirsty little monsters will buzz uselessly all night, trying in vain to get my blood.  Tomorrow, if it doesn't rain, the plane will come and take us to Trini.  We are here with all our stuff and all the project equipment, thanks to the wonderful folks here at Nueva Hora, who came to get us with their oxcart and some horses.  I am exhausted and medio sick.  I'll sleep now and write later.

January 16th 2008

Rainy day, quiet, soft grey clouds hanging heavy.  The rain too is soft...but steady-the worst kind because it will slowly soak into the dirt runway, turning it to muck, while a harder, shorter rain might run off to the lower grass on the sides.  Our giant pile of baggage is sitting under a tarp by the runway, hopefully not flooding from beneath.  If the plane had come at 9 a.m., like they claimed it would when we spoke on the radio at 8 a.m., the runway would have been perfect-just recently dried from the last big rain.  It could have even come at 10 or 11...but now it is raining harder, has been raining steadily for an hour, and the dirt is already turning to mud, generously pocked with puddles of course.  As I write the rain is increasing its force bit by bit, yet again.  How many times did we jump up this morning upon hearing a plane?  At least 3 times we rushed outside, once all the way to the runway, 200 meters from the house, as a little Cessna flew low over Nueva Hora-surely our plane, we thought, as it flew straight over our heads.  "It will turn around and land from the other side," said Señora Teresa as it passed over the runway.  But it did not.  And now we cannot contact Trini-surprise surprise, who can believe that the fabulous and reliable radio is failing us yet again?  When I heard that the plane would be here at 9 a.m., of course I didn't really expect it to be here at 9.  I thought 10 at the earliest, today if we're lucky, but just as likely it won't come at all.  I shouldn't have brought all my bags to the runway because now I am a bit worried that my giant blue "coffin" bag will get wet-and that is where my camera with months worth of photos is stored. 

So, we have been trying to leave since Monday.  Today is Wednesday.  Maybe tomorrow, if the rain lets up soon.  Or maybe several days, or even a week, if San Pedro decides that its time for daily rain showers.  But really, it doesn't matter.  Sure, it's a bit annoying to be waiting, waiting, running outside to meet the plane that continues on its way to somewhere else, never knowing when we might leave, but in the end, what schedule do I have to keep?  What commitment will be broken?  What person will be inconvenienced?  Luckily, the answer to all of those questions is: none.  So I wait and read and write and feel a bit bored and restless and eventually the plane will probably show up, or else we will make the 2-day walk to a wide branch of the river and hope a boat comes by. 

The only thing I worry about or feel constrained by is my concern for the safety of my photos and my journals, my two most valuable, irreplaceable items.  It will be nice when they are safely backed-up and I can go about my travels without a worry in the world.  All the rest of my stuff is just that-stuff.  But my writing and my photos are like parts of my memories, things I want to use to re-live my time here again and again, and even more importantly, to share it with the rest of the world so that it is not just me (and the macaws!) who benefits from the adventures that I am lucky enough to experience.

The Southern Screamers are yelling, "Cha-HA," living up to their Spanish name (Chaja).  Their call is a funny, high-pitched fluting sound that jumps up in pitch at the end, cracking like the voice of an adolescent boy.  I smell limes and I know that Señora Teresa and her teenage girls are making limeade in the kitchen-this is the season for lemons and limes.  The ripe, green fruits weigh down the slender branches of the trees with their abundance.

Steve and Carmen, standing at a river near Nueva Hora (we walked there to look for river dophins)

Carmen wading through the swamp to get back to Nueva Hora