I would leave to find birds in public areas. People would stare at me strangely, but I am beyond caring anymore. It is my goal to find birds and other wildlife in this life of mine. Customs are different and yet, the human heart is universal. People still celebrate childbirth and marriage. They still mourn death etc.etc. As I am pulled into the bird world more, the human side of me withdraws a bit. I still feel compassion. I still care, but it's difficult to put this transformation into words. Life is a personal journey that isn't always clear. I've also noticed these same qualities with other wildlife aficionados. We go out of our way to AVOID people while on our bird missions. Thankfully my friend Lynda was there to keep me "present" in the real world.
It was a constant battle. "Would I like to buy something?" No. I'm not heartless, but I've been there and done that. Instead of seeking Spanish and knowledge about the people like I did before; I now searched for something higher......our vanishing wildlife. I wanted to know more about their conservation efforts.
Photographers and birders need to be aware of their surroundings at all times. I have chosen this challenge as I try to find as many of these birds as I can, but I will also do my best to be safe. When there is extreme poverty, it's about basic survival. Theft is common in this country if you aren't careful(especially around Guatemala City and Lake Atitlan(certain locations). We had to constantly watch our equipment as we traveled. How can someone think about the future when their daily basic needs aren't met? And it's not just Guatemala. It's everywhere.
All I need is food, shelter and sleep. That line repeated itself in my head over and over. Wasn't I the privileged spoiled one? Is it not frivolous this "hobby" I do? I would ask myself that as I was collecting data for Ebird. But really, I was selfishly finding new life birds and taking snap shots of them. But it's your vacation Chris. YOU deserve this. I would struggle with these thoughts throughout the trip. I wasn't a tourist or a Spanish student anymore. I was an observer. One who can comfortably write a blog about his bloated experiences abroad. But one thing was true. I had to find birds and not waste my time in Guatemala. Not many cared nor understood my need to observe and count them. Again I was thankful to have my friend there to keep me "present".
Lynda reminded me to take pictures of the people. All of this was new and exciting for her. I don't know how she put up with me for so long:) My thoughts wander these days....a lot. She would ask me many times to repeat what she said. And I would repeat them to let her know that I was listening. But sometimes I'd make an observation and just stare at the rain coming down or watch the gentle waves hitting the shoreline. Sometimes the thought was too deep to explain. It would take forever to share my past experiences of "what was" in Guatemala to "what is now". A lot had changed. So I would sip my coffee and think about how I could poorly verbalize my thoughts.
And color was not lost on me. The photographer was still fascinated by it all. We would come to love our meals in Guatemala. The food was excellent and every dinner a delight. Some nights I couldn't sleep as I had become excited about the birds I could possibly find the next day.
Our morning would begin with coffee and breakfast. Afterwards, we'd get walking to our destinations. After all, the secret to birding well is exploring every nook and cranny in one area. Each area, even within a block radius, has different birds. But a puff of exhaust would hit our faces as we hiked over cobblestone and rock roads. We had to always watch carefully and make sure we wouldn't get hit. Birds can fly and avoid all the traffic. With people, it's a different story:)
|A chicken bus|
At our hostel, a Bird of Paradise attracted this Azure-crowned Hummingbird until a backpacker scared it away. He would reappear once all the people had left.
The Rock Pigeons blended perfectly into the statues on the building. So did many other birds....
|The Guatemalan Flag|
But by the end of the trip, we became tired of the mosquitoes and sweat. Finding lifebirds finally took a backseat as I lost myself within a misty pool on our last night. For several hours I swam alone listening to monastery music play in the background. Monsoon storms lit up the night sky revealing the towering volcanoes off in the distance. My friend treated me to a night of royalty at a 5 star hotel. We both were finally able to sleep well:) There were no distractions at all. No car alarms going off at 3 in the morning. No storms knocking out power to our fans in the steamy rain forest. No bugs. No worries about anything. But it wasn't cheap.
|Black-capped Swallows on a wire in the overcast sky|
Also among the bunch of birds high above were Northern Rough-winged Swallows.
There are all kinds of birders out there. I had to be on a budget to do this trip, but I also know many birders who can afford the 5 star + treatment while birding. With my budget, I had many more obstacles and therefore, the life birds were a lot more work. Here is the conflict for me. If I had the money, would I choose the 5 star option? To be honest, I would answer yes because it was much more comfortable. But there is that other part of me that thinks about how the rest of the world lives.
For now it's not an issue as I still need to stay on budget. I sat alone in the pool that night thinking about all of these things. The bruises on my shoulders from the camera strap were allowed to heal. My eyes were allowed to rest as the bird search had come to an end. I no longer had to deal with adding to my collection of mosquito bites all over my body. No worries about bed bugs or fleas jumping off of dirty stray dogs and cats. My calloused feet could relax. And I was able to soak in every single glorious moment without any distractions. Perfection.