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In March 2011 I went diving in Bali. I had only time and money for one day of diving, so I wanted to make the best out of it. I went to see one of the big dive shops I read good things about and asked what do they have for the next day. They told me there are two things happening. One is diving on the USAT Liberty wreck, which is one of the most famous dive sites on the island and apparently one of the best wrecks to dive in general, anywhere in the world.
The other one is a boat diving trip, three dives in total on the reefs nearby. I asked them if it is possible to dive the spot where they usually see the Mola Molas (Oceanic Sunfish, and actually now we know the ones in Bali are only Molas...). They told me that the first dive of the day is the reef where IN THE SEASON usually they see the Molas, but it is really not the season. The season is from June to October, with the best chances in July and August. They themselves strongly suggested diving the Liberty wreck, since it is a nicer and more unique experience.
But I told them, if we will dive the Mola spot, then I want the reef dive. No matter how small chances I got to encounter a sunfish, I rather give that a try than to see a wreck. I don't know exactly how many times they told me it is not the season and there will be no sunfish on the dive, and every single time I smiled back and I said I don't care about that I will give it a shot.
The next day went to the beach, got on the dive boat and we started our trip towards the reef. Maybe it was 40 minutes to an hour to get there, so as a dive professional already (I was a Divemaster at this point) I was talking to the guide the whole time.
I told him, I want to see a Mola. He told me, he also would love to see one, since he came after the season to Bali, he never saw one. He also told me it is not the season, and we will not see any. I smiled back and told that I think we will. I am not sure why I was this super optimistic about it. I try to be like this, but I don't always manage. And the odds were really against me on this one.
But I remember smiling the whole time heading to the dive spot, and when geared up I said it out loud, that let's go, guys, we will see a mola now on this dive.
It took maybe 10 minutes after we started our dive for the Mola to show up... It was "only" one, but it came right up to us, and maybe spent a good 5 minutes with our group. Later back on the boat we learned that it was kind enough to "visit" the other diving groups as well, so every single diver on our boat got to see it.
There might be ab pattern here... I was again the persistent (not annoying, remember :P ) client, who stayed positive, wanted to see the biggest bony fish in the world so bad, that somehow against all odds it happened.
Of course, wildlife viewing will not always work out like this, it can be the complete opposite as well. I went out to look for mako sharks already three times and never got to see one. The secret is to keep trying and stay always positive, and in my case probably be persistent (and not annoying).
The photo is not mine, one of the other divers took it, at the time I did not have an underwater camera. She was nice enough to pass me this photo, which is the only one I have of this amazing day, and an amazing encounter.
#StayHome #virtualencounters #persistentbutnotannoying #igotverylucky
Looking back at 20 years of Wildlife Encounters can make one nostalgic... The #2 Virtual Encounter is from Bolivia, and it is already 13 years old.
I did a 4 days long tour to visit the "Las Pampas" from Rurrenabaque. The tour itself was amazing, saw loads of interesting species, but it was also a difficult trip for me. My only memory card got corrupted, with 500+ photos on it, and I could not take pictures. Okay, this is not entirely true, because I could take exactly ten photos, the camera had a tiny internal memory. So every day I took ten photos, and if I saw something cooler, I had to delete one, then take a new picture. Very painful process from before the time I would have money for extra memory card, or would travel with my laptop. (I learned from my mistake...) On the four days we saw plenty of exciting stuff, except one of the things I was really looking for, and was supposed to be an "easy" one t find was the three-toed sloth.
I was one of "those clients" who were mentioning sloths every twenty minutes, asking the guide where to look, and reminding him at every opportunity that I want to see one. Could say I was annoying, but I like to think I was simply persistent.
But the tour ended, and we did not find any sloths and I was quite frustrated about the pictures I lost and all the other ones I could not take. Mixed feelings would describe well how I was at the moment I got in the back of a jeep to head back to town.
While bouncing up and down in the back of the car in the heat, just looking at the dirt road behind us I started to relax. And somehow I just thought how lucky I am that I am in Bolivia, and that I saw so many cool things. And I managed to let go of my photos and also felt in peace not being a sloth. Next time.
Literally when I got to this point with my new "zen" thoughts the driver (he was also our guide on the four days boat tour) stepped on the break hard and steered the car almost to the ditch on the side of the road. When the car stopped, he looked back at me and shared his head. He did not say a word.
There was a sloth on the middle of the road, just laying flat lazily. It seems that it got tired crossing from one side to the other, heading towards some tall trees.
So at the end of the day I did manage to get a very close look at a sloth, and also managed to help it to cross the road, we could not just leave it there. So together with the guide we grabbed it by the back/neck and transported it to the tree which was on the direction it seemed to be heading at the first place.
The sequence of the photos are the following: we found it as seen on the first picture. Then for about five seconds it "stood" up and tried to look very threatening. Then it got tired and played even more flat on the road. Then we grabbed it, moved it to the tree, which he hugged very happily, that is seen on the last photo.
Not bad to have this four photos when you can only take home ten...
Sometimes we need to let go so nature/universe can give us what we really wish for.
#StayHome #virtualencounters #theuniverseheardme
Encounters and I went silent for a while. I was supposed to be in Galapagos for a week of amazing diving, then today should have been coming back from the Ecuadorian jungle... All of this got canceled and rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that I am finished with all urgent administrative work (and going a bit crazy at home in confinement) I decided to start posting some previous Encounters as often as possible to help passing time for those who are responsibly staying at home in these strange and crazy times. Even though our real-life Encounters are suspended, for now, I will try to share some virtual ones to make our confinement a bit easier to handle. Stay safe everyone!
So, the first virtual encounter:
A few years ago Steven Jimenez, Alejandro Cupi and I went to Ethiopia and did an amazing (though hard) four days hike in the Simien mountains. A real Encounters - style trip! My dream species of this trip was the bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), I wanted to see this amazing bird ever since I first saw a documentary about it. I felt very lucky because almost every day of the hike we spotted one, but always in the distance. I got to see it, I even saw it flying with bodes and dropping it then eating it, all that you see in the documentaries. But all of it far. Too far for a decent photo or video. I felt happy, but of course, as usual, I was longing for the perfect encounter... Our last camp-site was an amazing one, you could see all the target-species in a single day. There were many passes of bearded vultures, they were looking for bones around the small truck stop we had around. Since there were no new bones, they never came close enough, this is when I had a crazy idea. I called our contact, Tess Dere in the city from the satellite phone (this is why you have a satellite phone, right?!) and asked him to send me some bones when sending the car for us the next day. It took me minutes to make him understand what I want. The line was clear, and he speaks good English, but he did not want to understand that I want BONES... Eventually, they did and got quite excited. I know this because the next morning he showed up himself with the car and brought along around 30 kg of raw goat or sheep bone (I did not ask what it was from honestly...).
There were so many bones in the bag that I had to ask for help to carry it to the edge of the cliff, where we evenly covered the ground with them. I do not like to feed wild animals usually, but this was in a place where the birds were coming every day looking for bones and where the locals intentionally threw all the leftover out for them to eat. So I figured to give the birds a feast and for us an awesome encounter.
All of us hid closeby, either laid on the ground or hid behind a small bush. We had to wait around half an hour. Other birds, vultures, and even eagles came by before the bearded vulture couple arrived. One of them flew in circles over us, like keeping watch, while the other eventually landed. Did not stay long on the ground, maybe a minute in total. Picked up a massive piece of bone, then took off and both of them disappeared.
It was a short encounter, but so amazing, so perfect (again I know, we helped it to happen, but I couldn't help doing it :) ). I managed to record two short videos and took a few photos. But mostly I was just looking at this amazing, beautiful creature with awe, and feeling grateful and blessed for being alive, this lucky to be able to make my dreams come true and share it with amazing people. (Also I was very grateful for having a satellite phone... :) )
There is a unique cave in the heart of the Yucatan peninsula, next to a little town called Kantemo. What is so unique about this cave? The snakes which decided to live inside that cave and feed exclusively on the other inhabitants - the bats.
The tropical rat snakes in the area moved into the cave and adapted entirely to the cave environment. They live inside, breed inside and of course feed inside.
Every night, when the bats fly out of the cave to feed in the forest, the hungry snakes hang upside down if the ceiling in the total darkness. They hang there motionless until an unlucky bat bumps into them...
This strange diner habit is something you can observe if you are lucky enough. The following National Geographic video was done independently of Encounters. But National Geographic found Barna after they finished fliming because they did not have good enough footage of the snakes themselves.
This is how it happened that Barna filmed the snake footage in this NatGeo video! :)
In 2017 we intentionally tried to find tree climbing lions in the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. We did our game drive within the particular area of the park where female lions like to climb trees without any luck.
We already left the park a bit disappointed and started to munch on our packed lunches at the picknick area right outside of the gate when we heard something on the radio and saw a jeep driving by and entering the park in haste.
We got the green light from the rangers to re-enter the park without paying again, and we raced after the car. We drove fast, chasing the car while tried to find out using the radio what is happening.
Finally, the car we chased stopped and a park ranger got out of it. She was looking at something far from us, something way beyond the distance where we could see with our eyes. I tried using my binoculars, but I still didn't see a thing.
The ranger must have had some built-in binoculars and better than mine because she was convinced there is a lion on a tree. Somewhere far, off the road. Off-road, driving was prohibited, so again we were about to give up when she decided we all go offroad.
Apparently, as a ranger one of her duties to check out the trees, the lions like to climb at, and she never saw a lion on that specific tree. So she has to check it closer, so maybe later they build a small track there. And we could follow if already happened to be there...
Her eyes were really something else, the lion was right there where she said it. And we could drive right up to it, off the road, since we were following the ranger on her official business. How cool is that?
This year, in our 2018 Africa trip we did not plan tree-climbing lions, and we went to Uganda only for Chimps and Gorillas. The rest of the game drives we did in Kenya.
One afternoon game drive in Nakuru National Park we were about to head back to our lodge since the sun was already setting when we bumped into this. The only lion we saw that day happened to chill on the tree...
After two diving trips to Socorro in March and a three weeks trip to Africa in April now I am back on land, back home for a while.
This is a good chance to prepare for the coming whale shark season here in Cancun and also to prepare this new website. It was time to a fresh look online, especially that lot has changed since the time we started Encounters, and since the time the first page went online.
A lot changed but not the most important stuff: our love to nature, anything wild out there, our commitment to deliver only the very best wildlife encounters didn't change and never will.
We have new trips and new plans coming: East Africa, Antarctica and swimming with orcas, just to mention a few... Check them out if you are interested, they are all already on the website :)
Until there will be a longer post of our Africa trip, here is a photo teaser by Alejandro Cupi:
Trips with Barna