A faint hum perforated the heavy foliage as I scaled a ninety-degree hill. I was already beginning to sweat through my waterproof trekking pants and long-sleeved jacket, but hiking was not on the agenda for that day – I was about to enter the world of “apicultura” (beekeeping). Had I been asked to provide information on this topic prior to our arrival in San Antonio, I could not have delivered any meaningful insight, other than the fact that beekeepers harvest honey from beehives. However, as I donned the iconic gloves and mesh mask synonymous with apiculture, I realized that the time to learn was upon me.
I was brought to a halt by the owner of the beehives, a man named William, once we reached a clearing in the forest, some fifty meters from the trailhead. He sat down and began lighting tiny infernos within two smoke dispensers – meant to tranquilize the bees as we opened the hives.
“Make sure that the mesh part of your mask isn’t touching your face, or else the bees will sting you on the nose” instructed William as he tended to the metal tins that released protective smoke.
“Alright, are you ready? Follow me to the first “colmena” (hive)”. William lifted the wooden top and located a bee that was slightly larger than the rest, crawling amongst dozens of smaller minions – her majesty, the Queen Bee. He removed various slats, filled with dripping honeycombs.
“There is the honey. This colony is producing very well. Now we will move on to the next hive – they are slightly more aggressive.” William began puffing smoke from his dispenser and released some near my head.
“There were a ton of bees on your mask.” I tried not to inhale too much smoke.
I was advised to stand at the sides of the hive because the bees would feel less threatened, but once the lid was removed, they swarmed me with fury. Along with a continuous hum that filled the atmosphere, the bees flung themselves at my mask, pelting me with what felt like constant raindrops. Aggravated, the swarm sacrificed themselves in droves, stinging the fabric of my mask and camera straps, but not my skin. Between the noise, smoke, sensation of bees colliding with my body, and excess heat from my protective gear, it was difficult not to experience sensory overload. Survival instincts nestled in the untouched regions of my brain screamed that I was in danger, urging me to panic and abandon the situation. However, William’s constant conversation regarding the “personality” of each colony and the state of their populations reassured me that this activity could be completed with a calm demeanor. In order to divert my attention away from my inhibitions, I focused on capturing the essence of these bees and began to understand the meditative nature of this activity. What had previously felt like an attack on my senses began to feel more like a trance, as my concentration shifted toward the bustling activity of the colonies, and away from my own thoughts. It was not an appropriate moment to get caught up in my own head – it was time to embrace the sounds, smells, and sensations of beekeeping and absorb a pursuit that most people will never experience.
Before our day with William and his hives, my impression of beekeeping had been an image of leisure and hobby. Lacking knowledge about the topic, I had always imagined that this was something people did when they had some spare time and extra space in their garden. I was quite mistaken – beekeeping was a serious undertaking, not for the faint of heart. In addition to time, patience, and endurance (both physical and mental), apiculture requires an individual of understanding nature. William demonstrated this trait as he mused philosophically about the bees.
“Sometimes I return home happy, and sometimes sad. The colonies do not always react predictably. I do not own the bees – I merely work with them.”
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William Benito Alanya is one of the San Antonio community members involved in the Colibri Cloudforest Beekeeping Project and was one of the first individuals who was exceptionally interested in beekeeping. William has been a great help garnering community support and excitement for the project in the early and current stage. We thank William for teaching Jaz about apiculture, and for his dedication and love for the bees and rainforest!
This blog is part of a series of blogs Experiencing the Cloudforest! that we are sharing weekly on our website to take you more closely to what happens Unveiling the Cloudforest! This series of blogs is created by the wildlife documentary Jasmina McKibben who is in the region of Pampa Hermosa, Satipo, Peru working with Sean McHugh in a mammal survey.
To learn more about this project, visit our website at https://rainforestpartnership.org/projects/colibri-cloudforest-beekeeping/