Sunday, January 23, 2011

giant spiders, three-toed sloths, and walking sticks

After a good night's sleep and another American breakfast, we headed to the guide post for our guided walking tour of the rainforest. We were driven a couple miles down the road in one of the resort's trucks and dropped off with our guide Pedro. The mid-morning sun was hot as we walked along a trail that ran parallel to the road. Pedro pointed out a massive spider resting on a leaf and I cautiously took a picture of it, not wanting it to leap at my face or spray venom in my eyes. I didn't know exactly what terrors the exotically dangerous animals of the rainforest had in store for us, but I was going to worry about them regardless.

Once we entered the forest, the scene became more similar to the walk Deb and I had taken the previous day. The bright sunlight was hidden by the densely layered canopy of foliage. The few thin streams of light shone sunny spots here and there on leaves and fallen logs. But very little light was lucky enough to reach the jungle floor. As we walked, Pedro told us about the plants and animals indigenous to the area and he'd pose questions to us in a game show manner that was both charming and educational. Pedro was also amazing at spotting animals high up in trees that we would never had noticed without his assistance. He carried a telescope with a tripod and after setting the sights on an animal high in the trees, would invite us to have a look. If you line the lens up just right, you can take photos utilizing the telescope:

We got to see a three-toed sloth languorously eating a finger-shaped fruit high in a tree and a giant black lizard, also high in a tree. Pedro led us to a rickety old bird blind where we could see a huge tree overlooking a wide point in the river. Sitting in the tree were white birds, hundreds of them, as plentiful as fruit, just hanging out, doing what birds do. I was hoping that a loud noise of some kind would startle them and they'd all fly out of the tree at once... but nothing like that happened. Now all of this wildlife was really amazing, don't get me wrong. It's just that we were really hoping to see some monkeys.

Pedro heard monkeys in the trees once or twice, but they were far away. He even cupped his hands over his mouth and did a kind of hooting monkey call, but it didn't seem to attract any real monkeys and we continued on our way. Pedro took us to a a mangrove tree that had the most amazing root system. Each root was thin (about an inch or two), hard as a rock, and up to six feet high. They snaked out from the truck in waves, creating walls of undulating tree roots. And here is a picture in lieu of a thousand more words.

We made our way back toward the pickup point and Pedro's eagle eyes spotted a grey hawk high up in a tree. He zeroed in on it with the telescope and gave Deb and I a closer look. It was odd to see such a familiar looking bird in such an exotic setting. And while we were looking up at the hawk, a more exotic animal, an insect named Phasmatodea, or walking stick insect, fell out of a tree and landed on my arm. This resulted in a surprising lack of surprise on my part and almost no high-pitched shrieking. I think I was stunned by the sheer size of it the thing. It then proceeded to jump onto Deb (she also reacted with surprising nonchalance at having a "Temple of Doom"-sized bug on her). When the aptly named stick walked onto her butt, I took a picture of it.

We met up with Jack and he drove us back to the resort. We had a quick lunch and rested up for one last hike before it got too dark. One last search... for monkeys.

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