We went to a highland tropical forest today. When I say highland forests (that is, a forest up on a mountain) perhaps you imagine somewhere dry and cold, with packed soil and sparse vegetation.
Try again. Think wet–clouds of mist that frequently condense into rain. Think warm enough to wander around in a t-shirt. Think mud, sucking at your boots and splashing onto your clothes. And think green–trees, palms, vines, epiphytes, ferns, mosses–everywhere you look. Got it?
This was much more of an experiential learning trip, so think about following along with our group. There’s twenty one of us, including our professor and two TA’s, and we’re all ready with our hiking boots and backpacks. The trail is our version of fun: steep climbs up, steep drops/slides down, with lots of cool things to look at along the way. At one point a green railing has been added to the slide of the trail to make the steps easier, but much of it has fallen sideways or slid with the mud, so we’re holding onto it as we go, and occasionally swinging under or climbing over it. There’s lots of laughter, and a few slips, and mud all over the place, and it’s fantastic.
We can’t help commenting to each other: “we could be sitting in a lecture hall right now!”
At the same time, we did learn a fair bit. We saw flowers, commonly called “hot lips” because of their shape and bright red color, which are in the Rubiacaea family (so is coffee). We saw thick, woody lianas and thin green vines. And now, when we hear about how cloud forests are areas where mist condenses into clean water that trickles down to other areas of the forest, or about the extremely high biodiversity in the cloud forests, we know what that actually means. We’ve seen it, we’ve smelt it, we’ve touched it. Cloud forests have a meaning to us, one that leaps off the page, and across our path.