Costa Rica: Faces of Travel

The archetypal herpetologist, bearded and a bit scraggly, witty with a pessimistic sense of humor, instantly reminded me of Kevin whom I met in Costa Rica.  While the two look nothing alike, it’s their zest for life and wisdom built from traveling the world that triggered the reminder.  On Tuesday the greying herpetologist cupped his hand, drew some ethanol from the bin of preserved giant lizards and said, “Tastes like bourbon.”  It’s men like these, the herpetologists and Kevins, that are the most interesting to talk to, bursting with stories of the world they’ve experienced.


In my three-week long stay in Costa Rica, I believe that Kevin will be my longest lasting memory, the smell that will linger strongest at thought of Costa Rica.  I had traveled 2,000 miles by plane, a few hundred by bus, crossed the Pacific from Puntarenas to Paquera, and was dumped from a van at my waterfront hostel.  Of course it was already dark.  I heard some chatter outside my room and was traveling alone, so I thought I would follow the voices and perhaps make some friends.  And so the long nights of black coffee and conversation began.

The first thing Kevin did was warn me that the woman who ran Rainsong Wildlife Sanctuary where I was to be volunteering, was crazy.  Then he bantered about human souls living in seven-year cycles, and I began to wonder who the crazy one really was.  All of a sudden the rain turned on and I scurried into my private hostel bedroom to write in my journal with the patter of rain, spider in my window, and monkey howling above.

Coffee conversation between Kevin and I became very common.  Kevin shared stories from his travels, having lived in the US, Canada, Indonesia, and Costa Rica (just to name a few).  He was interesting, had seen and experienced, and was sharing it all with me.

Kevin was American, born in the United States and was in his twenties during the Vietnam War draft.  The government was picking birthdays at random and all those born on the days chosen were shipped to Asia.  Kevin was a pacifist: Of course his birthday was picked.

Legally, one can refuse the draft as a Conscientious objector, if one can prove that their morals or religious beliefs object to war.  While Conscientious objection is legalized by freedom of thought, the US didn’t buy it in Kevin’s case, or the case of many other stubborn men.  Rather than fight, Kevin fled to Canada.  This is just the start of his many stories and exuberant lifestyle.

In Cabuya I nursed baby howler monkeys that fit in the palm of my hand, was stalked by a dog infested with flees, stewed a giant tuna, went diving with Black-tip Reef sharks, jumped off a forty foot waterfall, and was attacked by a fuzzy pink tarantula.  I witnessed a male howler monkey showdown, hiked from one side of the peninsula to the other, binged on batidos and pinto gallo.  All of these things were marvelous and created an amazing experience, but the part of the trip that most severely sticks out in my mind is my intelligent friend Kevin.

This leads me to ask, what makes the most memorable travel experiences?  Is it the things we see, the activities we partake in, or the people we spend time with?  All I know is that in such a large boundless world, how could someone opt not to live like Kevin and the herpetologist chasing flying snakes?

May 4, 2011