Sixty Hours on BCI

By Katrina Macht
August 2, 2002

Home again. Unpacked, gifts sorted, field clothes laundered and stored away for another year, a future tropical adventure. Where did the days go?

This travel experience was exhilarating, the most intoxicating of all excursions we've had thus far. Perhaps it wasn't the most exotic - that distinction would have to go to the Ecuador expedition - but for me it was hands down the most special. To at last see and walk the legendary trails of Barro Colorado Island was pure rapture and a personal highlight that defies description.

I'm not going to say the two and half days on BCI were any less challenging for me than other folks - the steep, slippery trails, the rustic, buggy accommodations, the humidity, the chiggers - but the pay-off was well worth the investment. I have never felt more fit or alive than I did during the days I spent on that island. As if by magic I shed my middle-aged aches and pains, and managed to successfully traverse rugged, rocky trails morning, noon, and night, with little rest in-between. The more vigorous the hike, the greater my sense of accomplishment.

Our first afternoon on the island was an especially invigorating experience. A small band of enthusiastic explorers were led to see an ocelot by our intrepid guide, Greg Willis, on what later came to be known as a forced march across the island. Caught earlier in the morning, anesthetized, and fitted with a radio collar, the animal was now awaiting his release in a large wooden box-like trap. Because he was awake and ready to go, and because the distance between the main buildings and the trap was 4 kilometers away over precipitous, treacherous trails, Greg set a brisk pace for the group. His goal was to get to the ocelot before its release by other researchers. No time on this hike for rest stops. and Greg warned us in advance it was not for the faint of heart.

A challenging hike? To say the least. There were moments when the steep slopes felt like we were scaling mountains, and as I climbed one after another I was certain my heart would explode completely out of my chest. Yet when we arrived at our destination - ahead of the group traveling by boat, by the way - I felt totally energized. I had pushed my body further than I thought it could go. I had kept the pace without falling back, keeping up with Lauren, the youngest member of our group and matching her momentum step for step. Not only had I succeeded, but I was ready to go again.

Best of all, the ocelot was still there - in the trap - albeit eager to leave - and oh so beautiful. What an incredible gift! There in front of me, with only slats of wood separating us, was an illusive cat of the forest, an animal I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd have the opportunity to see in the wild. As I knelt before this exquisite being, anxious to return to his own world I was overcome with a sense of wonder and elation.

And that's what I mean by the pay-off is well worth the investment. Nowhere have I seen so many animals in their natural environment as I saw in those two and half days on Barro Colorado Island. Each and every hike brought a new and impressive discovery, revealing at least one remarkable creature cloistered in the dense vegetation of the forest's veil - often times more. Every encounter inevitably evoked that spirit of awe and reverence only nature can bestow. Can there be a greater high on this earth? I know of none.