Rainforest trek, or, Expedition to "the stick"

Green. Gorgeous. Growing. Gigantic.

These are adjectives pressed upon me trooping through the rainforest. Manfred, Friesens' househelp, was cutting down "a stick" on his farm and he invited us to come along to see it turned into lumber.

It had poured in the morning and we left later in the afternoon than may be wise for trekking out to the bush (3:45ish), but having no guarantee of a better circumstance another day, we went anyway.

We took the main path into the bush leading past Scotts' place then disappeared on a lesser path not far into the elephant grass. Like the roads, the paths are so unobtrusive I hardly see them until a local turns down one. We trotted along the gentle up-and-down path through cocoa, cassava, and groundnut farms with a scattering of banana and plantain trees. I marvelled at the scenery when possible, but sadly, mostly focussed on my feet to keep from stumbling. Ooops, tree root -- strike that last part about not falling.

Suddenly Manfred stepped off the path and began to tramp through the bush. I'm always surprised by what deep troughs and sharp crests are hiding in the rainforest. The road from Kumba features a few hills and there is one good-sized hill dividing the village into "dit sied" and "jant sied,"* but the overall view of terrain belies the steep valleys hidden just beyond the houses.

We tramped along like this for another 30 minutes or so, through unmarked forest, along a creekbed part of the way, obediently following the trail Manfred blazed ahead of us. It was bushwhacking with a vengeance, though the undergrowth was not as thick as you might imagine. Under the rainforest canopy, the growth -- though dense and lush -- is not impenetrable.

After a very long uphill climb from the stream at the bottom of the ravine, we reached the felled tree. A beautiful red hardwood, the tree was 1 metre in diameter, 55 feet long to the Y (we measured), and had required a double long chain-saw blade to cut. Stood on end, the blade (two standard lengths welded together) was as tall as I am. The men used a chainsaw to cut the wood into planks, leaving a thick bed of beautiful coarse but soft red sawdust. Sadly, an alarming percentage of this beautiful tree will end up as sawdust. The men were cutting planks that were 4 meters long, 30 cm wide and 4 cm thick, but by the time they've been planed to remove the chainsaw marks they'll only be 2 ½ to 3cm thick.

Another complication is getting them out. Those boards are plenty heavy -- remember, this is green wood. It was all I could do to walk out of the bush carrying myself and a walking stick; I can't imagine carrying a long board on my head, much less a REALLY heavy one. For the next couple of weeks Dan and Manfred were calling in favours to get those boards carried out one by one.

Sounding like a pack of chimpanzees (3 pre-teen girls are not the best companions for a quiet trek through the jungle), we started back as dusk threatened to fall, after viewing a second felled tree straddling a small ravine. Crossing this one, I counted approximately 80-some steps from one end to the next. After scrambling up and down the great ravine again, we saw the sun headed for the horizon just beyond the line of hills and tops of trees, leaving streaks of red, orange, yellow, and pink. It was beautiful but there was no time to stop and enjoy it. Darkness overtook us just before arriving home at 6:45.

This trek took me past 4 different kinds -- or categories -- of vegetation: elephant grass along the path, farms under the canopy, tangled and thick second-growth forest quickly taking back cleared land allowed to sit for too long, finally virgin forest full of magnificent tall trees, and surprisingly less dense foliage than the previous.

Dan had worn hiking boots while the rest of us were in rubber boots. The latter may not seem like the best footwear for hiking, but given the mud underneath the greenery and the stream serving as road, they truly were the better choice. In spite of them, my pants were soaked from hem to just above the knees from repeated brushing against dewy undergrowth.

Post-script: Banana trees are not sturdy. Do not grab onto banana or plantain trees to steady yourself over uneven ground. Because I'm a huge klutz, I make it a policy to grab onto any solid object in close proximity to keep me on my feet and/or to help pull myself up a slope. Banana trees, however, do not qualify. I realized this in time not to fell the tree -- only to weaken it so the next person to so much as touch it (Rachel) would be the cause of its demise. Sorry, Manfred.

* Low German terms meaning "this side" and "that side" but connoting "the right side" and "the wrong side." Which applies to which depends on which side you reside.


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