By Jasmina McKibben
As we slithered along the dusty canyon road, packed into a Honda minibus with nineteen other people, I could not help but wonder what the Peruvian mountains had in store for us. With dense, green forest, sheer rock-faces, and a twisting river flanking us, I was left to make my own assumptions about what hiking through the Colibri Cloudforest would entail. We had a legion of thirty cameras to mobilize across a strategic grid in the forest, but as my eyes ravenously consumed the vertical mountainside scenery, I could not determine how we would be able to manage such a feat.
We arrived in San Antonio, a community of less than forty people, nestled in the foothills of the Colibri Cloudforest, at approximately midday. The same questions continued to buzz within my mind, similar to the many Andean Colibris (hummingbirds) that maneuvered like minute helicopters throughout the four-story eucalyptus trees outside of our dormitory in the eco-hostel. I was taken aback by the untamed beauty of the forest, which sauntered unabashedly through the entire town, reminding me that we were being generously permitted, by the forest, to inhabit this area. In stark contrast to the typical “nature-conquering” attitude that humans so readily adopt, the community of San Antonio exhibits a profound respect for the forest, utilizing natural features such as the river, mountains, and insects in order to earn a living. Community members of San Antonio, such as Eusebio, William, and Johnny tend to various agricultural projects such as coffee, beekeeping, and butterfly rearing, demonstrating an unrivaled level of forest-related expertise.
With these men, we began our study, waking up as our neighbor’s rooster crowed, and followed them to the locations that they deemed best, for tracking the elusive Spectacled Bear. I was finally to learn how we would summit the surrounding mountains. William, Eusebio, and Johnny took the lead, wielding machetes with the same ease that most use their hands. The pace was slow for those of us fortunate enough to be in the back, given that we had few responsibilities other than climbing, photographing, and locking in GPS coordinates. Once we reached “la cumbre” (the summit), after over an hour of furious cutting, we indulged in a few moments of “descanso” (rest) and some “tragos” (shots) of clear grain alcohol. The strategic placement of these cameras was to be earned, as we inched our way up the face of each mountain “sendero” (trail).
In addition to the excitement of daily camera placements, we were afforded unfathomable views of scenery, often climbing up to a kilometer higher than San Antonio. We enjoyed “almuerzo” (lunch) from a perch in the mountains, where we could see San Antonio, and its neighboring town, Mariposa (butterfly). Beautiful and rugged, the forest of this region provides an unprecedented glimpse into the daily existence of both flora and fauna, earned through literal blood and sweat.
Colibri Cloudforest, along with any other ecosystem of this nature, cannot and should not be “tamed”, but instead, explored. We seek to unveil whichever secrets the forest is willing to reveal, through a combination of determination, persistence, and simple luck, and look forward to sharing these discoveries.
This blog is part of a series of blogs Experiencing the Cloudforest! that we will be 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 maker Jasmina McKibben who is in the region of Pampa Hermosa, Satipo, Peru working with Sean McHugh in a mammal survey.