Day 20/23

Morning

This night it has been raining all night long. After breakfast, banana pancakes, we head off with Phillip, the local biologist. A walk of only 1.6 kilometers, takes 4 hours with him, during which he explains how the rainforest works. Very interesting. Here follows a kind of abstract of it:

Heliconias are inseminated by visiting Colibri’s. The production of sugar to make the flowers attractive to Colibri’s costs a lot of energy for the plant and that is exactly the reason that only one of the many flowers contains nectar. The Colibri doesn’t know which one that is and visits them all. The flowers have a form that makes them fill up with water, making it very difficult for bees to get to the nectar. The bees are too small to inseminate the flowers. The Colibri needs 8 times its own weight every day to be able to fly.

Trees here have a maximum age of 120 years. Nothing we see here is older. Trees in temperate forests become much older, sometimes even several thousands of years. All trees here are fast growers to reach the light as fast as possible. For the same reason they have very few branches and in the top only. Liana’s (Tarzan) start growing from the ground. In the beginning they are attracted by darkness. This will bring them often to a tree trunk. Thereafter they become light seekers and they start growing upwards. Liana’s can grow to a length of well over 1 kilometer and become as wide as trees. Some things I used to think of as leaning trees are in fact liana’s. Liana’s can grow so heavy that they become a fatality for a tree. Two trees that are connected to each other by a liana often move in opposite directions in the wind or grow away from each other to break the liana. Liana’s sometimes counteract this by growing as a spiral so that they can stretch and shrink.

The leaf-cutting-ants make really giant holes up to 10 meters deep and the size of a small hill. 40 kubic meters of dirt is excavated on average. The collecting of leaves can be compared with running 3 marathons per day while sprinting up hill, carrying 5 times your own weight and that 24 hours a day. Outside there are three types of ants: soldiers that provide protection, the ants that cut the leaves and carry and very small ants that clean the leaves. There are many other types of ants inside the nest that become smaller in proportion with the depth in the hole. The pieces of leaf become smaller and smaller as well on their way to the deepest chambers, where a fungy is grown that is used as food by the ants.

All communication goes via feromones (scent molecules) that the ants exchange during every contact. More soldiers are grown if too many workers are being killed. If there are too many soldiers, then the news spreads that there should be less soldiers and they are cut in pieces by there own workers. The much larger soldiers let them, because the individual is secondary to the colony.

The colony actually functions like an organism. The queen is around 8 cm long and can become 10 years old. About 5-8 million ants form the colony and during her life the queen lays around 200 million eggs. Ants start working within the nest and as soon as they start collecting leaves outside they have only one week left to live. If it starts raining, the ants drop their leaves and run back to the nest, trying to avoid a bombardment of (for them) gigantic water bombs. All entrances to the nest are sealed from the inside. The ones that return too late have to remain outside. The nests have a very complicated architecture and even contain structures especially for draining water and refreshing air.

We see army ants as well. They march in ordered lines. There are two stages. 1) Moving to another location. Arriving there, they set up a bivouac consisting of ants that hook together. The queen is in the middle laying her eggs. At the same time she sends out feromones to make sure that a major part of the workforce fan out on a raid. 2) Swarms of up to 5 meters wide catch everything on their path. All animals that are caught are cut into pieces and fed to the larvae. Thereafter they migrate because their current habitat has been stripped of animal life completely. They are nomads. A colony consists of around 500.000 ants.

They don’t dare to bother leaf-cutting-ants, because these are much larger in numbers. If they encounter a leaf-cutting-ant path, they make a bridge to cross it. The army ant soldiers have powerfull claws. Locals use them as stitching wire. Place an ant over a wound. Let it bite and break off his body. The muscles to close the jaws are much stronger than the ones to open them. The jaws remain and can be removed later when the wound has healed.

The humidity up in the trees is around 70% with a temperature of 35 degrees, while below at the forest floor it’s 100% and 28 degrees. 99% of the light is absorbed by the canopy, leaving only 1% remaining light for the forest floor. That is the reason it is so dark for photography. Yesterday I shot a few photographs that took 25 seconds to complete. Today things go a bit faster than that. At some places in the canopy there are desert conditions because of the wind.

He has told and showed us so much. Trees that produce turpentine to prevent being eaten, or that have stinging thorns or live in symbiosis with ants or termites to protect them from being eaten.

The poison of a frog that has been discovered proved refined to have the same capabilities as Morphine, without the side effects. When they went back to the part of the rain forest where they had found the frog, it didn’t exist anymore. Recently, substances have been discovered, that can cure or counteract certain forms of cancer (breast, intestine and prostate). 40% of all medicines have their roots in the rain forest. At this moment, every year, 2% of rain forest world wide gets destroyed. Within barely 140 years everything will be lost (did not check this). ‘We know so little about all the mechanisms available in the rain forest, that we don’t know yet what we are throwing away’, according to Phillip.

Most tourists are afraid to get bitten by spiders or snakes (another one overhere) but it is falling trees and branches that can become fatal. Trees are the real killers here. Some trees dispose sometimes branches (as big as complete trees) whenever there is too much growing onto it and the branch becomes too heavy. There is virtually no warning. A loud bang and it is coming down. We see a large tree leaning with 20 degrees. When that comes down it will slam exactly into the path on the other side of the creek. Phillip has been waiting for this for several years now (-; Very interesting stuff.

It has been raining during the whole walk, first calmly, and very hard later on. This time I was prepared. An umbrella saves the day. It is not annoying at all with one. Wouldn’t I have had my photo gear with me, I wouldn’t have bothered and just get wet, because it is not cold.

Afternoon

During the lunch, two Boa’s pass by in front of the restaurant, about 1.5 meters long. I do not photograph them, because they are on a wooden floor. That would not result in nice photographs.

I await the worst rain. It is raining really hard now. At home I almost never see it raining so hard. Here they tell we that this is a 3 on a scale of 1-10. During the raining season it will rain well over 3 times harder. 25 centimeters of water can fall then within an hour. This is very difficult to imagine. Would like to see it though. But to sacrifice a whole trip to it, is a bit too much.

I came here with high expectations because in general so many animals are seen here. Puma’s that sometimes walk by the restaurant for instance. But because of all the rain, I do not see much. I have three options: 1) continue to walk the forest and keep looking for animals, but that does not deliver I have noticed, 2) take a hide in my beautiful cabin, which feels like wasting time, 3) walking in the forest with an umbrella and photograph the things that are easy to find: trees, the place is infested with them and there are so many different ones. So I decide to go back into the forest, but with an umbrella this time. It is doable, only I will be short of hands even more now. I walk a part of the same route as this morning, because I have seen pretty ones overthere.

Jungle

Jungle

Jungle

Jungle

Zwammen

Jungle

Jungle

Jungle

Jungle

Jungle

This is a strangler fig. A bird poops on a branch, leaving a seed. The strangler grows from this seed up and downwards, encapsulating the whole tree, that eventually dies because of it.

Jungle

Right the muddy trail I am following.

Jungle

Jungle

In the end I have been walking and photographing here for 2-3 hours. Around 16:30 I am back and take a nice shower outside. It is still weird to shower outside with your naked butt. Despite a (low) surrounding wall, you can be seen from different sides. Well leave it. Everbody has the same problem, so it doesn’t bother me.

Hereafter I read and relax for an hour in my hammock. Withing the hour, we will have dinner, so I just have enough time to write the story for today and sort the photographs.

I have been asking several people now for the best month to visit. Without exception they tell me april. Many flowers and butterflies and dry weather. The same applied already for Monteverde. If I will ever return (and I hope I will) that will be in april.

The spaceguys are back as well. They have been diving somewhere today. Curious what stories they have this time.

Evening

I am a bit late and most seats are already given. This time I find a seat next to the Canadian couple. Not so good. The guy has to make a funny remark about every 5 minutes and then laughs his ass off, while I can barely pull a light smile on my face for every one of four. Very tiresome. One remark is funny though. In the morning he heared a couple of monkeys in a tree next to his cabin. He smiled at them and immediately got a coconut thrown to his face. This one I can completely visalize. Ah well, he is ok, kind of.

The spaceguys again manage to get all the attention. We talk very briefly when I walk along the buffet, but today they are not interested at all. I am starting to see a pattern. They are addicted to attention. Every meal they sit together with other people to tell them exactly the same stories with a lot of noise. So nice as it seemed yesterday, so unnatural it looks today. They are not really interested in people and their stories, but it is the attention they are after.

At the end of the evening as almost everyone has left for their cabin they are just sitting there, kind of exhausted. I really do not feel like it anymore to start a conversation with them and return to my cabin.

Maps, Charts & Downloads

GPS Map with color coded altitude information

Color coded distance/altitude chart

Color coded distance/altitude chart, Costa Rica Dry Season 2011, Day 20

Download the original gpx file here.

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