I squinted down the dark tarmac, desperate to see someone moving toward me. The heavy air filled my lungs, my clothes, and my hair with soggy heat.
No one was coming.
The only other English speaking passenger on our wobbly little plane had offered me a ride into town and I declined. Someone would be meeting me here shortly, I explained. He reluctantly loaded up the jeep, asked again if I was sure, and rode off through the mud and into the trees.
I put on my brave face, looked back down the runway, and squinted harder.
I had spent the night convulsing in tears inside the Denver airport. My display of despair was so elaborate, it warranted an approach from a security officer to see if I was okay.
"Do you need help?" she asked with concern.
"No...I'll...be...okay..." I gasped between sharp breaths, though I didn't believe it.
I had made a terrible mistake thinking I could travel alone to a remote village in Costa Rica. Surely, something terrible would happen during my month there. And now, all I could do was sit in the Denver airport and cry about whichever future disaster would come. I sobbed in the bathroom, at an empty gate, on the phone, and the entire redeye into San Juan. I was leaving everything I loved at home and felt sure it would all disappear while I was gone.
The small plane made a tight turn in from of me and barreled back down the asphalt strip on which I stood, alone. The short runway cut through thick jungle - a thin strip of darkness amongst dense greenery that both lured and frightened me. It had been 24 hours since I'd slept, eaten, or done anything but fearfully sob over the unknown. And despite my reluctant patience, my squinting, and the promise that someone would be at the open air shack airport terminal to meet me, no one was.
The cicadas deafened my senses. Screeching out the soundtrack to summer in a way that felt infinite here. They assaulted what little mental function I had left. And so, with the choice between cicada solitude and unknown jungle, I walked.
I trudged back down the runway, dragging my exhausted and weighted body. My brand new 50 gallon pack was strapped firmly to my back and the daypack I borrowed from a dear friend was slung on my front. Both full of supplies I would surely need for this rustic experience.
I walked alone, past shanty houses and stray livestock and more jungle. I had no idea where I was heading, or what would happen when I arrived. I didn't know that, during my time in Costa Rica, I would fulfill a lifelong dream, or that I would legitimately fear for my life. I didn't know what was ahead, but I walked, as fearlessly as I could, in the direction I assumed would house a sea turtle conservation project and my life for the next month.