Sunday, 22 October 2017

Monsoon Nights in Bangkok - We've arrived

New Road Guesthouse, Bangkok 03:00 23rd Oct 2017

21-22 Oct 2017 Bangkok

02:50 in the foyer of the New Road Guest House, Bangkok. Raining hard outside, it's the end of the monsoon season and the weather grips the humid night. We've a very early start to catch our plane to Mandalay, Myanmar where after a day layover in the city we catch a sleeper train, heading north where the real adventure and search for the Pink-headed Duck starts.
Don't you just love the skills of strangers with your mobile phone camera?

We had a hectic day yesterday. Our long-haul journey was tedious, uncomfortable and none ending but is what it is. We flew from Heathrow – Oman – Bangkok. The first leg of the flight was a disaster for Pilar and I. We had horrible, cramped seating. My TV didn’t work (only 9hrs looking at a movie of choice……..with no sound!) To top it all, the meal Pilar had booked online with the airline did not materialise. Our #Vegan delights had not made it onto the plane. 

Apologises on behalf of the caterers were forwarded and we were presented with a large ball of sugar and syrup with some form of eggy goo in the centre as a consolation, err, no thank you. 
Silly o'clock, another airport

Exhausted after our 18hr flight we land at Bangkok for stormy skies. After collecting our bags and catching the Sky Train and a taxi we arrived tired but excited at our guesthouse. We were several hours too early to check in, so no shower or sleep was waiting for us until at the earliest 14:00.
Pilar Bueno outside our guest house upon arrival

Fighting off the fatigue and humidity we ventured into the suburbs of old town #Bangkok, searching for sustenance but most of all coffee. Errol and Richard found a McDonalds, I know, I know, they needed their Maccy fix and chowed down on something gross, haha. The coffee and O.J. tasted like heaven. 
Old Town Bangkok

Pilar, Errol, Richard, searching for food downtown Bangkok

Errol, Richard, John riding the McDonalds coffee wave

At 3pm we had an appointment with a journalist from the associated press who wanted to film interviews with us all. Thankfully that gave a little time to check-in our very reasonable and cleans rooms, freshen up and go over a few points of interest with the journalist before filming started.

The light was poor and the rains were threatening again. But nevertheless the hour filming went without hitch and all parties seemed happy with the results. When edited and live online I'll post a link. It should be across the news networks with a few hours, keep your eyes peeled on the news stations and let me know if you spot us.

Not really related but while talking with the journalist he told us he was covering the official funeral of the late King of Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed away October 16th, 2016.

I had no idea that he hadn't been cremated yet. A full year of official mourning but now the country and especially the city of Bangkok is gearing up to see him off with what I expect will be a very emotional event. We'll be long gone and probably knee deep in mud and muck inventing new phrases of hatred and expletives aimed at the swarms of bugs that await us. I know where I’d prefer to be, and I certainly won’t be wearing black, more like ‘Wellies and Combat Jungle Chic, it more my kind of madness, better get my hair done.

After the interview, we freshened up again and headed out. We trawled the streets for a suitable eating place, somewhere not ‘too street’ as Richard and Errol had more refined palettes than Pilar and I, who are used to eating from the street stalls. 

Richard Thorns, Errol Fuller, John Hodges 
'The Search for a decent Thai Restaurant'

We eventually found a restaurant called, imaginatively ‘The Thailand Curry House’. Advertised on a board outside was the deal clincher, a veggie set menu. Pilar and I had Vegetarian Spring Rolls, Red Thai Curry and steamed rice. I even broke my sobriety of 2017 and partook in a cold Singha Beer, which I confess was bliss. The food was superb and the stories, adventures and sparkling repartee from Errol Fuller (he does a superb impression of his friend Sir David Attenborough) kept us entertained. 
The Team - Richard Thorns, John Hodges, Pilar Bueno, Errol 'Attenborough' Fuller

Finally, at the 8pm we gave into fatigue, beer and food and on autopilot head back for the bliss of bed and long overdue sleep. Poor Richard was nodding off in the restaurant.

Sitting here writing at 3:30am, wide awake and waiting for 06:30 to come around so I kick the team out of bed, I regret the single beer I had. I can feel its chemical wizardry still in my system, yuck, time for coffee!

The Search for the Pink Headed Duck begins, Myanmar 2017 #LostSpecies

On behalf of myself and Pilar, I'd like to thank everyone who has supported our mission and so generously donated to our fundraiser.  We are all touched and humbled by your support; words can never thank you enough.

After our designated search for the Pink-headed Duck with Richard Thorns and Errol Fuller in Myanmar Pilar and I will cross borders and head north to relocate to Assam, India, which also crosses the border into Bhutan.

We will be the humble guests of the Manus National Park, making valuable contacts and documenting the wildlife in the area. This part of the World also has historical accounts and records of the existence of the Pink-headed Duck and although it is very unlikely that it is still here any new information will be an invaluable addition to the body of data and the continued and greater understanding of this #LostSpecies.

Pilar and I will also be conducting some research for other projects for the GWC Lost Species initiative of which our #PinkHeadedDuck expedition has become a flagship expedition.

This is the beginning of an exciting journey for us all. We have a lot of hard, stressful times ahead of us. Trust me the ‘glamour’ of such an adventure soon disappears when the reality of time, heat, humidity plus the extensive and laborious travel kicks in. When you’re fighting of voracious mosquitoes, leeches and a myriad of other creatures that would like to dine on our European blood. The humid nights when you’re trying to grab some well-needed sleep and all you long for is your own dry, clean and safe bed. This is in no way an easy mission but we promise to do the very best we can.

If on this expedition we do not uncover a remnant population of our quarry then I hope to discover new data and species unknown to the natural sciences that will give us a greater understanding of this important environment that in turn can lead to an initiative to help protect and conserve these important habitats for future generations.

We will not give up until we have answers.
All our team and sponsors are in for the long haul.

Never in the history of our time on this planet have our ecosystems been in more immediate peril. We are losing more species every year than we are discovering due to the effects of climate change, environmental toxins and the ever increasing human population and the pressure on our planet’s resources. The more we understand what we have the easier it is to protect.

How do we protect something if we aren’t aware of its existence?
This is why we do what we do, to advance the body of knowledge, educate, protect and conserve.

The opportunity to work in this field of exploration and help document our natural world is a dream come true for Pilar and I. To work alongside Richards Thorns whose solo vision and personal dedication to finding the Pink-headed Duck have brought us to this place today. We are about to take the research to the next level and finally get answers to the question, ‘is the Pink-headed Duck still in existence?’

Of course, we firmly believe it is, in a small but viable number, going mostly unnoticed by the native population but occasionally showing it’s elegant pink head, although briefly, but leaving a lasting impression so that we can follow its shadow.

The habitat is most definitely still there, but for how long? The country we are searching has been closed to the outside world for so long. This bird was never seriously hunted and much of the habitat is still in place in parts of Myanmar so we have no obvious reason why it has all but disappeared. Nobody has really conducted a serious survey because of limited access and resources.

The work Richard has done will go down in the historical annuals of this species whether we rediscovery it or not, thank you for including Pilar and I in your dream and life’s work.

The other member of our team is the internationally renowned artist, author and highly acclaimed expert in endangered and extinct species Errol Fuller. Long before I met Errol his magnificent books where an established part of my library. His last work co-authored with my hero Sir David Attenborough Drawn From Paradise’ is, in my opinion, the definitive work on the incredible Birds of Paradise, it’s a feast for the mind and eyes. It’s an honour to be working with Errol and I hope we can have many future projects together.

This year’s expedition is just the first stage in a much larger project. Next year will see the beginning of a documentary film project and a return and much longer field trip. None of this would have been possible without the full support of our corporate sponsors GWC (Global Wildlife Conservation), Bushnell EU & Charles Martell & Son Ltd.

On a personal note, the encouragement both financially and emotionally in putting this project together from family and friends and of course the people who have selflessly donated to our fundraiser has amazed both Pilar and I. You know who you are; you have our deepest love and gratitude. Thank you for your belief in us.

John Hodges and Pilar Bueno Oct 2017

Special Thanks to: