La Cumplida’s Private Reserve

Author’s Note 19/7/11: The lizard pictured at the beginning of the post has been identified as a pug-nosed anole. The first group of stinkhorn pictures (paragraph 2) are of the species Phallus duplicatus, and the second group of pictures (last paragraph) are of Phallus indusiatus. The green mushroom linked to by the word “others” (paragraph 4) is Hygrocybe sp. and the grey/white ones are Psathyrella candolleana. Credit and thanks for mushroom identification goes to Milo Inman.


The untouched forest of the reserve at La Cumplida is a hilly cloud forest with few trails and many streams that served as much of our path through the trees. My guide, a local named Santos, and I started in the foothills outside of the reserve and entered the forest by climbing up some steep, muddy inclines.

The protected area amounts to 600 hectares, or 1,482 acres. Santos and I had walked for only about twenty minutes when I spotted the first attraction of the day: some stinkhorn mushrooms. Two were just a white line of pulp, but one was still not fully decomposed and looked as phallic as ever, having lost its veil.

Only around half an hour of hills later, Santos stopped me and pointed out a sapling in front of us. He said some words that I didn’t understand, so I tried looking more closely to decipher his meaning. At last I saw the outline of a faint figure sticking out of the tree’s trunk. I slowly approached and saw that a lizard, perhaps the length of my hand, was grasping the sapling and facing downwards, its scales a mottled variety of wood colors, like a camouflaged chameleon but clearly not of that species based on its head shape. The poor lighting in the forest didn’t allow for the best pictures, but I was glad to get a couple, especially these ones of the lizard curiously raising its head at the closely approaching camera lens.


We advanced further into the forest and saw only the dense and variegated foliage around us

for the next hour or so, trekking over rivers, sliding down hills and slipping up other hills. On the way I spotted several other mushroom species—some that I recognized and others that I had never seen before. We were passing a larger than average tree when Santos somehow chanced to see the face of a pizote looking down at us from some very elevated branches. As I pointed my camera towards the cute snout the pizote turned away and started climbing higher up the branch, but I noticed another face peering down to replace the last one. It turns out there was a whole family of the raccoon-like animals in the tree, because we caught glimpses of some babies clambering after their parents. Here is a short compilation of the two videos I took, as well as another three-second sighting (this time of agoutis) while walking in the coffee plantations the day before. I apologize for the shakiness of the first portion–my excuse is that the animals were quite far above my head and the full zoom is very sensitive to motion. The second portion is as blurry as you see it because the moment the camera turned on I pressed Record, without giving it time to adjust (or else I’d have lost the agoutis).

Perhaps around two and a half hours after having started our trek, we reached the little waterfall that later turns into the Salto del Venado, the best-looking waterfall on property due to its height and proximity to a dirt road that allows for easy viewing. Near this small cascade was a huge strangler fig that seems to have taken its Spanish name, matapalo (tree-killer), to the extreme and then suffered from erosion or disease. What remained of the trunk was sprawled across the hill in rotting chunks that Santos and I climbed over carefully. Luckily, matapalos have very strong vine-like branches that extend downwards, and we used these for support. Some small black growths that I thought were fungal turned out to be as hard and sturdy as barnacles, and they provided a rough grip that was welcome on the treacherous trunk.

Speaking of treacherous trunks, check this vicious fern out. Notice the numerous little black spines poking out of what looks like cuddly fur? Yeah, they’re barely visible. I remember one of these growing in my back yard in Costa Rica, but it was against the house and out of the way, whereas these were spread everywhere in the forest, so that I often reached my hand out for support and immediately drew it back, more than once a little late. The fern pictured was a young one, and still had the furriness to it. The older trees were pure black, some with copious moss growth, so the spines were hidden to the eye but not to the hand. However, that’s just part of the rainforest experience that everyone should be prepared for—not all plants are friendly. For example, at Morgan’s Rock there are thousands of cornizuelo trees, which are covered in horn-shaped spines and house armies of fire ants in their trunks. These little red soldiers patrol the small leaves of the cornizuelos, falling onto whatever brushes against the tree so that they can bite everything they can. As long as you keep your distance, which isn’t very difficult once you know the hazards, they present no danger. I’ll get a video of these malicious ants in their host tree uploaded soon. For now, here is a picture of another insect that I wouldn’t recommend putting your hands near. Luckily Santos saw it on a leaf before we brushed past it.


Just as the first attraction of the day was a stinkhorn, so was the last one, and this time it was even better. The bizarre mushroom still had its veil intact, which made it much more visually attractive. A couple minutes after seeing this unappetizing treat, we reached the border of the reserve and entered the fern hills, the end of our journey.

5 thoughts on “La Cumplida’s Private Reserve

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