Thursday, December 27, 2012

Return to Angaur, Palau

My farewell from Japan didn't go very well in my eyes and I didn't want to do a bunch of sad blogging, so I opted just not to post.  I've been away hunting all fall and I mostly think my blog readers aren't interested in my killing stories, so I again held back.  But now I'm abroad again and freshly excited about my daily life so I'm going to do my best to share what I wish I would've been more easily able to during my Peace Corps experience 8-10 years ago.

My winter Plan A fell through so now I'm executing Plan B, which has me residing in Palau until late February.  When I left Japan in August I hedged my winter plans by buying a roundtrip ticket for nearly the same price as a one-way.  I took that flight back to Japan on December 5th, then bought a one-way ticket to Okinawa to kill a week with friends before flying on to Palau.  I've since taken a boat down to Angaur, which is the island where I lived during the second half of my Peace Corps tour.  There's less than 150 residents on Angaur and about four times as many [invasive] monkeys.  The school still has 27 students, just as it did when I was here.  There are only 5 residents over 70-years-old, partially because anybody 75+ moves to Koror to be closer to medical care, but also because Palauans just don't live to be very old.  A case in point is the reason I came yesterday, which was for the funeral of a 45-year-old teacher who died of a heart attack.

There's a Peace Corps Volunteer, JICA (Japanese version of PC) volunteer, and an Australian couple building a restaurant for surfers.  I've met the Aussies, who are really interesting people (they worked on the set of Survivor for ten years), but not the volunteers yet.  I've mostly been wandering the streets recognizing people and trying to remember their names while they recount their memories of me (fishing, picking papayas, making pizza, collecting snakes).  Also, Super Typhoon Bopha hit the island two weeks ago and caused quite a bit of damage.  Electricity and water were out for over a week.  Two excavators, two loaders, and a few dump trucks came in on a barge today to begin clearing the perimeter road, which is almost impenetrable even on foot.

The internet is terrible so I'm not sure how this blogging thing will work, especially if I try to upload pictures.  But in case this works, here are a few pictures of the last project I did while on Angaur in 2004. I had received a donation of a bunch of books and sports equipment from my hometown Kiwanis Club so I used those as incentive prizes for an aluminum can recycling project, which collected something like 60,000+ cans.  We then turned those in to Koror and received $160 back.  I had a bunch of paint donated then used some of the can money to buy the colors we still needed.  I was in charge of summer school at the time so I commissioned the kids to come to the port for a few days and paint this mural, which was a lot of fun.  Glad it's still holding up.  ('Buik Belau' is my Palauan name from Angaur.  It means "Boy of Palau".)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What's Next

One of the wiser things I've done in my life was time my five years in Japan with my hunting draws in the U.S.  When I came to Japan I had 3-8 bonus/preference points in most states for most species that had application processes to hunt.  Those points give me extra chances in the 'hat' every year.  I apply for hunts in specific units with specific dates and the more advantageous the dates and bigger the animals, the harder it is to draw the unit.  But after five additional years of application, I now have 8-13 points for most species in most states.  This process costs me somewhere around $1200/year.  That's the nonrefundable part.  But I usually outlay about $14,000, which the states hold onto for two months until they hold their drawings.  Then when I am unsuccessful I get a refund.  But having some liquidity is necessary every spring.

Well this year the stars aligned for me.  I did a lot of stats research and tried to put my name in the most advantageous hats so I could get some tags (as opposed to the last five years when I would only put my name in the best hats because drawing multiple tags would spell trouble for my job).  The drawings kicked off in March and I was surprised not to get as single tag (of seven applications) in New Mexico.  Next up was Idaho where I had applied for the mountain goat unit with the best odds in the state (last year was 1:4).  I drew it.  I think the odds were 1:6.  That tag is once-in-a-lifetime and in an incredibly remote area.  Remember where I killed my Idaho elk last year?  Same area.  Problem is that goats inhabit the ugliest parts of the roughest mountains.  And my unit is huge.  I want to find the biggest billy in the unit, but that could take me weeks of hiking to visit all the goat habitat and check out all the goats.  I could shortcut some of the time needed by flying the unit, which I may do, but that will cost a minimum of $600, so there's that.  I won't get a record-book goat out of this unit (feed isn't good enough), but I hope to get a really nice hairy coat to tan and put on my bed. For that I will have to kill my goat later in the season.  My official season goes from August 30-November 8th, but I will shoot (ha!) for sometime in early October to get an early stage winter coat.  November would obviously be better, but it's very likely the mountains will be covered in snow by then and unless I have my goat patterned and pinpointed, I don't want to risk having to find a white goat against a snowy backdrop.

Next was Nevada.  Nevada has big animals.  It's one of the most popular states to apply for because they manage their game populations very well.  Unfortunately it's a $242 nonrefundable fee to enter the draws every year.  But this year, for the first time, I drew.  An August antelope tag with decent potential to kill a record book animal and a late October mule deer tag, which is a backpacking hunt.

Last was Washington.  I was holding out hope of getting an elk tag, but there were about 1100 people applying for the 45 tags in that unit (though with my 8 bonus points I had 64 entries in the hat) so the odds were still way against me.  Well, I not only drew that elk tag, but I got a huge surprise by drawing the sheep tag I'd put in for against 1:3700 odds.  The world record California Bighorn was killed out of this unit two years ago and there's rumored to be another big one in the unit this year that could challenge that record.  This is a huge deal.  That hunt begins September 15th and lasts three weeks, though hopefully we'll have the ram pinpointed by opening day and it won't take too long to get him down.

Here's the tentative schedule:

August 4: arrive back in the U.S.
August 6-8: go sheep scouting
August 11-13: bring the Zamami-son homestay students - who are staying in WA this summer - back to my house for the weekend
August 15: go to NV early to scout then hunt antlope
Antelope Hunt Ends; go to WA immediately to begin sheep scouting
Sept. 15: sheep season opens
Sheep Hunt Ends: go to ID for mountain goat scouting and elk hunting
October 20th: go back to WA for the elk hunt
October 27th: WA elk hunt opens
Elk Hunt Ends: go back to ID for deer hunt
November 1-18: late season ID deer

Nevada deer has been removed from the list because it overlaps with the WA elk hunt so I will return the tag to get my points back.  I will hope to draw the NV deer tag next year when I probably won't have five other awesome tags to my name.

There's some pretty interesting ideas for December, too, but I will hold off on announcing those until they solidify further.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Sabani 2012

I leave Japan a month from today and as you've noticed from my lack of blog posts, I'm busy.  Every night is filled with things that need to be done before I leave (complicated a lot by the elaborate presents I am giving to ~150 people) and the blog has fallen by the wayside.  Certainly not for lack of content, just too much on my plate.  Okay, so Sabani..

[Team Shimawarabi (my team) before the start]

[Eventual second-place, Team Kaisou.  I'd marry any of these girls if they'd have me.]

Just like last year, I hopped a boat ride before the start over to a small island that has a lighthouse.  This island serves as a 'corner' after the first straightaway, so the teams cut very close to it.  My goal was to get a picture of the string of boats (Zamami-maru leading) with the sun out and the coral and beautiful blue and turquoise waters showing.  Last year I went up to the lighthouse but I was too high so I didn't get the shot I was after.  But this year I went over a full hour beforehand and climbed up some cliffs and through some brush to get to the perfect viewpoint.  Then I waited 45 minutes for the race to start, anxiously watching the coming clouds.

[I had to jump out of the boat and swim through that water to reach shore, then climb those cliffs to get here]

[My view of the start.  Waiting..  waiting...]

[and here's the shot]

[a couple minutes later my team (above) passes through the narrows, about 8th back]

[the school team, who eventually finished in twelfth, is second-back in this shot]

After getting the shots I wanted I carefully but quickly descended the cliffs and then went over to the edge of the coral and jumped in, then swam out into the current for the support boat to pick me up.  I photographed for the next hour.

[Team Uminaivy, Zamami's women's team (finished eighth)]

[after I've been switched in, I'm second back]

[I'm the guy who looks like he's ready to cross the Sahara]

[finished in sixth place overall, 31 seconds out of the top three for our class]

[31 seconds from winning one of these]

[winner Zamami-maru and those wonderful Kaisou ladies, who finished just five minutes back and never traded out any of their members during the 3:40 race.  Even Zamami-maru concurred that they are the better team]

[the championship trophy]

Monday, June 18, 2012

Zamami People Project - Opening

It began in April, 2011 as an idea to celebrate my time on Zamami and say thank you to the community.  Fourteen months, 60 [final] photos, and about 200 people photographed later, I had held the opening party to my exhibition last night at the port.  The timing couldn't have been better as there are usually no tourists on Sunday evening, but even less so with the approaching typhoon.

Despite a weekend totally full of printing, mounting, hanging, and baking, I was able to pull it all off with no minutes to spare.  In fact, the air conditioning at the port started warping the paper and pulling apart the two-sided tape that I'd used to secure the photos to the mats, so throughout the show I was running around with stronger two-sided tape fixing up the photos to salvage all the work I'd put into making them look perfect.

[most of the kids and teachers from school came, which was really nice]

[the mayor giving an opening speech]

[The lowlight of the evening was definitely me struggling through my Japanese speech.  It was long and I didn't have time to practice and I sounded like a first-grader.  Considering the importance with which I valued the speech's content, I wish now I'd had it translated a month ago and I'd spent a lot more time rehearsing.]

[I held a raffle for all the attendees and I gave away five prints.  This junior high third-grader won first  choice.  He was featured in the J.H. 3rd grade photo.]

[The policeman's 3-year-old son won 2nd place.  He was featured in the policeman's family photo.]

[This woman helped me immensely in photographing all of the old people, so I was glad to see her win.  She was also featured in a 'Generations' photo of her family.]

[Genta - wasn't in a photo but he's a very nice kid.]

[This guy snubbed the generational photo of his family, leaving only his parents and daughter, so I think he felt bad about winning.  His daughter yelled out "cheater!" to him, which was amusing. He was one of just two people who avoided or declined to be photographed for the project.]

[The marlin captain surprised me by ordering this huge bouquet of flowers from Naha for the opening ceremony.  What a generous present!]

There were 73 names in the raffle bucket, plus at least 10 who didn't enter or came late, so my conservative guess is 85-90 attendees, or 15% of the 582 people who live on Zamami.  There were a few important friends who didn't make it, which saddened me a bit, but I'm getting over it.  Their absence was offset by the people who brought beer, sake, wine, or tea to donate and the mothers who donated their evenings to helping set up, take down, and keeping the general logistics under control.

Ultimately I'm happy with how the show turned out.  Neither my computer nor printer broke and my camera and lights worked almost flawlessly.  And while I didn't get much sleep this weekend, the end result was exactly as I'd envisioned.  I just hope the community 'gets' the purpose of the show, which is to say thank you for my time here.

The photos will be up for five weeks before I will take them down and give them to the subjects.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Oldest Woman

There's actually a woman who is older, but she is bedridden.  This 97-year-old walked a couple of blocks to come for this photo, so she deserves the extra-large-sized print she'll get in the show.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Zamami People Project - Counting Down

With the opening this weekend, I am quite busy during this, the last week.  I've been photographing on every day that doesn't rain (and even some that do) and I've pared my list down to just 3-4 more photos I hope to get before Sunday.  Some photos will have to be taken after Sunday and they'll either be included as an addendum to the show or put into a book later on.  I'm still deciding on making a book, but I'm leaning towards it.  There seems to be a lot of interest.

Here is the oldest, non-bed-ridden woman on Zamami.  She's 97.  I've got both the oldest woman and man now!

After the opening this Sunday I'll spend some more time uploading the photos to my website and here.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

My [1st] 2012 Marlin

As a tune-up for next weekend's big Sam's Cup billfish tournament, we went out both Saturday and Sunday this weekend.  On Saturday we caught a couple of mahi in the morning and had a touch by a marlin mid-morning.  At 2:50pm we had a strong hit and he started jumping.  Our team worked well and we got me on the line quickly.  The marlin didn't run far (comparatively) and he came back relatively quickly, as well.  Too quickly, seemingly.  At about 40m to go (in only 10 minutes of fighting) he saw the boat and started jumping again and threw the hook. So that was that.  The plus side was the marlin hit a lure that I bought as a present to the captain.  A few years ago I came back from America with a half-dozen lures but we've never caught anything on them.

Today we tried a different location and had terrible luck all day, only picking up one mahi.  At 3pm when everybody had given up and were looking forward and talking, I was still facing the direction of the lures and keeping a close eye behind.  I saw a big swoosh through the water behind the lure I bought and I shouted out "LEFT, LEFT, LEFT!!"(in Japanese) then just as quickly said it was a marlin.  He missed the lure twice but hit it about the time everybody else was comprehending what was happening.  I jumped down stairs and started reeling in the center/shotgun lure (to get it out of the way of the jumping marlin so he didn't cut the line). Everybody else knew exactly what to do and we worked better than I've ever seen a team work.  In less than two minutes all four loose lines were in and I was harnessed in with the marlin in the fighting chair.

The fight went pretty well, but then again I'm pretty strong so the marlin struggle against me.  After taking out a lot of line he jumped a lot more, which makes us nervous because this is when marlin often get off the line.  But he was hooked pretty well, apparently.  After 20-ish minutes he got close enough to the boat that I changed out with my friend, Aya.  She would reel in the last few meters of line while I would take over the handlining [of the 10m leader]. Once I got the fish up to the boat the captain would spear him.

The marlin was still plenty energetic, though, and fought back against me, taking line out making me give up and try again a minute later.  The second time I prevailed and muscled him up behind the boat.  The captain speared him, handed me the rope with the spear tip attached, then speared him once more and hooked him with the gaff.

[the marlin came alive again just as this picture was being taking - see motion blur in the tail and the look on my face]

[I went nuts with lure experimentation; usually we'll use 6-7 lures in a day - today we used 14]

[99kg, 218 pounds, my ~9th marlin(?) and maybe my last?]

Saturday, May 26, 2012

China, Xingping Farm

I went out cruising on a bike in the farm flats and got this shot:

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Zamami People Project - June 17th Opening

I started doing some weekend allotment a week or two ago and realized I only have one free weekend in June to open my photography show on Zamami - that of June 9-10.  Then I looked at my wall of 'shots taken/shots to be taken' and panicked.  Then it rained for the next ten days and my panic multiplied.  So I talked it over with a friend and decided to not only change the opening night of the show from a Saturday to a Sunday, but to slide it back a week.  There is a big event on Zamami June 16/17 (Rough Water Swim), but if I hold the opening the evening after RWS, hopefully many Zamami people can attend, which is the goal, after all.  So I've just settled on June 17th and started telling everybody.  That's less than four weeks away, but I'm confident things will mostly come together.  There are some ideas that will likely not get photographed, but there probably isn't space for them anyway.  I'd hoped to produce an accompanying book of the images, but considering that I will be photographing up until the last minute, this would have to come later.

Today was the biggest shoot of the whole project - an attempt to gather all of the 3-, 2-, 1-year-olds, babies, and mothers together at one time.  We got about half of them, which was a little disappointing but probably a pretty good turnout.  Thankfully the weather complied.  I know I got a useful shot, but I haven't yet completed the processing on my hopeful 'stellar' shot (it's a 10+ image panorama composite).

Here are some outtakes:

[I handed off my point-and-shoot to my 'assistant' and she got some great behind-the-scenes photos, which is something I need more of!]

[giving my thank you speech/show announcement]

[gradually moving them all to the right... (and five more will go in the next two days)]

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Ginowan One Day Marlin Tournament

Have to interrupt the China pictures for a marlin tournament.  

Yesterday we left Zamami at 8:30am to join a one-day trolling tournament.  At 11am, as I was explaining to a new girl how some of the finer parts of marlin fishing and catching work when something caught my eye behind one of the lures.  I'd been watching intently, looking for any variation in the streams of water, bubbles, and splashes when I caught a rustle of white water behind the lure on the right (long) outrigger.  I perked up and the girl asked me what happened.  I wasn't confident in what I'd seen so I didn't answer, but kept watching.  A full minute later I saw the white water again and felt confident enough to call it out.  I shouted "右" (right) and jumped up.  I said I'd seen a fish come up behind the right lure.  A few seconds later he came back and hit the lure, tripping it off the outrigger, which confirmed to everyone else that my claim was in fact accurate.   Just a few seconds later he hit the lure hard and we were off to the races.

[I had lost the janken (rock, paper, scissors) battle so this was not my fish to fight]

I was the leader man on this fish, which was still a pretty energetic fish after an hour-long fight.  This gave me some nerves since handlining the fish in for the last 40 feet is dangerous, but he came up with surprising ease.

We fished the remaining three hours uneventfully, then went two hours to Naha for the weigh-in.

[Team Heartland with our 95kg (210lb) marlin]


In this tournament the rules stated that we had two line weight classes: 50lb and 80lb+.  Most fishermen fish with 80lb. line or stronger, which is why a fisherman who uses 50 pounds gets a multiplier for their fish.  Recognizing this advantage, our captain bought a 5000m spool of 50lb. line and we changed out the line on three of our reels Friday night.  The fish that was weighed in before ours was 112kg, but they used 80lb line.  Our 95kg fish was given the 50lb multiplier and our final weight was 122kg, which was enough to win first prize.

We have entered five tournaments in the last four years and this is our third first-place finish.  This one also came with a couple thousand dollars, which was a nice sweetener.