The Climb to CachalúOctober 6, 2011
Maria Ghiso – education coordinator for the Rainforest Alliance – writes about a recent visit to Colombia’s Cachalú Biological Reserve. For a number of years, the Rainforest Alliance has been working to protect Cachalú’s gorgeous and diverse oak forest through a program that contributes funding to small conservation groups in tropical countries…
Our two-hour hike in the rain and mud was well worth it to reach the beautiful Cachalú Biological Reserve. This unique oak forest has been part of our Adopt-A-Rainforest program for many years. Julianne Schrader, manager of the Rainforest Alliance’s education program, Al Stenstrup, director of education programs at Project Learning Tree, and I were spending the week with our Sustainable Agriculture Network partners at Fundación Natura. Andrés Avella from their research team was guiding us on our journey to Cachalú.
As we drove through the Colombian countryside, we passed spectacular and awe inspiring peaks. Making our way up and down windy mountain roads, we passed through various ecosystems, coffee plantations, mountain forests and the páramo – a hillside steppe dotted with distinctive plants called frailejones that are huddled together like people trying to keep warm.
After many hours of driving, the road came to an end — from here, we would walk. We were met by Pepe, the administrator of Cachalú, and two horses that would bring our bags up the steep mountainside trails while we walked. Part of the precious cargo included new batteries for the solar panels in Cachalú’s biological station – the batteries were purchased with funds from Adopt-A-Rainforest donors. That night, we would get ready for bed by candlelight and wait for the batteries to be installed the next morning.
I woke to a calm and quiet dawn, the perfect reprieve for my busy New York City state of mind. After a delicious breakfast, we gathered our supplies and set out on our hike with Pepe, Andrés and Pepe’s adorable six year-old daughter Camila, my favorite tour guide. As we left the station, Andrés pointed out Cachalú – a green mountain in the distance covered with trees.
Cachalú Biological Reserve was created to protect the Andean oak forests and the unique flora and fauna found there. Before being designated a natural preserve, the area was part of a large cattle ranch; the biological station, where we were staying, was once the hacienda where the owner lived with his family. The land where Cachalú stands was originally slated to be logged, but because of its distance from the main road, was protected from further development until it became a nationally recognized reserve.
As we hiked deeper into the forest, we were surrounded by lush bromeliads, ferns, palms and other plants and shaded by the green canopy. I was amazed at the way Camila navigated the narrow trails with speed and agility; I walked the same trails with so much caution. “She loves joining us on hikes,” her father told us. She knew exactly where we were, could lead us back to the biological station, and even pointed out berries and edible plants to me along the way.
I could hear the bubbling sound of water nearby. We passed by rivers, streams and waterfalls and the waters turned brown as we got closer to the area where the Andean oaks were. The water was not polluted, but instead colored with natural tannins found within the bark of these majestic trees.
As we continued our hike, we saw that some of the trees were marked off and identified. These are part of a research study conducted by Fundación Natura in various parcels of the reserve to study the growth of tree species and natural succession in this forest type. The research team is also studying restoration and sustainable management of these forests as well as the growth rate of specific plant species.
I felt a few raindrops and reached for my coat as we made our way back toward the biological station. The sound of the raindrops hitting the leaves made for a peaceful backdrop. Camila sweetly pointed out a few roots in our path and held my hand as I carefully step over them. I thought about how much fun she was having on our hike and it reminded me of the importance of getting kids out into nature to observe and explore the world.
Upon our return, Andrés and Pepe showed us the tree nursery with saplings of tree species found in the reserve that they are nurturing to plant back in the forest. Camila’s mom waited with some juice and listened to her daughter recount the stories of our morning as we thumbed through a book with the birds of Colombia. We looked at the photo of the distinctive cock-of-the-rock and although we didn’t see that bird, I felt lucky to have heard its song echoing through the forest.
Interested in contributing to conservation efforts in the Cachalú Biological Reserve? Take part in our Adopt-a-Rainforest program to support Cachalú and other deserving conservation initiatives.