It was almost a year ago that I started to plan my big trip. I knew that I wanted to go to an exotic location that would be full of wildlife and culture. After hearing stories and seeing pictures from friends who had traveled the world, I decided that Central America offered everything I was looking for…and a lot more!
The most important reason I wanted to volunteer was so that I could feel a sense of satisfaction because I was contributing to saving a natural habitat or improving the lives of people who cannot help themselves. When I had the opportunity to combine volunteering with exploring a new country and culture, I knew that it would be an amazing learning experience.
I could have traveled alone but volunteering offered me several advantages. Since I didn’t speak Spanish, it would have been very difficult for me to navigate public transportation or find the best places to exchange money. However, because I was a GoEco volunteer, I didn’t have to worry about these kinds of things. Also, it was easy to make friends with the other volunteers because we all had something in common. Finally, even though I know that tourism helps the economy of a country, it can also have a negative impact on the environment and local culture. It was important for me to make the world better and not damage it any further.
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out exactly where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do when I got there. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work with animals, children or the environment but the GoEco team was there to provide tons of information to help me decide. Finally, I chose a to volunteer in Costa Rica at the Sea Turtle Conservation project.
I packed everything I needed and headed to the airport. I was so excited to start this adventure. When I arrived in Costa Rica there was a taxi waiting for me. I walked outside and was suddenly introduced to a tropical climate. On the way to San Jose, I stared out the taxi window and took in all of the lush green plants and colorful houses. I was already impressed.
My host family greeted me warmly in Spanish and I immediately felt at home. I had my own private room, which was small, but cozy. I had a huge mango tree just outside the bedroom window.
The next morning, the son of the host family took me and the two other volunteers staying in the house to the school where we would learn Spanish. The school was very nice and had a pretty garden in the back where students socialized with each other. We were free to use the kitchenette or eat in the cafeteria. There was a computer room and wireless internet. At the orientation meeting, we were given lots of information about San Jose, bus maps, and a schedule of additional activities offered by the school including Latin dance and cooking lessons.
We were divided into small groups of four according to our level of Spanish so it was almost like having private lessons. My teacher was incredibly nice and always happy to help. I spent most of my afternoons with a few other students who were staying in houses close to mine. During the weekend a few of us took a two-day trip into town and to see a nearby volcano. After one week of studying I said goodbye to my host family and headed to the other side to start volunteering in Costa Rica.
It was a bit of a long trip but the views were spectacular. When we arrived at Camaronal (one of the project sites on the Pacific coast) we were greeted by four volunteers and the project coordinator. The volunteer housing was situated right on the black sand beach and was surrounded by green hills with two rivers that flowed into the ocean.
Volunteers either slept in one of the bunk beds or attic rooms and thankfully there was a mosquito net draped above each bed. There was a refrigerator that we could use and the meals we had were delicious.
Nelson, the biologist in charge of this site, showed us where we would work and taught us about sea turtles and their spawning cycles. During the day we spent most of our time building a hatchery and cleaning up the beach. I quickly connected with the other volunteers so these tasks were actually quite fun because we were all together. Sometimes it was challenging to do physical work in the heat but the ocean was right there if we needed to cool off. It also made the cold showers much more tolerable.
At night we would patrol the beach and look for sea turtles that had come assure to lay eggs. The only light to guide us was from the stars so flashlights were very important. Once our eyes adjusted to the dark it became easier to spot the silhouettes of turtles and large logs blocking our path. We had to look at the sand carefully and try to find turtle tracks so we could follow them and find the eggs. We would mark where the eggs were on the beach or move them to a safe place. This was nature at its best!
During our free time there was plenty to do. We socialized, played games, read books, had crab races, went for walks on the beach, and hiked in the surrounding mountains. If you were willing to cross a river, you could also head into the nearest town. My experience was very positive and whenever a problem arose GoEco was there to help. I learned a great deal about Costa Rica and its wildlife. I made friends that I hope to stay in touch with for a long time. I highly recommend volunteering in general and this program specifically. You will not regret your experience!