Followed by the others, Marathon Man
and I set off once more, this time in the
pouring rain. He was running again. I
tripped and fell into a deep hole made by
some animal. As I struggled to get out,
I could see my man disappearing in the
distance. It is at times like these I wonder
what I am doing…
Cryptocoryne ciliata growing in Triton Bay, in nearly full-strength marine water.
In Lake Lakamora the author found a new Glossamia species, from the family Apogonidae—
normally a marine family, but the genus Glossamia is found exclusively in fresh water.
flowing water, I spotted movement below:
a colorful crayfish and small school of
brilliant, shiny fish flashing back and
forth. I absolutely had to catch some—but
not until the way back.
The jungle was the worst I’ve ever
seen—it was pure torture. We stumbled
over rocks, stones, logs, fallen trees, and
mounds of earth. We even fell into holes,
and there were thorns everywhere. I was
glad Patrick, the wise man, had decided
to stay behind at the camp. However,
leading the way was the native we called
Marathon Man. He was apparently
endowed with magical powers that
enabled him to run through all this jungle
and undergrowth with the greatest ease,
never pausing for a moment—all while
carrying 40 kilos ( 90 pounds) of gear
on his back! His speed was incredible: I
tried to keep up with him, hanging on
to my cameras and concentrating solely
on where to put my feet, but it was too
difficult. Paola and the other two gave
up trying to keep up. Eventually, after
a particularly demanding climb, I came
across Marathon Man relaxing under a
palm-leaf shelter as though he had been
there all day. This hunting shelter was
the highest point we reached; from then
on, our path lay downward to the lake.
I flung myself to the ground, completely
exhausted, to await Paola and the others.
They arrived an hour or so later.
It began to get dark. Hornbills were
settling in the trees for the night, and the
frogs started up their evening chorus.
Frogs! The lake must be near! With one
last effort I struggled out of the hole
and, ignoring the pain in my legs, began
to run, looking for Marathon Man’s
tracks. Then suddenly I saw the lake,
set off by a beautiful red-orange sunset
that was turning to a magnificent violet.
Completely exhausted, I sat down and
drank in this natural spectacle. Naturally,
Marathon Man had already made a fire and
was preparing to cook a plantain he just
happened to have brought along.
Paola and one of the other natives
arrived a couple of hours later in total
darkness. A man was missing. After a
brief discussion with Marathon Man, they
mounted a search and finally brought him
in at about 9:00 p.m. He was in terrible
condition, perhaps close to death. In this
part of the world, 50 is a ripe old age
among the aborigines.
The thought of the journey back
dismayed us both, particularly Paola, but
we had made it. The next morning I was
up before sunrise and snorkeling in the
lake, dying to spot its inhabitants. And
sure enough, here was the beautiful bright-yellow Craterocephalus, yellower than
even the celebrated Tanganyikan cichlid,
Neolamprologus leleupi. There was also a
large jet-black gudgeon with a white-edged
dorsal fin, and a handsome rainbowfish
with red-orange fins and reddish stripes
on its flanks. Also spotted was another big
fish that looked like a Basilichthys species,
something I had seen years before in the
Andes. This is not an aquarium fish, but
a strange atherinid, known from only five
species in South America.
I climbed out of this wonderful lake, this
beautiful natural aquarium. The sun was
just clearing the mountains. It was a good
moment. The others joined me and, using
the seine net, we succeeded in collecting
our new species, all endemic to this lake.
It had been worth the struggle!