Dreams are powerful tools that can help guide anyone to success and happiness. They represent some cherished aspiration, an ultimate ideal of achievement.

The word sylvan refers most directly to a setting associated with the woods. Reflecting on the vigorous life that abounds in sylvan settings is a very powerful force in my life. For me, this word evokes feelings of transcendence, clarity, and unity.

A Sylvan Dream is a dynamic compilation of my life dream. It is an attempt to seek out and document the truth, beauty, and clarity that exists in this world.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

El Aguajal

note: If any of these photos aren't uploading properly, please make a comment or e-mail so I can correct the issue. Uploading and posting photos is difficult at times from a remote satellite link in the Amazon.


Hoping to find an area where the researchers and hunters don’t frequent, Frances and I chose to visit some rather neglected trails here at CICRA for our Sunday hike. After another wonderfully lazy breakfast of pancakes with strawberry jam and queso and a bowl of papaya, we headed out onto the trail.
Thirty minutes later we turned onto a little known trail, Mauritia, named named for one of the most abundant species of palms we would soon find ahead. After navigating around several downed trees, the trail plunged down into the aguajal, or palm swamp, after only a few hundred meters. What in a forest is a simple trail of dirt, becomes a matrix of miniature islands in the aguajal. Rootwads of various swamp plants create unsteady stepping-stones amidst a sea of murky swamp water and mud. At first, we spent much time attempting to avoid getting wet, but it only took about fifteen minutes before we both had fallen in up to our thighs, filling our boots with murky, tepid swamp water.

photo by: Frances Buerkens

Around the edges of the swamp, the palm trees grow densely enough to form a shady canopy. In such shade, vines creep along palm trunks, and multicolored lichens blotch the bark like an abstract artist’s canvas.

photo by: William Minehart

Small clumps of saplings and other brush fill in the spaces between the larger palms, otherwise we Frances and I would be not be able to manage this wading hike at all. Surrounded by bright silver columns of the palm trunks that shine with various shades of green disorients you with a beautiful monotony. While managing one stretch of particularly wobbly islands, I paused for a moment straddling the muck we had still been avoiding, I looked over to see this odd creature that seemed more like it should be in Alice in Wonderland than here in a palm swamp. I giggled a little bit, calling it to Frances' attention so she could take a picture of it.
photo by: Frances Buerkens

As we work our way farther into the center of the swamp, the trees spread out, giving way to thick meadows of aquatic grasses and sedges, sometimes thick enough to walk over, but often not. Having abandoned hopping from island to island of sparse vegetation awhile ago, we took to wading through the swamp with abandon, each of us gasping as we unexpectedly slumped into holes up to our thighs or hips. We periodically stopped to pour the chocolate water out of our boots and to wring out our socks, but the pointlessness of this quickly became apparent.
Thick stalks of vanilla orchids become numerous towards the center of the swamp; sometimes obscuring almost all the palm trunk they grow on. Fed by an endless supply of water below, thick waxy leaves the size of basset hound ears glow an illuminant lime green, contrasting sharply with the yellow haze bearing down on everything beneath the mid-day sun.
Small tufts of waxy white bristly leaves stick out from small crevices on surrounding saplings and palm bark. Some of these minute bromeliads are scarcely greater than the old growth communities of hair growing from a grandfather’s useless ears, while some others resemble large pineapples. Long red spikes extend from this prickly plant when flowering times arrive. Blossoming, they unfurl trumpeting tongues of some the most stunningly contrasting electric yellows, oranges, reds, and purples. These flowers offer a surprising vibrance from a plant that is otherwise dull and seemingly perpetually on the verge of death.
Small periwinkle pedals glinting in the bright sun caught my eyes as we waded through the swamp. These petite blossoms reminded me of snapdragons back home, yet they hung from the tips of the grass stalks.
Ahead a small inflorescence of white and yellow flowers coming from a terrestrial orchid bobbed in the breeze just above the surrounding vegetation. A few of the nearby plants had mature seed pods that were beginning to split open to spread their powdery seeds into the wind as they dried out. I picked a few off the stalk, broke them in my hands, threw them into the air, and with my most god-like voice said, “I am the disperser, go forth and reproduce!” A modest cloud of white powder spilled out of the airborne ovaries, and quickly dissipated like a puff of smoke into the breeze. Frances and I chuckled for a moment, and then waded on.
photo by: Frances Buerkens

Pausing under the shade of some larger palms along the way, we scanned our surroundings as we shared some water and cookies. Only occasionally breaking the relative silence, we commented on the animal paths of varying sizes zigzagging across our so-called trail, or stopped to watch a spider move around its web. The spider webs here prove to be quite strong. We traced one long guy line from a web almost ten feet to a nearby palm tree after it got caught on my earring as I tried to pass. We avoided breaking any webs when possible, but some were inevitably covering the easiest way for us to pass through this rather strenuous path. One line snapped as loudly as loudly as the tip of a 6x fly-line as Frances pulled it from our path. At another spot we stopped to take a few photos of a large spider perched in the center of its illuminated web. As we jockeyed for perfect photo position, we noticed it was suddenly spinning an unfortunate fly in a coffin of silk.
photo by: William Minehart
As we worked our way back out of the swamp, the palms closed back in around us, and we often found ourselves following more of a tapir path than anything man-made. We jumped from time to time, as flat sticks protruding from the mud immediately resembled the head of a snake. Frances let out a shriek as we came around one corner, but she began laughing in mid air as she jumped back. I looked down to see the black and yellow head of a tortuga peaking around at us uneasily from its shell.
photo by: William Minehart
For many people, I suppose continually sinking up to your thighs every few steps may not be the ideal six hour Sunday hike, but Frances and I both commented on the pleasant pace of travel a swamp demands. Over four and a half hours, we covered a meager 3.5 km of swamp. Sometimes one hundred meters would take five to ten minutes. At this pace, your eyes have much more time to see the little things they are designed to filter out when one is hiking much faster on a well-traveled dirt trail. Here’s to slowing down. What are not allowing your senses time to perceive?

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