We were both up by 5:30 to get ready for our first volunteer experience. We were to be at Cloudbridge by 7:30 to meet Tom and the students from Montreal Canada to help them plant trees.
On the way there we came upon guys hauling huge metal containers of milk to the insulated truck who would collect them to take to the bottling plant. This is a young teenager all bent over with his container while the horse hoofed two. This was just down our road, and we saw others in San Gerardo.
About five minutes from the meeting point we saw the students trudging their way up the road from their hotel, with rubber boots, long sleeves, and what looked like flannel pajama bottoms. I think some were, but others were regular cotton. Few looked like they were going to endure the steep hike ahead of them. We all convened at the volunteer building where Tom filled them in about the history of Cloudbridge and explained the morning.
While everyone applied bug repellent and sunscreen the two leaders divided the students into three groups. Wisely, Tom gave Bill and me the slowest ones! They were each given a bag of plants and three of our group also carried shovels. Then we headed on up the trail. That first section is grueling so there were a few rests along the way. Just before the first bench and official rest stop, Tom and his group passed us. A few moments at the bench while Tom gave the information about strangler figs provided a bit of recuperation of lungs and muscles. Many students sat down on the ground.
Then it was on up the next challenging section to the Mirador del Valle, viewpoint of the valley, with the photographic waterfall in the distance. Here Tom explained that most of that view had been farmland ten years ago. Between the reforestation and nature all but one section with cows still grazing is now covered with trees. Then it was on to the more gentle section of the hike.
Just before the turnoff to go up the horrible switchbacks of the trail up the mountain, we all rested and learned about how the people there used to live just eight years ago when Tom got there. “Way” back then people survived by working the land. They didn’t have phones, television, electricity, etc. so money wasn’t needed for bills. The man supported his family by clearing land for farming and grazing. Everyone helped. Clearing land was seemingly harder for them than Abe Lincoln as there was so much primary forest with thick, thick trunks. Men would make a stand from a log and then use axes to chop away at the trunk up higher where it wasn’t quite as thick. The aim was to get the tree to fall on the next guy’s tree to help make it fall, easing their work load.
With several minutes of rest it was time to get to work. Sighs of relief were readily heard, along with cheers, from our small group that we were planting trees at the beginning of the trail while the two other groups hiked up one steep kilometer to get to the real planting area. We were just filling in gaps Tom staked ahead of us while we climbed slowly up to where the rest were. As one shovel had broken on the way up, somewhat conveniently?, we were down to two shovels for six people. Bill showed them the process and then two pairs got to work. Oh, my. Can you call it work when they sort of tapped the ground in effort to make a hole deep enough to plant the saplings? Not much muscle effort from most of them. When the digging got tough from roots and rocks Bill and I had to get in there and show how to put some real effort into making the hole and filling it back in with dirt minus clumps and roots. Then two sections of flattened cardboard boxes are placed around the trunk to help keep grass from growing and killing the sapling, with the stake piercing them to help keep it there. Then it was a climb to the next stakes. Oh, yes, students, you must carry the bags of saplings with you so you don’t have to go back down the hellish trail to get them…. Not much thought on their part. Granted, those bags of five trees were HEAVY due to the wet soil around the roots. They were understandably exhausted before they even began the planting. The experience was much more physical than expected. One never did help at all except maybe take a shovel on up the hill. Two were pretty invested and two others pretended to be but really just wanted to stand around and talk. By ten-thirty there were questions as to when they would stop and go back down.
We finally made it up to the regular planting area where the other two groups were busy bees.
About eleven-thirty we called it a day and headed back down – which wasn’t easy either.