A couple million years ago, a fistful of magma rose up from the Earth’s mantle and delivered a punch into what would later be called Central America. The land–which up until then had been peacefully laying down layers of sediment–buckled and sprouted a few volcanos. Over the geologic ages, heavy clouds crept over from the Atlantic and unloaded burdens of tropical storms that carved the landscape into steep gullies and rugged hills, surrounded by wide open plains.
While this was going on, the young new subcontinent went through puberty and started to grow a five o’ clock shadow of thick vegetation. However, due to lazy rainstorms refusing to carry water all the way across the land, plants on the Western side had to deal with a temporary drought once a year while also withstanding the heavy leaching and erosion of the wet season. Thus, the plants grew to be especially mean and hardy, or else quick and temporary.
In addition to challenges of climate, the plants soon found they had company: hordes of animals marching from both directions, North and South. You see, the newly risen land hand created a narrow bridge between two massive continents, which had until then been in relative evolutionary isolation. The distinct life forms of both worlds were eager to expand into new territory and learn which of each other were edible. From the North came canines, felines, and hoofed ungulates. From the South came marsupials, anteaters, and monkeys. Called the Great American Interchange, the migrants bottlenecked into the narrow isthmus, munching as they went.
Sessile and vulnerable, plants were having none of this. Intense competition and an abundance of resources kicked off a rapid arms race of defense mechanisms, symbiotic relationships, and specialization. The only species to emerge were those who could reproduce faster than they were consumed, solicit aid from insects, co-opt each other’s growth, or convince would-be predators that they just weren’t worth it. The animals living among these plants adapted to the conditions, or else continued to migrate further North/South in search of more cooperative vegetation.
This is Guanacaste. The Tropical Dry Forest. My new home.
Those plants I just described? That is my workplace for the entirety of the day. It’s brutal. These plants have earned their right to be here, and have no interest in making it easy for me to get through them. What isn’t thorny is spiny. What isn’t spiny is toxic. And everything–I mean everything–is covered with ants. Trail conditions here fall into the following categories: good, bad, nonexistent, and “kill me now.”
Other unfriendly fauna includes several species of biting wasps, killer bees, swarms of mosquitos, chiggers on every goddamn surface, rattlesnakes, toxic caterpillars, and, of course, monkeys.
Oh yeah, monkeys. Did I mention they’re the reason I’m here?
Yes, the reason I spend all daylight hours crashing through ant-covered thorny brush is to watch monkeys, a project I may elaborate on during my year here. But I hope to pad out posts about monkeys with other stuff, trying to keep a holistic naturalist perspective. Besides, I deal with monkeys all day, and it’s nice to talk about something else for a change.
So we’re in for a long year. I’m already tired and I have bug bites everywhere. I’m learning to ID monkeys by their faces. I might pop up every now and then to bitch about work or rant about ants or discuss the best way to run through spiny plants for days on end without going completely insane. Wish me luck.