Cutting through the muddy eddies of the swirling coffee creamer river, I recognize the forest’s roar first as a highway in the distance, then quickly realize the sound to be howler monkeys establishing territory. A flock of green and yellow parrots scare and alight, the sight first making me think it’s an IMAX National Geographic special before my eyes, instead of reality above my head. Once in camp, the humidity is one of post-shower air laden with heavy moisture, of which there is no respite brought on a breeze. The vegetation is dense and luxuriant, with insects of various size, shape, and color scurrying on every leaf. I turn my head at the blaring sound of a bird high up in the canopy, its repetitive and droning alarm causing me to instinctively search for car keys to turn it off. Putting my things away, I am out of breath and take a minute to rest in the sun, only to be nearly knocked over by a blue morpho plowing through the air on its iridescent powdery wings.
All of the sights, smells, sounds, and sensations are an assault on my city lifestyle. Everything I experience here is first translated through what I know and expect, but the subsequent realization of reality flips everything on its head. This trip is not only a month of studying diversity and understanding the importance of conservation: it is founding a second world of norm, equipping us with a fluency of novel expectations. As the days go by I realize my gait is slower, my eyes trail the ground and plants for animals and insects, not only because there is more to see, but because I am newly equipped with the ability to see more.
As we walk past the monstrous Ficus with buttress roots as tall as an SUV under sparkling cecropias and palms, our conversations comprise of phrases like “did you see the spider monkeys today?” or “that katydid looks just like a stick insect!” and “anything at the salt lick this morning?” What has now become normal will make returning to city life seem flipped once again: miscellanea in the street seen as leaves with snakes lurking beneath; gas fumes appearing as morning mist rolling in on the canopy. What this trip gives us is a pair of green-tinted glasses capable of imagining a place of modern humanity as one of originally lush nature. We see in two worlds, a cohesion and confusion that both make sense in the language of experience.
We will miss our 6 am whooping frog alarm clock, a day full of hikes and sweat, the 3pm titi monkey sightings in camp, and headlamp-lighted night hikes in which any twig snap could be a disgruntled peccary or stealthy jaguar. All we need to do is slip into the second world we’ve built in our heads, and transport back, to swing and escape from one jungle to another.