|Ramona and Tracy|
|The cheerful kitchen|
|Just outside the compound|
|Ramona and Tracy's compound|
The first day we lingered in the morning kitchen as the clouds rolled in outside. We set out and I was immediately taken by the beauty all around. Birds of prey, horses grazing, ibis, goose, and all sorts of songbirds caught my attention. There are several endemics that Tracy pointed out which are less striking because of their plummage, but more for their personality. We walked along cattle tracks in a steady incline until we reached the forest proper, at which point the path took a steep turn up. The constant presence of high humidity allows for a forest reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest forests. Thick underbrush of flowers and ferns covered the forest floor. The hillsides are steep and so we spent most of our time going up or down these steep mountainsides. We reached the top of one mountain and the views were astounding. Unfortunately, many people have moved into the National Park and established houses and grazing areas and harvest wood. This is all illegal, but the local government turns a blind eye. Ramona and Tracy have done their best to record coordinates of new houses or new fences as they find them in their transect walks and research trips. The most destructive thing, besides the humans themselves, is the cattle grazing. People allow for their cattle to graze without restriction and the cattle are everywhere in the park. We followed their muddy trails through the trees and came upon often.
|Settler at the top of the mountain|
|Before the forest|
|Views of the valley from the hike|
We continued descending the mountain through a bamboo forest looking for the elusive Bali Monkey, with no luck. We stopped to look at some waterfalls, eat a lunch, and enjoy the tranquility. We also watched the sunset and by the time we got out of the forest, night was moving in fast. These insects, like cicadas, started singing and made such an overwhelming sound that it was like a big deafening wave of insect music moving across the hills through the trees. I could not believe how loud it became! We got back to the compound after dark and they went about preparing a dinner. We had been out for about 8 hours and were all a bit weary and hungry. We finished the night playing cribbage. I had never played, but they taught me the rules and it was a competitive laugh all around.
Though Ramona and Tracy have an ideal Peace Corps life in one way, they are located very far away from major towns and get to live in a beautiful cloud forest with amazing wildlife experiences, the challenges of living with little electricity (just the solar), outdoor toilet, rainwater (when there is rain, some parts of the year are dry and they have to haul their water the same way the locals do), living in another culture - religion, language, customs, food - are really intense. Just a simple thing of going to the nearest town to resupply can take days of patiently waiting for a bus that is not too full to pick them up. But, as I stayed with them I saw that they were lucky in that they had each other and that they had skillfully made their lives as comfortable as they could with what they could pull together. I was quite impressed with how easily Tracy could whip up a tasty healthy dinner on a camp stove and how they just roll with the darkness by using headlamps and little solar lamps. They told me that they are sad to leave their post, that no one will backfill them, the program is finished for now, but they are curious as to their futures back in the States. I hope that they find something as rewarding as this experience has been when they go home again.