|The moon was hiding - not behind trees, but behind cloud|
When we set out, it is as if there were no moon. We go forward trusting the road and the pencils of light from small torches. Stay in the centre says the guide; the road is even, recently resurfaced. Our feet slosh in undrained water at the edges, and skid on leaf litter. We think about snakes and the possibility of wildlife. But our voices, and the steady - however surreptitious - tramp of three pairs of feet must reverberate like an army to any creatures lurking in the underbrush or trees. Next day, we hear about the night walker who ventured into the coffee and stared down a fer-de-lance (mapipire balsain) thick as a man's thigh.
Conversation shushes and we are in the mind of the stealthy trekkers who crossed these woods centuries past. Like children on a vaguely illicit adventure, remember night walks on unlit roads through cocoa plantations. Those were occasions for stories. Look out for Lagahou like a colossus astride the road. Beware La Diablesse with her shy seductive smile, hem of a long skirt covering one cow foot. Strike a match, strike a match. Quick! Watch her disappear, manic laughter echoing through the cocoa.
Listen. Whoosh and tinkle of water over rocks. Rumble of a car on the Blanchisseuse road sounds somewhere in the trees above. It's impossible to orient in the dark. The flow of conversation, our own footfalls, steer us. Turns out there's light in the darkness. Our eyes register the slightest traces of reflected light; and suddenly, we are aware that we have arrived at the centre's big gates. A moonbeam shines off the forest, leaves, trees, the road, and for a brief moment, we are no longer eyeless.
The next morning we retrace our steps. Here is the river that muttered in the dark. Here the bamboos sighing and chatting with the wind. Here the hanging vine with flowers that kissed the lips of the guide on another predawn walk. Up close, we distinguish bamboo, vines, big and small leaved plants, feathery palms, heliconia, immortelle, mahogany, mango, river lilies. The birds are awake: a cacaphony of parrots, the bonk of the bellbird, twits and whistles. But look up. The forest crests the mountain in a green wall, solid, impervious. Impenetrable you would say, but not so. And maybe you don't need to look down the road to the quarries or the christophene patch to know how vulnerable is this natural environment. Men with machetes, excavators, trucks and explosives outmatch the jungle every day.
|Hearts and ferns|
|Oilbirds feed on the fruit of palm trees like this one.|
The Asa Wright Nature Centre is the attempt by a vulnerable community and a handful of dedicated volunteers to restore or maintain balance. It's quite a trek we know, hazardous in parts. But everyone needs a day in the rainforest. And a night walk if you dare. Sometimes, we need to see without eyes.
|This road at the Asa Wright nature centre leads to the lodge|