Monday, September 8, 2008

The hardest part of keeping a blog is writing after an exhausting day. We are on day four of the trip. That’s four days of sun, wind, hiking sand dunes and missing lunch. My lips are sun burnt. Eating mexican has mapped the degree of burning. Hmmm... lower lip is fried.

Monterey has been the miracle place. The place where the weather is always good for flying. In a sport where one becomes an expert at parawaiting long before becoming a beginner pilot, a site that works all the time is sheer relief. That is how Monterey has been. We had eight clinics without one single day that we could not fly. However our last two clinics went fifty fifty. But not for everyone if you came late, left early, you didn’t do as well.

So, I stress a little more these days. Will Monterey stop being the miracle place? Will we get flat out skunked with no flying days? So far, the site is working. Day one was a brilliant day. The wind came on nice and progressively, lightly soarable to fantastic. Alas, only Jeff made it to the full first day of the clinic. (Some people decided that stopping for lunch instead of coming out to the site to see if it was flyable was a good idea. No really!) Jeff got a hour and a half all to himself, (mostly, besides a few hang glider fly byes.) And the lift was very tall. Oh and sunny.

Day tow flopped.

Days three and four were both on. Day three being a little short but great flying. Today was strong winds but the lift band was sky high, way beyond the normal for a great day. Darren and Dean got two hour flights with great altitude. I mean real high. Oh, and it was sunny. The strength of the wind was the eventual down fall of the day. It got rough and strong and stopped being the smooth conditions you come to the beach to fly. That included some big holes in the lift that, for at once being so high, made sinking out a big surprise.

We had another sled day ride the next day. The fine art of para-waiting was starting to grind. One has to reflect that a day at the beach sitting in the sun is not exactly getting water boarded. BUT when one comes to go paragliding, sitting on the beach is NOT sitting on the beach, it’s waiting. After the briefings are done, tests are discussed, everyone’s told their stories, jokes, teased each other, buried their feet in sand, listened to weather reports, tried drowning themselves in the ocean, you are still waiting.

We were way into a parawaiting stupor on Friday afternoon. Hours had gone by. The wind was blowing across the bay, not into it. We could see sailboats heeled up in white cap water while we sat in calm hot weather. Darren called up the wind talker at
Marina up the coast. The north end of the dunes were getting the wind it was straight in there. Now, chasing the wind is often boondoggle, however, it was the last day for Dean and Darren so might as will go give it a look and see if it was really good. We got packed to leave and I spotted a glider flying at the north end. Now packing was thrown into high gear.

The dunes at the north end are more broken up. There are low gaps to cross. On the up side there are high points where you can regain your altitude after making the crossings. And it was sunny again. If we weren’t getting consistent weather, the weather we were getting was beautiful. Soon enough the whole gang was out, jumping from dune to dune, each glider lit through by the sun of the afternoon. After a hour and a half, staying high got more difficult. The day was loosing energy. After a bit one glider sank out to the beach then another. I knew it would only be a matter of time till I joined them. I radioed Darren who was further down the dunes to start heading back or look at a long hike. I did the same slowly loosing altitude till I landed right below the launch on the beach.

The last day of the clinic was a bust. In the end if the dunes didn’t give us the consistency that we were used to, it did give us beautiful weather. But more to the point it served the purpose we came for. And that is, the opportunity for new pilots to get extended flights smooth conditions, to get a chance to dial into their gliders, all that in a beautiful setting

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

fire in Salt Lake

Miles into the desert from the Mote Exit in Nevada.

More dirt bag camping! Follow some dirt off an exit in the middle of nowhere and keep driving till the road gets smaller and rougher. Go till you think for the fourth time, “Just pull over and set up the freaking tent!”. And I do, checking the ground for level, cactus, cow shit, (well dried, no problem.) I spaz around a little too much trying to get the tent up before all the light bleeds out of the horizon. My water bag has been sitting on the dashboard all the way across the salt flats and is piping hot. I place it on the top of the car, pull out the driver’s side floor mat and put it under my feet and have luxurious hot shower. I get out the guitar and serenade the stars. Finally the few bug that are out here find me and I retreat to the tent.

This morning I woke up and started driving. HIghway six wiggles it’s way down a canyon before depositing me on interstate fifteen. At the opening of the canyon I was surprised to see eight monstrous wind turbines, their long white blades shone brilliant in the now revealed morning sun. For us paraglider pilots their position made immediate sense. They would capture both the evening’s draining winds and the days building winds. Smart! Nice to see something smart. I am perturbed by the idea of an energy crisis. There’s a oil crisis for sure but energy, being neither created or destroyed just changing form, is in the same relative state it always has been. It’s more the pure sloth of not taking advantage of what’s available and the problem that a few people are getting crazy rich by keeping us trapped in the oil age, that has put us in the position that we are in now.

All right enough of that. (It’s buying this expensive gas that’s keeping me ranting.)

As I got onto I-15 and headed towards Salt Lake City I could see the smoke from a large fire beyond the Point of The Mountain.

The Point, as it is known is a famous paragliding site. It is a unique geological phenomena because it is a ridge of mountains that cross a valley. Usually what ever routed out the valley in the first place would remove any perpendicular features to that valley. What this does for the paragliding is that the cold air that flows down the valley every morning flows over the point, making good flying. In the evening the heated air flows up the other side of the point. On a good day you can fly one side in the morning, take a long lunch and fly the other side in the afternoon.

As I get closer to Salt Lake City I see billboards for the Mormon movies. The Mormons make movies about the book of Mormon and show them at the theaters. My favorite was “Polygamy, our Heritage.” I kid you not. This always gets me thinking. I am reminded that Salt Lake City was originally a separate city state that then joined the United States. Salt Lake has a unique history and remains a unique place for it. I keep thinking one of these days I’m going to watch one of these movies just to see what they are all about.

The hiway took me around the point and I could now see the fire blazing up Lone Peak. The smoke had a orange tint to it and now reach up beyond cloud base where the smoke became bright white as the moisture within it started forming a huge cloud. I stopped by the Paragliding shop, Cloud Nine. Everyone was out back taking pictures of the fire. I heard the owner Steve, talking on the phone with someone, “No, you can’t fly today...” (Paraglider pilots can have such one track minds!) I saw the big multi engine slurry bomber plane drop a load of red goo over the house at the bottom of the mountain. With the slurry bombers out the airspace would be closed to all paragliding. I got back into the car and drove and drove and... drove. The salt flats went by the mountain came and went. A river was rarity. The heat got up to speed and started baking the land. Dust devils quivered in long, towering columns. Finally the sun slunk off behind some mountain to look for the back side of the horizon, the heat backed off and I found the sign “Mote exit number something, no services.” or dirt back camping here.

The oil age and road tripping

Greetings from one of my favorite dirt bag camping sites. I’ve just crested Soldier pass on Highway six. I pulled off a few miles down the west side on a dirt road of questionable condition. Straddling the massive ruts made by the SUV’s, I drove down to the creek and set up my tent. I always drive to the Monterey clinics. I love the road trip and the dirt bag camping on some disregarded piece of property. But each year there is a shadow growing ever darker on my trips. It’s the sun setting on the internal combustion engine.

My last road trip was the epic Central America trip with American Explorer. At over twelve thousand miles, Monterey’s mere thirteen hundred seems a quick trip to the store for milk. Yet the trip to Central America had two things going for it that this one does not. I’m driving my own car, not the sponsor’s and the credit card that I insert into the gas pump is mine. So, from that looming shadow I was talking about comes this voice, “How much longer can you pull this off?”. I drove pass a station in Glenwood Springs, and there it was, four dollar plus gas. Now I know I’m going into the heart of reckless gas profiteering, California. I saw the grim reaper waving at my car, standing beneath that sign.

On my last Paramotor trip to Utah in November, I remember talking with Bill Lhotta about how when the gas is gone we won’t miss mixing the two stroke oil, or the smell, or the noise. And it made me think that we are all trapped in the oil age. Like a bunch of cavemen dragging our stone clubs around, we are all pushed up the end of a technological canyon that is narrowing. Cars were once powered by many different engines but like a bad businessman that relies on one client to keep his business afloat, there is only one now and that way is a dead end. Just the fact that you need an on board computer to run the thing should be a clue. I know when the cars we have today are gone, I won’t be missing the noise or the stink or that only thirty percent of the energy actually turns the wheels as the rest is wasted or all those endless pieces that need fixing. But if the road trips go away...
But there’s one more thing I’ll miss. It’s a by product of those wasteful engines and that’s the heat, cause there’s nothing like going for a drive on a cold winter’s day, slapping that heat control all the way right, and baking myself.


Friday, May 30, 2008

Home Again, Home Again

I'm writing you in a world class stupor. I got very little sleep in the final drive home from Copper canyon,Mexico. Fell asleep yesterday at four pm, woke up this morning at seven am. Not sure which way is up now.

I've got one last entry for the trip in my lap top but right now, it's time to get the paragliding school going.

So for all of you that have been waiting to go flying. We are going Saturday to the leyden site,meeting at 8am. Call me after seven tonight if you want to go. 303 642-0849.

Paraglidng info about schedules and when we are going flying will be on the email list from here on out. If you are not signed up for this it's on the opening page of my web site. Click on the button and sign up.

The blog will continue with stories and ranting.

See ya!


Sunday, May 25, 2008


one thirty, just peeled my socks off like they were duct taped to my feet. Spent all day yesterday in the water and my one pair of shoes is a science project. Drove all the way from Panama in the last few days. Big drives, little sleep. Got to the point were the only sleep we were getting was a couple of hour lay down in the back of the Earthroamer.

We've gotten pulled over at every road block, get searched two to three times a day. Late one night we got stopped. While one guy got his grubby hands in all my stuff another jerk stood in the my face, firing off Spanish at me while making sucking noises like he was smoking a joint, over and over again. I've never wanted to punch somebody more.

Mexico was getting some bad PR in my little brain till we finally hit Monterey. Monterey is a great mountain city and the places we saw were world class in grandar and beauty.

That's my eight minutes of personal time for this day. Time for my four and half hours of sleep.

see ya.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Panama Canal, Batman style.

May Nineteenth,

Made it into Mexico later last night. We were trying to make it to a boarder that closed at eleven. With a lot of mad driving, we got there at eleven-o-five. Then we went to the other boarder that doesn’t close... (Ya, why didn’t we go there in the first place?)

The brakes on the Land Cruiser had been making some noise. Now, there were crying out in agony at every slow down. I’m sitting at the hotel while local mechanic works on the brakes in the parking lots.

A brake job is so simple here. Dude goes to parts store, picks up parts, goes to the car’s location, installs parts. What’s missing is, a garage, a lift, matching uniforms and corporate branding.

Back in Panama City. We’ve had one last day to finish coverage of the canal. But first we had to shoot some tape for the airline that had flown us back and forth from the island. ( oh, and that owned the island we were on.) Don and I where at the end of the runway filming the planes taking off and landing. Some of the pilots figured this out, seeing us on the runway. So they decided to give us a show and fly real low overhead. I had to over ride the reflex to run as those big planes came roaring right at me. “It can’t hit me. Can it?”

Next Don was going to over fly the Panama canal in a small plane, the little 182. They pulled off the door and the seat on the right side so he could film without having to shoot through the glass windows. He was in my paraglider harness. I had attached the reserve bridle to the carabiners and then routed it behind him so that we could secure Him to the plane somewhere. Now I know that the bridal on my harness has a working load of eight “G’s” but the airline freaked out. They ended up trussing him up with a sorts of stuff. He was probably good for thousands of kn’s before they let him fly. Off went Don with his feet out the plane for an hour long flight over the canal.

When Don got back, we all drove back to Ganboa to get back on a boat to get more coverage of the Panama Canal. On our last trip on to the canal we were racing to met the Earthrace. Now we wanted to take some time to film what we had seen then.

At the dock there was some discussion about the level of fuel in the boat. Person “a” was saying we needed more fuel while person “b” was saying the gas gauge was screwed up. As this conversation went on in spanish I was only guessing what was going on. I would find out soon enough who was right. As we took off from the dock person “b” pointed to the gas gauge that would read full, empty, half full and so on. He gave me the thumbs up and a wink.

Most of the land around the canal had been kept as natural jungle. It was explained that, as it is, the canal must be constantly dredged because the silt from run off tries to fill the canal back in. If the area around the canal was developed then this problem would be even worse. This makes the land around the canal relatively pristine. There are monkeys in the trees, crocodiles on the blanks, jaguars have been sighted and the jungle is thick as it climbs up into the hills.

We saw the big shovel on a barge dredging the canal and went over for a closer look. I had seen it on our last trip on the canal when we were in a hurry. Now we motored over for a closer look.
Don started filming as the engine was shut off. The huge shovel was shiny bright from constant abrasion. It was a gigantic metal hand scooping out house sized piles of dirt and water. The shovel would plunge in with the illusion of slow motion that an object of incomprehensible size can give. Then returning to the surface with it’s load of mud and a waterfall of brown water pouring off it, it would dump the load onto a barge. With each scoop the barge would shutter taking on the load.

The current was slowly taking us closer to the shovel. And, although we wanted a nice close look, we didn’t want to get scooped up with the mud and dropped on the barge. Our guy went to start the engine to move us away. CHUGCHUGCHUGCHUGCLUNK! went the engine. (We continue to drift towards the shovel.) CHUGCHUGCHUGCHUGCLUNK! went the engine again. I heard some muttered Spanish, that, although I didn’t understand it, I think would be spelled, even in Spanish as, “%&^$#@#%! CHUGCHUGCHUGCHUGCLUNK! Went the engine one more time. (That drifting? It’s still going on.) There is some loud Spanish going on now. One of the guys goes to the small electric trolling motor, no luck there, it doesn’t work either.

Now Don, who is looking through the lens and has his headphones on to hear the audio feed, does seem to be aware of; how close we are, the guy waving his hands over his head at the shovel operator or me yelling, “Do we have any paddles!”. I can clearly see the scratches in the back of the shovel as it come back down. The wave sent up from the shovel impacting the water rocks the boat. One of the Spanish speaking guys point at a hatch that I open to find two paddles tangled up with a bunch of other stuff. I wrestle one loose which Keith grabs and starts powerfully churning the water with it. I grab the other one and get behind him. We are moving now, slowly but , moving.

It appears that the shovel operator either doesn’t see us, (which seems impossible as we were right there.) or does give a crap what a pile of idiots in a boat do to themselves. We are real close. On the next scoop the shovel is no more than fifteen feet away. The next one is going to scoop us. Here’s the problem, with both of us paddling on the same side we only get the boat sideways from where we want to go. That is, straight up current. There is no way we can out paddle the canal’s current. I go to get on the other side of the boat as Don comes screaming by, grabs the paddle out of my hand and starts paddling on the far side. I have almost enough time to think, “Hey!” before I spot a broom laying in the bottom of the boat. Taking the broom I run to the bow of the boat and start paddling across it. I’m not making the boat go forward but I can point the boat across the current so that the efforts of Don and Keith’s paddling will take us across the bow of the barge where, we will be on it’s far side, away from the shovel. Then the current can take us away from the shovel.

I’m wondering if a broom will make an effective paddle as I plunge it into the water. I’m also thinking in that quite, observational side of the little brain, “This is kind of like a James Bond/Indiana Jones/Batman movie, cool! The shovel comes down now even closer. “Crap!” I’m jumping if this doesn’t work. But the broom is doing teh job, the boat is slowly turning and the frantic paddling behind me is moving the boat. I thought we might hit the barge’s bow and then drift onto the wrong side toward the relentless shovel but we just clear it and are safe.

We scrape along the side of the barge, catching our breath. The flesh of my hands feels all compressed from being caught between my bones and the paddle. There’s a little laughter that has a twinge of the hysterical in it. We start babbling about what happened, what we did and thought. And then the cops come.

It seems we can’t get on the canal without a visit from the cops. It appears that there is a new dredging project going on in the canal and the powers that be, want to control the spin. So dudes with cameras get asked questions. Add to that that we almost got snuffed by the dredging shovel... well cops need to check this kind of stuff out. “Yes, officer we are here with our sixty-five thousand dollar camera to make home movies of monkeys. Yeah, monkeys that’s it, you know the ones over there. Look! point point nod smile.” “Yup, the engine failed, bad luck that!” Believe it or not that story worked and we didn’t get our camera confiscated.

Remember that argument about whether the boat was low on gas or that the gauge was bad? Well, the guy who said the gauge was off said that the engine failed due to an electrical problem. The
funny thing was that, when another boat was sent out with a gas can and that gas was put in the engine the electrical problem cleared right up. Funny, that. Our day, even after all that excitement, wasn’t over. We got in a car and head back towards Panama to the locks at Miraflores.

The sun was setting as we filmed from the observation deck over the locks. The sky had a patch work of clouds outline in gold, the hills surrounding the locks fading ever more purple in the distance. On the intercom we got tourist information, people of all languages surrounded us.

It’s hard to capture the scale of things here, but imagine a huge ship stacked with layer upon layer of leggos and then realize that each leggo is actually a container the size of a semi truck. Watch the ship enter the locks, see the doors open and close, see this behemoth of a boat sink down between the concert walls of it’s pen before being released into the Pacific

This ships toll was close to a quarter of a million dollars. The smallest toll ever paid was a man who swam it, 36¢.

Almost done with this day now. My last task is to climb into the Earthroamer and drive to the town of David, eight hours away. Keith and Don are in the other car. I listen to a book on tape, the road spools along under my tires in the night.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Last Day, San Jose

Today we leave behind San Jose, the private island that has been our home for the last few days.

Got a word for all of you about all those plastic bottles we use. They’re out floating in the ocean, That’s where they go. San Jose, being private has a tiny population, not large enough to cause what we saw. When I was out on the boat yesterday afternoon, I found the ocean littered with trash. There we were miles from the island that is miles from Panama and we would go through large swaths of floating garbage. Bottles, bags, flip flops, foam containers.

I had heard about there being vast expanses of trash in collecting points between the major currents of the ocean. But, hearing about, is not seeing. So I’m thinking about putting an end to the plastic throw away bottles in my life. One Gatorade bottle can last for many uses, when being refilled with powder and mixed at home. Give it some thought.

Well, leaving a private island out in the Pacific. Sounds like a wistful lament, but I’m ready to start, at least, pointing home, if not going there. I see all trips as a big bungy jumps. First is the glorious liberation of committing to the unknown, then the meat of the adventure falling through events. But then you start feeling the pull of home, like that bungy starting to go taunt. And slowly the desire to go home increases, till on those last few days it’s like being sucked into a black hole. I’m just starting to feel the bungy cord, just starting to slow me down.

Earth Race


Well today I spent running around San Jose Island. The Earth Roamer arrived so we drove it around shooting on the roads and beaches.

But let’s back up to yesterday.

Woke up early again. ( I guess I should just start remarking when I actually wake up late as it is the more noteworthy event.) Drove the twenty minute drive across the island to the airstrip. Getting on the little 182 four seater, flew, with the gang, back to Panama City.

I've been flying back and forth to the island the last three days in a row. It’s my commute! So I drifted over the islands of the Pearl Islands. Sleep was trying to shut my eyes as the ocean passed below me. Little wisps of cloud parted over the wings. I saw miniature towns on small island and nothing but the jungle on others. I was trying to see if I could spot some whales but found my eyes were shut and I had been sleeping.

The plan... you know how this goes, there’s a plan and then things change. After all our mission is to shoot great TV not to adhere to schedules. Back to the plan, that was to over fly the Panama canal. The weather was a gray overcast mess so we had to bag that. Next on the to do list was filming the Earthrace.

The Earthrace is a bio- diesel boat that is trying to set the around the world record while drawing attention to bio-diesel. Today it would enter the Caribbean side of the Panama canal. We were to get on the support boat in the canal and meet it.

Now about the canal. If you start on the Caribbean side, the canal cuts inland to a lake after going through a number of locks. Then you must cross a channel cut in the lake before reaching the locks on the other side that drop you down to Pacific ocean. We would get on the support boat at the Pacific side of the lake, motor along to the Caribbean locks and wait there for the Earthrace.
There was a big meeting at the Dunkin Donuts of Panama City with the Earthracer people. They needed to know who we were and what we were doing.

Two of the guys had been on the boat, Tino and Adrian. They seemed happy just to be on dry land having donuts and pizza. (Duncan Donuts sells pizza here!) They were taking a short break while the boat went through the locks before returning to get on board for the next leg.

Everything was cool. We then had to move from the Dunkin Donuts to the Subway. (That’s sandwiches by the way, not a form of mass transit.) There, Andrew would come by with the support boat on a trailer.

Now, the support crew was a different animal than our American Explorer Crew. First off they had women! And, we’ve never packed beer and rum and what not before heading off anywhere. When the support boat arrive it was provisioned, then we followed it up to Gamboa to put in.

Gamboa is on the most Pacific side of the lake, (who’s name I can’t remember, if I ever knew it.) that is the middle part of the Panama canal. The support boat was maybe thirty feet and had two two hundred and twenty-five horse power engines. There were shouts of “Ipod, Ipod, who’s got an Ipod.” so the music was blasting as Andrew lit up the engines, we all found something to grab and the boat flew off.

The canal here is a lake, yet a series of green and red buoys mark the middle channel where the big boats must go. And these are BIG boats. Call them ships. Ships the size of shopping malls. They were sitting around here and there, waiting for the traffic change from Pacific ward to Caribbean ward.

We passed two massive cranes used to maintenance the lock doors. There were barges dredging with shovels that could eat houses. AND there where thatch roof huts with dug out canoes pulled up on the shore before them. We made a short stop to throw bananas to the monkeys hanging around in the trees but they must have been full. It’s a sad day when you can give away bananas to monkeys!

We whipped by all this with hair flailing, Don running tape the whole time, trying to capture the blurs going by, until the police pulled us over. Well, there was this problem about someone getting off the Earthrace between locks thereby disrupting the fabric of the universe of the officials that run the locks.

Andrew our captain, is a pilot for the canal. That is, he boards the ships before they enter the canal and guides them through. So He knows everyone and starts showing his credentials. Some of the officials are smiling and saying “Hi” and then there are the scowling armed dudes. Now, the boat is stopped we’re filming like mad. There are whispered conversations as other people get heavy the the heavies. Eventually everything is resolved and we get to the Caribbean locks.

There are huge ships everywhere waiting to enter the locks. A lot of waiting is going on including us. There’s the problem, we need to catch a plane back to the island tonight. Because we filmed the EarthRace today we didn’t film the island. We have to film the island tomorrow so we must be on the plane at four thirty. I do the math, forty minute back across the lake, a half a hour to the airport, it’s three now... Twenty minute later the EarthRace comes out of the locks.

Ok, google “Earthrace” this is James Bond’s boat! It’s long and sleek and has two outriggers on both side attached by flying buttresses. It’s made to go through waves, completely submerging rather than going over the top. It’s a spaceship on the water.

We cruise up to it. There are shouts back and forth, “Go to channel four” “You got beer?, you’ve got beer!” “Send over the girls” “Nice beard!”. As the officials are already giving us the hairy eye ball over the illegal de-boarding, nothing passes between the boats. Instead it’s time to blast off to the far locks. And off we go. We are racing along with this crazy looking boat. Our skipper knows his job, we get front shots, rear shots, left side, right side. Everything is going great till we cross wakes and everyone is thrown sideways. I’ve been trying to steady Don and warn him about the rough spots. I’ve got time to yell “hang on” and we do. But even with both hands I still can’t keep from bouncing my face off the pole I’m hanging on to.

Finally back at Gamboa the boats stop to chat a bit. They go on to the locks and we go to the boat ramp. There is some disappointment. Keith and Don were to go on the Earthrace and interview to crew, get their story. (They were shot at in the Caribbean and have the bullet holes to prove it.)

It’s now five. Are we getting on the plane at four thirty? No! We race off in the car to get a plane to another island and talk a guy into taking us in a small open boat, at night, thirty miles out into the ocean back to San Jose.

It’s night, the air is warm. There is a hazy half moon overhead. Lightning flashes on the horizon. The bio-luminous plankton make our wake a wide swath of light filled with sparks. Behind us is Panama, somewhere ahead, in the dark, is our island, but right here is a world removed. Keith pulls out his phone, “I’ve got coverage!” And calls home from way out in the Pacific

Pearl Islands

I just had the most singular experience. We flew out of Panama City after hours of sorting things out. The plane was a twenty seater Twin Otter. I got a look at how large Panama city was before heading out over the ocean.

The waves passed under me for maybe a half an hour before I saw the straight cut of the a runway a cross the island a head. San Jose is it’s name, one of the Pearl Islands off the Pacific coast of Panama.

As we taxied to the end of the runway a pickup truck paced us along one side. The plane came to a halt at the end of the grass runway. There was a small bamboo building of sorts and a man to greet us. The man shook my hand and said something but Don was already rolling tape and I was trying to get out of the shot. As it turns out the was the owner of the island and the Airline we just flew on.

We loaded the gear onto the truck and started driving. The island has a series of really nice dirt roads. Our driver spoke no english so we looked out the windows as he drove on. There were deer and wild pigs about. I saw a big butt rat rabbit thing eating something off the road. It ran away as we came by, it’s big butt bouncing up and down. A comical thing, but when it got to the edge of the forest it jumped many times it’s length like it was shot out of a cannon revealing a hidden power beneath it’s awkward appearance.

This island had gone over a hundred years untouched and unoccupied. It has been privately owned and is largely undeveloped. Once pirates stayed here, now it has a resort. What has remained the same is the beauty of the place with it’s sand beaches, coconut tree and dark rock cliffs. (More jungle so insert one of my previous descriptions here.) The island was way bigger than I thought as it took quite a while to get to the resort. The resort is so far beyond the means of a paraglider instructor as to be unthinkable. But... I’m here!

My room is a bamboo cabin over looking a paradise of a beach. At the main lodge the view is of slack jaw quality. It’s maybe a hundred feet up on a ocean cliff. There are tiny rock islands with tufts of trees, like heads of hair. On the railings toucans eye the cherry in my drink. I try to make friends with one that lunges for my drink. It, instead, gets a firm bite of finger. This my third altercation with things biting me. One toucan, one crab and that dam tripod I’ve been carrying around everywhere.

The sun set, we have dinner on the porch. The tree over us is full of macaws making a racket, hanging upside down and biting each other. After dinner the planning begins, what to shoot, how long will it take. I make some, hopefully useful comments, but find I falling asleep in my chair. But I cant’ quite hang it up yet and that beach is calling to me.

So I take a nigh time walk. The waves are crashing. The stars are brilliant in a clear sky. In a few minutes I’m far enough away from the resorts lights that my night vision comes on. Occasionally I scare something in the jungle which at least scares me as much as it.

At the end of the beach I find a absolutely clear river. I walk along it for one bend so that I’m now completely blocked from the resort lights and sat down, shutting off the head lamp.

Darkness and quiet. I let my thought drift for a bit, eyes closed. These moments are so rare on this trip, it’s like a powerful drug coming on. I pull off my shoes and wade into the river. As I step into the water a cloud of roiling grains of light swirl around my feet. I take another step and then another. With each one the swirls of light come tiny yet sharp. Then I’m crawling through the water watching the lights around my knees, my hands.

I remember first hearing about bio-luminus plankton when reading “Kontiki” as a kid. There was a passage about the balsa wood raft out in the middle of the pacific, under the stars, leaving a glowing trail of light behind it. Since then I had always wanted to see it for myself. Now I have, first just months ago in Mexico and then at Gondoca the night of the turtle patrol, but nothing like this. This was pure magic, the late night, the warm wind, water and the woozy tint of sleep depravation made it all intoxicating.

I pulled myself away after a while headed off to my room to sleep.



Ok, backing up a bit to cover the rafting trip in Costa Rica

I’m waking up with my old pal, Five a.m. again. It’s a drive to a river for some rafting today. It’s raining so the big question is, “Can we film?”.

It takes three hours to drive the fifty miles. As I’m now writing from Panama, I can crown Costa Rica as the worst roads of Central America! Yeah! The country seems to be one of the most, well to do, but none of that money turns into asphalt. No matter, you just pull over every once and a while to put the fillings back in your teeth.

Warren has brought a friend, Daniel, along. Her part, along with Warren, is to have other people in the raft so it will look more like a trip. The bonus is she is female and the show needs some feminine balance. Otherwise it would just be Keith and the rafting guide. Don and I are in an oar raft with the camera, tape and gear.

We get off the dirt road to get on a dirt road before arriving at THE dirt road. At a gate across the road the horn gets honked and a very old women slowly comes out to let us through. Keith, being a gentleman, opens the gate for her and we drive through.

Finally we drive down a steep road, (dirt) into the river valley. It’s beautiful place. Water worn gray rock contain the river. The trees overhead drop down long vines. As with everywhere around here the jungle is a collection of every shade of green and every shape of leaf. The valley makes a sharp bend, a slight hint of white water beyond.

Don has the little camera in the lead boat. It’s me and the guide in the oar raft. The first rapid sends us stepping down over some rocks, then bounces us off a rock wall. It’s low water. There are many rocks and shallow spots. Whether the river is tamer is debatable. There are spots that are rapids now that would be washed over in high water, there are rapids in high water that are now rocky shoals.

At first I am thinking I’d like to be in my kayak. The water is class two and three which would match my lack of skill perfectly. I’ll change my mind later.

Now Don joins me in the raft to get out the other camera. The class two and three water has gotten everyone thinking that we can film on the river with the big monster camera. There is a cooler strapped to the frame of the raft in the middle. That’s where the big camera goes in the rough water. My job is to sit behind the cooler grab the straps of Don’s life jacket from behind and keep him stable by holding him against the cooler. That way Don can concentrate on shooting as both his hands are needed to run the camera.

All is going well. We’re rolling tape, shooting rapids, getting out to film the other raft going through. Everything is taking longer than planned. The guides are starting to twitch. There is a chance we wouldn’t get to the take out before dark. The guides don’t want to run the rapids at night. They are using language like, “concerned” and “for your safety”. Pretty soon they aren’t letting us out of the boat to shoot or even repack gear.

Now the rapids are getting bigger. It takes more strength to keep Don in the boat. My finger are numb from hanging on. At times it takes everything I’ve got. In one rapid we go over a drop sideways. I feel one side of the raft go down the other up and then we slam down on the side. I feel Don pitch violently like he’s going over. I pull him back to the center of the raft with a quick jerk.

I ask the guide whether it’s going to get worst. He say “yes”, there’s a class four rapid coming up. At this point everything in the raft is wet. There is nothing dry left to wipe the lens clean so Don has been holding the forty five pound camera over his head as we go through the bad stuff.

So where is the class four rapid? “Just there.” points the guide. Oh crap! I’m thinking what are doing taking the big expensive camera through rapids of this level? The very first thing that happens is we hit a rock and are spun around backwards. I look over my shoulder, there’s a six foot drop that is divided by a huge rock. We smack right into the rock. I stand up to shove Don forward as the sudden stop sends him backward and then over the drop we go. There is a big splash, we spin around one more time and, amazingly, everyone is still in the boat.

There’s flat water in a deep canyon a decrepit bridge handing over head. It’s very quite. Our rafters get out to swim. The big camera has had it, the lens fogs up and it’s put away



I’m sitting behind the counter of Air Panama by the women's bathroom. Keith and Don are off arranging arrangements. I’m watching the gear.

We woke at a reasonable seven o'clock at the Gamboa resort, had breakfast and headed out to put the Earth Roamer on a barge to the Pearl islands.

At first the road took us along the canal, which at that point was more or less a river. The banks were a few hundred feet high and covered in jungle. Soon we were in Panama City, diving through narrow streets packed with people. There was a car leading us or we would have been lost in the first turn. The streets were lined with food carts and the traffic was an act of faith.

It had been pouring rain but a patchy sky was drying out and the sun would make brief appearances. Our circuitous route brought us to the sea. A thicket of skyscrapers stood against a gray sky. Of this huddled mass of buildings, every third one was under construction. this town must be booming. I hadn’t seen anything like it since Shanghai.

At the “docks” the barge was sitting, hard, on a concert ramp. The ramp angled down to a rolling plain of mud. From the smell, there must have been something other than dirt making up that gray brown mass. There was no water in sight.

The gear was divided into need right now and need later. The “now” came with us, the “later” went in the Roamer. The theory was that the tide would come in and cover the crap mud plain, raise the barge off of it’s parking spot and float the Roamer off to San Jose, one of the Pearl islands. We would fly there and meet it when it arrives a day later.

Oh, and never ever, ever think of swimming off the coast of Panama City. I’ve seen what’s down there.

Although a necessary task, watching the gear, I’m getting bored sitting on the airport. There is the traffic to the bathroom, the workers punching in but beyond that it’s dull back here. Guess I’ll read my book.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Turtle Day

Turtle Day

It’s two a.m., The three of us are lined up, sitting on a log in sector B of the beach at Gondoca station. We are hear to film leather back turtles laying their eggs.

It’s been a very long time since we woke up at 5 a.m. on what, as of midnight, has become yesterday. It’s a moonless night with a sky full of stars. The near one hundred percent humidity stifles what light there is. The darkness reluctantly softens to blotchy gray in places. I had stumbled out with the research patrol. Making the first pass, I never knew where my feet would land, wondering how in hell anyone would know if there weren’t thirty turtles all around us in the gloom. I had the boom microphone and so was attached to Don by a few feet of cable. I would stumble one way, He the other, the cable would go tight. I’d lurch back towards Don, who I couldn’t see, to keep from ripping the cable out of the back of the camera.

The patrols go all night long. This patrol is midnight to four. The patrols look for turtles coming a shore. The researchers stand aside as the turtles digs it’s nest, lays it’s eggs and then buries them. They then rush in to check for tags and if untagged tag it. The turtle is then measured. The place and the date of the laying is recorded and the turtle returns to the sea.

After each pass of along the beach, the patrol sits for twenty minutes so the turtles, (who must be able to see something in the gloom,) feel comfortable to come a shore.

I think it was the length of the day combined with gloom that had us all feeling a little pessimistic. There was talk about just going back to bed and seeing if we could round out the story with some “B” roll. (“B” roll being footage from another source, that is used to illustrate what, say, an interviewed person is talking about.) Physically this sounds like a great plan, mentally... Seeing a leather back turtle climb up the beach to lay it’s eggs, How could one miss that?

Then a red light starts blinking from sector A, a turtle has been spotted. Everything changes in an instant. Lethargy flees before excitement as we plod off at top speed across the sand in the dark. Megan, one of the researchers greets us. She explains in her Australian accent, that we must wait as the turtle is still lying her eggs. Within a patch of darkness only a few feet away is the turtle.

Soon we are told it’s time to move in. Camera’s rolling! Now soft red headlamps are turned on, there she is. I’m three feet away. I was told later it wasn’t a big turtle, could have fooled me! Megan can just reach from tail to shoulder as she lays the tape across the turtles back. This turtle is tagged. At this point the turtle starts waving it’s powerful front flippers. This is the sign top back off. We all move away. Data is written down in whispered conversations. The turtle calms down. We move back in. A little more filming is done. And then she starts laboriously crawling back towards the sea.

The creature is large and powerful but the turtle looks completely out of it’s element. The big flippers come down and plow the sand, pushing her forward. I think about what must drive her to leave the sea behind, what thoughts might a turtle have in the surf, head out of the water, surveying the beach for a place to lay her eggs? And now that the job is done those final moments of exposure as she pushes her bulk over the sand.

And then it’s over. The turtle is in the water, that massive body once again weightless, transformed from lumbering beast to master of the sea.

Master of stumbling, I head back with the group. Elated by the experience I’m more aware of my surroundings now. There is a faint bio-luminous glow coming from the beach with each step I make. I see it also in the water. There is now an outline of the trees against the water. We rejoin the patrol at sector B, who lead us back to our rooms at the station. I’ve got a chance to get a whole four hours of sleep before we get up to interview the other researchers.

Here’s the deal, these turtles are in big need of assistance. There has been an eighty percent decline in their population in the last ten years. Due to the efforts made here at Gondoca there are seeing a slight increase in number at this beach.

Now, on to the babies turtles. Mom is out of here, they are on their own. Of those eggs some twenty percent aren’t fertile. Of the others forty percent may hatch. Then there is a four day climb to the surface, a dash across the beach and finally surviving till one can breed and lay eggs. One in a thousand make it. JEEZ!

Oh why did we get up at five a.m. to film turtles twenty one hours later? To get in a helicopter to film volcanos outside of San Jose of course! I didn’t get to fly in the helicopter this time. My job was to drive the Earth Roamer around the mountain roads while Don, in the helicopter, filmed me. This was actually real cool. Totally James Bond, I’m getting cased by a helicopter! It would come in low and pace me. I would drive through some trees and it would pull away. I’d be thinking, “Where is it, where is it.” And then it would come along the other side.

Anyway I’m in Panama. Just drove over the Panama canal. Although the trip is far from over this is a milestone. This is the farthest we’ll go south. After filming here we head north again and some, as of yet, unthinkable time in the future, head home.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

San Jose

San Jose,

Well the big camera just broke down. This brings everything to a screaming halt. The gods of dumb luck have smiled on us as the only Sony service center in Central America is in San Jose, a two hour drive from the point of failure. So I’m in a hotel in Down town San Jose regrouping with the gang as the camera gets fixed. We used the time to get a title problem sorted out with the Land Cruiser.

This will be a short catch up as I need to wake up five hours from now. The camera did get fixed. We went to Monteverde, staying at the research center at the Cloud Forest Reserve. Saw the Bat jungle. Returned to San Jose yesterday to go rafting today. Tomorrow is a helicopter flight around some volcanos for some ariel footage. After that we’re watching some turtles babies on the Eastern coast.

Snoozing now!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


This is tourism central. Fortuna is designed to get people touristed. There are signs everywhere for every type of tourist level adventure.

We are filming canyoneering today. That’s a merger of the word canyon and mountaineering, which means exploring a canyon with mountaineering gear. One repels down water falls, climbs through narrow canyon walls, gets real wet, and generally gets to poke around in a unique and beautiful setting. The gripping thing is how the hell do we get the sixty five thousand dollar camera down through water falls, streams and over slippery rocks. Remember, this is a rain forest and we’ve already toasted one camera getting it wet. We were shown a video the day before, it’s real wet in that canyon. When the big Sony Seven Hundred A, dies, the gig is up.

First we meet the tour operators. They’ve got a great place. When we explain that we need to film the car on the way to the canyon. They ask if we want the car washed. “Yes” is the answer to that question. Five guys are all over our car, soon it is sparkling. I ride up in the tour operator’s truck with Don. Keith is driving the Earth Roamer, getting filmed.

The tour company is owned by a Husband and Wife team. The gal turns out to be my former Alderwomen from when I lived in downtown Madison. We chatted about the Paul Soglan years, Madison’s once hippy Mayor turned grumpy old man.

We drive up, yet another contestant for the worlds bumpiest road. Occasionally, opening gates, and herding cows off the road we gain altitude. At the top we pull out the trusty cooler, which worked so well in the caves, for the camera, get geared up for repelling and head off.

Entering dense forest we haul the gear in. There are five guides with us to help and I don’t have to carry the tripod, so it’s more or less a day off. This is a different than the jungle in Belize, this is dripping rain forest. There are the palms and banana trees, hanging vines everywhere and, what is to a Wisconsin boy, huge house plants that have escaped their pots, everywhere.

I know how to repel, I rock climb but I listened the briefing to be a good sport while checking the anchors to see if they’re set up properly. After a short hike came the first repel that would drop us into the canyon. Now comes the first logistics discussion. There is a second repel point, near by, that is a free repel. That is the rope drops straight down. The main repel goes down a near cliff but the rope lays against the wall so the person going down will walk their feet down the wall as they go. Don will shot keith going down from the top and then the camera will go back in the cooler and be lowered down the free repel. That way the camera will not be banged against the rock wall, even if it’s in the cooler.

I get to go first. The repell is about a hundred and fifty feet. The guides are attaching safety lines to everyone with a braking devise. That way they can control my descent even if I screw up.

For those who haven’t repelled before the first thing you do is stick your ass out over the edge. the further your ass sticks out the better. This is not a comfortable thing to do. And though I’ve done lots of repels, that first moment, before I get my feet on the wall and start descending is always disconcerting.

I dangle off the platform. The first little bit I’m hanging free of the wall. The rope twists me around in the circle so I get a full view of the canyon walls, the waterfall and the deep “V” the canyon makes in the thick foliage. My feet soon touch down on the wall and bounce down to the pool below. I speed up the repel to see how tight of a leash the guide overhead is keeping on me with the safety line. I find out He’s letting do my thing so I speed up some more. Too much He puts the brake on me. Oh well.

Next comes Keith. Don is filming with the big camera. I’ve got the little camera and am filming from below. I’ve got to scramble up the side of the canyon a bit to stay out of the shot yet still film.

After we are all down, the guides come descend. Showing off they come down head first. Last is the big camera being lowered on the rope.

Next we climb further down into the canyon, going through and along the river. Keith is getting soaking wet for the camera while Don and I are doing everything we can to keep that camera and the other gear dry. At times I’ve got my heavy pack on with one foot on each side of the canyon, my hands pressing outward on the walls and the river running underneath and between my legs.

The last repel is a free repel that goes through the waterfall. It’s over two hundred feet. Keith will repel this one, get to the bottom, run the long way around on the trail so that He can be filmed again. This way Don can get a shot from above and well as below. Keith goes down right through the waterfall whooping it up. I’m next. I try to stay out of the water, keeping the gear dry. (That sort of works.) I stop for a moment to just look around. I’m on a rope, a waterfall, that I can touch with and outstretched hand, next to me and lush jungle all about. I look straight down at the pool below me. I let myself zip around for a while till my guide overhead puts the brakes on me.

Keith does his second repel and then heads down stream to do some interviews with the guides and the tour’s owners. I stay behind to collect the gear. The cooler will be sent down clipped to a guide rope that is tied out at an angle to keep the gear out of the water. A second rope does the actual lowering. I can’t help but think what the camera rental place would think of it all as I watch the small dot of the cooler with the camera in it become larger and larger as it descends.

At the end of the day, driving back it’s clear. Finally we can see the volcano is all it’s glory. We set up the Earth Roamer and Don getting great end of the day shots of the volcano with a sky full of orange modeled clouds.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Driving in Costa Rica

Backing up a little now that I've got internet again.

Completed the trek through Nicaragua yesterday. There must be nice places in Nicaragua but I didn’t see any of it. Everywhere were huge posters of politicians. They were scruffy looking dudes with their fist raised in the air. I remember this type from the sixties. If the most compelling image a politician can come up with is of themselves is a raised fist, then they’re trying to aggravate the populaces petty angers and frustration. I trust these guys about as much as people who win elections by aggravating the populaces fear.

Had a classic border experience. The Costa Ricans wanted original titles for the vehicles, we brought copies. Five hours later, two hundred dollars of bribes got across. It was funny, being a tighter run country, the rules were stricter, but not so strict as to be bribe proof. I was looking forward to a better run country to hang in and yet we need the loseness, the sloppiness to get us across the border.

Here the border magic was strong. Some how an imaginary line, no more physical than a thought in the head, cleaned up all the trash. The people went from being destitute to merely not having a lot of money. The land became more fertile, the animals had more meat on their bones. I could even convince myself that the people were happier, but I’m starting to push my luck with observations made from the window of a car.

There was a big red sun setting in the haze as the Costa Rica leg of the journey started. I was navigator. The main challenge here was not getting taken by the creative aspects of the map. The map, one red line going across a wide open country. Reality, a bunch of roads going everywhere and a bunch of towns. The question of dread was, “Which way now?”, when the map showed one, single, straight line. It got dark. I would pop out of the car to show my map to a guy in a bar, a guy on a horse, a guy walking along the street. “Me go here!” point, nod, point at myself, point down the road, point, nod smile. Get back in the car. “So, are we going the right way?” “ Uh, Sure.”

Even though we went through a town miles from the road we were on, we got to town and found the Hotel.

Costa Rica

I'm sitting in cafe waiting for donuts. It's a germany bakery and they are torturing us with an opening time that is always ten minutes from the present time. The second part of the torture the smell.

We've been in La Fortuna. This is Costa Rica's adventure tourism capitol. Everywhere you look there is another tour operator. Our first day was ATV and Horse riding. OK, if you are into that kind of thing. That night we went looking for the lava flows off the Arenal volcano but it was too cloudy. Looks like we are out here, the donuts are here.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Driving through Nicaragua.

Nicaragua is a country we are pretty much blasting through.
No knock on the place but you can’t do everything. The approached to the border of Nicaragua was well marked by a line of parked trucks on both sides that stretched for miles. These beached whales of commerce were a grim reminder of how bad crossing the borders down here can be. This time we had a posse of tourism employees to get the experience down to only two boring hours.

Once on the way the first Nicaragua experience was a forty minute wait at a bridge blocked by protesters. One of the locals told us what is was about. The local farmers had taken out loans and now were expected to pay them back. They didn’t like this idea and were now protesting. I have a feeling that the protesters would spin the story differently.

Nicaragua is in it’s dry season. Everything is dead and brown. I’ve got the sniffles and am beat. Everyone’s a little grumpy. That the country is haggard, littered with trash, adds to the gloom. We no longer have a guide. The weight of getting lost is nothing to the fact that the Earth Roamer keeps getting pulled over at the police check points. We then have a moment of panic as we don’t understand the Spanish of the heavily armed young men before they wave us on.

Tonight we are on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. I’m getting feed wonderful spaghetti and starting to revive. It’s a beautiful night with a breeze coming off the unseen lake in the distance.

Refugio De Vida Silvetre

I had little expectations for today's agenda. It was to take train ride to a boat to see a wild life refuge. It sounded pretty touristy to me. That things weren’t going to be what I expected started when we turned off on a small dirt road and bounced down to a tiny collection of houses.

The train was two platforms and a roof over some wheels. It was the color you get when you paint something bright yellow and then have a a thousand people over a few years touch every inch of it. It had a small diesel engine, a Texas licensee plate and tracks that were a few feet apart. I got in the with Keith and Don. Don figured where he would shoot from, I picked a bench so that I would be out of the frame. Then we were off.

The diesel had that classic, marbles in a blender, diesel sound. It rattled along at a jogging speed. This was not touristy at all. I liked the little train and the slow speed was perfect to enjoy the scenery rolling passed. First we had to clear the palm frond roofed houses of the town. We had plenty of time to get the cows, horses and dogs off the tracks. I’d hang off the side to take pictures. I didn’t worry too much about falling off cause I could just get up and run after the train. I expected to enter the refuge but we were going passed fields and over streams. Cows munched grass, herons stood poised looking for a heron’s meal. It was a rare clear day and I could plainly see the ten thousand foot mountains way back behind our hotel.

Miles later the train shuddered to a stop. The visitor’s center was ahead as a was a river, the Rio Salado. There were guards there with machine guns in case someone needs shooting. Was this the refuge? The next step was to get in a boat and go up the river. I was a a little bummed that there wasn’t enough room for me in it. But, the point of this whole trip is to shoot TV. If there is room for two it will be the Host and the camera man. I get to hang out.
There were a couple of canoes along the river. No one had any problems with me taking one out. So, I headed up river to go poking around. There were dug out canoes along the banks behind bamboo huts. I found a small side passage and went exploring. It was quite tight and shallow. I paddled up for a bit before I had to turn back to met the other guys. There were trees that looked less like they were rooted to the ground than they were standing on their roots. There were roots that branched into smaller roots and then to smaller roots so that the trunks were five to six feet off the ground. One could easily imagine that they had be walking about and only had stopped when they heard me coming. As I head back to the main river I startled something along the banks that went crunching through to branches. Then it happen again. Ah, the imagination!

In the main river, the fisherman were returning from the sea. They were in dug out canoes with sails made of garbage bags. They made quite a sight as the flotilla came in. Keith and Don were back raving about the jungle they had been in. Monkeys, crocodiles, birds. I hadn’t seen anything. But they were going back in and I got to come as Keith would canoe along side the boat to be filmed. While we're getting our act together, there came news that a captured crocodile was being brought in to be released in the refuge. We had to film that. The crocodile was hanging around town eating garbage and getting into the sewers. So, it was captured and brought here.

The train arrived. It had woman with their kids and groceries, a few old men and a crocodile tied up with string under the front seat. Keith volunteered to carry it to the boat. So there goes Keith holding the croc as Superman might carry a passed out Lois Lane.
Later when Keith found out it had been in the sewers he was less keen on the idea, but right then it was making great TV. The croc got a ride out into the refuge where it was released. The report was that it seemed a little confused. Probably wasn’t used to riding trains.

After the release of the croc, the boat was free to take us back into the refuge. We went the other way than I had gone. Here the jungle was deeper and denser. The boat pilot pointed out a White faced monkey in a palm tree and then some Howler monkeys. There were huge blue butterflies and wading birds with brilliant yellow heads. Keith got into the canoe and headed further in as Don rolled some tape. He returned and passed us heading back when the pilot pointed out a crocodile in the water. It was up front of Keith, just eyes and nostrils cruising from one bank to the other. This was good TV what ever happen, but the croc just slipped under the water and disappeared.

Back at the visitors center we got on the train and rattled back to the cars. We had one more stop, a bridge over a river with cable car. When we got there we found that the cable car was a small wire box on a cable that was pulled along with rope. There was bar that grabbed the cable so that the occupants could pull themselves along. With much yelling we managed to get Don into the middle of the river. I was with him to help balance the box as he leaned out to film. At the far end I had to move the bar to the other side of the box or we might get clopped by it. But the box was pulled the other way before warning us. Don was not clobbered by the bar though, the bar hit the camera that hit his head. We stopped as the bar could not push Don’s head and the camera through the far side of the box. I was yelling “Stop and Watch out! “ and tried to move the bar out of the way but a lot of metal was arguing with me. Luckily Don’s brains weren’t bashed out, I mean, he seems normal to me at least.

Tomorrow we lose one of our guides from the tourism office. The tourism car has a sticker on the windshield that says it can’t be driven on Wednesdays and tomorrow is Wednesday. So we say goodbye to Henry and Aberto gets in our cars and we head towards Nicaragua.


I’m at a Jungle lodge, Picco Bonito, twenty minutes out of La Ceiba Honduras. We had this morning to wrap up our bit about the Whale Sharks. Most of it was interviews. There a couple of guys down from the Mexico Whale Shark research station, the local gal that tags the sharks and Steve the owner of our hotel who, with his wife Jasmine, does the up keep for the whale shark data base for Utila island.

I got to ride around in boats and got another good snorkel session in. We were out in the boat out in front of the hotel. The boat had to go a mile up the coast to the lagoon and then back down to dock behind the hotel in calm water. I had mask and fins with me and did the short cut swim back to my room.

Utila island is a great place for snorkeling. There were passages with sandy bottoms between the coral. I watched the fishes as I swam for my room. The surf was breaking over coral so I had to stay within the passages. There were a few dead ends where I would have to back track before finding a way to shore. It was over way too soon.

All the houses and hotels are on stills. I saw a lot of this in Belize also. On Utila it made sense, this is hurricane country. In Belize, the houses way up on the hills were also on stills. No hurricane on the west part of the country. As it turns out this is just to keep the houses cool.

We had big meals made for us in a common dinner room with the other guests. Evenings where talking or catching up on the FREE internet.

There were humming bird feeders on the porch. All day long the humming birds would swarm around them. In the evening the humming birds punch out for the day and the night shift would take over. That would be the fruit bats. I stood around getting pictures of them both.

Took the boat back in the afternoon. Picked up the Earth Roamer that had some maintenance done it. Our new guide Alberto was there to take us here to the lodge. Got to see this place in the light. It took over an hour to reorganize the gear. Time to crash now.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Whale Sharks

Still on Utila island. We're here to film Whale Sharks. They aren't cooperating. Must have not gotten the memo, "Filming with Breakwater Entertainment, Monday". Whale Sharks are the largest fish in the sea, as much as sixty feet long. They're a deep blue with white dots and stripes. They were thought rare, even Cousteau saw only two in his entire career. It turns out to be more of a case of looking in the wrong place. Utila is the right place.
There is a cool grassroots protection movement of the Whale Sharks here. They are taged and tracked here and in Mexico. To indentify them a picture is taken of the side behind the gills. Here there is a distinctive pattern of dots. A computer program that NASA design to recognize patterns of stars, draws triangles between the dots that can then be rotated to be compared with other pictures. Anyone can submit a photo. If you've taken a picture of Whale Shark and submit and it's a new Whale Shark you will get updates about your Shark when it is spotted again. If not you get a history where it's been spotted before.

We had a good boat ride looking for them. Oh well.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Utila Island

Keith and Don made it over the border this morning. They spent the night between the two borders with a bunch of idling semi trucks and a guard in the front seat. The Earth Roamer has a Nav. system that will play DVDs. So the guard sat there watching Will Farrel movies with the Spanish subtitles turned and his pistol in his lap. People came around the car all night to check in out. In this relaxing atmosphere, Don and Keith got no sleep.

We went to the Maya ruins of |Copan. It's said if Tikal is teh New York of teh MAya than Copan is it's Paris. The cravings are much more detailed. There the trees were left growing on the ruins. The thought is if the trees were removed it would damage the temples too much. So you get the temples with hoger trees growing out of them, their roots twisted in amoungs the stones.

The next day, Keith and Don headed off for Utila island. I stayed behind to get the cars serviced and then joined them in the afternoon. Utila is a small island of the coast of Honduras. The people here are betting against global warming as the island has a total attitude of three feet. The plan is to film |Whale shark, teh biggest fish in the sea.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Drive to Honduras

Waiting at the boarder. Even with the help of the tourism board we are sitting at the boarder. We have a new guide. Keith and Don are pouring over a map with him.

I was taunted but a my airport card, which asked me if I wanted to get on line. It was lying.

If we ever get through the boarder we’ll go to Copan another Maya ruin.

We just met a couple on bikers. They are riding from Alaska to the tip of South America. Keith asked them how much longer they had. They said a year or two. That’s time on a different scale.

It’s now been over five hours of waiting. We are bored. real bored. Like parawaiting bored. We spent the last ten minutes cheering a on an ant that a big load to carry back to the ant hill.

One of the two vehicles has cleared. The important one, the Earth Roamer, with all the gear, is stuck in limbo between Guatemala and Honduras. At five thirty the troll and the border leaves if the car isn’t over by then it won’t move till morning, maybe. I have crossed the border and am now sitting at the hotel with a pile of gear. Neither car is here, just me and some of the gear. Sure hope someone comes back.


Well who knows when I’ll get internet again. As I write, Keith and Don are still stuck in the Earth Roamer between the borders, camping for the night.

Return to Actun Tunichil Maknal

As is often the case, we need to return to a location to get some additional footage. My shoes, nice and dry after an evening with the hair dryer blowing them, go back into the river as we hike back to the cave entrance.

This time I feel more relaxed to take in the scene. The water in the shallow river is absolutely clear, so it takes on the orange brown of the rocks, the green of the jungle, the blue of the sky. It’s a cloudy day today, so everything is subdued and maybe more fitting for a place so lush.

There is another stop for poisonous snake removal, yet the trip the second time seems much shorter. We aren’t going in the cave today. At the entrance will be shot for the all important, show opener. This is the very opening of the show where there is a just a few seconds to grab the viewers attention. You need to keep them from changing the station. So, how to spin, swimming into a dark cave, wading through chest deep water, entering chambers of huge stalagmite and stalactites to find pots and the crystalized skeletons of humans sacrificed thirteen hundred years ago... sound interesting? Pretty much tell it straight, right?

Keith and Don stand in the Waist deep water before the entrance of the cave, going over and over the “Opener”. I don’t mind hanging out. It’s a beautiful place and lord knows I know how many takes it takes to get something right, when I’m recording music. So I go for a swim, skip some stones, when not getting Don tapes or batteries.

After the hike out, it’s back to the hotel to pack up all the gear.
Then it’s off to Honduras.

Actun Tunichil Muknal

Yesterday we drove to Belize city. The production lights, (remember those?) that we needed were confirmed to be there. An hour and a half of driving gets one across the country to the east coast. Weaving around the streets of the beat up capitol city we arrived at DHL got our package and weaved back out.

We made a spot at the Belize zoo to shoot the Earth Roamer driving into and out of the park before completing the drive.

We had made arrangements to meet both Dr. Awe and our guides/ porters at our hotel. For once we, (I) would not be crushed by gear. I volunteered to ride in the back of the Earth Roamer. Not my best decision. After getting savaged by the dirt road I fell out of the back to start the hike.

We shook hands with Dr Awe. He is the archeologist that did the initial scientific survey of the cave. It was a six year long study where he lived, with his crew, at the site, in the jungle.

We had bought a gigantic cooler to put the camera in. We had gone to another guiding service to get some help. They had been very negative about bringing the cooler, it wouldn’t fit, it would be too heavy. we didn’t use them.

Our new guides found a long pole and tied the cooler to it like a cannibal sacrifice going to the fire pit. Two of them put either end of the pole on their shoulders and off we went. There was a forty five minute hike through the jungle to get to the cave. The path went along a river and delighted in veering across it. The first crossing came just a few minutes into the hike, that was the last of dry shoes.

Our guides had gone way ahead. Dr. Awe and Keith where discussing the shoot, Don was hiking a shooting the river crossings, I was bringing up the rear. we found our guides stopped a ways up. They had stopped to warn us of the poisonous snake sitting in the middle of the trail. One bite and you’ve got three hours to get a shot or you’re toast. It was a small thing well camouflaged. With the help of a stick our main guide Edward convinced it to move on.

At the end of the trail we came to the remains of Dr. Awe’s camp. Beyond that was the entrance to the cave. we first shot the an interview with Dr. Awe. It would be hard enough shooting in the cave. let alone getting good audio. The light was perfect, beams of light strained through the canopy where playing across the turquoise blue waters of the stream, the pool of water and moss covered rocks. But my eye was drawn to the yawning mouth of the cave, I was going in there.

In the interview, Dr. Awe explained that the Maya had always used caves. Their gods were believed to dwell there with their ancestors. They used the caves to get closer. Inside exactly how the Maya had left them thirteen thousand years ago were, pots, knives and the remains of the people they had sacrificed there.

The entrance revealed a pool that we would need to swim across with our sixty five thousand dollar camera... But, with our much scoffed at cooler the the camera was simply floated across. Then by staying close to the edges we brought across everything else in on our heads or shoulders. we weren’t done yet. There was another three thousand feet of going in and out of chest deep water and scrambling over rocks, squeezing through passages.

I hadn’t been caving in a few years and was enjoying the experience. And this was a good cave. Great speliothems of all sorts, came out of the darkness as I swung my headlamp around. I saw waving flags of frozen stone, reaching stalagmites, dangling stalactites. Caverns came and went, the river deepened and receded. I was warned about being cold, but my winter blood came through for me. The water was quite pleasant.

Finally, we got at the of the back of the cave. We would do the cave backward. Dr Awe had limited time ot spend with us, so we would cover the most important things first, with him. I clambered up a rock wall, following the group, leaving the river behind. At the top the cooler was left behind as were our shoes that were not allowed further into the cave. I was in my socks for the rest of the time.

Watching not to stub my toes, I hurried on. we were rushing now to get the in cave interview of Dr. Awe done before a second guided group got into the cave. We were in a huge cavern with flow stone everywhere. The floor was absolutely littered with thirteen hundred year old pots. You had to pay attention to not veer off the path and step on them. Some where shards , some were near whole but none were complete. All were, “killed” as part of their use in the ceremony. We reached a ladder at the end of the cavern.

Up the ladder, went the gear and ourselves. At the top was a complete human skeleton of girl lying on her back. The skeleton was it a small alcove very far back in the cave. At times in the year, water covers it. Over the years, crystalize stone has been laid over it, till now, in sparkles.

The camera got me beyond the barrier where everyone else stop. Dr. Awe then told us about the sacrifices. I was sitting holding a light in just the right place so that Keith asked Dr. Awe to speak to me. I would look right on camera then. So I was like I was getting private lecture by the Dr.

Here’s how it went; The Mayan rulers had set themselves up conduits to the gods. This means when things are going well, you could get people to do anything. “The gods tell me that you need to do so and so...” But when things are going badly, the people start thinking, “Dude you are screwing up, cause the gods are pissed.” and the rulers are in trouble. What happened is that the area was suffering from a drought, the Maya had over reached what the land could provide and the system that the mayas had lived by started to come apart. This is where the sacrifices came in.

Desperate times calling for desperate measures brought sacrifice to this cave. What better way to stop a drought than kill a few children and put their blood in pots in the back of a cave? We spent the rest of the time till the camera Lights fail, shooting, pots with monkeys on them, children's skeletons left in some obscure hole, amazing flow stone formations.

As the last camera light faded out, we wrapped it up. We went back down through tight spots, into the river. Then after handing out last piece of gear, I belly flopped into the last pool and swam into the light.

Jungle Day Two

The Earth Roamer has it’s day. We driven that car for over four thousand miles. But it’s all been roads. Bad roads maybe but roads. Today it was going way into the jungle. So it was another stupid early start. The Earth Roamer was designed for two people. Now we have Me, Keith, Don and Graham in it. I got lucky and got to drive.

At the spot we parked yesterday the Earth Roamer kept going. The cameras came out, it was time to give back to the sponsor. We set up shots of the Roamer going through the jungle, foliage brushing both sides. Our Bush Master friends arrived in the Land Rover. We then headed further in.

The Land rover got stuck three times. We used the winch on the Roamer to get it out. Finally we got to the point you would have to cut down trees, so we stopped. We shot more scenes we would need to set up the show, meeting people, getting advice, stand ups and so on.

We repeat yesterdays hike. Everyone gets across the river dry this time. Today, Celistro makes a fish trap. We shoot more set ups. Then Celistro sits down to tell his story.

I get to run the second camera for this. I begin to further appreciate the job Don does. Holding the camera, watching the frame, dealing with the movement of the subjects, having your arms go numb as you try to keep everything steady.

The last thing we do today is to go tracking. Wild pig is what we are tracking. Now I saw some wild pigs at the Belize Zoo and being where they are seems like a bad idea. They smell and are aggressive. I was thinking, “If these pigs are not we where we are isn’t this a good thing?”

We are no longer even on animal trails but bush whacking through raw jungle. I’m liking this, though it’s the last thing of the day and I’m wrecked tired. Sure enough we get to a pig mud hole. It’s full of mud and pig tracks.

Time to get the cars out of the jungle. The Land Rover is having troubles getting up the road. It’s in the way of the Earth Roamer. We all to get on the back of the Rover to give it weight and traction. I’m going to get on when I notice I’m getting bitten. I look down to see a few hundred ants on my shoes. Pulling up my pant leg there are a few hundred more. The guys are yelling at my to get on the truck, I’m brushing and smashing ants off me and dancing around. Every time I put a foot back on the ground there are a few hundred more ants on me. Finally I get them smashed. The land Rover is free and heads off with the Bush Master and his grandson.

There’s another nice bumpy ride in the truck I’m in the back this time, which was ok till, we see the Land Rover broken down by the side for the road. I joke with Graham about the Earth Roamer saving the Land Rover. He doesn’t find this humorous, though. The Earth Roamer is made for two people, we have four in it. Now there are six, us and the Bush dudes. When we finally get back to the hotel, we spring out of there back of the Earth Roamer like a jack in the box, panting for air.

The Jungle

Damn if I’m not awake again at five A.M. Today’s mission is the jungle. Back from Ambergris caye and on the main land of Belize. We will met Celisto, the Bush Master, to learn jungle survival skills.

Graham, the tour operator, meets us at the hotel. he drives up in an ancient yellow land rover. Graham is a Brit by way of South Africa.

It’s a short drive to a dirt road that I will be on for the next hour and a half. We pass a few buses and military Land Rovers. The British forces practice jungle warfare skills here. We pass their encampment and head further out into the boonies. We’ve climbed up to about twelve hundred feet. Here the forest is far from jungle but pine. A decrepit pine forest. The pine beetle has hit this area hard. I get a good look at where Colorado is heading as the beetle infestation is pretty serious there also. Finally we leave the dirt road for a road no more than a beaten track. Now the jungle takes over.

Keith parks the car here as his Land Cruiser is going no further. Tomorrow, after scoping it out, the Earth Roamer will get to really strut it’s stuff. It will be driven way into the jungle. Now, we wait. The Bush Master and his grandson, walk out of the jungle to met us a half an hour later.

I get on my way heavy pack and hurry off after them. At first, our path is an over grown track of some sort. Maybe an old road from the logging days. The jungle then thickens and then thickens more. We hike for forty five minutes. Celistro nicks the trees with his machete, making a trail so that we can find our way back to the cars.

It’s hot. I’m in long sleeves, long pants, big sun hat, smeared with bug dope, stupid from the early morning call with the heavy pack stuffing me into the ground and excited to be going deep into the jungle.

The shadows zebra stripe everything. I’m taking pictures but they’re too often bright streaks and blackness. There are hanging vines coming down from the canopy, creeping vines that grab your feet. Huge broad leaf plants tower over me. The sky is no more than shards of blue seen amongst the leafs over head. The sounds are of birds and bugs that are unfamiliar to me. Some gigantic fly makes a noise like playing a wood saw with a bow.

We come to a river after a few miles. It’s a green river tumbling through rocks. the river is wide enough to break to foliage and let the sun in. We form a bucket brigade to pass the big camera from rock to rock. I got a all my gear in a my paraglider pack and easily hop over. Going from dry rock to dry rock.

Graham, hits a shit slick patch of moss and goes in the drink. As we are all burden when our gear and scattered across the river our our individual rocks, where’s nothing to do but watch and see if he’ll get out before going down one of the numerous falls. But Graham is out and telling us it’s all part of the fun when we ask if he’s ok.

After a short climb, we come a lean-to made of sticks and huge palm fronds. This is where Celistro and His grandson spent the night. This where we will set up our camp. The idea is for Keith to be shown everything he’d need to know to survive in the jungle, say, after a plane crash.

Step one, make sure the plane you are going to crash in has a stash of machetes in it. Celistro is a master of the machete. With it, and a short search around for materials, He would build all sorts of things. We got to joking around after a while ask him to build us a jungle microwave or find the pizza tree.

Celistro is a Maya. He is quite small. Next to Keith he is child size, his head barely to chest level. He is thin and strong and all leg. He has worked in the jungle all his life as a Chicalaro. That is, one who harvests the sap of the trees for chewing gum. He demonstrates his skill with machete by showing us how the trees were, “bled”. As with everything he did, He used a minimum of effort to make a series of herring bone slashes along the trunk of the tree in which the sap would run from one slash to another till reaching a bag at it’s base.

Next, He showed Keith how to build a shelter. Shelter is the first step, they told us to survival. The shelter was a simple lean to. The roof was the long palm fronds.

Next they built a jungle bed. At first this seemed a little silly. What do you need a bed for? But Celistro pointed out that being off the ground is very important. It keeps you away from the ants, snakes and the wild pigs will have to, at least, stand on their back legs to bite you.

The bed was made of four “Y” shaped branches. The bottoms were driven into the ground in a rectangle. Then two cross branches were set into the “Y’s”. A series of stalks from the palm fronds were placed ninety degrees to branches in the “Y’s” to make the platform of the bed. More palm fronds were split long wise and then placed on the bed to make the mattress. The whole thing was unexpectedly comfortable. Finally a pillow was made of a different kind of palm leaf.

Once you have protection from the elements, you look for food. The palm that Keith used to thatch his shelter and to make the bed held, deep within it, a heart of moist, white, cabbage like food. (I wonder what it would be like in a stir fry?) It took a lot of work to cut it out. Celistro and Keith took turns swinging the machete. Celistro’s skill more than made up for what Keith had in size and power. We all took a break to munch this crunchy veggie meal.

For the non vegetarians, our Bush Master set couple of traps. One was a spring driven bird lynching machine. The other was a classic box trap.

Next was a few plants of medicinal value. One, the “Give and Take” plant was covered with spines to poke you, but had in it’s a bark to help heal the poke wounds. The other was to counter a poison found in one of it’s neighbor trees.

The sound of thunder canceled the rest of the day. Part of me thought of what if would be like to over night it in the shelter in the jungle. It was a safe thought as I knew the camera gear had to get to the protection of the cars. We headed back over the river and through the jungle.

The Blue Hole

Going out of order now. I didn't have my computer on Ambergris Caye. It's been hell catching up. As I have internet tonight I'm posting like mad. Here's a bit about the Blue Hole.

The Blue Hole was first explored by none other than Jacques Cousteau. It's an old collapsed cave that is now under water. The cave is a vertical hole in the ocean. Two days ealier we flew over it in a helicopter to get arial footage. It's a perfect blue circle in a green sea.

What I'm blowing off to catch up is, the ship wreck dive, The white faced, red footed booby bird colony, the hol chan marine reserve. Seeing a manatti (F*** spelling!)

It’s another five a.m. start. Time to stumble out with the gear to meet the boat at the dock. We are going to the blue hole. Two days ago we had flown over it in the helicopter. Now we would go to it, Keith will drive into it.

The boat heads out. As we pass through the reef, the water is violent. I’m slammed around, my arms pulled out at the sockets as I try to hold on. Up one wave the boat would go, then to go falling into a hole between the waves. The water becomes merely rough after getting through the reef.

Two hours later we’re at the blue hole. It’s in the atoll so the water is calm. Surrounded by a circular reef the water is quite calm here. Keith want’s shot the breifing of the drive by the dive master, but as soon as tape is rolling, a big boat with anoyingly loud engine starts motoring away. On the water the sound carries forever, so that’s the end of that idea. As Keith hits the water, I have fifteen minutes to go snorkling before my duties resume. The underwater camera man takes over now. I get my fins and mask on and pitch myself over the side.

The blue hole has a sandy funnel going down till it becomes a straight sided cylinder. I swim around looking at fish for awhile but that deep blue circle below me is beckoning. I can’t drive down to a hundred and thirty feet to follow Keith holding my breath. I long to see the stalactites on the over hang far below. i thought I had heard the drive master say that the rim of the Blue Hole was thirty feet down. I figured I could make that. I took huge breath and started kicking down. Half way I felt out of breath. I kept going. I was repressurizing my ears over and over again. My mask is smashing my face, I let a little air out of nose and the pressure releases. My lungs are screaming for air but I’m still not quite there. Finally, I’ve an instant at the lip to stare into the abyss. It’s a deep dark blue down there. Then I’m heading up and up. Seems a long way. My lungs don’t know that I’m surrounded by water. They want air and they’re pissed. They try to over power my command not to breath. It’s getting brighter, there’s the surface, air.

My watch says ity’stime to get out to be ready to shoot Keith getting out. He’s pumped, it was very cool down there. We then reshoot the briefing as the loud boat is gone. This time I hear the drive Master say the rim of the Blue Hole is fifty five feet down. Where did I get thirty?

San Pedro, Ambergris Caye

It’s funny how low and slow in feels, to be in a plane, flying at a hundred and twenty knots at nine hundred feet. Funny for me, as I’ve flown my paramotor, which goes twenty miles per hour, a few feet from the ground.

I’m on a little ten seater flying over an ocean which is a collection of the most amazing blues. Small islands barely taller than the waves, add a stretch of green to the palate of the sea. I can see straight down to the sandy bottom which is often just feet under the surface. As Ambergris gets closer and the plane flies yet lower, I can see rays swimming, rippled by the waves they glide underneath.

I like the little plane. I like that it moves with the air. I like that there is a pilot flying the craft and the sky, not operating a computer that flies the plane.

The plane coasts to a stop. I look out the window and there is our mountain of crap waiting for us by the side of the runway. How the hell did our luggage beat us here? We got to the airport late, handed the dudes are stuff, sat around for maybe fifteen minutes and got on the plane. But, there was our gear calmly waiting.

After passing through the rigorous home land security, (A big dude that unclips the rope, that is if you don’t walk out through the big hole in the fence. (Man it’s nice to be in a place that isn’t paranoid in the most stupid, “close the gate now that the goats are out.” way.), we load up into a golf cart to go to the hotel.

There are cars on Ambergris caye, but for every car there are ten golf carts. They appear to be the preferred means of transportation. Hey, it’s a tiny place with narrow streets. A lot of the carts are electric, quite and don’t stink. It’s where the world is going. Ambergris Caye is already there.

I’m hitting my third week of the trip but I’ve yet to get used to the heat. Eighty five, ninety degrees, eighty five percent humidity. Don and I have been rooming together. At the hotel, I can’t get to the AC fast enough before Don has it set at sixty five. The locals don’t even sweat. We’re drenched.

I got a third floor balcony, from there, the beach is right below. Got palms trees, a trade wind breeze. The reef is a little less than a mile out, at that point the water goes from turquoise to deep blue. The water is shallow, I think I could walk to the reef.

Don and I have a lot less to do the next few days than usual. Keith is lining up the diving part of the trip. We weren’t suppose to be here till next week, so everything is getting rearranged. Keith has to get boats, dive gear/ masters, locations sorted. And then work out the fine details with the tourist board. Don and I shoot some tape, walk around town, get some ice cream.

I’m out of the loop on the “getting the lights shipped” process, that appears to take two hours at the internet cafe per day to sort out. I, for once, have some spare time. I left my computer, guitar, movies back in San Igncaio, so laying on a deck chair at the end of the pier was a good back up.

San Ignacio, Belize,

San Ignacio, Belize,

Internet connections have been way more hard to come by than I thought. If you haven’t checked in a while, I just up loaded nine posts. I’ll have a link to Don’s web site soon that will have tons of pictures

The pace has slowed way down. This is regroup time, walking around town , laundry...

Soon we will go see skeletons in caves. Right now we are looking for lights to light the inside of the cave. The cave, Actun Tunichil Muknal, is an ancient Mayan site. The word is that people were sacrificed in there. The remains of fourteen people are there, six under the age of three all showing cranial trauma.

We were told a local production company had the lights we needed. Relieved not to have to drag around lights for eight weeks, (which we would need only on one day), no lights were taken. BUT, upon our arrival we were told by said production company that they had no lights. This has thrown a huge wench into our plans. Don is trying to get lights from anywhere.

Now we are just spinning our wheels. We were to meet Dr. Jaime Awe of the Western Belize Regional Cave Project on Friday the fourth, to tour the cave. Without the lights this is pointless.

After a bunch of wrangling, Don arranges lights to be sent all the way from Denver, Dr. Awe agrees to meet us on Monday the fourteenth. The next mad scramble is by Keith. He needs to get us filming something in the meanwhile, or it’s a horrible waste to our limited time.

Two days later we’re on a plane flying to San Pedro on Ambergris caye.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Pictures, Pictures, Pictures

One of my jobs is to keep a photographic recorded of the trip.
Don has posted these pictures on his web space.

Here they are,


After a complete eight hours of sleep. It was back to Isle de Flores to interview Mr.Ortiz. We learned that Temples at Tikal were in the shape of the star constellation Pleaties. It was Mr. Ortiz’s discovery of the Sixth Temple that revealed that this was the case.

It was time to leave Guatemala after eleven days. The trip was now two weeks old. Our next stop was Belize. We said goodbye to Walter our guide, and thought, “Oh crap we’re own our own again!” That hadn’t worked out to well through Mexico. Walter had arranged a police escort to the border. The police followed us for a measly twenty miles before leaving us an hour before before the border. (Right before the road turned to dirt.) We gave them their twenty dollar “tip”.

At the border we officially left Guatemala, parked the cars walked to Belize side where we ran into all sorts of problems. The Belize tourism office said everything would be set for us. So, Keith, when asked what we were doing, told the truth; We were shooting a TV show with the tourism board. Now they wanted a visa we didn’t have. Now what? We had left Guatemala, but weren’t being let into Belize. I had visions of living out my life in a gravel parking lot between the two borders.

On a whim, as Keith and the border guard were going back a forward, I said “But we aren’t filming now. We are scouting on this trip and won’t be filming till we return from Panama on our way back.” Keith, pauses for a moment at this blatant lie, before picking up the thread. I don’t think they believed us, but thrown a solution to what would otherwise be a big pain in the ass, they played along.

Now, I’m in a Belize hotel writing this. The Denver news channel is on the TV. Not sure why.


Another woozy start of the day. At four thirty A.M. someone was pounding on the door. The plan was to climb to the top of temple four of the Mayan ruins at Tikal Guatemala and shoot the sunrise. If you are wondering what the view was like, it’s the view you got in the first Star Wars movie of princess “What’s her name’s” home planet. Stumbling around in the dark, I got together my pack of “production” gear. That’s, one twenty pound tripod, one to three ten pound batteries for the big camera, some cable, video tape, double “A’s”, nine volts and a mic boom.

We had a special permit to drive inside the park where the ruins are. So, bouncing around in the back of the Earth Roamer, we headed for the temple. We climb up the wooden stairs in the dark. At the top of the temple the pale predawn light showed the jungle endlessly stretching to the horizon with three other of the temples poking out from the forest canopy.

The birds had just begun to sing. Or squawk, or make any number of unfamiliar types of racket. Some birds were periodically taking off and you could hear the powerful pounding of their wings on the air. But then the howler monkeys started. As it was a gray morning full of fog with a low cloud base, we never saw the sun rise, but the sounds carried so clearly. And, as Spielberg had used the call of the howler monkey as the sound the bad boy dinosaurs had made in the Jurassic Park movies, those sounds were ominous and a little disconcerting.

The next spot was the Mayan observatory. It was closed after a guy tripped going down the steep stone stairs and managed to kill himself and three other people. We got to climb it because we were special film guys. I, having along history of stair ascending, made it both up and down and was rewarded with an incredible view of the ruins from the top.

Only twenty percent of the ruins have been uncovered. Tikal was once a major city with somewhere around hundred thousand people in it. I got way turned around as we toured around the ruins as even twenty percent is quite large.

In the main plaza the modern day Mayans were holding a ceremony to bless crops, protect from accidents and that kind of thing. This was pure luck on our part as this happens only once a year. The Mayans like the Incas are both a once conquered peoples that have survived and are now growing. The main plaza was considered the center of the universe and so holds a certain special significance.

At the ceremony each person held four candles and red, black, yellow and white one. Each candle represented one of the four colors of corn, which is turn represented each of the four cardinal directions. First, wax covered tamales were burned, then the group would face one of the directions, say a prayer and then throw that colored candle into the fire. SO, first red, then black and yellow and lastly white. But one more candle came out, which was green. Green represented the work to be done. At this point everyone got on their knees to pray before throwing the last candle in.

As far as filming went, freaking out was going on. We needed an expert to tell us what was going on. We had one but he spoke Spanish. Spanish is good language for someone from Guatemala but our show needed English for our gringo audience. We went on filming with Keith filling in as well as he could.

I was following Keith and Don around from one incredible ruin to another. We would speculate about what each place was, which was a pretty cool game. Wander around the jungle, looking at temples in all degrees of restoration. From brand new rock and mortar, sharp edged, to rounded and worn, moss covered, to completely buried, hidden under huge trees and their twisted roots.

It was the buried temples that got me thinking. What was it like to come here, innocent and think, “What formed these strange hills?”. What was it like to be the first ones to dig here and find this city in the jungle. Soon enough I would met the man that had had that experience.

Don shot everything, so by noon all four of the camera batteries were dead. This forced a lunch break. Over launch, Walter was told He had to come through and find us an expert, who spoken English and that, that needed to happen right about now or sooner. I could tell Walter was feeling the pressure of our relentless schedule. Our permit allowed us to film one day. It was today or never. Surprisingly enough, Walter returned to our table in a few moments. The jungle lodge that we were staying at was owned by two brothers. One of them was here and not only knew the ruins inside out but was trained as an archeologist. And, their Father was one of the early explorers of the area and had discovered temple six an very important find that completed the design of the cities center.

Enter Carlos Ortiz, our new guide. We drove back into the ruins and started shooting. Carlos was a golden mine of information. Don turned on the camera and let it flow. It this point the ninety degree heat, the thirty pounds of gear, the four thirty A.M. start were getting to me. I was wasted tired. I found every tree stump, rock, bench I could sit on. I was trying to stay awake enough to hand Don tapes, batteries, hold the white card before the lens, set up the tripod. Otherwise, I would sit there and space out at this amazing place I was in.

At the end of the day we hiked back up the observatory. We were waiting to shoot the sunset. For some reason our “special” status has expired. Walter and Carlos was shouting for us to come down. We were going to blow them off but, A park ranger with a shot gun had arrived, so down we went a disappointing five minutes before sunset.

We set up the Earth Roamer at the bottom of the observatory and shot some very misleading footage that one could camp in the ruins. Looks cool though.

Yea! It’s dark, the day is over! No, not quite yet. Carlos invites us into town to have dinner and meet his father, Antonio Ortiz who was there when the ruins were discovered. So we drive to Isle de Flores a town that has been constantly inhabited since Mayan times. The town is a small island in the middle of a lake. I remember talking with Keith, earlier that day, about what it must have been like to discover the ruins, to be there has they were uncovered. Mr. Antonio was that man. I felt a little intrusive entering his house, but we were all made immediately welcome. Mr. Ortiz, now in his eighties talked the early discoveries of the ruins. It was too late to visit long and we were starving hungry. We said goodbye but not before Mr. Ortiz invited us to visit the next day and agreed to be interviewed on camera.

The drive back to the jungle lodge was pretty vague. I was in the back of the car falling in and out of sleep.