Jessica O’Sullivan - High School Specials, Care & Conservation in Costa Rica
Choosing a Project
I had decided from the start I wanted to travel to a Central or South American country as I study Spanish at A-Level and have always wanted to go to that part of the world. I ended up choosing Costa Rica as it had the exact type of placement that I wanted (one week Care and one week Conservation) and I had heard many fantastic reviews of the country. I also felt that a 2 week project would suit me as I had never done anything like this before.
Arrival in Costa Rica
Luckily, I arrived into San Jose airport with another girl on the project so already the experience was a little less daunting, however, I should not have worried. We were met at the airport by Luis and Gunar, (Projects Abroad staff), who instantly made us feel welcomed and took us to the hostel to meet the other 14 volunteers. We all quickly fell into conservation as all being of a similar age we had a lot in common and the chatter continued into the evening when we all went out for dinner. The next morning we set off on our 4 hour coach journey to our first destination- the rainforest!
My week at the Conservation Project
The first week was the Conservation Project in Diria National Park, deep in the Costa Rican jungle. Upon arrival we were given an introduction to the area and shown the near-by river which we could use as a swimming pool! Within a few hours we all realized how surreal living in the rainforest would be as giant butterflies flew across the garden and monkeys appeared in the trees to throw fruit at our new home!
The first night we went out bat catching, which involved setting up nets and then waiting half an hour in darkness before checking to see if we could identify any species. This was similar to our butterfly catching later in the week, as butterflies are an indicator of the health of the forest.
Our second environmental task of the week was contributing to the newly built nursery garden. We went out collecting seeds and baby trees to grow in the safety of our garden to ensure their survival. The week also included a trek through the rainforest to a waterfall which we could shower under – very refreshing after the walk! And one afternoon we cooked traditional empanadas.
The middle weekend was a designated activities weekend. We got up super early! Our first activity was a zip wire course with 17 zip lines and several sections of rock climbing, which was fantastic! Secondly, we went horseback riding thought the forest and rivers which was an interesting experience, especially as I had never had any experience on horses! Although I was reassured as it was all very safe.
Next was my favorite activity - river tubing! This involves sitting in a giant rubber ring and floating down a river through the rainforest with the occasional section of rapids. Our final activity was a visit to the hot springs; it was lovely to enjoy some warm water after our week of cold showers at Diria.
My week at the Care Project
During the second week, a group of six of us worked during the morning at a nursery named ‘Guarderia Pasitos’. Initially the majority of the children were quite shy; however, some greeted us with hugs straight away! The rest soon came to enjoy our visits – especially after using stickers as an ice breaker!
Our role there was to supervise and help entertain the children, every morning we sang songs with them and played with them outside on the swings and climbing apparatus. We also organized our own activities like face painting, making balloon animals and stick puppets.
Our afternoons were spent preparing for a show which we performed for the children on our final day. Many shows were silent movies however we decided to do a Spanish version of ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’.
Costa Rican Host Family
During the second week we all stayed with the family of Ana-Cecilia, who were lovely and Ana-Cecilia was an amazing cook! During the evenings we continued our daily card games, listened to music, used the wifi and spent time in the courtyard with everyone or we were in each other’s rooms.
In addition, nearly every evening during our stay in Liberia we attended dance classes which were brilliant. We learnt the Merengue and the ChaCha and would change dance partners for every song – it was one of my highlights of the trip!
Leaving and Reflection
Going back home to the UK promised warm showers and no beans or rice for breakfast! However it was very sad leaving our friends who we had spent every minute of every day for two weeks with and it is amazing how close we had become!
I had a very early morning flight however lots of the volunteers got up to say goodbye despite the time! Looking back on my time in Costa Rica, I realize even more how great an experience it was. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone! I just wish I could have stayed for longer!