Jun 27, 2016
"You need to remove the barrette from your hair. If you leave it in, the monkeys will probably rip it out. Also, you can’t wear your glasses.”
They were not words of comfort. My anxiety increased. I have a fear of primates. I blame our high school French teacher, who kept a picture of a lemur hanging on her classroom wall. That lemur’s wide, creepy eyes, stared into my soul every week for four years.
We were visiting the Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica. As part of the tour, guests were encouraged to enter the baby howler monkey enclosure. My first thought was, no way, but I made a promise to myself that while traveling, I would face my fears whenever possible. So I unclipped my barrette, slipped off my glasses, and took a long, deep breath.
There were baby monkeys everywhere. They were swinging, climbing, keeping a respectful distance, until one monkey decided to land on my shoulder. My face broke into a smile that conveyed more terror than joy. I’m okay, I’m okay, I kept repeating to myself. Then, suddenly, I was okay. The baby monkey cuddled around my shoulders like a monkey feather boa. He was kind of cute, and cuddly. I didn’t mind that he was there, but I was also relieved when he moved on to cuddle with another tour group member.
Next, I went from conquering a fear, to being able to achieve one of my greatest dreams.
Snap, snap, snap, went my camera a hundred times. I had never been this close to my absolute favorite animal, a sloth. The rescued baby sloth snuggled her favorite stuffed animal. The cuteness was overwhelming. I’m guessing the tour leader sensed my enthusiasm, asking, "Would you like to hold the baby sloth?”
I was excited, no wait, I was ecstatic, no wait I was…I don’t believe there is a word in the human language to express the level of joy I felt in that moment. India, the baby sloth, was adorable, sweet and curious. I could have held her all day. Hold a sloth; checked off of the bucket list.
Panama and Costa Rica were the first two foreign countries I visited. I escaped malaria and dengue fever, but I could not escape the bite of the travel bug.
There were so many things I got to do in these amazing countries. I swam in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans within the same week. I got to see amazing nature and wildlife. I toured a plantation that makes my favorite beverage, coffee, and I fell in love with the icy treat, raspados. There were also so many things left undone. I never got to cruise through the Panama Canal. I never went snorkeling in the perfect, Caribbean blue waters. I never flew through the jungle trees on ziplines. Every year I think, this will be the year I return, but so far I have not been able to make a return trip a reality.
To me, visiting Costa Rica and Panama means gentle, smiling sloths. It means a rainbow of colorful frogs. I would love to feel the humidity that instantly frizzes my curls, and the sweat that means that I have had a satisfying day. It is the deep, dark green of jungle leaves, and water so blue it barely looks real. It’s loud, splashing waterfalls that I might get to zipline past. Staring into a volcano that I know is inactive, but still getting a thrill that it could erupt all the same. There would be mornings filled with smooth, deeply roasted, just- what- I- need –in- the- morning coffee. For dinner, there would be fish so fresh that it was caught hours before it enters my mouth, served with tostones, lots and lots of tostones.
Costa Rica and Panama means returning to old friends. Un-cruising through these countries would give me the chance to do the things left undone, while giving me the opportunity to convey my gratitude to the two countries that sparked in me an insatiable wanderlust.