Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Costa Rica 17

I am still not sure how we got from our hotel to the start of the jungle trail. Cahuita is such a little one-horse town, with really only one street, that it should have been clear. Maybe I wasn’t paying the best of attention, just letting L lead the way as always. At any rate, once my thoughts, which had probably been wandering all over the place, came back to the reality at hand, there we were. At the start of the trail.

As we approached the ranger station of Park National Cahuita, we passed Donald, just like the guidebook said we would. He is a CR man that sells fresh fruit to people who are going on the walk. I don’t usually buy stuff from vendors, but his pineapple looked so good, I couldn’t resist. There are actually two kinds of pineapples, a fact I did not know. Most of us are very familiar with the yellow kind and this is what comes in most canned pineapple. It is also sweeter and the one most exported. The other one is white, a little tougher and a lot less sweet. Still a very pineapply taste, but I prefer the yellow kind. And that is what he had. So I bought four large pieces for $1 US and put it in the day bag with the rest of our lunch goodies.

Entrance fee to walk the jungle trail was by donation. We each paid 500 colones, which is the standard rate and equal to a dollar, more or less. That done, we headed onto the trail. I had done a lot of reading about this trail and knew that at some point we were going to have to wade across a river to continue on the trail. The book said that it could be thigh deep at high tide and I did not know what time that was. I was not looking forward to that and hoped that we were going to be crossing it at low tide!

The trail was not at all like I had been expecting. I thought we were going to be going on trails that we would probably need a machete to get through. Or at the very least, overgrown and narrow. Not so here. The beautiful Caribbean lay about 30 yards to our left and the jungle was on our right. There were trees and bushes between us and the water, sometimes obscuring the view, but not always.
However, the undergrowth, vines, trees and just general jungle debris on our right did keep us from being able to peer too deeply into the forest. The dirt path was well worn from hundreds upon hundreds of feet traversing it and it was wide enough for two of us to walk abreast. Which usually meant me and B since L is somehow always in the lead.

We were only a couple hundred yards into the 5.5 mile trail when L signaled for us to hold up. He told us to look down, something that I had sorely been neglecting to do. I was too busy either enjoying the beautiful ocean view or trying to see into the jungle or looking overhead for monkeys or sloths. Of course, I should have been looking down occasionally just in case some deadly SNAKE had decided to lie in the path! But it was not SNAKES we saw. It was a line of green, about a yard wide and moving at a pretty good pace. It seemed to emerge from nowhere out of the jungle, cross the path and then disappear into the brush between us and the water. What was it? Answer: leaf cutter ants!
It was incredible to watch them carry their loads, often times 100 times larger than they were. We got down on the ground to have a closer inspection. I could see that on some of them, there was a hitchhiker on board, getting a free ride. We guessed that maybe this ant was there to counterbalance the load, we just did not know. And there were other ants not carrying leaves, but rushing along side. I could just imagine that they were probably soldier ants and probably carried little whips to keep the line moving! We watched them for quite some time and occasional had to warn other trekkers to stop so they would not step on them. It was amazing how many people don’t look down….even when there are three grown men either sitting our lying in the middle of the path!

Many days later we visited a place and got the low down on these ants. They collect these leafy bits not to eat, but to fill their nest. Once in the nest, some kind of bacteria grows on the decaying leaves and that is what they eat. The ants that were hitching rides were actually inspectors. They were there to inspect each bit to make sure that there wasn’t some kind of disease or egg or something on it that would infect the nest were it to be brought in. And the little ants I thought were soldiers were just that. Except they were there to protect the workers, not to whip them into working harder!

We said goodbye to our fascinating ant friends and moved on down the path. This rain forest jungle was an incredible place. It was both beautiful and eerie at the same time. Trees were everywhere but in no orderly fashion at all. They just seemed to have sprung up wherever there was enough light and room for them. There were vines of every shape, size and description. Some hanging from tree branches, some wrapped around the trunks or branches of trees, some just slithering their way along the ground, up and over any object that got in their way. There were leaves and bushes of every kind. It was almost sensory overload with so much to see. And it was hard to focus. Everything seemed to be somehow intermingled with the thing next to it, obscuring the original shape and taking on a new form, only to change again when another vine or branch joined it. Amazing stuff.

At one point, as we walked along, I said to L, “I wonder where that dog is and what in the world is it doing in the jungle?” I had been hearing a dog bark from somewhere off in the jungle for a few minutes. He just laughed. He told me it wasn’t a dog, it was monkeys! So much for Wayne the Naturalist! I just hoped they stayed wherever they were and did not venture onto the path.
After awhile, I calmed down on this walk, but at first I was very nervous. I was nervous that something was going to get me. Either I would grab on to it, step on it or it would leap silent from a tree. I kept my eyes wide open and looked at everything. Sometimes twice even! Every once in awhile some harmless lizard would slither from the edge of the path into the underbrush, making quite the noise. Each time this happened, I would stop dead in my tracks, unable and unwilling to take another step until I ascertained what had made the noise! Eventually, though, I got over this, relaxed and totally enjoyed the outing.

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