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The Adventures of Matt and the Magic Nature Sparkle Dust

July 16, 2010 Leave a comment

This was a paper I wrote in college about my trip to Costa Rica, undoubtedly the most entertaining school-related thing I have written.

The Adventures of Matt and the Magic Nature Sparkle Dust

“Man Down!” yelled James, laughing as Sam tripped over a duffle bag and fell to the ground. We all pointed and laughed as well. You might say that we were being mean, but it’s not the kind of thing you think about; if someone falls, you laugh. When we realized that Sam was not the clumsy oaf we had made her out to be, but rather, was having a seizure, we began to regret our initial reaction.

This was the first memorable incident of many in my trip to Costa Rica, two summers ago. I admittedly am not one of those people who is easily impressed by nature. I feel that animals that are sleeping at the zoo are cheating me out of my time and money, and I would prefer a mediocre movie to an outstanding sunset. However, I decided that this trip would give nature a chance to prove me wrong, plus it would keep me from having to get a summer job. I went with a group called Wilderness Ventures, and arrived in Miami International Airport to meet eleven other kids and three group leaders with whom I would be living for the next three weeks. I definitely had some apprehensions about going. I had done some research and found out that Costa Rica had the leading number of deaths by crocodile attack in the world, and that one of the major causes of death in the country was from falling coconuts. I also worried that I would not get along with my group-mates or that someone would smell. My fears turned out to be unnecessary. My group-mates were very nice and relatively hygienic people; the only crocodile I saw was hit on the head by a coconut and died. I had my first surprise when I met my aforementioned leader James, who was in fact a girl. Apparently her parents were hippies. James liked her name most of the time, except when talking on the phone to her bank, which was dubious of her identity.

The second leader was Eric (not a girl) who was a Buddhist. Everyday he would meditate in his tent for an hour or so. What annoyed me was the fact that he refused to kill bugs. If you’ve never been to Costa Rica, there are many bugs, and they all deserve to die. The mosquitoes there require the kind of bug spray that you get recommended by an international disease and medicine doctor.

The third leader was Duncan, who had a large beard. The rest of the group was Charlie, Tom, Bette, Charlotte, Laura, Jasmine, Brianna, Brittney F, Brittney S, Brittney Z, and of course Sam, may she rest in peace. Just kidding, she was fine (yay, I’m not going to hell for laughing at her). Luckily I’m good at remembering names, especially when I only need to know nine names for eleven people.

It is not easy to describe the environment of Costa Rica because it seemed like everywhere we went had its own unique climate. Most of the places we went were hot and humid. The sun would blaze down and burn whatever unprotected skin it could find. At night, the air was usually warm and sticky. When we went up into the more mountainous part of the country, however, it was very cold at night. My tent was insufficient in keeping out the cold night air, so I had to huddle up in a ball inside my sleeping bag. There was one constant in the weather: everyday it rained. Usually I am not someone who minds rain, but like any liquid, it is better in moderation. Often there was no warning of its inevitable downfall, such as dark clouds. The sky seemed to send down a shower whenever the ground felt thirsty, which was probably often. Luckily I had packed plenty of raingear and work boots that became so encrusted with mud that the laces no longer functioned.

The general plan for the trip was to go all around the country in a big bus, over the bumpiest roads in the world, with a driver who was very good at night soccer. These bus rides, some of which were over five hours long, were spent listening to music, playing cards, sleeping, and finding out about one another. Apparently Sam frequently stole ice cream from her job at Dairy Queen, Brittney F becomes overly excited when her forearms are tickled, and Brianna once got in a car accident and then fled the scene on foot. Well, their secrets are out now. The card game that we usually played was called “asshole” and was not nearly as much fun as it sounds. After these action-packed expeditions, we would stop at various places to undergo service projects and other, more fun activities.

For our longest service project, we helped a small town construct a path to a waterfall. Twice each day we had to hike there and back through mud, treacherous rocks, and something worse than mud which caused me to surmise that we were following in the trail of a horse. The work we did involved digging holes, picking up rocks, making cement, and carrying heavy things from one place to another. We took frequent breaks, often spent practicing our Spanish by talking to the one worker from the town who was there to help us. The girls liked to flirt with him, and asked if he had a “novia.” Brianna may have seemed a bit too hospitable when she mixed up a popular Spanish phrase, saying, “mi cama es su cama.” Perhaps it was a Freudian slip.

Although there was much fun had by all, I would be willing to wager that everyone was frightened at one point or another over our trip. Some people were scared when we went spelunking into a small cave inhabited by numerous bats with walls covered in what was left behind by the numerous bats. Others were afraid to climb a tree that had so many odd roots and nooks that it was like a jungle gym. I, however, was only mildly annoyed in the cave from the unfortunate olfactory repercussions of having to breathe and from bumping my head one too many times. The tree was not scary at all, and I climbed in a minute, which was one second off the Wilderness Ventures record. The most terrifying part of the trip for me was having to cook meals. Everyday, there were different groups that had to prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the others. I’m the kind of person who considers himself a master chef when he has successfully prepared a bowl of cereal, so this was definitely a big challenge for me. I won’t say that my culinary skills rose above the level of, perhaps, an independent eight-year-old, but I was proud of my unevenly minced garlic and my lukewarm pasta.

My favorite part of the trip was when we went sea kayaking. Our guide, Josh, was one of the few Americans I saw living in Costa Rica. He knew everything from plants, to turtles, to the lyrics to every Jack Johnson song. He showed us one plant that if you ripped its leaves, a goo similar to battery acid would come out. I made sure to make a mental note of that. As for the sea kayaking itself, we would travel to different islands and beaches. Now, I had been to a lot of nice beaches before, but there was something different about these beaches: they were deserted. There were vast sandy, sunny beaches with warm water and a great view, but there were no loud, obnoxious people, crying babies, or sands lined with artificial, brightly-colored towels. Being sore and tired from paddling so far through the hot air and discovering this untouched piece of paradise, I felt like an explorer. That night we ate Josh’s homemade French fries and homemade sauce, of which all I remember is that it was delicious and may have involved carrots in some capacity. I thought it would be nice to buy a private island such as this, maybe with Josh as my personal chef/ battery acid plant pointer-outer.

Up to this point, I would say that nature had impressed me, but only in a way that a parent is when his child brings home a finger painting. Sure it’s nice, and the parent will praise the child for his masterpiece, but let’s just say it’s not going up in the Louvre any time soon. But my opinion was about to change. We started the last leg of our strenuous kayak journey at about 4:00am, while it was still dark outside. This seemed like a stupid idea to me because I tend to get cranky without my twelve hours of sleep. But when we started paddling out into the water, I noticed a strange sparkling coming from underneath the surface of the water. It was bioluminescence or, as I liked to call it, magic nature sparkle dust. Every stroke produced a shimmering that seemed to trace the motion of the oar. Eventually, all of the magic nature sparkle dust faded away before the sunrise, and I was left hoping I could reproduce the same effect in my bathtub at home.

Going back home was strange after three weeks in Costa Rica. My bed seemed very comfortable and untentlike, showering was no longer a test of endurance against unimaginable cold, and I could eat food that wasn’t made by me or other people practically as inept. I definitely missed the environment that I had left, though, both the people and the natural world. I hope to return to Costa Rica one day, and bring back the recipe for that delicious carrot sauce (which didn’t taste like carrots by the way) and my own jar of magic nature sparkle dust.