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the jungle casts its spell

I wake in a damp tent after a night of heavy rain, pack my soggy things onto the bike and set of into the hazy dawn.

The road at dawn.

As the sun rises the steamy air heats up. I soon turn off the main highway onto a diversion that will cut eighty kilometres from the journey and the road rolls through dense jungle. I am looking for a place to eat lunch when I am seduced off the road and my bike into the jungle by a beguiling path.

A path lures me off the road and my bike into the jungle.

I wander among towering trees, festooned with vines and creeping, host to riotous life of all sorts. Birds flit from branch to branch and the whole forest vibrates with the hum and whine of various insects. Flashes of movement, here and there. A stately tall black bird stalks across the path and vanishes. A frog jumps away from a carelessly descending foot and then freezes.

A well camouflaged frog.

The path winds seemingly at random into shallow gullies that hold barely moving streams of water; leaves floating, sinking, decaying, leaving the water a vivid brown. I walk until the foot path crosses a wider straight track – broad enough for a vehicle to pass on but for the saplings growing up to reclaim it – before returning the way I came.

Intact jungle canopy.

A rustle of movement above stops me in my tracks. Peering upwards into the canopy a lithe black form attracts my attention; muscular curling tail, lush black pelt, long limbs, elegant articulated fingers. The beast lies along a tree branch plucking leaves and stuffing them into its mouth. As I watch a smaller monkey appears. A group of four of the animals gather in the tree, two adults and two young, one very small and the other larger. The two young are more active and playful but all four are clearly resting, lounging relaxed along tree limbs in the midday heat.

A sleepy and uncharacteristically silent howler monkey.

Picture book shapes.

I return to my bike but I am keen to spend more time in the forest spying out its secrets. I ride on and signs appear advertising an indigenous eco-tourism project so I decide to investigate, hoping for a cheap place to camp with easy access to some walking tracks. Las Guamayas is community established by a group of Oaxacans who moved to the Chiapas jungle in search of a better life than they had in Oaxaca – one can only imagine how difficult things must have been there.

On their patch of land they have established a sanctuary for the threatened Red Macaw, and a sizable tourist centre with cabins for visitors wanting to experience the jungle. They also have cleared land set aside for food cultivation and cattle. I check the place out but the camping opportunities it provides don’t appeal to me and so I go on.

The mid-afternoon sun is strong and I stop by the road next to a cattle yard to hang out all my soaking gear to dry while I lie in the shade and read my book. When everything is as dry as it is ever going to get in the tropics in the wet season I pack the bike again and go to leave but some raucous shrieks attract my attention and I see a pair of large parrots land in a tree a couple of hundred metres away. I grab my binoculars and tackle the barbed wire fence barring my path and creep closer to the birds. They are huge – red, blue and yellow – so magnificent that I feel the need to use more splendid names for these colours, the scarlet they are named for, azure, perhaps, and saffron.  I creep as close as I can watching the birds play in the trees before, screaming, they take to the air again.

It is late in the day by the time I am back on the road.

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