“There’s a place I know that nobody knows, where the river flows and I call it home.” Deep in the jungles of Central America lies a place called Jalova—it’s waters warm, it’s forest thick and it’s creatures alive from morning to night. As we depart from the city on a 6-hour bus ride, sounds of street traffic turn into singing cicadas, the smell of taquerias and industry melts into musk and all signs of man-made life disappear. We step off the bus onto a muddy platform where we are informed a motorboat will be taking us the rest of the way. Eerie, green waters await us in this mangrove that separates the Tortuguero peninsula from the rest of Costa Rica. It is more still and quiet than I imagine the Arctic to be. A man named Juan pulls up in a motorboat disturbing the perfect peace and signals us to get on. As we split though the glassy waters, Juan navigates canals that fork and wind in ways only someone who was raised on the waters could know. After an hour we pull up to a jungley bank where we hop off and grab our luggage. It’s apparent that I packed the wrong kind of bag due to a misinterpretation of the British packing list. While everyone strapped on their hiking pack full of weeks supplies I finagled my bright pink duffel bag onto my back for the mile long hike to camp. For a moment I felt a deep sink of anxiety as my mind caught up to my secluded reality—7 hours from town, in a foreign country, with no cell phone or Internet and a group of perfect strangers. I took a slow breath and staggered towards our camp.

Along muddy foot trails, giant leaves reached out towards us, mosquitoes buzzed about our ankles and dew dripped from the canopy top. We were headed for Jalova Research Station in the heart of the Caribbean jungle for two weeks of conservation volunteering. The humidity greeted us like an excited puppy licking your face. We made it to camp just before dusk to meet the other volunteers and researchers we would be staying with. Our simple plot consisted of three large wooden shacks, two as dormitories and one as the kitchen and meeting area. Dinner was being cooked as we settled into our dorm and picked our bunks. The bunks were strung with mosquito nets and as we established our new area with our things, deep bonds began to form as we experienced this wild and different journey together. We joined the larger group in the kitchen for dinner only to be greeted by what felt more like family than strangers immediately. We played card games into the night, bantered about what work was like in the field and sipped cocoa until our tongues felt furry. When it was time to turn in, thousands of fireflies danced in the grass and sent us to bed with smiles as big as our hearts had grown that night.

Over the next two weeks we worked alongside seasoned researches on several projects in the jungle—monitoring jaguars on camera traps, identifying birds in mangrove canoes and tracking turtle nests by moonlight on stretching sandy beaches. Camp was so simple, as was life at Jalova. Time passed differently without the rush of civilization. We rose together and ate porridge, rotating on different projects and talking about them the whole day through. Being around people who were as excited about nature as me was chocolate frosting on the jungle donut, as we would say. In this paradise, howler monkeys echoed in the yard, toucans decorated the trees and lizards were such frequent sights they became like our pets with names such as “Peanut Butter” and “Jelly.” Jalova was like a dream except it was not. There actually exists a place where people live a simple life and give back to the earth that most readily abuse and we lived in harmony while doing it. This is my favorite place on earth as it was the most perfect meeting place for purpose and connection and it propelled my love for nature and dedication to a life in service of it.

  • Jessica May
  • : Bird nerd from the Northwest
  • : https://www.instagram.com/jessmay9/
  • : adult_(19_and_over_as_of_31st_december_2019)
  • : This is the first time this story has been published.