Warming Up

In early 2000, the dawn of the new millennium, I left my husband of six and a half years. The first thing I did upon regaining my freedom was to take a trip. I’d been wanting to travel for many years, but there was always some excuse why we couldn’t go. Released from my ball and chain, now was my chance. I cashed in my credit card air miles accumulated through the ex’s excesses and was off to Costa Rica.

Getting off the plane in San Jose, the warm tropical air hit my skin and I felt my body relax. I replaced my shoes and socks with sandals, stretched out my perpetually cold toes and let the warm air caress them. I hopped a bus to the Pacific coast, where I lay in the hot sun letting the warmth enter my core. It was, after all, about 20 degrees below freezing where I’d just come from!

After a while of heating up in the sun, I needed to cool off in the Pacific Ocean. In I went, enjoying the cool, salty water. I stood up in the shallows to turn and look back at the beach, when all of a sudden I was being swallowed up by a large wave, thrown on the sea floor and grabbed and whipped around in a wave once again. The waves passed and I stood up disoriented, not sure which side was up and slowly made my way back to my towel on the beach. “Wow!” was my first thought, “that was powerful! Now I get why people surf. I think I’d like to learn to harness that power.” For the rest of my trip I watched people surfing. I was in awe of these people who could walk on water.

I vowed to return to Costa Rica and a short two months later was back once again, this time with a goal – I would learn how to surf. I had no idea what a monumental task I had set for myself. I did my best and hung out with other beginners, but I was in over my head. Two weeks of trying and I was not much closer to becoming a real surfer. I was stunned. Never in my life had I had such difficulty learning a sport. Rather than let the challenge I was faced with dampen my spirits, however, it hardened my resolve. I decided I had to move to Costa Rica and become a surfer no matter how long it took.

But first I had to go back to Canada where I had a job and was working on my Masters thesis.

Back in Canada, I immersed myself in all things surfing. And I began to study Spanish. A plan evolved. I decided I would finish my thesis and get my degree. I would save some money and make it last via a diet of coconuts, rice and beans and the kindness of strangers. I figured I would live on the beach, do yoga and surf. In my fantasy, one day someone would happen along who either needed a housesitter or had a job for a biologist looking to get into conservation. It all sounded perfectly sane to me.

One day several months and several pages of my thesis later, one of my sisters and I decided to travel somewhere together before I disappeared to Costa Rica. But where? We agreed we both wanted to get our SCUBA diving certification and I said it would be nice to go somewhere I could work on my Spanish. A travel magazine that had been on the floor next to my bed for months popped into my field of vision. On the cover it said “Hidden Treasures” and inside I found an article about a jewel of a place called Cabo Pulmo, Mexico located on the shores of a national marine park and with a dive shop where the owner was involved in grassroots conservation. Bingo!

In Cabo Pulmo we were excited to start our dive course with Pepe the conservationist. When he got wind that I was a biologist and planning a move to Costa Rica, he said, in his excellent English “Dawn, why do you go to Costa Rica? There are already many volunteers and conservationists there. Why do you not come here where we need people like you so badly?” Good question, I thought.

I returned to Canada with an amended plan. I would move to Cabo Pulmo, Mexico where I would work as the director of research in Pepe’s non-profit conservation organization (and learn to surf in the uncrowded waves just south along the coast).

Seven months later, thesis in hand and pickup truck overloaded, I was on my way.

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