Treeboat in a Ceiba: When Dreams Go Wild

treeboat, rainforest, forest canopy, Dominican Republic
Treeboat is the penthouse of the tropical rainforest, and this is the view.

 

treeboat, rainforest, forest canopy, Dominican Republic
The branches holding the treeboat are an epiphyte, a strangler fig growing out of the top of the ceiba. That’s right. One of the largest trees I could see around me was sticking out of the top of another tree.

 

treeboat, rainforest, forest canopy, Dominican Republic
The rigging setup keeps the climber in the tree, even while sleeping.

Suspended on taught 1-inch straps, a treeboat is much more than a mere “hammock”: it is an out of body experience. Lie on a treeboat in the forest canopy and you float amongst the branches and birds. There is no sensation of gravity, or ground, or down, only of out, up, and air. You are weightless, and in a treeboat high in the canopy it is easy to feel as though you are in a dream.

I have been dreaming for 20 years of sleeping in the largest tropical tree I could find. Sometimes dreams are meant to come true, and sometimes they are not. Other times the dream takes on a life of its own. This is one of those stories.

The largest tree in the New World Tropics? Look up to the ceiba (Ceiba pendantra) and ask no more. Ceibas are so enormous that the Maya Indians believed them the pathway that souls take to reach heaven. Only a fool would dare to climb where angles tread, so call me a fool.

treeboat, rainforest, forest canopy, Dominican Republic
Climbing a ceiba is like climbing in a tropical garden in the sky.

 

treeboat, rainforest, forest canopy, Dominican Republic
Nearly every surface was draped in epiphytes of every variety. Here is a tank bromeliad.

This fool’s journey takes place in the Dominican Republic. Deep into Los Haitises National Park, next to a muddy watering hole called Poso Ventura, rises a ceiba that all the locals in the little town of Los Limones know. Even before I climbed the tree I was somehow famous, everyone on the street asking if I was really planning on sleeping in the giant tree. Geez, no pressure, folks.

And so it began. Two hours of hiking across the rolling limestone trails, sweat dripping from my chin in the near total humidity.   One hour to shoot ropes over limbs and climb past a vertical cascade of leaves, vines, and roots shooting out of the tree’s trunk. Another hour scrambling up and down limbs, hanging the treeboat in five different positions until one finally worked. By that time I was so filthy that my own smell was, honestly, revolting. I dined on crackers, sardines, and peanuts, enough to leave me positively starving after a day of so much work. I was rationing my water too, and the lack of real food and enough water left me dizzy. Not the best frame of mind when you are 120 feet off the ground. When dusk turned to night the mosquito swarm went rabid and with no place to go the hour of truth finally arrived. I climbed in, more than ready to rest and hoping for the treeboat to take me away to dreamland.   One thing you need to know, friends: treeboat don’t disappoint.

What a trip! It’s hard to know where “up” is when the frogs are chirping, croaking, and burping from 20 feet above your head, outward in every direction, and down 120 feet. Bats would burst into my airspace on fluttery wings, crackling over my stomach, then swooping under my back. I heard a buzz and gazed out into blackness to see pairs of tiny green headlights swerving on unseen roads until one landed on my arm and I ID’d the driver as a 2-inch beetle. After too many hours in socks, my naked toes throbbed with every heartbeat, providing the rhythm for it all. And the insects? Godalmighty – how could I hear anything over the whining cicadas and all their chorus?

treeboat, rainforest, forest canopy, Dominican Republic
The ceiba was filled with anoles, hunting, displaying, sunning, and mating.
treeboat, rainforest, forest canopy, Dominican Republic
The blurred wings in the center mark an Antillean Mango (a type of hummingbird – Anthracothorax dominicus), feeding on nectaries at about 110 feet high.
treeboat, rainforest, forest canopy, Dominican Republic
The view from my room.

All in all it was way too weird. If sleeping in a “normal” forest is an out of body experience, then sleeping in a tropical ceiba took me out of my mind. Did I sleep? In fits. The mosquitoes, held at bay by an improvised netting, shreaked for blood only a finger length from my face and did a decent job of keeping me unnerved. I remember a moment when I felt like rolling over and, unaware of my surroundings, stuck my left leg out into space. I put it right back in bed and clinched tight, determined to stay in the treeboat and live a little while longer. After nearly 11 hours of mind tripping, the dawn chorus of vireos and bananaquits announced it was time for a bathroom break. That’s right. Insufficient food and water combined with a lot of nerves is a good recipe for some “movement” and desperate measures demand desperate means. The ferns will thank me. When Chivero arrived to walk me back to Los Limones, and after a breakfast of sardines and crackers for my parched tongue, I packed my bags and rappelled down the rope to plant my feet once again in the land of sane and normal folk.

treeboat, rainforest, forest canopy, Dominican Republic
Gut check: was it good for you? Yeah, baby!

Would I do it again? Tomorrow!!

And you should too.  But first some advice. The best way to install a treeboat in a ceiba is to stand on the shoulders of giants. Thomas Hayes got me to, and into, the ceiba. Will Koomjian and Jamz Luce taught me the basics of rope wrenching and treeboating. Amanda Sills sewed the rain canopy and mosquito netting for my treeboat. Treeboats were invented and are sold by the good folks at New Tribe – required gear for tree nuts of all ages.

treeboat, rainforest, forest canopy, Dominican Republic
Thomas Hayes checking it all out. Thanks to Thomas for being a good friend.
treeboat, rainforest, forest canopy, Dominican Republic
Chivero poses at the base of the ceiba. The buttress roots alone are four times his girth.

3 thoughts on “Treeboat in a Ceiba: When Dreams Go Wild”

  1. lovely story, would definetly need to do this one day, let this new dream come true one day, thanks for sharing.

  2. Kathy, thanks for the wonderful words. One of the goals of the blog is to open a space where people who are not in the canopy can feel the excitement of being there and of the discovery one feels when climbing into this really unique world.

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