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Carbon-Neutral Costa Rica: How I Lost 5,400 lbs While Packing for the Trip of a Lifetime

In search of a guilt-free adventure in the tropics, Jason Daley discovers the line between saving the world–and seeing it.
Backpacker_Magazine_How_I_Lost_5400_lbs_illoIllustration by Marcos Chin

Somewhere in the canopy above me a howler monkey screams. Rising above the pounding rain, the disembodied voice sounds powerful but oddly creaky, like a chorus of angry, pubescent bullfrogs. Already on this trek I’ve seen a rare resplendent quetzal, an orange-kneed tarantula, and a wet sloth, and I’d like to add this loud but invisible primate to my life list. So I stand awhile in the tropical downpour, scanning the dense cecropias and strangler figs of Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve through foggy binoculars, hoping for a sight of simian life. I don’t begrudge the howler its privacy, but I like to think that if it knew what I’d done to arrive at this patch of forest, if it understood the dark night of the eco-soul I’d suffered to get from Wisconsin to Central America, it would grant me a brief, blurry glimpse–or at least toss a little poo in my direction.

So far on this rainforest hike, I’ve marveled at air-eating epiphytes hanging in the dense canopy, seen the bizarre flight of a head-heavy toucan, and watched a palm-size wasp attack a tarantula. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip for me, a personal epic that, after a few stiff drinks, will eventually bore listless teenagers and strangers at weddings through the rest of my life. It’s the type of adventure all wilderness travelers dream of.

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