Toll Free: 800.328.8368 Phone: 512.328.5221

VENT travelers share their memorable experiences from their favorite Tour or Cruise.

We would love to hear about your VENT traveler experiences! For more information, please click on News Briefs.  Read more in the June 9, 2020 article to learn how you can submit your written document and one image for your experience.

November 23, 2020
Looking for Judy in Papua New Guinea

By Tom Taylor

During a VENT trip to Papua New Guinea in 2012, I must confess I developed a distaste for sitting high in bright white tourist vans, roaring down rural roads (once almost sliding off!), then crawling through villages, local folks staring at us while going about their business in a world we kept on the other side of the glass. We were at once too hurried and too nervous to stop.

Or that’s how I reacted, anyway, as have lots of others I’ve traveled with. But my wife Judy? She was the principal of an Austin elementary school in a challenging community, and dealt with all sorts of folks every day. People do not scare her; quite the contrary. On that same 2012 trip, we were at the airport at Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea—a dirty, crowded, disorganized place, in a city not renowned for friendliness. We managed to check in for our flight, then huddled as a group while hawkers offered skulls of hornbills, assorted other animal parts, and unidentifiable snacks. Then, suddenly, I couldn’t find Judy…

…and then I did, and I will never forget the scene. She was sitting on the floor against a wall, surrounded by a group of four Papuan women and girls, laughing, gesticulating, communicating in some universal language. The rest of us were wary and subdued; she was having a grand time!

September 10, 2020 See 'um and Save 'um Bolivar + Bolivia + Blue-throated Macaw
By Patricia and David Davidson

This story begins near Victor's house on the Bolivar Peninsula and ends in Bolivia, both places named for Simon Bolivar—seems fitting. We were attending a bird outing led by Victor when he was on the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) Board of Directors, in the spring of 2007. Also on the trip, in addition to a few other participants, were Dr. George Fenwick, then President of ABC, and Mike Parr, then Director of Conservation. It was a wonderful spring migration outing on the beach, at High Island, at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, and at numerous other spots. Discussion while not birding was about bird conservation, focused on habitat preservation for endangered species. ABC had devised the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) to focus on specific birds at risk and their habitats for priority conservation.

Three months later we were on a VENT tour to Bolivia led by Steve Hilty, guide extraordinaire, to Noel Kempff Mercado National Park and the area around Trinidad in the Beni region of Bolivia, all very birdy. This was a trip we had wanted to go on for years. In Santa Cruz, we climbed into our three small planes, and the missionary pilot flew us first to Mira Flores in the north part of the park for a few days, and then to a grass strip at Los Fieros in the south, where we spent another few days. After a few days birding, we boarded our planes for the trip back to Trinidad, arriving just before a terrific storm with high winds and rain. That evening we celebrated the 82nd birthday of trip participant Dr. Doug James, one of Steve Hilty's professors at the University of Arkansas.

The following day's agenda was to drive about 30 miles south of Trinidad to find the rare Blue-throated Macaw. We found them on a run-down cattle operation, where we saw and photographed about half a dozen of these magnificent macaws, one of the highlights of the tour. Patricia was profoundly affected after seeing these birds in such bad habitat. And there the idea was conceived as to how to protect these amazing birds. A connection between ABC and AZE was at the forefront of our ideas.

After arriving home, we called George Fenwick to inquire about the possibility of doing something to ensure that the Blue-throated Macaw did not go extinct. ABC subsequently sent someone to Bolivia to investigate and discovered that Armonia, a Bolivian bird conservation NGO, had been working with people around Trinidad to stop the caged bird trade in Blue-throated Macaws, trying to find a substitute for the use of their tail feathers in headdresses used in local ceremonies and speaking with children about the need to conserve these birds—their birds. Armonia had a lot of knowledge about where the macaws were and their biology, and was ready to find a sanctuary for them. There were two populations of the macaws: about 20 birds in the north, they thought, and very isolated, and a southern population of 35 birds. Armonia soon found a suitable site for a preserve, if money could be found to buy a ranch in the Llanos de Moxos, where the area is flooded about half the year, similar and not too far from the Brazilian Pantanal.

Soon thereafter, ABC raised the funds for purchase of a 9,000-ha ranch in the Beni, 175 km northwest of Trinidad, and the Barba Azul Nature Preserve was founded. The bird count is 320 species, and it increases each year. The mammal count is 27 species. Today Barba Azul is 27,180 acres with 4 cabins and a dining facility, a field station for the research students who come each year. The Blue-throats are now about 400 and increasing. Also, there is now a second preserve about 45 km south of Trinidad for the southern population.

Thank you Victor, VENT, Steve Hilty, Armonia, ABC, and many others.

See 'um and Save 'um.

VENT's next Bolivia: Endemic Macaws & More tour will operate September 3-18, 2021 (Part I) and September 17-28, 2021 (Part II).

July 10, 2020 Hoatzins on the Amazon River Cruise
By Sherry Rhodes, Sarasota, Florida

My husband and I retired and moved to Florida in May 2019. It was a hectic time with our daughter graduating from college, selling our home, and moving to a new state. Shortly after moving into our new place, we received a postcard mailing from VENT about the Amazon River Cruise scheduled for February 2020. I had always wanted to do a trip like that, but with all the upheaval of moving and selling our home, I thought it just wasn’t the right time. However, I kept that large, colorful mailing on my bedside table and found myself looking at it multiple times a day. My husband noticed this, and after a couple of weeks, he said, “I think we should go.” I was so excited, and we immediately signed up and began to anticipate this wonderful experience. Another bonus was that one of the guides for the trip was Andy Whittaker, who had guided another excellent VENT adventure we took in Scotland in 2018.

One bird that I really wanted to see on this trip was the Hoatzin. This is just such an unusual and exotic bird, and I thought seeing a bird like that in a setting like the Amazon would be an incredible memory. When the day came that we arrived in the area where the Hoatzins live, we all got into our skiffs in the late afternoon and approached a very quiet and placid lagoon-like lake off the river. The light was incredible as the guides cut the motors and we glided toward the tree where the Hoatzins liked to congregate. We all stayed very quiet as we approached the tree…and there they were! Several of these unique-looking birds were perched in full view, and we were able to view them for a prolonged period. I will never forget that sight, surrounded by the sounds of the Amazon rainforest and the water lapping the shore. I’m even more glad now that we went ahead and took that trip, since it is the last trip we took before travel shut down due to the pandemic. My new mantra is: Take trips when you have the chance, because we never know when we’ll get another opportunity.

VENT’s next Amazon River Cruise will operate January 27-February 5, 2022.