It was an early start to leave the Cayos Cochinos for the rainforest on the mainland. After our breakfast on pancakes, beans, egg and cheese, the bus took us to the airport to change buses. During the changeover, we were allowed a break so we all ran to the closest food outlet: Wendy’s. Although we had had some decent meals during the week, we needed a good burger and it was one of the best burgers I had ever tasted.
After our bus journey, we were transferred to the pack of a convoy of pick up trucks which were to take us up into the hills and to Base Camp. Unfortunately, there were some problems with our booking and so we were taken back to a local village to spend the night instead.
In the morning, we had a breakfast of mangoes, hot chocolate, cereal and biscuits, and I unsuccessfully attempted to comb through the knots that had formed in my hair over the past week. The morning’s entertainment involved watching people build playing-card castles and soon we were back in the trucks and arriving at the camp.
We were delighted to find the camp was home to a tuck shop, so we were able to stock up on crisps and Oreos for the rest of the week. We also invested in several oranges which we squeezed to make juice. Sadly it wasn’t as tasty as we hoped, simultaneously bitter and sweet. There was also a place to buy various souvenirs, including jewellery, T-shirts, coffee and ceremonial swords.
We were less delighted with the bathroom facilities. The water for the showers was kept in buckets which were left out to warm in the sun- rather like on the island- sadly the sun wasn’t as strong here and so washing involved standing under a pipe spouting freezing water. The toilets were even more unpleasant and I won’t go into the details.
After moving into our tents, we had a delicious frankfurter lunch complete with ketchup (which made the corn tortillas taste much better) before walking to a very pretty waterfall. Predictably, it rained a lot and after a dinner of spaghetti bolognese and a lecture it was bedtime.
The following day started with corn tortillas with jam and peanut butter with a side of pineapple, before we were off to do the training for our upcoming canopy climb. It turned out to relatively straight forward until I got freaked out about the height. I do not like heights. In the afternoon, we were able to observe one of the projects run by the team. It involved looking at bugs which had been caught in various traps and sieving through the remnants.
The next day was exhausting. We had to be up early for our sunrise canopy climb and my alarm didn’t go off. Somehow, after waking up five minutes before our meeting time, I managed to get ready but discovered I was not the only one to have problems getting up for 4.45am. The climb was fun but my vertigo did slow me down. I wasn’t able to see too much through the branches but it was rather atmospheric.
Our next activity was a tree survey. We ended up at the bottom of a very big, very steep hill only to find out we had gone the wrong way. We did the survey at the spot anyway before being dragged back up again. It was a long and painful climb. We’d had a packed lunch of tortillas, refried beans, cheese and eggs but had mainly just stuck to eating crackers so our pasta dinner was very much welcomed. Night brought another activity- going out with the teams observing ‘old man’ bats- so called because they had rather wrinkly faces- and collecting bugs. As interesting as it was, by 1am I was happy to go to bed.
In the morning we were faced with a choice: stay at base camp or go to a satellite camp. I’d heard that the facilities were worse and it was a tough hike to get there and so after the previous day’s hill I decided to stay put. In hindsight, I shake my head at 15 year old me- apparently some of the group spotted monkeys- nowadays I like to think that I would have braved it, despite the fact I am just as unfit. Instead, we went our to spot snakes. Sadly we ended up halfway down the same hill as yesterday and didn’t see any!
Over our last couple of days we spent our downtime playing cards, including poker with M&Ms- I wasn’t good and decided to eat my chocolate as oppose to risk it. During the more productive hours, we went out to look at bromeliad plants and spotted a parrot which we attempted to chase and in doing so we stumbled across a toucan nest (although no toucans). We also helped conduct a light survey in the camp. This involved setting out a plastic sheet and a light, at night, and waiting to see what appeared. Several bugs turned out including a giant moth and some beetles. When I climbed into my sleeping back later, I had to climb back out again and shake off all the bugs still climbing all over me.
Our last activity was observing the decomposition project the charity was running. This involved three deg pigs placed at different, strategic areas in the forest and noting the stages of their decomposition. You could smell them before you saw them. Some had been visited by vultures and there were a lot of maggots.
And so ended our two weeks. The next day we were taken back down the hill in the back of the trucks. We were singing songs loudly and could hear the driver turn up the radio in the background, in an attempt to drown us out.