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The alarm on the phone breaks into my dream and I open one eye and wrestle the mosquito net out of the way so I can silence it before the five other girls in the room wake up. It's only 5:30am and already beads of sweat have formed on my forehead and the air in the room feels dense enough to swim through. With heavy limbs, I push up to sitting and search for my flip-flops before shuffling between the tightly packed bunk beds and coaxing the squeaky door open. As I peek into the tiny common area, I exhale in relief when I see the open bathroom door. It's worth setting the alarm 15 minutes early, so I can get in and wash my face before the morning chaos ensues. With 12 people and only one bathroom, the mornings here with GVI in Quepos, Costa Rica feel an awful lot like I've returned to the crowded hostels of my post-high school backpacking trip through Europe.
By 6am, I have finished my oatmeal, stuffed my Spanish homework into my backpack, and set off down the steep hill to the dirt road below. As the heat of the early morning sunlight slivers through the crowded groves of banana and palm trees, I can almost convince myself that it doesn't feel like I'm waking up in the middle of the night for this placement. Thankfully, within ten minutes, I am sipping a strong cappuccino on the patio of the local Italian coffee shop as I practice conjugating verbs and wait for my fellow volunteers to crest the hill in time for all of us to catch the 6:45am bus into Quepos.
Today I'll spend the the morning with kids at the local library of a school in the community of Boca Vieja (they only have a part-time librarian and rely on volunteers to help keep the library open full time), and then take a little boat over to a small peninsula and spend the afternoon at the community centre in El Cocal where I might help a young girl with her homework or teach a little boy his shapes and colours in English. By 2pm, we will wrap up volunteering for the day and anyone who doesn't have Spanish Class can take the short bus ride to Manuel Antonio and have their toes in the balmy Pacific Ocean by 3pm.
One of the best parts about volunteering in a country like Costa Rica is the balance between serving the community and enjoying life in a safe tropical destination. From running in the rain, to walking the beach at sunset, to making friends with volunteers and local ex-pats, my time with GVI in Costa Rica felt an awful lot like a volunteer vacation in a more tropical version of Vancouver.
If you are considering a volunteer program in Quepos with GVI, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- You will share a small living space with a big group of other volunteers, so privacy and space to store your belongings is at a minimum;
- You and your fellow volunteers will take turns cooking, cleaning, and taking out the trash. But after such a long time on the road, I didn't mind having an opportunity to return to a bit of domesticity;
- The volunteer structure can be quite loose, so this is a great placement for someone who wants to take initiative and bring new ideas for games or lessons to the school and community centre;
- Most of the kids and staff at the school do not speak English, so this is the perfect placement to focus on improving your Spanish;
- With the tight living quarters, you will quickly get to know the other volunteers and if you're lucky, you will feel like one big, happy (if sometimes dysfunctional) family by the end of your placement.
Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited and I'm sure you will fall in love with it as quickly as I did. When you go, don't forget your camera, your bathing suit and your sunscreen. You will have plenty of time on the weekends to enjoy the beaches of Manual Antonio or the neighbouring towns. With A National Park only moments away, there is plenty of opportunity to see animals and truly experience all that Costa Rica has to offer.