“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”
Socrates Johnson (469-399BC)
So for the last two and a half months I’ve been keeping myself out of mischief (ahahahahahahaha!) by volunteering at The Butterfly Conservatory, El Castillo, Costa Rica.
I found the placement even before my placement in the solitary confines of the Quepos jungle… much to the disgust of my mother and good friend Grecia. They both share the same notion that Butterflies are an abomination and should be introduced to the back of a shoe at all costs.
I can honestly say that I’ve never shared this level of disgust, nor have I been besotted with the creatures. My prior knowledge was limited at best to the occasional passing of a Cabbage White in our back garden.
Armed with this stockpile of knowledge I contacted Glenn Baines, the head honcho, and enquired if my ‘unique skills’ could somehow be utilized. He assured me they could, and after a brief Skype chat (second only in communicable goodness to Whatsapp!) we agreed a start date.
As you have previously read, my time on the farm has been tumultuous at best, yet I stress that none of this was Butterfly related. My external issues clouded my judgement for a time, but now that the funk has lifted I can reflect with clarity and happiness on my time spent.
I can confirm that my time here has made me a) a stronger man, b) a wiser man, and c) a better man.
I shall now attempt to justify those bold claims.
A stronger man
I’ve not always been the healthiest of characters. As any who have rejoiced in my company know, I enjoy life… in all it’s juicy facets. ‘Nothing in moderation, everything in excess’… A delightful little daily mantra. This has, at times, left me somewhat out of shape and bordering on annihilation, but ‘what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger’….. God, I love my mantras!
After my deliciously nihilistic time in Venezuela I was a little soft around the edges, but still in decent shape. My exile in Quepos at first was a dieters dream, but slowly turned into fat-camp, seeing my culinary skills turn from super foods to gorging on obscene amounts of good food just to hit that endorfin rush.
The Butterfly Conservatory smashed that tubbiness for a home run!
I’ve not lugged a loaded wheelbarrow for a good many years. I’ve competed in Survival Of The Fittest Assault Course. I’m a veteran of the Urbanathlon, and a National Top 10 finisher in The UK Backward Running Championships…… But none of this prepared me for shifting wheelbarrows full of compost, gravel and sand up and down endless rolling hills until my once proud rock climbing grip deserted me, the last millilitre of liquid had sweat from my body and my newfound J-Lo arse quivered like a jelly.
On occasion I may have complained (usually on the back of a destructive night of maudlin), yet as the weeks passed by I started to crave these sessions, and even enjoy the quivering!
My body changed… I slowly developed the warrior physique that had deserted me so many moons ago
A wiser man
Butterflies undergo a 4 stage metamorphosis… from an egg to a larva (or caterpillar for the layman)…. that’s pretty average… Nothing special there. Then, after eating 50000 times their weight in food they shed their unsightly jackets and reveal their funky undergarments (or Chrysalis). Not content with that, they then spend a few weeks dissolving into imaginal cells (a gooey paste of raw DNA) before reforming into their final showpiece… The Butterfly! Respect!
I learnt that, and many, many more fascinating facts (I can’t give them all away now for fear of diluting my prize winning pub quiz knowledge!) whilst serving my time in the Conservatory. Never a dull moment!
A better man
During my time I battled with many demons – a savage break-up, the loss of a debit card and subsequent 5 weeks of no personal cash, a family of cats living in the roof, my complete incomprehension of the Costa Rican way of life, a diet of rice, beans, tomato and onion… and many, many more!
Yet with the power of reflection and hindsight I can now see the surrounding energy that pulled me through.
During my time on the reception desk, meeting and greeting, I met some amazing people. People come to the conservatory for many reasons… a love of butterflies, a love of nature, just being in the area, lost and just happened to be passing by etc. All these reasons bring different expectations and questions.
True, you get your staple questions, “how long do they live?” “what do they eat?” etc, yet I can confidently say that no two tours were the same. Every new visitor brought a new reaction, if not question. I never grew tired of hearing that “ooooooohhhhh” when you revealed the Tithoria chrysalis
I met some brilliant people (and shamelessly whored myself out during the process). Irish (sorry for calling you Scottish! I will never forgive myself), Russian (that accent sends shivers (good ones too) down my spine), Canadian (I NEED to travel there… the people possess an unnatural awesomeness), American (there are good ones!), Swiss, Brazilian, British (Ian… the one decent southern man I’ve met) etc
My job was not to sell, merely to share my awe and wonder at all things Butterfly related, and I hope that came across (whilst shamelessly plugging my future book… Pre-orders starting soon)
If any of you are reading this now please speak up. You all helped shape this trip… You all boarded The Fraytrain!
Although these meetings were short and generally business related, each of them served to remind me that dotted around the globe are some truly awesome, genuine people. They also helped brighten each day and bring meaning to each encounter.
Awesomeness breeds awesomeness
Time well spent? Hell yeah! Would I recommend it? 100%. Is the work they are doing necessary and relevant? In a country where over 50% of the countryside is ravaged by soil erosion, all thanks to a short sighted Land Grant initiative of the 60s… More than ever!
I found them through WWOOF, and although it’s not an organic farm, I would recommend them as an honest, trustworthy and dependable (Glenn was a legend) place to volunteer.
To find out more about the amazing work they do, check out their official website here.
A big shout out to the staff there… you made each day an experience: Bismarck (Dangerous horse), Gerardo (a greater fan of The Who I have never met), Mauricio (sorry for teaching you bad words!), Jose (silent and mysterious), and of course Glenn and Anna – awesome BBQ’s!!!
I bore witness to some amazing things in my time here, and they’ll all be uploaded shortly.
Los buenos tiempos