Volunteer stories : Victoria H., Tropical Dry Forest Conservation in Costa Rica
In the summer before I went to university, having just finished my A-Levels, I wanted to experience something completely new. I have always wanted to travel to Central America and as Costa Rica is regarded as a safe country, I decided it was a good place to start.
Arriving in Costa Rica
After a very long 19 hours of travelling, I arrived tired and confused at the airport. I was met by two Projects Abroad staff members who were really helpful and made me feel relaxed. They took me to the hotel in San Jose, where I spent the night before travelling to Barra Honda National Park the next day. At the hotel, I met the four volunteers from around the world who I would be spending the next two weeks with. The next day, we took the four-hour drive to the national park and for the first time, I was able to see the stunning beauty of Costa Rica, with its lush green countryside.
First impressions of Barra Honda
When we arrived at Barra Honda, I was struck by the heat and humidity. Though not as hot as I had imagined, it definitely took some time to adjust to it. As it was also the rainy season when I was there, it rained heavily for about an hour almost every day. Fortunately, the rain normally came during our lunch break so it rarely disrupted any of our activities. The park itself was beautiful. On our first day, we had some free time, so a group of us decided to go into the forest to find a nearby waterfall, which was amazing. It was a great way to start the trip!
I stayed in a dorm with five other girls. It was very basic, with ice cold showers, bunk beds and a simple fan, but living in such a beautiful area with iguanas surrounding the accommodation meant I spent most of my free time outside. I would definitely recommend bringing flip-flops for the bathroom, which very quickly became horribly dirty. There were some hammocks outside the back of our dorm rooms. This was a really nice place to relax and mix with the other volunteers.
The food was very simple but nice. It was normally rice and beans every day with some kind of meat. However, the cook was lovely and a couple of times made us something special like banana pancakes for breakfast, which were amazing!
My Conservation Project
The conservation work that I did during my time in the park was fascinating and really varied. My favourite thing we did was catching butterflies using two different methods, including catching them using fruit traps and recording their species. We also hiked deep into the forest (there was lots of hiking every day which was really fun, but can be challenging in the suffocating heat) to find groups of howler monkeys and we also went out at night to catch and examine lots of bats. Our guide was lovely and really good at teaching us different things about the animals we were studying.
We also did environmental conservation activities, including planting trees on farmland and helping to prepare the trees that will be planted next year. There were some less fun activities, for example clearing rubbish and digging drains, but I could see that what I was doing was worthwhile and important to keep the park functioning.
Barra Honda is famous for its network of caves and one of my favourite things we did was explore the caves. I saw so many stalactites and stalagmites, along with lots of bats! Overall, I feel like I was able to experience all aspects of what is going on at the national park and I got involved in everything, which made me feel like I was really making a difference.
My free time
Every day, we got a long lunch break during the hottest part of the day. Fortunately, there was a swimming pool about a five-minute walk away, which was a really nice way to relax and refresh. There was also a small shop where we could buy drinks and snacks.
One evening, there was a festival at the local town and we were allowed to go and explore. There was traditional dancing, music and some amazing food. It was a really nice way to experience the local culture, as most of the time we were in the national park and didn’t get to see many local towns. This made the festival very exciting.
On the weekend, we got to go on day trips, which were really good. On Saturday, we had a tour of the Tempisque River, which was enormous. I saw several crocodiles and birds nesting in the trees. It was great to see a different part of the natural beauty that Costa Rica has to offer. On Sunday, we had a beach trip, which was lots of fun. By this point in the trip, I had bonded with the other volunteers and made friends, so it was great to have a day out at the beach with them.
One particular part of my experience really stands out from the rest. There is a viewpoint right at the top of the mountain, where you can see a view of the whole valley. It takes about an hour to walk to from the accommodation. On my last morning, a friend and I decided to wake up at 3:30am to walk up the mountain in the dark to the viewpoint. From there, we were able to watch the sunrise over the whole of the national park. The sunrise was breath taking and the sounds of howler monkeys deep in the forest made it such a special experience.
My overall experience
Overall, I had an incredible experience and I made memories that will stay with me for a long time. I think that although going for a longer period would mean I could have got more involved in the project, for me the two weeks that I was there was the perfect amount of time, as it meant I got to experience a wide variety of activities without it ever feeling repetitive.
For the first time travelling on my own to a country so different from mine, travelling with Projects Abroad was a great way to do it and I would definitely recommend them!
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