Thursday, November 5, 2009

El Chocoyero Nature Reserve

Through pineapple, banana, and shade-grown coffee fields, our hero driver, Bergman (in photo), conducted us up and up on a deeply rutted and washed out road (think of the worst dirt road you've ever been on and multiply by ten) until we arrived at El Chocoyero Reserve. Bergman showed us the map of the trail that we would take to the waterfall called El Chocoyero, and we began our hike through the lush hardwood forest--so many trees, shrubs, and vines whose names I do not know. I'm learning--rubber tree (with scars from slashes to harvest the sap), ceiba....

About half an hour into the hike,, I saw ahead beside the trail a single gumbo limbo tree with its familiar peeling bark, felt an irrational joy at its recognition. Old friend in a new place.

Our objective on this hike was not simply the waterfall. It was also the high stone cliff adjacent to it, pocked with holes which serve as dwellings for approximately 1500 birds,
chocoyos (wild green parakeets), of which there are five different types in the preserve. The birds leave early every morning and then return in the evening to spend the night in their individual or family homes. Our hike was timed to get us there for the return, its grand racket of squawking.

For me, the finest moment of the day occurred when we were standing at the bottom of the waterfall, listening as the noise of the returning birds mingled with the howls of the howler monkeys in not-so-distant branches. It was a fine cacophony.

El Chocoyero is an important Watershed for the area. It is also a destination for ecotourists in a nation which is just developing its tourism infrastructure. It is one of the few parks in Nicaragua that permits overnight camping. I probably won't be camping there this trip, but if there's time, I may be going back with a private guide to learn more about the ecology of the preserve, the specifics of the preservation effort, educational outreach, and, yes, I want to know the names of those trees.

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