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I have reproduced a series of articles and pictures published by Dave Mellows after one of our expeditions. This was originally published on RFUK and is an excellent guide to a typical Expedition.


Paradise - Review :)

Sooo, as some may know, a group of us RFUK'ers recently went on a two week trip to Trinidad, organise by Andrew, who many will be familiar with by his excellent threads on his amazing large (huge) greenhouse and various zoo exhibits, posted under his handle "acromyrmexbob", and his partner Asha.

The group consisted of Charlie, Sid, Dave and Linda, and myself. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we all leapt at the opportunity to go on this trip, and it didn't disappoint. After the flight over, we were met at the airport by Andrew and Asha and, given Andrew's communication to the effect that he's a "miserable bugger", it was a pleasant suprise to be met with a smile and a friendly greeting!!

Wasting no time, the first reptile made it's presence known as soon as we stepped outside the airport arrivals door into the glorious heat.

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and the view from arrivals

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this immediately put us in a holiday mood, and assured us that we were in for a great time 

Driving along the highways and through the towns is certainly an experience but not as traumatic as might be supposed, and it wasn't any great distance from the airport to the accomadation, even with stops for toiletries (mostly charlie), fags (mostly me) and booze (mostly everyone!!)

Arriving at the accommodation assured us that Andrew was not seeking to glorify anything, as his description of the accommodation as "sheds" was exceptionally accurate.

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Please note this picture was taken on the last day, it was clean and had sheets and so on upon our arrival.

Being the enthusiasts we are, we took a few minutes to drop our bags in and scout around the communal areas and compare notes on sheds (most had downstairs bathrooms.....I drew the short straw) then grabbed ourselves some wellies and cameras and immediately headed out for a walk. By this time it was growing dark, so torches were essential.

We, being slightly mental, took about an hour and a half to walk a route that should take about 15 ins down some trails to a nearby waterfall, as we kept stopping to stare and photograph crickets and woodlice and so on. I'd like to say by the end of our trip the fascination with all examples of insect and amphibian life had worn off, but I'd be lying!!

We passed the poo on the way, 

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Here's a few shots we got on the first night

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This is only a small selection of the ridiculous number of phots I took on the first evening, and a smaller selection still of what we saw, but would hate to bore you all (any more than I already have!)

One final pic of a friend who was waiting in my cabin when I got back

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Next up is a few posts with some of the activities we did

Default Day 2

So our first full day began, and after waking feeling refreshed at various times, some early, others less so (naming no names - Charlie ) we had a lovely breakfast, before Andrew and Asha appeared for the pre-arranged guided tour of the Northern Range. We set off and a while down the road found a lovely lookout point to take a couple of scenic shots, here's the view

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and the density of the jungle growth, with the road being swallowed

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Setting off again, we soon came to a small village, where we stopped for a refreshing beer, and saw our first Aztec Ant colony

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a Spiny Lizard being inconspicuous (not)

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and a beautiful Gonotades Vittatus 

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Continuing on we stopped for a wander round by an old suspension bridge and the river banks, where the gang found an interesting tree to stare at (?)

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while I found a new friend

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Next up was a stop for lunch at Maracas Bay, where I took a rubbish picture because I couldn't drag myself away from my Shark'n'Bake, which was delicious (so I had two!)

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Having seen a fair amount of the Northern Range, we went from Maracas Bay to Caroni Swamp, where we jumped on a boat (after paying the princely sum of £6 each) to take the tour. 

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Saw a few Cooks tree boa's hanging around (sorry, couldn't resist the terrible pun)

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and a sneak peek at the main attraction, the Scarlet Ibis

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Also saw some blue Herons

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and tree climbing crabs

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as well as some spectacular views



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Drumroll please, as the sun started to set the main attraction began, with the appearance of a few Scarlet Ibis and white Egrets in the trees on their their island.

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We saw flights coming in every couple of minutes as the sun started to set

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until the island was decorated like a christmas tree

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Setting off back to the dock in the darkness gave a view of a lovely sunset behind us

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and except for a drive back to the accommodation, that was the end of our first full day.

Default Day 3

Right, first off, apologies for the length, and the lack of warning about being so picture heavy. 

Anyway, our second full day (I guess my day numbering on the posts is confusing but never mind) was one that I was particularly looking forward to. This was the day that we were going to spend the afternoon and evening at Tamana Cave. But before I get ahead of myself.....

We headed down to meet Andrew and Asha in the morning at Asha's father's house. His name is Baldeo, and he acted as our guide on several of the trips, hopefully Charlie will weigh in later with a rare photo 

We took the opportunity to snap a few pics in his garden while organinsing our gear ready to go

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and a view from Baldeo's yard

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how idylic!

For the morning we went out to the areas around the Arima Dam, and although entry to the dam itself (where we were hoping to catch up with some Caiman) wasn't permitted, we went to an area nearby, with a beautiful lake and some marshlands

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Plenty of animal life around, such as this butterfly

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and this seperate lake/pool

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which had loads of these guys

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and these 

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all under this fellas watchful eye

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However the highlight for me was seeing hundreds upon hundreds of these guys coming out of the water

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These are Hyla Geographica, a big tree frog that thrives all over the Northern Range. The waterline of the main lake was teeming with thousands of these all coming out of the water, strangely in the middle of the day.

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and Charlie made friends with one

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We also found this little guy hiding out in a discarded birds nest

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Also caught sight of this dragonfly dipping it's tail in the water repeatedly, would guess it's something to do with egg laying, but it looked like he was flicking water at the grass stem, like he was shortsighted and thought he was having a water fight with a very tall opponent!

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And a shot of one of the less friendly plants

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We went for a bite to eat after this, then headed out to Tamana Cave. Continued below.............

Default Day 3 part 2

Okay, the afternoon of the second full day, having had a hearty meal, we headed down to Tamana Caves. These caves house the largest population of bats on the planet. But before we got there there was a little adventure, we were parking the hire car and jumping up into the back of the truck to head further up the trail when I spotted a small land crab in one of the wheel ruts. Not wanting it to be crushed when we drove up, i tried nudging it away with my foot. This failed, with the crab half inside a crack, waving it's claw artound and at imminent risk of a tyre related injury. Therefore i thought i'd grab it and put him down out of the way, I mean, after all, how much can a little crab hurt, really?

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A lot, it turns out!!

Having prised the little bugger off my thumb (after a five minute battle-these guys are amazingly strong) he posed for a few minutes savouring his victory

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then scurried off to leave us to continue. We drove a bit further, then all jumped out and began hiking, following Baldeo. A massive buttress tree caught our eye on the walk up

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which gave Charlie and Linda an opportunity to take a break

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Having arrived at the caves after a bit of an uphill slog, we headed down into the main cave entrance. As you enter there is a large opening to the left, with hundreds of bats hanging from every surface.

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A word of warning (that, having entered first I should have passed on to the rest of the group, especially Charlie who needed dragging out) is that there is an extremely deep layer of bat droppings spread accross the whole cave and you need to avoid this and head up on a rock ledge on the right hand side.

Bats everywhere, and also found this

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which was about 4 to 5 inches long, despite looking tiny in the pic. 

Having seen this cave I was very impressed, right up until Andrew shouted me bck out to the main cave entrance, and asked wouldn't I like to go into the min cave network? I replied, wide eyed, "there's more?" which gave him a giggle. Leading me to a tiny crevice in the rocks, he gestured towards the top of a head that was disappearing down it, and explained that I should wriggle like a worm to get down it. Wasting no time, i immediately headed down the "guano slide" and found myself in another large tunnel, leading off into the gloom. Many more bats were down here, as well as Marine Toads, large roaches and small white flies. Also a rather angry and considerably larger crab than previously experienced. We also found a couple of different species of frogs and spiders. Here's the pics

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Peek-a-boo

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Having exited the caves Charlie decided a clean up was in order

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before we relaxed by a cave exit to watch the bats heading out for the evening.

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The above pic shows a blur of wings in the entrance, there were an estimated thousand plus bats a minute coming out of this entrance, the blur may give you an idea of what it looked like. Amazingly, despite standing directly in front of the exits, none of us were even clipped by a wing, the bats have remarkable reflexes.

And to finish off, here is my favourite picture of the whole trip, taken inside the caves.

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Fair warning, anyone stealing this picture without permission will be fed to the bats in little chopped up pieces!!!

 Day 4

Okay, so our third full day, and if you guys are still watching rather than falling asleep, this was a rather more relaxing day. However, it was also a very snap happy day. We went to spend the day at Asa Wright, which is a Nature Reserve about a mile down the road from Alta Vista (the name of the place we stayd, it occurrs to me I haven't mentioned it yet). 

Asa Wright is a lovely place, it's centred around an old colonial house with views right down Arima Valley from it's large covered verandah, and is surrounded by about 1500 acres of montane and secondary growth rainforest on grounds that were originally cleared for cocoa plantations. It's particularly geared up for avid birdwatchers, but didn't seem too steeped in snobbishness, despite picturs of the Royal Family on their numnerous visits. A popular story is that the mosquitos are banned from Asa Wright as they're not posh enough, but we found no disapproval despite our slightly unorthodox appearances and lack of enormous cameras!

On our arrival we paid the daily visit fee which was very reasonable (about £6 each I think) and then went on a tour of the grounds which was heading out at that time. We were led around as part of the tour group by a knowledgeable member of staff, although his presentation seemed very wooden and quite bored. However, questions were met with genuine enthusiasm, and conversations going further than "whats that pretty blue one called......" seemed a genuine cause for excitement!

Pictures of the tour follow......

Fantastic Bromeliad and epiphyte covered tree

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Bird

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Bullet Ant........the bite from these guys apparently rates within the top five most painful insect bites in the world

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Leaf cutter ants

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and their immense colony

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Another great tree

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Golden Orb Weaver

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Chevron tarantula

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Bird

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Bird

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Termite nest, incidentally we tried eating Termites, after being told that they have kept lost people alive in the bush as a good source of protein, and they taste like...................mint. Seriously, mint! Who the hell would have guessed!?!?

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Dragonfly

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This concludes the tour, as a few of you may have guessed, I didn't go out of my way to find out the birds names or much about them, I enjoy watching them but thats as far as it goes i'm afraid.

Keep going for a few more bird pics, or skip if ya want  There's a couple of suprises amongst the bird pics though................
Day 4 continued

So, our third full day, part 2.

Having completed the tour round part of the grounds, we retired to the verandah for the rest of the day. The staff at Asa Wright lay out plenty of food for the regular birds and also tempt in a lot of hummingbirds by using special nectar feeders, with a 5 to 1 mix of water and sugar for them. No big blocks of writing for this section, as i'm not especially knowledgeable so will just give you guys the pictorial goodies and shut up 

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Something a little different, this is an anima I called a rat pig for the whole two weeks, as I couldn't recall it's name. It's actually called an Agouti, and is (I believe) some sort of cousin to guinea pigs.

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Aaaaannnddd..................back to birds 

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To break it up, here's the spectacular view from the verandah, right down the Arima Valley

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More birds......

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More Agouti!!

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Back to birds

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And something special that popped out to say hello, In fact several did over the course of the day, here's a couple of different Black and Gold Tegus.

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Okay, i promise that there aren't many more bird shots for the rest of this (somewhat more epic than planned) thread, maybe one or two though!

Day 4 evening

Now we're hitting the evening of our third full day and what an evening it turns out to be. Having finished at Asa Wright we got some grub inside us and wellied up, then went out for a night walk. The first such walk of the trip, we went down a riverbed that sometimes had Bushmaster and Fer De Lances, although the sightings turned out to have mostly been during the dry season, which we most definitely were not in!

So off we went

This guy popped up before we even got to the riverbed

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and a different angle

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then we got into the ravine, where we saw some fantastic fungi

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and a whole bunch of critters, here we go!!

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This Huntsman was holding an enormous egg sac, and Andrew waited until I'd stuck my camera right in her face before conversationally mentioning that they were well known for leaping forwards and attacking when they were guarding eggs. Gee thanks!!

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And the final pic I took of the night, this lovely Marine Toad came out to bid us farewell

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Full day number 4, admit it, some of you are really confused by my personalised calendar of the trip. How can it be day 5 yet day 4!?!?!?!?! Day 5 of the trip as a whole from leaving the UK, Day 4 in full days......simples!

Anyway,

today we were all geared up for a hike through the forest on the north coast to a distant and not often visited waterfall. Neither Asha nor Andrew had visited it before, and neither had Baldeo even. So this was a bit of a journey of exploration for everyone. 

Couple of nice views from the place we abandoned the vehicles and headed off on foot

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And on the start of the walk, within puddles in old wheel ruts we found tons of tadpoles, probably tree frog from the size

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Moving further along the track and the vultures started to appear. Obviously they took one look at my big belly and started talking. I'm guessing it went like this

"Hey Frank, look at that fat bugger."
"Yeah, so what."
"Well, turkey brain, he definitely isn't going to make it, look at the size of him, that's lunch right there!"
"Hey, you're right, let's follow him"

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Lush growth (the guys wouldn't forgive me if I didn't include "lush" somewhere

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And here's a few pics of the first beach we came across

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It had just started raining, hence the blurs and spots on the pictures. At this point we wrapped the cameras as a full on tropical rainstorm hit us. Most of the guys took shelter under a clearly inadequate tree, whilst I, taking advantage of 3 weeks in the scouts when I was about 10, got busy making myself a rain shelter. Finding a suitable trio of palm leaves bending over, I snapped a few more large fronds off and wove them into the overhanging three, creating a passable shelter.

About ten minutes after finishing, while I was standing at ease, feeling particularly pleased with myself and smoking what would turn out to be my last ciggy for several hours, a thoroughly soaking wet Andrew approached me, and informed me that everyone agreed that as we were all already wet, we might as well carry on. I had my reservations, mostly because that sweeping statement didn't actually include me, as I was perfectly dry. However, the urge to explore easily overcame any conviction that being dry has any great merit, and we set off. 

Now a word bout tropical rainfall, for anyone uninitiated in it. It's amazing, incredible, awesome, and.........not really rain. I debated this at length with Andrew, but I cannot honestly say that precipitation that feels like your household shower can honestly be compared to the pelting, stinging, freezing force of nature that we call rain in the UK. It just isn't.

So we walked for quite a distance, a couple hours maybe, all the while feeling very comfortable with this lovely barrage of blood warm water, and finally came upon a beach. By this time we'd split off into two groups, Sid, Asha, Andrew and myself were leading the way, and Charlie, Dave and Linda had fallen back, along with Baldeo. Upon reaching this beach, Sid and I immediately decided that throwing ourselves into the water was the best idea ever, meanwhile Andrew went to explain to the rest of the group that they weren't far away from the beach.

By this time we had entirely forgotten we were heading for a waterfall, as this beach was beautiful, so while Asha waded along the waters edge Sid and I acted like children, body surfing and swimming. I must advise that this is a foolhardy exercise, as within a few minutes I'd been dragged a fair distance from shore and was rapidly being pulled further away from the beach and closer to rocks. Some desperate swimming and body surfing later and I was retching sea water on the shore and praising god i'd survived, not an experience I want to relive!

Long story short, Andrew had met the others and they'd agreed to begin heading back so as to get back to the cars before dark. A half hour more of frolicking on the beach (fully recovered) and we also decided to head back. We made good time, and caught up with the group a couple hours later, even with frequent stops to bathe our legs in the rivers we were crossing (to ease the itching from Sandfly bites, the beaches were teeming with them!) The rest of the walk back proceeded without incident as we all walked back, until we got within sight of the cars. 

That's when we had a rare treat, what looked at first sight to be Crimson Macaws. On closer inspection they may be Red and Greens, but stunning nonetheless.

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and one very disappointed vulture who gave me a dirty look!

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The perfect end to a fantastic day!! (near drowning aside- but what's a holiday if you don't nearly die?!)

 Oops, ummm, so guys I need to insert this into the Tamana Cave post, 

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this is Charlie holding a bat she caught, which was amazing! Completely ignoring the risk of rabies or other diseases rife in bats, Charlie grabbed this fella for a cuddle and a photo opportunity. You can see how pleased he was 

So that's it from me tonight, but i'll be sure to throw some more up tomorrow, i'm not going to drag this out for weeks to get more hits, if ya miss it ya miss out!

Day 6

Full day number 5, we met up at Baldeo's house and took the opportunity to get a few more pics, this time of a couple of large Jungle Runners that were running around

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We also saw some Gonotades Vittatus basking in the morning sunlight

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Photos taken and greetings exchanged, we headed out for our trip for the day, to Maracas Waterfall.

We pulled up at the bottom of a steep hill and piled out of the vehicles, we met Scott here. He's a fella Andrew often uses to help him make collections of animals, and we all had a chat. This might be an exaggeration, as Scott's Caribbean accent is so strong that the only people who could understand him were Andrew, Asha and Baldeo!

A few minutes later we started up the hill. Reaching the entrance to Maracas Waterfall, I was reminded of abandoned amusement parks in American zombie films. Passing an empty security lodge/ticket office, we entered a deserted area strewn with broken tables and overflowing bins. Eerie. Anyway, a brief walk up the trail led to a basin of drinking water fed from a mountain stream, we refreshed ourselves then continued up the track. 

This guy made an appearance

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Shortly afterward Scott (bless his sharp eyes) grabbed Asha and yanked her backward. She'd been within inches of dropping her foot onto this

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Introducing, Bothrops Asper, otherwise known as the Fer De Lance, and locally known as the Mapepire, often attributed with more bites than any other species in Central and South America.

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Don't be fooled by it's small size, this one could seriously mess up your day!

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Having released it to go on it's way, we carried on on ours, soon arriving at the waterfall. What a sight it is, stretching 300 feet or more straight up, and falling gracefully along layers of rock before hammering into the rocks below.



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In the pools below that are constantly refreshed by the spray we saw hundreds of tadpoles, in densities I've never seen.

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And a different view of the waterfall



We headed back soon enough, and on the trek down to the cars we found another frog

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Having said our farewells to Scott we proceeded back for some tea, then, having no plans for the evening we decided to take a night walk of our own. Driving a couple of miles up the road we soon found a likely looking spot, a pair of wheel ruts disappearing into the bush.

Couple of minutes later, after stomping around with our wellies on, this critter ran (at a surprisingly fast speed, given the number of spindly legs flying around)

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Seems to me to be part of the millipede family, with two pairs of legs per body segment, but any ID would be helpful.

After a pretty unproductive hour or so, I decided to head off the track following a huge leafcutter column, thinking I'd find an absolutely enormous colony. Instead I heard Sid shout from behind me. Heading away from me at a rapid rate was this

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quite possibly disturbed by me passing close, he didn't look impressed as he coiled into a defensive coil and watched us warily

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However he soon took the opportunity to make his escape when he realised we weren't coming any closer

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Another bit of casting around didn't reveal much more so we headed back up the track, where this guy must have been missed by all of us as he napped on a branch at waist height right in the middle of the trail.

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He looked miffed to have been woken so we left him to it, but not before spotting a couple of these quite close to him

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A curious looking spider, you can just make out the two "horn" shapes on top and the bullet shaped abdomen. Again any ID would be handy, although I know there isn't much to work with.

Nothing much else around so we called it a night and headed off for some shut eye.

Day 7


You'll be begging me to stop soon!

Full Day 6, and our time with Andrew and Asha was drawing to a close, as they were flying back to the UK the week before us.

They had however, saved something particularly special for this last day together, a visit to Nariva Swamp and Bush Bush Island, which was truly a privilege, as it is a protected Nature Reserve requiring permission from the Conservator of Forests to get into. 

It's a fair drive from Alta Vista, but worth the effort! Driving down there you pass a 12 mile (I think, or maybe 18 miles......stupid senility!) long stretch of beach that is a leatherback turtle protected nesting site, an initiative not only close to Andrew and Asha's hearts but funded solely by them and their business, which is massively important to the conservation of these beautiful giants.

Arriving at Nariva swamp we were met by "Short Man" which I hope to be a nickname, but led to an interesting conversation..........

Short man led us to the boat and we all piled in, reassured so far that Andrews assurances that it was a "Flip Flop suitable" day were correct. 

Nariva Swamp is a huge, completely natural swamp, and it sure smells like one. The sucking noises made by the water slurping on the banks is the exact noise made when you pull your wellie out of 3 foot of pig muck, and the resulting whiff matches!

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Isolated breaks in the Mangrove tree cover led to warm clearings in the river, these areas sometimes featured basking Cook's Tree Boas in the branches above.

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Our first view of Bush Bush Island which is a solid Island in the centre of the swamp. The tall trees were in stark contrast to the fields of low rushes and reeds in much of the swamp.

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Sometimes the river opened up

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and sometimes narrowed

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At points the helmsman had to really put some effort in to find channels through the mud that were deep enough to get the boat through, every miss led to some new and appalling smell being released!

Landing on Bush Bush Island made me feel glad that I had, as usual, ignored Andrews footwear advice and worn trainers, as there were some pretty boggy bits on the path from the mooring point to the Island proper (poor Linda....her sandals may never be the same!)

We had a brief history lesson about Bush Bush from Short Man, then set off for a wander around. The Island has a firebreak which doubles as a path around one part of it, and is crisscrossed with small trails made by Short Man and his team. It is almost undisturbed, which allowed the first shots to be of creatures that aren't usually seen at ground level, Cicadas.

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These were huge......very difficult to get a scale on them but they were easily 2 to 3 inches long!

A few minutes later Short Man excitedly called us forwards in a hushed voice, jabbing his finger upwards at the trees above. Peering carefully upwards we were rewarded with a sight of these

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This was massively exciting to see, and I can only apologize that the pictures were taken at about the limit of my cameras range.....these guys were easily 100-150 foot up.

To calm myself down I thought I'd better make the next discovery a little less interesting.

Introducing.................Fungus!!!!

Huge fungus

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Shelf fungus

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and more shelf fungus, the underside is amazing

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We also saw an enormous termite nest

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which Charlie decided to poke (think she might have been hungry)

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Later a friendly stick insect popped out, this huy was easily 4 or 5 inches long

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continued below

Day 7 continued

Following the trail, we came across an Iguana nest, unfortunately the eggs had hatched and it was now abandoned.

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and the clearing it was in was surrounded by Cicada moults. These looked like scenes from Alien or something, like something had burst out of the empty husks of the insects! Which, I guess, is exactly what had happened.

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Next up was an excellent spot by Asha, (she planted it there, she must have to spot it at the distance she did!) a tree porcupine relaxing on its favourite branch!

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It started to skedaddle when it spotted us

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before showing off it's impressive set of quills

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The forest on the Island was spectacular too

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with some decidedly dangerous plants, such as this "cannonball vine"

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The fruits (seeds, nuts?) weigh about 2 or three kilos each, are completely round and have a hard outer shell. They also fall without warning and make no noise until they hit the ground, or your head. Fortunately no explorers were harmed in finding this out.

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We returned to the boat and headed back, and saw this enormous bromeliad growing on a mangrove root at the waters edge.

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The shore we landed the boat on by the cars was absolutely littered with fiddler crabs and their burrows, thank god they were small or someone could have broken an ankle!

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There were also a large number of wasps around, and a couple of small nests in a half built building nearby.



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According to a story gleefully recited by Andrew, one day Asha had sat beneath a nest of these wasps without realising. The first that she knew they were there was when one half fell half flew straight down her top. It immediately stung her, which she described as absolutely agonizing. At this point in the story, Asha entered the building and took a seat. The seat was directly below one of the nests, I asked Asha about the incident and she stated that it was awful and something she'd never like to repeat, at which point I pointed out that she was sitting under a nest. I have honestly never seen someone move as fast as she did then!!

We headed home after this to get some food and prepare for the night walk...............

Day 7 night walk

So, at the close of our sixth full day, we went out with Andrew, Asha and Baldeo for a night walk. This was our final night walk of the trip, and it was a good one 

We returned to the rutted track going into the bush that we'd visited the previous time, but this time with Andrew, Asha and Baldeo. We struck gold almost immediately, although we were moving more quickly this time, as Andrews approach to night walks makes a bull in a china shop seem like a measured approach! Combine this with the friendly rivalry between Andrew and Baldeo and you have a situation where a night walk may cover many miles.

Within five minutes we'd found a Fer De Lance, a lucky escape for Charlie who'd walked right past it just before I spotted it.

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Asha proved her worth again a bit later on, spotting this beauty resting up on a branch. 

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And after a little gentle persuasion he came down to say hello

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The eyes really are this big, Andrew wasn't squeezing too hard!

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Charlie soon got in on the act

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and most of us had a cuddle before letting him continue with his night

On the way back up we spotted a small frog attempting to outstare a fungus.........I think he may be doomed to failure!!

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and a final treat for the night, check out this amazing fungus, it's like something you'd see on a coral reef!

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We went back to get some shut eye after this, and I think we all needed some!

 
 
 

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