Fiona Shuttleworth - Tropical Dry Forest Conservation in Costa Rica
Going into university next year, I decided I wanted to go away on my own and experience something completely new! I knew that I wanted to do something with animals and conservation, so when I saw a Conservation project in Costa Rica I knew it was for me.
As I was only 16 at the time, I was so scared going so far away from the UK and completely on my own, but I found it so liberating and refreshing! I got to make loads of new friends and experience a totally different culture and climate! Projects Abroad helped me feel prepared before I'd arrived and were so organised being in regular contact via emails and the telephone.
They really made an effort to ensure that I had a good time whilst I was on the trip too, organising weekend excursions for us to participate in. This has definitely been the most rewarding experience of my life so far and makes me want to explore other places in Central and South America.
It didn't strike me how much biodiversity Costa Rica has until I got to Barra Honda National Park. It was really indescribable - troops of howler monkeys would come right by the cabins, and iguanas would bask in the sun a few feet from you. The bird project would be a hike up the mountain every morning, but it was totally worth it, as you can see really beautiful birds!
There is also a place, called 'Mirador', which translates to 'Lookout'. It is the most amazing view on this planet! You are able to see all along into the bay of Nicoya, into the mountains beyond. Barra Honda National Park is renowned for its caves. It has 42 caves, which is a huge amount particularly because it is a relatively small national park. Going down the caves was really one of my favourite days of the whole trip, as you got to travel down 42 ft and were able to explore two chambers of the cave.
The Conservation Project
We stayed in a very large room with 6 bunk beds. It was so cosy and you could really get to know everyone else doing the project with you. Each day we were given two jobs to do, and each would require a lot of work to say the least! I would be dripping in sweat even if I wasn't going up the mountain! But it was all worth it.
I particularly loved helping at the local community projects. We would educate the local children about recycling, teaching them what to recycle, and then go for a litter pick. After that we would all play on the football pitch and have so much fun! I loved the way that Projects Abroad got you involved in the community and everything you did felt like you really made a difference and you could really see the results of all your hard work.
However, it was not always such hard work. There was a perfect balance between work and play, with the Friday football game being a personal favourite. There were so many projects to do, and Projects Abroad made sure that we all took part in a variety of them.
The Projects Abroad staff was super friendly and very helpful. If you had any sort of problem they would sort it for you really quickly. As everyone was in the same boat, being in a new country completely alone, it was easy to make friends and keep lasting friendships. This was something I really enjoyed about the project - meeting a totally new bunch of people all like-minded.
The food was delicious, so much so that I was missing the rice and beans when I got home. Just down the road there is the cutest cafe ever, Cafe Kura. The couple that run it are so nice and friendly, and they make the best ever smoothies and cakes. If you go make sure you get the watermelon smoothie, and the Almond and Chocolate Chip Paste - they are to die for.
Just down the hill there was a local hotel and if you paid $4 you were able to use the pool and go for a swim. This was the perfect way too cool down in the break between 12am and 3pm.
On the weekend Projects Abroad organised for us to go zip-lining through the canopies, horseback riding, rafting and to swim in the hot springs. It was a 2 hour trip, and after a doing the activities all day there was nothing better than to go for a swim in the natural springs. We were able to cover ourselves in the mud, and were also able to go in the river, which was so cold compared to the springs!
We went to a local village too where a fiesta was going on and we could watch the traditional dancing of Costa Rica – we certainly got the feel of the culture in Costa Rica. Projects Abroad were also able to set up us to watch the traditional pottery of Costa Rica being made. It was amazing how they managed to make pots just with their hands and special tools, without a single piece of machinery! It was nice to see that they retained their culture, instead of being westernised.
Final Thoughts of Costa Rica
I only went to Costa Rica for 2 weeks, but it really wasn't enough. I would definitely advise people to go longer so that they are able to explore more of Costa Rica on the weekend and help out at the bat project that runs once a week. I would have loved to have been able to do more of the projects and catch a glimpse of the rainy season in Costa Rica that I have heard so much about!
I would highly recommend anyone to go on a project like this one, or any of the other ones that Project Abroad do - it was the best decision of my life so far, and something I will never forget!