Yesterday was by far the best day of the trip and a day that I will undoubtedly never forget. Of course several things happened in succession that added to it sticking in my mind. For one, Nikita found an adorably cute (but poisonous) caterpillar that had red, black and white fur, and I absolutely fell in maternal love with it. It crawled in the most amazing way, and literally held my attention for the entire trek through the forest.
Also, the most important thing on the “things-I-wanted-to-see-in-Costa-Rica-list?” I saw it. A sloth with a baby on its stomach lying in the trees definitely competed with the caterpillar for my excitement. Also, I think so much of our attention had been focused on the small caterpillars that it was nice to be reminded of the larger mammals that represent the diversity of the tropics. This picture is a very blurry but I'll try to get a better one from others who were there soon!
And what better way to end the day than with real, live, adorable bats caught and studied in Tirimbina?
Undoubtedly, however, everything almost seemed to pale in comparison to my experience in the afternoon. During our hour-and-a-half of relaxation, Jaya, Ana, and I (all of whom are Terrascope Radio students) decided to explore the community outside of Tirimbina, and possibly hear the voices of the people of Costa Rica. We weren’t really sure what we would get, but armed with Ana as our translator, we stepped out of our carefully-planned schedule and walked to some neighboring roads. After almost making one woman miss her bus, talking to a high-schooler about the lack of school education in biodiversity, hearing a construction worker describe how so much has changed in Costa Rica regarding the blind destruction of forests and wildlife for agriculture, and adorable little five-year-olds who made animal noises, we thought it couldn’t get any better. With the remaining time, we crossed the street to talk to perhaps one last person.
A little further down the road stood a small house completely surrounded by gardens and greenery, with an elderly couple on the front porch. After Ana explained what we were doing and got their permission to interview, we walked up to them and stood outside of the porch, expecting this to be pretty short. Soon however, they invited us on their porch, and a few minutes after, the woman led us to her garden and showed us her cacao tree (the plant responsible for chocolate goodness). She showed us her dogs and cats, and Ana continued to lead a conversation with her as Jaya and I stood transfixed. When asked about why and how she chose to make her house full of greenery, she said simply that they were very poor and didn’t know any other way to live. When Ana asked her about school, we were in for another surprise. Her mother had passed away at a young age, and her dad gave her away to one of her aunts. As she recounted the ways in which she and her sister had been horribly mistreated and abused, tears filled her eyes, and words actually can’t describe the way my heart wrenched. As Jaya later said, “Of all the lectures we’ve had this week, there was nothing like this where I just couldn’t take my eyes off of her face—and I didn’t even understand what she was saying!” The woman led us back to the front porch, and we thought we were about to leave, when suddenly the man told us to come with him. He took us back to the cacao tree and told us about his early years working in Tirimbina biological reserve. As we was doing this, he hand-pollinated the flowers of the cacao tree. I didn’t even realize my mouth had dropped open until I turned to Jaya and Ana and saw the same expression on their faces. And as if this wasn’t enough, he gave us a cacao fruit to take home.
For me, that is what our trip is really about. The naturalism and science that we have been experiencing for the past few days is incredibly interesting and valuable, but our days of fieldwork almost made me lose sight of the larger importance. And yes, this may sound incredibly cliché, but we are here to understand a world different than ours and completely immerse ourselves in it for a week, and maybe we had forgotten to do that. This couple, in only half an hour, led us into their lives, opened up their hearts, and simply gave everything they could without any expectations or strings attached. If there’s anything I can convey from this trip to the world, it’s that privilege of hearing someone’s story, of being allowed into their past, is a feeling that you can just never forget.