Gillian Gordon - Tropical Dry Forest Conservation in Costa Rica
As an almost University graduate, I found myself wanting to do something life-changing and pursue my dreams of travelling. For my first time travelling alone, I decided to research groups to travel and volunteer with. I found Projects Abroad on the internet and could tell by their website that it is a reputable and trust-worthy organisation. I have always had a strong interest in the environment and the dry-rainforest Conservation project sounded really interesting.
After signing up, the process began and I found Projects Abroad to be very helpful throughout my few months of preparation to my departure for Costa Rica. They provided me with numerous people to call if I had any problems, always returned my emails and sent me a lot of information in advance. They also set me up with my own online page to keep me organised and up to date with what had to be done before my trip.
Barra Honda National Park
Barra Honda National Park was amazing, to say the least. The place was so green and beautiful, with monkeys constantly jumping around the trees and iguanas scurrying across the grass. As someone who loves to camp, I was able to enjoy the living situation there. We slept in cabins with about four people to a room. We shared a bathroom that had only cold showers, but a cold shower was just what we needed after sweating all day from Costa Rica's August heat.
We had bunk-beds, which we covered with our mosquito nets (highly recommended!) because of creepy crawlies, like ants and even scorpions. At first I was anxious about the amount of wildlife that I was experiencing for the first time (I am not a huge fan of insects), but I adjusted quickly because I was so fascinated by everything.
Projects Abroad staff were extremely helpful and friendly and made everyone feel at home. I really enjoyed talking to many of them and they also taught me some Spanish. The food was also delicious and I always felt like I had enough to eat, rice and beans galore. I was really appreciative of how accommodating the park was to my diet, since I am a vegetarian. They respected that and always made a special dish for me.
The Conservation Project
I really loved the variety that the park offered each day in our projects. For example, one day I was working on a biology project creating a bio-digester and the next gathering information about the monkeys or marking transects throughout the forest. These tasks were somewhat labour intensive, which I liked because I felt like I was working hard towards something and making a difference. Work began each day at the same time and I was very happy to have a schedule.
All the projects began with a hike up the mountain to get into the forest, which was physically and mentally challenging due to the heat and conditions we were in. Although it felt like such an intense workout at the time, climbing that mountain everyday truly builds character and I can honestly say that it felt like an accomplishment! On that note, a good pair of hiking shoes is the best thing you can pack for this trip.
Meeting new people
I think my favourite part of my whole Projects Abroad experience was the people I met. I came to Costa Rica from Canada, not knowing who else would be there. I ended up meeting people around my age from different countries and because of the amount of time we spent together; we built strong friendships really quickly.
It made me realise how even though we are all so different and from different cultures and places in life, we are also similar in many ways. I met people with the same thirst for adventure as me and the same passion for the environment. I still keep in contact with some of the people I met and I now have friends to visit the next time I decide to travel overseas.
The term ‘Pura Vida’ that is used widely throughout Costa Rica, meaning ‘pure life’, is a perfect embodiment of what your stay will be like in Barra Honda. I can't think of a better way to spend my time than reading a book after a morning of hiking through the beautiful rainforest trails. My only regret is that I didn't stay longer. Two weeks was not enough time to fully soak in the experience and I would highly recommend staying for at least a month to see the result of your projects.
Barra Honda is what my heaven will look like. Pictures can't do it justice.