EXPLORERS GUIDES (Part 1 How to Travel Safely in Rainforests)

Explorers Guide

Part 1 How to Travel Safely in Rainforests

When embarking on any adventure it is essential to have an awareness of the area you are travelling to and a backup plan in place in case things go wrong, which, more often than not, they can do.

Firstly, where are you going? What type of trip are you taking? What is the weather like there, the terrain, the wildlife to be aware of….. and the list goes on, however it is essential to have some of this knowledge before you embark on such a venture.

Lets look at Rainforests in this piece, the planet is a fascinating place to explore and Rainforests for me personally are the ultimate in looking for insects to photograph, which is one of my passions, however it is very wise to know where you are setting foot, so here are some notes that I hope will help.

Top Tips for visiting Rainforests
This advice is more for hiking through dense forest based on experience; however, I hope it will be valuable as a general guide also.

Monsoon Season – The word monsoon comes from the Arabic language “mausim”, meaning season, always research and find out when the rainy seasons are before you make any firm plans, here is a quick guide to some here:

South American Rainforests – The Amazon has two seasons consisting of the monsoon and the dry, the rainy season runs from December to June and it can rain for short bursts during April and May. The dry season runs from July through to November, there is less rain, although of course showers are still possible, which is why we refer to it as a rainforest.

Central American Rainforests – The Rainy season in Costa Rica runs from May through to November/December while the Dry season runs from December through to April. The hotter sunshiny months are from March to May and the cooler months of the year are from November through to January.

South East Asia – The Rainforests of Southeast Asian have four different seasons consisting of the winter northeast monsoon, the summer southwest monsoon and two inter monsoon seasons. The Northeast monsoon season runs from November to March with steady winds from the North and Northeast that blow from 10 to 30 knots. These winds originate all the way from Siberia creating severe weather such as Typhoons which are the Southern Hemisphere’s version of Hurricanes. The East coasts of the Southeast Asian islands get very heavy rainstorms during this time and the Southwest monsoon season is from late May to September where the winds do not blow as hard and the weather is a little drier. The seasons are continuously hot and humid with very little seasonal variation in temperature, it is really only the wind and the rains which are changeable.

Australias – There are four seasons in Australia with a main wet and dry season in the tropical north, the summer season runs from December to February, Autumn runs from March to May, Australia’s wintertime runs from June to August and Spring in Australia is from September to November.
In tropical Australia, the dry season is from May to October with clear blue skies daily and the wet season runs from December to March, which is hot and humid with daily rainstorms.

Vaccinations – Make sure that you see your GP and get updated on what innoculations you may need for the area you are going to be staying in, do not underestimate the wildlife and getting bitten either, I thought I would never get bitten until a Monkey jumped on me when I was in Cambodia and bit me 4 times, it happens, be prepared for any eventuality, better to be safe than sorry.

Dress  – Cover up as much as possible, long sleeves, long trousers, wellingtons or good walking boots with long socks (over the trousers, sunhat, good quality sunglasses)

Hat – This is common sense but wearing a hat is essential to prevent sunstroke

Good walking boots or Wellingtons – Highly important as trails can get very slippery

The Colour Blue – Avoid the colour blue as much as possible as mosquitos are attracted to blue

Vitamin B12 – there is some suggestion that taking this supplement can act as a repellent to mosquitos, though I have not found this to be make any difference in the forest/swamp areas

Malarone tablets – Please be sure to take Malarone as this is a Malaria area and if you go into the forests near water you will bet bitten regardless of long sleeves and deet

Deet – If you take Deet be very careful around any photographic equipment as it is known to melt plastics, etc. it will also damage clothes, other things can be used such as citronella, marmite, though covering up clothes wise is also a good idea, beware though as mosquitos bite through clothing

Pain Killers – It is a good idea to take pain killers as headaches are common in some of the higher altitude areas (If you fly to Ecuador it is likely you may encounter some headaches so keep drinking plenty of water to keep hydrated – avoid alcohol in the daytime if hiking as it will dehydrate you)

Imodium melts – Essential for any stomach upsets, these are extremely fast working

Rehydration Sachets – I recommend adding a sachet daily to your water if you go trekking through the forests as you will lose a great deal of water through perspiration, drink as much water as you can.

Mosquito nets – These should be provided at any Jungle lodges, however it is a good idea to check with them and always take one if not, especially if you will be camping in the forests, your life will be hell without a net to protect you from Mosquitos, nets are also a handy deterrent in forming a barrier to prevent other unwanted imposters creeping in with you, such as scorpions and spiders, getting too close to you.

Anti-sickness tablets – Take the best you can find, sickness bugs can occur often in this area, dry biscuits help and keep hydrated with plenty of bottled water

Antihistamine cream for insect bites – When we get bitten, more often than not we get an allergic reaction which makes our skin itch like mad, this is due to our antibodies rushing in to protect us against insect saliva that has been injected into us. Histamine triggers an immune response to attack the insect saliva also encouraging white blood cells which can cause swelling and itchyness, Antihistermine cream for bites is essential in calming it down.

It is also a good idea to apply ice to the area and make sure it is kept clean and free of infection, try not to scratch the bites, hard though this is, calamine lotion will help to keep itching at bay also.

Anti-Bacterial hand gel – This is mighty useful when you are out and about, you will use it much more than you ever imagined that you would, small and easy to store in your backpack.

Binoculars – It is essential to take Binoculars if you want to see anything close up, for example monkeys and birds are often quite a distance away up in the canopy – keep an eye out for Sloths hanging from the treetops high in the canopy too.

Camera Equipment – If you can take an SLR camera with a good all round lens (18-200mm) for general walkabout ‘on the go’ shots, long zoom lens (highly recommend 300mm or 500mm) for monkeys, sloths, etc. and a good quality macro lens (recommend 105mm) for any insects, frogs, flowers, etc.

Camping – If camping out in hammocks, please ensure you are fully covered in mosquito netting firstly for protection against mosquitos and secondly to prevent Brazilian wandering spiders crawling in with you, these spiders are lethal capable of shutting down the nervous system in 4 hours only, so please always use netting if sleeping out.

Ants – These are not to be under-estimated, there are large armies of ants that can cover the ground (and your legs) very quickly, you can often hear a ‘hissing sound’ when they are on the move, if there is no other way around run through them quickly and then shake your legs! Always cover up as much as possible with long socks and at least ankle high boots, wellingtons are ideal or if you choose walking boots then try gaitors as well, though these are hot to wear, protection is good in these areas.

Bullet Ants – These large ants can often be found on branches and also on rope bridges, although it is tempting to grab hold of branches when hiking or the rope bridges when walking across, go careful as a sting from one of these ants is extremely painful and a similar pain level to being shot, hence the name

Stinging Plants – If trekking through forest try not to touch plants, there are stinging plants in the area and also be careful not to grab a branch as a bullet any may bite

 Scorpions – Always cover wellington boots/any footwear with socks at night to prevent a scorpion crawling in (I got very a nasty sting for not doing this one day, they love dark, warm places)

Spiders – Most spiders you come across are totally harmless, there are many huge Orb weaver webs about, but these spiders are fine. Tarantulas tend to live in burrows or you can sometimes find them in upturned pitcher plants where they make little homes, they are fascinating to watch, to tempt one out of its burrow just use a stick and touch the end of the burrow, the spider should soon react and come out.

Hiking – It is a good idea to walk slowly or at a steady pace and wear boots at all times in the forest for protection against ants and also snakes, most snakes if startled will slither away, however the Fer de Lance will attack and has no fear

Snake Bites - Know your snakes, learn as many as you can, buy guides on them or check on the internet for snakes in the particular area you are visiting, you will see them, many are harmless but it is good to know which are which. Should you be unlucky enough to get a snake bite, try to take a photograph of the snake so that it can be identified for the correct antidote, be careful of Fer De Lance snakes as these have no fear of humans and rather than slipping away, will confront you. These snakes have a fatal bite that without an antidote will shut down your immune system and kill a human in just 4 hours.

Swimming – Always check before swimming, I have swam with piranhas and electric eels before however there were large caiman crocodiles in the water too, be very careful around these, I would recommend staying out of the water if you can unless there is no other way to cross it

Monkeys – Go careful when walking near monkeys, some will throw large branches, mangos and coconuts as you pass through their territory if on foot, warning signs are when they scream and bare their teeth, move away as quietly and quickly as you can if they show this behaviour, I have had some very narrow escapes from coconuts and large branches thrown at me when photographing Monkeys in the canopy, a blow to the skull with a coconut can kill.

Exploration – Try to use a local guide if you are walking through forest, if like me you prefer to go alone, always use the cross stick method (find sticks and leave them in little crosses on the trail – this has got me out of trouble many times, it is easy to get lost in the forests, even stepping two metres in thick forest can make you lose your way off an obscure trail.)

Insects – Metallic Beetles, Butterflies and Dragonflies are extraordinarily beautiful and you do not have to go far to see them, if you stop at one bush you will find an abundance of colourful insects, though many also use their camouflage to survive, as you walk through the forest hundreds of hidden eyes will be watching you

Tree Frogs – These brightly coloured little frogs can be found inside pitcher plants and also on damp bark, old logs on the forest floor and amongst leaf litter, if you use a long stick or branch you can gently disturb the leaf litter you will see them jump out

Canoes – Avoid putting your hands in the water when in a canoe, caiman crocs live in those waters! (I once stood up to take a photograph and a huge adult caiman leapt out of the water at me narrowly missing biting my elbow! This adult caiman had been following the canoe, I never stood up again after that)

ENJOY IT!!!– Despite all my words of warning the rainforest is a stunningly beautiful place, full of fauna and flora the like of which you will see nowhere else, do not be put off from all the warnings, if you can spend some quiet time in the forest you will see much more than you ever expected. Large touristy groups of people trudging through the forest will scare most of the wildlife away; whereas a quiet walk is always far more rewarding. As well as looking for things, ‘listen’ to all the sounds of the forest, birds, amphibians and insects…..at certain times especially dawn and dusk it is like being at a concert of natural sounds. Fireflies and glow worms can be seen at night in the forest and light it up like green fairies, you will also see ‘fluorescent fungi’ which lights up a darkened forest, in fact the fungi in general is all rather stunning so keep an eye out for that too. If you shine a torch over still water at night you should also see it light up with eye shine that looks like car headlights, these will be alligators and crocodiles in the water, if you get a large group of them it is very impressive to see. Good luck and enjoy your trip.

Forest Vines

The Headhunters of Borneo; a look at their traditions, religions and struggle for power

A brief look at the Headhunters of Borneo
By Amanda King


“There is only one sort of rule in jungle warfare, do not be smelt before you are heard, do not be heard before you are seen and below all, do not be seen”

Major Tom Harrison

Skull

Skull

I have read and heard stories about Head Hunters and have always had a rather macabre fascination with them, but it was not until I travelled to Borneo this year that I actually got to speak to someone from an old Head Hunting Tribe and consequently this rekindled my interest.

The man I met was called Mebo from the Dusun Tribe and he explained to me a little about the old traditions and how they used to hunt heads for many reasons but mainly, according to him, in order to win respect, show their strength and be deemed suitable for marriage.

The Tribe kept the last skull and to this day regularly sacrifice a chicken in a special ceremony to summon up the spirit, which they believe lives on inside the skull. By offering up the blood of the chicken, Mebo explained that this will keep the spirit happy and the skull ‘healthy’ in preventing it from going white and cracking, much like a fragile egg would.

The Tribe name ‘Dusun’ was made more popular by the British Colonials who latched on to the term from the Brunei Malaysian people, the word was used to describe farmers who had a piece of land with fruit and orchards. The Dusuns were split into many sub-tribes who lived in groups around many scattered areas, with names including the Tagahas and Bundu-liwan Tribes, both of which played a key role in the head hunting practice.

The Dusun people are sometimes also referred to as Ma’anyan or Dayak, in fact they have so many different names and sub-tribes that it can become quite confusing, for the most part of this piece I shall refer to them as Dayak.

The Tribes are said to follow Animism, which is a belief that spirits exist in certain animals and plants and even in objects such as rocks, in weather for example thunder and lightning and also geographical places, such as a mountain. In other words there is no distinction between the physical and the spiritual world.

It is an interesting outlook and one that I have come across before, while travelling in the Masai Mara in Kenya, there was a huge thunder storm and the Masai Tribe told me that they believed the Gods were angry with them, so they sacrificed some cattle to try and appease the Gods.

The Masai beliefs are very strong, as are the Dusuns, it is surely one of the things that helps to bond these Tribes together, in having a unity of beliefs and ancient traditions.

The Dayak people live up in the hills and upland valleys and trade their produce of rice and wood with the people of the coast for salted fish other goods and they are said to be peaceful people nowadays.

So where did the practice of Head Hunting for the Dayak people originate from?

From an early Dayak Tribe there was a warrior named Bungkar who came from the hills of Pahu and it is said that at the age of 13 he travelled to a place called Sayap to learn the art of sword fighting; he stayed there for three whole years to master the skill.

After he had finished his training he returned to Pahu and suggested the Tribe move to an area called Tambunan where there was plenty of rich land, always in search of better land they agreed and once they had all moved and settled Bungkar built them a fortress as a form of protection and inserted sharp, wooden stakes all around it to fend off any unwanted intruders.

The rich land of this sought after valley also attracted other Tribes and so next the Tagahas (meaning the strong) moved on to the land, but all thoughts of living peacefully side by side were soon to be disrupted as the Tagahas robbed Bungkars home for his valuable Buffalo.

It is said that the men were put into a deep sleep by “pinjodop” a pagan prayer that induces this sleep and the women were hypnotised by the pagan charm known as “pilubok” which allegedly made them willing to hand over the buffaloes and other livestock to the charmer.

Although non-violent, this was a very underhand way of taking the stock off the Dayaks and of course their actions infuriated the Tribe.

Where Bungkar was concerned, they messed with the wrong man.

Bungkar the newly trained sword fighter was incensed at the robbery so he gathered up a group of men and went after them discovering that they were hiding out waiting for nightfall to move the stolen cattle by moonlight. In using the same charms that the Tagahas had used on them the Dayaks managed to get the livestock back and were on their way back home, however the Tagahas then gave chase and Bungkar made good use of his sword fighting skills by killing five men.

This changed their old ways of fighting with the use of sleep charms as it was replaced with the brutal yet instantaneously effective head hunting in this lawless area.

What sealed this act of violence was when a neutral band of people called the Kososoluon tried to call the peace between the tribes by putting a new rule in place to protect women and children from being harmed, therefore all women and children of the Tagahas or Bundu-liwan Tribes were to carry a green branch wherever they went as a sign of neutrality.

However, the Tagahas opted to ignore this rule by waiting for some girls from the Bundu-liwan tribe to walk by on their way home and attacking them, during which a man named Sambatang beheaded Bungkars sister, Soria.

Bungkar was heartbroken by this and went straight out on a hunt to find Sambatang and beheaded him to avenge his sister, he also beheaded a virgin from the Tagahas tribe with a name similar to his sisters, called Toria.

Back with his people, Bungkar was celebrated for his bravery and defending the Tribe, Torias head was boiled and the brains were shared out for the men to eat to keep the spirit of Head Hunting alive, they believed this would bring great luck to their village and all who lived in it.

Allegedly some hours after this event there was a volcanic eruption which affected the sunlight in the area making it appear darker, the tribe believed it to be due to the Gods being angry and so peace came once more, but only for 15 years. The ritual of head hunting was also outlawed by British and Dutch Colonists at the turn of the century as they thought it barbaric, however it was to return in all its glory in WWII.

WWII held all sorts of challenges for all involved but of course depending on location there would be some additional foreign trials to contend with, such as for the airmen who parachuted into the jungles of Borneo where Tribes with poisoned blowpipes hunted.

These soldiers would have to endure unseen enemies including the heat of the dense jungle, fevers and diseases, insect, scorpion and snake bites and now also the Tribes who would be watching them before the soldiers even had any idea that they were there.

During the Japanese occupation of Borneo many horrific atrocities of war took place where the Japanese tortured, raped and killed their captives and even though the Dayaks had a violent past, they were appalled at all that was going on and naturally wanted to protect their own people.

Author Judith Heimann became interested in the story of some soldiers who survived a plane crash and on reading the diaries of these soldiers she wrote the book The Airmen and the Headhunters which also became a documentary, it is a fascinating account of how the head hunters sympathised with US soldiers against the Japanese and also how this event encouraged a Tribe to return to their old ways of Head Hunting.

On November 16th 1944 a B24 Aircraft with 11 US airmen on board crashed into the jungle and this incident had a surprising reaction from a Tribe of Dayaks who protected the airmen from the Japanese, risking their lives in the process but also at the same time returning to their old ways of headhunting.

Radio operator Dan Illerich wrote a diary detailing how the plane got into trouble and how he parachuted out of the craft and landed in the jungle with co-airman Bombardier Phil Corran landing right by him, the two of them were bewildered, not knowing where they were and it took them some time to figure out what to do.

The Jungle, Borneo

The Jungle, Borneo

Meanwhile, two young boys from the Dayak Tribe, Ganang Laban and Kapung Balang, saw thick black smoke in the sky and watched as the plane came down in to the jungle and some of the Tribe set out to try and find the plane, which took several days walking through dense jungle.

Dan and Phil were sitting on the side of a river on a muddy bank resting but had an overwhelming feeling that they were being watched and on looking up suddenly saw the native Tribe across the river with bows and arrows looking on.

One man from the Tribe began to cross the river and the others followed, the two airmen stood up feeling fearful for their lives and not knowing what would happen next, but then one of the Tribesmen spotted their badges and recognised that they were USA airmen and so the bewildered soldiers were suddenly and surprisingly welcomed.

There were two reasons for this.

The first was that back in the 1930s some American missionary’s had come to Borneo and had converted some of the Dayaks to Christianity, the Dayaks got used to them being around and grew fond of them. However, the happy arrangement was not to last when the Japanese came and had the USA missionary’s rounded up and killed, a man called John Wilfinger was their favourite and even though he willingly gave himself up the Japanese beheaded him anyway.

Not only this, the Japanese had been slaughtering women, children and babies which the Dayaks despised them for, the Japanese also stalked the women of the Tribes and this angered them even further.

So for this reason the USA airmen were taken in and welcomed as one of their own, the Dayaks took the two survivors to their longhouse and gave them food and water and then the next day took them to a shelter deep in the jungle where two more of their crew (one of which was blind from the crash) were hiding out in a lean to, flight engineer Jim Nock and Nose Gunner Eddie.

The Dayaks kept them successfully hidden for 6 weeks.

Japanese soldiers who were stationed near the area were relying on a man called William Mahkahona who ran the area for them, although he was forced by the Japanese to tell about the plane, his loyalties also lay with his own people and the US airmen, so he strove to protect them.

William helped to keep them hidden from the Japanese who were now making their way through the jungle in search of any survivors, however the Japanese knew that the were being lied to by William and the other Dyaks and so they confiscated food and killed the livestock as punishment.

An English eccentric and anthropologist who knew Borneo called Major Tom Harrisson was flown into the area with some men to help rescue the US soldiers and once there he re-endorsed head hunting, approving its return in order to kill as many Japanese as possible..He then whipped up an army of willing Dayaks and together they fought to clear the Japanese out of their area and make it safe for the native inhabitants.

The Dayaks did not need much encouragement, they were so angry about the constant harassment and attacks of the women that they hatched a plan to get rid of the Japanese soldiers in their area and used the women as bait to lure the Japanese in, the women stood bathing in the river near their area and beckoned to the soldiers. As the mesmerised and now somewhat distracted Japanese took to the water wading in to reach the women, the Dayaks descended using their blowpipes to poison the Japanese before returning to their old ways once again of beheading them.

According to Dan Illerich, the Dayaks invited their guest US soldiers to a Head Hunters ritual and so they had an evening of listening to brass gongs chiming out repetitive yet melodic tunes and watching the tribal dances as the heads of the dead Japanese were washed, dried and then smoked over a fire. This part of the ritual was essential as the Dayaks believed it would protect their villages and longhouses and bring good luck to their crops.

The Japanese also have the taking of heads in their culture stemming right back to the Samurai when they would take a head and present it as a trophy to their General who would often reward them by riches or status, which of course served only to encourage more of it and in Borneo the Japanese were cutting off the heads of their victims.

Three more of the airmen from the crash were found and they had also been protected by Dayaks, so they were extremely fortunate to have had these men on their side, the empathy from these head hunters showed a softer side, proving that they were not just heartless savages, but instead people who were often pushed to protect themselves.

Major Harrisson had proved to be a key figure in getting the end result and after the Dayaks had fought and killed the Japanese clearing the area, the Major arranged for a runway to be built out of bamboo and laid down to enable a plane to descend and take the USA surviving soldiers home.

In 2001 the beheadings began openly again during the sampit conflict of violence between the Dayaks who were indigenous and the Madurese who had migrated there, it was a horrifying ethnic cleansing by the Dayaks and many Madurese were beheaded and the heads banded about for all to see.

It seems that this ancient ritual is not so far off in the past nowadays with the Tribes of Borneo and of course with other cultures around the World, such as the Iraqis. Sadly beheading is now something quite familiar to our society as we are seeing it regularly in the News and reading about it in newspapers, stretching out its grim, icey hand it has reached the far corners of the World, yet still it does not fail to shock and appall the general public……and rightly so in my opinion.

Amanda King

Borneo: An Island, a Head Hunting Tribesman, Wildlife and Pirates!

Borneo: An Island, a Head Hunting Tribesman, Wildlife and Pirates!

After a long journey of 20 hours of a bus, coach, two aeroplanes (Malaysia airlines), a taxi and a boat, I finally reached my destination, an island just off the coast of Borneo.

Following the recent news stories of one Malaysian Airlines plane disappearing altogether and another being shot down by the Russians, it amused my dark sense of humour that they gave us a newspaper on the plane with the headlines saying ‘Terrorists threaten Plane’ and on a most turbulent flight having the man who was sat next to me praying the whole time.

MA is a great airline; I will fly with them again.

After the long haul flights it was a relief to climb into a speed boat and enjoy the 30 minute ride across the dark sea where flying fish gleamed silver under the bright moon, the fresh sea air felt refreshing and it was exciting to see the black shape of the island looming in the distance.

I was the only passenger in the boat and reaching the island I was greeted by two Malaysian members of staff who took me up the very steep hill to my dwelling, which was a beautiful treehouse high up amongst the forest.

I could hear the waves gently lapping onto the beach below and the breeze in the trees that surrounded me and with that I drifted off to a peaceful and blissful sleep.
This trip was to explore the area and search for wildlife to photograph and it lived very much up to my expectations, the island was alive with green vegetation, bejewelled with bright hibiscus flowers, butterflies, huge bees and dragonflies flying from plant to plant and tropical birds calling from the canopy.

Only accessible by boat, the island itself on Malohom Bay, Gaya Island (named after the Hibiscus flowers) is the largest of five on the Abdul Rahman Marine area off the coast of Borneo’s Kota Kinabalu with a steep hillside ancient forest and mangroves.

I woke up on my first day there feeling a little odd, in that if I stood still it felt as though the floor was moving; it must be my body catching up with the flights mixed in with general tiredness.
During the early hours I soon learnt that I would get visits from a group of Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis) monkeys knocking on the roof of the treehouse

Long-tailed macaques sleep in trees with each group sleeping in its own tree all huddling together when they sleep to maintain body temperature. They sleep toward the edge of the branches near the top or crown of the tree and preferentially choose branches that overhang a river in case any predators approach. In order to escape they drop down into the water and swim away from any threat, these monkeys are very strong swimmers, so it is an effective escape.

Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis)

Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis)

Apart from the staff that were warm and friendly there were only another two couples there, so it was exceptionally quiet and the staff from gardeners to caterers soon learnt of my passion for all creatures and would shout “Miss Amanda, come see snake….see dragonfly…….see bird” if they spotted anything.

It was like having lots of extra pairs of eyes, which when combing the area for wildlife was most useful.
I also got back one day to find that Nelly, who looked after the Hibiscus flowers on the island and had gardens of hybrids that she was growing, had left me three books to borrow in English on Amphibians & Reptiles, Birds and Plants of Borneo.

It was a lovely gesture and I used the books a lot to identify things.

There was a huge Water Monitor Lizard (Varanus salvator) hunting fish in the lake, his markings were stunning and I managed to get some close up photos of him, his unblinking eye had a touch of the Jurassic, the adults can grow to a massive 3 meters in length.

Water monitors are superb swimmers by using the raised fin on their tails as rudders to steer through the water. They are carnivores and will eat most things including turtles, fish, snakes, rats, dogs and carrion; if threatened will defend themselves using their tails, claws, and jaws, unlike the Komodo they do not have the bacteria in their teeth that is fatal to humans, however it is still a good idea to give them a wide berth.

Water Monitor Lizard (Varanus salvator)

Water Monitor Lizard (Varanus salvator)

Later I swam in the sea, the water was warm and I could clearly see the striped tropical fish swimming around me, as I floated there it occurred to me that at that moment I felt no pain or discomfort, it was just pure blissful relaxation resting in the arms of the ocean.

There was a swing on the beach, just set there from a large palm tree and nightly I would enjoy flying through the air on that swing as I watched pale crabs scuttle across the sand, it was idyllic in every sense of the word for me.

One day here I saw three Oriental Pied Hornbills (Anthracoceros albirostris) which are listed as critically endangered, interesting almost prehistoric looking birds.
The male will protect the female from predators when breeding by sealing the female inside a hole in a nesting tree with plaster of mud and fibres, he will gather up loose earth to take to her so that she can seal herself inside the hole, leaving only a narrow slit for her to feed herself and their chicks. The male is then solely in charge of getting food to them and he busies himself fetching fruits, berries, insects, figs, insects, lizards and frogs.
I managed to get very close to these birds and observe them as they searched for food and preened themselves in the branches high above.

Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris)

Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris)

I went across to another Island, called Gayana, it is not as large and also there was very little there except huts for holiday makers and MERC an eco-centre where researchers are trying to breed giant clams and have a program in place to replant stray corals.
I spent a couple of hours there then headed back to my island on a boat full of eggs.

Mount Kinabalu and the Head Hunters
I planned a day off the island to do a 7 hour round trip journey across Sabah to see the foot of Mount Kinabalu, where I continued my search for bugs and other wildlife.
I did a jungle walk at the base of Mount Kinabalu, some very steep climbs up the forest paths and found some strange looking insects on the way as well as a stunning crested lizard, which was very well camouflaged against some tree bark; it is only when it moved that I spotted it. I also found two praying mantises, a superb moth and watched butterflies colourfully waft across the canopy from a treetops walkway.

Green Crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella)

Green Crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella)

Mount Kinabalu itself is the highest mountain in the Malay Archipelago and its summit is 4,095 meters (13,435 ft.) above sea level, it is estimated that it has between 5000 and 6000 species of plants, 326 species of birds, and more than 100 mammalian species identified, including the Orangutan.

Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu

I met a man called ‘Mebo’ from an old Head Hunting Tribe called ‘Dusun’ he told me about how they used to head hunt to win the heart of a girl and prove their strength as men. It is said if you only had two skulls then you were deemed unworthy to get married, you must collect more and any head would do, it did not have to be from a warrior.

Mebo said that they no longer take people’s heads, however they do worship the skulls, one in particular, the last skull, they ‘keep the spirit alive’ as they believe it still lives in the skull.
To please the spirit the chief orders for a chicken to be sacrificed and then offers up its blood to summon the spirit, Mebo says that this ensures the spirit stays happy and the skull stays healthy, otherwise it would go white and crack.

It was fascinating talking to him and he is still very proud of his tribe and takes the sacrifices very seriously, he clearly believes that the spirit is in that skull.

Storms and Snakes
Most nights there would be a very heavy thunderstorm, being September Borneo is heading into the monsoon season; I soon came to know the rhythms of the weather, as in storms throughout the night and generally a very heavy rainstorm in the morning from 5am until about 8am. Then would follow the sunshine break through the clouds and I would watch as the mists rose from the forest, which was wonderful to photograph.

On one such very rainy morning, rather than catch the boat to the mainland, instead I opted to stay on the island as I did not want my camera equipment getting water damage from the rain.
I am so glad that I did as this was what I know refer to as ‘the day of the snakes’, I love snakes and finding any to photograph is always exciting, well today I got to see four snakes.
After breakfast I did the steep walk up three hills to the wooden steps up to the tree house and as I got there something caught my eye, an emerald green shape coiled up on the third step up, it was a Green Pit Viper.

I was so pleased to see it and took as many photographs as I could before getting a stick and gently moving it back down into the forest, this one was a juvenile snake, very bright green with a smattering of markings.
I later saw three more of these, two adults and a young snake, all green pit vipers so presume they were of the same family.

Green Pit Viper Snake (Trimeresurus)

Green Pit Viper Snake (Trimeresurus)

Then later on as I was wandering around the outer skirts of the forest, Syharin, my favourite person on the island came running to get saying that he had found a Python, I followed him and he led me to the snake, it had the most beautiful markings on and I took my photographs before it slithered away out of sight.

Syharin told me that a couple of months ago one of the boatmen went into the old boat house to get some equipment and almost tripped over a giant Python that was coiled up, the snake was as wide as his leg, he was terrified and came running out. It took several men to move the snake, none of them very keen to get too near as of course the Python can very quickly surround and suffocate its victims and it was this that they feared most.

It was moved to another area off this part of that island as they have a ‘no kill’ policy there which impressed me, they also had to remove two Wild Boars that were charging at people.
Though if they move anything to the other side of the island, the wildlife has to take its chances for it is not protected there and the villagers that live there (some rumoured to be pirates) will kill and eat virtually anything that they see.

I think I can hazard a guess as to where these Boars ended up.
Later Syharin came to find me and asked me to follow him as he headed to the wooden boardwalk with torch in hand, I grabbed my cave torch which had a strong beam and followed him.
When we got there he shone his beam into the darkened water below and I watched in fascination the mysterious creatures below including Squid, a Sting Ray and a Bat fish, it was very special to see them so close up.

A broken boat, Proboscis Monkeys and a thousand Fireflies
I had a restless night; sleep seems to be easily interrupted here for me from the noises of the forest at night and loud thunder storms, even without these sounds though I wake up at 3am on the dot, this is most likely from the time difference.
I was so tired that I opted for a morning looking around the island for more wildlife and found an abundance of butterflies, dragonflies and bees.

Red Dragonfly (Neurothemis fluctuans)

Red Dragonfly (Neurothemis fluctuans)

At 1pm I caught a boat across to Jesselton Point on the mainland and then a taxi (about 3hours) across country to the river Klein.

Although a beautiful river, the Klein has obviously become a tourist trap and was muddied for me by all the other boats going up and down it with extremely noisy people in.
Luckily the driver of the boat I was in was canny and he got ahead and away from the crowds and we sped off down the river to look for wildlife, this boat had just a handful of people in who were quiet and respectful which gave a fighting chance of seeing something.

We struck lucky and saw several groups of Proboscis Monkeys (Nasalis larvatus) , they were very hard to photograph as they are shy creatures and tend to stay high up in the canopy, however I did get a couple of shots of these strange looking creatures with their long noses.
The Malaysians often refer to these as Dutch Monkeys monyet belanda as they associate them with the Old Dutch colonisers who had large stomachs and noses also.
These gentle, shy monkeys eat berries and leaves and go together in small groups then these all congregate at night at a sleeping point in the trees.

Proboscis Monkey (Nasalis larvatus)

Proboscis Monkey (Nasalis larvatus)

It was such a privilege to watch these monkeys quietly playing and I have to say of all the wildlife I have seen over the years, these are up there as one of the most exciting species to see.
The boat went to start back up along the river but choked and spluttered before the engine stopped altogether, the engine was dead and we were stuck. I did not mind at all as it meant extra time watching the monkeys and eventually a rescue boat came down the river and we transferred in to that and watched as it was rigged up to toe our old boat back.

The rescue boat

The rescue boat

Later as darkness fell, I headed out once more down the river in a working boat to see the fireflies and was astounded to see so many, there must have been at least a thousand of them lighting up one of the trees, which twinkled as though it was covered in Christmas lights.
A beautiful sight and an enchanting night, leaving the river Klein to make the 3 hour taxi journey back to Jesselton Point and then get a boat back to my island, I call it my island as for the short time I was there it felt as though it was as I loved exploring every inch of the place.

Wild Boar and Pirates
I had a day looking for the Wild Boar on the Island, as fore mentioned I know that two had to be ‘removed’ for being too aggressive, but I knew that there were more of them and really wanted to see some.

It was almost 4:30pm in the afternoon when I finally got to see one, it was a female and she was pregnant, what a strange looking animal with that huge snout, I crept closer and approached to get some photographs. She sensed me immediately and started to put her head forward and stamp her right hoof on the ground, I thought she was gearing up to charge at me so I retreated quickly.
I have always loved Wild Boars, I remember seeing some in Africa with their young many years ago and having a fondness for them ever since then, as this one was clearly a little twitchy and needed to continue snuffling in the ground for food without me watching her so I left her alone.

Wild Boar (Sus scrofa)

Wild Boar (Sus scrofa)

As the light started to fade I watched Dragonflies surveying the area for insects, crabs on the beach started popping out of holes in the sand and scuttling about looking for sand-flies, the birds then started to swoop down on the crabs and so the dusk cycle began.

One of the things I really enjoyed was watching ships pass by the island, on this day though a black military looking speed boat sped to the island and a group of men all dressed in black with large guns jumped ashore and began running onto the island.
I was rooted to the spot for a moment, were they terrorists? I had photographed the boat and them, but then decided to quickly move off the exposed beach and further back into the forest area, cowardly though that seems, if a load of men with guns are running your way, I always think flight is best.

During my panic stricken run I bumped into a member of staff (who looked uncannily like the midget waiter in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun) and he explained that these were soldiers and police who were doing a sweep of the island for Pirates.

It is known that there is a hot spot for pirates on the other side of the island, I spoke to one of the other couples about it and they said that they were advised not to take any small boats in that area as there is high risk of kidnap.

So the men with guns were there to protect.

I wandered the island once more on my last night and enjoyed watching the reflection of the moon shine across the glittering ocean, I will miss this island and the staff, and I have made friends here and feel very at home.

When I went back to the treehouse to pack, I was pleasantly surprised to see a present beautifully wrapped on my bed, it had been signed by all of the staff, not just signatures, but personalised messages such as “stay away from wild boar”, etc.

What a wonderful gesture.

The Islanders gave me two sarongs and a mug decorated with the Hibiscus flowers that the island is named after.

I shall treasure them.

My Island

My Island

Bulgaria 2014

Bulgaria 2014

Friday 6th June
I woke up excited about going to Bulgaria to see my friends Dee, Mika and Sky in a little village called Dobromirka and then the plan is to go on to Vitosha National Park and explore the mountains and forests.
Last time I was in Bulgaria 2012 I went to see the spectacular Devatashka cave, which I am tempted to see again this time but as time will be tight I shall look at other places of beauty. Devatashka cave was used during the war and has a stream and plenty of plant life growing inside it, this is one of the most beautiful caves that I have ever seen.

 Devatashka Cave

 
The flight was delayed by 4 hours, I flew with Whiz Air going out and sat in a seat with about 2 inches of leg room and the seat in front virtually touching my nose when it went back, I tried to sleep and pretend I was not really on that flight, but it did not work, so instead I put on some music via the ipod and remained cramped, it was not a long flight though, just 3.5 hours so to be fair it went quite quickly.
I had tried to get a message to the driver picking me up, a man called Stevche however, he did not receive it and had been at the airport in Bulgaria waiting for 4 hours.
He was not happy when I arrived.

On arrival I spotted Stevche holding a sign with my name on and went to shake his hand, he looked angry and unapproachable, he would not shake my hand, however he did help me with my rucksacks.
The car journey seemed to go on forever, 3 hours in the dark, nothing to look at and if I tried to make conversation Stevche would grunt at me grumpily, he appeared not to speak any English so I tried several attempts of offering him water and sweets, but he was having none of it.

We stopped off at a little stall where you could smoke, buy food and drink. There was an elderly lady serving at this roadside stall lit by huge bulbs which had attracted a deluge of large white moths.
A local lorry driver in his late 50’s sat at one of the tables outside, he was the only other customer apart from us, Stevche had a coffee, but I was ok with my water and joined the man at the table, although we had the usual comunication problems, the man was cheerful and a relief to sit with after Stevche’s moody silence on that journey.

I looked up at the stars, the sky looked stunning, there was so little light here that the stars showed up and glistened with the moon as the showpiece of the night sky.
We said ‘Chow’ to the man and continued on the drive to Dobromirka, again it was a long, silent and rather awkward ride, I gave up trying to make conversation. The only time that Stevche spoke to me was more of a gesture really, he pinched my left arm hard and gestured for me to wind my window up, charming I thought!
We arrived at Dobromirka village at about 1am and I instantly had memories flooding back of this familiar place, Lola the Doberman began barking behind the large wooden gate and was joined by another dog Lotta, a new addition to the family. Dee and Mika came down to greet us, I was so pleased to see them as we all hugged each other, it was the warmest welcome, I turned to pay Stevche but he had already left.

Saturday 7th June
I awoke excitedly to a beautiful sunny day, it was already hot at 7am and I went downstairs and sat in the garden with Dee and her little boy Sky (aged 5) and we chatted and ate bread and cheese.
The downstairs of the house was flooded, a good 3-4 inches of water sat in the kitchen area where they had had so much rain of late, it was a shame to see this and I would try and get the level down each day, only for it to rise again the next, it was coming from underneath the floor.

Last time I was here I formed a special bond with a Dog called Zucho, he looked like a golden wolf and followed me everywhere, we went on long walks together up in the woods and he always led me back safely, I even made a camp and slept outside with Zucho loyally at my side.
The villagers here have been threatening to shoot Zucho, as he chases their livestock, thankfully they have not managed to get him yet, I would very much like to adopt him, however he is such a free spirited dog it would somehow be unfair to restrict him to a UK home, he lives wild much of the time, he will have a short life, but at least it is a free life.

He was not at Dee and Mikas when I arrived and I was disappointed, I had brought him treats and also a flea treatment to administer to him, Zucho comes and goes as he pleases, so I would just have to wait to see him.
Mika, Dees husband appeared at the gate and told us that it was Dead People Day a day when the dead are remembered and celebrated by sharing food around the village, we were given a little platter of cherries, biscuits, tomatoes and cheese pastries to eat, what a lovely gesture.

The Bulgarians have a folklore calendar of events that they follow avidly all year round.
Dee and Mika have rescued no end of animals in Dobromirka and really helped them to recover from some fairly traumatic states; at present they have a 3 legged cat called Ziggy (Ziggy has gone everywhere with Dee over the years and moved here with her); a Doberman called Lola, Lolas 3 puppies, a golden wolf dog called Zucho, Zuchos puppy Lotta, 2 rabbits Lucky and Dodo, 4 horses and a load of chickens complete with a cockerel who acts as our natural alarm each morning at about 4:30am.

Mica told me that one day one of his hens came to the window and kept tapping it with his beak, Mica looked up to ‘tap, tap, tap’ as it kept on going trying to get his attention, he went outside and the Hen led him to her nest where a Pine Martin was stealing the eggs, Mica successfully chased it off and the hen went back to her nest. It is good that she felt she could go to a human for help and shows her trust in Mica.
I went off alone in search of Dragonflies, further on in the village I walked past an old farm that I remember from last time when I was here two years ago, the same Donkey was sat down in the grass and the pretty stream ran through the area with the water level considerably higher than the last time.
Later Dee, little Sky and I went to the village shop for some food and sat outside the shop, as is customary, with a large whiskey each.

Sadly, my friends here have been embroiled in some serious trouble, which (in my opinion) is totally unjust, however it will rage on for some time yet and endure it they will, I cannot say on here what it is about nor can I name anyone, I can say though that due to this unfortunate incident some of the villagers have turned against them.
As we sat drinking our whiskey, a rather sinister looking man came walking over and stood behind Dee at a doorway glaring at me, he would not take his eyes off me so I returned the icy gaze and held my stare, he was clearly trying to intimidate me and I was not having it.

Later we left and went up to the meadow to see to the horses, the meadow is stunning following a steep walk up to it you come out on a hill top with a field covered in tiny, colourful wild flowers.
After a short time the sky changed from blue to grey cloud then black and a lightning storm raged at us, we sheltered under some trees with the horse, but were still getting soaked from the storm.

My Great Grandmother was struck by lightning not once but TWICE in her lifetime as she worked as a Midwife, often having to attend to late night calls, she survived but was paralysed down one side form the second strike.

I have not forgotten this story and kept thinking of her, my camera equipment was protected but I was also concerned that the rain would eventually get to it as it was so heavy, so suggested that I head back. Little Sky came with me so we took the dogs and made our way across the hilltop, at one point we had three strikes of lightening surround us in a triangle and that really panicked me.

Storm

I was much happier once we got down off the hilltop and started to walk back down, water poured past us as the storm raged on and made a little stream down the hillside, it was also getting dark, so we hurried on. I told Sky, who was crying, that it was a real adventure and that he was being very brave, for a 5 year old a storm like that was more than a little scary.
Once down we met up with Dee and Mika and had some supper and wine, the storm raged on until about 1am and I watched a solitary firefly brightening up the window with the terrific flashes of lightning in the background.

Day 2 Sunday 8th June
Today I woke up tired, I had acquired a lot of bites up on the meadow the day before and they had made me feel shivery and a little unwell. My friend Dee is trying to sell one of her horses and an Irish family was due to come over and see the horse, a chestnut beauty called Cash.

The family arrived and we all made our way up to the steep meadow to see the horses, on the way the father told me that one day in England they talked of starting a new life elsewhere, so they stuck a pin in a map and Bulgaria was where they ended up. The couple have two girls aged 7 and 10, so it was a brave move, but they seem very happy, they are in a small village, similar to the one of Dobromirka, about 20 miles away.
On the way up we found a dead snake on the path and then a large mound that was an ants nest up by the horses, once up there I went off on a walk to find a small lake that I could see in the distance, it was a good walk through the long grasses and up and over then back round and down to the village, took about 2 hours.

I topped up my water bottle from a natural spring by an old wall and as I walked on discovered a wooden plank attached between two trees as a little seat, I called it the secret seat and had my packed lunch sat there by the bubbling stream, it was very peaceful.
Back at the house, I was resting in the hammock when I heard a loud squeal, Lola the Doberman dog was chasing the two rabbits and had hurt one of them, I leapt up to try and stop her, Dee and Sky appeared and we all jumped to it in getting Lola off the rabbits, she was going to kill them for sure.
We caught both rabbits and held them to calm them down then took them into the house and upstairs away from Lola to keep them safe until another solution could be found.

Later I spent some time bailing out the flooded water downstairs and put some fresh flowers in for Dee, but it seemed that no faster than you remove the water, it would reappear again, which was very disheartening.

Day 3 Monday 9th June
I had a sleepless night as the dogs were barking for most of the night, something had spooked them and they would not let up, I thought I heard someone trying the back gate, but could not be sure in all the din.
I got up early and went to the village for some supplies, then lay in the hammock with Sky blowing bubbles, we used up all the bubbles so made another solution with water and washing up liquid.
Then I made a couple of rolls and headed off to the secret seat to eat them by the little stream, I was about to put my foot over the bench onto the ground when I saw something move, it was a snake, so I grabbed my camera and got two quick pictures of it as it slid away. I was hoping it would be a Horn-Nosed viper (Vipera ammodytes) however I could only get a shot of its mid section so could not identify it as it slithered off so quickly.

I had arranged for Stevche to take us out for the day and he came to pick us up at 12:30pm and we headed off to an amazing Gorge with a waterfall in Veliko. It was a stunning place, the walk began through a pine forest, then onto a rocky trail following the gorge round, Sky pointed at the huge rocks and called then ‘The Stone Soldiers,’ they did look like stone soldiers, then you do a steepish climb down through a forest, it was a slippery trail that we all took our time on as it was tricky.

The forest was full of mosquitos which bit us relentlessly, in the end I put my mack on to try and deter them, even though it was very hot, but it worked and I managed to stop them as they could not bite through it.
The climb down was so difficult at times that we used trees to hold onto and lever ourselves down to the next bit, the muddy paths were so smooth and slippery from the amount of rain running down. Eventually we came to a rocky path which was much easier to walk on, then past some huge rocks through to a rickety old wooden bridge which led us directly to a lagoon with a waterfall.

I imediately set my backpack down, took off my walking boots and waded straight into the water, it was a mistake though as the current was extremely strong and I felt it pulling me towards the river which was fast flowing, so I hauled myself out of it, spluttering and emerging rather ungracefully onto the stony bank.
Stevche the driver, despite being so grumpy on my arrival the first night, made a real effort, he is a shy man and I think often misunderstood by people, he rarely smiles, but that is just him, he spotted some beautiful Demoiselles and knowing that I had been looking for some, pointed them out to me.

Sky and Mica at Waterfall

We all sat and ate a picnic and drank wine from silver goblets, it was decadent and fun, the whol day felt really good at this place and all of our spirits were lifted.
On the walk back up I found endless different species of bugs to photograph, which is my passion and it made the steep climb go almost unoticed on my part as I stopped every few yards to take a picture of something else.
Back at the house, Sky and I curled up together in the hammock and talked about the days adventure, Sky said that he wanted more adventures and I was pleased that this 5 year old little boy was already taken with them.

Day 4 Tuesday 10th June
I got up early today, made rolls and went for a walk down by the stream then came back and Dee and I sat with the face masks I had bought and drank wine talking.
An ex pat from Liverpool called Pete popped over as he had heard I was visiting and kindly gave me a Stag Beetle mounted in a glass case, it was a huge specimen and in perfect condition, though I usually prefer to see them live in their natural habitat, it was a thoughtful gift.

While I had been staying here, I was a little disappointed that Zucho the dog who looks like a golden wolf had not yet turned up, as I had brought a flea treatment to give him plus numerous treats to eat.
I was planning to go into the village and try to talk to the character who was causing my friends some trouble, but without giving too much away to see what information I could gleen from him and just as I was about to leave, posing as a documentary researcher, who should turn up my Zucho dog. I was so pleased to see him and he accompanied me on my special mission, he jumped into a huge waste bin on the way there to get himself some food, I was saddened that he lives this way, but with Zucho it is choice, he stayed loyally by my side as a protector the whole time I spoke to the character.

I can not say any more about the encounter with the character or who he was on here as I was treading on dangerous ground and really it was just some research on behalf of my friends, but the whole time I was there Zucho stayed with me. Before I left I bought Zucho some fresh meat and once we were safely away, I sat on a stone wall and fed Zucho the meat as a thank you for staying with me.

Zucho

Zucho walked back with me to my friends place then he left as silently as he had appeared.
That evening I spent telling my friends about the conversation as we drank wine and watched yet another terrific thunder storm, it was perhaps a good job that I was due to leave the following morning for a national park.

Day 5 Wednesday 11th June
I got up early about 5am and packed up my backpack ready to leave for Vitosha National Park in Sofia, before leaving I had a nice breakfast and wandered about the yard with the chickens, the three puppies came out for the first time and it was good to see them enjoying the early morning sunshine. I gave the dogs Lola and Lotta the last of the dog treats.
Mica had been to the village shop to get me a pcheese pastry to take for the journey and made me a packed lunch, saying goodbye to my friends was emotional and as I was about to get in to the car little Sky gave me a piece of paper and said to read in the car.

Once in the car and a few miles away, I opened it, he had drawn me two stone soldiers from the day we had had out in the Gorge, it was very touching and pretty amazing that a 5 year old boy could be so very thoughtful. Stevche was driving me again, he seemed better this time, lighter somehow and although the drive was again in silence, once in Sofia I gave him a hug and he smiled, to see Stevche smile was wonderful and I was pleased that we were on better terms, he is a good man, just awkward around people.

The hotel was impressive, I had a huge room and it was a lovely area, however I missed my friends terribly and felt a little sad to be away from them after such a short time, still now was my time to go and explore the countryside. There was another lightening storm which I watched from the balcony then afterwards packed up my backpack with camera, lenses, etc. and went walking through a forested mountain, it was a steep climb up but the forest felt so fresh and the ground springy, to breath the same air as the trees was refreshing to the system.

It was a peaty, fresh smell and as I looked up the green leaves above were lit beautifully with the sunshine streaming through them, it was a magical forest.
I walked up the mountain, nor quite to the top as a thunder storm suddenly began to rage from nowhere and I needed to get back down fast, as I descended I jolted my right knee over an old injury where I once broke it and the pain seared through me.
I got down slowly then, once I was back, bathed the knee in warm water and salt to try and ease the pain, in the end I had to strap it up to support it, then went to dinner, it did not matter that I sat alone as I had a terrific lightening storm to watch, it was very impressive and I was glad to be off that mountain.

Forest

Day 6 Thursday 12th June
I got up with the intent to explore the area more and hired a taxi driver to take me to Vitoshi mountain across the city Sophia, the driver spoke just a little English and was pleasant to be around, his name was Alex. Once out of the city we drove along a narrow, windy road lined with huge straight fir trees until we got to an area where I could start walking, to my surprise Alex got out of the car and said he would come with me.

View of Sophia City

He was good company so I was happy woth that although of course I would have to pay for his time, it was good to have someone with me who knew the area. We came to a field of rock boulders, some of them were huge and we started to cross them, by hopping from one to the next, it started off as very easy but once we got into the middle of the rock boulders it got more and more difficult.

Alex would stop and point out a route that he thought might work saying “Tack, tack…tack, tack, tack” as he pointed ti varius rocks, meaning I surmised “jump, jump, jump…” as he worked out the best way forward, I would also look and point out a route saying “tack, tack, tack….tack, tack?”
Thats how we communicated and it worked well.
More than a few times we got stuck, we would find ourselves on a rock looking all around and wondering which one to jump to, some gaps were quite large and I had the fear of falling or getting a leg trapped inbetween the boulders, it was challenging at times. I slipped and scraped the skin off my left elbow, it bled a fair bit but I really just wanted to get across the rocks, it was enjoyable working out the route and I thought that we could then continue on a forest walk up the mountain.

Once we had crossed the boulders though we found that there was no way forward and that we would have to turn back and cross them again to find another route. So we tackled them a second time, again we got stuck a few times and Alex and I would both put forward our suggested routes with the “Tack, tack, tack tack….”
Poor Alex was coughing a great deal and kept pointing to an empty packet of cigerettes he had in his pocket, he clearly needed a smoke or better still to give up, but I think he enjoyed it too much to comtemplate that as he looked horrified when I gestured to stop.
I was glad once we finally crossed them on the way back as the jumping was jarring my already injured knee and I wanted to do some plain walking after the rocks. We walked through the fir trees, I really loved the sound of the breeze through them, it was soothing to listen to and the coolness was welcome on a hot days jumping.

I took many photographs of the area and after a couple more hours walking, I spotted some really long rusty nails on the ground and picked them up thinking they would be good as a souvinir of the day, these enails were about 10 inches long and I put them into my rucksack. Then we headed back down to the car, on the way back I asked Alex to stop and jumped out to buy water and some cigerettes for Alex. Once back at the hotel, one of the staff came and asked me if my arm was ok as it continued to bleed as I walked though reception, dropping blood on the floor, this was probably not a good look on the white marble floor.

I went up to my room and bathed the elbow then covered it with some bandage and a plaster to hold it fast, of course it continued to bleed straight through, but at least it calmed it down a bit.
A dinner I was treated once again to a fantastic lightening storm, it was good to sit outside and watch the brilliant purple streaks of lightening every few seconds, I tried capturing it on camera and eventually got two shots.

My lightening shot

Day 7 Friday 13th June
Today was the last day in Vitosha as I was leaving at 1pm for the airport, I spent the morning in the pool to ease my knee with some non contact sport and enjoyed swimming a few lengths, then I got ready to go to the airport and return back to the UK.

It is worth mentioning here that at the airport, I was stopped and searched then surrounded by men with guns as one of the officials went through my rucksack. He was firing questions at me and seemed quite angry, I could not think what I had done until he suddenly pulled out the 10” nails, of course they were sharp (even though rusty) and could easily be seen as a weapon on an aeoplane.

I apologised profusely explaining where I had found them and that I had forgotten to put them in my hand luggage, you are generally not even allowed to take a tiny pair of nail scissors on an aeroplane, yet suddenly the gunman backed off as an order was barked and the nails given back to me. I stood there quite amazed at this, but the official said “Go, you can keep the nails” I could not quite believe it, but packed them back into my rucksack and went on my way.

All in all it was a great trip.

Costa Rica – Diary of a Costa Rica Adventure

In 2008 I went on an expedition to Costa Rica to take part in a voluntary conservation project, things however did not go according to plan and I ended up alone, needing to get across the country and soon running out of money, food and water…..

I also ended up running from a gang of machete men and found myself getting into many other scrapes on the journey, including relying on a group of Monkeys for food, they fed me in a rather unconventional way!

On my return I spoke about this adventure on BBC Radio Oxford and have been doing public talks about it ever since at Museums, clubs and public halls.

I kept a diary out there and have added maps, photos and written information on the wildlife and am hoping to get it published, that is the reason why the content of Diary of a Costa Rica Adventure is not on here.

Once I get the finished book version I shall add a link to it

My map of Costa Rica with hand drawn route

My map of Costa Rica with hand drawn route

Amanda