Rainforest Vertical

a Dominican glow-in-the-dark symphony

machete man

Machete man on Dominica. Seemed like a very nice guy.

The best trips require long recoveries.

In this case, struggling with my travel demons, I thrash awake at 3 a.m., throw off the covers, assume the orthodox boxing stance and shout, “There are aggressive Dominican eels in the bedroom!”

“Uhhhh…?” is all I get in response to this important public service announcement. Hmph. This is critical West Indies snorkeling stuff, so I'm insistent, and I reiterate the essential facts. With the second warning I sense vague stirring from the other side of the bed, and maybe Michelle opens one jaundiced eye. She is well-versed in Muay Thai and familiar with my inability to reintegrate with civilization after long trips, so she opts for a metaphysical quick jab and upper cut to recover nicely and vanquish the evil. “There are no eels now. I got rid of them. Go back to sleep.”

Oh good.

And a little later, throwing off the covers and speaking in what I'm sure is a whisper: “Jim. Hey Jim! There’s a guy wandering around outside my tent with a machete.”

“Uh, stop shouting. There are no machetes in the bedroom. I got rid of them. And I’m Michelle. Go to sleep.”

“Oh, right. Right.” I’m home again.

Wait… Am I?

I’m profoundly confused by the scenery. Is this a murky Dominican jungle, or am I laid out in the suburbs with the shades pulled? Let’s consult the mental checklist. It’s dark like the jungle (uh huh). It’s stuffy in here like the jungle (yup). I can smell my boots, and they smell like the jungle (whoa). And therefore the obvious 3 a.m. conclusion is that I’m in the jungle. What a relief to get that settled.

Long mental pause… think, think, think, think, think… Ah hah, yes! Yes, it must follow ipso facto absolutely no doubt about it whatsoever, that because everyone in Dominica is assigned a machete at birth, then someone must be outside my tent right now with a machete, and on the balance (after even more 3 a.m. deep thought and reflection) that’s probably ok, because a machete isn’t a sign of moral character unless you don’t carry one, in which case it’s a sign that you are a total chump and probably better suited for life on the rival island of (gasp) Guadalupe rather than the paradise of (ahhhhh) Dominica, where you would never, ever be caught without a machete in the jungle or the bedroom. Ever.

Emerald Pool

Emerald Pool in the lush jungle of Dominica.

Guadalupe

Neighboring Guadalupe, seen from a mountainside on Dominica.

Yes, machetes are fine and ubiquitous tools both in and out of the bedroom, kind of like umbrellas and hammers, or possibly even umbrellas used as hammers if you’re into that kind of versatility, as Dominicans clearly are. Ever resourceful, I’ve seen them use machetes as shovels, mallets, umbrellas, paddles, kitchen knives, ladles (not effective), and boa decapitators (very effective) even though everyone except the lady on the airplane insists that there are no snakes in this dense rainforest. There are snakes.

Lady on airplane: “What, what, camping in the jungle? Won’t you get eaten by a boa?”

Not to be outdone, the cruise-boat guy with the shoulder-draped cardigan whispers, “How do you umm, you know, um, go to the bathroom?”

Yoiks, like I’m going to detail that… I should have referred them both to the all-important PALMU, also known as the Pre-Approved List of Machete Uses, but I always think of these things way too late.

Hand carved boat

A handcrafted fishing boat at Scotts Head, Dominica. The boats are carved from a single tree, probably a bwa bande or grommier tree. Our next day's backpack took us up and over all of the peaks visible in the background. That's just a few miles out of about 140 miles of glorious trekking through the rainforest. The WNT trail is only 120 miles long but we added extras (aka a taxi snafu).

Sandy Day Beach

Sandy Day Beach, a lovely spot for a quiet day on Dominica. A distinct advantage of backpacking through the rainforest on a tropical island is that sooner or later you have to come out to the coast to restock with food.

Yup, I like machetes and it would be fun to sport one, but my 3 a.m. tussle with logic has not been sparked by this rainforest adaptation of a Swiss Army knife. No, instead I’m deeply bothered by the four guys standing in front of me who just happen to have machetes and who are a little too clean to be subsistence farmers, too well-dressed to be wandering the jungle randomly, and fielding an awful lot of bling for teenagers immersed in third-world poverty. Thick gold chains on eighteen-year-olds in cash-poor Dominica… Uh–oh.

The internal emergency conversation goes something like this.

Artsy Right Brain: “Oooh look, cool teenagers in the rainforest with machetes and gold bracelets. Super mod. We should take a Nat Geo photo!”

Rigid Left Brain: “Wait, this situation is very wrong! We don’t take pictures of people. We like landscapes.” And then continuing after a thoughtful pause, “Besides, bling wearing drug gangs don’t enjoy posing while on their way to a ‘grow’ operation in the jungle.”

Right Brain: “Oh drats, whoops, my bad. Bummer. Yup, we're going to die.”

But no, the machete teenagers are very nice, and simply redirect our hike up a different trail. “You don’t want to be here,” they say pleasantly with the rather obvious subliminal message: You Don’t Want To See What We Are Growing Around The Corner So Go Away Now Or We Will Be Forced To Invoke Item #23 Of PALMU.

Wait, isn’t #23 the sanctioned use of a machete as a dance partner?

“Look for the blue and yellow paint that marks the trail,” they add helpfully, hoping to make us leave a little faster.

Hmm, I’m sure that is the dance partner clause, but you know what? They are right. We are totally in the wrong place, because someone has shoved a massive pile of vines and giganto leaves and other rainforest slash in front of the correct trail, so we've wandered willy-nilly up the wrong mountain. Jim, joining me for this particular installment of jungle island insanity, comments that a more enterprising drug gang would have put a little extra effort into clearing the correct trail and redirecting the slash in front of their own path to hide the location of their secret drug stash. Less conflict and confusion with clueless photographers, you know?

So while these four dudes (with machetes) win points for being the nicest bad guys in the western hemisphere, they do not win points for brains. That’s ok. As illustrated, my Right Brain is clearly overrated, so who am I to criticize? After all, this was a situation that probably would have gotten us killed in California, and instead they stopped to give us directions, so hooray for the Dominican underworld.

Soltoun Falls

Soltoun Falls, one of my favorite waterfalls anywhere. Gorgeous, serene but powerful, and fantastic jungle swimming.

Purple Throated Carib Hummingbird

A Purple-Throated Carib on a banana flower. These gorgeous hummingbirds are endemic to Dominica (found nowhere else).

Golden trees

Beautiful golden trees in the dense Dominican rainforest. This is a photo of the precise moment when four guys with machetes agreed that this was not going to be our route through the jungle. C'est la vie.

We continue up the trail sanctioned by the really-not-so-bad guys, and I think about the absurdity of bling in a developing nation. No scratch that. Dominica is not a developing nation because there are no major developments. It’s all rainforest, mountains, waterfalls, and outdoor happiness. Not a condo in sight. Residents claim that their beautiful island is the second rainiest place on earth, and while this might be debatable, at 400+ inches per year, Club Med and martini-toting sunbathers will not be returning their calls. Instead, luscious guavas, mangoes, bananas, and grapefruit have colonized every third tree, and the coral reefs are teaming with fish and eels. Nobody starves here, and a lot of these islanders have healthy fruit-powered physiques that would stack up well against the NBA. Except they prefer cricket. And they could use some dental insurance because flossing is apparently not part of the PALMU.

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A WNT trail sign.

Nevertheless, third-world style absurdity still rules the island. Case in point: Jim and I are hiking the Waitukubuli National Trail, a network of ancient pre-road-era social paths through the rainforest, now repurposed and cleverly rebranded into an island-length path of jungle happiness designed to (largely unsuccessfully) attract adventurers like me. Sadly, while standing at the bottom and looking straight up, you quickly realize that words like “switchback” and “gentle” and “rational” are not in the local patois. Calling this a “trail” is a serious breach of contract if you are accustomed to comparatively wimpy places like the high Andes or the Karakoram.

But although absurd, this ridiculously vertical climb is still way, way cool.

“Yeah, it’s awesome like machetes,” notes my artistic Right Brain.

steep trail

Jim Young goes straight up and straight down. It's the Dominican way.

My slightly more lucid Left Brain looks up at the swinging vines that constitute the trail and notes: “Holy, freakin’ mother of god, have you lost your fruit cakes? Aaaaaaauuuuuuuuugh!”

The lucid and eloquent LB may have a point. If we don’t expire in the jungle heat, we will surely skewer ourselves on something pointy after plummeting off of a knife-edge. These crazy-narrow ridge lines are wet and slippery. Massive slime-covered roots fold over algae-covered rocks that hide slick muddy sulfur-belching sinkholes. And one of these jungle volcanos might blow up in our face too; I felt an earth tremor last night.

“But it’s so verdant and beautiful and epic!” reminds the RB, as a log crumbles under my weight and my feet swing wildly into the void with debris crashing hundreds of feet down the volcanic face. I’m left dangling from a two inch-diameter tree that I caught with some fancy hand work that would have made Frazier and Ali stand up and applaud. The LB, on the other hand, whimpers and goes into permanent hibernation after expertly deducing that this is just Day 3 out of 18.

With me and my remaining RB looking straight down at our projected trajectory, it’s absolutely unclear what numbnut could possibly have thought this was a good place for a trail. It’s as if someone said, “Hmm, we want to aim for that pleasant-looking village down over there. So (a) let’s throw them over the edge, and then (b) let’s go six-miles in the other direction and be sure to climb up this slick mud slide to get to that vertical jungle vine that will make it possible to climb this cloud-encrusted volcano with all the loose rocks. Twice. In the rain. Hah, hah. And let’s throw in some blood-sucking razor grass.” Sick bastards – they unintentionally created one of the coolest trails in the western hemisphere while thoughtfully putting up signs hither and thither that say things like “you are here,” but pointing of course to entirely different parts of the island.

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No we aren't. Not even close.

Marveling at the trail’s hubris, we grunt upwards, climbing hand over hand on preposterously sheer mountains held together by wishful thinking, prayers, and jungle vegetation. Using an exposed root to do a chin up over a precipice, I realize that if we chop down a single strategically placed tree, then the entire vertical rainforest might unravel and slide into the ocean. I swing my legs over my head and hug a coconut palm in desperation. Umph, oof. Grab that banana tree. Grunt. Hah, the top!

As a payoff for our ascendant efforts, we teeter-totter exhausted on a teeny-tiny ridge before brushing aside razor grass and taking a single wobbly step across the top that plunges us back down hundreds of feet on the other side. Watch out! Auuuuuuugggghhhh! And then it starts all over. The trail oscillates above dizzying heights that yo-yo up and yo-yo down, over and over for miles and miles, seesawing repeatedly across and along jagged ridges. It’s the Dominican way.

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Always steep. Always fun. Jim Young on the “trail”.

To emphasize the theme, Jim takes a wildly perpendicular nosedive somewhere behind me on the “trail” and nearly straight above. The crashing is impressive, but I hear a slightly weak, “I’m ok. It’s alright. Oh sh…” More crashing, getting closer. Very impressive stuff, especially since Jim doesn’t swear.

About swearing… If you’ve visited a developing nation (or a nicer non-developing nation, as the case may be), you know that slippery rainforest trails are not the only hazard. Don’t forget the roads. An infinitesimal fraction of Dominica’s residents can afford a car, but rusty minivans with road rage (known colloquially as “taxis” and “buses”) make up for it by attempting to shove a vehicle in your face each time you dare to push a pinky toe within striking distance of asphalt. “You need a ride, yes mon?” insists the magically appearing driver after downshifting from relativistic velocities because his radar-like intuition told him that an easy target hundreds of miles away needed a rusty chariot. Descending like flies, minivans rush to our aid, screaming around steep blind curves and crashing through small villages which have no sidewalks but which have conveniently placed their communal water taps along the road so that the thirsty crowds will spill squarely into the headlights of the honking and swearing bus drivers. Scary stuff on scary roads. Why more people don’t die collecting their bucket of daily roadside water is a deep mystery.

Crab

An amazingly colorful crab lets the water rush over.

Sunbeams

Sunbeams through an approaching storm. We are going to get wet again, but with scenery like this, who cares?

I’m a sucker for cultural travel, so stepping out of the rainforest to urgently restock with TP (don’t tell cardigan-cruise-ship-guy), Jim and I experiment by flagging down a bus and sampling the relativistic red shift. Joining us, a well-wrinkled but fruit-powered octogenarian grandma muscles a large LP gas canister into the van. Several clicks from nowhere I hit the roof when she screams bloody murder. This is the Dominican equivalent of politely informing the tuxedoed chauffeur, “Ta, ta, my good fellow, I think the palace grounds would make a pleasant place to disembark, yes?”

So to nobody’s surprise (but mine), we downshift into mere orbital velocities, and sail way, way, way past grandma’s target. Expecting our rocket to stop on a dime, the octogenarian expresses significant displeasure. The driver says tough. She impresses the audience with an illustration of grandmotherly lung capacity. In a time-honored exchange of island cordials, he screams back using choice phrases based on her family resemblances. She comments on his ancestors and with the aid of universal sign language insists that he back up the road around the blind mountain curves, or else. The driver’s eyes bug dangerously out of his head. She throws her canister out of the van (no propane boom, but I was prepared), and refuses to pay the fare. His van misfires, purple veins pulse, and pedestrians near the communal standpipe scatter in anticipation. But all is well, and this is normal, so the minivan screeches back onto the road, pleasantly spinning dust and rocks into grandma’s face.

For the next ten minutes, the driver curses and gesticulates wildly about the stupid woman, narrowly avoiding a collision as he turns around to seek moral support from the two wide-eyed foreigners. Several more grandmas ensconced in the back of the crowded rocket-bus frown and cluck disapprovingly at the near miss, so he gives it up and cranks the volume on his custom mix labeled “African Cheating Wife Tracks.” Eyeing his pulsing veins, and listening to the angry beat, I wonder idly if the driver is still married.

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One of our many nights squeezed precariously onto the side of a steep mountain.

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Jim on a suspension bridge. Occasional holes and super slippery planks help maintain focus.

The whole trip started in this same general minivan genre. The scene: We land at the airport, clear customs with a small hiccup (“Any cigarettes in that backpack, hint, hint? Are you sure? Hint.”), and we pull out a map.

“Oh yes,” says a taxi driver materializing from nowhere to look over our shoulder, “I know where the trailhead is. Only $20 to take you there.”

The rotting clunky stripped-down minivan leaves the airport, grinds gears, lurches, and speeds up as a pleasant ocean breeze fills the car through the open windows. Ahhh, I smell exotic tropical flowers, I feel the velvet-thick humidity, I sigh and relax into tropical mode, and the taxi abruptly slams to a stop. Huh?

“Here’s the trail,” he says, pointing to the left.

We’ve reached the end of the runway.

Umm, no. I point energetically at the map where (prior to hibernation) my Left Brain had drawn a nice little X to mark the spot many miles away in the interior mountains.

The driver squints and grunts with irritation, “You know mon, I live on an island. I don’t need to be able to read maps.”

My veins throb, and I prepare to exchange cordials in the time-honored fashion, but instead Jim and I both sigh and hand him the agreed upon cash. It’s just easier that way. We shrug on our packs and start walking past the runway in the blistering heat.

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The Mary Sylvester family reunion. We didn't know anyone, but they took us in like long lost friends and fed us like Carib kings.

“Wait!” says the driver’s companion who’d been sitting idly in the front passenger seat picking his navel.

I hesitate and make the mistake of eye contact.

“That cash covers him,” pointing at the driver with his thumb, “But you know mon, I helped too.”

It takes several more dollars to make them go away (please, please go away…), and I’m not proud of it, but Jim and I both smirk and hustle out of view when the ugly little minivan suddenly burps black smoke and starts to roll backwards down a hill while the two men curse loudly at their fate. Karma.

But enough about third-world swearing. Most of the islanders are wonderful people, who will happily chitchat, pray for your soul, cook you a feast, and randomly invite you to their Carib family reunion which just happens to feature a singer from The Wailers (yup, as in Marley), a Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker, a surgeon, and a professional chef, all returning to the island to make good on promises and to honor ancestors. Really, I kid you not. We got a private reggae performance from a virtuoso, stunning homemade cocoa straight off the tree, bananas cooked in a thousand delicious ways, and a civilized English tea in the morning… Oh my.

Every time we come out of the jungle to restock, we are greeted with smiles and scrumptious home-cooked plantains, beans, and fish. It just happens. Well, except once, when we are dehydrated and starving after a five-day stretch of especially vertical irrationality. Crawling into a random farm, we whisper desperately, “Food… Water…”

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All my food for five days in the rainforest. The extra room enabled an extra lens. Fair trade.

The woman looks at us funny and says, “It’s always like that with you hikers.” She pauses. “Well, I don’t have anything. No plantains or beans or fish. But here’s some fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice right off the tree and a side plate of toasted cheese sandwiches, a few fresh tomatoes and some carrots, and some cookies, and I wish I had something more to give you. Would you like to take some more grapefruit juice with you when you leave?” Oh god, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. If I could bottle that stuff I’d be rich.

We march onward, away from the toasted-cheese sandwich farm, up a steep road, over a pass, up another trail that makes local birds pass out with vertigo, and all the while, I worry that Jim will question my sanity for bringing him to this island. This is not a normal backpack. Will he mutiny? I hoped fervently that we won’t find a sign at the top of the mountain saying “You Went The Wrong Way, Hah, Hah, Now Entering The Heart of Darkness.” And in small type underneath, “Whoopsy. Your friend is leaving now.”

With questionable advice from some kindly banana farmers, we do eventually conjure the correct trailhead. We plunge deeper into the heart-of-dark rainforest where a nearby tree cracks and falls and the entire island threatens to unravel into the ocean. Startled, I stop for a drink. Oh god no, we didn’t fill up with water. Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb. I’m in the second rainiest place in the universe, I don’t have any water, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t had a drink since Puerto Rico.

You know, there is a very important lesson here. You should always, and I mean always, listen to your mommy.

“How will you get water to drink?” she asked before I left.

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Jim samples the standard trail fare—wet, steep, slippery, crazy, slimy, steep, wet, steep, and steep.

I rolled my eyes over the phone. “Oh, mom… It’s the second rainiest place on earth. Water is everywhere.”

Hah! Shows you what I know. Yes, there have been zillions of river crossings on Days 1 through 7, a distressingly large puddle in my tent on Night 8, and an endless deluge on Day 9. But where, oh where, are the omnipresent rivers with the ubiquitous waterfalls and the dancing mermaids and what not when I actually need quenching on Day 10? Sooo parched…

Then someone turns out the lights. That's standard procedure at 6 p.m. in the tropics, but as usual, the guys in the tropical-island command center forget to switch off the noise, and the night critters hold a splendid concert. The performance is 3 a.m.-style confusing, and another tree falls in the forest threatening to unravel my existence. Reassuringly a strange root glows in the dark heart of the forest. Whoa, I did not know that jungle roots could glow in the dark. The empty space fills with a bizarre greenish not-quite-right light, joined by a flashing swarm of shockingly bright and not quite believable fireflies. Several thousand frogs join the aural and visual cacophony. Wow, all the pretty lights…

Dehydrated and hallucinating? No, no I'm not. Rainforest tree roots really do glow in the dark, and in the otherwise inky-velvet night I blunder towards a rushing river (at last!) and fill my water bottle with sweet nectar, and settled back to listen to the frog’s recital. But I don’t drink.

What? You thought I’d just swill raw water? Sheesh, mom! I’m dehydrated, not addled. There’s Dengue, Typhoid, Dancing Chicken Fever, Hokey-Pokey Snot, and all kinds of other locally-rumored jungle rot just waiting to turn me into a zombie. The awesome-toasted-cheese farm woman has assured us on a very good authority that the Rubber-Bone Disease is an especially horrific way to die. So although chomping at my bit, I choose to idle for the full and recommended 30 minutes while the iodine purification pills do their job.

Waiting, waiting… Some frogs hum the Jeopardy theme. Okay, maybe I’ll wait 25 minutes. Fine, twenty but no less. Oh, hell with it… Sweet god, that river nectar is good! If I could bottle this stuff I’d be rich.

Meanwhile Jim sets up his tent and catches some kind of evil jungle rot in the process, but we don’t know that yet, and it had nothing to do with the iodine. Instead, the evil rot eats his leg, slowly but not significantly until Day 13 when it explodes hideously. It’s Day 10, so we’ve still got some time.

Central Forest Reserve

Deep in the rainforest of the Central Forest Reserve, Dominica.

The next day’s vertically peripatetic trail inspires teams of US lawyers to shake fistfuls of release forms. Good for Dominica! This is real, not canned. I look for the next blue-and-yellow trail blaze on a tree, find it, glance upward in the indicated direction along the cliff, and cock my head sidewise. Umm, surely not. That’s a tree-blaze typo, right? The lawyers follow my gaze skyward, collectively gasp and emphatically shake estate-planning forms. Jim wisely consults a doctor rather than a lawyer by texting home via some convoluted cell-tower path through Guadalupe; and, yes, I’m sure the consultation was about his leg and not his last will and testament or my sanity for taking him on this vertical trail. Pretty sure.

Several blisters later and out of water again, we ask a kindly-looking barefoot Rastafarian farmer if he has any grapefruit on his little subsistence plot. He glances at Jim’s leg and runs away. Hmm.

Then he runs back with his machete, carrying a bag of thirty huge fruit which he opens with a grin as he leans on the Iron Zion Lion, his loudly painted truck with selfsame Marley lyrics stenciled on the side. Oh, ah, thanks but maybe carrying ten grapefruit is the max for backpacking? I drop coins in his hand, and my pack transforms into a chipmunk with its cheeks full of yellow balloons. The farmer pockets the money and is immensely happy, and we’re delighted to be exchanging pennies for the world’s most tasty and succulent organic grapefruit. These dripping juicy wonders will quench our thirst through the dark night until we can find a small town and get water from a dangerous roadside tap.

Morne Diablotins National Park

One of the rainiest places on earth, the mountains of Morne Diablotin National Park are shrouded in morning clouds. The park is one of the few (and largest) tracts of undisturbed rainforest in the Caribbean.

I drink a grapefruit, and it’s good.

Then, arranging my tent, I pretend all is normal while Jim’s leg gets worse. Let’s see, put all the gear in its place, some near the door, some in the pockets… Pull out the wet clothes and hang to dry. Floss, because my dentist will be embarrassed if I don’t. Put the flashlight over there where I can find it in the dark. Sweep out some jungle mud, and brush away the ants. Tidy up, tidy up, in preparation for the nighttime glow-in-the-dark symphony so I can sleep cozily with my tent clinging to the side of the rainforest where no sane tent should ever be squeezed. Ignore the roiling skies. Tidy up, all is normal, tidy up while bigger and bigger raindrops patter-plop on the rainfly. Ignore. Just roll out my pack cover which I’ll use as a blanket because bringing a sleeping bag would be nutty in the steamy rainforest. Ignore that wind. Pretend all is normal, yes, yes, so normal that I’m having tea with the queen.

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Achieving a new low. Dave's picnic table camp. Rocks hold everything down, mostly.

But it’s not meant to be. The tempest is strong, and I deflate the fiercely shaking tent to save it from a tropical storm. In desperation, I curl up in the fetal position under a rather randomly placed picnic table about twenty minutes from purgatory on the side of a volcano. Picnic table? Really? Here? Whatever, it’s handy. The sky rages against the night, and the top half of the island sweeps away. My rain jacket flaps violently in the wind as I try to ignore the palms that are repeatedly slapping the ground near my head. I’m cold, but I’m not supposed to die of hypothermia in the tropics because I checked on that before jettisoning the sleeping bag. But the wind and the rain beg to differ and pound me with wet cold in the dark under the picnic table. The rainforest symphony is cancelled, the frogs call it quits, and I pull my backpack over my face for a little extra protection. The roaring overhead never stops, and I grab my camera to keep it from skittering away into the black. At 3 a.m. I see the Iron-Zion-Lion-Rasta guy blow out to sea with his arms waving wildly, but Michelle isn’t there to tell me I’m dreaming. LB digs deeper and hides, while RB thinks, “Cool, I’ve reached a new low, sleeping in a tropical storm under a picnic table. Hooray for me!”

 

Then morning… I’m alive.

The storm had promised to visit, but wasn't in the mood and sulked offshore. I’ve escaped. That wasn’t so bad. Seemed more like a tropical temper tantrum than a storm. Hah, nothing to it, really. Hardly rained at all. Pfft. I’ve seen much worse. Bring it on.

 

Jim is fine, the sun shines, and a rainbow shines too. I photograph the jungle peaks moving in mysterious ways through the remaining mist, and life is good. Well kind of. Jim's leg looks suspiciously like it has the dreaded and probably fatal Rubber Chicken Rash. I need to formulate an offensive against the ants that have moved in and militarized my pack. I’m down to drinking my last grapefruit, and it’s going to be another vertical day. But, hey, that’s all part of the new normal. Irrational is the new sane, fruit is water, vertical is flat, and picnic tables are the new tents.

So we hike out of the rainforest to a remote little village, and let the shy kids play around us while we fill our water bottles from the standpipe. A wild taxi is thwarted by the too steep road, and somebody quotes chapter and verse from the PALMU as he hacks down a bunch of bananas to add to our rice and bean feast. Oh yes, that’s a lovely meal, and it promises to a be a beautiful night sleeping under the stars. Yes indeed, there are machetes in this bedroom. Jungle life is good.

Near the Central Reserve

Zen garden path, settling into the evening calm.

banana tree trunk

Floral pattern on a banana tree trunk. Careening from tree to tree as I bowled down a hill, I hugged this trunk in a desperate gambit to slow down. As I slid away and did a slingshot past, I thought, “Hey, that looked really cool. If I survive this descent, I should hike back up and photograph that.”

Wavine Cyrique waterfall

A black sand beach with a waterfall cascading from the jungle above. I had to work for this one with a climb down the wet cliffs. At one point I was 50 feet in the air resting on a cocoa tree branch looking down onto the crashing surf thinking, “ok, this is nuts.” But the sand was glorious and empty with an irresistible waterfall cascading from the rainforest above.

 

 

Interested in the WNT? Some suggestions and tips for successfully hiking the WNT.