Peten by Air – flying above the Mayan Biosphere Reserve.
On November 10, 2010, thanks to the support of the amazing team at ACOFOP (La Asociación de Comunidades Forestales de Petén – acofop.org) I was lucky enough to get a seat in a survey flight taking place with two researchers from CONAP (Consejo Nacional de Áreas Protegidas – conap.gob.gt), and piloted by a privately hired Captain from the Area, Armando Mas. We flew 4 hours in a specific linear pattern across hundred of miles of pristine rainforest surveying the damage caused by hurricane Richard that passed through the region the week of October 25th, 2010. You can read the BBC report on hurricane Richard.
In the first hour and a bit, we were almost at 10,000 feet above sea level, with no door. Of course, like some dumb gringo thinking that the heat of Peten would equate at any altitude, I did not prepare adequately, and nearly passed out from the cold. The pilot told me that I was probably near hypothermia. Luckily for me, the photos were not coming out great at this high altitude and they dropped down to 3000 feet. Ah how sweet the humid jungle air felt.
Once I regained the ability to move my fingers and start shooting again, I had a funny feeling in my lower stomach region. Urine, likely onset by the beginings of hypothermia, began to accumulate rapidly in my bladder. At first I let it go, thinking we might not have much longer to fly before we were headed back. An hour passed by and the pain was insane.
My colleague Victor Hugo, kindly sacrificed himself for me by literally chugging a bottle of water to empty it for my use. Because we had no door, I had to turn around on my seat – the smallest seat in the world – and with no safety harness at all, try and aim into a small water bottle. I’m guessing that it was around 300ml, either way not even close to enough for what was to come. Since I was already embarrassed, I sucked it up and cut off mid-stream, capped the bottle, delicately turned around, refastened my seatbelt and we all cheered in relief.
This trip was great, a learning experience – of which I feel I have had many an opportunity prior to learn the same lessons – and a great chance to really see the region in which I have been visiting this year and living for the past month.
It is a magical place.