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Mexico: a world of discovery
By Joseph Coleman
I knew I was in for an exciting and interesting adventure when on the first day I found myself in the middle of the desert staring down at a new crew member. I had just met him a few hours earlier, and his face was centimeters away from dung beetles. A “stampede of them,” to use Hazens words. His nose was over the top of the feces and he had so much enthusiasm. For two days we drove down narrow roads with no shoulders and drop-offs of up to ten feet on either side. We had reached over ten thousand feet up on north America’s third highest mountain, Pico de Orizaba. Over a thousand miles away from those dung beetles it was now night fall and a lightning storm periodically lit up the pine forest where we set up camp. We had spent the past two days turning over rocks and logs in search of mother earths living treasures. Thus far there were no major problems… yet. On our first day we had one flat tire and I got pulled over by the Mexican police. He asked for my license, which I forgot to bring. I showed the officer my pass port. He smiled and said “welcome to Mexico.” We were back on the road in 30 seconds.
The van, runner up for Scooby Doo’s mystery machine, had two flats and three tires replaced the day before I was picked up in Austin Texas. I was greeted with a smile from Rob, my friend from Hawaii and master mind of Exploring Mexico’s Bio Diversity. He quickly informed me with what had seemed like naïve intrepidness the problems incurred by the van and then introduced me to Daniel. This was the first time I had ever met Daniel and from the look on his face I knew we were thinking the same thing. How the hell is this 150 dollar1976 Chevy Van going to make a 7000 mile road trip in Mexico? Needless to say, it made it.
Because of the lightning storm, we were all packed in the van eating, and playing games like, “what are the worlds venomous mammals?” That night we slept to the sound of Mexican Owls. The next morning Daniel, Jonas, and I departed from the rest of the group to climb and summit 18,700 foot Pico de Orizaba. I met Jonas, a grad student from Sweden, back in Austin. He was filming me the second I stepped out of the air port and continued to do so until after Rob informed me of the van problems. Jonas was gifted at interviewing people for Rob’s documentary, knowledgeable about Mangroves and Marine biology and he has a passion for rock climbing. The morning after the storm we were handed a video camera and our gear at about 12500 feet and the rest of the crew headed for the rain forest with their video cameras. The five days on the mountain with Jonas and Daniel was the most challenging and rewarding pursuit I had ever experienced. Without Daniel, our fearless mountaineer leader, we would not have made it out alive. His knowledge of mountain safety was imperative. Mountains and the wilderness is an obsession for Daniel. In his spare time he would either tie knots with his climbing rope, or he read his biography of John Murre, (an American wilderness explorer and conservationist).
After the climb, we met up with Hazen and Rob, ate real food and drank beer, then packed up and headed to Oaxaca. The Oaxaca state is one of the richest in bio diversity in all of Mexico. We the saw the Mexican cypress. It the worlds largest tree. If an 18 wheeler were to parallel parked it’s trailer in front of it, the trunk of the cypress could still be seen on both sides. There must have been a thousand birds living in it. They say Cortez sat and cried at the base of this tree after losing a battle to the Aztecs. Thinking about how old this tree was I wondered how many progeny from this tree are growing around Mexico. It must have produced millions of seed in its life time.
We left Oaxaca and were now on the west coast of Mexico. Hundreds of miles south of Acapulco and heading north, we had spent the entire day in a Mangrove National park filming mostly birds. I saw a green Iguana climbing one of the mangroves but the boat we were in couldn’t turn around fast enough so that we could film it. We were all dirty and smelly and I was driving through another lighting storm. We took the opportunity to jump out and shower off in the rain just before the sun set. It was now dark and Hazen and I were the only ones awake.
Focusing on the dim head lights shinning on the rain showered road, Hazen says with mild excitement “I think I just saw a frog jumping across the road”. I saw the frog as well and we both agreed that I would stop if we saw another. Within seconds I was slamming on the brakes. Hazen jumps out and then back in with the little frog. He recognized the species and we put it in a jar to film later. For the next half hour we were breaking for more frogs, snakes, and even a musk turtle. Frogs were now jumping all over the van because we had run out of containers to put them in. The turtle was stinking up the place and everyone in the van was now awake. The excitement of the storm, the constant breaking, and the possibility of a frog or SNAKE slithering across someone is enough to get most nature enthusiasts out of there sleeping bags. We were all excited except for Daniel who had just come down with a case of Montezuma’s revenge. We continued to collect specimens until we stopped and notice a most wonderful sound just on the side of the road. It was a pond filled with what sounded like a million different kinds of frogs. It was as if we were at the symphony. The piece in this case was the combined sound of all the frogs together. The trumpets, tubas, and clarinets were the variety of species of frogs. We could focus our ears to any particular croak. NAAA NAAA NAA, or GLOOOO, GLOOOO, GLOOO, or zi zi zi zi zi zi. We stepped out of the van with the cameras and headed for the pond. We spent the next couple of hours in the rain filming thousands of frogs copulating, getting devoured by snakes, and just hopping and croaking. It was so loud from frog noise we had to yell to communicate with each other.
The sound of the frogs had drifted away and we had traveled another couple of days north heading to Mazatlan in order to catch a ship across the Sea of Cortez to Baja California. We were a couple of hours away from Mazatlan and had set up camp. It was my turn for the food poisoning experience of constant vomiting and defecating. I had taken off all my clothes so as to keep them as clean as possible in this type of situation. Again, everyone was asleep except for me and Hazen. Hazen had an insatiable apatite for exploration of biological things and it was common for him to stay up a few hours later than everyone else with his portable spot light wandering around. He spotted a bunch of tarantulas and knew I was awake so he ask me to help him film. It was the middle of the night in a Mexican desert and I was sick, naked, and filming about ten big tarantulas.
I continued to be sick until I set foot on Baja. We drove up the coast of the Sea of Cortez and stayed the night on a little beach. We swam in the warm clear water chasing Sting rays. Then we made our way to the west coast, Pacific side of Baja. We wanted to find a way into a nature reserve restricted to researchers only, but ran into difficulties do to bureaucracies. After changing our story about who we are and what we were doing in Baja with all this Camera equipment, Jonas managed to get us all invited to a Mexican Prong Horn captivation propagation program. The Prong Horn is endemic to Baja and the second fastest mammal in the world. There is only a few hundred of them left, mostly because there habitat has been turned into cattle ranches. They were beautiful animals and it was a pleasure to see them running in their natural habitat, especially the little juveniles. This was our last major stop before returning to the states. The others dropped me off in LA. As I sat in the plane heading back to Oahu I dreamed about our group getting together again to explore and document the diversity of life.