Mondo Weirdo: Old McDonald had a farm

Amazing travel tales from around the world

By Salon Staff
November 4, 1997 4:12PM (UTC)
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when my fiancée and I spent our honeymoon in Ecuador, one of the things we wanted to see was a
dry tropical forest. The guidebooks pointed us to Parque
Nacional Machalilla, an out-of-the-way preserve on the hot and muggy
Pacific coast. The cramped bus ride to reach the park's border
featured a movie on videotape, a sort of "Dirty Dozen" meets Shonen
Knife story, in which seven Japanese biker girls
take on a leering Nazi scientist and his Uzi-toting minions -- and win, probably because nobody in the film could understand the plot or the
dubbed-into-English-with-Spanish-subtitles Japanese.

Machalilla turned out to be even more peculiar. The ranger directed us to hike "for an hour" down a dirt road, to a place
called Agua Blanca. Agua Blanca turned out to be a working commune,
possibly Ecuador's only one (the residents themselves weren't sure),
and, park or no park, the locals there grazed their livestock in
classic Western open-range style. The wildlife count for the two days
spent in Agua Blanca: seven cows, 38 goats, four burros,
innumerable chickens and six hefty pigs. Sure, up high in the
spectacular cloud forest lorikeets sang and falcons laughed,
but the dry forest was strictly Old McDonald.


The sleeping quarters at the park museum were equally as entertaining.
Outside, the 38 goats spent most of the night bleating and
the roosters crowed at least once per bleat. Inside, a family of bats
chirped and fluttered overhead; their droppings littering the floor,
our packs and even our sleeping bags. Why they didn't go outside and eat
some insects like normal bats, I'll never know. Perhaps they were
afraid of the roosters. The best wildlife of all sat splayed on the
porch: an honest-to-goodness lesser anteater, a rare beastie -- and
quite dead. The desiccated anteater kept watch from on top of a
wooden crate, his tail to the door and his long nose aimed at the
hills, wondering, no doubt, where all his fellow anteaters had gone.
Zoos, I think -- or maybe a Japanese western.

-- Mark Rigney


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Snuggling up with creepy crawlies

A few weeks ago, I went into the jungles of Malaysia for a four-day practical jungle survival
skills camp. The leader of our tour -- affectionately called
"Bandit Leader" -- kept reminding us that the jungle is
neutral territory, that it's a very safe and interesting environment. With all those
stories that you hear about the jungle, I was afraid of being
bitten by snakes, scorpions, centipedes, you name it. Every time we set up
camp, we used wild palms to make our shelters. Bandit Leader would always assure us that if the creepy crawlies did come toward us, it would be only to seek shelter from us. This reassurance did nothing to assuage my fears.


Nothing happened for the next four days except that we learned a great deal about the jungle: how to identify edible,
medicinal and poisonous plants, how to trek without using any
navigational equipment, how to predict weather the primitive way, how to make
your own water containers, and so on and so forth. But when I arrived back in Belgium, I had two stowaways in my rucksack -- a giant black scorpion and an
eight-inch millipede! And I was lugging this rucksack for almost three
weeks after the survival camp! Yep, the jungle is indeed an interesting environment, you never know what to expect.

-- Anne C. Samson


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Iguana eggs -- on the rocks

On a trip to a Colombian rain forest, I saw children shooting cat-sized
iguanas out of the trees. They would cut open the females with razor
blades and remove their eggs. With a little bit of sewing and some wood
ash rubbed into the wound to prevent infection, the iguana was sent back
on its way. It's kind of the Colombian answer to catch-and-release fishing.


The eggs were tied on a string like grapes and sold as fast food on city
streets. It doesn't taste like chicken -- otherwise, I would never eat
chicken again.

The fun part of this story is that I bought some of these
eggs on the day I flew from Colombia to northern Canada for an
ice-fishing excursion. It was quite a culture shift -- one day in the
Colombian jungle, the next sitting in a 6-by-6-foot shack on four feet of lake
ice with some friends, watching them eat iguana eggs. By the way, the
eggs do not make good bait.
-- Rick Millette

Salon Staff

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