Image by John S Goulet

Back on the boat we sailed to our second destination, where we were to walk the beach. This stroll down the beach was to be our friendly contact with the environment. The skipper prepared to nose the boat up to the soft sand beach to allow us to disembark. I watched him attempt to maneuver into the freshening breeze. I could tell by the way the wind and water were running that what he was trying was not going to work. He called for the anchor anyway. I was the first off the boat, but within minutes it was obvious that the boat was too far aground. The skipper called me back aboard and fired up the 75 hp Yamaha outboard engines in an attempt to drag us back off the sand.
Being one of the tourists disqualified me from making any suggestions the crew would take seriously. Knowing this, however, made me even more determined to have my say, as I knew if he proceeded to burn out the one good engine it would be a long tack back to the airport. The skiff with its small outboard came over from the second catamaran, the Tornado. He tied on and pulled straight back. The skipper of the Hurakan ran his engine in straight reverse. I convinced them, however, with lots of hand waving and pointing, to pull in unison at an angle. With a pontoon catamaran, as with a "pontoon" floatplane, it's always easier to get one pontoon off at a time.

Afternoon Effect Then with Gus' help we convinced the majority of the tourists to disembark, thus lightening the load. Finally, although it seemed somewhat futile for five or six men to be pushing such a large boat, I got them all to push on the pontoon of choice. Within seconds the pontoon pulled free, the boat cocked sideways, and then the second pontoon pulled free as well. The Yamaha was saved and we were able to enjoy the rest of the days events without worrying about leaving for home early.
The skipper re-anchored in a better location and we all went about our nature walk. In fact the walk proved exciting for me. I had my bird binoculars, and was able to positively identify two of my home town species. The brown pelican, which was hard to miss, binoculars or no binoculars, and the arctic tern. With the identification, came the realization that both these species were preparing for the trip back north. It was late winter, early spring in Canada, and soon they would start their migration back to their breeding grounds. My backyard. As I had grown up reading about the birds and their mysterious migrations, I had only observed one half of their lives. Now I could see the other half.
I now knew where they spent their winters. This archipelago is one of the few remaining protected areas where either of these species can safely spend part of their migration time, waiting to return north to their reproductive cycle of life. Now it was dawning on me the importance of the nature preserve. Not that I did not previously understand the environmental reason for reserves, but that the reason had suddenly become personal. Suddenly these were "my" birds. These brown pelicans might nest along the river below the window of my house. They might be the very ones that, each summer, foul the clean white diving board bolted to my pile driven jetty.

A Quick Dip

And the arctic terns are certainly the ones that I've seen skimming the cold waters of the Arctic Ocean in northern Canada. Born in the arctic, they have come from a long way off to fish these Venezuelan waters. Los Roque is their home away from home. My birds' ultimate survival depends on the good graces of these people living so far away. They depend on the government to enact the legislation. The fishermen to cooperate with the laws. The ecotourist operators to not abuse their right to bring in their guests. And the tourists themselves to participate in the laws of the park and help sustain the environment, not just for future visits, but for "my" birds as well.
And while I am contemplating all this warm and fuzzy connectivity, Anamaria is out gathering garbage. Yes, the garbage is out there. Not from our boat mind you. I had been watching. There are other tour operators in the area. There are independent sail boats coming to anchor and enjoy the tranquility. And there are the locals. The fishermen and their families, who watch the tin cans rust and disappear over time. Who have no other place to put their fish bones and old batteries, and who occasionally lose the odd plimsole.
Gus and AnaThey are still all out there, making a living catching 90% of the lobsters eaten in Caracas. Catching fish for the inns and hotels. Throwing their cigarette packages over the side. But, there is still Anamaria, who has by now filled her beach bag, and her pockets, and her hands, with pop cans and plastic wrappers. She quietly carries the spoils back to the boat and deposits it into the garbage container. Quietly she goes about her business of getting the boat and passengers ready to continue the voyage. This is not a conscience effort to impress anyone, but an effort because she cares.
Gus now dressed as Baby Huey, the largest baby in the world, comes out quietly. He is all subdued and reflective compared to the previous caricatures of jungle king and boisterous bustuous woman. He is the dependent baby. He is my birds. With my lack of Spanish, and my short attention span, I never heard a word Gus had said during his diatribes. After the Baby Huey act, however, and after visiting the other tourists one by one, Gus came to me, rubber nanny on a string, to explain. He sat down to talk environment to me. He was serious. His message was that "I needed to know."
I will never know what Gus actually said on that boat trip. What I figured out, however, was that Gus was a three act play. In the beginning, the macho jungle king was the ruler of all he surveyed and he let everyone know it through his boasts and challenges. Man means war. In the second stage the boisterous woman, knew little more than the jungle king, with her "body as weapon" mentality. But, she did represent a softening toward the feminine side of the our culture. Sure women can be whores, but more often they are mothers. They nurture our environment by nurturing and raising the seeds of our sustenance and existence and continuance. Women are the water and the warmth and the sunshine that we all need to grow.
Finally, act three. The big baby. The baby is growing and learning. The baby knows little and is willing to learn. The baby is all of us, where we depend on all others through the connectivity of culture and environment. We are all orphans, but we are all family. Gus, the baby, is sitting down with me, the map of Los Roque spread out before us, explaining that the graceful flyer, with the corsair wings and sharp finned tails, is actually the awkward and gaudy red-breasted frigate whose greatly exaggerated dimorphism has made him the study of many a evolutionist. How did that puffed out bright red chest get so damn big? Why did it get so big? Gus knows.
Just in case I did not get the big picture, Anamaria comes over to make sure I understand the Los Roques course in Environment 101. I do now. Thanks to them.

Our flight back was on the Canadian built Dash-7.Dash-8 Image by John S Goulet

LTA also runs a scuba dive boat to the spectacular south reef, and provides scientific and naturalist tours from a 75 foot sleep aboard yacht for bird enthusiasts and for sea turtle environmental tours.

Article and Images by John S Goulet

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Last modified on March 05, 2006 .
Virtual Horizons, 1996.