Category: Travel

Up the Amazon ’85

This Was Not Part of the Plan

Journal Entry
Belem, Brazil
June 26, 1985

Amazon sunsetThis is the first day of our trip up the Amazon.  I don’t know exactly how far we’ll get but hopefully we’ll make it as far as Iquitos, Peru. Our plan is to make our way west to the Galapagos Islands off the shore of Ecuador.

We’re leaving tonight at 10:00 P.M. on the Terra Santa, a small cargo boat that is going as far as Santarem. It will take two days to arrive, which is a tolerable initiation to Amazon travel. We didn’t come to South America thinking, “let’s do the Amazon” but we have to be frugal after 6 months of trekking through South America. Our friends in Goiana said this is the cheapest way.

The captain, who seems to have a permanent smile on his face, invited us for coffee and crackers while he explained that boats leave from Santarem to Manaus every day. He charged us 500 cruzeiros for David and me, while my 5 year-old daughter Dawn travels for free. The exchange rate is 10.67 cruzeiros to the dollar, so it’s costing us about $47 for two days of transportation, accommodations and food.

The Terra Santa looks old and creaks a lot. Oh boy. Our “accommodations” are actually two hooks from which to hang our rêdes (hammocks). Women and children hang theirs at one end of the boat while the men hang theirs at the other end, supposedly for security. There are at least 100 rêdes on deck. A sign on the wall claims a capacity of 190 people though I can’t imagine where another 90 could fit.

I must have seemed confused as I looked out over the maze of rêdes as David made his way to the men’s end of the boat. The kind captain with the permanent smile came over and led Dawn and me to the front of the boat where he said, “it’s less noisy, stinky and hot.” Kind man.

We skipped dinner because it didn’t look too appetizing. We’re a bit concerned because they’re cooking the food in café au lait colored Amazon water. Luckily we picked up some fruit and peanuts in town and ate our improvised first meal on board sitting on the floor under a rainbow of rêdes.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Give Us a Squeeze Lovey

An Amazing Day with Peanut’s Group

Dian Fossey’s Karisoke Research Center, Rwanda, Africa

Hagenia trees seem almost life like with their many twists and turns.

Hagenia trees seem almost life like with their many twists and turns.

Journal Entry August 9, 1985

Wayne, David and I hiked into Zaire today in search of Peanut’s Group. The Zairean border is only a 15-minute walk from Karisoke. No passport required, we simply jumped over a small stream.

The terrain is surreal. We passed through wide emerald meadows flanked by huge hagenia trees. Whispy vegetation hangs from the horizontal branches like gauzy sleeves swaying in a breeze. It almost feels like we’re on another planet. I can understand why Dian hates leaving here even for a couple of days.

Wayne really didn’t want to take both of us along with him. He was cautioned by another researcher against approaching Peanut’s Group with more than one other person. There’s still a good deal of unrest among the 6 male members over the two females acquired from Nunkie’s Group after he died recently.

Read More…

Mary the Elephant

What are the Odds?

Circa 1984, Kenya

Dee Steel and her family were our Discovery Beach House guests in 2013. Her son Simon called after he read about our volunteer work with the great apes on our web site.

I think you may have something in common with my mother,” Simon said. “She used to work with elephants in Kenya.”

“We only knew one elephant in Kenya and that was 30 years ago. She was an orphan at the Mt. Kenya Safari Club Animal Orphanage. Her name was Mary.”

Simon was quiet for a moment, “I think my mother knew Mary.”

An Elephant, A Giraffe and an Ostrich

We’d told Mary’s story many times over the years. After her mother was killed Mary was taken to the animal orphanage  and nursed back to health by one of the owners, Iris Hunt, . Mary soon made friends with a baby giraffe and a young ostrich at the orphanage. The giraffe and the ostrich would plaster themselves on either side of Mary and the three of them would promenade around the compound together. Giraffes and ostriches mature much sooner than elephants and Mary’s friends eventually returned to the wild.

Mary with William the giraffe. Photo Courtesy of Mt. Kenya Wildlife Conservancy

Mary with William the giraffe. Photo Courtesy of Mt. Kenya Wildlife Conservancy

But they never forgot Mary. Once a year, on a schedule known only to them, the giraffe and the ostrich would return to the orphanage to visit Mary. They would plaster themselves on either side of her and promenade around the compound for hours until the call of the wild beckoned them back to places Mary could only dream of.

Mary made an unforgettable impression when we met her in 1983. She coiled her trunk around my forearm several times in an endearing way. She had a cold, so my arm slipped easily from her grip when I pulled it away. It was then I realized I’d been slimed with a forearm full of baby elephant snot, lol! Other than it being hilarious and gross at the same time – it felt like a blessing at the time. I still feel blessed by the experience, now that I think about it.

A Happy Ending

Fast forward 30 years later to the living room of our vacation home in Costa Rica. The Steel family invited us over for a visit soon after they arrived. It turned out Dee had known Mary. “She was adopted by an elephant named Eleanor. Here, this is for you,” Dee said handing us a photo. “Mary returned to the wild with Eleanor.”

Mary the Elephant

Mary the Elephant with her adopted mother, Eleanor. Photo courtesy of Dee Steel

We held the photo as if it were a precious emerald. My husband David and I were thrilled with the happy ending to Mary’s story. What are the odds that a British family would travel to Costa Rica, stay in our vacation rental home and we would have an elephant friend in common from 30 years ago? We will always treasure your gift, Dee Steel. Thank you.

Tsavo National Park. Mary's forever home.

Tsavo National Park. Mary’s forever home.


Amazon River Mermaids

Amazon River, Brazil June 1976

The Amazing Happening

Pink DolphinMy first clue that something amazing was about to happen was the bizarre rapid fire sound of clicks and whistles. A pink dolphin breached out of the café au lait colored water slicing through the dense humidity the air. Another pink dolphin surfaced behind the first one then another and another.

My husband David, my daughter Dawn and I jumped from our hammocks and rushed to the side of the cargo boat. Had we really seen what we thought we’d just seen? No way!

We had never even heard of fresh water dolphins, much less pink ones.

Several primrose colored dolphins continued swimming beside us. After the excitement was over I scraped my jaw off the deck and began talking to the locals questions about this phenomenon. What we heard took the expression “tall tale” to a whole new level.

Read More…

Orphan Orangutan – Part 1

Volunteering on the Orangutan Project

Camp Leakey, Borneo – 1984

David and DavidaA baby orangutan lay curled in the fetal position on the grass by the banks of the Sekonyer Kanin River. She’d lived in a cage in someone’s back yard for two years. Her mother had been killed by poachers and eaten so she could be sold for as little as $20. It was likely the orphan had witnessed the traumatic event. Now she was sick and her human owners no longer wanted her. She’d lost two families in three short years. She had a fever and wasn’t responding when touched.

It was the summer of 1984 and David and I were members of a 10-person EarthWatch volunteer team. We’d arrived the night before in the town nearest the project, Pangkalan Bun.  We were there to work on the Orangutan Project in the Tanjung Puting Reserve in Central Borneo. Two of our volunteers were zookeepers. One of them said, “When see orangutans this sick at the zoo; they rarely survived for more than a few days.”

Read More…

Eye to Eye with a Mountain Gorilla

How it Changed Me Forever

Rwanda, Africa – August 1985

Evelyn with a Mountain gorilla

Unfortunately my moment with Pablo was not caught on camera but David was there to video when it happened again with Jozi.
Photo Credit: David Root

Pablo leaned forward on his knuckles until his face was an inch from mine. His warm breath smelled of freshly mown grass. “Never breathe on a gorilla,” Dr. Dian Fossey had warned. “They have no immunity to human diseases.” I took a deep breath and held it.

But how did a girl from East Los Angeles end up eye-to-eye with a mountain gorilla? It began in childhood at the Saturday Matinee Double Feature. I always sat in the middle of the front row because it made me feel like I was in the movie. I remember sobbing when King Kong fell from the Empire State building. I imagined myself taking him back to Africa where he belonged. Later, a trip to the zoo had me fantasizing about hiding in the bushes until after dark and releasing all the gorillas from their cages.

Read More…

Fond Memories of Bhutan – Dorika Homestay

Evelyn in BhutanNovember, 2014 – Dawn brought gifts of jams and chocolate covered berries from Trader Joe’s and Costco for our hosts Deki and Ugyen, which Deki immediately placed on the altar in the temple in their home. Dawn took this photo.

Kathmandu, Nepal

Evelyn in Kathmandu1982 – Within 5 minutes after arriving the guy on the right smiles and enthusiastically waves me over, patting the space next to him with his palm, “Photo. Come take photo!” I spot his friend, panic and look for the nearest escape route. But then I think, when will I ever get another chance to sit between two holy men in Kathmandu? What do you think? Would you have done it?

Up the Amazon ’76

Evelyn on the Amazon River1976 Amazon River – We decided hitching cargo boats up the Amazon was the cheapest way to cross the continent. It took one month and 5 boats. We figured if our relationship could survive this, it could survive anything – and it has.

Darwin Station, Galapagos

Evelyn and Galapagos tortoise1976 – Travel is so enlightening. I didn’t know before visiting that Galapagos tortoises can live 300 years and don’t mate until they’re 50. The keeper encouraged me to stroke this one’s throat saying, “Mami, le gusta.”

TraEvelyn Menu
Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On TwitterVisit Us On PinterestVisit Us On YoutubeVisit Us On LinkedinCheck Our Feed