Soooooo the Rainforest. I've been hearing about this magical and important place my whole life and here was my first opportunity to see it live in person. I'm not really a plant person, but still it was kind of exciting.
For reference, we were on the south end of the Caribbean side of the country - near the border with Panama - The National Refuge - Gandoca Manzinillo. But we actually started off at the forest guide's home - just meters from the beach. It was lovely.
The general procedure for this initial part of the tour was him walking around to various plants, pulling off a leaf for us and telling us to 'smash & smell' it then guess what it was. In this manner we were introduced to a variety of citrus fruits - relatives of limes and oranges and grapefruit that we just don't have in the US. He also showed us lemon-grass and citronella, tumeric, all spice, the root from which we get tumeric, and the bark of the cinnamon tree. We saw a bright red flower that was a variety of the ginger family. Who knew the humble root had such pretty flower attached to it? This man had an entire spice cabinet outside his front door! He showed us a fruit that was inedible but contained a dye that could be used as 'rainforest make up' and the ylang-ylang flower used to make Chanel #5 perfume. Oh, and nuts! We saw almonds and cashews. I had no idea those were from the tropics.
The most fun was when he showed 'miracle berries' - first he handed us a few star-fruits and had us take a bite and laughed as we puckered up our faces - Oooooh! Sour! Then he handed us each a tiny berry and told us to suck on it for a few minutes. As we did the berry which had a taste and texture not entirely unlike a grape, became sweeter and sweeter. We spit out the seeds, then he had us bite into the star-fruit again, and this time it was sweet! Rainforest magic tricks - not too shabby!
Because it was such an interactive tour I didn't have time to get many pictures... and of those I did... I wasn't able to remember which plant was which. An unknowing person wandering through the garden would see nothing more than a bunch of plants and completely miss all the amazing properties they had. It was a real treat to have someone explaining it all to us.
These plants smell AMAZING, and look really funky, but I can't for the life of me remember the name.
One guide spoke several languages, Spanish, English, a bit of the Indigenous Bri-Bri language, and the local dialect (creole? pidgen?) which was a Caribbean mix of the three. His English was awesome, his Caribbean accent and the rhythm to his sentences was just really fun to listen to.
After the initial tour of his garden he took us on a walk along the beach to the forest.
We saw this little orange crab... very cute. He also took out his machete and made short work of a coconut he found on the ground. It was amazing - first he took off the husk in about four moves - hack, wiggle the machete through the fibers, hack, wiggle, hack - and it was off. Then, holding the coconut in one hand he proceeded to crack through the shell and flick off chunks of it while leaving the inner flesh completely intact. It was a seriously impressive way to provide a hiking snack - screw trail mix!
As we were munching on our fresh coconut, he pulled up a coconut tree sprout and asked if any of us had seen a coconut seed growing? Being from Portland, no, no we had not. He sliced through the coconut and showed us how the roots went out one end - the tree goes out the other end, and in the middle, it turns into a sponge. It was weird and hard to describe, so I will steal from the interwebs:
Thank you W.P. Armstrong 2003
Our guide broke off pieces of the sponge and told us to eat them - it was weird, sweet with a mild coconut flavor but a weird weird texture, maybe like dried watermelon, airy and a bit fibrous.
Eventually we did make it into the actual rainforest, although it was just a half day tour, so we didn't exactly go deep into the heart of the jungle. Just skimmed the edge. I'll confess right now - we didn't see any monkeys or brightly colored parrots or anything super impressive like that. Mostly we just looked at and learned about the different plants and trees.
One funky plant we saw was the tattoo fern. Basically, you place it on your skin, give it a good smack then turn your arm so the fern falls off without smearing.
Speaking of things that can kill you - we did actually see two Eyelash Pit Vipers, one white and one yellow. Sorry kids, but this is as close as I was willing to get to a poisonous snake. (it's in the hollow of the tree - about even with the guide's waist.)
Believe it or not, the coolest animal we saw in the jungle was this Golden Orb Spider. It's web is super strong and glints gold in the sunlight.
Plus it has really cool iridescent markings on it's back. Very very cool.
At the halfway point we went out to a little look out called Miss May Point. It was so incredibly beautiful. Exactly the kind of spot you'd expect to find while exploring the a tropical coastline.
Ahhhhh... much better!
One of the last things we did was go into a coastal cave - a bunch of bats flew out when we went in there.
I swear, the whole trip was very Harry Potter-esque. From the bio-lumenescent sparks in the ocean to the miracle berries that make sour things taste sweet, scary sea-side caves full of batts.... everything. It really was magical.
Next up will be the trip to the Indigenous Iguana Farm. =)