It was the coldest January Edinburgh had witnessed for over one hundred years forcing Scotland to grind to a halt three weeks before Christmas and a few more afterwards due to snow drifts coming from the North. Cycling to and from work every-day in gale force wind and rain throughout summer had become a tedious task, but now it was impossible, turning a twenty minute journey into a brutal two hour assault by foot in almost half a meter of snow. Orders of fruit boxes I packed were getting continually cancelled everyday with our clients -schools, businesses- succumbing to the weather and eventually I lost my job.
At first it was great. I built a massive snowman which doubled up as quite a spacious igloo, staged countless snowball battles, snow angels and all the rest, however the novelty soon wore off with Christmas fast approaching and not a penny in my account. Having made the decision to leave Army training earlier in the year I can almost hear the words my Sergeant’s dying to say to me after having warned me about the lack of work outside the Forces, “I told you so”!
Receiving phone calls five days into the new year I bite the hands off my recruitment agencies for the chance to start two new jobs, one in my home town from two am until nine am unloading trailers packed to the gunnels with fridges, televisions, late Christmas presents and just about every invention, possession and item known to man. The other in my old, fruit packing warehouse working two pm till ten pm with opportunity for extra hours as long as the separate agencies don’t find out about each-other.
Scrapping ice from car parks every other day, digging vans from the snow and unpacking yet more orders of cancelled fruit boxes brings me to one final conclusion as I pick myself up from a patch of ice while rubbing my sore, wet backside. I HATE Scottish winter.
At minus fifteen degrees I return home at around eleven in the morning after a few hours overtime and after gorging on mince-pies I open Mums laptop and check my e-mails. A message from Ash.
Reading confirmation of my departure for Costa Rica I sink my teeth into the laptop and send the coffee table a foot in the air with a swift kick of excitement. Goodbye rotten fruit, goodbye lack of sleep, goodbye sore back and cold feet. Goodbye Scotland!
Joined by a six foot hairy Englishman by the name of Alex the next ten months would see us pass the time throwing rocks at one another – constantly- and laughing my ass of at the sight of him belly-flop from a waterfall into a patch of water only six inches deep while working on our Biological Reserve.
An average day would usually consist of waking at six am, sitting down to a plate of rice, platino –fried banana- and a hot glass of the best coffee in the world then walk up a mountain to work following a small gravel road passing the most friendly people and fantastic scenery. Plant some trees, clear trails leading up to our highest peak at 1480 meters with machetes. Jump into one of our waterfalls before lunch then a spot of weeding in the butterfly garden. Maybe start another stone fight or go looking for Derek –one of our resident deadly snakes-.
. . .
A small note about Derek (Fer-de-lance viper);
An irritable and fast-moving species also regarded as being excitable and unpredictable.
Bite symptoms include pain, oozing from the puncture wounds, local swelling that may increase for up to 36 hours, bruising that spreads from the bite site, blisters, numbness, mild fever, headache, bleeding from the nose and gums, hemoptysis, gastrointestinal bleeding, hematuria, hypotension, nausea, vomiting, tenderness of the spleen. In untreated cases, local necrosis
Getting this bad boy of the path involved me poking him with a big stick and watching as he struck out sinking his two inch fangs into my piece of wood. Quite possibly the coolest/dumbest thing I’ll ever do but our boss Jesus would have killed it and we liked our snakes too much to let that happen.
For a while our morning routine would include a quick sweep of our trails in search of Derek who now had his favourite chill-out spot right in the middle of our path. Clearly this wouldn’t do and something had to be done. It would be Jacks idea to scoop him up on the end of a plastic rake and ‘wang’ him through the forest.
I think the sight of a two meter deadly viper flying through the jungle is a vision not seen by many that will stay with me until the day I die and I sometimes imagine, with a smile, an innocent back-packer veering off the beaten track to empty his bladder then letting out one almighty vicious pooh as Derek lands on his shoulders!
An encounter with one amazing green Eyelash viper would have me in a hasty retreat as it struck out at my hand while I took some close up photos. Later I would climb on Alex’s shoulders for more snaps of this incredible specimen while he stood precariously on a narrow, wet and sloping mountain trail. It would seem my phobia of all things creepy-crawly would not extend to creatures that areactually dangerous.
Evenings of drinking after work at the local bar while watching the Champions League would eventually lead to trouble from our host families and almost getting set upon by a stick wielding taxi driver but we were never really drunk. Just a bit more pub time than your average Costa Rican.
Monkeys, toucans, waterfalls and mountains. We had it all. Right here at our work but we still found time for sight-seeing in Panama, Nicaragua and an all-expenses paid trip to stay in a five star hotel in Lima, Peru courtesy of EVS for a three day seminar where I indulge in my first hot shower for three months.
Cold showers were things I could never get used to, even in such a hot climate as this but living in an area where seriously hot women outnumber men by nine to one it might have been something I couldn’t cope without!
We would be joined by another two volunteers called Jack and Hannah for the remainder of our time and the occasional new volunteer for a few weeks or a month would give us all the excuses needed to give the grand tour through our beloved trails and up a constant winding set of waterfalls that we really shouldn’t have been attempting. The near loss of my Swedish friend Ulrica, whose fall from one particularly hazardous waterfall was broken only by my unsuspecting shoulder, shook me up. But not enough to put me off doing it again.
She would later take me to visit her project, a school near the Nicaraguan border where we would visit the widest waterfall in the country, find another snake which I didn’t see until I was standing on, miss understand her request of lifting the fence she was crawling through and almost lifted her dress up. Got a close encounter with a sloth on the ground that was struggling to get to a tree, got bitten by an owl and spilled beer over someone’s laptop.
Our route on the Pan-American highway sent us winding through mountain forest towards the Costa Rican capital San Jose and was a brutal three hour assault on one’s body at the best of times and a journey to be taken far too often as I wriggled uncomfortably in my seat next to Alex.
An hour in and I erupt like a rice filled volcano skilfully spraying myself head to foot with this-mornings breakfast. In my hair, lap, arms, legs, in-side my shoes. Everywhere. We wait a further ten minutes before reaching the half -way point where I slip into Alex’s spare shorts and T-shirt which completely drown me seeing as there extra -large and I’m almost extra small.
He did however; shit his bed one night while at Deaths door with some nasty fever to bring the score quite briefly to one apiece in the embarrassing stakes before we set off for a long weekend away with other volunteers from all over the world.