Stephanie Knutson - Tropical Dry Forest Conservation in Costa Rica
I arrived in Costa Rica at the end of May, the start of the rainy season. Barra Honda National Park, situated in the north western province of Guanacaste, was one of the lushest, greenest places I'd ever seen. On my very first night in the park, for the first time in my life, I saw fireflies and an armadillo.
As a city girl from Boston I kept asking "What's that? What's that?" at every new sound that emanated from the forest: crickets, cicadas, the occasional coyote, and frogs that make sounds like cartoon laser guns "Pew! Pew! Pew!”. Naturally, my friends and I christened them laser frogs.
My Conservation Project
Over the course of my six months as a volunteer in Barra Honda I worked on numerous investigation, construction, and maintenance projects. Over 90 volunteers passed through the park during my time there, some for as little as a week, and others for several months. I now have friends from all over the world, many of whom I still keep in regular contact with. I also got a chance to travel and see other parts of Costa Rica.
I really enjoyed the work I did in Barra Honda. It was interesting, challenging, often tiring, but always rewarding. Every day was a little different. One day we'd hike up the mountain into the forest to set up sensor cameras to capture photos of mammals, another day we'd clear a trail with machetes and rakes, or pour cement for a new cabina for the volunteers, or identify butterfly specimens.
I worked harder than I ever had in my life, developing muscles I didn't even know I had and I also learned a lot. Not only did I learn about the park and the local environment but I also greatly improved my Spanish and experienced a bit of Costa Rican culture.
It wasn't all hard work; there was also a lot of fun. Living out in the middle of the forest, eating, sleeping, and working together meant that friendships formed quickly amongst the volunteers. There's nothing quite like digging a ditch in the rain to build a sense of camaraderie. Life was simple but enjoyable.
During our free time we read, played a lot of card games, watched TV, went to the pool or cafe just down the road, and in the evenings there was the bar. I spent many nights there dancing and sampling the local beer, Imperial. Costa Ricans (or "Ticos" as they call themselves) love to dance and are happy to teach anyone who wants to learn.
I spent a number of weekends traveling around Costa Rica. I visited beaches all along the Pacific coast, the volcano Rincón de la Vieja, the Monte Verde cloud forest, and the capital city of San José. Traveling around the country is relatively easy and can be done cheaply. There are buses that go everywhere and nice, inexpensive hostels in all the popular tourist locations.
I really can't say enough good things about the Projects Abroad staff in Barra Honda. They are a group of incredibly friendly, enthusiastic people who love the work they do. Several of the staff live on-site, in the park, so there was always someone available to answer questions or help with any problems. The staff are a huge part of what made my volunteer experience in Barra Honda so enjoyable and they became some of my closest friends.
My time as a volunteer in Barra Honda was one of the best experiences of my life and I would highly recommend this project to anyone interested in volunteering. I went to Costa Rica hoping to change my life and do something meaningful. I accomplished that and so much more.