Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the January 14, 2008
issued from Yerba Buena Clinic just outside Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacan, Chiapas, MÉXICO
about 1740 meters in elevation, ± LAT. 17° 11' 27"N, LONG. -92° 53' 35"W

One afternoon this week I climbed up to the cloudforest and camped overnight. There at 2100 meters (6900 ft) it looks and feels like a different world from the pine-oak-Sweetgum forest where I live at about 1740 meters (5700 ft).

In a way, the striking differences between the two elevations are surprising. For, in October when I camped on the volcano Nevado Toluca in central Mexico and reported on the light's similarly surreal brilliance and the landscape's similar otherworldly feeling, I was at 4050 meters (13,287 feet), nearly twice the elevation of our cloudforest. On the other hand, the town of Toluca itself on the valley floor at 2679 meters (8790 ft) was still higher than our cloudforest, yet it looked and felt like any other dusty, upland Mexican city.

Therefore, our cloudforest's otherworldliness must come from something other than its elevation. Its position on a ridge over which humid winds off the Gulf of Mexico pass must be the secret ingredient. High humidity from the Gulf's rising air causes the tall trees' branches to be overladen with thick mats of mosses, ferns, bromeliads, orchids and the like. These spongy masses absorb sound, creating a somber, awe-inspiring cathedral effect, and maybe the cloud-condensation process cleans the air so perfectly that crystalline air results.

Whatever the causes, and despite all the abuse it's suffered, there's simply something in that cloudforest giving it a mysterious, somehow magical feeling.

When the local folks heard that I'd slept there they were amazed and asked about snakes and jaguars. But of course there was nothing unusual, just the silence of a moss-padded forest, the darkness of a moonless night, and the scratches of an occasional mouse trying to climb my tent walls. I'd expected it to be cold and dewy but the temperature there dropped only to 55° F (13° C) and the vegetation at dawn was dry, though when I descended the slope I ran into heavy dew lower down.