In the September edition of Condé Nast Traveler, novelist Jonathan Franzen shares an honest and amusing account of his recent week-long endeavor to see 33 endemic species on two Caribbean islands. For anyone who considers themselves a birder, has been to the Caribbean, or has suffered travel mishaps, you will find yourself chuckling and nodding as you read.
Franzen also seems to intuit perfectly what the Caribbean Birding Trail is all about. He says this about birding in the Blue Mountains in Jamaica:
It is…a pleasure in itself to walk in a place with abundant and diverse birdlife. It’s a way of connecting with a past in which nature was more whole, not fragmented, not degraded—birds being the most visible indicator of a healthy ecosystem. Bird-watching often has the added charm and virtue of taking you to parts of a country that most travelers never visit.
Indeed, a birding trail is about more than just showing the way to places where birders can add a tick mark to their list. They are about using birds symbolically to represent an entire ecosystem or a place in time. What is more, birds are a portal to places, people and culture one might not otherwise experience.
Later in the article, Franzen makes another poignant observation, this time about the illusions of Caribbean travel. Each year Americans (and others) flock to to the islands to escape reality and enjoy luxuries in a paradisal setting. Franzen turns this on its head by saying that, in actuality, “reality is what lies to the south.” ‘Reality’ is where environmental protection is insecure and endangered species hang precariously in the balance as a result of weak political interest. Of course, this will only become evident to travelers if they deign to step outside of the resort and cruise bubble. Unfortunately, many do not.
So, does the author meet his goal and see all 33 endemic species on two islands in seven days? Read the article and find out!