Moraka Playa to Moaba Playa
January 19 to Jauary 22
Posted by Adam
Our good luck streaked failed during our last few days of filming in the Caldera de Luba. We got skunked a few days in a row. Each day spent in the Caldera was a day fewer we would have to film drills, and we had a lot of coordinating to get all our stuff to the next stage of the journey. But first we had to get out of the Caldera.
Of course it was not nearly as difficult as going up, but it still took a full day to hike back down to Moraka Playa. We descended through the buzzing forest along the battered ridgeline trail. Every other climb we’d get a good view of the distant beach, revealing we had a long way to go. We crossed the Rio Olé which the Caldera excuses at its mouth, and made our way back to camp Moraka.
When we got back to the beach we joined the others in a game of baseball on the sand. We swung a gnarled piece of driftwood to hit a hard fruit wrapped in Hello Kitty duct tape… we improvised! We spent another day preparing; we backed up our footage, repacked our bags, and accepted all kinds of comfort foods that the volunteers didn’t end up eating in the Caldera and that we would take on with us for our next month of camping at Moaba.
Our last day at Moraka Playa felt a bit like the last day of high school. Even though we had only spent a week together, our time with the expedition volunteers and scientists, UNGE students, and porters was filled with an intensity of excitement, physical challenge, and camaraderie, ending in the traditional Students-vs.-Porters beach soccer game. I think the porters like the opportunity to compete with the students because they work so hard and now have a chance to let their strength shine. These are the porters carried 50lbs 6,000 feet up into a jungle caldera every day only to hike back down and do it again the next day. They may have been the fittest of all of us, but they lost 8-0. I felt bad, but I sure had fun jumping into the waves with the winning team!
We said our goodbyes and helped the others load up on the boat, and then followed the porters east to Ureka – their home village. Justin said it was another easy hike – only 7 hours of flat beach. Well again, I quickly became exhausted. Sand is not fun to walk in with the snake boots tramping down the imprint of my wake. It was hot and muggy. My Steri-Pen water purifier jammed up so I was out of water early, slogging through the hot sand. I did not think it was so easy, but our porter, Jesús, kept urging us on. Justin kept telling me those half-truths of “It’s not that far away now…kinda.” He never complains… and as you can tell, I try to make light of my own complaints. Across rocks. Over outcrops. Justin and I fell behind, talking about the footage we shot in the Caldera and what was to come. It was just us out there on the hot beach, and then we noticed there were other footprints – we had been following the steps of Jesús… our porter.
We stopped for a break at a small farm. Now, this is a long hike away from a village, which lies another three-day hike from the nearest hospital. It was a bizarre situation – I was looking down at the passing ground, over roots and leaf litter, and when I looked up there was a very old man tending to his tropical plants. He had a half acre of bananas, some yucca, and grit. I was confused, in my sweaty exhaustion, thinking that we had had arrived at the homestead of an old wise man on the top of the hill. I began thinking up my three questions while Jesús told this old man, his son, and his son, about a leatherback sea turtle that had been poached near the Moraka Camp. They spoke in Bubi. It’s a Bantu language with a lot of “ne,” “le” and “bebe” sounds. All I know is “Nialele” means “I’m good.” We sat under the shade of a tree and they spoke like African forest elves.
It was a similar scene when we reached Ureka. At the top of the hill we saw many of the porters again, relaxing in the village. We headed for Mama Juana’s house. She seems to be the lady in charge of Ureka and is very welcoming towards us. An old man stops by and shows me the road that is being built from Luba; it has nearly reached Ureka, and soon they will be connected by vehicle to the rest of the island, the rest of the world. We will soon see how their connectivity will affect the formerly-isolated wildlife.
Our next challenge was to make it through the military checkpoint. Justin said that they have complete authority and no oversight, and if they like your watch they will make it their watch. So the best thing is to pretend you’re just exhausted and let the porters do all the talking. That was easy.
Back down to the beach, our final challenge awaited us. We had to keep moving all day so we would make it to the Moaba river before dark and high tide. By the time we emerged from the forest of Punta Dolores (whose name, meaning “Point of Pains,” my legs agreed with) the river was just up to Jusin’s neck. Wonderfully refreshing, I hippo-walked across the river, so happy to have made it to my home for the next month of filming drills.