I didn't go on an eco-tourism trip to Costa Rica with the hopes of getting out of my comfort zone. What I wanted to get out of was the nine to five work routine. I wanted to do something meaningful. And of course, I wanted to bathe in waterfalls and hike in rainforests, meet new people and practice Spanish. But we don't always get what we want, and sometimes we get much more.
When I got to San Jose, I pretty much floated into the debriefing session (we would be heading to our destination in the rainforest the following day). I was on cloud nine. The air was fresh, the breeze was gently tousling my hair, and I had a nice humidity glow going. Our guide looked at my feet as I walked in the door and asked if I had brought a pair of knee-high rain boots. What was wrong with my ankle boots, I wondered. "Why?" I asked, “Are we going to be in a flooded area?" He looked at me and chuckled. "No," he said, suddenly serious, "you need them to protect you from snakes. I don't know about your Canadian snakes but our tico snakes bite." His face told me he wasn't joking. I immediately stopped floating and crashed back down to earth. My glow turned into flushed sweats. I had never once thought about las culebras. How in the world did I plan this trip without ever thinking about snakes? And there was no warning on the website about the wild animals living in the forest where we'd be working. Mierda!
The guide must have thought my horrified expression was amusing. He took the bait. "Not just snakes niña, flying cockroaches and scorpions and those big spiders. What do you call them? Ah yes, tarantulas."
He chuckled, and everyone else laughed. I tried to look cool but inside, I was freaking out. I am absolutely petrified of insects and reptiles. I ended up in my room, crying my face out, which, by the way, was muffled into a pillow because I didn't want people to hear me. No one looked even remotely perturbed when he had rattled off the list of crawling things. What was wrong with these people? I knew I would have to go home. Yes, I wanted to be in nature but there was too much of a price to pay.
That night, I fell into a restless sleep, my brain subconsciously working out excuses to give the guides the following morning. Then I got up at dawn and had breakfast with the group. I admitted to everyone how beyond scared I was, laughing and crying all at once.
A few of the empaths in the group got up, offering me hugs and reassurance. Some promised they'd chase away any insect or reptile that came my way. Our guides came by, interrupting the pity party with an announcement, "It's time to go."
I was torn. I didn't want to go but I equally didn't want to face people at home. I'm not going to pretend that I had any intention of challenging myself or anything remotely noble. I was worried about how I'd explain myself to my friends and family members without looking like a total baby. I asked the guides what would happen if I got to the rainforest and decided to leave. "You can leave, you're not in prison." Fine, I decided to try it out for a day.
Off we went, first stop, the camping store - to buy me boots. We finally got to our destination in the rainforest, which was not exactly a five-star resort. I was especially disturbed by the fact that the walls of our home had screen-less windows that could not close high up, near the ceiling. They were basically holes in the walls. Anything could crawl in, fly-in, creep-in, slither-in. This wasn't looking good.
Then I had dinner with the group and forgot about it. They were a bunch of happy hippies, and I thought they were hilarious. Aside from a tiny spider and howler monkeys screaming their heads off throughout the night, causing my heart to drop each time, I survived.
The next day, the guides explained our project more concretely: we'd be building low-impact trails using wood and stones in La Cangreja National Park, and we'd be doing some volunteering in the village as well. "Also, there's a high school teacher looking for someone to help out with teaching English. Anyone?" My hand shot up. This marked the beginning of my English teaching career that would later bring me to Spain, Austria, Nicaragua, and Romania.
Before I knew it, I was hooked - my heartfelt at home and I was in it until the end. Yes, there were reptiles and insects of all kinds that I had never even heard of. But I worked through my fear, asked - or rather shouted for help - when I needed it and enjoyed myself. I realized that if I left the creepy crawlies alone, they generally left me alone, except for the mosquitoes.
I had incredible English classes twice a week with beautiful, intelligent, and dedicated high school students who were as eager to learn from me as I was from them.
I made lifetime friendships with Ticos and fellow travelers alike - friendships that brought me to other countries and different cultures.
Alongside my group, I hauled stones, laying down a path in a virgin forest where few had ever tread. We walked our own paths to waterfalls and viewpoints, alone in an unspoiled jungle filled with every bird and plant imaginable.
It was here that I began to trust life. To understand that if I'm brought to something, I will be brought through it too. Of course, with the help of others who "chased the monsters away" when I was too fearful of doing it. But also with an awareness that most of the time, the scariest part was in my head.
Most of all, I learned that there is a balance to life, and there's no such thing as thrills and joys without challenges.
I'm a huge fan of eco-tourism; it truly creates space for inner discovery. Ask our Travelous experts about it today.