Chira Island, Costa Rica
“Not your typical hotel”
Chira Island (or Isla de Chira as it is known in Spanish) would be the perfect setting for a new season of the reality show “Survivor.” A small island located in the upper end of the Gulf of Nicoya in Costa Rica, it had all the natural ingredients seen in other “Survivor” settings-monstrous size bugs, lack of even one star accomodations, the exact opposite of a tourist hot spot. Ironically enough, I, the prima donna of accomodations, actually stayed on it for one night, and it was a night too much.
Anyone who has ever studied abroad will know that organized field trips are generally the norm. As a student in Spain I got to visit the famed Moorish palace, the Alhambra, as well as the country’s most famous Roman ruins in the small town of Italica. In Costa Rica, having chosen a program whose core focus was sustainable development (read: roughing it like the natives), the field trips were a lot less glamerous and a lot more physically demanding.
The island is described as being a rural tourist destination, but besides our group of American college students, I just saw natives. Ironically enough it was a nice and welcome sight, catching a glimpse of unspoiled, undeveloped Costa Rica, for in many areas of the country, overdevelopment is fast becoming the country’s worse enemy. Fishermaen were returning from the open waters with the day’s catches, women purchased the materials for the day’s big meal.
After being “herded” into the cab of a pickup that would take us deeper into the island, all of us standing up for there was no room otherwise to sit down, I just laughed thinking how far removed I was from my cosmopolitan city life back in the states.
During the ride I was struck by the starkness of the landscape and the ground which looked so incredibly dry. Having come from the country’s capital which is located in the central highlands, home to temperate weather and an abundance of greenery year-round, I felt as if I had been transported to the plains of Africa, half expecting to see a herd of gazelles bounding across. For being such an incredibly small country, the differences in landscapes between particular regions are astounding. However, I knew that once the rainy season descended upon the country in only a few short months, the same dry and arid landscape I was admiring would become a lush green Eden.
When we arrived at what was to be our lodgings for the night, I thought to myself that it could be a lot worse upon viewing the two large cabins. However, I spoke entirely too soon for upon entry, I saw that while there were walls and a roof, the two weren’t connected. As in, there was nothing to keep the great outdoors from coming in. And indeed they came, droves of grasshoppers that looked as if they belonged in a horror film.
Although I greatly admired the origins and purpose of the lodge (it was a cooperative owned and run by a group of local indigenous women as a means of supporting themselves entirely), I just couldn’t get beyond the fact that there were grasshoppers on just about every inch of space inside-the walls, the table besides the bed, the headboard. I knew that as insects go, there is nothing dangerous or threatening about grasshoppers. But I wasn’t used to seeing one grasshopper, let alone dozens of them inside, and of a size so large that not even a shoe would be able to take them out (if I were that kind of a person…).
When the women said there were bikes to ride, I jumped at the chance to leave the creepy grasshopper lodging behiond, and went with some others where we proceeded to bike a very long and grueling trail. Upon our return, plates of watermelon slices and a fried pastry akin to the Mexican bunelo were set out, but most of us ravenously feasted on the watermelon as we were parched after the hot ride.
As the evening hours wanred, the sun began to set, and I became petrified over the impending realization that I would have to sleep here, amongst all the grasshoppers. They seemed to multiply during our bike ride; perhaps they were attracted to humans. With the exception of one other girl who had severe arachnophobia (on a visit to a village some weeks before, she literally became hysterical after spotting a tarantula going about its business), I was probably the next one of our group who was a fuss budget when it came to bugs. Although I had remarked all afternoon over the creepiness of the grasshoppers and how grossed out I was, I either received slightly withering looks that read along the lines of “would you please shut up, you’re such a drama queen,” or was told that they were harmless and it wasn’t a big deal.
When the lights were turned off, everyone going to sleep, I could not have been more awake, for closing my eyes meant I would be powerless to see them. I never wanted a cat for fear that it would walk on me while I slept (slightly odd I know). This same fear resounded that night. I was petrified that I would wake up only to find grasshoppers all over my body.
Although I eventually drifted off into a restless slumber due to exhaustion, at the first sign of daybreak, I was up and outside of the lodge. I was amazed when I looked around at my group’s peers, seeing how many of them peacefully slept; and with no grasshoppers atop of them either.
Attemping to read my book in a hammock that was strung between two trees, waiting for there to be some activity from inside so I wouldn’t feel like such a paranoid nutcase anymore, I thought how this was an experience I would never want to have again. Although the cliche “you never know until you try” certainly resonates for most facets in life, I tried and I knew. The rustic tourist life was not for me.