Volunteer Review: Jo-Mari B., Sea Turtle & Coastal Conservation in Mexico
Choosing my project
What do you do when your creative heart has stopped beating? What if ordinary life has somehow managed to drain the color from your dreams & imagination? How do you get back your inspiration? I chose to get on a plane to Guadalajara in Mexico and join a 6 week Arts & Craft project followed by a 2 week Conservation placement with Projects Abroad.
Everybody has different reasons for traveling to a foreign country but, in this case, not only did I get to visit a great destination, I also had the opportunity to learn a new skill and stretch my creative muscle. Why Mexico? Vibrant colors, interesting people, great artistic inspiration. You are simply bound to be inspired!
Arriving in Mexico
At the airport I was met by a friendly member of Projects Abroad staff, Alejandro, who picked me up and took me to my host family. My host family were amazing and went out of their way to make my stay as comfortable as possible. My Spanish was virtually non-existent and my host mom’s English was no better, but we somehow magically communicated with gestures and a lot of laughing! She was an excellent cook and I loved the food that she prepared. Her family welcomed me with open arms and I felt immediately at home.
Alejandro showed me how the busses worked and how to get to my Arts & Crafts project. Taking the bus made me feel like part of society and gave me a chance to interact with ordinary Mexicans. Miraculously, after 6 weeks I was actually able to understand some basic Spanish.
My Arts & Crafts project
I spent my first 6 weeks working at Ceramic 1, a ceramic workshop owned by a great artist. It was like walking into a ceramic wonderland. There were beautiful examples on the walls as you walked in and loads of ceramic pieces in the backyard. In the six weeks that I was there, other volunteers joined me which made it such a lot of fun.
Martin was our wonderful ceramic tutor. With a great deal of patience and a teaching style reminiscent of Mr Miagi (a la Karate Kid), he not only taught us how to prepare the ceramic liquid for pouring into the moulds, but also gave us some free Spanish lessons. There was a lot of confusion at times and also a lot of laughs, but somehow we managed to actually make some tiles! Martin showed us how to retrieve the tiles from the moulds once they were dry. Then it was on to the final refining and smoothing of the surface before it was ready to paint. You could also create any free forms and shapes with the 'pasta ceramico', from flowers to animals. One thing that I have learnt is that you have to have a slow hand and an easy touch, as many of my creations ended up breaking - so handle with care!
The painting of the ceramics was, for me, the best part. You could paint on the decorative tiles, plates and cups. There was no limit to what you were allowed to do and your imagination had complete free reign. The atmosphere was absolutely great. The resident master painter played music all day so you could simply get lost in the creative process. Your mind switched off and you were transported to a place far away. With every new idea, ten more followed. It was the perfect way to spend a day.
I have always loved getting my hands dirty, whether it be with paint or clay. There is nothing better than changing your mouse for a pencil and paintbrush, your computer screen for the smooth, clean canvas of ceramic tile. In my heart I knew that I had to say goodbye to this great experience, but the memories have been captured in color on every piece of ceramic creation and I have found the way to bring back inspiration to my soul.
Living in Guadalajara
Guadalajara has some fantastic markets and museums. The most impressive were the art museums which had a lot of Jose Clemente Orozco’s famous murals. I also enjoyed spending time just walking and exploring on foot, discovering the great history of the city.
The nightlife in Guadalajara was fantastic. There were great restaurants, bars, clubs, night markets and taco stands in the main street of Chupultapec. Mexicans love to socialize and the streets were always filled with people and music late into the night. After 6 weeks however, it was time to get out of the city. Time for some peace and quiet…
My Conservation project
My next adventure started with a 4 hour bus ride to Tecoman on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. It was such a beautiful trip and the scenery changed continuously. In Tecoman, I was met by a member of Projects Abroad staff and some of the other conservation volunteers. We drove to the project camp down a road that was lined with palm trees - it looked just like paradise. The beach sand is black because of the volcanic rock and it stretches on for miles, without the interference of buildings or man-made structures.
The camp itself had a rustic charm, with wooden cabins to sleep in and cold, saltwater showers. I didn’t mind the cold water at all as it was very hot and humid! At the Turtle Camp, the routine was very simple: wake up at around 7am, clean the camp and kitchen, followed by free time until around 5pm. Then we would do some turtle nest cleaning or go bird watching at the lagoon.
At night time we took turns to do beach patrols. This was by far my favorite activity! We drove on quad bikes along the beach searching for newly made nests. Once we’d spotted the nests, we quickly counted all the eggs and placed them in bags. Some nests had up to 120 eggs, which looked like golf balls with a soft shell. Sometimes we were lucky enough to see turtles while they were still laying their eggs. They were enormous and moved extremely slowly. Nothing will be able to describe the feeling of riding on the beach at night, with only the moon, the crashing waves and the spooky palm trees as your companions. There were no other lights, buildings or people in sight- it was magical!
The next morning, we buried all the eggs that we’d collected during the night patrols and recorded data detailing how many eggs were collected from each nest. Then it was back to our daytime duties. The best part of the conservation project was getting to see the little turtles hatch and make their way to the ocean. I could sit there for hours and watch them. They were the most beautiful and tiny creatures, each one absolutely perfect.
At the lagoon there was this little shop with an old lady and her husband who sold a few beers and occasionally some freshly caught fish. We made our way there a few times at night to have the best fish I have ever tasted! She fried it and served it with salsa and tortillas. A meal I will certainly never forget!
traveling in Mexico on the weekends
In Guadalajara I had the great opportunity to meet a lot of the other volunteers from other projects and, in the process, managed to organize some trips to nearby Mexican attractions. On one of the weekends, some volunteers and I traveled to the very famous town of Tequila! We had such an awesome time. We went on a tour around one of the Tequila distilleries, where we enjoyed some tequila tasting.
On my final weekend I went to Colima, a beautiful town with an active volcano. Here we ate tacos, went to a live music show and visited a beautiful park with a waterfall. The centre of town had beautiful buildings and great souvenir shops.
Sadly after this, it was time to go back home. Mexico has charmed me, bowled me over - not only were my expectations exceeded, but it will be forever part of my life. I will be back one day.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.