How One Paralyzing Night in the Costa Rican Rainforest Changed My Life
The first time I experienced a full on anxiety attack was deep in the Costa Rican rainforest...in the dark. It was 2012 and I was on a field trip for my eco-tourism class during a study abroad semester. We were visiting a "biosphere" which in my opinion meant a building surrounded by the opposite of civilization. Trees towered above us while animal noises varied from insects to full on growls.
One of the activities planned for us students was to "enjoy" a nature walk and learn about the various flora and fauna of the rainforest. I wouldn't say I'm your average outdoorsy traveler. I don't enjoy touching reptiles, arachnids, amphibians, or anything else slippery, slimy, and/or creepy. This was my first time in the rainforest, and I was on edge.
On this "enjoyable" walk, I couldn't help but keep my head on a swivel due to the constant rustling of leaves and animal noises I couldn't even attempt to recognize. We were on a narrow cleared path swatting spider webs avoiding the actual fist-sized spiders dropping to the floor. I stayed close enough to the guide for what felt like days until we reached a creek. The group started to examine various forms of wildlife while my head continued to swivel. (can't be too careful right?). After about an hour or two, we started to head back to our cabin where we could finally get some sleep and I could jot down in my travel journal to no longer participate in "enjoyable rainforest activities".
Unfortunately, I was sadly mistaken. A night walk in the rainforest was on the itinerary. I knew I would be politely declining at this point so I didn't pay too much attention to the rest of what the guide was talking about and went to locate my teacher. I explained to her that I was not willing to participate in this activity because I didn't feel safe. She was not moved and told me that this walk was a part of my grade and how it could drop tremendously if I didn't put my American ideals aside and just participate (isn't she kind?) I had to think..was I going to let my grade suffer and continue the perceived stereotype that black women aren't adventurous? Nah..let's do this.
Red Flag #1
To gear up, we were given rubber boots and a small flashlight. I'm thinking to myself okay, so these are for the mud. Nah, protection from snakes.
As we head into the rainforest away from the cabins, I realize I literally cannot see my own hand in front of my face without my flashlight. It was pitch black and everyone else seems to be fine conversing with one another while I am calculating the odds of my survival if I made a dash back to camp.
Red Flag #2
30 minutes into boot sloshing, bush rustling, and cobweb dodging, our guide stops dead in his tracks. He turns around slowly and motions for everyone to be quiet and still. He then whispers for us all to turn off our flashlights.
So at this point, I'm the only one with my light on because I can't get myself to move. At this point, I'm paralyzed. Panicking. I feel something moving around my boot. Everyone is staring at my feet but I just can't get myself to react. He whispers again for me to turn off my flashlight and somehow I flick the switch off.
Red Flag #3
I realize I'm thousands of miles away from home, in a pitch-black rainforest, surrounded by 10 white people, and a guide with a stick as a weapon. I. lost. it.
Still, in the dark, I can't get myself to breathe. I'm gasping for air and trees are starting to close in and I start to feel extremely small. All I hear are noises coming from both sides of the path and all I feel is raindrops on my face and movement on my feet. Time stood still.
For what felt like hours, our guide prompts us to turn our flashlights back on. As a light shines on my feet, in the corner of my eye, I see a green flash of color slither into the bushes. The tears began to fall and at this point, I was ready to take an L for the adventurous black girl squad. He begins to hold my hands and ask me if I can hear him. He sounds muffled but eventually I hear him clearly. While everyone is huddled around me, I regain my composure and we head back to camp.
From that moment on, I have suffered from social anxiety. It changes the way I travel and will forever be etched in my mind. Being in crowded places takes a toll, and outdoor activities are limited. Will I ever partake in rainforest fun again? Maybe. At night? Hell no.
Every had something crazy happen to you while traveling? Drop a comment down below!