Katie Eagle - Tropical Dry Forest Conservation in Costa Rica
The impulse to travel to Costa Rica came suddenly when we were discussing work experience with school. The idea of photocopying in an office did not appeal to me at all, so I chose to do two weeks at Barra Honda National Park on Projects Abroad’s Conservation and Environment Project.
Costa Rica has always been one of the places that is described as being a ‘little slice of paradise’ in the Lonely Planet guide book and it certainly lived up to this expectation. I arrived at the San Jose airport, tired from the transfers and the long flight, but buzzing with anticipation. I was met by a Projects Abroad staff member and we then started the four-hour trip to Barra Honda.
Immediately, I was plunged into local life as the trip took place on a common mode of transport, the buses. Despite having to adjust quickly to the humidity and language barriers, we were soon riding through vast canopies of leafy trees. How strange it was to see monkeys jumping from one branch to another!
When I finally arrived, the staff at the park were very welcoming and I was given a tour of the park, introduced to the staff and told about the everyday routines. Although I knew the days would be structured due to the very helpful Projects Abroad website, I was grateful to know that I would be cared for and guided throughout my stay.
My placement at Barra Honda
Barra Honda was beautiful and immaculately kept and you could tell the people who worked there took great pride in it. Everything was so green, with iguanas crossing your path and monkey families lazily hanging from the trees overhead. The dorms we slept in were simple, yet clean. Although the shower had only cold water, there was no complaining, it was just what we needed after a long day of sweating and coming back dusty and aching.
A necessity when volunteering in Costa Rica is a mosquito net to keep all the insect at bay! Although it became a great icebreaker when we had to work as a team to get rid of the strange insects that would make their way into our dorms.
On my first day, it took some time for me to adjust. Imagine, waking up and realising you are in the middle of the jungle, eating rice and beans for breakfast and then spending the day hiking through the humid jungle with Costa Rican locals bursting with interesting stories. Although the work was hard at first, you can't help but quickly immerse yourself in it all (although make sure you have good pair of hiking boots!) Each day was full of activity: one day we would be hiking whilst taking part in butterfly or money surveys, and the next we would be going out late to catch bats. Night surveys were particularly interesting. We would set off just as the sun was going down, so the jungle would be dusky, with fireflies lighting up the paths.
What was also rewarding was doing activities that contributed to the park’s surroundings. Some days we would walk out of the park and down on to the river to pick up litter. The locals who would walk past would always stop and thanks us for our contribution, making us feel very useful!
It wasn't all hard work though, we were allowed free time in the afternoon to relax, allowing us the opportunity to get to know other volunteers from all over the world or to just spend time reading and relaxing on the hammocks that overlooked the jungle.
What was also great about this project was the freedom it gave me. Obviously no work was done at the weekends so the volunteers were given time to explore Costa Rica by themselves. Myself and other volunteers planned to travel to the beaches and they were very informative in which beaches were the best, they helped us with travel and told us about the best tourist attractions. We spent the weekend, swimming in the warm Pacific Ocean, eating fresh fish and sunbathing on the beach, enjoying the fact we did not have to get up early and go hiking.
My Costa Rican experience will stay with me forever. It was such a special time and the fact that I met so many new people has made me more culturally aware and longing to travel more. Having to leave, was very emotional, having to say goodbye to so many new friends and step back into reality at home. The Costa Rican saying ‘Pura Vida’, meaning ‘pure life’ sums up Costa Rica as a whole. Everyone and everything made Costa Rica the epitome of a paradise, and it was this experience that has created very special memories for me.
The only regret is that I did not stay for longer, only staying for two weeks meant I only got a taste for this country and I am sure if I stayed longer I would have experienced a whole lot more.