slash and burn plantation, possibly less than a year old

Fri. Jan. 22

A visiting scientist has arrived from Washington state and is interested in hiking through some forest, so we are driven by Smithsonian back out to Vera Plaine and begin hiking to the far side of a savannah, about two kilometers, where I can see a few tall trees silhouette above a forest canopy against the morning sky.

We arrive at the edge of the savannah and enter the forest, only to walk out into a plantation, a “horizontal forest” of cut trees, scorched earth, and cassava. Back out onto the savannah, we hike further on and find a trail heading into a small fragment of forest. A passing rain has soaked the landscape again, but the sun struggles to come through the clouds. The trail soon skirts the edge of the plantation we encountered earlier, then continues through cut-over forest that has become overgrown with lush regrowth. It is thick with gingembre, a wild ginger, towering over our heads. I come across a spider in a web, as large as my hand, poised seemingly ready to defend the golden threads of its web. Giving wide berth, we continue along the trail, past spiny wild fruits hanging from shrubs, down a steep embankment to a lively stream. Here a shiny yellow and black spider awaits us, perched under a leaf, the size of a half-dollar. This one has a brilliant yellow shell like a crab, and folds it legs alongside its head in front of the shell. Turning the leaf over, it moves precarious and slow, and doesn’t appear alarmed. We cross the stream on a plank of timber, climb the embankment and walk out into another plantation. A primitive cabin is close by, laundry hangs out front and the smell of cooking fire is faint in the air. After announcing our presence with several “bonjours”, we determine no one is home, or possibly in hiding, and circle around to avoid walking through the residence. Several hundred yards away, we hear voices and encounter a couple working a patch of corn in an adjoining plantation. It takes us 20 minutes of hillside scrambling to approach them and attempt, in my fragmented french, to locate the “foret ancienne”, the remnants of ancient forest. We are directed to go far to the north towards the lagoon, and decide by this time it would be better to return to the savannah, where our transportation will be returning in two hours. Bidding merci et au revoir, we continue up a hill, across another plantation and back into the savannah. It was a day of plantation trekking, a sobering reminder of the threat to the remaining forest here.

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