I realize after looking back through my blog posts that I haven’t yet described what the forest is like at night, or the animals at night. Let me walk you through a nighttime canoe trip on the river, and I hope you’ll be able to picture it in your mind.
When the moon sets in the rainforest, the darkness under the trees is absolute. You might as well be in a cave; you can’t see your hand in front of your face. On the river, the darkness is cut by stars in the distance. The Milky Way runs straight across the center of the sky and illuminates the shadows of the tree line on either side of the river, creating an otherworldly silhouette. There are more stars than you could imagine, and on a still evening they are reflected in the river. When you stop paddling, it is as if you’re hovering in space, with stars above and below you and a feeling of weightlessness from the water. On a cold evening, the feeling is magnified by heavy mists that fall over the rivers. The only way you know the mist is there is when you look at the stars and they seem to shimmer and shift when a breeze blows. It seems like they’re alive and moving around the sky.
Not even the dark tree line is absolute on the river. Bright points of light move through the shadows of leaves; orange and green and yellow, lighting up and disappearing as different bioluminescent organisms interact and cross the river. In some places, soft green glows can be seen from the banks where fungi that look normal during the day radiate light.
During the day, bird calls resonate constantly through the forest, but at night they fall silent and different sounds take over. Frogs dominate the landscape, often calling as a group: one loud call rising and falling rhythmically from a thousand little mouths hiding in the leaves. Between these calls are other sounds, where different species try to make themselves heard in spite of their noisy neighbors. Stranger noises stick out from the background. Larger animals move about in the underbrush shaking plants and breaking twigs. Up the river, loud screams from kinkajous and night monkeys and the quieter sounds of tamandua fall from the treetops, adding to the otherworldly feeling created by the stars. On rare nights, puffs of air and water can be heard breaking the surface of the river where pink river dolphins move slowly along, hunting in small groups. They appear for a second for a breath, then drop into the stars in the water like they were never there at all. Ripples come from the banks of the river where little fish try to escape the mouths of huge catfish by jumping into the air.
Turning on a spotlight reveals a silent layer of life otherwise hidden from notice. Pinpoints of light are reflected in the eyes of a hundred creatures. Tree trunks are lined with large spiders, each with a row of shiny eyes, still and unmoving, watching. Similar rows of lights appear on the branches and trees sticking out of the river from spiders hoping to catch a tasty aquatic bug or even fish. Larger eye spots appear for tree rats running through the tree branches using their prehensile tails like another arm. Some vines appear to have eyes as well; but on approach, they are pale tree boas moving ever so slowly through roots and branches along the riverbanks, as quiet as shadows. On occasion, large eyes can be glimpsed from animals like the paca, before they realize they’ve been spotted and disappear into the darkness.
At around 5am, a pale light starts to move through the shifting mist, and within minutes it seems as if the night is completely replaced as undulating bird songs herald the arrival of a different world.