Harriet Philpott - Tropical Dry Forest Conservation & Community in Costa Rica
My two weeks in Costa Rica was an experience I wouldn’t exchange for anything. I was initially a little nervous as I don’t speak any Spanish and didn’t know anybody but I had nothing to worry about, from the moment I was picked up from the airport I felt welcomed and it was easier knowing that all the other volunteers felt the same way. There were 17 of us in total which I wasn’t expecting but actually it was really lovely to have a large group of us and we quickly became friends.
My Week in Conservation
Our first week, we spent in Diria National Park where we stayed in dorm style accommodation. We immediately fell into an easy going routine. On our first day we went on a long hike to a beautiful waterfall where we stopped for a swim. It was great to see all the wildlife and I got lots of photos of monkeys, birds and butterflies so although it was tiring doing all the physical work, setting bat traps, catching butterflies, walking and camp maintenance; we were all having fun together and experiencing new things while doing it.
What was also amazing was trying the local cuisine and Prima, our cook was very happy for us to help out. One day we spent the afternoon baking Costa Rican bread filled with jam. As well, it was really nice to live a week without the luxuries of TV and internet, just to be on the camp, go down to the river at lunch and playing cards and talking in the evenings, it was a basic lifestyle but fun just being with friends.
Weekend Adventure Trip
The trip of zip-lining, tubing, horseback riding and the hot springs is something that not everybody gets to experience and something I will never forget. Firstly, we had to put on harnesses and helmets, which we all had a good laugh about because we looked so silly, then we went zip-lining which was terrifying but exhilarating at the same time. Afterwards we rode horses to the tubing area which I must say I didn’t like, I hadn’t realised before my fear of horses but I am sure it was very amusing for everybody else watching me screech while my horse ignored my attempts at getting it to stop.
The tubing, however, was amazing and I would definitely do it again, although I would probably reconsider my clothes next time as I was soaked through after. The best part of the trip for me was the mud baths and hot springs, we painted each other with the mud, let it dry then rinsed off in the river before jumping into the scolding waters of the springs. It was lots of fun and our skin felt amazing.
Care placement in Liberia
The second week was definitely my favourite part, it was really rewarding working with the children in the day-care centre and the kids were so lovely and friendly and although I didn’t speak the language I soon picked up what I needed and could ask the other volunteers when I needed help. We were split up at different centres and there was five of us at my placement. We played outside, having piggy back races, playing tag and other games which they loved. We would help with lunch and putting them down for a nap and in the afternoon we would do arts and crafts with artists to help us.
I couldn’t believe how completely accepting the children were of us, I assumed it would take a couple days for them to feel comfortable around us, especially as I don’t speak Spanish but they seemed to love having us around, straight away wanting to play games. From day one I bonded with a little girl called Karla and a boy called Axel. Karla loved wearing me out, making us play tag for hours, only letting me sit down if she could plait and play with my hair. Axel was stubborn and if I didn’t do as he said he would give me the silent treatment which was very cute, he loved hugs.
My Host family and free time
All 17 of us stayed together the second week, our host, Ana-Cecilia, ran a sort of B&B so there was plenty of room for us and she would cook us beautiful meals every day. Although we were in rooms of 2 - 4 people, we mainly all spent time together in the evenings, talking and playing music outside, unless we had an activity planned.
Twice that week our group leader, Andres, organised for us to go dancing; I was hopeless as I have no rhythm but it was hilarious and everybody had a great laugh. As well as this we went out for pizza one night with all the artists from the placements, our director, Luis, Andres and some of the others who worked with us that week. It was nice to spend time with everyone in a social atmosphere and the pizza was great.
Leaving Costa Rica - Sad Goodbyes
Leaving Costa Rica was the worst part, especially saying goodbye to the children. It was sad knowing you probably won’t see them again. But the experience was worth the sad goodbyes and all the volunteers made promises to keep in touch on Facebook which so far we have done and I think I have made some friends for life on my trip.
You can’t spend two weeks in that sort of situation, which is not just physically exhausting but also mentally, and not come out making some pretty good friends. You are so close it is impossible, looking after each other when you are feeling a bit homesick, helping you out when you have had enough of cold showers and rice and beans for breakfast, you are more like family.
I would really recommend that anybody considering Projects Abroad would just go for it as it is an opportunity you may not get again and if you are put off for whatever reason, the price, language barriers or the idea of travelling alone, Projects Abroad were so helpful every step of the way, with travel arrangements and talking to people and in my opinion every penny was worth it, I have no regrets from my trip except that I wish I could have stayed longer. Oh and I didn’t get over my fear of spiders, but we all knew that was never going to happen!