I SPY DURing an Eight-Legged Adventure

Written by Alyssa Collins

Throughout the process of landing myself in one of the most bio-diverse countries on the planet with eighteen other students, I always considered the possibility that I would see more wildlife in Costa Rica than I could possibly imagine. Little did I know that I would be seeing many creatures that I had grown up having a major fear of and it didn’t occur to me how many times I would be seeing them. Before departing for the adventure of a lifetime, we had gone over logistics in class about the trip. We were told we would probably see tarantulas, as well as many other creatures, and my immediate thought was, “oh, dear God”. Then I thought, “if I see one, bring it on because I have to conquer my fear one day”!

So, that’s what happened.

It was brought on and mostly in the beginning parts of our ten-day adventure. The second day we were preparing for our daily activities at our lodge in Mastatal.  In Siempre Verde, I felt like I was at summer camp. It was such a wonderful feeling. My fellow classmates and I were down near the hammocks underneath the lodge and were talking about what the day might consist of, when a big hairy tarantula was discovered hanging out inside one of my classmate’s sandal. Now, you might imagine, “okay, this is a tarantula and it means no harm. Its just trying to find a place to hang out and do whatever giant spiders like to do”, but imagine if my classmate had put his foot into the sandal! The tarantula would have gone crazy and bit his foot off, or so I assume! The spider was not visible from the outside at all. Kudos to my classmate who discovered it was there, which is in itself another mystery. After trying to get myself to a position and good angle where I could take a picture of the hairy monster, I wanted to cringe as soon as I saw it. However, I made sure I held back because it wasn’t worth losing my breakfast over. I thought back to when we were in class and thought, “I have now seen a very giant spider, I don’t need to see any more.”

Spider Shoes

Tarantula inside a shoe at the lodge at Siempre Verde in Mastatal. Isn’t he cute?

Later that day, my thoughts had been totally jinxed–thanks to the spider gods! We went on a lovely hike down to a river not too far from Mastatal. The coolest thing about this river was there was a pool with a waterfall coming into it and you could go under the waterfall and peer out from behind it. There were about four or five of us in this pool and I had just come out from underneath the waterfall when one of my classmates told me to not freak out, because something was just on my right shoulder.  She pointed to a big spider the size of a small child’s fist. I don’t know if it was because I was in shock, but there was definitely a delayed reaction. Then finally, I screamed and left the pool like my life depended on it. Paranoia set in and I kept checking my shoulder if it had bit me. After awhile when I got over the fact that a giant spider had just been on me, I realized maybe spiders aren’t so bad after all. However, it is still clear as day in my mind how I felt during this experience, and I could go without reliving that.

The river we hiked to not too far from Mastatal and not too far upstream was a small waterfall.

The river we hiked to not too far from Mastatal and not too far upstream was a small waterfall.

The next spider encounter we had was a couple days later into the trip. We were painting an elementary school and those of us who had gone back to finish the school were somewhat surprised to learn that underneath the refrigerator in the cafeteria was a six-legged tarantula sized spider. However, this time for some reason I wasn’t as scared as I would have normally been. The spider was blocking our paint job, but we decided to work around it as well as we could and I was a good distance from the spider keeping an eye on it while still getting my painting done. If this were me back in the United States before the Costa Rica Program, I would have immediately ran away and never looked back.

The spider we found when we moved the refrigerator to paint the cafeteria of the elementary school.

The six-legged spider we found when we moved the refrigerator to paint the cafeteria of the elementary school.

I look back at our ten-day adventure in Costa Rica and analyze how this trip transformed me in a number of ways, and I am so glad that this trip has reduced my arachnophobia by a long shot. Seeing very large spiders on an everyday basis exposes you and you just get used to them. I don’t feel the need to run away every time I see one anymore. I am thankful to the UCI Costa Rica Program because before going on this adventure, I would have never expected to conquer one of my biggest fears.