We All Kind Of Look Like Zombies

Expedition Leadership Training in the Jungle

Our time in Costa Rica is coming to an end, but the work has not. The last two weeks have been jam packed with expedition medicine, scenarios, teaching jungle survival, and trying to maintain a level of normal consciousness at this point in the course. I really enjoyed learning the medicine, evacuation, about the human body, and thinking critically about how to manage an incident in the wilderness. I’ve had some delirious moments, “amazing” acting skills, accidentally punted a frog at night, over jumped into my hammock and was then a big tangled mess of legs and torn mosquito net.

Our last few nights in the jungle were bittersweet. I am happy I was able to spend it with such a great group. We trudged into the jungle with low energy yet high determination and excitement (well, as much as we could muster). Spending the last few days of the course in the jungle teaching the medics was great experience for the future. Expedition leader course for our group ended up being more and more like survivor as our numbers dwindled from the beginning. The final two remained, “team blow blow” (fire making name that got created one night and stuck).

I was warned when I first started that I will be crawling by the end of the course. I kind of laughed and said, “Suuuuure”, as I was used to long hours and long days and no days off. No problem at all. I still mostly stand by that .. I’m not quite crawling yet, but I possibly may need a walker and I want to sit down any chance I get. Physical and mental exhaustion has kicked in, there is no denying it.  I just need to keep my stamina up so I can end on a strong note. You are only as good as your last day of work. Luckily, we have had really amazing students to teach which has made the journey to the finish line that much sweeter.

Last few days of the jungle looked like this: we all kind of look like zombies due to our heavy eye lids and deformed, colourful bodies from mosquito and sand fly bites. We did manage to find a new campsite, did river training, steep ground training, scenarios, jungle survivor training, and solo nights for the two medics.

Our last proper night in the jungle as a group we found a large piece of wood that had been cut by loggers and brought it to camp. The table was then decorated with banana leaves, tea lights, and a heliconia flower centre piece. We all ate a romantic dinner by candlelight and then laid on our roll mats listening to the music of the jungle and reminiscing about our time together.

The next morning, we left to a different part of the jungle so the medics could do their solo night and Sean and I could have our co-solo night. It proved to be an eventful day. Sean and I were so tired that we passed out on our roll mats after clearing a spot, not even bothering to put our hammocks up yet. I slept with hesitation as I saw two snakes in my hammock site. One was a coral snake, very venomous, that I somehow squished under my boot while clearing a spot. Only me. The rest of the day, the laziness continued. Sean and I were greeted by hummingbirds and were visited by a few playful squirrel monkeys dancing above the banana trees. Eventually, we determined we couldn’t be this lazy and took out the machetes and collected some fire wood – only to nap again. Then the storm came. Storm comes, shirts off. I think it only makes sense so you can warm your core afterwards, although I did get bizarre looks from the leaders during my impromptu visit to them. I quickly made an established fire and we went to work to gather materials to make a shelter. Our teamwork and skill was top notch as we raced against the weather. I wasn’t about to spend all night trying to get a fire started with wet wood. We hurried to assemble a shelter and I tried to maintain the fire while Sean put up his sleeping system. The rain picked up and thunder and lightning commenced. The shelter was failing, so there I am holding it together with my hands yelling Sean’s name for help, but he can’t hear me over the rain. If I let go, our fire and shelter are ruined. Nothing I could do but get wet and hold on to the falling structure until he hopefully returned. He did. And together we managed to keep it together and our fire going. I only had to sacrifice my eyes to the smoke of leaves on the fire and rain.

CRASH! A full grown tree fell close to one of the medics’ sites. I went into hyperactive mode, ran to her site leaping over already fallen trees, only to find her safely in her hammock. Whew. Deadfall is probably the most dangerous thing in the jungle and it happened so close. I didn’t know I could move like that and be so agile. One of the medic’s hammock flooded with water, so  I walked her out of the jungle, both of us looking a hot mess, dirty, and wet in our sports bras, head torches, and backpacks back to camp as we waded through the flooded path filled with frogs. When I got back to camp, I had burnt pasta waiting for me along with good company. Sean and I spent the rest of night under our shelter on heliconia leaves by the fire talking about life and letting the heat of the flames lick dry our wet clothes and skin. We didn’t want our last night in the jungle to end. We spent 5 hours lying by the fire watching the flames dance until our eyes got heavy and our hammocks called our names.

Extraction time was 4:30am in order to catch an early bus and get one last river bath with the tadpoles. All went well.

So here I am now in Nicaragua, having kayaked yesterday, which proved to be interesting with our very tired and delusional group. We hiked a volcano for 8 hours today, and I am now lying in a hammock drinking a banana smoothie because moving to get dinner sounds like way too much work.  Tomorrow we get our final feedback. The moment we have all been waiting for after 4 months of hard work. It’s strange to think the course is over. Whenever you partake it something that consumes your life and is this intense, it will take some adjusting to go back to real life. A life with flushing toilets, warm showers, no gentle burn of mosquito repellent perfume, eating with forks- on a plate, having a mirror, throwing toilet paper in the toilet, conveniences, an oven, driving, clean clothes, current events, TV, bills, friends, family, a bed, not picking ants off your body, leaves are just for trees not making things, branches on the ground are just branches and not amazing tinder, machetes aren’t your everyday tool, water doesn’t taste like chlorine, I could go on and on, but I think you get it. Assimilating back into the real world will be difficult after seeing how simple life can be. Music being the insects, washing clothes in a river, wardrobe of two shirts, two pants, and a hammock for a bed. You don’t need much to get by, you don’t need much to be happy.

I plan to soak up our last two days by filling it with a champagne breakfast, swimming in the natural springs, scootering around the island visiting the different beaches, taking in the views, admiring the sunsets, and appreciating life for what it is and not focusing on the future, I just want to focus on the now.

The last four months have been an adventure. I’ve come out stronger, more confident, and with new skills. I’m ready to tackle the next opportunity, whatever it may be. If you are thinking about taking this course, take the leap. You will gain much more than the certificates and a job at the end, the certifications and job are the goal and destination. But we all know life is about the journey, that is what transforms you and makes this course something special.

If you’re interested in finding out more about our Expedition Leadership Training, get in touch today by emailing info@gapforce.org or give us a ring!


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