Following the Love of My Life

If you know her, you would easily say Shalynn Pack is one of the most passionate people you have ever met. Following in her footsteps, meeting all the people she has touched here in Costa Rica, and shadowing her experience to better share her story has been another wonderful chapter of my blessed spiritual journeys following the lovely Ms. Pack (whom I am so honored to soon to make Mrs… well, Pack.).

I first met up with Shalynn in La Fortuna, a tourist town with waterfalls, volcanoes, ziplining, and horseback-riding. After we caught up detailing our adventures of the last two months, she immediately transformed into a wonderful TV host. We started shooting the show “The Volunteer Traveler: Costa Rica” with her vacation segment, in which Shalynn shares the travel advantages of volunteering in an exotic country. We hiked to a volcanic lake, waterfalls, and hot springs with a tour agency with which I had secured a discount by showcasing the flying camera abilities of the Drone. Although I had originally planned to film an exhilarating zip-lining/bungee sequence, the beautiful landscapes and waterfalls should be a compelling argument toward encouraging anyone who might watch this project to consider one of the benefits of volunteering.

Along with Shalynn’s enthusiasm for travel, on-camera she is an excellent teacher. As I first began working with her in the field, mostly just trying to keep the camera steady, in-focus, and protected from whipping branches as we ducked through the undergrowth, Shalynn consistently described the project’s demands with confidence and poise. It is really hard, actually, to talk to a camera or an imagined audience and still look natural. Maybe with me behind the lens, she is able to just talk to me, but whatever she does it works for her to be a knowledgeable, enthusiastic guide through a technical science project.

The project itself is complex but straightforward. What cannot be learned from her blog, however, are the demanding conditions in which she and her crew works through. Starting with the 4AM wakeup, the heat, humidity, and mosquitoes have been draining for me. Not to mention that the nature of the job is to wade through the dense undergrowth looking for impossibly-hidden nests that are indistinguishable from “SLCs” (Suspicious Leaf Clumps) while also keeping an eye out for venomous snakes below and on any palm you might brush by, bullet ants, spiders, and a number of other biting and itchy things. Shalynn carries her enthusiasm and remains patient with me dragging behind and asking her to repeat herself several times – this time with a different facial expression.

Our closeness allows – I hope – for an intimate portrayal of her work. She ignores me hovering six inches away to get a close and continues her delicate work extracting blood from a nestling. She cannot get too frustrated with her “producer” as we have a long road and many further episodes to share. And if she does she can say or do whatever she wants and not ruin a professional relationship. But beyond that she is so excited for me to see everything she has experienced and to share what she has learned that it is easy for me to capture and forward that inspiring zeal for what she does.

But the true highlight is to meet everybody who will always represent this wonderful country to us. The first week of filming the project sequences we were staying with Rigoberto at his farm in La Virgen. Shalynn has developed a strong relationship with this loving and generous man, and their bond included me. When I met him, Rigo was sitting in the back of the church he founded, listening to the sermon. He gave me a long hug and told me he loved me and introduced me to the whole church, who all applauded me and then sang happy birthday to Shalynn. I was hugged, kissed, and welcomed so warmly, and then the whole church prayed for us with each person speaking their blessings out loud at the same time for an incredible symphony.

It would be difficult to share this part of the story on film, but it is the most important part. Shalynn has become a part of this community. There are dozens of people here who love her. She is a delight to all she encounters with courteous curiosity and warmth to new people she meets. Her crew – her boss Deb and several other assistants, the other scientists she has met here, the park rangers with whom she’s shared field offices, and of course the loving community of La Virgen are all starting to say their tearful, best wished goodbyes to her, and their stern warnings to me to take care of her and to appreciate how lucky I am to be marrying her in less than two months.

Maybe the idea of promoting the idea of volunteer travel is really just my desire to share her love with others. To share all that she has taught me and to show that I do know how lucky I am. Not everybody can do what she can; she has found the farthest flung stars in the company of her proximity, jumped into the river of her passions, and shared her love and enthusiasm with new friends. I hope to be better able to share these ideas on an entertaining, video format, but mainly to share that I am so lucky to be able to keep following wherever she goes…

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