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The Jewel Hunter

The Jewel Hunter

Chris Gooddie
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 350
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  • Book Info
    The Jewel Hunter
    Book Description:

    A tale of one man's obsession with rainforest jewels, this is the story of an impossible dream: a quest to see every one of the world's most elusive avian gems--a group of birds known as pittas--in a single year.

    Insightful, compelling, and laugh-out-loud funny, this is more than a book about birds. It's a true story detailing the lengths to which a man will go to escape his midlife crisis. A travelogue with a difference, it follows a journey from the suburban straitjacket of High Wycombe to the steamy, leech-infested rainforests of remotest Asia, Africa, and Australia.

    Dangerous situations, personal traumas, and logistical nightmares threaten The Jewel Hunter's progress. Will venomous snakes or razor-clawed bears intervene? Or will running out of fuel mid-Pacific ultimately sink the mission? The race is on. . . .

    If you've ever yearned to escape your day job, wondered what makes men tick, or simply puzzled over how to make a truly world-class cup of tea, this is a book for you.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4723-5
    Subjects: Zoology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-6)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 7-7)
  3. Glossary
    (pp. 8-11)
  4. Chapter 1 Quitting the Day Job. High Wycombe, UK
    (pp. 13-19)

    Blood pounded in my ears. My heart rate was up in the stratosphere. I crouched on a disused hunting trail in a remote forest in southwest Sumatra. There was no mistaking the hulking black figure in front of me; it was, beyond question, a Malayan Sun Bear. Big, brutish, and armed with a set of raking, razor-sharp claws ideal for cracking open trees and the skulls of wayward ornithologists. I analysed the known data: it was definitely a bear. Quite a big one. It was making uncomfortably rapid progress down the narrow trail towards me. Six metres away and closing....

  5. Chapter 2 The Storm Before the Calm. Southern Thailand
    (pp. 20-38)

    Snow. Thick, thick snow. Tons of the stuff. The heaviest UK snowfall, the radio announcer intoned, in the last fifty years. As omens go, not exactly what the meteorologist ordered for my first day as a free man.

    My taxi did not arrive. Not a single bus was running across the entire country. My quest began, rather inauspiciously, on foot. I swung my rucksack onto my back and slithered my way across north London, with the vague idea of heading for King’s Cross Station. A few hardy commuters were battling against the elements in a bid to reach the office,...

  6. Chapter 3 Dry Country Blues. Central, Northern Thailand
    (pp. 39-56)

    Our time in the south was up. After waving Graham off on a flight back to snowy London, I flew to Bangkok before driving northeast on quiet roads, my passage slowed only by the occasional grubby trucks, and a fruitless quest for alcohol. My next destination, Khao Yai, one of Thailand’s premier National Parks, was infamous for its government-enforced beer drought, and the thought of arriving without the odd snifter for a six-day stay was less than appealing.

    After checking the shelves of the fourth garage in a row without success, it dawned on me that Thai laws must have...

  7. Chapter 4 Missing in Action. Luzon, The Philippines
    (pp. 57-70)

    Down to earth with a bump. Not every landing can be perfect I suppose, and our connection with the cracked, pot-holed tarmac at Tuguegarao airport was rather more robust than the manual recommends. Still, it seemed that news of our impending arrival had been radioed ahead, and there was a huge welcoming committee arranged around the edge of the runway, complete with banners and smiling dignitaries.How refreshing, I thought to myself,that eco-tourism has been so warmly embraced so far off the beaten track. However, the assembled masses were there to greet a government minister, newly returned from political...

  8. Chapter 5 Jeepneys and Jeopardy. Mindanao, The Philippines
    (pp. 71-87)

    Having waved off Scott and Wu who were returning to Taiwan, there was time before our flight south to walk the streets of Tuguegarao, though the intense heat curtailed our ambition after a few blocks. We peered into dimly lit billiard halls and dodged the motorcycle taxis with their misfiring engines. We skirted around Chicken Corner, where buxom, leather-faced women kept their poultry charges out of the road with a periodic nudge of the boot. By eight a.m. the Internet cafés were crammed full of school kids playing pre-school video games. A large banner had been erected in an office...

  9. Chapter 6 The Swimming Pool Trail. Southern Vietnam
    (pp. 88-102)

    A beanpole figure bore down on me across the Ho Chi Minh airport concourse. ‘Hello Chris! Welcome to Vietnam!’

    I had met Richard Craik in Hanoi some years earlier, when he had helped find a driver to get me in and out of Cuc Phuong forest, a few hours’ drive south of Vietnam’s capital city. Now I was here in Ho Chi Minh, struggling with my bags and with my arm in a sling, but basically in one piece. ‘You’ve been in the wars,’ Richard noted sympathetically. I smiled sheepishly and waved my right arm. ‘I can still lift my...

  10. Chapter 7 One Cup of Tea? Northeast India
    (pp. 103-122)

    The mechanic sucked his teeth.

    ‘Costya’ he sang, before launching into a technical explanation of how the bearings were shot, and how the diffuser that fed air from the Wankel rotary engine to the carburettor was heavily corroded and needing replacing. Or something like that. My week in England was turning out to be considerably more expensive than I had hoped, but I needed that precious piece of paper embossed with the letters ‘M.O.T.’ I nodded my assent and went in search of tea while the work was completed.

    I had spent a busy few days updating the pittasworld blog,...

  11. Chapter 8 Rusty’s Return. Peninsular Malaysia
    (pp. 123-146)

    ‘What the hell have you done to your arm?’

    The unmistakable plangent tones of a Londoner rang out across the clearing, accompanied by raucous laughter.

    ‘Dr Catsis and Dr Mears I presume’ I replied with as much dignity as I could manage, and the three of us shook hands and slapped backs with a vigour that only British people who haven’t seen each other in a while can muster.

    I showed off my wound to my countrymen, which though healing well, still looked horrendous. While discussing our respective plans back in England at the start of the year it became...

  12. Chapter 9 The Toktor Will See You Now. Southwest Sumatra
    (pp. 147-168)

    I whiled away the day, catching up on sleep and taking care of a few chores, before decamping to the airport transit hotel. Late in the evening, I managed to hook up with the urbane Troy Shortell, whom I had met at Cat Tien a few weeks earlier. Our local fixer Roman duly showed up and we swapped wads of Rupiah for airline tickets and a detailed itinerary, before tippling rum and cokes and crashing out ahead of our early flight the following morning.

    We were making for the Indonesian island of Sumatra (that’s the big, westernmost one. See Singapore...

  13. Chapter 10 The Eight Colour Bird. Taiwan
    (pp. 169-188)

    Jakarta airport’s security x-ray machine was out of action. Nobody frisked me. Numerous passengers loaded down with metalwork passed unchallenged through the arms-detection devices, sending the machines into a frenzy of beeping. My baggage label was carelessly hand-written. In pencil. No-one batted an eyelid, waving throughbona fidepassengers and potential terrorists alike with a generouslaissez faireattitude and a winning smile.

    The severe interrogation I subsequently underwent at the hands of the Indonesian border officials thus came as something of a shock. I managed to extricate myself from the firm grasp of a team of officers, all of...

  14. Chapter 11 Who’s the Daddy? Sabah, Borneo
    (pp. 189-207)

    I had been to Malaysia on a number of previous occasions, but this trip was different. My forays into the relative familiarity of Peninsular or ‘West’ Malaysia had been to forests that were easily accessible from the capital Kuala Lumpur, where the ground was for the most part well-trodden and reassuringly well-known. This time I would visit Sabah in exotic ‘East Malaysia.’ I was bound forNegeri di Bawah Bayu; The Land Below the Wind.

    For a change, I was not travelling alone. Over the last few years I had made a number of international trips with the same three...

  15. Chapter 12 The Famous Five. Sabah, Borneo
    (pp. 208-227)

    I’d dreamt of setting foot on Danum’s hallowed turf for years. After a long, uncomfortable journey through a tropical downpour, we finally drew up outside the lodge, stumbling around in the blackness of the Bornean night.

    Borneo Rainforest Lodge is a fancy affair. It is the ultimate fantasy tree-house, whose every wooden balustrade has been varnished and polished until it shines. Comfortable couches are artfully positioned to give the best view of the rainforest, and once you sink into their depths it’s impossible to summon up the willpower to extricate yourself.

    Sabah is the scene of a delightful culinary collision...

  16. Chapter 13 The Heart of Darkness. Southwest Uganda
    (pp. 228-248)

    Back in the summer of 2008 before starting my mission I made enquiries about finding the two African pitta species. I was particularly worried about how I might go about tracking down Green-breasted Pitta, one of the least known members of my target family. A number of people made helpful suggestions, but it soon became clear that little was known about the bird. Its display call remained unrecorded, and there wasn’t a single reliable place in the entire world where the bird was regularly seen.

    ‘The Democratic Republic of Congo is your best bet,’ one authority assured me, adding as...

  17. Chapter 14 Mad Dogs and Englishman. Halmahera, Sulawesi, Peleng
    (pp. 249-277)

    Nightmaredoesn’t even begin to cover it. It was early August, and things were going awry. I was tearing my hair out in London trying to finalize an itinerary. Indonesian contacts had gone AWOL. My insurance did not cover me for the destinations I intended to visit. I could not work out visa requirements and restrictions. My printer gave up the ghost. Dates clashed, deadlines passed, paperwork refused to arrive. I noticed that one of the four different travel agents I had been forced to involve had routed me to the wrong airport on Santa Isabel in the Solomon Islands....

  18. Chapter 15 The Mysterious Mr. Klau. Bali, Sumba, West Timor, Flores
    (pp. 278-292)

    Bali-hai! I was headed straight for the famous holiday island. Actually ‘straight’ is not strictly speaking accurate. I was headed crookedly for Bali, south via Ujung Pandang in southern Sulawesi, back up north to Manado, and, for reasons best known to the airline route planners whom I personally suspect have all been drunk as skunks for at least the last decade, far too far west to Singapore. I was grumpy about the routing, and for once I couldn’t even blame British Airways.

    Bali was my gateway toNusa Tenggara(literallyThe Southeast Islands) and was included on my itinerary in...

  19. Chapter 16 Billabongs and Bowers. Northern Australia
    (pp. 293-303)

    Australia’s not really all that big. In fact it’s the smallest continent, a mere eight and a half million square kilometres give or take. You could cycle round its thirty-six thousand kilometres of coastline in less than two years with the wind behind you, punctures and Saltwater Crocodiles permitting. I’d visited the continent a number of times in the past, and had found both Australian pitta species without too much difficulty. Nonetheless, since I had vowed to find all of the world’s pittas in a calendar year, I would have to return. Tough gig but someone had to do it....

  20. Chapter 17 Strange Days. Manus
    (pp. 304-312)

    If you don’t know where New Ireland and Manus are, there’s no shame in it. Nobody knows where they are except the people who live there. And most of them don’t know where anywhere else is. For the record, start with Cape York, the pointy bit at the top of Australia. The big island immediately to the north is Papua New Guinea. Up and right a bit are a pair of islands resembling a boomerang; New Ireland and New Britain. And three hundred kilometres left of the top of New Ireland is another remote blob of land. That’s Manus. On...

  21. Chapter 18 Adrift in Time. The Solomon Islands
    (pp. 313-323)

    We flew towards the last recorded home of the Black-faced Pitta, Santa Isabel, the least developed of the Solomon Islands. Our flights puddle-jumped from Manus to Lae, Lae to Port Moresby, Port Moresby to Honiara, and finally Honiara to Santa Isabel. It seemed a long way round when a day’s sea crossing, had such a service existed, would have done the job, but such is the way with airlines. We spent a few happy hours in Guadalcanal. The dusty interior of the domestic terminal was enhanced by the many examples of sharp-edged, Day-Glo, graffiti-influenced local art that adorned the walls....

  22. Chapter 19 A Rare Bird Indeed. Sri Lanka
    (pp. 324-329)

    It promised to be a rather different kind of trip. My long-suffering girlfriend had deigned to join me, and we planned ten days of sightseeing and as much birding as I could sneak into the itinerary. We would stay in comfortable hotels, eat proper food at sensible hours in clean establishments. There would be time enough to take in a few Hindu temples, even, shockingly, to relax on the beach. I consoled myself with the thought that the latter might at least produce the odd seabird sighting.

    The main reason for coming to Sri Lanka was, inevitably, pittarelated. Indian Pitta...

  23. Chapter 20 And the First Shall Be Last. Zambia
    (pp. 330-340)

    All’s fair, they say, in love and war. Having secured the affections of my true love, only one battle now remained; to find the thirty-second and last pitta.

    I had planned to make Zambia my very first port of call back in February, but seasonal considerations and airline intransigence had conspired against me. And so it had come to pass that the first should be last, and only African Pitta now stood between me and pitta immortality.

    Back in England, the days had grown short, and the nights were drawing in as the year shuffled to a close; time to...

  24. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 341-344)
  25. The Treasure Chest
    (pp. 345-360)