26 in the Rarotanga Jungle

Yesterday was my 26th birthday and a wonderful one at that! Perhaps it’s not every girl’s dream to celebrate her birthday in the heart of a jungle, but for me it was perfect.  I had had my eye on the cross-island hike that dotted our little tourist map and had thought to myself “THAT’S what I want to do on my birthday.”  On a circular island with only a 32 Km circumference, I knew the distance across would be manageable in a day.  So sure enough we set out for the cross-island hike when the sun was starting to heat the winter air on what would be longest day of summer back in the states.

 

It began with a leisurely walk down a small road.  We trekked in towards the heart of the small island, plodding along past little gardens and pig pens, nestled in the midst of the lush greenery of the jungle growth.  The road gradually became a trail, but there was little difference between them at first.  The trail was wide and grassy like a muddy, overgrown country road.  Then, quite suddenly, the trail turned into just a footpath in the growth and I felt more in the middle of the jungle than ever before on this last few weeks of island visits.  Immediately our little footpath became a muddy ribbon winding straight up through a steep bank of smooth and curling roots.  The roots crowded the trail like an unruly lattice, providing little ledges for one’s feet throughout the upward climb.

Every now and then I looked behind at the trail we’d crossed and saw the hanging vines and low-curving branches, glowing green at the touch of filtered sunlight.  Brightly colored flowers dotted the broader sections of trail, newly fallen from the trees and damp from recent rain. I was filled with excitement just to know that such a place as this existed at all, let alone that I was there, making my hard-earned way through an island jungle.  It is always a comfort for those who love nature to occasionally see places more wild than tame: more their own than any human’s.

The jungle surrounded us, fully concealing anything else in our vicinity, yet with an openness that still allowed the breeze to rush through and cool us.  I had noticed this openness too in the forests of New Zealand.  The growth was thick there and all was green with moss, and yet there weren’t the choking undergrowths of North American forests.  Here too the grasses receded leaving only moss covered roots at our feet for long stretches of the trail.  At my feet as I walked, little newts slipped away over these roots and trunks like shining beads of melted metal sliding across a slick surface.  They were black little creatures with a copper, metallic sheen that looked almost unnatural.  Though I’ve seen gecko after gecko, these little lizardy families were new to me.

The rest of our trek provided more and more to clamber over: rocks, roots, boulders and waterways.  Even a towering pillar of bare rock at one point, that gave us a bird’s-eye view of the jungle below and the silvery sea beyond.

I can’t express how glad I am that there are yet places on this earth where nature has such a presence.  Where trees grow where they please and one can spend hours without seeing a trace of human destruction, save for a humble footpath.

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