Adventure travel in the age of the online connection

Turtle on beach, in Costa Rica

Some of the most remote places in the world are starting to feel less isolated thanks to new technology. This may be good for people who live in them, but for travellers it's a mixed blessing.

Playa Nancite in the Santa Rosa National Park is a bit different this year. It is still one of Costa Rica's most remote spots but it no longer has the same sense of isolation.

The change is certainly not obvious.

Getting here requires the same effort - an hour's drive along a deeply rutted and muddy track, only passable in a four-wheel-drive with a winch, followed by a 40-minute hike over a very steep hill.

The beach itself is also unchanged.

Olive ridley turtles still nest here in their thousands, undisturbed by poachers but hunted by jaguars, which often patrol the beaches at night.

Sadly, there is also little difference to the huge quantity of plastic strewn across the high-tide mark, which washes up on to the golden sands from distant South Pacific islands.

Beach in Costa Rica

No. Change has come invisibly - through the airwaves.

Last year, you could just about get a mobile signal if you were standing in the right spot but now you can sit on Nancite's beach and connect to the internet.

Don't get me wrong, I am as much a slave to the world-wide-web as the next person but I cannot help feeling a little sad at this development.

Costa Rica's sea turtles

Olive ridley sea turtle
  • Groups of hundreds or even thousands of female Olive ridley sea turtles come ashore to nest in what is known as an "arribada"
  • Leatherbacks, the largest sea turtles, are champion divers that can reach depths of 3,900ft
  • The Green sea turtle's diet changes significantly during its life - hatchlings feed on small fish and crustaceans, but adults are herbivorous
  • The Hawksbill turtle, with its narrow head and hawk-like beak, inhabits tropical and subtropical parts of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans

It may be a cliche but there is no doubt that technology makes the world feel a smaller - and less interesting - place.

It has the habit of shrinking the distances between countries and merging cultures.

For me, real adventure travel does not just come from the journey itself but from feeling cut off from one's normal way of life - a situation that forces you to accept what you find and become absorbed by it.

And being isolated can also be exciting since it often brings a frisson of risk.

Unfortunately, with the unseen umbilical cord of a mobile or internet connection, it is much more of a challenge to experience the unfamiliar and leave the familiar behind.

In short, adventures are not quite so, well, adventurous.

Take Ernest Shackleton's heroic Antarctic feat - one of the greatest adventure stories of all time.

One wonders whether it would even have happened had the internet been around in his day.

He and his men certainly would not have embarked on one perilous journey after another, if they had been able to let someone know where they had been stranded.

Back on Nancite, the internet had an immediate impact on me.

From Our Own Correspondent

  • Broadcast on Saturdays at 11:30 GMT and Thursdays at 11:00 GMT on BBC Radio 4, and weekdays on BBC World Service

Every day I found myself repeating that well known mantra of the 21st Century, "I must check my emails."

When I could have been walking through the forest looking for wildlife, beach combing, or even swinging gently in a hammock under sunbathing iguanas, I was huddled over my computer trying to keep sand out of the keyboard and glare off the screen as I communicated with people back home and - more often than not - cursing the connection speeds.

It is a funny old thing - last year, I was perfectly content without any internet. This year, it is annoyingly slow.

Not everybody feels the way I do about the developments on Nancite.

Wilberth Matamoros, for one, is delighted.

He has spent over a year in Nancite, mostly on his own, logging the comings and goings of the nesting olive ridley turtles.

Map of Costa Rica

Each night, he walks up and down Nancite's half-mile of beach counting, measuring and tagging them.

Recently he came across a jaguar eating a turtle.

Rather than back away, he crept closer and videoed the action using his torch as a light.

It was an exciting moment and one he was keen to share with his girlfriend who was more than 5,000 miles (8,000km) away.

With the new internet, he had uploaded pictures of the event before dawn.

For the last five years, Wilberth from Costa Rica has been going out with Jenny Neeve from Essex, in the south-east of England.

They met while working on another turtle project and have stayed together despite only seeing each other for between two and six months a year.

Huw Cordey, a 4x4 and a lot of mud Real adventure travel is not just the journey itself but feeling cut off from one's normal way of life

When I ask Wilberth what the secret of their success is, he says "talking".

Until the internet arrived, he talked to Jenny virtually every day from his mobile. Half the time she would call him, the other half he phoned her.

Unfortunately that sort of love did not come cheap. Wilberth was spending nearly half his $500 (£300) a month salary talking to Jenny.

Now with the internet and Skype, communication is free which means that they can talk for as long or as often as they like, and the money he saves he can spend on flights to actually see Jenny.

Of course, I do not begrudge Wilberth and Jenny their new-found freedoms but - romance aside - Nancite's internet highlights the paradox of this kind of technology.

You crave more of it but, deep down, you know you would be happier with a lot less.

 How to listen to From Our Own Correspondent:

BBC Radio 4: A 30-minute programme on Saturdays, 11:30 GMT.

Second 30-minute programme on Thursdays, 11:00 GMT (some weeks only).

Listen online or download the podcast

BBC World Service:

Hear daily 10-minute editions Monday to Friday, repeated through the day, also available to listen online.

Read more or explore the archive at the programme website.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Another BBC non story. Please find some real journalism to put up on this website, which is paid for by my compulsory licence fee. I want journalism not middle class opinions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    We shouldn't forget, of course, that it's only these developments in technology that allow us to actually explore these places in first place. Only a hundred years ago it's unlikely many of us would have ventured outside our own country.

  • Comment number 114.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    Now you know exactlty where you are in the world, down to a few meters, with GPS technologyand with Google World etc you can travel the world from your armchair. Aint technology wonderful.........

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    This story is only the authors personal opinion. Don't like the internet when you travel? Then don't take it. See how far you get if something happens to you for whatever reason. Pointless article written by a person who should be on the Grumpy Old Men Series (but can equally apply to Grumpy Old Women where appropriate)

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    come to west yourkshire there are lots of places where you can no signal at all !
    Amazing that remote countries can manage to get a signal and we can not

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Seriously? Are you advocating denying internet access to people in remote locations just because you can't exercise some self control?

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    To Minerve et al

    Why does there always have to be a 'deeper meaning' & why is everyone so cynical on these blogs? My son & I take roads trips & go where the fancy takes us. We hope to go back to Alaska & the Yukon again this year - not bragging; just stating a fact. I don't know if it makes me a better person but I fully appreciate the isolated beauty and it recharges me for my caring role..

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Just because you can get a signal does not mean you need to use it.

    Turn off the phone. Leave the laptop at home. Simple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    I'm missing something here.
    But if Huw Cordey wants to keep his 'frisson of risk' and 'leave the familiar behind' (I'll not think too carefully about that), can't he throw his phone or his computer into the Pacific - or better still, not take them - and dispense with the umbilical cord of the 4-wheel drive, which after all is just a few minutes' walk from his beach?

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    "It may be a cliche but there is no doubt that technology makes the world feel a smaller - and less interesting - place."

    Smaller definitely, less interesting definitely not. Being able to communicate with people from some of the world's most remote locations is surely interesting in itself?

    If you want to feel cut-off just don't take any mobiles/laptops.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    One must wonder why he does not simply leave his mobile behind

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    The world is not a theme park anymore for the privileged to practice adventure travel. Too bad. Go to somalia to get adventure and isolation for few months.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    i am partially physically disabled and as National Geo Magazine did a 100 years ago the Net gets me to places I will never be able to see. So thanks to all of you that enable me to be there

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    hi everyone i have an opin........lost signal .... this is the most inane argument ever on BBC this page and all of BBC would not exist without he net if you want to go back to 1900 AD we'd need either an EMP or teach our selves the the word OFF!

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    How about if the situation was reversed. Would those compliaining about this welcome no internet connection in their area so the rest of us could feel 'remote'. Thought not. This is more a problem with your attitude which seems to be that the rest of the world is there to serve your needs, never mind the inhabitants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    How come you can get a signal there but parts of the M25 remain a desert??

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Yet another sly dig at the internet.

    At the moment people are demasking the real parasites in the world.

    You will find more of these stories in the near future.

    They have nothing to do with the beautiful turtles,everything to do with the scum.

    Why ? because they are terrified we'll win.

    They are right to be scared.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    I took my daughter to CR a few years ago. Fabulous country. Saw turtles laying eggs at night.

    Huge amount of wildlife and nice people.

    Also the only country to have got rid of its army. When it had trouble with Nicaragua it asked for a resolution from the OAS and the ICJ instead of staring a war.

    Civilisation we can all learn from.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    You don't need to fly halfway around the world to be technologically isolated. Come to the south end of the Isle of Arran. We can only recieve two FM channels (both BBC), TV signal is weather dependent, mobile signals where we are are patchy at best (need to walk quarter of a mile up the lane). We only got broadband three years ago and that is topping out at a blistering 2mb/sec in the villages.


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