In Costa Rica, nature is unavoidable, so happiness is inevitable.
By Sammi Dorfan (’18)
At first, I couldn’t see anything except acres and acres of green. The foliage was so thick that the temperature was noticeably cooler despite the scorching Central American sun beating down on me. As my ascent became steeper and more of the rainforest revealed itself to me, the flora came to life with fauna that clung to trees, swung from branches, and embellished the monotony of greens with vibrant colors. In those moments, as the cable car transported me up to the top of the mountain from which I would zipline down, it became clear to me why Costa Rica is ranked among the happiest nations in the world.
Ever since the country dismantled its army in 1948, protection of the environment has become a priority for government officials and civilians alike. Although Costa Rica covers less than .5% of the earth’s surface, it contains 6% of the world’s biodiversity. The country’s dedication to conservation was obvious the moment I stepped foot onto the Punta Mala Wildlife Refuge located in the Puntarenas region about 2 hours west of San Jose. Committed to protecting Olive Ridley turtles whose eggs are poached and sold illegally as aphrodisiacs, the rangers patrol the beach at night and maintain a hatchery contained in a closed off area of the beach
For 1 week I joined in on the escapade to save the baby turtles. In the days, I worked in the hatchery, aerating the sand and building a wall out of sandbags and plastic wrap to
protect against nocturnals preying for food. Whenever the tide was high and the sun low, I walked 4 miles up the beach in search of turtle nests. I watched females hobbling slowly up from the water, expending as little energy as possible, to find a spot safe enough to lay their nests. I experienced the full circle of life when eggs in the hatchery hatched and I released a baby back into the wild.
When I wasn’t working with the ancient reptiles, I became a tourist in the picturesque country of rushing waterfalls and stupefying sunsets. I rafted up the Savegre River, the cleanest one in Central America, kayaked near the Nicoya Peninsula, and sucked the sweet juice from mangoes, pineapples, and papayas.
When I sped down that zip line, the ocean to my left, the forest to my right, I was overcome with a feeling of exuberance that I imagine Ticos experience everyday. I’m still not sure if the feeling was a result of the combination of the speed at which I was going and the rushing wind which blew my cheeks back into something reminiscent of a smile or of my complete absorption in nature.