Costa Rica: Solo but not so Alone

Summary: I don’t want to live like I already live but I do want to get busy living (Lyrics from Get Busy Living by Goldfish)

The first big solo adventure to a country unknown by me was unforgettable, as you can only imagine, or maybe you have done the same sort of thing and can understand the emotions it leaves you with, and you have a thirst to continue travelling, like me.  I wrote this whilst I was still in Costa Rica. It’s more of a diary entry, allowing you to have some insight into my time in Costa Rica:

Coming into contact with Colin Garland kick-started the whole process leading up to this point, where I am sitting in the rainforest wanting to tell everyone about my many experiences in this amazing place. Contact with Colin was made, as opportunities usually come about, by chance. I had been searching for some sort of research placement for quite a while before seeing the Big Cat Project in Africa advertised on the Society for Conservation Biology Job Board. This led me to the Global Classroom website, which is where I first found out about Aula Global reserve in Cost Rica. I promptly e-mailed Colin (the founder of Raven Adventures and Aula Global reserve) for more information – since being in the rainforest in Borneo four years previously, I had always wanted to visit more Rainforest, which must be protected for the sake of the World (without being too dramatic, but really, it is that vital). Colin encouraged my project ideas and was very enthusiastic about me staying on the reserve, sending me pictures that had been taken there and showing interest in what I had to say.

I gradually developed my dissertation project, based on comparing pollination between primary and secondary rainforest, knowing full well just how important pollinators are to us (with food crops specifically) and to their natural environment. I had great support from a few lecturers at the university – Naomi helped me to develop the idea of researching pollinators and was very helpful in sending me papers to read, and Owen who gave up the time to sit with me to go through my Risk Assessment, make amendments to it and then approve it. The risk assessment had been a big worry for me as it would need to be approved for me to be able to carry out my project as dissertation research – even if I had already paid the vast sum of money for the flight. Everything ran really smoothly in the time leading up to me leaving the country, with a huge amount of support from my parents, who I knew would worry about me while I was away but still encouraged and helped me to do what I wanted.

I hate packing, and it never gets any easier. Too much? Too little? Just have faith that you’re taking what you need, and being away for so long it’s also nice to take some of the things that you just want (as spoken wisely by Dad) when I was panicking about the amount of gear I had. I’m good at writing a packing list now, and I definitely need it. I would advise anyone going away to make one, just making life that little bit easier.

My first few days on the reserve were the most I have felt challenged in a long time, possibly more than I have ever before. It challenged me so much personally, having to spend time completely alone for the first time. It is hard to describe, but I will try. Being alone forces you to be with your own thoughts all the time, without the opinions, beliefs or judgment of other people. You are left only with the expectations you have for yourself, with no one else to make you do things or pressurise you even just by being there. I was used to the standard living of the Western world, where you are connected with not only your friends, family and society around you but also via the internet and phone contact. I didn’t imagine it to be so intense to be cut off from other people. It was very intense for me for the first few days, then I realised that it doesn’t matter. “It” being something that encompasses the other things which were making me feel this way (I said it would be hard to explain). Life matters; my experiences, thoughts, opinions, wants, needs, everything had lead up to this point and I feel now a sense of calm and reward. If you’re aware of Buddhist teachings, this is known as Karma: the previous moment leads to the next. Fate. I had brought myself here to envelop myself in my love for nature, not to worry about other people. Having said that, I am always aware that my family in particular worry about me and I never forget to remember them. I contact them each day by text, I have to walk up the hill behind the house to get any signal to do so, but it assures everyone who cares about me that I am safe. This may all sound very philosophical or “airy fairy”, but that’s the feel that this adventure started with and continues to recur during my journey. It seems already that this isn’t just about me doing research for university, but also developing myself as an individual away from my comfort zone.

The next few days on the reserve I was able to appreciate the time to be still, listen and watch everything going on around me. I appreciated Israel, the local reserve guide, coming to visit me after a few days and he asked if I wanted to go into town. I did, I wanted to see people. But first I knew I had to persevere and feel comfortable within myself before immersing back into civilization that I may have then ended up missing more. I agreed with him to come and get me 3 days later, which ended up being a really good amount of time to relax into the pace of life on the reserve. Time here trickles by as you fill it with only things that you do, not the everyday hubbub in “normal” life. I was seeing new and fantastic things every day. My aim was to have at least one new and awesome experience every day, whether that be seeing a new species or doing something which I viewed to be “productive”. This I have found to be easy, as there are always new things to see and be done here, especially if you put yourself out there to get it done.

I went into town on Wednesday 30th May. Israel came to walk me off the reserve (half an hour trek) and give me a lift to Monteverde (half an hour drive) to my hotel called El Tucan. Tony was there to give me a very warm greeting back to his hotel, which I really appreciated. He had a private room for me and I took my stuff up before checking in. I met 2 girls, as I had overheard they were going on the Aventuras canopy tour. I told them how great I found it and spoke to them when I saw them around the hotel. It was good to meet some new people, as it’s always refreshing. I briefly spoke to an American guy as I was going back to my room and then immersed myself in my family and friends over the internet. You may think it’s weird that I wanted to speak to them so much after only a week, but I felt like I’d already been through a lot and I needed the comfort and support from the people I knew. I spoke to my family, my friends Trish and Dan, and I also spoke to Colin. I felt fully refreshed after doing this. They also brought me back down to Earth, giving a new perspective on my situation. They all commented on how much I had already achieved in the week I had been in Costa Rica, and it was only then that I also fully realised the massive steps I had taken and what I had experienced; I felt I could appreciate everything a whole lot more. After going to the supermarket to get some food, I had organised to have a night tour with a group and guide but I felt really drained and hungry, so I cancelled it.

I had my food and returned to my room to look through some pictures I had taken as no one was sitting in the communal area. I also put on some reggae music as I heard someone else playing it – definitely helps to relax me. The ”American guy” I had spoken to earlier (Chris) came round to my room. I leave my door open when in so that people can say hi. He asked if I wanted to get a few beers with him and chill out with some music. It sounded like a very good idea to me, and it turned out to be a good decision. We got talking and found that we have very similar thoughts, ideas and beliefs about life (bringing back that philosophical edge).Buddhism took central stage in the conversation. I absolutely love meeting people who are on the same wavelength as you; I also see it as a meeting of similar souls, where you get an instant connection with another individual. It was good to just talk and listen to music. I saw Chris again the next morning and neither of us had plans so we decided to walk to the butterfly garden for a tour and look around. It was nice, and I loved being surrounded by the fragile butterflies, flying haphazardly around the enclosures (there were 4, each representing a different habitat in the Cloud Forest). We also got to release a butterfly each that had pupated and was ready to fly. I had a Monarch, whose wings still seemed a bit damp but he was happy to sit on a leaf. Monarch butterflies don’t actually migrate to and from Costa Rica like most other places, there are a few which are just resident. That’s another adventure for the future: seeing the trees covered with butterflies in the Amazon during migration.

I hate it when people squash creatures. It makes me feel sick and upset inside – if you know me at all, you will know that about me. The woman at the butterfly garden would squash any spiders she saw inside the enclosures, rather than just moving them outside,  and I wasn’t getting good vibes from her much at all (even writing about it makes me feel queasy).  But in general I found it interesting and learnt some new things. There was an insect house as well, which was also interesting but I didn’t like the way the insects were treated – being caught and kept until they died. It was more about the offhand way in which it was said, rather than the physical act of looking after a creature until it dies in your care (just like a pet). It really bothers me that some people have no concern for squishing a little life, and sometimes even enjoying it. It used to make me angry, now it just makes me sad and pity the individual who feels the need to do it, or not caring if they do.

I spoke to friends and family again, just to top up the comfort levels I think. I was flicking through my butterfly photos when Chris came to join me and we looked through them together. He took a great picture of the Monarch butterfly on my finger; it’s a keeper! We chatted some more about anything and everything. He suggested going out to the Sushi restaurant round the corner. I wasn’t too sure as I hadn’t had Sushi ever before, but I was up for it. The sushi that came was presented beautifully and tasted amazing. I will definitely be taking the experience home with me to share with my friends.

Overall it was a good time back in town but I did desperately miss the quiet of living in the rainforest and I was glad to return once more. I felt very happy in my new environment and I have had some fantastic experiences up until now and I know that will continue. It’s amazing to find peace within yourself and I wish it upon everyone.

That’s just something I wrote whilst I was sitting at the porch, watching humming birds flit around me and as the rain poured down. It’s quite a raw telling of my first experiences in Costa Rica. I didn’t want to refine it too much as to preserve the outpouring I had whilst in the Cloud Forest.

I will write some more blogs about each of the places I went to, to give an overview. I feel I could write a book but I’ll try to keep it short and sweet.

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