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 136.

    What an ignorant article.You like the feeling of escape so the area should remain underdeveloped?As a more local example, look at what improved internet has done for rural areas in this country(I live in the Highlands).People can work from home,keep in contact with others,order things online rather than trekking to the shops... it has made life SO much easier. But it ruins your holidays? Diddums.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    More friendly advice for Huw Cordey.
    For a delightfully funny perspective on 'adventure', read chapter 3 of Peter Fleming's Brazilian Adventure. In fact, read the whole book.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    for that " frisson of risk " you could try the London Underground after dark

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    Pretty pretentious article here. Basically those in underdeveloped countries have to stay undeveloped, so that those in developed countries can pop over and remark how remote these areas are, and seek to claim a sense of monopoly over their future developments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    "This may be good for people who live in them, but for travellers it's a mixed blessing"

    This may be good for people who live in them, but nothing!

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    The author is not begrudging the internet on the locals for them he welcomes it, he is lamenting the different feelings and experiences he felt when the place was more remote.
    Not logging on is fair enough, but the ability to do so removes some of the adventure. It adds a safety net, it makes it harder for us to escape.
    Maybe we should have internet free zones, like they do with wildlife parks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    Perhaps the author should have stayed at home and viewed the place through the internet. That way his carbon emissions wouldn't have put the place at risk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    The internet hasn't spoiled travel at all, just like video games don't cause violence and rap music doesn't teach kids to hate cops. One of my dreams is to go to Greece and then travel over land the same route Alexander the Great did with his army when he conquered the world. I can do this virtually with Google Earth but it's nothing like the real thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Twenty years ago, people didn't have mobile devices, yet they still traveled to remote places and enjoyed themselves. You can do the same. Leave your mobiles/wi-fi etc. at home. Simple as that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Seriously? Cry me a river. If you want no internet, don't take your laptop. Don't take a phone either. You can write all your drivel on parchment with a quill and then send it by pony express to the BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Friendly advice?
    It is a cliche that technology makes the world feel smaller. But the problem with cliches is that they become a substitute for thought and recognising them doesn't excuse them.
    My ancestors reached England from southern Europe 110 years ago on foot. My wife's reached New Zealand 150 years ago in a very dodgy ship. How did Huw reach Costa Rica? Chicken!

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    What might be an exotic location for us is just home for the people who live there. We want the benefits of modern IT in our homes why begrudge them to others. Romantics might talk about preserving an "ancient way of life". Those that have to live it want the advantages of modernity the same as us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    If you realy feel that bad about sitting on an exotic beach, having to use the internet, then you will find that all devices have an "off" button.

    Feel free to use it and stop complaining about modern luxuries that most of the world's population still cannot afford to have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    Yeah, let's get rid of internet in these places. Sure, the people who actually live there will struggle to keep up with modern life, but at least the tourists won't be too distracted to do whatever mundane tasks they want to perform.

    Is this for real? Just turn your flipping dongle off and enjoy your holiday. Whinging about too much internet in 2012 is like moaning that you don't have a cold.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    I think it is a personal choice, I wonder if the author of this piece would be quite so mournful of the spread of technology if he got into a predicament and was unable to get in contact with anyone to help him.

    Maybe he mourns the privilege of "I've been there" but now if everyone can say "oh yeah, seen that".

    As long as nature is protected, it is personal choice how you use technology.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Internet spoiled travel?

    Nah mate. That was aviation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Of-course you'll get a phone signal in Costa-Rica, it's like the Benidorm of Central America when it comes to tourism. The reporter should have gone to neighbouring Panama or Nicaragua where there are plenty of uninhabited beaches without phone signal. I had the pleasure of sharing a beach in Panama with only the monkeys in the palm trees! Now that I think about it, I'm glad he went to Costa-Rica!

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    This is just dopey! Always the human spirit - present to an extreme in a small minority - has operated within the parameters of the age. All ages have their limitations and arguably the present has more scope than the past for 'adventures'. The sweeping generalisations here reek of opportunistic shallow journalism when actually some quite interesting points could have been made...

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Two points, do we really need to travel to these remote spots, for little more than pleasure? And do we then have the need to constantly tell our friends and relatives what we're up to?

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    All three of my holidays last year were to places with no telephone or internet connection (the Arctic circle, cruising up the River Congo, and camping in the Chad desert) - I loved it that no-one could contact me. Until my flight from Lisala to Kinshasa was cancelled, meaning missing my flight home and an important meeting - and I couldn't let anyone know.


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