Monday, August 18, 2014

Don't Go Out at Night Alone!

Amazon big
The mighty Amazon River drives eastward through Peru, then through Brazil and out to the Atlantic Ocean four thousand miles in the distance. It is the longest river in the Western Hemisphere, and second only to the Nile in length in the entire world. But length is not the only measure of the vastness of this river. It is a river so large that to fathom the amount of water flowing those long miles is nearly incomprehensible. Every hour of every day water flows and flows to the tune of 7,381,000 cubic feet per second. One fifth of the world's total fresh water flows in the Amazon. The river is so wide, average between 1 and 6 miles in width in the dry season, it broadens to nearly 30 miles for long stretches during the wet season.

 The facts tend to boggle the noggin.

Monkey see...
The Amazon is a combination of many different tributaries and researchers are still arguing to this day whether the actual beginning might actually be near Cuzco to the south-east of Lima. Of course, one scientist arguing his theory versus another is the way of science throughout time. One theory generally trumps another until no one agrees with anyone. Meanwhile, there is no denying this a big place. With twenty percent of the planet's fresh water and (think of the plants in the rainforest here a minute) twenty percent of the world's oxygen being produced. This is the heart and lungs of the world.

And here sits the relatively unassuming jungle village turned big city of Iquitos. This incredible location, recently mentioned in a prior blogpost, sits directly on the Amazon, Nanay, Rio Negro, Ucayal, and Itaya rivers and just a few miles west where they all become the Amazon together. The jungle village of nearly a half a million people is at the confluence of one of the mightiest rivers in the world and certainly the one with the most water flow.

Now, in this river environment are more species of swimming, climbing, flying, crawling, and creeping 'thingies' then anywhere else on the planet. Hold on to your scientific shorts with these figures (and don't forget new species are being found all the time): 30 million species of insects (one tree had 700 different species of beetles), 2200 species of fish, 700 species of mammals, 750 species of reptiles, 1830 species of birds, 55,000 species of plants and in reality nearly 2/3 of the entire planet's species reside in or along the Amazon.

By the time our fellow adventurers read this blog, these numbers will have surely increased!

Now, this makes the Amazon also a very dangerous place to reside, or dare we say, to travel.

Enough of the background.

Rustic and Charming
The traveling trio of Beyer, Bakas and Beyer decided to stay off the beaten path, well into the jungle itself while visiting Iquitos and chose a place a hour and a half up river - over fifty miles away from civilization. The Amazon King Lodge was a pleasant grouping of buildings on the river's edge but very rustic. Water ran some of the time in our mosquito screened room around the hammocks and electricity was on for perhaps two hours a day provided by a small but efficient generator. The lodge was built to hold about 60 tourists but on this outing it was only us, our guide, Sergio, and a skeleton crew to hold down the fort/lodge.

They had the essentials on hand, to be sure.

Breakfast was served, lunch was served, and dinner was served with the local products the jungle provides: fish, rice, fruit and other delights.

Actually, the lodge was rather charming and reminiscent of Hollywood films playing out in the hinterlands of the rainforest: rustic, primitive, hot, humid, and isolated.

Dr. Moreau and Mini-me?

It was rumored Dr. Moreau was to be said doing experiments in the jungle just next door. We didn't visit though.

We were advised over and over to make sure Sergio our guide went with us when we traveled on the river or in the jungle. This became apparent when our buddy Paul decided to venture out in the darkening evening to photograph some interesting things he had seen but no sooner had Paul's foot left the first step of the landing (all buildings are about four feet off the ground due to the flood season) and onto the stairs when Sergio stopped him with a firm grip and said:
Night in the Amazon

"Don't go out at night without me! It is very dangerous."

It should be noted that Sergio had a flashlight, rubber knee high boots and a machete at this time. He had grown up in the jungle and told us many anecdotal stories of why growing up one must be extremely cautious while walking the jungle at night. Even the daytime is dangerous.

"I have witnessed people getting bit by a snake without ever seeing the creature and be dead within minutes. Very dangerous."

Paul, a misguided guide
Paul nodded and retraced his steps back to the relative comfort of the mosquito nets.

A few hours later while sweating in our hammocks, we understood what Sergio had meant. The cacophony of the jungle came alive with ear banging fullness. Swinging less than a few feet from each other in the open large sleeping room it was hard to hear each other speaking without raising our voices.

ROUS - Rodent of Unusual Size
Things were moving, flying, crawling and being eaten not many yards from where we wanted to find some slumber. The slumber was hard as 'things' would occasionally drop onto the pitched thatched roof and roll off onto the jungle floor with a thud.

It was then that we knew - only a thin little mosquito net was between us and the rest of what ever was happening in the rainforest. It was frightening to think of what was happening out there as the noises continued. Strange sounds we couldn't completely identify. A sound like barking came from a capybara, an extremely large rodent which can grow to a length of four and half feet and weigh well over a hundred pounds. But the scariest sound of all in the jungle was silence. When the barking, and the shrieking, and even the chirping of insects seemed suspended -- and you knew a predator was near.

This is daytime - imagine it at night.
 Flashlight and machete anyone?
Night in the true jungle is an exhilarating and terrifying experience which we would highly recommend to any explorer or researcher.

Remember one thing though - don't go out alone in the jungle at night without a guide. You may be eaten.

Are we there yet?


Monday, August 4, 2014

Shiver Me Timbers

Winning the lottery or locating a true pirate treasure is probably as remote a possibility as being struck by lightning. But the idea of capturing the winning numbers or locating a hidden chest of gold and jewels is sometimes too hard to resist.

Which would be more exciting?

That would depend on the person but with the seemingly never ending saga of Captain Jack Sparrow, this writer would venture to say the thrill of digging your hands into a pile of gold doubloons would rank rather high on the excitement scale.

The Code?
 Most people who are able to breathe have heard of such names as Captain William Kidd, Edward Teach (Blackbeard), Sir Henry Morgan, but what about Mary Reid (sometimes Read) and Anne Bonny?

These last two pirates were sailing mates of Calico Jack, both literally and figuratively (Anne was once Calico's mistress). The Englishman John Rackham was known for wearing calico patterned clothing was the origin of his nickname. And it is his personal pirate flag - a skull with crossed swords which has become the internationally accepted symbol of the Pirate Flag.  He was a good pirate, applying that adjective loosely, but not so ambitious when it came to carrying out plans. Calico would much prefer to sit around drinking grog and discussing plans for this raid or that raid rather than actually carrying out the deeds. But Reid and Bonny were totally different. They wanted to sail the Spanish Main and take as many ships as they possibly could with Calico and his crew. These two were truly dangerous and ruthless.

Calico Jack's calling card
 They were a pirate's pirate.

The two ladies, if this term can be used here, started their careers dressed as males since a female pirates did not instill fear at the time. Pirates were macho and in the 18th century to be macho meant to be male. Period.

Of course, that changed as soon as Calico Jack's crew realized two of the fiercest fighters on board were in fact women.

Forget the myth that having a woman on board could doom the ship. These gals were firebrands who only brought riches and plunder to Calico.

Artists rendering of Anne Bonny
 The length of a true piratical career was rather short - generally only a few short years. And that life was harsh and cruel for those brigands roaming the open seas looking to plunder unsuspecting vessels. Not quite the romantised view we often have from Hollywood and Disney.

This was certainly the case for Calico Jack who was hung in1720, and Mary Reid who died in prison in 1721, probably from fever. However, Anne Bonny survived prison stating she was pregnant, and passed away in 1782 at the rip old age of 80. A long life for a pirate.

Before meeting the end of their pirate hunting days, Calico's crew enjoyed quite a bit of wealth stolen from any ship that came near them. They fought hard, lived hard and died hard.

 Now, when a pirate had a lot of gold, precious gems, or other valuables, they could not take them to the bank in Tortuga. So they did what any non-self-respecting person would do - they buried their treasure.

And that's what Calico, Reid and Bonny did with theirs all over the Caribbean where they spent most of their time. Hiding the booty (goods seized by force) was part of the game for a pirate.

Contrary to popular myth, written maps on rolled up parchment would have been extremely rare.  Most pirates could not read or write and in the rough seas anything written parchment could get wet and become useless or go down with the ship with the location of the treasure lost forever.

Nope and Nope
So, how did one jot down directions to their hidden treasure?

Simple really - carve mysterious inscriptions onto stones somewhat near to where the treasure was hidden.

A cryptic carving such as:

1718 JB . . . . . .  .

Easy. So, let's find JB's treasure - nope - not so easy as only JB knows where it is. We know the treasure was buried in 1718 by JB, the rogue, and it was 7 distances away from the map and in the direction of the dots. But only JB knows the true distance to the treasure. Did each dot mean a meter, a kilometer, or an island away.

Actual pirate map in stone
 That's why there is still buried treasure needing to be found. Poor JB may have ended up swinging from the yardarm of a ship before getting back to his chest of riches. Remember dead men tell no tales nor do they reveal the exact location of their treasure.

Pretty ingenious actually and the chance of locating JB's treasure is nearly nil.

Nearly. But that doesn't stop researchers and explorers.

So, as J and L traveled the beautiful Turks and Caicos Islands in the British West Indies during the summer of 2014 they were lucky enough to actually view such pirate markings in stone including some etchings created by the very same Anne Bonny. Anne, along with Mary and Calico and the rest of the crew made these 30 plus islands one of their favorite haunts as it was an easy place to hide from the Royal Navy and also a wonderful locale to spy on treasure ships heading back to Europe. Raids could be planned and executed in a quick fashion.

View from the top, location of the pirate carvings

In fact, Parrot Cay (pronounced key) was originally named Pirate Cay in honor of Anne Bonny but was changed when the small island became a major tourist destination. Some people like parrots more than they like pirates. I suppose pirates aren't as good for business.

Pirate oops - Parrot Cay today
 Over a thousand ships have sunk or forced to sink over the past centuries in this part of the Carribean, leaving behind untolled treasures at the bottom of many cays and bays within the Turks and Caicos. That's not counting the amount of treasure believed buried throughout the region by pirates from the 16th through the early 19th centuries.

And there is always Anne's own buried treasure. Has it been found? Probably not according to a local historian since her pirate career was so short (two years) that she did not have the time to return and collect her stolen goods.

Anne Bonny's treasure map?
Ten days were not enough to locate any treasure except the clear blue waters and white beaches but who knows . . .

There's always next year!

Treasure enough - perhaps - clear water with your loved one!