June 7th, 2014 – Lalo Loor & Jama
Entering into the 14th day of the program – the halfway mark – I couldn’t feel luckier! What a phenomenal day. I mean, like any other day you have your ups and downs but today the ‘good’ FAR outweighed the ‘bad’. I might even argue that all my bad experiences prior provided the proper contrast for me to perceive this day as even more legen-(wait for it)-dary. To begin the day, I woke up with the urgency of humankind’s more basal needs: nitrogenous expulsion. I rushed to put on enough clothes to cover my primitive body as I streaked through the room to escape into the mosquito-infested outdoors. The struggle over the intended protection (now obstacle) of insect netting proved challenging, but it was no match for my intense desire to stomp through the house, emitting earth-shattering vibrations to announce my emergency situation. But I couldn’t care because my inability to reach the forest bathroom demanded my attention, so I made a momentous decision to “meet my needs” over the banister of the front porch.
I would later discover that everyone in my room heard my series of unfortunate events due to the combined frequency, intensity, and timing of the 5am morning wake-up-call I had sounded. I contemplated the properties of sound absorption through thinly spaced bamboo strips and decided that they did not assist at all in concealing my embarrassment. Not my best moment… You can decide if you feel worse for my roommates or me.
When I awoke again and went out for breakfast, I found out that the optional morning bird-watching group viewed a wide array of forest treasures resultant from the rare overnight stay of our instructor in Lalo Loor. Clear skies and a brilliant sun overhead factored in as well. The one time I chose not to attend… What I’ve been saying so far seems like a bunch of anecdotal scenarios followed up by misfortune, but this is where my tale really begins.
There was a stunning cultural surprise waiting for us upon our weekend leave from Lalo Loor. It was no ordinary vehicle, but rather one of the common forms of transportation around the area. A “ranchero” – for those of you that join me in the category of people ignorant to every other language other than English – is a wooden, rigged motor vehicle made to accommodate parties of up to about 20 people and probably used by the locals to showcase the surrounding area to tourist groups like ourselves. Today we became a part of that business. Riding up to our destination in the “native style” gave our trip some authority, or so I felt. (Perhaps I shouldn’t speak on behalf of everyone.) And our stop was one of the world’s finest: part of the ~10% of the remaining tropical mangrove forests.
The river of the town Jama is high in salt concentration and representative of a habitat type known as estuaries. Estuaries are known as ‘nurseries’ for the sea because they are mixing grounds for the fresh water of the land and the salt water of the sea which provides habitats and breeding grounds for unique aquatic wildlife. An abundance of bird species take roost in this unusual residence location as well (so many so that we gave up on counting). Due to the high salt content of the water present, not many plant species are suited to live in this environment, but mangroves have developed adaptations to lay claim to this unlikely home. As we revved on through the river, we observed tiny little root tips sticking up out of the soil nearby the mangrove trees. The roots are special adaptations for these plants called ‘lenticels’ which provide an external supply of oxygen to combat the low dissolved oxygen content of the water. Other innovative tactics were also employed by these plants to survive, such as salt excretion in which salt ions are actively transported outside of the xylem to maintain the negative pressure flow from transpiration and prop roots for structural support against the destructive forces of the ocean tides. I found the mystery behind the mangrove ecosystem very intriguing because I had always thought nothing would be able to survive in a saline-rich environment. Little did I know that Mother Nature had developed a clever evolutionary solution to survival in what I had thought was an inhospitable habitat. The greatest solution engineer was in action today and I witnessed her innovative invention firsthand on the Jama River.