To get into the cloud forest you first scramble past the hydrangea and on up through blackberry fields and plum and peach orchards on forty-five degree slopes. The craggy moss covered fruit trees seem older than you’d expect and are encircled with vines. There are Chlorophonias munching contentedly on the fuzzy little peaches. They move in small flocks, watching from behind the fruits and then swoop on green wings down to the next set of trees. From many branches a ridiculously large melon hangs down into the tussocks of grass. Below, the slope falls off down through forest remnants cleared for cattle and charcoal and into San Gerardo de Dota where the river tumbles among Swiss-style gingerbread houses and trout ponds and the lodges for the bird-watching Europeans.
Beyond the orchard are a few meters of scrub and fern brakes and stumps left from when the first farmers to the area cut the trees and tried to terrace parts of the slope – and then massive laurels and oaks towering over an understory of ferns and bromeliads. A squirrel races along a dead branch. Two black vultures bend their necks for a glance. Flycatchers and redpolls dart in for a closer look and then decide you’re not at all worth it. A trogon just couldn’t be bothered. But no Quetzal. There are tapir and peccary prints in the mud and sometimes big piles of some sloppy feces but what you really want to see is jaguar sign.
These hills are steep. There where an old oak has recently fallen you can see that down below a farmer burns off a pile of scrub. Otherwise the cloud forest is dark. Green is all you can see so the moment in the sun is a perfect break. The blue Rio Savegre trickles down into the valley from countless creeks even higher in the hills now lost above in the clouds – hills like these up in Talamanca between the Chirripo and the Cerro de los Muertos where desperate people once walked from the coast to the Central Valley, succumbing to rain and cold among the lady’s slipper and gooseberry and grasses in the páramo.
Further up, where the trail is wet, the bugs laugh at the organic “eco” repellant, lapping it up like frosting on a delicious cake. Then they head for the ears.
There are no smells up in the cloud forest. Nothing. The air is a cool fresh, loaded with ions from the creeks that run down under the green and mumble and whisper along calling out names like someone talking just around the bend.
~ ~ ~