Nature Diary 8: A short natural route

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In the rainy season, the dam is full of water. Even the two palm trees in the middle of the dam are then located with their 'feet' in the water.

Walking is healthy. Walking in a nature area is even healthier and sometimes, while walking along the simplest of trails, you might encounter the most beautiful spots, totally unexpected, even in places you already visited for the ‘umpteenth’ time. In terms of nature, Curacao is a funny island. One moment you wonder if there still is anything alive at all, especially after a period of severe heat and drought. In such periods the vegetation looks like it is impossible to bring back to life. But in other periods the same place transforms into a green oasis, teeming with flying, crawling and running creatures, where everything looks fresh and green and is flourishing. For me, it’s exactly this changeability what makes nature on our Island so interesting. The variety of colors, shapes, but also species survival with all the associated strategies. No man-made attraction can compete with that. Some time ago the ‘sense of wonder’ descended upon me again, during a visit to the beautiful nature area of Malpais.

 

'Moon Landscape' in the dam of Malpais. All algae that grew in the water dried out and turned the area into a 'ghostly' landscape.

A short but beautiful trail

The Malpais area is widely known for the large dam that usually fills up completely with rain water during the rainy season, and attracts many hikers and cyclists. But unfortunately also people who are too lazy to transport their waste to the landfill, and are zealous enough to dump their unwanted garbage within the confines of this nature area.
At present the dam is empty, All the water that until about 2 months ago was still there has disappeared and with it the waterfowl and other animals that were attracted by the lake. What is left is a plain covered with dry algae that create some kind of ‘moonscape’. At a few spots grasses squeeze through, forming tiny green oases. These tufts of grass form ideal look-out spots for animals like dragonflies and damselflies and they therefore often occur in large numbers.
For nature fans who are unable or unwilling to walk far there is a small trail which can be located if you cross the big dam in the direction of the hinterland and turn left at the end, at the sign indicating the ‘Pos di Pia’. The trail runs through a wooded area and is therefore nicely shaded. It loops back to the main dirt road leading up to the dam. A beautiful circle to enjoy.

Animals galore

It is a safe place to be for the animals and with some observation skills you’ll quickly notice that almost every tree harbors its own Kaku (Anolis). They defend their territory by flashing their bright orange colored dewlaps. The area is chock-full of iguanas as well, ranging from small green juveniles to blue-gray whoppers that’ll flee by dropping from the tree branches like ‘ripe fruit’ and then run away fast, using only their hind legs as engine and tail as steering device.
Besides the large number of reptiles which are found in this relatively small area, it can be clearly heard that the concentration of birds is also quite large. Parakeets or Prikichi’s, Bananaquits or Barika Hel’s, Scaly-naped pigeons, Bare-eyed pigeons or Ala Blanka’s, Common ground doves or Totolika’s, White-tipped doves or Ala duru’s, Hummingbirds or Blenchi’s, Grey Kingbirds or Pimpiri’s, Crested Caracara’s or Warawara’s, White tailed Hawks, Kestrels. They all can be seen and heard.

The seeds of the Makura. The attractive little seeds are toxic and birds do not consume them.

Makurá

Along the entire trail there are trees which are completely covered with vines carrying bunches of red seeds. Up close you can see that the red seeds all have a black bum. These striking seeds belong to a vine locally known as the Makurá. The plant grows over and through the foliage and the leaves have the same shape as those of a tamarind tree. The seeds, which have an attractive appearance and resemble a ladybird, are used all over the world in jewelry. This is not without risk because they are very toxic. There are stories that adults and children, who accidentally ingested the seeds, died from doing so.
The origin of the plant is Indonesia, but now it’s already distributed so widespread that it occurs on most continents (except Antarctica). In some places it even has become invasive.

Water lily

Further up the trail suddenly and surprisingly you’ll encounter a beautiful ‘pos di pia’ or walk-in well, located next to three historical indigo basins, which have recently been freed from vegetation by the archaeological group. These basins were used in the past to extract the famous color indigo blue from the indigo plant. This dye became especially popular in more recent times by its use in the production of jeans.
This wet and humid location is a source of life and there are swarms of butterflies, dragonflies and birds. But also in terms of vegetation there is much to be found for plant lovers.

Leaf of the only native water lily species of Curacao.

Especially noticeable are large, flat, heart-shaped leaves that float on the water, between which long stems tipped by greenish-beige flower buds pop up here and there. We could finally take a look at the only water lily species that occurs naturally on the island, the Nymphaea ampla! This particular water plant is rare on Curaçao, but in this walk-in well the plant is clearly enjoying itself. The floating leafs, which can reach a diameter of about 30 centimeters form a good habitat for many insects. Bees, amongst others, use them as a kind of lake bank where they can land to take in water. The flowers of this lily can reach a diameter of 10 centimeters. There is always only one flower on a stalk. The white flowers have a dark yellow center, which is caused by a large number of stamens with pollen.
These plants form fruits, and do so under water, where the fruit turns ripe.

Flower of the water lily Nymphaea ampla.

It is not easy to get this plant to grow in a different location. Taking a plant out of the water and replanting it in a pond will result in disappointment, and makes therefore absolutely no sense. The cultivation of the plant from seeds requires such skill and tricks that even professionals have difficulty with the process.

Malpais is a rich area with plenty to see for those people who have an eye for it. Go take a look around and follow the trail at your leisure. It’s worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

Historical drawing of the Makura.

Michelle da Costa Gomez

About Michelle da Costa Gomez