Saturday, September 8, 2012

My Tropical Rain Forest Canopy Walk

Yes, I can say I visited a tropical rain forest and walked through and out over the canopy. I didn't get to work in a tropical raindorest, studying nocturnal forest mammals or mapping the range of some endangered flower, but I DID hike and sweat. Let tell you about Kakum National Park, in Ghana.

I was in Ghana to support a school for the Deaf there. My wife is an interpreter and we've volunteered and worked for the Signing Time Foundation for over two years now. So after working with them for a while, we got invited to join STF on a trip they were making with Signs of Hope International (another incredible organization you really should consider supporting) to visit and support the first school for the Deaf established in Ghana.

The fundraising for the trip was a nightmare, but we raised enough to get to go, cover our transportation and room & board for the trip, AND cover the tuition and room & board costs for a two kids at the school for about 5 years each. I did all that fundraising not knowing I'd get to visit a genuine for-reals tropical rainforest, but I'd have done it just for that, honestly. My wife's travel journal for the trip is here, if you'd like to read and see some videos.

So anyway, the trip coordinator makes a point of having all Signs of Hope travelers swing by a few stops besides the Deaf school. One is the nearby outdoor marketplace, a maze of outdoor tented stalls selling everything from household staples to electronics to local artwork. Another is the Cape Coast Slave Castle Museum, a place where the weight of history threatens to crush your faith in humanity. And there's more, but my favorite is Kakum.

Ok, now, to understand the joygasm I had there, you have to get that I've been an environmentalist since I was a child. I had all the hippie talking points on rain forest clear-cutting down by middle school. I confused my parents to no end, but that was just me. Let me describe this a bit more.

We rolled into Kakum and then we hiked. Up. It was hot, it was sweaty, and it was gorgeous. The canopy was thick, cicadas were buzzing all around us, and the tour guide would stop periodically to tell us about this or that tree or historical feature, the time he and some tourists happened upon the rear end of a spitting cobra just laying there, front half in a burrow, alive and dangerous, but unmoving and unbothered by their presence, et cetera. We got to the top of this hill and found a structure that looked like the beginning of Disneyland's Jungle Cruise ride. The lower level was just a spot to sit while you wait your turn, and the top was the beginning of the rope-bridge canopy walk.

We stepped out onto this bridge, and began our horizontal trek outward, through the canopy. Because the rope bridge began at the top of the hill, every forward step brought us further out of the canopy as it descended with the terrain. Birds flew past us, insects the size of our hands just hung there in places, and the noise was incredible. And then, at some point, we were just out past and above the canopy, looking down on it, with no way to visually understand just how high up we were. I was in heaven, ladies and gentlemen. Heaven. My group was all busy taking pictures of each other on the rope bridge, amazed by the height, enjoying the beauty of the place, but somehow not entranced in the same way as I by the rain forest itself. I wanted to KNOW everything about how the ecology of the place worked from roots to leaves, eggs to bugs, nests to territories. Incidentally, if anyone knows of any particularly good reading material on the topic, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section.

I got back to our hotel that night after a 6 hour ride in an old, cramped, rickety passenger van they call a Tro-tro. We were fed the same food we'd been eating for the whole trip, the water in our hotel was shut off so we couldn't shower, and the power was out so we ate by candle light and hung out in the common room with a single flashlight upright on the table to see our companions by . . . and I was still exhilarated. I jokingly told the group that I wanted to go home and show my kids Fern Gully (not the finest moment for Robin Williams or Tim Curry, but fun, and set in a rain forest).

Here's another video with a little more perspective on the height and structures we were experiencing.

If I ever get to go back to Ghana, I'm going to spend more time there, and see if I can find a group to volunteer with for research or restoration purposes. So what about you? Have you ever walked through a rain forest? Or maybe arctic tundra was your coolest ecology experience? Deep sea diving? Share with me!

No comments:

Post a Comment