On a Wing and a Prayer: A Journey of Self-discovery on the Trail of Central American Wildlife
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
When writer and intrepid traveler Sarah Woods set about discovering the jungles of Central and South America, her quest took her into some of the most remote tangles of vine-knotted jungles on the planet. In Panama's rain-soaked Chiriquí highlands, she navigated seemingly impassable trails with a machete to reach quetzals with resplendent jewel-tone plumage.
Sarah sought the native wisdom of the indigenous Embera, deep in the Darien Jungle, in order to encounter the world's largest and most powerful birds of prey-the elusive harpy eagle. Using razor-sharp talons to hunt and kill sloths and monkeys with deadly precision, these mammoth, winged dinosaurs hide a lesser-known, softer side: devoting great care to raising their young for the first two years of their lives. Seldom seen in the wild, Sarah struggled to demystify the fear-riddled legends and superstitions that earned the harpy eagle its name from early explorers.
Her voyage taught her much about the rich glories and mesmerizing spectacle of the natural world and also its challenges and dangers. She met the albino “moon children” of Kuna Yala, swam in the Panama Canal, encountered left-wing guerrillas at the heart of Colombia's five-decade conflict, and witnessed Amazonian beliefs and customs surrounding shape-shifting and the jungle afterlife. Sarah survived landslides, crash landings, mammoth floods, and culture clashes in mysterious untrodden lands, learning much about aspects of herself from the incredible wildlife and tribal peoples she encountered-arguably her biggest journey.
cent of its historical habitat. You are sharing this space, right now, with one of the lucky survivors.’ I tune myself into the noises around me in the hope of hearing a jaguar’s telltale roar, guttural grunt or meow over the rat-a-tat-tat of a generator and whiny insect buzz. I can sense that he is near, watching us maybe. Bemused, understandably. Curious, certainly. Sizing us up, for sure. Jaguars don’t have lions’ and tigers’ reputation of maneaters, and there are few authenticated reports of
Conservative behaviour is approved of; loud laughter and ridicule frowned upon. Glossy fashion magazines containing pouting models might as well be hardcore porn. Travellers such as me – Westerners journeying solo or in small groups, far away from home – are considered weird, foolish even. It is unfathomable to the Wounaan that a person would leave friends, family and possessions voluntarily to travel thousands of miles into the unknown. The presumption is that you are antisocial, unloved and
clarity when you’ve got a mind that feels like a jumbled puzzle waiting to be assembled. One morning, shaken by a truth bomb, I decided to stop. And I did. Forever. My abstinence goes unnoticed by the women of Kuna Yala, who are supping the place dry, their wee, brown-skinned hands wrapped around pint-sized drinking vessels from which they guzzle on great gulps of chicha. I rather enjoy being an onlooker, and not a participant, as it allows me to witness the seismic personality change that
this harpy looks as if it could snatch me up by my shoulders and fly far away without breaking into a sweat. Yet harpy eagles aren’t just brawn and brute. They are monogamous, mating for life and giving birth to a single chick every two or three years. The average harpy union, at around fifty years, is longer-lasting than most marriages in the so-called developed world. At around five years old they reach adulthood, at which point their white and light-grey feathers darken – a sign that they
pus. Excess shards of nail that have already lifted, I carefully trim away, but it is as sore as hell. The annoyance I feel at myself clouds my mood. A simple sixty-second trim would have prevented all this. If an infection is left untreated, it can spread into the bones – I met a Norwegian hiker once who required an amputation. If it doesn’t improve in the next few days, I’ll have no alternative but to pull the nail off to allow the toe to drain. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. The next day, after