The Reserva Biologica Indio-Maiz is home to large number of impressive animals – monkeys, tapirs, jaguars and panthers to mention but a few – but perhaps the most dangerous is small, damp and has a red body with blue legs. The Poison Dart Frog doesn’t look like much, most of them are little bigger than the tip of my index finger, but it is a renowned killer.
In the hands of an experienced indigenous hunter, the toxic secretions of the poison dart frog in combination with a blow dart is deadly – either for hunting game or combat between warring tribes. There are two fairly common types of poison dart frog in the Reserva Biologica Indio-Maiz, the red and blue version and the slightly harder to find green and black-spotted version.
The Reserva Biologica Indio-Maiz is an extraordinary place. A vast and pristine tropical rainforest, it runs for over 100km along the banks of the Rio San Juan and goes a similar distance inland. The majority of the reserva is off limits to anyone who isn’t a scientific researcher, but along the fringe of the river sections of the forest have been opened to eco-tourism, so now we can all get a glimpse of the flora and fauna that inhabit the forest.
If there is a small upside to the terrible war civil war that raged in Nicaragua for a decade or more, it is that this huge tropical rainforest was cut off and left largely untouched by human development.
We hired a local guide in El Castillo and early one morning set off in a motorised canoe down the Rio San Juan, spotting large numbers of river birds, and smaller numbers of turtles, green basilisks and alligators along the way. The entrance to Reserva Biologica Indio-Maiz is only 30 minutes away from El Castillo and almost from the moment you get off the boat you can hear Howler Monkeys high in the trees.
After a quick orientation session with the park guards – during which I almost walked into the web of a poisonous Golden Orb Spider – we were off down a forest trail for three hours of animal tracking and plant spotting. The interior of a tropical rain forest is a hot and silent place. Very little wind reaches the interior and there doesn’t seem to be any oxygen in there either.
Hot, sweaty and breathless we made our way deeper into the forest spotting birds and listening to the occasional Howler Monkey making its point to its fellow monkeys. Our guide showed us medicinal plants and explained the way of life of the indigenous peoples who still inhabit the forest. At one point we chewed a small twig which instantly numbed our tongues – a natural anesthetic used by the forest tribes.
We were fortunate, not only did we find Poison Dart Frogs, we spotted Spider Monkeys with their young.
We also had a rare but exciting sighting of a Collared Peccary. As we approached the end of our trek our guide suddenly stopped and told us to stay still and quiet. Moments later we heard something coming through the undergrowth. Suddenly three Collared Peccaries, one only a few feet away from us, emerged out of the undergrowth. They then spotted us and charged across the trail in front of and behind us and disappeared into the forest again.
We finished the trip with a swim in a small and cold river that is a tributary of the Rio San Juan. The fact that the water is cold is important – alligators don’t like the cold so its safe to swim. At least thats what we were told. After the heat of the forest it was wonderful to cool off in the river, and as we floated there a troupe of Spider Monkeys made an appearance in the trees above us.
It is a memory I’ll treasure. Swimming in a river in the middle of a tropical rain forest while Spider Monkeys ran through the trees above us…it really doesn’t get better than that, and it was the perfect end to our stay in wonderful Nicaragua. As we motored back towards the Rio San Juan we could still hear Howler Monkeys, but we didn’t see a single one.