Bit of a sweet and sour entry this one. So its turtle hatching/laying season so when I heard the German film crew were back on island and staying right next to a turtle beach I decided to bum a lift over there. So when I arrived it was fairly late into the night but I managed to get my hammock set up with the help of the turtle guide (my arm was in a sling at this point). He then showed me a box of baby leatherback turtles he had excavated a few hours before my arrival that he was keeping over night so the other tourists (PeaceCorp Volunteers) could see them leave in the morning...
Are you thinking what I am thinking? Why the hell keep them over night for the benefit of a few people who will get a slightly better view in the morning. All the while the baby turtles are burning through their energy reserves and getting more stressed than they need to be. So yeah, as cool as it was to see baby leatherbacks it was a bit of a hollow victory. I know the eggs are protected from poachers etc and the "message" is spread but still.
Chilling on the beach around a fire and seeing the milky way was pretty cool as we waited for an adult female to come in and lay some eggs. Unfortunately the adults were a no show (I saw one from the boat the month before so I was not too gutted) but it would have been great to see one up close. One of the other things that pisses me off about the turtle programme here is the number of people who take selfies with the turtles or touch them while they are laying... NOO! Leave them alone you idiots.
Anyway after a few hours sleep in my hammock I was up at the crack of dawn to catch the sun rise. It was glorious!! And I did get to see the baby turtles go into the ocean. They are very adorable trundling across the beach to the sea. So not all bad but the naive approach of the "Ecotourism" at Rosalie Bay was a sore spot for me.
So if you didn't get it from the title, yes I broke a bone. I really broke a bone as you will see below. How do you ask? What feat of danger was I up to? What extreme sport? Well I was bird watching on a boat... yes. 100% true. But slightly more extreme than just slipping ohhh yes. So the boat we were on was not really made for the open sea and we got caught in very choppy waters as we went out onto the Atlantic and the boat was leaping around all over the shop then suddenly out of no where the boat fell down the side of a wave. Yes, fell down I think I remember free falling, maybe... maybe not, but a friend of mine described it as "Like really bad turbulence but on a boat" and a Dominica friend of mine swore he though we were going to capsize and "in one breath asked God to forgive me for all my sins" so yeah not as simple as a slip and fall on a boat. So after the water receded after the fall I was on the deck trying to move my left arm, it was not moving. Then I looked down and saw the huge bulge in my arm and a limp left arm. To which I said "Ohh f**k, my arms broken" then one of the very nice but utterly dim witted crew members said "Oh is it?" I still think to this day (one month later) he though my fore arm was broken. You'll see from the X-Ray below how obvious it is it was my upper arm. The sling they then made for me was utterly woeful, but I found it hilarious at the time (I was for some reason in no pain, and I was never in any real pain the whole time) he essentially loosely wrapped a towel over my arm and tried to splint my forearm with a flip flop... bless him for trying but seriously. I just ended up supporting my arm with my other arm. So I got picked up at the dock by a van which was apparently the ambulance and bounced through town to A&E only to be told the X-Ray machine was broken so back I went through town to the private X-Ray machine and back to A&E I went where my arm was put in a proper sling, I was stripped and given morphine (bum cheek injection) and off I went to the ward to wait for my insurance to talk to me and for me to decide how I want to continue. So a few days later I met a Cuban consultant Orthopedic surgeon (Dr Julian De Armas0 who told me about a very nice German Steel plate he could fit for me. I weighed it up, spoke to the insurance company who agreed to pay and then signed my life away and on the 25th I went in for surgery and woke up a few hours later as a Cyborg. The first thing I checked was that my arm was still there then I checked my legs were both still there. Why my legs you ask? Well in the first 3 days of being in hospital I had seen 3 guys loose a leg each so I was a ittle worried they seem to love amputation in Dominica,
It was a rather painless experience in the hospital if I am honest, the night nurses were similar to the Gestapo but I got by. I had so many local visitors I didn't know what to do with them all and the manager of the Mountain Chicken Project visited me twice a day with food made by his wife so I was very well taken care of. You really know who your friends are (or not) when you are in hospital. So if any of you who visited me in hospital are reading this, thank you very much! Greatly appreciated.
I will give an update in a few weeks as to how the arm is healing.
So my newly discovered Volcanologist friend Dr Rob Watt asked me along to do section 1 of the Waitukubuli Trail (I know no real order to how I finish) so I decided why not, 2 people is fine! And on an island which is like 75% volcano I am bound to learn something right? Section one starts with a very steep hike upwards (avoiding a landslide) but then it opens up onto an old french plantation which is very picturesque! With a great view down onto Scotts Head. En route I also managed to learn a lot about the local volcanoes including the most recent eruption of Morne Potate 500 years ago. A relatively short and sweet little hike, but another one knocked off the list!
Well for some reason I decided I would go on a guided hike with other people... for part of hike fest 2016. Now normally I hike alone, because I enjoy my own pace and I don't get lost. Guides here talk absolute bollocks most of the time so I really don't care to pay for their services and yeah this hike only steeled my determination to never do a large scale group hike again. 1 minute in I was already irritated after the woman behind repeatedly told me to be careful after I had 3 minor slips of approx 1cm. So I quickly sped up to get rid of her and when I did I found myself in between two groups. A bit more positioning and I managed to get to the point where I was not in sight or sound range of the group behind or in front of me, then I started enjoying myself! Section 14 of the Waitukubuli Trail was the trail for this hike of hike fest. The weakest of the sections so far, it was mostly road. But it does go via Toucari Bay which is very pretty! It also stops at Cabrits National Park the site of the old fort (see my December posts), I finished the "5 hour" hike in about 2 so decided I would walk around the old fort area to kill some time to let the slow group catch up. So I visited the western garrison and the old officers quarters before heading down to the bus. While waiting for the bus I did actually manage to socialize with a couple of fellow hikers. Rob a British Volcanologist and Avinash an Indian Born, American Peace Corp Volunteer, so somewhat of a mixed trio but we became friends on the return bus journey. But yeah, no large scale hiking for me again! I did get a nice t-shirt however!
So I always wanted to be David Attenborough as a child but after dealing with film crews I have decided I don't have the patience for it! But it is a very useful tool for sharing information so when a German film crew came to the island and asked to film the Mountain Chickens and the project. I jumped at the chance to help them out. Took a few nights to get all the footage we needed and several takes for us to do a walking sequence... but seems like we have some good footage. Hopefully we will get to see it as soon as possible! On the main night of filming we were also able to find two new frogs! Now named Dunja (after the camera woman) and Florian after the director.
So its back to knocking off segments of the Waitukubuli National Trail, so on to Section 5. Which pretty much starts in the dead centre of the island and heads east to the coast. An hour or two walking through nice peaceful covered forest with a bit of agricultural land (where i stopped to chat to some farmers about the frog) brought me to Emerald Pool again. Had a lovely refreshing dip but as I was getting changed to leave I got stung my fire ants one on the eye and one on the scrotum so I had a pretty miserable hours worth of hiking until the burning itching sensation died down. After that it was a leisurely stroll along side the road and rivers until I got to a friends house (she happens to live right next to the trail, which is fortunate) where i set up shop (hammock) for the night. After having a lovely evening (CHEESECAKE) and breakfast with my friends and teaching some local boys that glow flies are not witches in disguise I set off to Castle Bruce to finish the hike. Which took me past, and NOT over, a bridge in dire need of repair! Then it was just an hour through some agricultural land till I got to Castle Bruce and jumped on a Bus back to Roseau.
So due to my reliability (compared to Dominicans) and the fact I always pay on the day (compared to Dominicans) I was invited to the birthday party of one of our Volunteers. Not a big deal right? Well he managed to hire a boat for the day which came to like £8 per person (7 of us). So we boarded and off we went up the west coast to Secret Beach and then round the back of Cabrits to enjoy the CRYSTAL BLUE waters. Not really much more to say than that, look at the pictures yourself! On the way back the crew decided to do a spot of fishing and well yeah, check out the video and the picture below to see what happens there! Twas a good day, with beer, sun and sea!
So its not just Frogs that we work on over here. This month a team from the Dominican Republic (Grupo Jaragua) and the American Bird Conservancy came to try and find the Black Capped Petrel or Diablotin (Little Devil). This critically endangered bird is only known to nest in the DR. However after an investigation last year several were believed to have been seen, on night vision cameras, flying over Dominica. So this year a larger team was sent down to help to see if the birds may be nesting in the mountains of Dominica. So I signed up to help. It was a hard week, trekking across the mountain ranges of Dominica looking for potential nesting sites (above 1000m). The guys were were working with were a great laugh even across the language barrier. But did we find the devil?? Unfortunately not, we found suitable sites but alas not a single nest. It was only a short survey period however so hopefully next year?
Well it was a bloody bad start to the month! Not only did the dreaded Chytrid fungus (think frog ebola) get into the facility and infect 4 of the 5 frogs we have, but two Cane Toads cropped up on Dominica. Both these two factors have the potential to do a great deal of damage to the Mountain Chicken population on Dominica.
Here is why:
1) The chytrid fungus is decimating frog populations globally and is the reason the mountain chicken is critically endangered with only 150 left in the wild. See more info here: http://www.amphibianark.org/the-crisis/chytrid-fungus/
2) the Cane Toad (ask any Australian about these bastards) not only carry the chytrid fungus but also don't suffer from it so they are perfect vectors for the disease. They also eat the same food as Mountain Chickens and even have the potential to eat Mountain Chickens. In short they are a biological disaster for any island they invade.
The fungus is treatable however and all the frogs in our facility are now being treated, one unfortunately died to a stupid error on my part (I was utterly mortified). But the others are all recovering well. We also found a male with chyrid in the wild who we brought back for treatment. So it seems chytrid may have reared its ugly head again. However we think the remaining population may be resistant to the fungus (how else would they still be alive?) So we are staying hopeful.
We conducted 2 surveys for Cane Toads and found nothing and we also made the public in the area the frogs were found aware of the issue, we are hoping its an isolated case!!!
Section 4 starts at the Sulphur Springs at Wotton Waven and works its way up through the hills to Morne Micotrin before dropping down to the highlight of the section. Middleham Falls, a huge waterfall with a great plunge pool. I managed to get down to the falls ahead of a huge group of American tourists so I had the entire falls to myself. The waterfall was so tall it took two photographs to get it all in! The rest of the trail was pretty uneventful mostly a hike through very wet forest, almost march land but with trees! Till I got to Pont Casse where I hopped on a bus home. Looking to to do section 5&6 together with a camp in my Hammock between. Stay tuned!