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My first year of college in Central Florida included a class trip to Venezuela. As students of a Tropical Ecology Class, one of our goals was to photograph as much wildlife and fauna as possible, in order to really get a feel for the diversity that exists there. Our adventures brought us to Cueva del Guácharo, which is located in the northeast corner of Venezuela, about a two day trek from the main airport in Caracas.

Cueva del Guácharo is unique in that it is home to thousands of oil birds, known by locals as the Guácharo, hence the cave’s name. Like bats, the Guácharos live inside caves, sleep all day, and use echolocation to search for food – mostly fruit. Each night, the Guácharos fly out for their meal – at first just a few here and there, but then in large enough numbers to darken the sky like a fast moving, fluttering cloud that emits a cacophony of clicks and low pitched gurgling sounds.

After spending the day exploring the interior tunnels, we settled down just outside the mouth of the cave, right around dusk when the Guácharos would be making their nightly exit. A couple of us laid right there on the grass and we may, or may not have, indulged in a few shots of rum that we had hidden in our back backs.

As the sun set, a few stars started to show and a few early birds (literally) started to flutter out of the cave. It was such a cool experience to be there so far from home, but under the same stars, watching the oil birds and listening to all of the other night sounds of the rain forest – the hoots, hollers, and chirps of so many exotic critters!

Below: A statue of a Guácharo in the town of Caripe.Cueva del Guácharo-DSC02331Me leaving the cave – it’s so lush and tropical around the cave! Cueva del Guácharo-DSC02340One of my classmates in front of the entrance to the cave. Cueva del Guácharo-DSC02334My Tropical Ecology professor next to a statue of ecologist Alexander von Humboldt, a famous ecologist who visited the cave in 1799. I’m not really sure why he got a statue just for visiting the cave. The translation on the statue literally translates to “Alexander von Humboldt, notable client who visited the cave”.Cueva del Guácharo-DSC02320

When I went to Venezuela, I didn’t have a digital camera yet and I wasn’t as consumed with taking photos as I am today. Also, with film, a lot of times I would think I got a great shot, only to learn later that is was a completely out of focus. Sigh…

Although I don’t have a few thousand cool pics from this experience, I’m kind of glad that I didn’t have a super fancy camera yet, because it forced me to really live in the moment. Today, I tend to get so lost behind the lens, trying to frame the perfect shot, that sometimes I forget to just be present.