09 May Message from Ecuadorian cloud forest
After finishing my work in the Ecuadorian Amazon I was about to have a week to myself on the coast. This was not to be. Like so many of us due to the unforeseen events our lives have changed.
I had returned to Quito and was staying with a friend when I heard that due to Corona Virus all borders were closed, flights to be cancelled and no more buses. I got out of the city on the last bus to Chontal and headed up to the Los Cedros Reserve. http://reservaloscedros.org/
Here I have been for 3 weeks cocooned by Nature. In the middle of 15,000 acres of primary cloudforest. I have spent my days walking in search of the unimaginable. With only a couple of hours internet in the morning and the evening I have had the days to explore. Sometimes I feel like I am in some virtual reality world, it is so surreal.
Everything is covered in a deep green moss with vines hanging to the ground. Huge heart shaped leaves glisten in the rain. Here you can see how the trees create their own weather, ensuring there is continual moisture. When there is not rain there is a thick mist for, we are in the clouds and occasionally very occasionally the sun comes out and the forest transforms. The light enters through the cracks illuminating the bromeliads. Ancient tree ferns remind me of a prehistoric time and violet berries and blue fruit hang like jewels.
Insects with vibrant metallic bodies appear like they have arrived from another planet. Giant black millipedes like armoured tanks and others which appear like small red snakes with hundreds of legs cruise along the forest floor. Snakes slither, praying mantis clean their faces and beetles’ shimmer with an uncommon iridescence.
Fireflys flash their lights whilst fungal cities glow in the dark. Exquisite orchids abound and most can only be seen under the magnifying lens. I admit I am now a self-confessed orchid lover. The faces in them and how phallic they are makes you wonder why. Why do they expend so much energy to be so perfectly beautiful when some only remain for no more than a day?
Multi-coloured hummingbirds shimmer and vibrant butterfly’s flit by never stopping to pose for a photo. Nor does a small winged insect with a red body and bright blue wings.
Fungi of every colour, shape and form imaginable, with names such as dead mans fingers and bright red gelatinous ones are just some to be found. I have seen fungi like bright pink coral, perfect blue and purple mushrooms and a variety of cordyceps. Fungi who have infected an insect , killed it and transformed into a mushroom.
There are a multitude of huge hairy brightly coloured caterpillars and moths. I am now up to 73 different species of moths that come around the light in the evening, mostly when the moon is new and after the rain.
Within a square metre, the variety of plant life and different leaves is incredible expressing the sheer diversity of life. Some are familiar like we have as house plants and can be found in the garden centres, others have a coating of thick fur and the tips of their leaves appear like they have been dipped in pink paint.
Clouds embrace us hiding this kingdom whilst the distant roar of the howler monkeys sounds like thunder travelling through the mist. They are the second loudest mammal on Earth.
The river is also a constant soothing background whilst I discovered that raindrops on leaves sound different depending on the size and kind of leaf. The squawk of the toucan and the buzz of the hummingbirds let you know they are around.
The scent of copal resin and flowers waft down from the canopy. It is rare to see the flowers only those that litter the floor like confetti. They are to be found
in the high canopy. Their perfume at times stops me in my tracks to breathe deeply and savour it and wonder from where it comes and what kind of flower can have such a delicious scent.
Here the common is rare and the rare is common.
We decided to go on a 3-day expedition deeper into the forest. An 8 hour walk uphill through deep mud made me feel like I was in some kind of lost world. Only a year ago National Geographic and the Oregon University came here to study the diversity. This camp had been cleared by the mining company in search for gold and was then used by the scientists. We wanted to check if there had been any more activity by the miners.
Unfortunately, it seems like there has. Martin, a guide here for 25 years is also on lockdown so it has been fantastic to have his eyes and ears to spot what we would otherwise never see. He pointed out that the human and mule prints were no more than a week old. He also showed us we were walking in the steps of puma, bear and wild pigs. There was a larger and smaller puma print which meant a mother and baby had passed by. The spectacled bear print was much larger than I imagined, and he said they weigh about 200kgs and there were numerous prints of differing sizes showing the herd of wild boar that had passed on by rooting up the ground.
When you look around everything just seems so green and you rarely see any life. Yes, I have seen the endangered spider monkeys, quetzal, toucans, capuchin monkeys and numerous crazy insects and the transparent crystal frog but the question is how many eyes are looking at me?
The night falls and different kinds of owls call, frogs and insects sing and once I even heard a deep call of the ocelot far on the other side of the valley. You need no alarm clock to wake up for when the dawn arrives the birds create their orchestra, all competing for a space to be heard. By 8 o’clock they have settled down and all seems surprisingly quiet.
Still you never know during the day what you will find. One thing is for sure every day that I have walked in the forest I have discovered a new species. I have photographed over 100 different species and uploaded them to iNaturalist. Check it out to see some of the incredible life that lives here. I have seen so many more but not been quick enough to capture their photo. Hopefully creating this online resource to show the incredible biodiversity will help in the defence of this vital place.
For now I can swim in the rivers and waterfalls and drink the crystal clear water whilst swimming. Many communities down river also depend on this water birthed in these mountains. I know that water is more precious than gold but sadly not everyone does. The risk to contaminate this vital water source is just not worth it. These last few islands of life, these Noah’s arcs maybe also where we find cures for our future maladies, or who knows maybe even for Corona virus. So many of today’s medicines come from nature who is to say that cures are not waiting in this unstudied forest. It is not just the huge variety of species that live here, still many unnamed by science but the loss of all this knowledge, this information, this evolution.
We are only just waking up to the study of Biomimicry, the wisdom of Nature or as Janine Benyus called it “ The conscious emulation of lifes genius”. What gives these insects their brilliant sheen? Imagine if we could make non toxic surfaces and paints as hard and colourful as they. How does the hummingbird fly like it does? It puts all of our aircraft to shame with their clunky manoeuvrability. How perfectly designed are the flowers here for the hummingbirds beaks. The grasshoppers that looks like leaves and the praying mantis who is disguised covered in moss. How does evolution adapt? For we now are also in a time where we must adapt. Our old ways no longer serve us. We must learn from Nature how to thrive, not just survive, to be more than just consumers. We must learn how to fit in with the wider community and benefit all life.
Living here in this wonderland you see how every species has a part to play, the web here is so tightly woven, every species is like a thread in the tapestry and together they create a world where all is healthy, vibrant and alive. I have never seen so much life and heard about so much death on the same day.
I experienced pain to my threshold when I accidentally put my hand on a tree and beneath the moss was a big furry caterpillar. I thought I had been stung but the look on the guides face said it all…. he told me first he had to kill the caterpillar and put its shit directly where I had been stung….really… then after an hours walk home it continued to get worse until I was delirious in pain for almost 24 hours. The next ‘cure’ was to put my finger in petrol, which did help relieve it for a few moments. So that was my taste of suffering. Apart from that I have been living in paradise.
Now after 3 weeks in Los Cedros I have moved down the hill to help a friend with his organic coffee harvest. His view is incredible, forested mountains, the volcano in the distance, mist in the valley and hummingbirds coming to the feeder. Yesterday we built a new garden as now is the time for us all to grow more food. The only thing is we have very limited internet.
I have just been sent this article and thought I would send you my latest news.
I hope you are all well and dealing in the best way possible with this crazy time
I do look forward to hearing from you
With much love Nicola
From the clouds in the middle of the world