Experimental Tropical Marine Ecology

“Si hay un deseo, hay un camino”
by -- October 7th, 2009

If there’s a will, there’s a way! A Bastimentos hike.

The thick smell of matted leaves and overturned mulch mingles with the cloying odor of standing water. High above, the canopy is a lush green quilt; massive grandfather trees stretch toward the sun, closing their branches in a steamy embrace. Flies buzz overhead, circling like vultures around and around. A cicada screams- cheecheecheeee. Life springs from every centimeter of the land, vigorous and lush.

Today we are hiking Bastimentos. The boat drivers carefully maneuver us through a tunnel of mangrove trees to a waterlogged wooden dock. Three men appear to greet us and Dr. Diaz asks to hire one as a climbing guide. The locals are apprehensive and we learn from the Spanish discussion that the path to the top is “muy dificil.” Gung-ho, we pile out of the boat and onto shore. There are several straw-thatched buildings, a few wet-looking chickens, a pet dog, and even a turkey that skirts the exposed foundations. After brushing through a field of plants with small, round, wet leaves, the forest tightens around us and the trek begins. Little did we know how far the trek would take us. Michelle even found a dead bat!

On flat stretches, the ground is blanketed by fleshy leaves, most brown or ripe-mango orange, all slick with dampness. When the trail becomes vertical, we cling to looping vines and step from foot ledge to foot ledge in the slippery yellow mud. A film of sweat clings to our arms and legs; it pools across our brow like the untouched dewdrops on massive cupped leaves nearby. After a short uphill struggle, we reach the “top”- a small clearing with a single giant tree and a tiny window of blue sky. Then, onwards- under tree boughs, across slanted foot-wide shelves, over plants that protrude from the earth. Deep within the forest the narrow corridor widens, and cocoa seed pods hang from moss coated branches like glowing green lanterns.

The rainforest is breathtaking. It is like Jurassic Park; at any moment we expect the shrill cry of a dinosaur to echo through the hills. We see bright red frogs, a walking-stick bug, and giant ant colonies like dunes on mars. At one point, the guide at the head of the group jumps from branch to branch to knock green coconuts from a high-up tree. After several have fallen to the ground, he lands with a thud, picks one up, and hacks away at it with his machete, liquid seeping from a central opening. The other guide does the same, and soon we are passing around coconut milk- straight from the coconut!

Drenched in sweat, with lines of bug bites around our ankles and mud up and down our legs, we finally return to the welcoming arch of mangroves- only to find the dock underwater! Braving the flow tide, we crawl back onto the boats and wave goodbye to our new guide amigos. It’s extremely hot- high 90s beneath the clutch of the canopy- and the rush of the wind on the open ocean is a cool relief. A bird flies far overhead, tail feathers long and straight, wings arched like boomerangs.

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