They go it alone, like schoolteachers: the forest their classroom, the tourists their students. When the tourists disappeared, they kept going out, walking the trails, watching the birds, noticing the changes in the trees and ferns. Alone, now not even with the snapping cameras and pointing hands of visitors to keep them company, just the creatures and plants. They like it just fine, but they came home empty-handed. In a vulnerable sector—rural tourism, during a global pandemic—they were perhaps the most vulnerable of all: freelancers, always walking a tightrope between one job and the next, swinging from branch to branch like the monkeys they point out to a breathless public. Or used to point out, anyway.
Left all alone, they came together, one by one by one.
Nature guides on Zoom? Seems like birds in a cage, but as those little boxes flickered to life, they found some degree of comfort. Trash talk, fond memories, little projects that came out of nowhere and generated little drips of income that helped them get by. Behind one little box on the Zoom call, a death in the family: the others united to chip in. Behind another little box on Zoom, an empty table, even more empty than usual: the others send over a bag of rice. Behind another little box, an extra bunch of plantains, quickly redistributed to someone else who might need it more.
One coin, one dollar, one tour, one project, one little box on a Zoom call at a time, these nature guides got themselves through the worst times. Says the guide they call “Pika”: “We’ve experienced the nicest things in the saddest moments.” But those things didn’t just fall from the sky; they didn’t happen by accident. They were forged from a shared love.
Text by Katherine Stanley Obando, inspired by the work of Herencia Verde to support a group of 18 naturalist guides during the COVID-19 pandemic (read more in our longform piece, “Forward hard!”). Our weekly Media Naranja series captures stories of love and affection with a Costa Rican twist. During our May edition, “Costa Rica Inside Out,” our columns are being co-created with pilot members of our rural tourism project, Directory 506.