Post of Posts

Hey friends!

Our journey around the world has nearly come full circle and now we turn our steps homeward. If you’re following along in posts you might be surprised since the previous post put us in Vietnam. But to travel, live, and write every day is a tall order and we long ago accepted the blog would always lag behind our footsteps. Now that we’re headed home to new lives, time to add to this blog will become scarce, but I don’t want to leave this project half-finished. So I’ve slimmed the number of remaining blog posts down to those with the most meaning to us. This isn’t easy because it means giving up perfectionism and completionism that rely on in life, the obsessions that carried me through college and my PhD. “It was all wonderful! I want to show you everything!” the voice in my headspace shouts. But time is limited and new projects beckon.

Thousands of stories, only so much time.

Since this is an illustrative example of the universal problem of ‘more thing to do than time allows’, I’m sharing my thought process below on how I chose the remaining blog posts. I keep the titles of all future posts written in a word processor document, so I went through and asked myself whether each title had a story I had to write. Did it have something that need to share with you?

Most of the posts I erased were ones meant to make the blog a complete timeline of our travels. I cleared out most of the posts detailing our transitions between cities or countries because you can figure out when we’ve gone somewhere new—we’re a travel blog. I also found a lot of posts that were simply photos of a city followed by an article about something specific in the city; I’ve combined these posts into one. And some things were just unmemorable. If I looked at the title of a post and couldn’t immediately recall what it was about, out it goes.

The post ‘to-write’ list, before and after. Double-dashes mark breaks between countries.

The end result is that I’ve more than halved the number of posts left, from 200 to around 90. I’d estimate that this will save me about 40% of my writing time because many of the posts I removed from the ‘to-write’ list were short and easy and the remaining posts are more in-depth. But they all have something I want to tell you about our travels, stories from our journey around the world.

A Jungle Adventure

Our six hours in the jungle began at 10 in the morning on the side of the road on the north end of town. We met up with Cameron, his dog Rousy running around us as he led us up the damp road at the foot of the mountain. The road passed by small houses with large gardens, herds of cattle, and sweeping views of what was once dense old growth forest now cleared for grazing and development by the local honcho.

Cows graze on the hillside

At two thousand dollars or more per tree, the temptation for profit looms large and leaves visible scars in the landscape and ecosystem. The hectares of cleared forest allows wind, flooding, and erosion through to areas that had never before had problems. Higher up the mountain, the road narrowed and steepened past the clearings and into untouched jungle. Rousy trotted along easily, turning around to see why we slow humans had stopped : usually water or breath. At a point where the trail split into three, along the left path, Cameron’s finca – plot of land – began and Rousy led the way.

The allure of this trip was for us the chance to explore almost untouched rain forest : to hike and see what animals we could. Cameron had hopes of finding and clearing a route to the waterfall on his property – the end goal of all this being starting an eco tour and hostel business for the more nature-loving crowd.

From the outside a rain forest seems imposing and dense, every visible nook and cranny filled with green or brown. From the inside, the density is lessened. The natural order of large trees, winding vines, and broad-leafed plants does not allow for the infinitely dense foliage seen from outside. There are paths to walk on, clearings to rest in, and, as with any good forest, and infinite number of directions to get lost in. As in many other forests, every path looks almost exactly the same as any other, and past a few meters the leaves and branches blend together with only the shape of the land as a guide.

Cameron and I look down the trail

The start of our trail was roughly cut and fairly slippery, riding the edge between downward slopes on either side. Handholds and careful footing were the rule, with special caution for trees baring needle-like spines waiting for a careless hand. Our first animal encounter also fell into the caution label : a lone bullet ant on a branch across the path.

At about an inch and a half long, this ant is generally not aggressive, but when provoked can deliver a sting that’s rated as one of the most painful in the world.IMG_1716
Eventually withering into nothingness the trail led us to a small clearing pointing to three or four possible paths, with no clear trail in sight.
We chose to go left down the slope we were currently on top of. This direction was steeper and muddier than the trail before it, but space between the trees marked a walkable line.

One of the strange flowers we saw

As we reached the bottom, it became clear that the patch of forest ahead of us, behind us, to the right and to the left, all looked identical. Fearing getting lost, we taped markers on trees to little effect. In the clearing at the bottom of the slope we found a small river leading to the right of our original trail. A group vote on direction ensued and we chose to turn right, following the slope along the river.

Some minutes of scrambling and climbing later the vegetation became too dense and the slope too steep to pass forcing us to turn around. Deciding to walk in the stream, we began with my

Foliage covers a view of the river

unceremonious slip down a meter of mud, landing shin deep in water. The others were more graceful in arriving.From now on our trek was up a clear river, deep enough at times to swim in though usually no more than ankle deep. Its curving route led us up and around the righthand slope, presenting fallen trees, rock faces, and wide pools as obstacles. While we were never in any immenent danger, at every turn the river gave us just enough challenge to keep the trip interesting and exciting. At all times there were birds audible but invisible -except when flying- overhead, and the bellowing calls of monkey troupes was a constant background effect. In the river we found a palm-sized river spider, to Natalie’s delight.

A river spider, 6 inches long

Of interest on our trek up the river were : several clusters of frog eggs encased in crystal clear jelly overhanging the river,IMG_1759
a small group of strawberry poison dart frog (Bastimentos color variety),IMG_1746and a simply massive tree fallen above the path. IMG_1772
A few small waterfall climbs, a scramble up a rock wall, and a scurry along a fallen tree ramp took us to the end of river, in this case in the form of dense, almost topiary-like vegetation that reduced the flow of water to a trickle and barred any attempts at passing.

Natalie and I near the end of the stream

Perhaps Cameron’s machette, stowed until now, could have gotten us through the tangle. At this point we were four hours in and not eager to get caught in the ever-looming rain. A quick backtrack and a zig-zagging climb up the mountain slope to the right of the river put us on what we thought would be the path out of the jungle. The path here was the steepest we had yet taken on, and only with the help of firmly rooted trees did we make it up. With no further trouble we popped out in the middle of our origina trail, now relatively easy and well cut.

A small jumping spider

For the end of our trip, in lieu of a waterfall, Cameron took us further up the mountain into neighboring land. Here we encountered clear views of Cahuito, the ocean, and the remainder of the vast jungle. IMG_1800Nearby we spotted a cacao tree with one ripe pod holding a dozen or so cacao beans. Each bean is roughly triangular and is covered in a thin layer of pulp. It is this pulp that you eat, and it tastes like pink starburst, but infinitely better. Sucking on our cacao fruit, we headed up the mountain even further to an abandoned navy sighting tower for the U.S.S Argon. Natalie quickly climbed the built-in ladder on the side, Cameron joined shortly after. Rousy and I stayed firmly on the ground.

Natalie climbs the tower

Along the way back we saw several keel-billed toucans in the trees and in flight, and heard the song of the oropendola, a sort of up-pitched whoop and trill. As Rousy ran ahead of us, raptor birds of an undetermined type flew overhead, remnants of the yearly raptor migration numbering in the millions. Quickly descending the mountain we found ourselves back in town, adventured out and ready for lunch. The waterfall remained out of sight this time around, but the jungle trek was well worth it. The sights and sounds of this piece of rain forest were an unique and engrossing experience, and we look forward to Cameron finding the trail and starting his business – tree-houses surrounded by miles of rain forest waiting to be explored.

A small beetle looks back at us

A bus ride through Costa Rica

Buses. The main mode of long distance travel in much of South America: affordable, moderately comfortable, and mostly on time.  After a half night of rest at the modern-looking and modern-costing SJO airport, our journey begins at a bus stop willed into existence on a spare patch of muddy asphalt by the side of the freeway. Chickens roam the tiny hill across the road as several dogs wander around our stop and vehicles rush by, honking as they go. Soon enough we find ourselves on a seven hour trip, staring out of the panoramic windows of a bus at the scenery of Costa Rica: roadway, sinuous and rubble-strewn. The path our bus takes is known fully to the driver and only generally to us. Most of the way – even close to the city – is narrow. Our bus takes a moderate approach, here yielding, there forcing a smaller car to stop. Despite the often dense traffic we are never fully at a stop, only occasionally slowing. As we travel, the background of the roadway changes from the grey of concrete to the green of vegetation. On our eastern side of the Gulf of Nicoya, the great body of water that marks the separation between mainland and peninsula, the jungle concedes to civilization. It is a colored background to the goings on here, but never asserts itself close to people.

The ferry across offers sweeping views of the as-yet faraway coast. From a distance it is a thin, low swatch of green, decorated with an even thinner skirt of beach and cliff. Closer: islands stand out, mountains peak through the blue-grey distance, and the coastline’s majesty is revealed. Cliffs tower over water and the unadorned green comes into focus – trees and large-leafed plants hug the coast and climb as high into the mountains as they can.  At landing, the majesty is somewhat diminished. The sweeping coastline is now at an arm’s distance, the forest lost for the trees.

Verdant, seemingly limitless, the green of forests and mountains is everywhere. In between the jungle lie roadways, here even more narrow than before. The spectacle of plants unfolds before us, slowly : trees too numerous to count, leafy vegetation, brilliant red flowers. The bus has permanently slowed to stay on the road. As the hours pass, the initial awe of this place, as seen from the bus window, wears thin. Our eyes glaze as yet more green is revealed. We sit and bask in the unending stretch of life only sometimes broken by a field or farm or town. Here, civilization is surrounded on all sides by jungle, neither encroaching on the other.

A final bus transfer and another hour of winding road through the mountainous peninsula, we arrive in Montezuma. On foot the awe of this place is recaptured and enlarged. The jungle has a voice : chirping, hissing, clicking, roaring – and a smell : wet, wet leaves, wet dirt, sweat. In this five-street town, and in the towns around it, the jungle does not hide but instead covers all but the most fastidiously maintained roads and buildings.  Our room –  one hill and and one vegetation-enveloped stair climb from town – offers a view of green and brown and sometimes blue. The trees and broad-leafed plants grow large. A troupe of monkeys perches on the tallest tree in our circle of forest, howling louder than the passing buses. The jungle does not threaten us, but would swallow the house and road and town whole if given the chance.