Sophie Weich - Sea Turtle & Coastal Conservation with Spanish in Mexico
I knew that I wanted to volunteer abroad during the summer of 2017 and, after extensive research and reading a few of their project descriptions and reviews, I chose Projects Abroad. From what I read, it seemed like their volunteers were given real work to do that would actually make a difference in their projects. After deciding to join the Turtle Conservation Project with Spanish lessons and waiting a few months for summer to roll around, I finally arrived in Mexico. I was met at the airport by a member of the Projects Abroad staff and was soon introduced to some of the other volunteers that I would be working with for the next two weeks. We spent the night with a host family in Guadalajara and embarked on our four-hour bus ride to Cuyutlan the next morning. Once we arrived at the camp, we were introduced to the local staff and the rest of the volunteers, and we settled into our new home.
I was excited to meet like-minded people on this trip and I was not disappointed. Despite the fact that there were only seven volunteers in total (five from the High School Specials and two who were there separately), we all got along really well and it was not uncommon for us to stay up well past midnight watching movies (there was Wi-Fi, although the signal was not great), listening to music, playing cards, or even just talking.
The staff were also incredible. I was looking forward to practicing my Spanish, which I did get the chance to do, but practically everyone spoke English as well so there were never any language barriers. The food was amazing and there were always vegetarian choices or other options if someone didn't want to eat what was being served. Everyone was extremely dedicated to protecting endangered species which made our work even more worthwhile.
My Conservation placement
The majority of the work we did during the course of the project occurred at Tortugario, a nature reserve on the outskirts of Cuyutlan. Our jobs there ranged from cleaning turtle tanks to washing both the adult and baby turtles, feeding iguanas, planting mangroves, completing a bird census and general maintenance. Twice during our two-week stay, we drove to a crocodile farm to help with upkeep there. All of the work was hard but rewarding and the ratio of work time to down time was great; there was always time for an afternoon siesta or a swim at the beach.
Another popular activity was the night patrols. We went out on ATVs to search for turtle nests on the beach so that we could take the eggs and rebury them in a safe spot at Tortugario. This was an important task which helped to protect them from predators, both human and animal. Night patrols turned out to be one of my favourite parts of the entire experience, because on clear nights the stars were incredible and on cloudy nights it was magical to ride through the mist and to feel the spray of the ocean. After the discovery of my first nest, I was surprised that the eggs were so soft and that each turtle could lay so many (over 100 for some nests). I found three nests over the course of the four night patrols I did during my time there and each patrol was amazing.
My free time
During the weekend we travelled to another small beach town called Melake. While there, we were able to eat some amazing seafood (vegetarian options were also available), shop at some local stores and just enjoy the relaxation of warm sand, cool water and good friends.
My overall experience
My advice to anyone who wants to join this project is to be prepared to be sweaty, itchy and sandy for the majority of the time, but also to be prepared to have an amazing trip. There are not many people who can say they have stood inside a crocodile enclosure just feet from the crocodile, used a machete to trim trees, been licked by an iguana or set a baby turtle free into the ocean. The experiences I had during my Projects Abroad trip were incredible and I think that anyone who is hardworking and willing to take a risk by signing up will not regret it.