"Checking Out CloudBridge"
There I was, standing in front of an amazing cloud forest waterfall called Catarata Pacifica, one of three beautiful falls in the high jungles of Costa Rica, at the base of Mt. Chirripó, the country's highest point.and a volcano. With me was Tom Gode, the director of CloudBridge, who has given his life to the preservation and restoration of the endangered cloud forest-a vital piece of the global climate that affects us all. Also there was Jules, my super cool and quirky Australian travel buddy, who had joined me and my dart-seeking adventures since our cruise across the Atlantic. Tom was taking us on a hike through the trails and trees of the CloudBridge Project property-leading the way with his deftly accurate machete chops and walking stick. Tom knew every tree, plant, flower, fruit and creature we came across.
Out of all my travels, this may have been the furthest place I'd ever been from finding a dartboard. But, as you might guess, I didn't let that stop me. But, that part of the story is for the next article or two. At the moment, we were learning all about the cloud forest, and how CloudBridge is helping save the planet, one tree sapling at a time.
Tom, in his quiet and peaceful way, lead us through the paths that wind through the growing protected lands of CloudBridge, often hacking at flora, maintaining the trails as we went. After our first waterfall stop, we ambled through the rocky terraces of the memorial and mediation gardens-one particular circle of rocks in the stone garden reminded me of a dartboard, and I stood in the middle, raised my arms and channeled some energy between me, the Earth and the Universe. Tom lead us on, pointing out flowers or bizarre insects, or sampling some of the delectable tangerine-like fruits that grow wild in the jungle. Having lived here for several years, Tom could spy things in the thick greenery that others would never notice-we found a wild pheasant or two, some tapir and puma tracks, while always keeping a close eye out for howler monkeys, wild pigs, and countless colorful birds. We stopped at other waterfalls and vistas, hearing tales of farm horses that survived an accidental slip into the rushing river and a plummet down the falls. And, we heard about hard core kayakers, like Matt Baer-the kayaking equivalent of yours truly-that made the trip here just to purposely test his adrenaline junkie skills launching off the three fifty foot waterfalls at CloudBridge.
Once or twice, a local farmer rode by on horseback with a subtle nod hello, but not much of an exchange. Tom explained the situation: years ago the Costa Rica government granted cloud forest land to farmers, allowing them to cut and clear swaths for grazing or agriculture. It was an economic effort to boost growth, but it took years to realize the damage they were doing to a precious part of their country-destroying rare species of plants and organisms, increasing runoff and flooding for villages below, not to mention the less noticeable impact on global climate, an issue that affects us all. Through negotiation, most farms that neighbor CloudBridge have been peacefully reclaimed and replanted, though a few farms remain. The farmer that just clip-clopped past must cross through CloudBridge to reach San Gerardo, hence the subdued interaction and knowing looks between he and Tom. There's no bad blood between either of them, although perhaps some mutual guilt-but, just as Tom understands that the farmers are simply trying to survive, they understand that CloudBridge is helping save the invaluable nature. It's an old story-man versus his own footprint, and we all know that to truly survive forever, we must tread carefully. It's just a difficult situation: cooperation or competition? It's probably both. Fortunately, things are changing for the better, and a manageable balance is being sought.
Thanks to the benefactors behind CloudBridge, people like Tom, his volunteer staff, researchers, scientists, tourists, photographers, locals, workers, students, children-and even the occasional darts-travel writer and his country-singin' shrimp-boatin' circus-animal-trainin' walkabout-in' sidekick from Australia-get to experience, explore and encourage the saving of the cloud forests of Costa Rica.
Poor Jules, who was supposed to be my "survival specialist", took a spill on a wet rock during our walk, and some heavy scrapes on her shoulder from a thick bamboo stalk. You'd be surprised how many thorns are on mature bamboo. But, tough as nails, she chirped up, "No worries, mate, just some water here. There all better," as she cleansed her red bloody wound. We knew she was hurting, but Tom and I almost smiled-me, knowing what a cool, interesting, amazing, tough, fun and worldly woman Jules was, and what a perfect travel buddy she continually proved to be, and Tom, just now realizing what I already knew. Brushing off her jeans, Jules planted her stick and said with her proud Aussie accent, "I'm alright mate. I've had worse. Good on ya." And, our hike continued.
We walked for another hour or two, under partially blue skies and sun, until the grey blanket of clouds returned, wafting up the valleys below us, through the squawking trees across the gorge, casting its dull wetness across the jungle, up to the hidden crater of Mt. Chirripó. Tom pointed out all the special trees, plants, and animal tracks. Visit CloudBridge's Blog, and your sure to see pics and vids of all the rarest ones: tapirs, pumas, monkeys, quetzals, all of it.you'll even stumble across a mention of my visit. But, I couldn't begin to describe it all, you'll just have to click through the slideshows.
And there were other great people that day, and the next. We met our housemate, Frank, a Dutch geologist studying the causes and effects of landslides. We met Tom's better half, Linda, a naturalist and artist specializing in tree portraits, combining real plant life with paint and paper. That night, we were invited to dinner in Tom's hand built home, a stunningly wonderful wood and stone abode, and Tom, Linda, Jules, Frank and I enjoyed a magnificent soup dinner, fresh jungle-squeezed juices and cocktails, watching the hummingbirds feed as night took hold of the mist. Later, we enjoyed the sounds of the forest under the stars on the decks of our cliff-clinging dwellings, not to mention the rarest of rare things in Costa Rica: high speed internet, a benefit of running a global eco-reserve and necessity for researchers, only possible with an array of radio dishes from the remote top of the country down to its capital, San Jose, to the rest of the world. For me, it also meant I could email and catch up on the darts world, and stream more PDC and BDO matches while the river rushed below and howler monkeys bellowed in the darkness all around. Phil Taylor and all the rest were in the cloud forest with me.
The next day was much the same: pancakes banana breakfast, a hike, plus another rock-n-roll ride down to San Gerardo in Tom's jeep, and a wonderful fresh fish dinner at the town's only pub. There certainly were no darts to be found, that's for sure, but I had another idea. "Hey Tom," I said as I set down my cold bottle of Pilsen, "What do you think about making a dartboard, an 'eco' dartboard, to add to the CloudBridge classroom or researcher quarters?" Tom, with his omnipresent mini-smile, barely visible in his grey beard, said, "I'll look for some wood tomorrow. I think I have a nice piece of cypress that will work."
I smiled. I was excited. Costa Rica, cloud forests, monkeys and pumas, saving the cloud forest, saving mankind, saving the planet? And spreading the game of darts? Epic.
Over and double out.