Sunday, November 30, 2008

Peñas Blancas

Directly from homestays, less than half the group took off for the “epic hike” to Peñas Blancas for a five day stay in the rainforest on the Caribbean side. We packed as lightly as possible and got wrapped up in our ponchos and headed off into the mist and rain. The hike was about fifteen kilometers (about 8 miles) up and over the continental divide, into the heart of the rainforest conservation, down a trail marked “Cerrado: Closed.” The heavy rain is more than it has been in years. In rubber boots we crossed several “streams” and small (and not so small) rivers—one of which I crossed by crawling across a fallen tree, much to the horror of my professor who arrived just as I was encouraging the other students who were coming up from behind to cross. They crossed by holding a rope held by myself and another student who had crossed via log—wading through strong water up to their hips. The horses that carried our food could only make it half way—they couldn’t cross the final river. Therefore a small group of us had to hike back and carry the food for the group (16 total with teachers, for 5 days).

It rained every day in Peñas—this made the hikes muddy, and the students smelly, but we stayed in good spirits. This forest is by for the most picturesque, typical “rain forest.” Plus, the extra water meant that the swamps and creeks were teeming with frogs. Everywhere we went frogs scattered at our feet and orchids dangled in our faces—the most amazing orchids I could ever imagine. They are big and smelly or practically microscopic. And we were with the best person in the world to be exploring this land. Eladio Cruz, the man for whom the station at which we stayed was named, has had orchids, trees, frogs and insects named for him. He knows the species of every plant and animal on this land—in fact, when we came upon an orchid that he didn’t recognize, we collected it to bring back to Monteverde—surely it must be a new species. Eladio used to own this land, it was his farm before he sold it to the Science Center to be added to the conservation. This man, who has only up to sixth grade in schooling, has taught and lead countless conservationists and the world’s leading biologists, and he is our guide, and our cook. On the first night we went hiking, Eladio caught us frogs seemingly out of nowhere, and of course knew each species. But that night it was me that had the find of the day—I found the Fer de Lance: one of the world’s most deadly snakes. Apparently they’re all over this place, and I nearly stepped on it. No big deal. I mean, Eladio was bit three times years ago, and he’s okay. Just another hike in Costa Rica…

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