Reader Story

Boa Constrictors, Howler Monkeys, and Sweet Solitude

by Jessica Carpani

Sunrise on the beach in Costa Rica. All photos by Jessica Carpani.

An overnight hike through the swampy Osa Peninsula is surprisingly peaceful. Just watch out for the razor grass. A reader story.

OSA PENINSULA, Costa Rica – We flutter down hidden steps, crawl under fallen trees, and side-step razor grass. We reach a swamp with thick, gray water that settles at our thighs and fills our boots; it's a maze of hanging vines and reeds, spotted with red eye tree frogs, boa constrictors, and wanderers. Other creatures whisper in the darkness, escaping the beam of my red headlamp.

We clamber out into a great expanse. My eyes adjust. For a moment I'm convinced I'm in a black room. Then the lights come on. Color against so much darkness. Stars. My friend guides my eyes to one brush stroke of smudged stars: The Milky Way. Damn, it's beautiful. The only thing that obscures my view are the points of a palm tree, marking its outline against the light.

The ocean crashes hard against the floor and throws a sharp white line across the horizon. The silence rips in two. I can hear it but I can't see it, so I have to imagine that the white line is the break of a wave and not of a heart.

I place one foot in front of the other as the sky settles and fades to a soft pink. The hours have gone on unnoticed, my calves burn, my mouth is dry, and the water is running low. We have 42 sectors to patrol and each sector is 100 meters long, a twelve kilometer walk.

Osa Peninsula Author

Turtle crossing.

We stop three times to measure turtle tracks. Two have nested and one has created an aimless pattern in the sand.

"Go home turtle. You're drunk." My friend laughs.

Finally, the forest on my right begins to retreat and we see a wooden post blurred by heat waves in the distance. Plaque 42, the final sector. We've reached the finish line.

Osa Peninsula Sunrise

Break of dawn.

In front of the forest is a large area of wetland — a huge lagoon with cattle kicking up the moist mud, and a rose sky shredding itself into pinks, purples, and oranges. Scarlet macaws dip into the landscape and then fly higher than the tree tops. Howler monkeys rumble in the distance. Hawks swim among the clouds — they see it all. 

So few people get to see the sun rise here. It's remote, untouched, and perfect. I pray that it stays that way. We're four young people, alone in an indescribable place, exhausted and singing songs from The Lion King. This is living. We collapse on our rucksacks.


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