9 hours spent sat in airports, 7 hours sat on 3 aeroplanes, and 2 hours on a bus in the past 2 days while I have been travelling from the Costa Rica to Santiago, Chile, have given me plenty of time to consider the last 8 weeks of my life in the jungle. When I first decided to do this little stint running around the rain-forest in the name of Science and Conservation, many of my friends and family were a bit incredulous – 2 months living in a fairly basic jungle camp, without many of the comforts of ‘normal’ life that we have come to know and rely on. The ease with which I left all this behind surprised me only a little. In fact, it was a welcome relief to disconnect (quite literally – there was only 3G in one corner of camp) from Western society and the racing pace of life that dominates our lives. I arrived in the jungle without any clear idea of what to expect, other than a few #costarica Instagram searches and the vaguest of briefings from the Frontier offices in London via my pre-departure emails. It’s safe to say that these past 2 months have exceeded anything I could have imagined.
From my first day on camp I have been as close to nature as anyone could ever dream of being. Barely 12 hours after arriving, I was escorting baby turtles down to the sea after waking up to the raucous sound of Howler Monkeys and Toucans above camp at dawn. I have scaled the slopes of Carate in the dark, humid night to count the calls of the birds in the dawn chorus as the sun crept into the sky in glorious hues of firey orange. Now an expert on the songs of the Riverside Wren, Black-hooded Antshrike, Blue-capped Manakin, Macaw and Toucan, to name just a few, I can firmly say that every sweaty 4am trek was worth those stunning sunrises.
For someone who’s core beliefs are firmly rooted in the awesome beauty of God’s creation, the sense of calm and quiet affirmation I have found in these moments, soaking in the greatest gift ever given to us, is like no other. I spent my last morning perched on a steadily decaying log, looking out over Carate and watching the sun climb into the day, filled with a sense of inner peace that can only exist in a place so pure and precious as it was created. Sharing these moments with some of the kindest and open-hearted people I have met made each moment more special, and these friendships founded in a place where people are unapologetically themselves, unhindered by the pressures and politics of real life, are some of the purest and most joyful that I have known.
The day before I left, Nadia turned to me and asked for the highs and lows of my time at Camp Osita. I can honestly say that there were no real low points; I of course had a few moments here or there when I was suddenly hit by an aching for a hug, missed my friends and family, or was just so exhausted that I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the end of the beach or to the top of the trail. But these moments were fleeting and my adventurous heart never once wished to actually be at home. I was constantly reminded that my closest friends are also out there currently living their unique adventures in various corners of the globe on our collective Years Abroad, and it made me proud, both of what we had achieved and because we had been brave enough to take that first step in the unknown.
It was a common theme on camp that people had run away to the jungle to run away from life in some form or another. I understand completely – the pure isolation together with the serenity of this life really is the best way to ‘find yourself’, away from the confusing demands of society and its rules. I found myself pondering this concept and also my own reasons for choosing the jungle to spend the first 2 months of my Year Abroad. In a world that has so much to offer, so much to discover and delight in, why are we always running away from life? I boarded that plane back in September with the thrill of running into the adventure; the thrill of the unknown and the undiscovered, the prospect of what I would see, who I would meet, and what I would learn both about the world and about myself. Why do we fear living, when it is the greatest gift ever given to us? When life is the most fleeting and precious thing on this earth? Instead of constantly running blindly forwards away from our pasts, or always looking backwards scared of the future and feeling nostalgic, we should be taking in the now. In my relatively short life so far, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve had more than my share of tough shit to deal with. My foundations have been shaken and my sense of self has been tested, and I have come out the other end so much more peaceful and rooted than ever before. Every day is precious; it is a gift that so many are denied.
Your ‘family’ are the people you take with you, the people you find, the people you share those moments with that you will fall asleep remembering. Your family are who you carry with you to the other side of the world. Most importantly, I find myself sitting in a completely foreign country, surrounded by hundreds of strangers also stuck in the strange limbo of ‘in transit’, and I know that I am not alone, that I am never alone. Both the people who are with me in heart, and the King that walks beside me and before me every step of the way give me strength, peace, and bountiful joy.
In the past 2 months I have seen with my own eyes what I honestly thought was just special effects. The mist really does rise from the rain-forest, the air really is thick with the buzz of animal life, pumas do exist and I (probably) saw one. I watched a Green turtle lay her nest in the sand, all 70 eggs brimming with perfect, porcelain life. I saw 115 Olive Ridley hatchlings make their way to the sea, racing from their nest to the water with what can only be described as a fearless thirst for life. I have seen birds I didn’t know existed, insects with all the colours of the rainbow, pink fungi, trees bigger than all buildings in my village, monkeys everywhere – literally, everywhere, heard the extravagant songs of Humpback whales, and watched the Lord paint the morning in colours I couldn’t have imagined. I braved my fears and touched a snake, and I swam in the sea among the jelly fish. I shared my nights with turtles, sand, rain and a mouldy mattress. I shared my bathroom with a lot of worms and one indignant toad. I shared my table with the greatest collection of random misfits I could have asked for, not to mention probably an uncountable amount of termites and ants, and I loved every single minute.
Costa Rica, you will forever have a piece of my heart, and in return you have given me a strength of heart too. I am leaving this place with such peace and love, eager for what awaits me next and thankful for everything I have been given. I have learnt that I only really need a few things in life to keep my heart full;
1) Good people around me to love and call my family
2) Legs that can carry me where I want to go
3) The simple and astounding beauty of this earth – from sunrise to sunset, I will never cease to be utterly in awe of the gift I have been given by life in this precious paradise.
Wherever you are right now, go and find a window and look out at the life around you. From a city brimming with the business of the working day, to a cloudy country view, I think you’ll agree that life is pretty amazing. I think you’ll agree that our earth is something worth fighting for and protecting. I think you’ll agree that sometimes, we all just need to go and hug a tree.
Now, I hope you’ll excuse me to I go and watch some Our Planet, because the jungle-withdrawal is hitting me hard.