Goodbye privacy, hello narcissism // The Circle Review

I’ve read a fair few books since I’ve been in Scotland.

In Summer, the amount of books I read doesn’t change but I may decide to waltz outside with a glass of Pimms, and with the sea views here I’ve been doing just that.

One book that’s stood out for me though is The Circle, by David Eggers. The Circle, is in fact a technology company endeavouring to create a utopia for its users and trying to dominate the world. Mae, our protagonist, starts her new job there and gets to experience the wonders of her new paradise- until she is manipulated into believing that without The Circle the world can’t progress and improve.

Throughout the book it’s easy to see the opportunities one can receive simply by being a member of The Circle. You can sample the latest technology the company has to offer, get free clothes, food, and beverages and the reputation you gain is astronomical.

However, the people are fake.

A similar theme has been explored in an episode of Black Mirror, where you are rated based on your actions on an internet app and the world is silently chaotic. A similar thing occurs here, as it is mandatory to share your life online, attend every event you’re invited to and ensure everyone you talk to is content. Privacy is eradicated, and the narcissism of humans is exposed via the popularity of their respective social media.

What’s interesting is the ending. Normally in this kind of dystopian sci-fi type novel, they manage to stop everything before it’s too late (although usually with devastating consequences), however here the result is more chilling. What is terrifying and what could even be considered realistic is the fact that it is too late for Mae. The fact that she is manipulated by the internet into having “right opinions” and “wrong opinions” results in the Circle being able to take over the world like a weed. No organisation should be able to do that.

What is more terrifying is that this could be our reality.

Anticipating the next adventure

During my fourth week in Costa Rica, I received an email from the British Council.

I was anticipating this email. In fact, as soon as the first person reported that they’d received one, everyone who had applied to teach abroad for the next academic year suddenly started caring deeply about the fact that they were stuck in a rainforest with no WiFi. It felt like I was receiving exam results, something I always dread, on a much greater scale. This email dictated the next eight or nine months of my life from the end of September, and there was NOTHING I could do to change what would be typed in black ink on my larger than average phone screen.

Thanks to a hummingbird garden with internet access, one by one our emails flickered to life as our fates were revealed to us. It turns out that my year abroad, a crucial part of my degree, will be spent in the Basque Country in northern Spain.

Everyone was ecstatic. There were people who had been granted their first choice of region, people who were already working out which friends they were close to, and people updating their Facebook statuses in a flurry of excitement. I was overwhelmed.

In hindsight, my situation was laughable. The other two places I’d applied to either had limited spaces or none at due to budget cuts. In hindsight I was lucky to get any of my choices (obviously an essay on Welsh Rugby is exactly what the British Council need). However, it was a massive deal to 20 year old me who was currently on the other side of the world, about to LIVE in a different country.

“Loads of people have done it before, and they’ve been fine”, people say. “You’ve literally been in Costa Rica for five weeks and you’ve been alright, how is this different?” others will comment. I’ve never been to Spain. This is going to be very different.

A few weeks later, I found out my province, my town, my school and almost every other piece of information I needed to know. This time, I was the first out of my friends. I can plan. I can look into where I’m going, what I’m doing, and bombard my new contacts with emails.

Bilbao and the area surrounding it, here I come!

The Thing about Scotland

When we went to Aberdeen yesterday the city could only be described as grey. There was the grey of the buildings, the grey of the sky, the grey of the paths, and the grey mood of the people walking on those grey paths.

Scotland in general, however, is quite the opposite.

We’re staying literally a stone’s throw away from the North Sea, and after spending a month surrounded by the Pacific Ocean it was familiar and welcoming (although it was much colder). The pub is around the corner and the alcohol is plentiful, and once again I’ve read far too many books in a short space of time.

Scotland hasn’t changed much since I was last here three or four year ago. There are still views to be marvelled at, and castles to explore, and I’m looking forward to the peace and tranquility that accompanies this country. It’s so easy to relax here, and even though i have WiFi unlike previous adventures, I still feel at peace. I feel removed from it enough that I don’t depend on it (until a group chat suddenly comes to life out of nowhere).

Scotland reminds me of Wales. There’s a sense of individuality to it. You can pick out the Scottish from the non Scottish by accents alone and they have a patriotic pride that is absent in England. They accept the tourists, and they’ve embraced the fact that they are unique, and have welcomed it into their livelihood.

It is beautiful. It is interesting. It is calm.

I’m looking forward to what the next couple of weeks bring.

I read a lot of books in Costa Rica

Let’s talk books.

Somehow, thanks to the invention of hammocks, rocking chairs and well trained friends that know to leave me alone when I have a book in my hand, I read a not too shabby 17 books while I was away. Some were brilliant, and some were less so. So I’m going to talk about my favourite five.

The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury

This is the oldest book I read, and what was interesting is its insight regarding the future. Books and films about mars and space and a future that’s corrupt but manageable seems to be all the rage these days, and it’s refreshing to see a different perspective on it from before my time. If you enjoyed Brave New World and War of the Worlds, you’ll enjoy this.

Hidden Figures – Margot Lee Shetterly

I saw the film before I read the book, and I can say with confidence that it is the best film I’ve seen this year so far. It’s so important to learn about the unsung heroes, especially since so many influential figures have been overlooked throughout history due to race, gender, and numerous other prejudices. The story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson is moving, triumphant and inspiring. A great read if you’re into history, space, and empowering women.

The Girlfriend – Michelle Frances

This book was only released a few months ago, and it is definitely an intriguing debut. The concept is simple, but the way it escalates and captivates you makes it worth reading, especially if you’re into romance and a darker plot. In places some of the things that take place seem unreasonable, but if there’s anything I’ve learned in life it’s that girls and women can be scary and a force to be reckoned with. I’m excited to see what is in store for Michelle Frances in any potential future works.

The ’86 Fix – Keith A Pearson

This is another fairly new novel, and the first word that comes to me when I think of this book is ‘fresh’. It’s a classic, feel good, sci-fi/nerdy kid vs the world novel which made me chuckle and feel like I’d been deposited into 1986 myself, despite being a tiny young bean. Although I’ve read many stories about the concept of time, it was original and interesting, and I LOVED the twists that ensued. It was also a very light read after reading a million thrillers in a short space of time, which was cool.

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

About time, right? This is not a book that’s unheard of, however I didn’t think it was a book that would interest me. I was so wrong.

It left me reeling when I finished, and I the fact I practically read it all in one sitting made it all the more thought provoking and poignant. Especially with all the evil in the world today, it really does shine a light on what goes on behind closed doors, or open doors that we choose to ignore. It was dark, but not unnecessarily graphic. It was emotional, but not over the top. It also offered closure, even though it is riddled with tragedy and fear, even if many of the issues occurring today in similar environments show no signs of ending. It’s stories like this that remind us to remain conscious of people who live outside of our comfortable bubbles.

I’m going to Scotland tomorrow, so I have no idea which direction I’m going to go with this blog as I never seem to settle down these days, but who knows. LIKE OUR GOVERNMENT RIGHT NOW HA HA HA (pass me the wine).

The Costa Rica Diaries: The Thing about San José

The past day or two has been quite emotional. Little by little we’re leaving San José- some to move on to the Nicaragua extension, some back to Chester and others, including me, return to their homelands.

Naturally we’ve been quite sentimental. We’ll be going from spending five weeks around the same 14 other people on a daily basis to never seeing eachother again in the same way. Most of us go on our year abroad in September and a few are going on to complete their final year of university. Memories have been made, memes have been created and I’ll never be able to hear certain songs in the same way ever again.

Yesterday a few of us went to explore San José. Thanks to us leaving the hotel ridiculously early we got to see the city become more lively and bustling as the day progressed. Souvenir shops were visited, coffees were drank and I got to re-experience the Chai Frappuchinos I used to get custom made in my first year of university.

There was no rush for us. Most of us had done our souvenir shopping by this point so we were free to wander and absorb the culture, unlike when we were here at the beginning due to our jet lag and anxiety about being in a completely new environment. People selling any item under the sun littered the streets and men never failed to stare at my legs in a creepy way.

Despite that, this trip has been such a laugh. It hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t always been comfortable (especially where my digestive system is concerned). However I’ve adapted, and it just goes to show that you get out of an experience what you put into it.

I would like to thank Jack, Austen, Becca, Ellie, Lauren, Rosie, Ethan, Adam, Tom, Colette, Sabrina, Ella, Beth and Alyssa for the top notch bants and although we go our separate ways, I hope the memories will always remain.

Pura Vida, for the last time<3

The Costa Rica Diaries: Laguna del Lagarto and the absence of WiFi

The shock, right? The time finally came when the internet was cruelly snatched away from us poor millennials and we were forced to live like cavemen in an eco lodge in the middle of a rainforest.

None of us were prepared, emails were unread, texts couldn’t be sent, and the most horrific of all: I lost all my snapchat streaks.   Suddenly we were off the grid for five days of actual peace.

Rumours spread that if you stood in one specific corner of the lodge you could get a couple of bars of wifi, the few of us that actually got round to buying Costa Rican SIM cards weren’t even getting signal, and we were truly in the middle of nowhere.

The reality is- it was fine. No one died (although I did feel violently ill a few days ago but I feel like that was due to my digestive system crying over the rice and beans, and not my inability to see if anyone had liked my latest photo on Instagram), and we ended up bonding more as a group.

There was a different vibe to Ostional though, for sure. To start it was a lot cooler, we didn’t have as many excursions or obligations and there was a bar in order to satisfy my need for a few Pilsens after finally finishing my report.

I definitely spent a lot of time reading, of course. I spent so much time in one hammock that I’ve definitely strained my calves from spending so much time lying in one position, if that was possible. We also could canoe around the lagoons, and we met many crocodiles (including Jason and Frisbee). We planted 250 trees one morning, and we painted a church which was one of the funniest and most rewarding experiences of the trip- even if we did end up with more paint on us than on the church (I know who I’m blaming).

So, to conclude, and as much as this may shock my parents, I don’t need the internet to have a good time, and I had never felt more relaxed and at peace with myself.

That was until our British Council emails came with our fate sealed for September, but that’s a different story.

The Costa Rica Diaries: The False Alarm and the return to Nicoya

I was talking to a friend this morning and she asked if it is next weekend that I return home. My flight home has seemed blissfully far away up until this point, and it’s crazy to think we only have a week and a half left. I’ve already requested a roast dinner for when I get back to Wales.

ANYWAY, it turned out that the arribada was a false alarm. It just happened to be a large group of turtles that decided to nest together, and that combined with the fact that the crocodile lake has overflowed and joined the sea has caused further problems. Patrolling was interesting after, since we were forced to go through the river to get to the rest of the beach. It sucks that we didn’t get to see it, but we’ve been very fortunate to see so many turtles including a leatherback, and it’s definitely been an eye opening, humble and thrilling adventure.

In the meantime, due to the confusion we ended up with more free time than we had planned. One truck ride later and we found ourselves at yet another beach, this one littered with souvenir stores. One of the things I loved about our stay in Ostional is the amount of time we’ve been able to spend in the ocean. Sure there’s the risk of rip tides, but as long as you keep an eye on which direction the water is pulling you it’s perfectly okay. Waves were jumped, sand ended up everywhere and skin got burned. Standard day trip really.

Today I had my last portion of rice and beans (hopefully for the foreseeable future) and hopped on our favourite air conditioned bus to return to Nicoya. Back in the best homestay house ever, I had a plate of pancakes in front of me in minutes and later on we had chicken with a chinese style sauce and MASHED POTATO. Most of the past week has consisted of us fantasisting over the home comforts we wanted as soon as we land on British soil, and as much as I’m in favour of exploring new cultures, I feel like rice and beans three times a day may potentially shred my digestive system if it continues, I don’t know how some of the others have managed.

Tomorrow we have a seven hour bus journey to look forward to in order to get to Laguna del Lagarto. My Spotify playlist is ready and I’ve had two naps today, so what could go wrong? (Hopefully no one will vomit down the side of the bus again).

The Costa Rica Diaries: The calm before the storm

The number of turtles arriving in Ostional has been increasing.

We knew a series of sleepless nights were impending, despite the fact we were worn out, getting irritable due to the heat and each of us bearing an impressive number of insect bites. If our original plan had followed through, I would currently be lounging by a pool, definitely with yet another book (how I’ve got through ten already I don’t know) and hopefully a cocktail.

However, with more turtles deciding to lay their eggs and the quarter moon looming, we knew the chance to have a weekend away was slipping through our fingers. Luckily we were offered a compromise and instead we were told to have the afternoon off to have some downtime before a potentially busy weekend and we all trotted off to a neighbouring beach.

That day’s form of transport was not the minibus we have all grown to know and love (mainly for the aircon) but the back of a truck. The thrill seeker in me loves the more relaxed attitude down here, as we felt the wind in our hair and we braved sitting on the edge of the trailer until my pins and needles got unbearable after we all rammed ourselves in. Growing up I spent most of my time in cars that repeatedly beeped at you until you had your seatbelt on, so the stark difference was astounding, and much more fun. (Sorry Mum)

We got to the beach, had a couple of beers, and a couple of us braved the much more fierce waves of this part of Costa Rica. We got to chill, laugh and enjoy each other’s company after a tense few days and we returned feeling much more elated and calm.

So when we heard that the arribada could happen that evening, we were sent into disarray. No one knew what procedures followed, us folks in homestays had no idea when we would need to be at the research station, and it was an even worse scenario for those without internet. We woke up tentatively the next day to find that nothing had changed and we had another day to ourselves other than the usual night patrol.

Yesterday we ended up playing football on the beach. I discovered a hidden goalkeeping talent, we bonded with the other volunteers that hadn’t come from the university and I accidentally injured an Italian guy’s shin defending my goalposts.

This morning, people who aren’t ridiculously heavy sleepers like me were woken to a siren at 5am, announcing the arrival of more turtles, announcing that eggs can now be collected. Families rushed out of their houses to make the most of the opportunity and locals offered their help in the event that is what Ostional is known for. I woke up three hours later to a series of messages in our group chat.

Today we woke up to an arribada.

The Costa Rica Diaries: The Great Turtle Sighting

Let’s paint a picture first. With words. On a website. With no paint or pictures involved (actually I lie, there’s one on the header).

It’s 7 in the evening. You’re already hot from Ostional in general, you probably haven’t packed enough clothes and there’s so many insects you could repopulate the universe with just mosquitos. It’s heat like you’ve never felt before, but here you are- clad in black (and probably sweat) ready for your first shift volunteering at the turtle conservation centre.

You get assigned a group and off you trot, trying to power walk down a beach when you’ve done very few gym sessions beforehand and you’re continuing to regret it. You feel the burn in your calves and your thighs, as you also regret having legs the size of a T-Rex’s arm. You continue speeding along anyway, constantly on edge in fear of birds, animals you haven’t seen before and just things in general appearing from nowhere, especially since you’re only permitted to use dim red lights to protect the turtles.

Morale was low, some people were feeling ill, others had a really grim homestay to deal with (but that is not my story to tell) and we were dreading the next ten days.

But then we saw a turtle.

Excitement escalated faster than my sprint to the kitchen when food has been cooked. The more experienced volunteers immediately set to work handing out books to record data, tape measurements to… measure, I guess, and a stop watch along with various other gadgets- all while we stood around flustered, excited, and unsure about what to do.

Everything fell into place. We counted eggs, measured her shell, tagged her and recorded data from the climate outside to the area that we were in. It was incredible to witness. It reminded me of being in Monteverde on the night walk with the animals and the tour guide saying “It’s okay to take photos, but you must first take a photo with your eyes”. 

We saw a second turtle, a more cheeky one this time who decided after ten minutes of digging that it didn’t want to lay any eggs and dashed off down the beach away from us before we had the chance to take measurements. A chase ensued, but there was a chase to come that would make that seem like Baby Park on the DS Version (and maybe the Wii?) of Mario Kart.

Next thing we knew, a guy had legged it over to inform us that there was a leatherback turtle on the beach. However, it was right at the other end of the beach. Many kilometres away. If we didn’t move quickly we would miss it. We legged it like the guy before us.

We powerwalked, we tried to jog, and at this point I was definitely more swear than human. Half an hour later we made it, and we were just in time to see a LEATHERBACK TURTLE LAY SOME EGGS.

She was about my entire height in length and much wider than me, and it reminded me how I’ve been able to experience more things this month than most people get to see in a lifetime. She took a long time to lay, which gave me a chance to recover from the trek down the beach, and then took even longer to turn around and return to her true home: the ocean.

I feel so fortunate to have experienced this on my first day, and I’m very much ready for the next week or so, even if my limbs will disagree.

Pura Vida ❤

The Costa Rica Diaries: Turns out we do have WiFi in Ostional

Before I talk turtles to y’all, I want to talk about last night, my last night in Nicoya.

All of us were feeling a wee bit emosh after we were given our diplomas for spending two weeks procrastinating revising the subjunctive by gabbling in Spanish about our new favourite meal: rice and beans (I joke) and what sort of thing we were feeling for lunch that day (usually Chinese food). They also gave us a Costa Rican hipflask, and on that adorable note I would like to extend my thanks to the wonderful, inspiring and amusing teachers at the Academia Español Nicoya.

The next day us 15 groggy, tired, and in some cases hungover students once again jumped on a bus and were driven for a million hours on yet another bumpy road: this time, to Ostional. We were very wary about this stage in the trip as we were told there would be very little internet, the houses were much more basic and we had ten long days of volunteering ahead of us.

I was pleasantly surprised to have exceeded my quite low expectations, and here I am, sat on my bed under my mosquito net tent surrounded by a Chester Zoo’s worth of farm animals. Although I’m probably about to hit peak levels of the number of bites I’ll have on my limbs, I’m sweating off most of my body weight and I can hear literally everything within a 100m radius, everything is going to be okay.

Thus begins a new chapter, and with an open mind it’ll all fall into place.

Pura Vida amigos