Friday, May 25, 2012

The Key to the Cloud Forest

-“Buenos Dias. ¿Usted Sergio Garcia?”
-“Gracias. Adios.”
-“Buenos Dias. ¿Usted Sergio Garcia?”
-“Gracias. Adios.”
-“Buenos Dias. Usted Sergio Garcia?”
I was watching Aneta with amusement walking up bravely to random men in the Zocalo (square) of the little "puebla" of Casimiro Castillo looking for Sergio Garcia at 9:00 in the morning.  Senor Sergio Garcia was nowhere to be found so she picked up the phone and said: “I am going to call him.”  I said “good luck;” I had a feeling this would be tedious.  She proceeded to make her first phone call in broken Spanish as I listened.  Sergio’s wife picked up the phone and apparently he was not at his house.  After five minutes of trying to communicate, Aneta told her "Nosotros en al Centro, diez mas minutos aqui" (we at the center, ten more minutes here).  Surprisingly Sergio showed up within ten minutes and we found out that he did not speak any English either, "no problem" we thought.  First, we stopped at his house, where he picked up his friend who spoke a little English and had a cooler full of Coronas for the road.  We were in for our treat of the day…

The reason we were searching for Sergio was because we were looking for access to the elusive Cloud Forest.  After our time in Chapala we threw a coin on which route to take to the coast; with Semana Santa over we figured it was time to go back to the beaches.  The long, slow and breathtaking route it was... 
So far our route has been planned from guide books, maps and other travelers.  We started on our way up and down the winding mountain passes towards the town of Autlan.  On the map it shows that it is near Reserva of the Biosphere of Manatlan, which is a protected cloud forest.  We could not wait for the landscape to turn dramatic enough.
On our way with Bimbo (bread truck) on our tail.
We arrived in Autlan and continued through to the reserve.  When we arrived at the top of the pass, a man who was in charge of the gate said that the entrance on this side of the reserve was closed.  This was to better preserve the park; he directed us to go back down to the office in Autlan for more information on where to go.  At the office we put our Spanish into use in order to find out what area was worth going to.  This is where we chiseled our assumptions to stone that some people in Mexico will tell you information even if they don't know it's correct because they do not want you to think that they don’t know anything about an area, such as directions.
When we originally heard it was a cloud forest we had images of dew laden leaves and low hanging clouds over the mountain; what we saw from our vantage point at the valley floor was not it.  That may be true, however we were towards the end of the dry season and we would have to wait till the rains start coming to experience this.  
A pic from further way further down the coast
After an hour at the office we felt like we were pulling teeth to acquire information on access and info to the reserve.  We found that most areas to the cloud forest which are around 9,000 feet are off limits to vehicles and the only option we were looking at was a four day hiking trip which we were not up for.  I was sick and in no condition for this excursion unfortunately.  It is protected stringently and for good reason, it has some of the greatest biological diversity in Mexico.  Without these reserves the local ranchers and farmers will go into the forests to slash and burn.  We have seen the sad sight of entire mountain sides that are being completely stripped for cattle grazing.  The area is home to six cat species ranging from Lynx, Ocelot and Jaguar, 110 species of mammals and 350 birds.  At the valley floor it was mostly agriculture and tropical, as we drove up the pass we entered oak and pine forests and ended up in the cloud forest vegetation.  In the end the man who was helping us told us to go to Casimiro Castillo at 9:00 the next morning to meet Sergio Garcia with the key to the gate.  The whole situation was a little strange for us, but we went along with the idea.  After all, we were running out of options and had nothing better to do. We jumped back in the truck, went to Autlan and found a cheap hotel that had Internet so we could find out more information about the reserve. 
Pics never do justice, drive from Autlan to Casimiro Castillo
The morning greeted us with another amazing drive up and over the pass towards the ocean in order to gain access to the reserve and see what it was all about.  At first glimpse of Casimiro Castillo we did not want to even pull in due to the towering smoke stack that was billowing soot forming a cloud above the town.  
We were not sure of what types of factories were tucked into towns that were off the tourist radar screen.  We later found out it was a cane sugar factory, from what we saw without this factory the town would probably be nonexistent.  With the amount of sweets that are consumed here this town will be thriving for a long time.  We met Sergio in the Zocalo, then followed him and his friend up the very slow dusty road with several gates to keep the cows separated for grazing.  There were also crews who were repairing the water pipes for the town which were mangled by last years floods.  
After an hour we ended up at the end of the road where a couple of welcoming loggers who were up for a chat were cutting four foot wide dead trees into lumber with a chain saw.  It is rare to see logging trucks with larger logs on them; most of the timber is cut into planks with chainsaws on site, then loaded by hand onto trucks and sent to town to be planed and used locally.  
One board at a time
From there we hiked up the river where we were greeted by butterflies, lizards, and the songs of the birds.  We then turned around said our goodbye's and thanked Sergio and the other men for kindly showing us their world and headed down for the long drive back.  We figured out later that Sergio's job was to check on who was in this area of land and then basically hang out with them for the rest of the day.
Sergio in the middle flanked by his amigo
On the way back down the bumpy road we started to hear a knocking sound coming from the front of the truck. I had Aneta drive so I could walk next to it and identify the sound.  It turned out to be the right side strut that had loosened the nut which stripped the threads of the bolt on the tower.  It was only getting worse so we found a mechanic in town where him and I cut a slot in a nut, then miraculously slid it under the other nut to temporarily stop the noise.  An hour later and 120 pesos poorer :) we were on our way knowing the strut would have to be replaced down the road soon.
The only shot of the band aid repair
As we left Casimiro Castillo and drove through the sugar cane plantations and orchards, the landscape was turning tropically hot and humid, we could tell we were nearing the ocean.  Aneta fell back into her midday siesta routine during our long drives.  We made it to La Manzanilla where we spent the next day on the beach recharging ourselves and planned the next leg of our trip.

Click images to enlarge


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