Elizabeth Smith - High School Specials, Care & Conservation in Costa Rica
In August 2010 I ventured out on my own to Costa Rica. When I arrived at the airport, I waited outside for the Projects Abroad staff to pick me up. I was a bit disorientated to begin with as it had been such a long flight but as soon as they picked me up they explained that I would be taken to a hotel to rest after my journey. The hotel -staff were all incredibly friendly and welcoming which helped me relax. At breakfast the next morning I met six other new volunteers who were joining me on the High School Specials. We began to bond over some typical Costa Rican papaya and then set off on our journey into the jungle.
The remaining eight High School Specials volunteers had arrived the night before and had already settled in, but after having our first meal of rice and beans we all got a chance to introduce ourselves. Meicel, the cook, was incredible and catered to my vegetarian needs. She was so creative with managing to make every meal of rice and beans seem different! We had an induction on the first day which was interesting and made me realize that I was actually living in the jungle!
On the Tuesday we went on a 16km (10 mile) trek to a waterfall in the middle of the jungle. It was hot and humid and most of the walk was up steep hills but it was worth it! We were accompanied by all the long-term Projects Abroad staff – Joe, Richard and Oscar who kept us motivated. We all got to swim in the waterfall, which was amazingly refreshing, and even got to have our lunch in it! Later that afternoon we had a two hour salsa class which was great fun and very unique as it was in a bar, in the middle of the jungle!
Wednesday consisted of clearing trails so that the main road leading up to the camp would not flood during wet season. It was lots of hard work, but very worthwhile and made a lot easier by the stunning surrounding views. After lunch, we went to the local swimming pool where we were surrounded by jungle, cows, horses, mountains and palm trees which made it all very dreamlike! We then took part in the bat project where we set up nets in order to catch them and collect data about them. My group caught two mother bats with their babies and a few others and it was amazing to see them up so close!
Thursday was another adventure day where we abseiled down 17m into a dark cave which we then explored, squeezing through tiny gaps and, at one point, they switched off all the lights and we were sitting in complete darkness. After climbing back out of the cave we went to the viewpoint and saw all across Nicoya – the gorgeous nearby town. In the evening all the volunteers went down to the bar to get to know each other a bit better and we all practiced our salsa moves.
On the Sunday we drove to an activity centre where we went on a zip wire through the jungle. After our activities we had a buffet lunch and then went horse-back riding through the mountains. To finish off the day we went to a sauna, put mud all over ourselves and then went into hot springs to clean ourselves off.
We spent our second week volunteering at a day care center where we were worked with the children and got to read children’s stories to them in Spanish. It was hard work helping with the children but felt like it was very worthwhile and made us all feel like we were helping to make a difference. In the afternoons we painted a mural to make their playground look nicer and more welcoming. During the rest of the week we got to spend more time working with the children and then went on a trip to a beautiful beach in the Gulf of Papagayo. The water was so calm and warm, and we were surrounded by golden sands and jungle and it was spectacular. Friday was my final day with the group and it felt very emotional when I had to start saying goodbye to everyone.
My trip to Costa Rica changed my life. Seeing how much I could do for others and how welcoming and friendly people can be really puts your life into perspective. I now live by the Costa Rican phrase ‘Pura Vida’ – pure life, and always try to replicate the warmth and friendliness they showed me. If you are planning on going there, I am very jealous! You will have an amazing time, make fantastic friends and gain memories which will last a life-time. Projects Abroad is a terrific company, not once did I feel unsafe, all transport was arranged and they accompanied us where necessary. So, thank-you to all the Projects Abroad Staff and to anyone who is planning any sort of adventure – enjoy it and take every single opportunity!