The Cloud Forest Biological Corridor
We headed out early, driving north from Guatemala City, dropping down into the sweltering Motagua Valley on the Atlantic Highway. At kilometer 85 we reached El Rancho and, after a snack of dobladas de loroco (corn tortillas filled with farm-fresh cheese flavored with fragrant loroco flowers) washed down with big glasses of Guarapo (fresh-pressed sugar cane juice on ice), we headed up the road leading to Baja Verapaz. Soon the tropical heat gave way to cool mist as we stopped to take in the splendor of the Salama Valley at the kilometer 95 viewpoint.
At kilometer 142 we stopped by a large sign welcoming visitors to the Corredor Biológico del Bosque Nuboso, the gateway to the ancient tropical cloud forest. An association of private land owners along with government conservation authorities has been established to protect these endangered forests, the last refuge of the resplendent quetzal and the rare avian unicorn Oreophasis derbianus. The Corridor and all its participating members, including some twenty hotels, private reserves and restaurants are located along a section of highway between km 142 to Km.172 on the road to Cobán.
Just ahead we veered off to the right, driving up a well-maintained dirt road leading to the town of Chilasco.
Then on to a walking path leading to the Chilasco Falls, described as the “highest waterfalls in Central America.” It’s a two-hour walk to the falls, through pristine forest on the edge of the Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve, established as the result of a project that I initiated in 1985. It was a joy to see the way little Sophia was soaking up the sights as she discovered the magic of the cloud forest. She spotted a whippoorwill nesting by the side of the path and dew-kissed emeraldescent cicada. She also found a wild-looking bug, Acrocinus longimanus, on a fig vine whose face, she exclaimed, looked just like her favorite hip-hop artist!
For many years my base of operations in the Verapaz region has been Quetzal Mountain Inn (Hotel Posada Montaña del Quetzal at Km.156) where you can get a nice cottage with a fireplace, essential for comfort in the this land of perpetual cheepy-cheepy ( the Mayan word for cold-misting fog and drizzle). This is also the best place to sample the regional delicacy cak’ Ik, a rich turkey soup flavored with chili, pumpkin and sesame seeds and local herbs, accompanied by corn tamalitos. The Lemus family, owners of the Quetzal Mountain Inn, are members of the Cloud Forest Corridor Association and are actively involved in protecting the forest on their land and throughout the region, including frequent reforestation campaigns involving local school children. By patronizing the Quetzal Mountain Inn we help the Lemus Family to save the forest!
The Posada del Quetzal has its own cloud forest reserve with a nature trail leading to a beautiful valley and the magnificent Rochoch Li Kukul Falls. It was here that I took my first series of good photos of the sublime emerald cloud serpent. We spent the afternoon exploring the forest and lounging by the falls. I had been searching for a rare viper for months without any success, but it was Sophia who discovered one. This beautiful palm viper Bothriechis aurifer is an endangered species and only found in a few of our remaining cloud forests. Sophia had been educated to look but not to touch the wildlife, and we observed this emerald-hued serpent for quite a while as I got some good photographs. For the next two days we explored the region including visits to the Mario Dary Biotope Reserve (Biotopo Mario Dary), Chicoy cave where we witnessed part of a sacred Mayan ceremony, and the Hacienda Shamen dairy farm where we sampled delicious homemade cheeses.
Most hotels along the Corridor have their own system of nature trails, some leading to spectacular falls. By giving your business to these local providers you will be helping to protect the cloud forest. By the end of the weekend Sophia’s mind and imagination were chock-full of exotic impressions and memories to take back home with her to share with other budding naturalists.