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The Five Senses of Living in the Nicaraguan Rainforest

Over Spring Break, I participated in American University’s Makengue Project, a one-credit lab that encompassed components of scientific research, community outreach, and several other elements of education. Living in the remote Nicaraguan Rainforest for my first trek abroad was a truly unforgettable adventure that could accurately be described as a sensory overload. I compiled a brief breakdown, by the five senses, of what it was like to live for a week at the incredibly remote Makengue Reserve.

Sight1) A beautiful canopy of trees could be seen during our multiple hikes and BioBlitz that helped counter the sun’s harsh rays.2) Brightly colored birds, including toucans and woodpeckers, were exciting to observe during early morning bird-watching excursions. 3) The vibrant sunrise and sunsets over the San Juan River were unforgettable; a blanket of mist typically accompanied the array of colors over the water.


Sound1) Since the cabin we stayed in used open windows to facilitate a breeze, bats would consistently fly into the cabin. Hearing the sound of their wings propelling them forward became second nature (no-pun intended).2) Howler monkeys (which should be self-explanatory in terms of sound) loved to showcase their vocal range and announce their territory in the middle of the night.3) Crickets and the buzzing hum of other insects provided a constant reminder each evening of the secluded location where the group resided.

Taste1) Almost every meal prepared at Makengue (and throughout the towns we visited) contained the typical Central American staple of rice and beans.2) Lemons, handpicked from the property, were transformed into the most deliciously sour lemonade I had ever encountered.3) Plantains, a common fruit of Nicaragua, where also repeatedly featured in our meals and tasted particularly good in fried form (ketchup to dip them in amplified their appeal).

Smell 1) During one of our hikes, the rain gave off a crisp, dew-y smell that reiterated the significance of nature’s environmental processes. 2) The recognizable scent of cinnamon could be identified by smelling the inside part of small branches that fell off of numerous cinnamon trees. 3) Every member of the group tended to frequently apply heavy doses of bug spray and sunscreen, whose potent smell could be recognized outdoors thanks to the breeze.  

Touch1) We got to handle strawberry-red poison dart frogs that secrete toxins through their skin, making them a tad slimy (they contrasted with the rough skin of the anoles and lizards we also held).2) The water in the San Juan River felt pretty warm when we waded in the water near the central cabin (side note—we didn’t stay in the water for long considering the active caiman/alligator population that we would rather not touch).3) One of the trees we encountered during our BioBlitz, commonly referred to as the “Dandruff Tree”, had oddly textured bark that could be rubbed off smoothly by hand.

While these components do not cover all of the occurrences and characteristics of being immersed at Makengue, they do begin to paint a picture of the environment. I cannot wait to visit other parts of the world and see what other atmospheres bring to the forefront of my senses. Until then, I’ll just have to hang in there. 

Photo Credits: Allie Erenbaum

Public Relations major with minors in Marketing and International Relations. Studying in our lovely Nation's Capital. 
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