Greenhorn Goes To Costa Rica!

When I started this blog, I thought it was going to be only about my trip to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A journey into vast wilderness that I hoped would turn me from a Greenhorn into a seasoned adventurer. A trip that was supposed to satisfy my wanderlust, after which I would return ready to settle down to my civilized life. A funny thing happened in the Arctic, however. Instead satisfying my taste for adventure, it made me hungry. Hungry for more experiences, more challenges.

When I came home, I tried to get myself to settle in, I really did. Then I was awarded a project to write a story about the wetlands restoration I helped manage out in Point Reyes, and that got me thinking.

What was the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done professionally? Being directly involved in on-the-ground conservation.

What is the most satisfying thing I have ever done personally? Write.

Then is struck me: why not try to find a way to do my two most favorite things? Just as Travel Writer is a combination of two active verbs: Travel and Write, why not Conservation Writer? Conserve then tell the story.

With that inspiration, I started to look for conservation work, but since there weren’t any opportunities locally, I began asking around about efforts in Costa Rica to protect the beautiful Osa Peninsula I had visited last winter. Sure enough, I found a small organization that is collecting data on whales, dolphins, and turtles in order to create a Marine Protected Area that will stop injury and death from commercial long-line fishing and shrimp trawling in these teeming waters. The Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is the only place where Humpback whales from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres come to breed, meaning there are whales in these waters every month of the year.

In return for help with the data collection, I get my own tin-roofed, wood-floored, one-room casita with a porch that looks out through the rainforest to the beach below. Yes, it’s romantic, but it’s pretty darn rustic. It may be larger than my tent in Alaska, but it’s less water-tight and bug-proof. For the next couple of months, it will be home.

In between boat trips using GPS to record our observations of the many species of whales and dolphins, I will have plenty of time to continue working on the wetlands story while chasing local adventures to share with you about what it’s like living and doing conservation research in Costa Rica.

Since I’ve been here, I have realized that my trip to the Arctic didn’t cure me of being a Greenhorn, it made me want to be a perpetual one. I knew very little about the Artic, or about camping, rafting, or wilderness survival when I started preparing for that trip. But I learned, and I loved every minute of it.

In fact, that was my official motto for the trip: I Will Learn

On that trip, I realized that other people have had to learn how to do things, too. There is a first time for everybody. No one has a magic key that I don’t have. The magic key is simply being willing to try.

Now I am a Greenhorn in Costa Rica. I know very little about living in the rainforest, with exotic animals, insects, and birds as my closest neighbors and houseguests, but I’m starting to learn. An anteater joined me on my porch last night, taking shelter from the lightning storm. I know next to nothing about using GPS tracking and marine research, but I’m about to learn that as well.

Just like on my Alaska adventure, I can pretty much bet you that I’m going to love every minute of this, too, anxieties and mistakes included.

I wonder what the equivalent of Greenhorn is in Spanish? I’ll have to look it up along with every other word. Sure I took Spanish in high school, I even took some in college, but I was never much good at it and, god knows, my grey cells aren’t as sticky as they used to be. A few words and phrases are coming back into my brain, but my mouth still balks at speaking them. I’m going to have to get over it. It’s either that or starve.

There is a shared kitchen here, and a tiny little store where you can buy eggs and Snickers bars a 15 minute walk away, just beyond a stream that you have to wade across if the tide is high, but most shopping is done by boat. Once a week a truck arrives in the town of Drake 2 miles away bringing fruit and vegetables. You either walk into town along the coast trail and carry a week’s worth back, or hitch a boat ride with one of the locals.

If you want other groceries, you have to take the public boat an hour across the bay, then catch a bus to the bigger town of Palmar. It sounds pretty darn intimidating to me, I have to admit. A lot of links in that chain could break. Like missing the boat home…

That’s when I start reminding myself of the lesson I learned on my trip up to the Refuge: Positive Thinking

Is the boat and bus journey into town really more intimidating than setting camp in the rain in between RVs with generators running and empty beer cans tossed in the mud? No.

Is it really scarier than clipping on bear spray and heading off into the unknown? No.

So when I think of getting on that boat to go shopping, I nod my head up and down, up and down, and say to myself:

Yes, Sal, you can do this. Use what Spanish you have. Hand gestures are an option; a smile is always good. People are nice here, they will help a Greenhorn like you.

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