Nisha Dhanani - Care & Conservation in Costa Rica
Before Costa Rica, I had never crossed the Atlantic on my own or visited a Latin American country and although I admit Costa Rica wasn’t my first choice, I’m glad it was my final one. Taking part in a High School Specials project was ideal for me, as I knew I’d be surrounded by a group of people my age; because it was my first time in a Spanish-speaking country and because I couldn’t have gone for longer.
I did the High School Specials Care & Conservation project along with three other volunteers (which is a small group compared to normal), however, there were many other volunteers in Costa Rica who were of a similar age and were staying for a month or more.
Week at the Conservation Project
Starting with Conservation in Barra Honda national park, activities included clearing trails, planting trees, setting up butterfly traps and bat traps to get a census and helping maintain the camp itself. The work was very tiring but the tropical surroundings are such a great distraction and the amazing food at the camp always provided us with more energy than we needed.
We also had the opportunity to climb down into the caves which is definitely an experience I won’t get again. My favorite attraction at Barra Honda, however, was the waterfall in the forest. I personally am not a big walker, so a 14km hike through the uneven forest floor was a challenge to say the least, but was also surprisingly enjoyable as we saw howler monkeys on the way and because the whole group of volunteers and staff went along so you could never get bored. Even though there wasn’t much water, we were able to climb up the waterfall and relax in the pools and the sight of the waterfall alone was undoubtedly worth the walk.
At the camp, the accommodation was comfortable and clean, and facilities like the washing machines were always available for us to use. I was in a room with 5 other girls and together we shared a bathroom too.
The best thing about conservation, I think, is that because you are in such remote surroundings with nothing but a bar with a pool, a soccer field and an ‘internet’ café with one computer within walking distance, you make friends really easily. Just being out in the forest also makes the experience - eating surrounded by trees and exotic birds with the odd iguana walking past isn’t something most people do every day.
On the weekend before our second week in Costa Rica we traveled to Liberia to do our care project. There we stayed with a host family in rooms attached to the house out at the back. Our host family couldn’t have been more welcoming, immediately talking to us, letting us use the internet, asking our food preferences - pretty much as friendly as all of the other people in Costa Rica. They even took us to the beach Playa del Coco and to hot springs by a volcano on an afternoon off.
Our weekend trip is one of my favorite memories from Costa Rica. Zip-lining and tubing were things I had never done before and would love to do again. We also had a buffet lunch at a restaurant there - the rice pudding is highly recommended! After lunch we had a chance to go horse riding but we figured we wanted to spend more time at the spa so we went there early and went in the sauna, painted ourselves with mud, had a freezing cold shower, went into a warm pool and then went back into the sauna! It was the perfect end to a brilliant trip.
Care project in Liberia
Our care placement in Liberia was in a deprived neighborhood at the back of a house where mothers dropped their children so they could go and work. Unexpectedly, the care project itself was a lot harder work as not only is it physically draining but also mentally. The children there were all lovely and lively and even if you don’t speak Spanish like myself, you always felt needed and that you were making a difference either by teaching them new things or just by seeing how happy they were, which is probably what made it the most rewarding part of my experience.
Free time in Liberia
During our week in Liberia we also went salsa dancing. No matter how hopeless you are, you will enjoy yourself and you can always rely on the dance teacher to keep you entertained. It was a great chance for us to not only enjoy and experience the culture but to also meet other volunteers.
In our evenings and afternoons off we were able to go out to dinner, explore the town and go to the local fiesta with the other volunteers we had made friends with, including those from Barra Honda, giving us time to socialize and explore.
The most valuable parts of my trip were making some great new friends, as well as working with the children in Liberia - both groups of people who I will never forget.
I would recommend the Care & Conservation High School Specials to a first-timer, whether it is the first time you are volunteering or traveling on your own. It is also perfect if you speak little or no Spanish as you will constantly be around other volunteers who will be able to help you as well as your supervisor. No matter where you are or how long you’ve been there for, you will feel at home and adapt easily to the Costa Rican culture and environment - even in Barra Honda where you will be exposed to a lot of dirt, sweat and some pretty big insects!
It really is unbelievable how much you do in those two weeks and how quickly you become good friends, and despite the fact there will be times when you can’t stomach anymore rice and beans; are dreading the thought of a cold shower, or have to trek 5km in the longest and heaviest rainfall of your life, you will leave Costa Rica with no regrets, other than wishing you could have stayed longer.