Day 5: Rivers, jungles and Puerto Viejo
The day begins early. I am getting used to these early starts. I like my little cabin in the forest but it is not easy to get a good night’s sleep. Although the days are sunny, the evenings are chilly. My bed feels damp and a cold clammy feeling breaks my slumber in the early hours. It is then when I reach for my head torch, pen and travel journal. The dawn chorus breaks, the howler monkeys begin and I make my way to the cold shower and my little frog on the window ledge who launches himself at me for his morning greeting.
After our usual breakfast there is a short walk to the pontoon. It has rained heavily overnight, the leaves are covered in water droplets and the vegetation smells earthy and damp. A golden orb spider repairs his broken web as we march past his threaded world. Down at the pontoon we settle into two boats, lifejackets, cameras, rucksacks all loaded. We are lucky enough to have the boat with the oars rather than the noisy outboard engine. The boat glides out silently over the lagoon, the little red and blue crabs shoot back into their holes as the our shadow drifts past. There is a distant rumble of thunder and the skies out towards the sea are a threatening but beautiful bluey-grey; full of rain. A young blue heron (which is actually white) glides elegantly by as we skim past the mangroves with their amazing protruding roots in search of new swampy ground. Sometimes these roots fall from 15 feet high. A black eagle swoops through the trees and down a small tributary perching hidden amongst the vegetation. Still the distant thunder rumbles. There is silence on our boat as we take in this watery stillness and the atmosphere of the approaching storm. The reflections of the forest on the water provide a new perspective to this beautiful coastline.
Eventually our boat pulls aside a bank so that we can enter the primary rainforest for our next adventure which the students will either love or hate. Rainforests are dark, claustrophobic places, bursting with insect life but short of visible birds and mammals. It is not that they are not there but that they are often high in the canopies rather than in the understory. The forest floor is the realm of the amphibian, rodents and insect life.
Walking through primary rainforest is a really immersive experience. You have to open your eyes wide, all the time watching where you put your feet: snakes, spiders and poisonous toads inhabit this damp world. In the distance we can spot spider monkeys through our binoculars and we can hear toucans and other birds high above us. The gigantic rainforest trees with their enormous trunks are the highlight. There are fig trees and giant Kopak trees with their astonishing protruding spider-like roots and giant buttresses. These jungle trees are draped with mosses, lichens, bromeliads, and orchids and below them, the forest floor is bursting with life; tiny poisonous froglets and giant spiders perfectly camouflaged in the leaf litter.
After an hour’s walking, our forest adventure comes to a close and it is back on the boats. Some students are glad whilst others wish they could have stayed for much longer. But back at base, we pack up our rucksacks, have lunch and say goodbye to this beautiful, remote place as we board the bus for Puerto Viejo . I am truly sorry to be leaving.
The bus journey is relatively short as we travel north along the Caribbean coast to a coastal resort. It is here where we arrive at a beautiful hotel, only a short walk from the centre of town. The afternoon is free to explore the beach and the resort, and to acclimatise to the busy and colourful Caribbean culture. The waves are good and there is a vibrant surf culture. It is impossible to feel glum as reggae beats and the smells of Caribbean cuisine drift past our senses. It is quite a contrast from where we have just been. I soak in the atmosphere and head back to the hotel where I am sat outside on a wooden balcony writing this diary. Dinner is fun, followed by a blissful a hot shower and a very comfortable bed … ahh luxury at last.