Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Loose ends, RVs, and Golf on Sirius

I may have just returned from Africa, Trisdan da Cunha, Argentina, and all that, but I still had our lives to put back together.  I had pets to retrieve and also importantly, an RV to get.  Big Bird needed to come back home.

We got an almost unreal and probably unmeasurable pile of snow last week and then on Saturday, I-29 opened and at 8 AM we took off south.
My RV ended up at Tiffin Headquarters in Red Bay Alabama in December as one of the side effects of my 1 month repair of my new 33aa, RED (Rear Engine Diesel) which was cured after 106 hours of mechanic work, two flown in engineers and involving replacing the entire engine electrical harness and all other electronics.  The side effect was that it froze up due to our early October winter after they gave it back to me on the 120 mile drive home.  As I told Tiffin, "IF I break a water line, you are fixing it."  They agreed and I broke the line right under the shower..  When I plugged in the water in Tallahassee, a fountain was formed inside and outside of my rig.

I had a repair guy in Tampa look at it and as it would take two guys and three days to fix it, they would not touch it, resulting in us dry camping for a month in Florida and then in December, we dropped it off at Tiffin, I-22 was just 20 miles from Red Bay which was the route home and as such, it wasn't too far out of our way, so the week before Christmas, we dropped it off and then a second odyssey began, not from Tiffin, they were great and they pulled out the shower, the toilet and they fixed it, but us retrieving the rig became the issue.  How hard could finding a window to drive it home be?

We went to Curacao over new Years and then when we came back, we had a blizzard and then as Tiffin was replacing my ladder (I jackknifed in Florida and bent it, and figured easiest to replace it now).  They shattered my back fiberglass.  So I got a new panel I was off to bird in Jamaica etc, I couldn't go get it.

Then returning, I saw a hole in the blizzards, so my buddy Barry and I drive down straight to Red Bay and then his wife called us (she works for NOAA) and despite the government being closed due to budget impass, she was still working and reported yet, another blizzard and ice storm incoming.  I thought fast.  My rig would be done in 4 hours after we arrived but I'd have to drive through Iowa on ice, so I told them my plight, I left for Texas in five days and then after 48 hours, I would leave for South America, all from Minneapolis.  I did the math, I'd never make it home and if I got stuck in St. Louis or KC, I'd have a rig to deal with and still could not make it back and Tiffin told me they'd store it for the winter.  We emptied out anything edible, I threw in my snake boots, and we drove 1100 miles home in a hurry, hitting the ice in Waterloo Iowa, it was pretty bad, but we made it before it really got bad.

Now we had a another window and it was April, who would guess the winter that never ends would never end?  My wife went and the plan was to get behind a really nasty tornado forming storm on Sunday and cruise into Red Bay, get rig and get out before the following Pacific storm came through on Wednesday.

We made great time on Saturday listening to golf on the radio, The Masters kept us oddly on the edge of our seats, who'd guess the next day, would be a historic conclusion.  My wife even wanted to listen.  Hearing Tiger hole the final put was cool.  As we did 700 miles on Saturday, we had some time on Sunday to see stuff despite the cool and rainy day.

First, I revisited Cahokia, the site in East St Louis, containing the largest documented man-made earthen pyramid in North America (I think Pilot Mound in Manitoba is bigger, but the experts don't agree as I do that it is man-made.

 I was last here in 2001, I still wear the t-shirt I bought, and the place still impresses.

We would have climbed Monk's mound except for the lightning risk and as such we could only look and admire.  My research has my own ideas of these pyramids, but I won't elaborate here.  I've visted similar mounds all over the world.
The only thing new here this time was the new warning on the sign

It was even cold and nasty walking the dog

So we headed south, drove through a depressing Cairo Illinois and then heard an even more depressing tale in Wickliffe, Kentucky.  These mounds in Kentucky were excavated in the 1930s and some of the most astounding clay pots were unearthed intact.  Then during Christmas break in 1988, the museum built and maintained by Murray State were broken into and the artifacts taken.  The case has never been solved except, one pot was found for sale on Ebay and retrieved.  These were some of the best pottery ever found and now are in someone's basement.

Reproductions of the priceless stolen artifacts

Other museums have been robbed over the years and rarely are the artifacts recovered.  We were quite sad, but then Tiger won and well, by the time we got to Jackson, TN, we were looking at new mounds, mounds of food at Waffle House.  You got to love Waffle House.

An hour or so later, we were again in history, at Shiloh, the site of a rather gruesome and somewhat controversial Civil Wart battle that some say opportunity of the South was lost, but whether it was or wasn't the war was brutal and the South would have still lost, but in 1862, Shiloh was the most carnage on US soil by any battle up to that time.  By 1865, it would not even be in the top 5.

Confederate memorial (Daughters of Confederacy)

Shiloh Church, namesake of the battle, where Beauregard dithered to advance on the Union troops at the end of April 6th before being defeated on April 7th by a reinforced Grant

Union memorial (Iowa)

We also went to the Tennessee River south of Pittsburg Landing where there are more mounds.  We walked around these, from this Mound builder city from 1500 years ago or so.

Standing on this mound overlooking the river, I was visited by a prothonatory warbler, a year bird, taken with my wide-angle lens, it was like five feet away

It was 45 degrees in Corinth, Mississippi when we bedded down that night in a non-pet friendly "pet-friendly" motel, ate Popeyes, and waited for morning and hoped the weather would clear.  On Monday, it was a beautiful day.  We drove to Red Bay, they found my rig, and despite my worries that the battery would be dead, or something, it was not only running well, and ready for me, it was even clean.  By 0930, my car was on the trailer, and we were off northwest, driving by other full-timers in typically larger rigs waiting on some service issue.  I was glad we weren't them.

The camping area for those waiting to get repairs done at the factory in Red Bay

We drove hard to get to Minneapolis during the nice day.  There were some delays trying to get Popeye's chicken in Dyersburg TN,  but by evening we had already gotten north of LaGrange MO, and found a really nice state park, to camp at where I got the Red-breasted mergansers (first picture) for a really good bird for the area, and had the park largely to ourselves.  They hadn't even got the pay station out of its winter case yet.  We'll see if they ever find my check for the camping fee.

Yesterday, we made it back and parked Big Bird at a campsite north of Minneapolis where she'll sit for a while awaiting spring camping, while today in a driving rain we headed back to South Dakota to watch the snow melt, ending a four month odyssey of our poor rig, although truth be told, it was largely caused by our other travel needs and the winter from hell.  We've owned the rig 8.5 months.  It has been driven 9600 miles and spent 1 month in Cummins, and four months at Tiffin, but with its new electrical heart, she has been driving well, and we still love the RV life.  Mind you, we've driven 3200 miles in our personal car getting it or trying to get it at various times, and I've used my sat phone to call Tiffin or Cummins from five countries but heck, cool birds along the way, interesting history, seeing terrible icy roads, and well, recently listening to great golf, was worth it, well almost.
This morning I even got my Minnesota lifer woodcock, and it was 
nice to be driving my "Bird"


Thursday, April 11, 2019

Final thoughts on the Great Journey

About 8 hours into my flight home I opened the window of the 777 and looked out.  There, squarely in my field of view was the iconic Southern Cross, something I only first saw on day 40 of this trip (too cloudy and i wasn't looking in the correct direction).  Was this sighting coincidence?  In my opinion, nothing is coincidence, but was this like the rainbow stories of Noah's Ark?  Was it a sign?  What did it mean?

For a moment I pondered what was a truly massive undertaking, this Great Journey as I called it on what I'm writing.
We would travel almost 27,000 miles on a trip I dragged my wife and Don and Nancy Harrington on.
This was a self-planned operation with an exploration  cruise in the middle.  I flew from Minneapolis to Atlanta to Rio to Montevideo.  Then we rented a car and drove up to Punte Del Este.  Then after seeing Uruguay, we drove to Montevideo caught a ferry to Buenos Aires before catching a flight to Ushuaia.  After spending two days driving around Argentina's southern city, we caught a boat, which toured 5200 miles to Cape Town via the Falklands, South Georgia, and Tristan ending up in Cape Town.  We drove over 500 miles to Port Elizabeth, being 9311 miles from home at our farthest point on the Indian Ocean.  We flew to Johannesburg and drove to Pretoria and a week later flew 18 hours to Minneapolis and drove 7 hours to pick up my truck and the dog and got home, seven weeks later.
The next day this is what we saw.....
 This is April 11, REALLY! AND THIS IS not Grytviken

I saw 331 lifer species of bird, from this black-chinned siskin on the Falklands

To the Tristan Thrush on its namesake island

To Rheas and ostriches
Common Ostrich

Greater Rhea

They talk about the big five of Africa, Cape Buffalo, Elephants, Leopards, Lions, Rhinos, and yes, we saw four
Cape Buffalo

White rhinos

My wife has her own big 5--Hippos, Elephants, Giraffes, Lions, and Cheetahs, where again we got four of them

I even had my own African big five.  Cape Sugarbird, Ostrich, Secretarybird, Cape Vulture, and of course, Penguins

We saw 8 species of Penguins, and 7 species or 8 of Albatross depending on which list you use
Trisdan Albatross (SSP of Wandering?)

Best bird IMHO, Magellanic Woodpecker as it was the most thrilling to find
All in all we were very VERY lucky, when one thinks about how many key birds we only saw once and 20 or so purely accidental.  I stopped to scope a river spit and to my left lit a long-tailed meadowlark, the only ones seen, as we never saw them on the Falklands.
 Hawks were the same, not many and were few and far between

I even visited cemeteries, and in one case, was harder to find than many birds.
Grave of Ernest Shackleton, Grytviken South Georgia

Grave of Captain Hans Langsdorff,  Panzerschiff Graf Spee, Buenos Aires

to just a scary cemetery in Buenos Aires with bones hanging out

and we saw a nation that could explode in any moment

and one maligned for no specific reason by the USA

We met a lot of people and of course we saw Tristan da Cuhna, the goal of this crazy adventure in which I cleaned off five bucket list items

and my Century Club count is up to 48, only 52 destinations to go

So what is travel?  Why do we do it?  Why an adventure?

Are they just things to do for me to write a book or newspaper columns?
Are they an excuse to read and learn about strange places and people?
Are they ways to appreciate what we have and where we live?
Are they a way to spend our kid's inheritance?

The answer is yes.

We were truly blessed to be on this trip, and were blessed in what we saw and how we saw them.
The trip was generally overwhelming, and I am having a hard time condensing it to words
now all is left is the shoveling........We went when we did to get away from winter and yet, here we are..........home and cold

Will spring ever come?

so I sum this up by stealing some lyrics from Crosby S/N
Southern Cross, 

When you see the Southern Cross for the first time
You understand now why you came this way
'Cause the truth you might be runnin' from is so small
But it's as big as the promise, the promise of a coming day


Wednesday, April 10, 2019

What is all this Babble?

We are still travelling with Don and Nancy Harrington, Don is the birding guy with the massively large camera.  
One day, Nancy came running up to me.  “Don has babblers, Don has babblers!”  It seemed like an urgent announcement like he had just had an encounter with some strange bug and was at risk for a tropical disease.  Maybe I had to rush him to the hospital?   Was the hospital in Pretoria the correct choice or should we drive all the way to Joburg?   
I went over to investigate, and indeed after examination, Don indeed had babblers.  He had a noisy flock of Arrow-marked Babblers.

Babblers....I wanted to see them AND one gets what they pay for, so to speak, as then they wouldn't leave.  They WERE a disease.  If there are more noisy or irritating birds in the this world, I haven’t seen them yet.  These guys once found, ended up at the feeders at the place we were staying and could become quite annoying, so much like a disease, once you had them, you just couldn’t get rid of them.

I apologize for the glitch in my blog today ...
So here we are, Pretoria, staying at a place owned by Lofty and Amanda Lunge.  They like birds, their neighbors like birds, they feed the birds, they feed the impala, and say they got over 200 species at their house(s).  I had my doubts.

I was sort of thinking it was all talk, BUT, it wasn't.  What a bonanza of birds!  It has been a while since I was so overwhelmed by new species, I was almost paralyzed.  I'm sure i missed a few as I was two birds at the feeder behind identifying them.  I just skipped the bishops as weavers, bishops, canaries, are  all one yellow and green mess in the Austral fall.

I had three lifers getting out of the car, three more pouring the bird seed.  I even saw an ostrich on the farm.

Grey Go-away-bird, great name

red-billed hornbill

Yellow-billed hornbill

We not only saw four species of kingfisher, we saw them in one hour two yards from the Braai (BBQ) we were using.  All lifers for the trip

Brown hooded kingfisher

A tiny Malachite kingfisher
Pied Kingfisher

Woodland kingfisher

You may ask what kind of backyard did I have to have four species of kingfisher?
And those are Blesbok feeding by the bridge on the way to the little shop and pub
There were also black crake here, seen just to the left of the picture above

I can't ell you or show you half of the stories and sights so I'll stick with the birds.  It was a true bonanza of birds, all colors of birds.

Black-collared barbet

 Southern Cordonbleu

crested barbet

Crimson Breasted gonolek


European Hoopoe, we also saw Green woodhoopoes dancing

We saw lots of butterflies including this Gunieafowl, which was not a bird, but we saw Guniea fowl too

Jamieson firefinch

Lilac-fronted roller

magpie shrike

We saw three species of grouse including this Natal francolin which just scream when flushed

Black backed puffbird, all puffed up for us

Red-billed quelea

Black masked weaver of the two species of weaver seen

Village indigobird

Blacksmith lapwing one of three species of lapwing

All this was pretty good since I slipped on the mud in Crocs and feel on my bins giving me an NC-17 bruise on my bum the size of a large plate, but the birding must go on and it did.  

After finding a local guy named Vim to drive us around, we went to the maze of roads they call the  Dinokeng Preserve next door just to get different birds (where a woman was mauled by a lion recently when she decided to walk with the big cats).  There was a rumor of cheetahs....sadly no cats, but we saw....BIRDS!

Cape Griffon.  This endangered bird was a great find, out of area and just random dumb luck

Lesser gray shrike was a  rare bird alert

More rollers

Zebras and red-billed oxpeckers

white winged tern which I had no seen after dipping on one in Pennsylvania

Black bellied bustard, a rare bird alert

brown snake-eagle
African jacana blurry in the grass

 Yes we also some mammals




So no cheetahs, lots of birds........scads of birds.  I'm still processing pictures and entering eBird checklists.
So after one last meal on a cold and rainy day cleaning out our supplies

A final good by from the family of barred mongoose (or is it geese?)
It is all over but the traveling and the healing.  My A#$ hurts!  It was off for our 16 hour flight to Atlanta, we almost hit a baboon on the gravel road and our driver looked fearful we'd be robbed, but we made it

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