Art of Effortless Mastery

No, that’s not Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish. Well, I don’t speak Italian either. This is a term usually used to reference art or fashion, but in this case, I’m describing what I hope to achieve while here in Costa Rica (or at least present the illusion of it).

Day 2, May 13, 2015.

Woke up late for breakfast on my first full day in Costa Rica. Livin’ large, am-i-right? The night before I actually weaseled my way into the neighboring “spacious bungalow” with some other students on my program where there was an empty queen bed plus wifi. So it’s not surprising that I had some difficulty getting up in the morning. Checked my sneakers for scorpions (YES I HAVE TO DO THAT) and headed up to breakfast.

FRIJOLES Y ARROZ. For those English speakin’ folk (like myself) that’s beans and rice. Yes, more beans and rice. Apparently Costa Ricans consume beans and rice at the same quantity that I consume Pollo Tropical drive-thru chicken quesadillas. I’m just a few hundred million dollars short of building my own here in Monteverde (you can be a piece of this franchise by donating to my campaign here: www.gofundme.com/uje3khs). Following breakfast, Jessica, a resident naturalist, leads us on a guided hiking tour along the Sendero Camino Real trail. This is an incredible, eyeopening experience. The vast magnitude of the vegetation and natural life that exists in this region is overwhelming to say the least.

Leaf it to Jessica to tell us all about the local biology.

Obviously, no trek through the jungle would be complete without a few classic Jungle Cruise jokes. Jessica pointed out many of her favorite plants and leaves. Like this one. And one that’s close behind her. And a couple others. We tried to walk past some of them, but Jessica just could not leaf them alone. However, learning that these odd plants were harmless to human was a re-leaf. Sorry, I had to go out on a limb for that pun. I should probably branch out on my desired style of humor. Yea, that’s definitely the root of the problem. Thankfully, our hike was during the day so we were taking pictures of the trees and plants while the sun was out; it really emphasizes photo synthesis, ya feel?

Alright, in all seriousness, the exploration on even our first day was just incredible. All of this exists alone out in the rainforests across Central and South America barely touched and rarely even ever seen by the human eye. In fact, much of the region is unmanueverable without a machete blade to slice your way through the thick vegetation. The views from various lookout points were obviously breathtaking.

Note: headband.
This particular species of butterfly grows from 1 foot up to a whopping 12 inches.

A major player in this ecosystem is the fig tree. But not just your typical fig tree: the strangler fig (see soon-to-be-produced video documenting my experiences on campus). The strangler fig actually starts off as a vine and wraps itself around an existing tree and usually kills it. However, the strangler fig survives on and remains as a freestanding spiral into the cloudy canopy. Of course, we documented this — it is a photodocumentary adventure after all.

An interesting aspect of this plant world is how clever and smart plants are. I swear they have a brain because you cannot just call some of these things “adaptations.” One plant is particularly yummy to bats, so its bulbs act as a laxative so that when the bat eats the plant, it flies through their digestive system so fast they poop mid-air on their way home from their meal (kind of like me on the way home from La Parilla…oh yea, I crossed that line).

When the bat poops, the seeds also evacuate themselves from the bat butt and fall onto the ground with fresh fertilizer to grow again. THE PLANT LITERALLY GROWS BULBS TO MAKE ITS PREDATOR POOP/POLLINATE. That’s a smart ass plant. We encountered the so-called “skunk plant” that smells like body odor (which then began an argument over which was worse — too much body odor or too much cologne; obviously b.o. is worse unless the cologne is the infamous Sex Panther).

Following our walking tour, we enjoyed a hearty helping of this really delicious combination of foods — beans and rice. Yea, crazy, I know. It’s as if we had just eaten them for our last meal. And the one before that. Lunch led into free time where I saw my first actual wild creature on campus. Walking past the basketball court (yes, Jack, I’m shooting hoops in Costa Rica), was a raccoon-like mammal with a long, stiff tail. The orientation handbook calls is a coatimundi, or as the ticos call it — the quati. Ultimately, it was class time. I forgot how much I missed having class with Spenser. He opened our lesson with a quote from that balding guy with the bifocals on the $100.

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.” ~Benji Franklin

This quote really captures what my goal is for this study abroad experience and honestly my life goal in general. Our goal in Costa Rica is to straddle the line between wisdom and wonder. Taking wisdom from those who live and thrive in this community and juxtaposing that alongside the wonder that’s in our eyes as newcomers to this foreign land. As a writer, I should work to include the reader in my story — my audience should live vicariously through me, not as an observer but as one who is experiencing life alongside me. That’s the major challenge.

A camera can very easily be compared to the human eye — there are three major components to seeing/capturing a beautiful image.

  1. ISO — the sensitivity. For example, the lower the ISO, the less sensitive the camera lens will be. Unless you are capturing a moving image or if there is not much light, you should hedge your bets with a low ISO — colors and resolution will be far more aesthetically pleasing.
  2. Shutter speed — the eyelid. This depends purely on the shot you’d like to capture.
  3. APERTURE — the pupil. The key to this metaphor. The aperture opens and closes on the lens and determines how much light is captured by the camera. Our eye’s pupils do the same thing. When it’s light, our pupils dilate to compensate for the light being provided outside of our bodies.

The suggestion here while photographing our time in Costa Rica is to “fill the frame.” By doing so, we open our aperture. We are opening our pupils and taking in more of our surroundings. This provides far more powerful images. Similar to the human body’s reaction under the influence of drugs.

“The worst thing about some men is when they’re not drunk, they’re sober.” ~William Butler Yeates

Hear me out. When the human body is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the pupils open wider. The parts of the brain that determine common sense and basic good decision making go away, but the parts that wonder and are curious seem to heighten. This is what I want to capture with my media — get my audiences high on life, my life.

“You’re weird. But I like you.” ~Dot (A Bug’s Life)

I think it’s safe to say that my first full day in Central America was pretty turnt. Pieces are moving, and my potential to create something magnificent is within my grasp. No, not all my blog posts will be this realistic and use all of this figurative language. However, I think it’s important to note that I am still here to learn and to grow intellectually. This sure as hell ain’t a vacation. The goal of this educational experience is to hone my skills of storytelling and to develop a framework for future endeavors. Spenser discussed combining a film I made last semester (seen below) with whatever I create here in Costa Rica and apply for a CURO fellowship grant to continue exploring the natural beauty of this Earth in a creative way. In last semester’s documentary, I presented a narrative describing a small coastal fishing village called Panacea and its neighboring beach, Alligator Point, by telling my grandmother’s family stories alongside the daily workings and history of the town itself.

My first challenge is discovering how to tell the story of San Luis de Monteverde and the nation of Costa Rica in a way that’s never been told before. If you have any suggestions, pls help.

Oh, and by the way, Spenser Simrill is a basketball machine at 3500 ft. above sea level. And I’m already dehydrated.

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