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What group travel in LGBTI-friendly Costa Rica taught me about allyship

What group travel in LGBTI-friendly Costa Rica taught me about allyship

Moisture hits my face as I glide above the Costa Rica cloud forest. It’s bewildering. Not least since my legs are wrapped around the waist of a man I hardly know.

Why am I in this compromising position? Because the final zip line in Selvatura Park in the sprawling Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve – a canopy of green directly beneath me – is over 1km long.

So long, you need the weight of two people to complete it. (Below are pics of me on another by myself.)

It’s not the first time I’ve been thrown into unordinary situations with virtual strangers on this trip, either – that’s par for the course on a nine-day jaunt with TrekAmerica.

Flora, fauna and a special guest from Guatemala

I’ve zip lined before, but here, like with every experience in Costa Rica, it’s heightened.

That’s largely down to the biodiversity – the color! – all around you. It’s something I’m evermore appreciative of since watching Sir David Attenborough’s Our Planet on Netflix.

Of course, for such a narrow country the size of two Vermonts, the wildlife defies comprehension.

Costa Rica is famous for sloths | Photo: TrekAmerica

I saw sloths, howler monkeys, a highly venomous yellow eyelash pit viper and countless crocodiles in Tortuguerno National Park’s murky canals.

Credit where it’s due, our top spots – including, ironically, Guatemala’s national bird, the fittingly-named resplendent quetzal [below] – were down to the keen eye of our wildlife-loving local guide, Leo.

A resplendent quetzal | Photo Pexels

Although one night, in the Rincon De La Vieja National Park mountains, I spotted something all by myself.

In fact, I almost tripped over the racoon-like long-tailed coati when it darted in front of me as I walked back to my lodge at the Eco Adventure Park & Hotel.

Why? Because I was looking up: mesmerized by countless shooting stars amid an impeccably clear night sky.

This wasn’t even all of us! | Photo: Author’s own

Different but the same

Like the wildlife, my group’s personalities were eclectic.

TrekAmerica caters for 18-38; my group veered young. At 32, I was one of the oldest. There were guys and girls from England, Portugal, South Africa and beyond; some were loud, some quiet. (Others, like me, were in between and took time to warm up).

Everyone was in different places in life, had different backgrounds and stories. And yet, all possessed the same searching curiosity about the world.

For all this diversity, to my knowledge, all were straight and cisgendered. Why does that matter? Because, at first, it worried me.

The last stop on our tour, Samara Beach | Photo: Author’s own

From flashbacks to new friends

Some personal context: I – surprise, surprise! – was bullied by straight guys at school for my sexuality. Later, when starting uni, I was distraught to find I’d be sharing a flat with 10 straight men. I even briefly went back in the closet. (And quite unnecessarily. They were all really nice).

In CR, reality hit me: I’d be sharing a room with a straight guy for the duration of the trip.

I had flashbacks. ‘What if he’s homophobic?’ I wondered. Even worse: ‘What if I ask to share with someone else – a girl, perhaps – and she’s even more homophobic?’

Arenal Volcano | Photo: Author’s own

Cutting to the chase, it’s 2019. The group was indifferent to my sexuality. And my roomie very sweet and charming.

As for the Costa Ricans I met along the way? Well, homosexuality was legalized there in 1971, so it’s seemingly not an issue. (And judging by my first night in CR, and the wild abandon at Club Teatro – a cavernous gay nightclub in the capital, San Jose – LGBTIs here are pretty happy).

Accommodation: generally basic and occasionally impressive | Photo: Author’s own

Bumpy bus rides and beautiful beaches

There were many priceless moments, from seeing the perfectly conical 1,633m Arenal Volcano, to iced cocktails with a lush view at the lovely Hotel de Montaña Monteverde [above and below].

We even explored the latter mountain range on horseback, one of many optional additional activities available at varying prices.

Cocktail hour at Hotel de Montaña Monteverde; guaro, a sweet liquor, is widely-served in Costa Rica | Photo: Author’s own

The best moments, though, weren’t about activities, but the people. I got to know them all.

On bumpy cross-country bus rides, over beers at the white-sand Samara Beach and while dodging insects at a very basic lodge deep in the Tortuguero wetlands.

 

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An unexpected highlight

One moment I’ll never forget was an impromptu evening at Baldi Hot Springs Resort Hotel & Spa in San Carlos.

Poised for something grown up, we discovered the most terrifying collection of waterslides imaginable. Giggling like schoolchildren, we scaled stairs before plummeting back down to earth, cheering as each person inelegantly crashed into the water.

Goofing around at the hot springs | Photo: Author’s own

Exhausted, we spent the last half an hour bathing in a spring, the purity and warmth of volcano-charged water seeping into our bones, nourishing us in inexplicable ways. I could sense the transportation of the group.

The younger travelers, especially, seemed surprised at the discovery of such mineral-enriched water, how it soothes. It was the kind of shared experience you never want to end.

Travel – whether solo, with a partner/s, friends or family – is about personal growth. But traveling with strangers? Witnessing their growth, while placating your own fears about other people? That’s invaluable.

Jamie traveled on TrekAmerica’s Costa Rica BLT. Nine days from £1,039 ($1,341, €1,197) per person, including eight hotel nights, services of a professional bilingual tour leader, private transportation, seven breakfasts, two lunches and one dinner. For info/to book, visit trekamerica.com.

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