Tue. Jan 18:
I rode my bicycle to Vera Plaine this morning with the intention of making photographs along a forest trail adjacent to a hidden plantation. During my ride up to Vera Plaine, I see prints in the soft wet sand of a jackal following the roadway, then in a patch of forest, genet tracks, like a petite cat, meander across the road. Arriving at the trail-head, all is quiet but for several African Grey Parrots whistling and squawking in nearby trees. I hide my bicycle and something close by rustles off towards the trail. When I enter the forest moments later, I hear it again. Not as large as an elephant, it is possibly a forest antelope or a monkey, but the forest is so thick on the edges, it is impossible to see more than a few yards in. This adds to the mystery of entering the dark forest, dripping wet after last night’s rain. I stop and listen every few yards, and, over the alarm of cicadas and constant chirp of crickets, birds are awakening with tentative chirps and warbles. After an hour of sneaking along, I hear the oncoming swish of rain in the tree-tops and find a dense cluster of lianas from which to wait out the rainstorm beneath. It passes within the hour, and the already wet trail now glistens from every leaf; touching a sapling or liana brings down a cascade of heavy drops.
I find things to photograph, a patch of intensely pink ground flowers, Thonningia sanguinea, a parasitic plant living on the roots of trees and shrubs. They appear to glow with neon life among the leaf litter. Lianas drape lazily from the canopy, some so heavy they have collapsed the branches of their host and lie in crumpled heaps, opening the canopy overhead for the mist-laden air to escape. Termites build their earthen altars in the crevices of trees, some as high as three feet, with stories built upon stories, capped by a dome perfectly designed to channel rainfall.
And speaking of rainfall, I hear it coming again, this time sounding like a jet engine in the canopy, and a sense of foreboding prompts me to immediately pack away my gear. The rain comes through the treetops like a hose on full, with such intensity that all other noise is drowned away. I can see perhaps twenty yards before the wall of water reduces visibility to a blur. I am not very prepared for this volume of rain, and my light umbrella channels water like rivers from all points, the vibration of pounding raindrops forcing a fine mist of water through the fabric. Managing to stuff my camera bag into an oversize zip-lock, I wait out the storm for nearly two hours before any sign of let-up. Luckily I have found a piece of high ground to bivouac, for when I resume my walk, I need to detour forest streams swollen with run-off crossing the trail below. The passing storms leave the forest eerily quiet, as if energy has drained away. A few hundred yards later and I come to a plantation clearing, and scramble up a butchered tree for a better view. Approximately 10 acres of forest has been hacked to the ground, the larger trees felled by chainsaw, then burned to expose the ground for planting. Slash and burn. Cassava plants four feet tall spring up everywhere, a few cornstalks mixed in; all among the charred remains of skeletal trees. Ragged edges of forest suggest the diversity that has been carved away. In the distance, through ghostly veils of rising mist, I hear the low reverberating wail of some forest creature. The haunting, mournful cry is there, again and again, a passionate tribute to this patch of forest despoiled.
More clouds loom overhead, and I feel I have had enough today and make way back to my bicycle. The sand and laterite roadway has turned to mud and I walk my bicycle a kilometre or two before coming to firm roadway, passing alluvial washes of multicolored sands and roadside canyons of erosion still flowing with run-off. The clouds pass without further rain and a nearly full moon ascends the evening sky, as frogs and katydids serenade the end of another day in the rainforest.