I was driving home from the pub one at night at like 1am after one too many beers when I get an email on my phone. I glance over at it to see who it’s from and I quickly make out the letters OTS, yeah I’ve been waiting for this one for a while. This is that generic rejection email that we’ve all had to read at least once in our lives. So I burn it home dodging as many cops as possible so I can get this over and done with, like removing a plaster from a cut when you’re a kid. I open the email and the first word I see is “Congratulations.” Before I even bother to keep reading I’m running around my place high fiving myself (yes, I appreciate how much of a loser I looked like) and jumping for joy.
The next morning I wake up with a hangover and a severe lack of sleep and go over that email one more time just to make sure it’s real. Then it starts to sink in. I’m gonna be spending six weeks traveling around Costa Rica with at least fourteen other Americans studying a part of the world I never thought I’d see. Hang on though, aren’t Americans those loud ignorant tourists who take over Kruger and run around the country shooting lions trapped in a can? Aren’t they the idiots landing at O.R. Tambo dressed in full khaki gear or “safari suits” expecting to see elephants strolling down Vilakazi street and leopards patrolling up and down Jan Smuts avenue? Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s what an American is, right?
Wrong. These Americans are nothing like those assholes we get back home. These Americans are actually pretty fucken smart. This one dude Forest (yes I appreciate the irony of a dude named Forest studying the forest) can literally play any instrument I can name. He knows more about cockroaches that I even knew was possible. This guy Dan understands the intricacies of habitat fragmentation and the use of eco-corridors that just blows my mind. Jenny (rockstar #1) is studying poison dart frogs, yes those kick ass little dudes we all saw in Apocolypto, compliments of Mel Gibson. Jane (rockstar #2) is studying such a diverse array of climate change effects and is genuinely contributing to a vital knowledge base. Aidan knows literally every single ant in the world! All of them. Aviv (the Jew from Jersey) is a statistics magician and somehow manages to be bitten or stung by every possible creature out here. Emily has been studying the sudden and rapid decline of amphibians in Central America, most probably as the result of the introduction of a South African clawed frog which spread the chytrid fungus. Colleen can identify a bird at the drop of a hat. Shelley knows more about plants that I never even knew existed. Then there is Sofia the Puerto Rican, who is doing vital work using an appreciation of the ecological-social system and Maanav, the Indian, who is trying to save the big cats of Asia.
So yeah, I was wrong. Americans are pretty cool. They can stay. Thanks to a series of drunken parties, the camaraderie of supporting Costa Rica against Uruguay in a local pub that turned into a massive fiesta and the exchange of knowledge across continents, my mind has been changed.
Aviv (the Jew from Jersey)
Aidan (The ant dude)
Shelley, Emily, Maanav, Aviv, Buck, Me
That crazy day when dreams came true and Costa Rica Beat Uruguay.
The team at Cabo Blanco