Monday, January 14, 2019

Olaf's Goat

I watched a white-tailed hawk, the fourth one I’d seen on Curacao, fly over my head and I watched it disappear into the distance going straight toward the airport as if telling me something.  It was time to go.  I walked down bid farewells to our friends and Silja and I headed to the airport and our flight home.  Our trip was over and it seemed simple enough to go home.
Nine hours later an urgent call for any medical personal on board the American Air flight 149 to Minneapolis caused me to stir from a nap.  Before I could respond, six people went forward and five minutes later the 737 went into decent, and then a 180 degree bank and the captain put it down fast into St. Louis landing hard and then a minute later we were at the gate as EMTs came aboard and escorted the passenger out.  One never knows how travels will end and I guess the hawk was warning me about my trip.  
We took off two hours later and we cuddled up in a motel room at 2am in Minneapolis, 3 hours late and exhausted.  It was a reminder of what will be.  2019 will be a year of thousands of miles of trips, trips by boat, bike, plane, RV, raft, including five continents, and hopefully no mishaps but travel is what travel does, one never just hope to get home, that is the adventure
The first trip was over, the northern edge of the continental shelf of South America....

Twenty four hours earlier.....
 It was a dark and moonless night as I stood in the middle of a road four miles from our hotel looking and then taking pictures of a white-tailed nightjar resting on the side of the road illuminated by my headlights of the small rental car three feet to my right and I could count the bird.
              That evening, the last of our trip, I had this feeling that I was forgetting something, but I brushed it off.  I did do something I’d never done before.  I won a game of hearts.  I not only won, I crushed it.  We’d taught Jan and Stuart, friends from Florida traveling with us to play the game and for a few nights we played.  At home, our son Allwin usually wins.  He has a great strategy and my grandmother Lucille won before she died, me….?  I lose and loose spectacularly.  Not this time.  

            I walked to our room and then it hit me.  “Damn!”  I said.  “I just remembered what I’ve been thinking I’d forgot.  Do you want to go birding?”
“Now?  Are you drunk?”  My wife went to the point.  It was 10 PM.
            I was talking sober as I was sober, I was too keen on winning to keep up with the wine everyone else was drinking, and maybe that is why I won.  So my wife and I went out driving around at night looking for nightjars and we found nothing, so we drove back and went to bed.  I vowed to go out in the early morning since it was our last morning on the island and my last chance.  Driving around on roads in the middle of the night birding....sheez.  I actually saw the ultra rare barn owl before I stumbled upon my goal....

white-tailed nightjar

This was the last of nine Clements lifer world birds, or 11 for the IOC that I nabbed on Curacao, one of the ABC islands.  The island has no endemic birds but it has some good ones from northern South America, like this nightjar that I needed, as I'd never birded South America before.
I was born on the first day of Aries.  therefore I am a goat and in Norse, Thorsbakken is my sacred animal, and as such, our eating got a little more adventuresome as the week wore on.  My sacred animal became the fare of choice....For the first few days, adventure was ordering goat at the local bistro, we called the place the Fiesty Goat which was combination a store/ shack that also even featured live music on one day.  The owner had invented the kabritu burger, or at least that is what the sign and the owner says.  She is franchising the idea, and I’m not sure to whom or to where..

         This burger is otherwise known as a goat burger smothered in goat cheese. 

Another day, I ordered goat stew.  This restaurant had it all, well all the concerns of a restaurant.  Anthony Bourdain would have liked it.  Most days, you never knew what you were eating, and you never were sure about what you’d have to pay for it.  When in doubt, we assumed it was probably goat.  Like all good tropical restaurants, you weren’t even quite sure if part of the building was just going to fall over, and you just hoped that part was not where you were sitting.

               It seemed we just sat around eating goat every day on this adventure, but that was not true.  I knew that a world lifer bird I needed was hanging out at the island’s golf course.   The security guard let us in to the course under the auspices that we were going golfing and took my drivers license for collateral, made a copy and gave it back.  All the gates here took licenses and car tag information down.  St. Martin could learn a thing or two, from these people.  You better have a good story or they won't let you in.
Once in, I drove around and near a sand trap easily found our quarry, a southern lapwing, a really cool looking bird.  There is some issue with me figuring out which number lifer it is as I haven’t finished my checklists yet.  My goal before Uruguay is to get this organized.  I think I may just negate some of my birds.
Southern lapwing, world lifer #1047, under Clement or so I think.

It is place not designed for birders as parking is difficult and everything is private.  Golf balls go shooting around everywhere, and I wasn’t even sure what hole I saw a pair of these birds on but I avoided errant shots and got out before the marshal and the security guards threw me out.  I didn’t want to ruin it for the next birder.
Our time on the island became an idyll.  Stuart listened to podcasts and baked in the sun.  Silja and Jan read novels and travel essays by people doing similar things to us, even one by Paul Theroux, Deep South which hit home as we had just been where he was at.
               We found small beaches with simple restaurants, fed feral cats, and watched people snorkel off of the South American Continental shelf.  We also visited beaches lined by poisonous trees, which in one case had been painted like an octopus.  Do the fruit and bark kill you or just make it so that you wish you were dead?  We didn’t find out, luckily.  

 We found abandoned resorts, and looked at the scrub and hills which reminded me of the Edwards plateau of central Texas, complete with cacti and caracaras

And not to forget the birds....stunningly beautiful birds


 Blue tailed emerald (male and female below)

 Brown-throated parakeet

 crested bobwhite

northern scrub flycatcher

ruby-topaz hummingbird

rufous-collared sparrow

Venezuelan Troupial 

9 lifers and 2 IOC lifers, these two, a Cayenne tern, no picture, and mangrove warblers which were everywhere

The island has other birds I've seen like Yellow orioles

American flamingos were easily found at two locations

and other critters like the Miller's long-tongued bat which was the only thing that found my hummingbird feeder, the ass-faced toad, and Florida whites, Gulf  fritillary butterflies, and hanno blue butterflies, a lifer butterfly

So a perfect trip...sun, sand, surf, birds, beer, butterflies, toads, bats, cats......and I guess goats...

and we also got home despite ....a scare

Curacao, a surprising hidden gem, don't be afraid to go...we'll go back, it is even safe to eat the goat



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