A few weeks ago, I was here:
Now, I am here:
Over the course of a few dozen miles, covered in a few hours, albeit down some hair-raising and stomach-churning mountain roads, the landscape has changed dramatically. Cloud Forest to Dry Forest. Cold and misty to hot and dusty. Two completely different environments an afternoon’s drive apart in a country roughly the size of West Virginia.
Part of it’s the timing. It’s Dry Season–what Costa Rica calls “Summer.” Days may be short, but the sun is always out. Up on the mountains, the only way you could tell was that the clouds would occasionally lift and rain would be infrequent instead of omnipresent. Here, though, rain is a memory. Water is scarce. Rivers are thinning and pools are shrinking. The forest has withered and trees have become skeletons.
Yes, tropical Dry Forest trees are mostly deciduous–they drop their leaves as if it were Autumn in the North. This limits perspiration from the leaves, minimizing water loss. But it leaves the forest denuded, our trails hardly recognizable. The once dense green tangle is now a thick carpet of dead leaves, bare rock, and loose sand. It’s still a tangle, though. It’s not like the plants drop their thorns, after all.
And the animals feel it. With fewer sources of water, large animals are forced to concentrate around the few remaining rivers and streams. They alter their diets–omnivores eat more plant stems and bark rather than fruit or plump insects. The lucky ones just grow lean, while others starve off completely. And everybody gets a little more cranky.
It’s not like this is unusual. We’re not in a drought. This place has to deal with these conditions every year, even in optimal times. This is a check on the abundance provided by the sun and rain for the other eight months of the year.
Dry Season is supposed to peak around early March. The forest should thin out even more by then. In several ways.