Initially I thought getting to Redonda was going to be a challenge, but the helicopter made that aspect of the trip a delightful adventure. Living on Redonda for a week, though—that was tough. In retrospect, I’d say the challenge was simultaneously harder than anticipated but more comfortable than I’d feared.
Here’s a panorama of our camp:
There were a total of 10 team members on the island while we were there – the three of us lizard catchers, plus the seven rat eradication team members in charge of deploying and monitoring hundreds of bait stations across the island. As soon as our helicopter landed, heads started popping out from behind boulders, and generous helpers (who, fortunately for me, were in a lot better shape than I was!) helped us haul all of our gear up the hill to basecamp. I’m going to keep emphasizing all of the gear because it was a point of consistent teasing over the week. We kind of had a lot of stuff…
After huffing and puffing our way up the hill, we found the famous casuarina tree (which Geoff is sitting below in the panorama) and two tents already set up for us. (Best helpers ever!) Geoff and I started off sharing the second to last tent on the left. Geoff moved out after only a few days, though, when another tent became available. (And in case you were worried, no, nobody got eaten by rats; one of the people rotating off the island was from the Ministry of the Environment, just doing a one-week stint to help out and see the operation.) I prefer to think Geoff just wanted more room to stretch out and not that my three days (and counting) without a shower was polluting our tent air supply.
Home base wasn’t really our tents, though—it was way too hot for that. The real gathering place, which you can see in the center of the panorama, was “The Manager’s House.” As I mentioned in a previous post, Redonda used to be the site of a large guano mining operation. The manager had a nice, concrete
bunker house with a terrific view of Montserrat that has mostly withstood the intervening century. I heard a rumor that it took some very enthusiastic scrubbing to make it livable again, but luckily by the time we arrived it was perfectly habitable. That was where we collected all of our lizard measurements and ate all our meals. It was very much the hub for all things on Redonda.
Speaking of which… here’s a time-lapse video of a typical night in the manager’s house. You may want to watch it on full screen a couple of times, since each time there’s more to notice!
So what was going on? As we did every day, we were entering data, preparing dinner, and sitting around talking and eating. Yes, that’s a projector showing off some of our lizard behavior video from the day. Did you notice the bags on the walls flying up and down in the wind? Or the people scurrying away from the door to avoid the huge rain spot that appears in the foreground?
Wind and rain were two of the less-welcome aspects of life on Redonda. (I know, I know, most of you are laughing by now, wondering what the “welcome” aspects were. Warm weather, fantastic views, some awesome lizard species, and super interesting people, to start.) The wind was ferocious for almost our entire stay. It knocked me off balance repeatedly throughout the day. I would crawl into my tent at night, exhausted, and have to sleep with the nylon walls crashing into me. It was never quiet on Redonda. The wind was almost always howling.
And the rain! Before leaving Boston, I checked the weather for Antigua and saw that it was supposed to be sunny and 80 degrees F plus or minus 1 degree every single day. Great, I thought, no need to pack a raincoat. It turned out that the weather on Redonda was pretty different, despite being only a few miles from Antigua. It rained at least once a day, and some of those rainstorms were torrential. The worst, I think, was the day the rain came out of nowhere, and Anthony, who had climbed into a tree to search for lizards, didn’t even have time to climb back down. The downpour was so blindingly strong that he couldn’t do anything other than cling to a branch to wait out the storm. Geoff and I couldn’t stop laughing on the ground as the rain lashed us and we could just barely make out a stream of curses coming from up in the tree.
Every day, when it finally quit raining, it was HOT. We dried off quickly, and the lizards emerged, and we continued on with business as usual. And then we’d make our way to the manager’s house to get out of the sun, and we’d share some impressively delicious rehydrated meals, and then we’d collapse into our wind-buffeted tents to catch up on sleep before doing it all again the next day.