2011-04-27 - 7:09 a.m.
Wednesday, April 13, Trinidad, Beni, Bolivia
Most of the blockades only last for a day, so we planned again to make an early start. To my surprise, there was no one around in the bar or breakfast room. Birders are, as a class, a very prompt people, and so far my guide had always been either on time or a few minutes early. I tried not to worry, but it was a TAD worrisome, you must admit. Meanwhile, I had some coffee and hung out, which became more awkward when the hotel staff tried to serve me breakfast. I just can't eat all these meals that South Americans eat, four a day, plus snacks. Getting a break from eating was actually a bit of a relief, and just coffee was all I wanted. But it took some effort to get the point across that, seriously, I simply wasn't hungry.
At some point the driver showed up. He didn't speak English, but I could tell that he was mystified too. In a game of charades, he asked me for S's cell phone number but I didn't actually have it. Not holding a cell phone myself, I'd never thought to ask for it. He then asked at the hotel desk, but the clerk was afraid to phone S. before 8 A.M. Yikes. That's half the day gone (only a slight exaggeration) to a birder. As we were standing around wringing our hands and wondering what to do, S. finally came in.
"I had to talk to my brother," he said, a grim expression on his face.
He did not mean that he was allowing garrulous family members to interfere with his job. He meant that the blockade was still on. So, when he went to buy his guide license, the clerk at the office tried to give him an argument about working. Since S. hasn't worked all year -- I'm his first job, remember? -- and no teacher or doctor in the history of the human race has ever taken to the streets to raise the pay of folks in the tourism industry -- he wasn't much impressed by his "brother's" appeal. But he still had to go through the motions of hearing the guy out, before his license was finally approved.
We still weren't able to go on any long trips out of Trinidad, but S. knew of a piece of cerrado grassland, where the sheer number of species proved to be almost mind-croggling. We got 51 species, and we're not talking tails disappearing into the fields, either. We're talking about great, close-up looks. In addition to a chance to enjoy more of the Bolivian species I'd already met, here I added three new life birds, the Great Pampa Finch, White Monjita, and the Great-Billed Seed-Finch -- the last of the three also being a new lifer for S. Apparently, he'd been looking for it for quite awhile, but it seemed rather easy to me, since it's the first time I'm in the habitat, and it was pretty close, much like any of a number of other seedeaters. The individual we saw was a nicely marked male. S. assured me that I seemed to have a lucky charm for attracting the seed-eaters. Now there's a superpower that you'll never see in the movies.
actually ANY fish might be somewhat cranky in this situation but moments later the red-bellied piranha was indeed snapping indignantly at the bit of bone
On the non-bird front, we had a nice view of a Spectacled Caiman sitting in the sun. Later, as we drove past a river where many guys were fishing, some dude caught a Red-Bellied Piranha and put it quickly in a two liter Coke bottle with some river water, so that we could inspect it up-close and personal. Again, not hustling for a tip. He just genuinely thought the silly tourist would enjoy seeing a Piranha. It was really nifty to see how colorful (and how toothy) they are in the light.
No rain today. In fact, despite yesterday's rain, I never had to open my dollar store rain poncho. I couldn't know it yet, but I would not need ANY rain jacket for this particular trip. And I only used one rain jacket on the last trip. So I'm way ahead of the odds on getting rained on in Bolivia, even though both of my trips skirted different ends of the rainy season. Of course, with no rain, it was starting to get quite hot, so around mid-day, we headed back for lunch and a siesta.
I continue to be amazed at how much South Americans eat. But it's probably because I'm now a middle-aged female, and I'm being guided by younger males, and I just forgot how much people eat when they're under 40. I felt bad about picking at my food, because I didn't want them to think I didn't like it, but it was just much too much. Well-flavored, but too much. I ordered chicken soup, and they brought out all sorts of stuff on the side in addition to a large piece of chicken being already in the soup. Whew. Very generous...but much too much.
It was time for a siesta. I usually bring a number of cheap paperbacks to read along the way on my various trips. You can leave them as you finish them, adding to the hotel library or giving them away to some traveler at the airport, and your load gets lighter as you go along. I often buy them for 25 cents or just trade for them, but this time I had taken some older books that were losing pages from my own shelves. Why not enjoy them one last time before they become unreadable? So it was that I was re-reading No One Gets Out of Here Alive, the Jim Morrison hagiography,* and I got this earworm caught in my brain: I am the Lizard King, I can do anything. Say that a few times in your head, and you'll feel a little silly.
Since my guide had pronounced me lucky with seed-eaters, I decided to change the chant to something a little more positive:
I am the Seed-Eater King
Sure, it's just as goofy, but it isn't "taking yourself too seriously" goofy.
When I was a teen-ager, I had heard that Morrison was a child-molester, but now I realized that his girlfriends were probably old enough -- they just acted like children. And so did he. People in the past were so immature. It irritated me that he used his supposed godlike powers to stay drunk, be an ass, and kill himself. C'mon. What I could have done with what he had just handed to him on a plate. Ho well. Some people can get dealt pocket Aces and still eff it up.
Armed with my new chant, I descended the stairs into a new world. The blockade was gone, and all the world loved me. The desk clerk wanted her picture made with me. Since we only had a half-day to bird the road to Loreto, the guy at the toll booth didn't charge the driver the toll when the driver pointed to me and explained that we were just going a short way to look at some birds. A rancher stopped his truck and told us to come on down and bird his ranch. Everything was just like...well, it was just like magic. That doesn't mean that I can recommend my special chant to everyone. It probably wouldn't work the same for you. But I am the Seed-Eater king and I can do anything and modest too.
On this day, a lovely bolivian lady wanted her picture made with the hilarious tourist in complete birder's field costume, & I realized I was shorter...
The most unexpected sighting on the road to Loreto was a Margay. I am not talking about a glimpse from the van. I'm talking about, we're down there on the road, and the little wild cat comes right out, crossing right there, boldly looking us in the eye, as if daring us to react.
And, of course, we added a fresh batch of life birds, of which I will pick Black-Capped Donacobius, as the most dapper...but don't tell the Blue-Crowned Conure, tee hee.
Some cute sightings from around the day: