Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The CFZ in Guyana: A Review

Last night I finished reading one of the two new book releases from the Center for Fortean Zoology: The CFZ Expedition Report 2007. The other latest release from CFZ Press - Michael A. Woodley's In the Wake of Bernard Heuvelmans - will be reviewed here next week.

But what about the Guyana book?

Well, this is one that definitely does not disappoint.

As readers of this blog will know, late last year the CFZ sent a five-person, CAPCOM-sponsored team to the wilds of Guyana to search for a whole range of weird and wonderful beasts - including giant anacondas, a hairy man-beast known as the Di-Di, an unidentified aquatic animal, and much more.

Consisting of CFZ zoologist Richard Freeman; Lisa Dowley; Dr. Chris Clark; journalist, author and TV script-writer Paul Rose; and the William Burroughs of cryptozoology: Jon Hare, the team spent an exciting - and at times distinctly harrowing - time battling heat-stroke, insects, broken bones and much more as they sought to unravel the truth and separate fact from folklore with respect to the monsters of Guyana.

And now, with the publication of the Expedition Report, you can finally read the full and unexpurgated story of what happened on what was surely the most difficult trek that CFZ investigators have ever endured.

With an Introduction from Jon Downes and a Foreword from Dr. Karl Shuker, the main body of the book is split into five sections, giving each of the team members the opportunity to record their own thoughts, recollections and observations of the expedition.

Your initial reaction might be that if no less than five people are all talking about the same expedition, things would get both repetitive and tedious pretty quickly. But you'd be very wrong.

The great thing about each team-member's report is that it is very different, unique and personal to the individual in question.

For example, as CFZ resident zoologist, Richard Freeman digs deep into the meat of the matter: he reveals some truly startling and eye-opening accounts pertaining to (a) wild encounters with Bigfoot-like entities (including one of a truly vicious nature); (b) red-faced pygmy-sized beings that Richard believes may be related to the Homo florisensis of the Indonesian island of Flores; (c) the savage Water-Tiger (is it a mystery felid, a mustelid or something else?); (d) numerous accounts of truly huge anacondas reported from Guyana, and much more.

Paul Rose's contribution is a very humorous one that focuses more upon the trials and tribulations that came with trying to get fit for the expedition; the hazards facing anyone who decides to head off to an exotic location in search of monsters; and the highs, lows and challenges that come with a road-trip on the other side of the world. Paul also reveals the intriguing story of his own encounter with a mystery animal a few years ago on the Isle of Wight.

As Jon Downes rightly points out, the expedition seems to have turned Jon Hare into a modern day William Burroughs, and his brief contribution will not disappoint - in any capacity!

Dr. Chris Clark reveals welcome material on 30-foot-long snakes, more on the mysterious pygmies of Guyana, as well as his own thoughts on the expedition as a whole and what was achieved.

And, finally, there is Lisa Dowley, who provides the reader with a very welcome, and highly detailed report that takes the reader from the very beginning - at Heathrow Airport, London - and right into the heart of the heat-soaked landscape of Guyana. Like Richard, Lisa has much to discuss about what the team was told with respect to the various unknown animals said to roam the land, such as Guyana's equivalent of the Yeti, and the Water-Tiger. Lisa also reveals a great deal on the team's trip to a small cave that housed a couple of urns containing ancient human remains; as well as her struggle to overcome a broken finger, smashed shoulder, and infected toe.

In addition, the book contains a fantastic photo section, that is comprised of no less than 68 pictures, and that graphically, and collectively, provide the reader with a truly excellent insight into Guyana's terrain, landscape, culture and weird and wonderful creatures.

You also get for your money an insightful piece from Jon Downes that describes his own recollections as he coordinated things from the CFZ Head Office in England, handled media publicity, and liaised with me when things got somewhat hairy after contact was mysteriously lost with the "Guyana Five" for a day or two.

And with another report from Richard Freeman on giant snakes, and a paper that details the sterling work of the next generation of the CFZ - Ross, David and Greg - this 239-page book is a fantastic addition to the CFZ's already-impressive output.

For me, the thing that stands out more than any other about this book is the way in which it reveals the team's dedication, enthusiasm, love of adventure and intrigue, and the willingness to (literally) risk life and limb as they seek to uncover the truth - and actually come away with copious amounts of notable data, too.

A book that tells us as much about strange creatures as it does about the people who search for them and why, The CFZ Expedition Report 2007 is a revealing, insightful and informative look at what really goes on when the CFZ goes on an overseas, exotic quest for monsters.

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