Travel jolts as well. While traveling you are untethered, disconnected from the anchor, home, that is your place in this world. I suspect that is why so few people actually travel. Only around one third of Americans has a passport. With new border restrictions, and the requirement to carry a passport even to Canada and Mexico, the number is significantly inflated above the number that truly travel abroad. Cruise ships and the all-included resort allow a traveler to lug their home along with the passport. You can say you have visited a new country while never leaving the ship. You can mail it in.
A birder, however, can’t lollygag on deck or behind the gates. Birds are out there. To see the birds requires seeing the people. To see the birds requires that you shake off home and leap into the unknown. To see the birds obligates you to connect with a world decidedly unlike your own.
Birders collect birds, or at least experiences with birds. But many of us also collect the places we have visited and the people we have met. Birds spark a birder off the ship and into the wild, but how does one then ignore the world in which the bird lives? Is it possible to see the bird and not the bush?Here is an example. The SCSCB held its last regional meeting in Antigua. Most of us wandered the island, and included Barbuda on a day trip as well. Yes, we saw birds, fine birds, rare birds. Yes, I do remember the Barbuda warblers, the West Indian whistling-ducks, the nesting magnificent frigatebirds. But between the birds I remember hot sauce. To be specific, I remember Susie’s Hot Sauce.
I spoke at the SCSCB meeting about sustainable tourism, and later appeared on a local radio station. The station, 91.1 FM, called itself Antigua’s “voice of the people,” and their masthead included a quote from Bob Marley. How could I say no? While being interviewed I mentioned the value of local products such as Susie’s Hot Sauce. The hot sauce and I had met early in the trip, and I can’t say that I had a meal there without a little Susie’s on the side. The point I tried to make to the interviewer is that place is a complex notion, and our sense of place includes birds, wildlife, music, taste, sounds, art, smells, voices, friends, and a thousand other elements that coalesce around a single spot on the globe. I have sipped gifiti in Honduras, snacked on grasshoppers in Oaxaca, nibbled bamboo grubs in China, dined on fried oysters in Hiroshima, and spooned calaloo soup in Trinidad. Yes, I can tell you about the birds I saw as well, but how impoverished would the birding experience have been absent a joie de vivre.Today, in this cool 95 degree Texas weather, I am savoring a bowl of rice and beans topped with a squirt of Susie’s Hot Sauce. With each bite I am drawn to Antigua and back to a lunch swapping stories with birding pals and sipping a cold Carib. I can’t image any truer words than the ones written by Pablo Neruda: bird by bird I’ve come to know the earth.
The new Caribbean Birding Trail will lead visitors to life as well as bird experiences. Where are the Caribbean’s best beaches for sunbathing and birding? Every island has at least one hot sauce; what is your favorite? You tell us about the best beers, the best local seafood, the best local music that can be found while birding the CBT. We’ll tell you about the birds.