Tag Archives | Fear

Costa Rica Continues: House Geckos, Lizards and Realizing I’m Not a Jungle Girl

So, where did we leave off?

Ah, yes… about to head up the mountainside dirt road. Now slicked with rain.

After a few tries to ensure the 4×4 function was working properly, I shifted into low gear and began what I expected to be a 5-minute (so I was told) slow climb up. The jeep lurched along the dirt road, rutted and pitted by small and large stones alike. Dark and muggy, the jungle’s moist branches and vines hung low and glistened eerily in the glare of the headlights. With only about 10 feet in visibility, the jungle felt closer and more oppressive and each hidden, unknown stretch more harrowing. Battling with the shadows and the darkness, I had spent far more than 5 minutes trying to follow (figure out might be more apt) the directions, sneaking in u-turns on the path when I was clearly wrong, then just randomly turning this way and that praying I’d find a sign (in the dark) that would point me on the right road. Eventually, I knew it was time to give in and ask for help.

Jungle Walk – Dominical, Costa Rica

Ah, thank goodness for that local SIM card. I tried the number the owner had given me. Three, four rings… no answer, then, a message in Spanish. In desperation, I began dialling the number in different variations: with the country code, without the country code, with a leading 0, etc. – none of them were working! Then I remembered that the owner, N, had provided a different number for her partner, B. He answered! It turns out, I had chosen the back path – while shorter, it was a little harder to navigate for newbies, particularly, in the dark. Kindly (I learned later that he was actually away with visiting family), he stayed on the phone guiding me all the way up. Upon arrival, he told me just to honk twice and N would come out.

A little surprisingly, I was greeted not only by N, but by 8 dogs as well, all varying in colour, size and shape, her rescues and adoptees. Trying to make my way to the little studio in the dark (no outdoor electricity really) without running them over was an additional challenge I didn’t feel I needed at that moment, but it was the least of the difficulties for the day.

N kindly gave me some food from her own kitchen and some tea. She showed me to the little studio and then left me to settle in.

Relief does not fully express how I felt at that point to have arrived in one piece with no damage to the car nor to myself, especially after having had to put serious deliberation into the possibility that I might crash into a tree, a car, an animal or just drive off the side of a cliff. I wolfed down the rice crackers with jam that N gave me and enjoyed a sip of hot tea.

View of Playa Hermosa and the Surrounding Jungle – Sunrise from the Studio, Casa Vista

Suddenly, loud scratching noises started up. I looked around, trying to isolate the sound. More scratching, along with a few bumps. From the corner of my eye, I noticed movement. Two pale, grey-coloured lizards had come racing out from behind the tall dresser in the corner. Completely startled, I really didn’t know what to do. I watched as one chased the other, back down behind the dresser then back up onto the wall above it. This, was too much.

I couldn’t do this… could I? I called N and informed her that there were two lizards in my studio. Two lizards? What colour were they? How big were they? Small, pale grey I replied. Oh, she said, those are house geckos; they’re kind of everywhere here in Costa Rica, nothing to be afraid of, they don’t go near humans. Oh, okay… I sputtered, embarrassed by my fear of them, not to mention my ignorance. How had I come to Costa Rica and not known that I would likely be sharing my space with house geckos?

My heart was still pounding. The geckos continued scuttling and scratching. Without fully realizing it, my anxiety continued to expand, now verging on panic. I tried to tell myself that I could handle this – after all, the way N described them, they were clearly harmless and ubiquitous here. Rationality does not help in these situations.

I reached for my cell and called my friend, L, dearly hoping that she would pick up. When she answered, I proceeded to relay the entire story to her from start to ‘finish’, picking up the car, getting lost, avoiding stray dogs, driving through the wall of rain, losing all concrete awareness of where I was or what was around me, getting lost again, driving up the wet, muddy, dark dirt road, getting lost, finally arriving and then, being accosted by geckos. I relayed the reaction of the owner and then, unbelievably (to me), began to cry, all the while feeling absolutely ridiculous for crying in reaction to a bunch of tiny-ass practically domesticated lizards that no one here felt any fear of. And as we continued talking, her discussing random topics to try and take my mind off things, it gradually dawned on me that my tears weren’t really a reaction to the geckos, but rather to the shock of having the hard-won relief I’d finally attained upon arrival so abruptly torn away by another unknown, another experience I wasn’t prepared for. Eventually, I made it to bed.

Any qualms I had about continuing to stay in this studio for the full two weeks completely disappeared when I awoke to the view.

Sunrise View From the Porch of Casa Vista

Deluding only myself, I vowed to stay the full two weeks.

True to N’s word, the two geckos clearly did not want any part of me, preferring to stay behind the dresser/armoire. Foolishly, I chose not to consider what might be going on hidden away from my now-alert eyes. Just as I began to get comfortable with the presence of the two clandestine geckos, I discovered that there were now babies, three to be precise.

Now, two adult geckos who tended to stay out of sight and in one place, that was one thing. But now I had three baby geckos who clearly hadn’t developed a fear of humans yet, who hadn’t figured out that they should stay in areas out of reach. They were now surprising me on the kitchen wall by the toaster oven, by the light switch, by the faucet and on the counter; then, upon entering the bathroom, there one sat, on the low, tiled shower wall. 

Baby Gecko (1 of 3) on the Shower Tile

The anxiety returned and multiplied. Even as I reminded myself that the baby geckos were hardly likely to come near the giant being that I must have resembled, their behaviour was not increasing my confidence in this conclusion (they clearly hadn’t developed the appropriate fear and flight responses yet). Finally managing to convince myself that I was physically safe, there was still the problem of gecko poo. I was finding a fair amount of it in the studio now that there were five of them. Given the tendency of the baby geckos to wander haphazardly, immune to the dangers that led adult geckos to hide, wasn’t it possible, if not likely, that one might decide to hang out over me as I slept and release a dropping?

Geckos like humidity, so my solution – as futile as it may have actually been – was to keep the fans blowing cool air around me to keep the geckos away. Well, it seemed to work anyways.

Each morning, I would awake to that spectacular view and any residual presence of the anxiety and difficulty sleeping from the night before would dissolve and I would renew my pledge to stay.

One day, I thought I’d spend some time hanging out at the other studio, Casa Selva. I had originally booked this studio, but due to an accidental double booking, I ended up at Casa Vista for the first few days of my stay. Casa Selva now sat empty, but the previous guests had mentioned that they’d seen a mouse (not so unusual in a jungle, I suppose), while N also remarked that she believed there were bigger geckos living there. I decided that just visiting would be fine with me.

Wearing just a sarong and my flip flops, I eased into a deck chair with my coffee in one hand and my book and cell phone settled on the low table beside it. Enjoying the glimpse of water below that peeked out from between the trees, I rested my feet on the low railing and leaned back into the cushion. I felt my breathing slow, the light wind teasing my hair and skin.

Remember the porch from Casa Selva…?
Suddenly, I felt something land on my upper left arm. From the corner of my eye, I saw green. A leaf perhaps? I desperately wanted it to be, but it had more volume and some weight to it. I realized it had to be… well, a THING. A mottled scream left me and I jumped out of the chair, flinging my left arm out instinctively, knocking the object off its comfortable perch on my limb. Drops from the forgotten coffee in my right hand sloshed onto my sarong. I looked down and to the left, having caught a glimpse of the THING arch and land on the corner of the porch. A green lizard, 7 to 8 inches in total length, roughly half of that made up by its tail. It stared at me calmly, unaware of why its choice of my arm as a resting place could possibly have resulted in such a violent upheaval. I did the only thing I could think of: I took its picture with my cell phone. 

(Sadly, I’m having some trouble retrieving my own image of the lizard from my old SIM card, so for now, here’s a close-up shot of the same type of lizard, a green anole, from ‘caspar s’ and flickr, via Wikipedia)

Neotropical green anole on vegetation.jpg

Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I looked down at my left arm and saw scratches from the lizard’s nails, a perfect impression of where at least one of its feet took hold during its very brief stay on my appendage. I wasted no time leaving that porch. Clearly, I was not meant to stay at Casa Selva. When I saw N next, I told her about the green lizard that docked briefly on my arm and showed her the nail marks and the cell phone snapshot. She was in absolute disbelief: in the eight years she’d been living in Costa Rica, she’d never heard of a lizard touching a human being and had told me as much on my first night when I called in a panic. She laughed that she’d never be able to make that statement again!

The Hammock Under the Porch: My Spot for Napping, Reading & Spotting Howler Monkeys

Despite my not-so-pleasant encounters with house geckos and green anole lizards, all the other birds and animals that resided in the jungle were captivating. Napping in one of the hammocks, I awoke one afternoon to the sounds of munching above me. Shuffling to the right edge, where I could see past the porch roof, I craned my head out searching for the source of the noise. Happily ensconced in a cecropia tree (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cecropia) was a howler monkey enjoying a commonly-sized leaf from said tree. It continued to munch away contentedly, oblivious to the human laying below staring at it wide-eyed.

Another day, I was cooling off in the pool when I heard this fwoop-fwoop-fwoop-fwoop sound above my head. Looking up, I caught just a glimpse of the bird now in a glide at the end of its short trip, the unmistakable multicolour bill and body of a toucan. Another soon arrived and they swooped back and forth from a tree at one end of the pool to another on the opposite end. I would lean back and just watch, admiring the powerful sound of their wings beating the air. (Unfortunately, this picture is also, currently, locked away in the old SIM card).

Can You Spot the Lizard? – Hacienda Baru, National Wildlife Refuge

Resting White Ibis Seen at Hacienda Baru, National Wildlife Refuge

White-headed Capuchin Monkey – Nauyaca Waterfalls Horseback Riding Tour

Each time I was lulled into thinking that my comfort level with Costa Rica and its indigenous creatures was turning the corner, a new encounter would send me plummeting back to the soothing image of a nice, enclosed modern hotel room: night would return and the baby geckos would make their way out to surprise me in odd locations; I would return home from dinner, flashlight out to illuminate my foot path, when my eyes would land instead on the burly cockroach about 2/3 the size of my foot (I’m a size 6.5) standing just outside my door; a spindly-legged black spider that looked like a 5-year old had drawn it, would scuttle off with astonishing speed, the flip flop in my hand barely moving before the arachnid had disappeared from view. The final straw, though, that thoroughly decimated my determination to stay the full two weeks was the collection of ants I found in my bed, whose source I located on the next night after which I promptly drowned what I thought was the opening, along with a trail of ants, with a heavy spray of Raid.

Willing to finally admit defeat by the second last night of my Costa Rica stay (my bizarre way of balancing my need to ‘prove myself’ with giving in), I made up my mind to spend the last night in a hotel by the airport, which turned out to be a wise choice that had nothing to do with the country’s lizards or insects: on my drive back to San Jose, a day earlier than originally planned, I encountered a 2 to 3 hour delay due to an accident on the main highway that led up and over a mountain, blocking the one northbound lane leading to the capital city. I never would have made my flight had that happened on the day of my flight!

In the end, I had to concede that I couldn’t cut it. Friends from tropical locations found it hilarious that I was afraid of the geckos but I’m from Canada! The uneasiness that started with the adult geckos and grew with the disturbing innocence of the baby geckos only multiplied thereafter with the hefty cockroach, the super fast stick figure-like spider, the line of ants and the other foreign flying, crawling and buzzing insects.

But the truth that I am loathe to admit is simple: none of the incidents listed are unusual or foreign in Costa Rica (or in many other countries for that matter); I am the odd one out. I am the one who could not get comfortable with or used to my surroundings. I’ve always thought that I could handle anything that travel threw at me and I suppose I hung in there long enough to not be totally embarrassed; nevertheless, it saddens me to think that this city girl was unable to divest herself of that layer and adjust to her surroundings. I’d like to think that one day I will overcome my fear of geckos (and the like) and return to Costa Rica or head to some other new tropical destination with nothing but an appetite for more adventure, but the nagging voice in my head is telling me that perhaps, I’m just not a jungle girl.

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Photos from my Opening Reception – I Did It!

Firstly, a BIG thank you to everyone who stopped by the Opening Reception!!! And a second BIG thank you to Michelle and Shawn of Moniker Gallery who helped make the night a success!

I won’t lie – I was quite nervous leading up to the 7pm start, but having my family and my best friend there completely calmed me. As a steady flow of visitors entered the gallery – former and current colleagues, friends and friends of friends/family, people who’d walked by and those who’d come because of the listing in CONTACT , my main goal was for everyone – including me – to have fun.

Second truth of the post: it was great to see many faces I hadn’t seen in months and, in some cases, years, and to meet a number of new and wonderfully friendly people, but I spent so much energy worrying about whether people were having a good time that by the end of the night, I was exhausted! I’m sure the mental and emotional lead-up, organizing, and then actually bringing off the night also played a part, but for anyone who’s hosted an event, been a bride (as my best friend pointed out), or been in a similar role, as much as you want to enjoy the evening, you also want to be sure everyone else is enjoying it too! In far too many cases, I only managed to have a few minutes conversation before excusing myself to welcome a new guest or checking that another was enjoying him/herself.

Happily, I think everyone had a good time and liked the images! Any tiredness I felt was well worth it!

For more photos from the evening, please click here.

My guide through all this, a Toronto photographer (and teacher) named Rob Davidson who has more than 30 years of experience, had told me that having this exhibition and seeing the reactions of others would change the way I saw my own work. He was completely right.

The moment I hung the final image and stepped back to take it all in – that these were my images, my work on display – I felt… well, overwhelmed. There’s been such doubt in my mind and, far more often than I’d like, in my heart, about whether I was good enough to continue down this road, to call myself a photographer. I’ve always known that the biggest hurdle for me would be to get over the fear of rejection and to show my work publicly, come what may. Whatever the reaction would be, I’ve always known that putting my photography out into the world would wipe away that fear: once you take a step forward, the fear disappears.

There are other fears and there always will be because I’m continually in search of the next challenge, the next opportunity for growth. I’m still searching for the right fit and, in my case, that can involve multiple facets, but I won’t give up. Sometimes it takes (way) longer than I’d like to get over the self doubt, but with experience (and, undeniably, age) comes the knowledge that I’ll get there eventually; something deep down will slowly but surely nudge, prod and, finally, drive me forward.

I’ve learned so much during these months and there’s still a ways to go, but I can proudly say that I’ve accomplished what I set out to do and, in the process, come to see that I am a photographer.

Next post… Peru!

P.S. If you’re in the Toronto area, please drop by the Moniker Gallery this Wednesday, May the 14th at 7pm for the show’s Closing Reception. Spread the word!

P.P.S. Images from the show will be uploaded to my website after the 14th. If you’re interested in receiving this link, please contact me with your email address. 

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New Zealand: A Second Home

In 2006, I left Toronto with a 2-year plan in mind, one that started with living and working in New Zealand for a year, then moving on to Australia to do the same. As most people know and as I came to realize, making plans for travel can, at times, seem like wishful thinking, while making plans for a 2-year travel period is simply absolute nonsense. I ended up staying in the one country and creating a life for myself there.

    Pictures taken with my point-and-shoot in 2006 and 2007

    Ninety-Mile Beach, Northland

Cathedral Cove, Coromandel

On the Road – Sunset, QueenstownSunset-Drive-back-to-Queenstown

I miss New Zealand. Or maybe I miss who I was when I was there.

Me at Franz Josef Glacier & at the Tram Lookout in Wellington (2006)



We fall back into old patterns when we come home. Or at least I do. Relationship patterns, work patterns… behavioural patterns. There are some emotional ties that bind stronger than others.

My time living abroad was the best experience of my life to date and I am drawn back to it often – in memory and in emotion – and with increasing frequency of late. As much as travel is about the interactions without – the people, culture, food, smells and sounds – it is also about the resulting tumult within – the (sometimes) fundamental, intellectual, emotional and psychological effects that leaving your comfort zone can have.

A few years back, I wrote a piece for a publishing contest that talked about this idea of no longer fitting in with the place you’d called home for so long.

What makes a place a home? Is it simply where you were born? Perhaps where your family or friends are? Or is it that place where you feel comfort, safety and familiarity?I could never have been prepared for feeling torn in two, forever missing another place and another family of friends. Nor could I have known how this unquenchable thirst for more – more travel, more exploration, more knowledge – would gnaw at me, intruding far too often when least welcome or expected.”

If you’re interested in the full piece, click here or on the Writing link at the top of the page

It was written with the contest as the stated goal, but in reality, I think it was a way for me to try to answer the question – asked repeatedly and offhandedly – “How was your trip?”. It wasn’t a trip. It was my life for the better part of two years. Am I supposed to be able to sum up two years in a neat little three sentence package? It’s hard to explain to even your closest friends how strange it feels to come ‘home’, to return to the same people, sights and sounds, feeling like a foreigner. I’d visited several websites of people who’d gone home after several years abroad and they all cautioned that re-entry would not be easy; they just didn’t say how or why.

Pictures taken during my return visit in 2011

House Overlooking Matai Bay, Northland
Matai Bay, Northland


Long Bay, Auckland


In the end, I guess I’m still grappling with the real and lingering impacts of that period. I feel like I’m well past the age where I should already know who (and what) I want to be. But then, life and fear get in the way and I’m thrown back into the submerging weight of indecision and uncertainty. The encouraging part is that, eventually, I surface and find my way back to the writing and the photography and the irresistible pull of travel.

What are your stories about returning home after extended time abroad? How did it change you? Or did it?


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