Leaving La Hesperia
08.12.2007 26 °C
When I arrived at La Hesperia in September, the end of November seemed very far away - in fact I almost wondered if I had made the right decision when I chose to stay for 10 weeks. It ended up being 9, because I wanted to stay a week in the beautiful colonial town of Cuenca, taking spanish classes in a very good school there. But right from the start I had loved my temporary home, and as the weeks went gently by like the clouds drifting through the treescape outside my bedroom, I felt great sadness that my time was coming to an end in this extraordinary corner of the world, where time really stands still, and the landscape is constantly alive with the sounds of birds and insects.
Our veggie garden at La Hesperia
My last weeks in the reserve were tranquil, as my neck was acting up. I had elected to take over the medicinal garden after Marissa, my Californian friend, left. She was concerned that it would be cared for, after the weeks of nurturing she had put into the beds and the compost, and the research she had done on the plants themselves, in preparation for a new system of signs.
So I had a project, which is something I enjoy, and, armed with Marissa's scraps of paper, I set about creating a logbook for the medicinal garden, with a map, lists of the plants' names, an updated diary of work carried out and future plans for the garden. With the help of a small team of volunteers, the beds were thoroughly weeded, the compost turned, a new pile made (I did love following the cows and the horses, to collect both dry and 'fresh' manure - picture that: me in the fields with my shovel and my sacks, being watched blankly by a herd of heifers), and the many empty places in the beds were filled with transplants from other sections of the garden. It was time to begin work on the new signs. These were to be hand 'crafted' (I use the term advisedly) from the only colours available in the work yard: white, red and yellow. Obviously, these 3 colours can combine to make other shades, but sadly, we had no blue. Still, I think we did ok.
Once we were started, there was no stopping us - inspiration flowed, and the medicinal garden became fondly referred to as the medicinal 'gallery' for over a week, with the 'artists' working overtime every day.
Even the garden's permanent resident seemed to approve.
So, on my watch, the med garden was completed. It was a satisfying feeling - I even got Raul to cut the grass! Future ideas for the garden include a bench under the cypress tree, as it really is a calm and restful place.
For my last few days, I resumed everyday work in the nursery.
The nursery, or vivero, is fundamental to the main object at La Hesperia: it is here we bring the collected seeds from the forest; here we plant the seeds in beds or in small bags, here the seedlings are planted on into bigger bags and brought on; and here the saplings are eventually transplanted to carefully chosen sites, or 'lineas' (reforestation lines) around the reserve.
Chris working in the vivero
The areas we are replanting were once used as a sugar cane plantation, and are therefore 'secondary cloud forest', ie. terrain that was deforested and reforested (an ongoing process in many parts of the reserve). The wonderful and increasingly unique thing about La Hesperia is that it comprises a significant amount of primary cloud forest, ie. virgin forest that has never been touched by the destructive force of the human hand and is vital to the survival of thousands of species of animal, insect and bird and plant.
This forest is so dense and unknown that we never venture into it, for to do that would be to destroy parts of it. The old Yumba and Inca trails, which are still used today, avoid going into the real depths of the upper reaches of the cloud forest, following the ridge of the reserve only.
The percentage of primary cloud forest left in South America
But there is hope..
Meanwhile, there were many events which stand out in my memory of my last weeks at La Hesperia. We had another 'tremblor' - a stronger earth tremor than the first one I experienced. It happened on the same night as the Chile earthquake which measured 7.4 on the Richter scale, but apparently it was unrelated. I was in bed again as it was late, and this time it was as if somebody was shaking my bed quite roughly; the door latch rattled loudly and the volunteer house shook. This lasted for less than a minute, but was pretty scary.
Then Izaskun, Chris and I found a snake in one of the toilets when we were cleaning the bathrooms. She was hidden in the door frame, seeking out a dark corner - her markings were beautiful and she was small. As to whether she was venomous, the jury remains out - many smaller snakes are more poisonous than the big ones, but it seems that the shape of the head is an important factor when identifying a poisonous species.
I of course felt the need to help the little creature find her way back to the safety of the undergrowth (remember, our bathrooms are outdoors), so, ignoring some bizarre advice to kill the snake (even if I´d wanted to, I couldn´t help wondering, with what?), I herded her towards the scrub with a brush handle.
She was pretty quick - she was terrified of course - and after some further coaxing from under the sinks she slithered off into the greenery, accompanied by the screams of my wussy companions, who were not helping combat the reputation we women have when it comes to creeping, crawling things.
There were spiders too, some small, some really huge, although not as big as I think we will see in the rainforest. I had a small red spider friend who lived above my bed - I often wondered if she would try to drop in on me, but my net would have got in the way. But she was content in her own little net, and lived happily in her web for my entire time at the reserve. I liked to see her there, spinning away and catching the little flies she loved and I hated.
However, some spiders were more impressive in their appearance - I did find one about this size under my pillow one night, and was thankful I had made that last minute torch-check.
She has quite large eyes and antennae - her torso is almost the size of a matchbox and her legs longer than our fingers
I often found Tarantula spiders when I was working in the soil, proving the point about wearing gloves (and rubber boots) at all times. They are shy, nocturnal creatures and like to snooze in warm cavities in the earth, so any digging would invariably dislodge one or two. They would scurry off as fast as they could, terrified. Again, our Tarantulas were small in comparison to those found in the Amazon, where they can grow to giant proportions.
I also had a bat who lived in the wall above my bed. The most unfortunate part of this arrangement was the havoc wreaked on my clothes and net by his droppings, which look almost identical to mouse droppings - you´d just find yourself wondering how a mouse could run so far up the wall, where my clothes hung. But I grew to enjoy the nightly visits, where our bat friend went several laps of the room, often hanging out on top of our nets awhile..
I suppose life on the reserve is not for the faint of heart. There were volunteers there who had a mortal fear of snakes and spiders, but they were there to confront these fears, which I thought admirable.
But there are so many things I will miss.
Pacific Hornerids:cheeky birds who make the most awful racket
Huge tree with trailing vines
The first sugar plantation tractor, now a nesting place for wrens
No really, it´s a moth
Giant cicada (see matchbox below)
I have loved my time here; have felt privileged to be part of this sublime place; have learnt so much and met so many wonderful people, who will be friends for life; but that time is over and it is time for me to move on.
Primary cloud forest, La Hesperia