It is the 1st November 2016 and I am travelling with 22 students who are on various undergraduate courses encompassing the disciplines of geography, biology and ecology. Their tutors are Drs. Rick Stafford, Anita Diaz and Philippa Gillingham. We will be visiting a number of projects and habitats whilst on our travels. Using these as case studies, the students must write a critical essay / opinion article of around 2500 words evaluating the benefits and limitations of the conservation projects, and environmental management of the area considering the competing economic and societal demands. Ecotourism is one strategy that destinations use for a supposedly ‘sustainable’ use of natural resources. With my interest in wildlife and ecotourism, I am there to undertake my own research and to support the discussions on ecotourism.
Day 1: Eyes from the sky
Sunrise over Gatwick airport proclaims the beginning of our trip to Costa Rica. The November morning is calm and bright, and after the usual airport treadmill, we are soon airborne and West bound. Sat tucked up by the window I watch the south coast of England drift by trying to make out the places I know and love whilst admiring the natural beauty of our coastline. Having walked a lot of it, I know this South West coast well and yet the topography is so difficult to recognise from the air. Eventually, I say goodbye to the bright autumn colours as land becomes ocean and the view from 32,000 feet becomes white cloud framed by the distinct blue hues of the space above our beautiful planet.
With the lights dimmed and the blinds down, the Atlantic crossing passes until at last we can see from the on-board maps that we are above land. A bird’s eye view of the Caribbean reveals a paint pallet of ocean blues, luminous greens and white cotton wool clouds as we fly over Cuba and above tiny islands; atolls of turquoise, sapphire and gold. Uninhabited worlds fringed with coral reefs.
There is something quite unreal about air travel. Not having your feet on the ground, the betwixt and between of being here and then there, and the endless hours to kill allows time to while away; perhaps with a film or a book, or maybe just space for thoughts…. to ponder how we came to this point, the privilege, and the fortune to be able to travel. Time drags and time stops in this liminal space whilst our busy, mundane lives are left at the airport. Maybe this personal space… this stopping…this ’empty’ time to just be and to contemplate where we are in life, is what people seek from travel and why tourism is the first thing people do with increased prosperity.
It is not long from Cuba before we are soaring over Costa Rica’s Atlantic coast. My first impression is an intermittent blanket of dark green visible through sudden breaks in exotic grey clouds. As it is such a thin country it is also possible to see the white fringe of the Pacific Ocean as it graces the black volcanic shores. Both shorelines give off a completely different hue to the previous brightness of the Caribbean islands, Costa Rica today is dark grey and green. Unfortunately, the rainstorms mean a delayed landing, causing the plane to draw large, endless figures of eight over this eerie emerald land waiting for the storms to recede. Round and round until at last we land.
Once out of the airport we are met by our guide and we pile into an old quaint bus to make our way along the Pan American Highway to our little hotel in San Jose. The city is extremely busy; congested with traffic, and appears like a typical central American city. Eventually we arrive at our clean and charming hotel. There is good food, warm hospitality, time for a beer, a hot shower and a very welcome bed. It is amazing how tiring doing nothing actually is.