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Lessons of the Jungle: #UNLITTER x Dolphin Quest

By Reagan Fountain

Tropical flower

Day 1#UNLITTER Costa Rica trip

Began with launching our kayaks off the beach, exploring the island's perimeter, and finding a cone shell, sea hamburger, and the molt of a red crab. 

Kayaks on a beach in Costa Rica

I was taking a solo hike through the understory, greeting the jungle with a song. Rather than startling the other creatures, my singing miraculously enticed over 100 monkeys to surround me… I guess I wasn’t the only one eager to get a closer look at who walked these jungle floors. 

Within seconds, the curious little monkeys swung swiftly down to the lowest hanging tree branches–no more than 6 feet above my head. They relaxed on the limbs in effortless balance, letting their arms and legs dangle. I was in awe at how comfortable I felt and how comfortable they seemed.

Monkey in a tree in Costa Rica

On my way out of the jungle, I found a snake slithering among the fallen leaves and showed it to all of my friends and our new friends (the incredibly kind workers at Dolphin Quest and their kids, who hung out with us almost the whole time we were there). 

Snake on hand in Costa Rica

Given that I’d now lived up to my reputation as the “vegan animal whisperer,” Madi recruited me to get the tiny bats out of the bathroom in our cabin house so that she could get ready.

Costa Rica bats in bathroom


Caught a skink in Costa Rica

In downtime between activities, I perused the grounds and stumbled upon a bunch of beautifully fragrant ylang-ylang flowers, which happen to be the secret ingredient in the famous Chanel N5 perfume.

The flowers and fruits of Costa Rica

That afternoon, all the guests, workers, and their kids gathered in the huge grass field in the middle of the property for an epic soccer game. I still talk about how fun it was. 

Dolphin Quest Costa Rica

After we finished dinner that evening, Olman (one of the nice workers at Dolphin Quest) showed us how to make art by carving designs into the hard, bowl-shaped rind of a large tropical fruit. They also served as great hats for when you’re in a silly, goofy mood. 

Day 2:  Rainforest Hike to a Waterfall 

Hiking through the jungle in Costa Rica

Trekking through the rainforest, our guide, Olman, taught us the local names of the plants and the unique part each plays in the ecosystem. 

Fruits of Costa Rica

Olman periodically picked up different kinds of leaves along the path as we ventured into the jungle. Not knowing what he had planned, we stood perplexed as he placed four large, smooth leaves on the ground. Our confusion turned into gratitude as he suddenly reached into his backpack and pulled out a fresh young coconut, the water inside still cold from the fridge. One by one, we watched as six more coconuts, 12 mangosteens, 15 bananas, chunks of vegan chocolate, and a bag of dried plantains were set on our jungle leaves. Eco-friendly and beautiful.

Day 3: Snorkeling Tour

We may have just finished playing mermaids on the rocks, but once we masked up and dove in, it felt more real than fantasy. The waters were so full of life that I held a new creature each time I breached the surface. 

Snorkeling in Costa Rica

Dolphin Spotting 

We soon found ourselves surrounded by a pod of dolphins hunting for fish. Eager to get a good look, I sat on the boat's edge and let my legs hang over, a dolphin lightly grazing the sole of my foot as it played in the wake. 

At that moment, there was only one thought in my mind. “This… this is what it’s all about. This, is life.” 

Dolphin swimming next to boat

Bioluminescence Tour

The water looked like a black void at first, but diving in was like jumping through a portal to another universe. Given that the bioluminescent plankton only lit up in response to movement, each stroke of my arms and kick of my legs created the illusion that I was swimming through space. 

Just when we thought the tour had ended after our night swimming, we pulled up to the edge of the jungle along the water.  As I swam up to the side of the mountain with nothing but a sparse group of plankton illuminating my path, I had no choice but to trust the judgment of Krystell (Olman’s 12-year-old daughter whom we invited to accompany us on most excursions) and Jahza (one of the main hosts/guides during our stay), both of whom were practically raised by the jungle. They were my eyes - If they said swim forward, I did. If they told me to stand up, I did that too. 

The only questionable maneuver was when they said, “Okay, now stick your face against the mountain, look up and open your mouth.” 

Initially, I hesitated, but I trusted their reasons. I faithfully pressed my cheek against the rock and felt a stream of the freshest, sweetest water hit my tongue. I closed my eyes and imagined being baptized by the hidden waterfall, purified by one of the Earth’s most magical and therapeutic natural energy sources. 

Day 4:  Dolphin Spotting on our way to Pavones

Initially, the boat ride to our surfing destination was a mere matter of transportation to the “real” activity of the day. However, catching a glimpse of a splash in the distance, the trip surprisingly became an adventure on its own. 

We leaned over the boat's edge in anticipation, watching intently as a spotted dolphin breached the surface and launched entirely out of the water. I could’ve sworn the time it spent suspended in the air got longer and longer with each jump, a maneuver I’ve only ever heard of dolphins being forced to do in captivity - but this was different. This porpoise was jumping for her entertainment, and knowing that made this moment even more joyous. 

Excursion to Pavones at Dolphin Quest

We had fun getting surf lessons and successfully catching waves at Pavones, one of the most sought-after surf spots in the world. 

As we made our way back by boat, it appeared our luck had yet to run out. Thanks to Madi’s keen observation, the initial blast of water she saw in the distance turned out to be the first whale sighting of the season– a mother humpback and her young calf swimming alongside her. 

Whales breeching

Day 5:  A Heartfelt Send-off 

As we sat on the shore and soaked up our surroundings, feelings of pure gratitude radiated from us. While it’s expected to associate the end of a trip with sadness, we thought doing so would discredit the undeniable impact of this journey. 

Sitting on the beach at Dolphin Quest in Costa Rica

Although we spoke different languages, this was not a barrier. Comparing it to a bridge, which connects and brings together, is a far more accurate analogy. The messages we couldn’t fully articulate in words were conveyed effortlessly through our energy, connection, and presence with one another. 

Girl on boat in Costa Rica

The tears rolling down our faces and the strength with which we squeezed one another as we departed carried these truths– a single embrace encapsulates more than words ever can. 

We may have come as strangers, but our goodbyes were filled with the same emotion as parting from family. 

Dolphin Quest Costa Rica

We didn’t need to say we loved each other or explain how this experience changed us… because we all knew it. We could feel it.

If you're interested in having a Dolphin Quest experience of your own, learn about the trip here!

All photos courtesy of Reagan Fountain

Writer Contact: 

Reagan Fountain

Vegan Food Instagram: @Vegoutlook 

Personal Instagram: @Reagan.Rileyy 

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