Let me tell you about my first backpacking trip
Being a small town boy in Georgia, I had never really traveled much except for when I traveled to Montreal to live. Aly and I were just starting our relationship and decided to travel some place together for the first time. It was really taking the next step in our relationship.
I was working as a landscaper and Aly was still in college so we had about as much time in the fall that we wanted before she had to return to school and I ran out of money. After some soul searching and researching places we wanted to go, we decided we wanted to follow in the footsteps of a friend of ours who just returned to Canada from her long backpacking trip in South America. We saw in some of her pictures a place where she took care of injured animals; such as howler monkeys, sloths, birds, and a number of other animals. It was a place called Jaguar Rescue in Costa Rica. The village was called Puerto Viejo. A small surfing community with, at the time, very limited tourist traffic. That was it. That place was perfect and we set our minds to it. Aly worked all summer for a clothing store and I sold everything I had and didn't pay rent for 2 months just to go. We got on the plane and I remember thinking, “ I might not have a place to come back to.” It didn’t worry me too bad because “I’m a survivor!” I thought.
When we arrived to Costa Rica we were picked up by Alessandra’s cousin, Christie and Paulo with their two children. They took us out to eat and put us up in their house for a few days while they drove us around to see all the sites. We got to see the volcano, cloud forests, and a lot of the countryside. We stayed with them for about 4 days I believe and after that we had to catch a bus to the Atlantic side of Costa Rica to Puerto Viejo!
When we arrived in Puerto Viejo it was a surreal experience for us both. One for me because I had never been to a Latin American country before and for Aly because this was the first time she had traveled anywhere alone with a boyfriend…. I hope
We had to walk to where we were going to be staying. I actually was clueless to where we were going because I let Aly plan everything. I was just along for the ride. I saw some bike out front of a Cafe/Bookstore and decided to pop in and see if we could rent them. While I was in the middle of haggling with the expat on the ridiculous price he wanted to charge me, Aly was standing in a fire ant bed. When they started to bite her she yelled “Ow Ow Ow!” at which point a freaking parrot began mocking her! The parrot squawked back “Ow Ow Ow!”. We looked at each other and started laughing hysterically, Aly with tears in her eyes, me with the bike handles in my hand, and the store owner calling out at the bird calling it a bastard.
We rode our new rented old bikes to where we would be staying in the jungle. It was a complete shack. The bright side was that it had fruit trees in the front yard. Lemon, avocado, lichee, and banana trees surrounded us so we had plenty of fruit. We got the directions from the owner to where the animal shelter was for the following day and went there with high hopes. To our dismay we had to pay to be trained to take care of the animals for free. Which means, we had to pay to volunteer. We each did, and 160$ USD later we were being trained to care for monkeys, sloths, Coatimundi, and a baby white tailed deer. There were long days of poop and smelly things but it was super rewarding. Usually we rode our bikes straight to the ocean right after work.
We met good people there. The locals were awesome and took us to clubs and rodeos where they were our bodyguards and bouncers. They were supermassive people. We have a picture of me squeezed between 2 of them. I look like a sliver of a man. Some people were expats that just decided to go there and start a new life. A new friend from Spain, Tina, started making pizzas and delivering them to locals in town. Another person was making chocolate next to a resort… It was a way to make money while travelling. I’m sure the smell must have been irresistible to the tourists in the resort.
We took surfing lessons, traveled to Panama Isla Colon for a couple of days, and just lived our existence in the Jungle taking care of Monkeys and critters. We made jokes to each other by saying things like, “We could just stay.”, or something like “Why are we going back?” Overall it was a nice trip but we had things we needed to finish back in Canada. So at the end of our journey, we packed our bags, returned our bikes, and kissed Puerto Viejo goodbye.
When we got back to Canada, it was a surreal experience. It was almost like we didn’t belong. Our friends grew tired of hearing about our adventures, we didn’t feel at home anymore, and it felt weird to work in places we didn’t fit in anymore. We quieted out hearts, pushed out the feeling that we must return, and trudged through the day to day rat race. Eventually we went back for a vacation, but it was not the same. We held onto a piece of that adventure though and ever since it has been what we searched for in every travel, and destination. Now almost 10 years later, we’re setting future projects in motion so that one day we can move to Costa Rica with Alessandra’s family. We hope that our life in Costa Rica will continue...