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!