Monday, June 21, 2010

A Journal of My Excursion up the Rio Tonto, the Discovery of a Remarkable New Species of Flowering Plant and My Final Embarkation Toward a New Home

Following is the first part of an account of my final expedition before taking up residence in Caledon last year at about this time.

7 May
This morning promised a good start to our little excursion and the day itself delivered. The rising sun revealed only high, scattered puffs of cloud and brought a soft breeze which would help the paddlers move us up the river a good distance before nightfall. I had enlisted the help of six strong young men yesterday with the knowledge that if four actually showed up I would be lucky. As it turned out Luck split the difference and five of the men were on hand to load our canoe soon after breakfast.

Hastily but with care I directed the men in stowing our supplies on board the primitive boat, taking aboard my collecting equipment and boxes in my own paws to ensure their safety. Soon all was secured and the men had bid farewell to assorted wives, mistresses and daughters. I long ago gave up trying to sort out the complex familial relationships of this tribe in the same way they have apparently given up trying to understand why an opossum wanted to trade fish hooks for any beetles and butterflies they would catch. That I did not eat their finds apparently surprised them.

With the breeze at our backs and the men only slightly hung over we set out and were soon out of sight of the village. After a few hours of steady progress we went ashore briefly from one of the sandy beaches so the men could rest a bit and I could explore the immediate area. I was a little disappointed but not terribly surprised to find the flora and fauna to be much the same as what surrounded the village. Still, I was able to collect two nice specimens of a bright green butterfly I had not before seen as they sucked on the pulp of a fallen palm fruit.

Following this stop the river soon became broader and slower so, though the men were some fatigued by the morning's paddling we still made very good time. As the sun began to sink below the level of the palms we beached the canoe again and made our camp for the evening. The men caught just enough fish to make a meager supper and then, after stringing up our hammocks we all soon fell asleep.

8 May
We rose with the sun this morning and broke our fast with more fish and a thin but nourishing gruel the natives make from a starchy root found throughout the lowlands. I've long run out of tea but still unpacked the small kettle I carry merely out of habit. None of the local herbal offerings have taken a good Darjeeling's place. When I'm back on civilized shores I will most likely make my way directly to a tea shop even before I begin to unpack! But I digress...

This being only shortly after the end of the wet season the waters of the rivers and creeks have receded to a navigable level but the vegetation still retains a fresh and well-watered appearance. Many orchids and other parasitic plants have burst into bloom. The trees all about but mostly near the river's edge were bedecked as for a May festival. Before loading what supplies we had brought ashore back into the canoe I gathered several of the more showy species, some of which I am confident are new to science.

Once in the water again we made as speedy progress as yesterday. After perhaps two hours we spied on the far bank a party of six or seven natives, presumably hunting as they had a number of longblowguns with them. The men in my employ smiled and raised a hand in greeting to them. Both smile and salute were returned by the hunters who then, retreating but a few steps, were completely concealed by the dense jungle. My companions informed me that the men were of another tribe that shared a border with their own. Relations between the two groups were friendly owing to different preferences in game, though they noted that members of their own tribe and their neighbors did not intermarry.

This stretch of the river differed from what we in had seen thus far in that large dragonflies, the like of which I'd not before seen, were common and often darted past our canoe. To better make use of my time I retrieved my net from the hold, such as it was, and managed to capture a few of at least three species. I was forced, however, to desist from this hunt when the scowls of my men made it clear that my lurching about our small craft was making their job more difficult.

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