Majestic Ceiba

told by Hayley (visiting biologist from Cambridge University)

It was a grey morning, perfect for walking as we set off into the jungle following the trusty Chilin, one of Playa San Josecito's wise men, who walked carrying only a Machete.We crossed the dry river bed and disappeared up a path which turned out to be the beginning of a steep climb up the foothills - the loose mud held together by the extensive roots of thousands of rainforest trees towering in the sky above.

We climbed higher and higher over the red earth and Chilin pointed out the different tree species and identified the different brightly coloured nuts and seeds littering the forest floor - shiny reds and greens. He took a Machete to the buttress root of a Baco tree and we watched a white milk pour out of the wound as he invited us to drink with him. The milk was sweet and woody.


As we approached the top of the hill after an hour of climbing we started to see glimpses of the ocean below to the right, between the densely packed tree trunks. Way off to the left could be heard the distantand haunting call of the howler monkeys. Chilin used his Machete to tap the different lengthed roots protruding from the base of a dark barked tree, playing a tune with the different notes produced by the hollow wood. As we reached the summit we found ourselves within a cloud with water gently trickling over the canopies and falling around us in a damp mist. Looking at the magnificent roots of a tree I noticed a quick movement in the corner of my eye- following the disturbance I focussed in on a gorgeous black and green poison dart frog, hopping away from my prying eyes into the denser undergrowth.

Continuing on, the path flattened and even began to decline. Brilliant red flowers appeared with bright cobalt blue berries and bright green leaved epiphytes clung to the branches above with thick twisted vines linking the larger trunks of the more ancient trees. Chilean sliced a vine clean in half and water trickled out. He held the vine above my mouth for me to drink. Refreshing. As the path began to descend more steeply we could see a great valley opening out to the right covered in a blanket of lime green ferns. On the opposite hillside the occasional yellow flowered tree shone like a beacon between the dark shades of green of the surrounding canopy. Birds of prey wheeled above against a pale sky and butterflies all yellows and reds flitted amongst the foliage. Fighting through fronds of the ferns we eventually made it down to a small river- the water crystal clear and good to drink. We rested for a short time there at a wooden bench placed carefully at a junction in the paths. The wide path headed right to Golfito, or left to our destination. The path was littered with the empty brilliant red and orange wiry shells of the Mamon chinos and the air smelled strongly of Peccaries.

We were walking for only around 5 minutes before we could see the expansive sheets of buttress roots towering above- the base of the ceiba. The path curved round the back of the tree which bordered a small and empty basin. The roots were so large and the base so wide that trees of great size within their own right were made to look like match sticks as they grew up in the shelter of the ceiba buttresses. The roots, each sufficient to wall a room, tapered up to meet a relatively slender core trunk which reached up into the sky so that you could not see let alone envisage or even imagine where top may be. The closer to the tree you looked the greater it appeared, never having felt so insignificant as a human as when enveloped within its folds. The bark of the tree was like elephant skin, it looked thick and tough, wrinkly and browngrey, conveying a feeling of wisdom that only comes with such things as those that are very large or very old. Strings of vines hung down in clumps as if from no where- their source too high to fathom. In awe of and belittled by the tree, we set off back up the path still shielded within its field of quiet and peace.

Majestic Ceiba

Simon Mezzanotte