My parents’ flight is delayed and doesn’t arrive until almost 2 a.m. I leave Lee and Camille in the hotel room and drive through the city – streets normally clogged with traffic are completely and eerily empty.
This is mostly a good thing, although the entrance to the highway is a confusing mess of roads with no lane markers, and I usually try to follow the other cars to find my way. There are no other cars, so maybe I went the wrong way and tried to get on the highway via the off-ramp. Maybe I had to go in reverse up that off-ramp and turn around after the lone truck honked at me.
Maybe. I’ll never tell.
And then I’m pulling up to the arrival gates and there they are, my parents, exhausted but excited to begin their adventure with us.
We fall into our beds and I sleep until 5:30 when I am awakened, not just by the rising sun, but by a stomach bug.
This is not how I wanted to welcome my parents on their first day in Costa Rica, curled in the fetal position in bed. But we don’t get to choose these things, do we?
The day is a blur. We check out of our hotel in San Jose and make the trek into the mountains toward Monteverde. I have so been looking forward to this excursion, and am terribly disappointed to feel so miserable. The car winds up the curvy mountain roads and gorgeous, emerald vistas greet us around every corner.
I take quick peeks before closing my eyes again, hanging on to the flight sickness bag I swiped from our Delta flight 3 weeks earlier, when I had imagined just this sort of possibility.
Our destination is the UGA Costa Rica campus. As alumni and Georgia enthusiasts, we were looking forward to a little slice of Athens in the wilds of Costa Rica. We check in, and I go to bed.
Thankfully, the next day I’m feeling a little better. Still woozy, but well enough to take a good look around the place.
It is gorgeous. Our cabina is small (and all 5 of us are bunking together) and the whole thing reminds me of summer camp, but not in a bad way. There are rocking chairs and a hammock on the porch, and the cool mountain breezes are refreshing.
The foliage is verdant and green and everything in this cloud forest seems super-sized – the trees, the broadness of the leaves, the flowers, the butterflies, the guinea pigs.
Oh wait, that was no guinea pig – it was an agouti running across our path. How fun!
After a communal breakfast in the dining hall (even running into a group of high schoolers from Savannah, of all things), we take a natural history hike with one of the volunteers. This is what I had imagined – young, enthusiastic naturalists from the states who are just as excited about this exotic land as we are, giving us a grand tour.
Kate, our guide, is a font of knowledge about the plants and animals, and Camille is a sponge. We learn all about leaf-cutter ants. We witness the strange adaptations plants have made in their quest for sunlight under the thick canopy of trees. We watch a whole family of coatis make their way down a tree. We stare up into the strange hollow center of a strangler fig.
After lunch, we’re ready for more exploration, and hike along a nearby trail that includes a set of several suspension bridges. These bridges give you a canopy-level view of the cloud forest, and the view is fantastic.
After dinner we have one more hike planned – this time it’s a night hike with another volunteer naturalist. It is exhilarating and terrifying to walk through the jungle at night. We turn off our flashlights and are plunged into total darkness, ears picking up all the night sounds around us. Flashlights back on, we spot two enormous tarantulas along with several other less venomous night-time creatures.
In the morning, we’re up with the chickens. The UGA campus is also a working farm, and there are cows to be milked.
Camille, who has been playing “pioneer” since her arrival, was delighted to try her hand at a real pioneer-type chore.
She works at her task with surprising determination and enthusiasm, and does a darn good job milking that cow. I try it too, but she’s a better milker than me. She’d make an excellent pioneer.
Then we’re off to breakfast where we have a newfound appreciation for the fresh milk in our coffee, and then we’re on the road again. It’s time for my mom and dad to meet the coast.