“Straight up from the warthog”

Standard

‘Oh, how I miss those wacky birding trips.’

I know I’m really late with this week’s post. But just today New York lowered the age requirement for getting the Covid-19 vaccine, and I wanted to make sure I got a shot (haha, very funny) at it.

Among other reasons to get poked, like not getting sick or dying and being able to see my friends and family in 3D, we have a birding trip coming up.

Our last birding trip–last weekend, at Sagg Main Beach–was a wild goose chase. Literally. We went looking for the White-Fronted Goose and didn’t find it

See, last year’s all-bought-and-paid-for exotic birding adventure (to the Galapagos) was, of course–like everything else fun in 2020–cancelled. But the good news is it’s rescheduled for this summer. Except you can’t go if you’re not vaccinated. Being a physician, Dr. Dude got his shot a couple of weeks ago so he’s all set. But, unless I wanted him gallivanting off without me, I had to score mine too.

I was on that website for about an hour and a half. The slots kept disappearing while I was applying for them; I guess I wasn’t the only newly-qualified 65-and-up banging away on her computer.

Last March in Borneo. We were masked, not because of Covid, but in preparation for entering a bat cave. It was about as delightful as you can imagine

Anyway. I know that hiking through the rainforest in godawful heat and 100+ humidity while being swarmed by flies and/or mosquitoes, peed on by bats, and squirmed on by leeches isn’t for everyone — but I confess I absolutely heart those trips.

Sometimes you need more than masks to protect yourself from the local fauna

You hang out every day with a tight little band of people from all walks of life — biologists and doctors and teachers, career military and architects, and a guy who worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (hey, Larry!) You’re with each other pretty much every waking minute. You sit together, eat together, take bathroom breaks together (well, not together-together, at least not all the time). Come to think of it, it’s a lot like jury duty. There’s even the part at the end where you exchange email addresses and promise to stay in touch — but do you?

Merry band of new best friends boards plane

(I was going to say where else can you forget about makeup and your hair and not worry about what you’re wearing, but that’s been pretty much my house these past several months.)

You get to ride in pop-top Range Rovers and luxury houseboats and seaplanes and dugout canoes. You hike where no one’s hiked before, hear no traffic or planes, and see no one who looks like you for days and days on end.

You even get to walk across flimsy bridges — some so much higher than this that I could not let go to take a photo

And there are the colorful characters. The female birder with the perfectly-good name Deborah who insisted on being called “Raven.” (I, of course, pretended I couldn’t remember and kept calling her “Sparrow.”) There was the lady who fell in a pit of ants. There were the two guys who kept fighting and had to be separated. When I remarked to this guide, “Gosh, it’s a lot like kindergarten,” he replied, “No. Worse.”

Hipster Birder at work

This guide himself was colorful. He had lots of tattoos, shoulder-length hair he often man-bunned, and practiced a martial art called “grappling.” We called him “Hipster Birder.”

Hipster Birder at play

Oh, and of course I can’t forget Warren, more-or-less affectionately known as “Where Ya Lookin’.” As in: “There’s the spoonbill!” “Where ya lookin’?” “Red Bishop at three o’clock!” “Where ya lookin’?” And my very favorite: “Check out the elephant!” “Where ya lookin’?” “Straight up from the warthog!”

Nope. Warren wasn’t in this boat. But these were a pretty colorful batch of characters too

And yes, there were the birds. Technicolor ones a guide called “Fancy Birds.” Big ugly ones that looked positively prehistoric. And my favorite, the really sneaky birds it took a lot of time to find — so that, when you finally did spot one, it gave you a real rush.

Anyway. It’s getting late and I want to get outside. Even if “Outside” is a ten-minute walk down my driveway. At least I won’t have to fend off leeches.

See you next week. Same place, earlier time.

Amagansett, New York. January 2021

Deeds of Derring-Don’t

Standard

‘The Child is at it again’

First, before you even think about correcting me in the comments (though commenting is always welcome) the term is indeed “derring-do” — not “daring-do.” I googled it. Middle English term, first used in 1579. And it means just what you think it means.

An early example of Childlike derring-do. BTW, If your friend jumped off a cliff, would you jump too? (Pretty good story, incidentally)

Second, I’m sorry to be so goldarned late with this post. (That is, if you noticed.) Yesterday, my regular Tuesday Posting Day, was also Old Apartment Closing Day, and I was sweating bullets until those funds got wired — anything can happen with a sale, you know — that I couldn’t even think about being amusing.

There was some serious celebrating chez Ken and Barbie

I’m not sure I can crank it up so well today, either. We did a bit of celebrating last night and well, um, let’s just say I was feeling no pain — until this morning.

Luckily, with The Child in my world, I never lack for a topic. This one was handed me on a silver platter, via Instagram.

Well. It’s a good thing that The Child and The Beau found each other. If either of them tried to marry anyone else, he/she would expire on the honeymoon

Yup. The Child and The Beau did this thing called Rim2Rim2Rim (or even R2R2R). Which means that you run down one side of the Grand Canyon, across the canyon floor, up the other rim, then run back down, back across the canyon floor — and then back up the first rim. We’re talking 40-something miles, plus the ups and downs. Doing this is sort of like running two marathons while climbing Mt. Everest.

For those of you who like stats

It’s not really bragging to write about The Child doing this. It’s more like utter astonishment. With my lumbar issues, I consider it an accomplishment to climb the stairs. Is there a B2K2B (Bedroom2Kitchen2Bedroom)?

That little speck is The Beau doing something you will never catch me doing — running along the edge of a cliff

I don’t know why I was so surprised that The Child did this Thing. For one so young, she has a pretty impressive record of derring-do-type deeds: swinging from bars, scrambling up walls, trekking on trails. She enjoyed jumping from planes so much she did it twice. (Photo at the top of this post shows her grinning mid-leap.)

Swinging from bars. When she was in high school. Though this was not part of the curriculum

Here she was last summer, beginning her 200-mile, 3-week solo hike of the John Muir Trail

Because I am lazy and nursing a hangover, here are a few more shots from this latest adventure. Incidentally, they started at 5am and finished at 7pm.

 

More fun facts for stats fans

Oh. I almost forgot. The point of this post, other than to brag about The Child, is supposed to be how cute it is when couples share a hobby. You know, like Scrabble or golf. Dude Man and I both dig birdwatching. Which sounds like a pretty tame hobby, I know. Except that we like to do it in really remote, fairly dangerous (leeches! armed guards!) locations. So maybe the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

Essential birding gear in Uganda: binoculars and an automatic weapon

I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that The Child likes to do stuff like this. After all, there was some foreshadowing:

Amagansett, New York. November 2020

 

 

 

Social distancing, the Borneo Way

Standard

‘Forget masks and Purell; just crack open a Durian’

A couple of weeks and a lifetime ago, we were birding our way along a highway (and I do mean “high”) up in the mountains of Borneo when a ramshackle car sputtered to a halt on a steep stretch of roadway right alongside us.

Another roadside attraction. Nope, The Dude isn’t looking at that gorgeous mountain. There’s a bird over yonder somewhere

Our guide sauntered over to see what was what and reported back that the driver was on his way to the City (in this case, Kota Kinabalu) with a load of fruit to sell. He and his load couldn’t make it up the incline, so he pulled over for a smoke.

That’s Mt. Kinabalu, at sunset of the day we survived the durian episode

Now, we’re in Borneo, remember, so by “load of fruit” I don’t mean a whole batch of apples or pears. Not even pineapples or bananas. Nope, these “fruits” were completely unrecognizable. Our guide Hamit (a name I committed to memory by using the mnemonic “hah! meat!”, because what passed for meat in Borneo was pretty darned amusing) — well, Hamit thought it was pretty darned amusing to offer us tastes of some of these fruits and then watch our faces.

That’s Hamit on the right. I not only forgot the guy on the left’s name, but also his mnemonic. He was our driver, and he didn’t make us eat any fruit

Continue reading

What could possibly be worse than a rainforest full of leeches?

Standard

‘Well, how about a cave full of bats?’

If you are the least bit squeamish, you may wish to skip this week’s much-belated post. Belated, because I’ve been bird-hunting in Borneo.

Through a glass, but not darkly, I spot my target: perhaps a hairy drongo?

Borneo boasts lots of lovely avian species, but has less than adequate WiFi. Not that I’m complaining; it’s actually refreshing to be less-than-connected, especially when the news Back Home is of political plotting and pandemic panic.

Speaking of panic, here is the interior of the plane we took from Kota Kinabalu to Taipei, where I started writing this piece

I’m in an airport lounge (thank you, AmEx) writing away while awaiting our plane to JFK — which will be 14 1/2 hours in duration, two hours less than our flight to get here.

As I mentioned, the Bornean birds are beauteous. But one must deal with — gasp — leeches. And, although we took the Proper Precautions (see my piece “Leech Sock it to Me!” for ghastly detail), the little buggers weren’t daunted. Leech socks, as I squeamishly explained, are supposed to keep leeches from inch-worming their way up your pant legs.

Continue reading

Leech Sock it to me!

Standard

‘If you thought the Amazon had some scary parts, just wait till you hear about Borneo’

Yeah, yeah, I know I’m dating myself when I use terms like “sock it to me” in my stories. But hey, I’m a Woman of a Certain Age with a Certain Television History, which includes not only Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (of “sock it to me” fame) but Hullabaloo and That Was The Week That Was.

But this isn’t a piece about TV. (Though in a sec or two you’ll probably wish it was). I referenced those shows to explain my title and to admit to the fact that I have, as they say, been around the block a time or two.

One of the last times I went around the block — to Starbucks — they got my name amusingly wrong

I’ve also been to Guyana, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, to the Amazon (twice) and to Panama (five times, but who’s counting — besides me?)

But never — ever — while reading the materials one is sent in preparation for said trips have I stumbled upon a passage like this one:

“Beware of loose netting in sleeves, backs, pockets, or pant legs that could allow leeches to crawl in. You may want to bring a pair of leech socks or buy some in Borneo.”

Leech socks”?!? “My stars and garters!” she exclaimed, continuing her Geezer-phrase sock-theme, “what’s this about leeches?!?” (BTW, the socks in the photo at the top of this post are most definitely not leech socks. They are parakeet socks.)

Continue reading

Birders gotta bird

Standard

‘Even if it’s from a rooftop, waiting out a plane delay’

Today I almost wrote about the trials and tribulations of dealing with a major renovation on a somewhat minor apartment. But just thinking about it was making me exhausted, not to mention bored.

What I wake up at 3 in the morning and think about

So instead I’ll write another story about our last birding adventure — the one where most of the spine-tingling moments happened wondering when and if we’d ever A) get to the birding location, and then B) get home once the trip was over. (See “Paradise Lost” for excruciating detail.)

What I wake up at 4 in the morning and think about

See, we’ve been on a bunch of these birding trips, but this was the first time we had any problem with the to-ing and the fro-ing. Still, the inbetween-ing was pretty sweet.

What I wake up at 5 in the morning and actually do — at least on these trips

Continue reading

Paradise Lost

Standard

’It’s true: you can’t go home again’

The Amazon Basin is truly a magical place. Though I wish its magic extended to beaming us home with a wave of a palm-frond wand. The name of the tour we are on (or just ended, depending on how you want to look at it) is “Paradise Revisited”. Our guide told us it had something to do with how they used to visit this part of the Amazon in the Good Old Days, then stopped when air service got spotty. Or maybe it was because once you see the Amazon, you just have to go back. Or something else travel-romantic like that.

The Rio Marie. Sigh. Tempting to go back, for sure

But I’m betting on the spotty air service theory, since that’s what we encountered at the beginning of our Adventure. We went to the airport three times (two of which were failures) in order to fly from Manaus to this remote spot on the Rio Negro called Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira. We were there so much that we teased our guide by suggesting the tour be renamed “Airport Revisited”. Turned out that the airline (MAP) that was to fly us there got bought by some bigger outfit and all its planes in this neck of Brazil (not just ours) got rerouted to more profitable airspaces.

Continue reading

The Gate Nazi at JFK

Standard

’Forced Bag Check. Even worse, forced Caroling’

I didn’t take a picture of the Gate Nazi (I was way too intimidated to try), though in retrospect I probably should have. Instead I am showing you a picture of where we went so you can see that the bullying we experienced at the very start of our Amazonian Adventure was worth it.

The scene at the top of this post is of a river trip taken on the afternoon of the first day we arrived in Brazil — yes, less than 24 hours after stepping on a plane in New York, we were seated on a small boat on a small tributary of a medium tributary of a larger tributary of the mighty Amazon River. The miracles of air travel are definitely worth every agonizing moment along the way. Even the agonizing moment I’m about to tell you.

Another small-boat moment. Crossing the Amazon, where the White Water meets the Black. Called, natch, “The Meeting of the Waters”

We were nice and early at our gate, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and eager to start. We had planned to carry our duffels and backpacks on board, in fear of losing our gear. (Clothes don’t matter on these trips; it’s all about the gear. I found this out the hard way on our first trip, to Kenya. I came down to dinner in a cute little sundress, much to the amusement of our birding cohort.)

The Dude and our current birding cohort confer with our guide

Continue reading

The Dude celebrates another bird-day

Standard

‘Whooping it up, the nerdy birdy way’

You’ve heard how there’s a bumper crop of babies nine months after a power blackout, haven’t you? There was a famous blackout in New York City in July of 1977, complete with a baby boom the next April. I didn’t move to New York till 1979, so I missed out on the action that time. I was around for the blackout of 2003, but the most exciting thing I remember was being so engrossed in a client conference call — planning a Huggies shoot! in Africa! —  that I almost missed being evacuated from the Ogilvy building.

Anyway. I bring up this blackout-then-nine-months-later baby boom thing because The Dude’s family is, well, “organized” somewhat along those lines. Out of six total Whitmore siblings, four have birthdays within a few days of each other at the end of May and the beginning of June. I guess, in their family, Labor Day was kind of like a New York City blackout. If you get my drift.

Three of the five Whitmore kids here have birthdays in late May or early June. Not pictured: Older Sister Wendy. Birthday? May 31

If that weren’t coincidentally wacky enough, Close Cousin Charlie has his birthday two days after The Dude’s. Though I don’t think a blackout — or Wayne’s Dad’s Labor Day vacation — had anything to do with it. This cousin is so close, birthday-wise and just regular chummy-friendly-wise that he and The Dude often celebrate together. And this year was no exception.

Continue reading

“While we’re still young”

Standard

‘When it comes to age, everything is relative.’

My Favorite Younger Sister Laura (at left above, smiling and be-hatted) has a lot going on and is often in a hurry. When someone dawdles, say, at a traffic light that has just turned green — or spends too much time chatting up the checkout girl at Costco, she is wont to mutter “while we’re still young”.

She does this so often that when her adorable daughter Natalie was only about two, she would parrot her, much to our amusement.

But, amusement aside, “while we’re still young” has begun to resonate with me, and not just at traffic lights.

See, we helped The Child celebrate her birthday last week. And I realized that she is now the same age I was when I pulled up my socks and moved myself to New York City. This was a pretty brave thing for me to do at the time. (And yes, there’s a story, called “Take a Letter, Miss Henry”.) I didn’t know a soul here, but I decided I needed to get my Ad Career into gear before I got too old.  Continue reading