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ISV - Volunteer Projects in Costa Rica
Jenna Schwerzmann is from Watertown, NY and attends Stony Brook University. She traveled to Costa Rica in 2010 and has since decided to pursue a career in marine conservation. She loves traveling, the outdoors, and playing in her college marching band.
Highlights: The highlight of my volunteer project was seeing my first nesting Leatherback sea turtle. She wasn't tagged yet, so I got to see how that was done. I also got to hold a bag under her while she laid her eggs, so we could safely relocate them to the hatchery. These turtles are huge and have an ancient presence. It was something I'll never forget. The highlight of the adventure tour was white-water rafting for two days! It was something I never thought I would do, but it was the adventure of a lifetime. We went down Class IV rapids, ate a picnic lunch, and stayed in an eco-friendly lodge. I would do it again in a heartbeat!
Morning:Our mornings in Gandoca, Costa Rica varied. Sometimes you might have a shift in the sea turtle hatchery, where we would check sea turtle nests for babies. Other days you might be patrolling the beaches until midnight or 4am! And every morning our host family cooked us breakfast. We didn't sleep much, but that way we got the most out of our trip!
Afternoon:Since a lot of our work was at night, we had most afternoons to relax. (Unless you were at the hatchery again). We did a few beach clean-ups during the day. We had to clear the beach of logs and natural debris for volunteers, who made their beach patrols in complete darkness. A lot of afternoons, we explored the town, played cards with our families, played soccer with the local kids, and relaxed together.
Evening:At night, before we started our shifts, we typically went to the pool bar that was close-by. While some volunteers played pool, others played dominos with our host families and they typically had dancing, too!
April Bonnette went to school in Fort Collins, Colorado and is originally from Boulder, Colorado. April graduated in May 2012 with a Bachelor of Fine Art in Photography and a minor in Business Administration. She moved to Denver, Colorado to start her career as a professional photographer!
Morning/Afternoon: I was working with the poison dart frogs in the rainforest and the dolphins in the Gulf. We took the first 2 days out of our volunteer time to go over what we were looking for in the environment and how to spot the different animals and log their behavior. For the frogs we would take a pretty major hike through the rainforest trying to spot different dart frogs. The rainforest was right behind the kitchen where we were staying so we did not have to travel too far to get into the forest!
When we hiked we would be out there for about 4 hours and come back before lunchtime. When we were tracking the dolphins we set out on a boat that picked us up from our camp right at the gulf. We would ride around looking for dolphins and then track their behavior and pod size when we did find them. We would be on the boat all day long on these days.
Evening: We would always have some free time when we returned to relax, shower, and just visit before dinner. After dinner we would all play games or go over some eco-travel lessons as a group. This was really great bonding time for all of us and we became really close really fast!
Highlight: At the beginning of our second week a huge rainstorm came and brought us 3 days of nonstop rain. During that time we watched movies, hung out in our cabins, and went to town for a little bit. After that we were really not allowed to do anymore rainforest work because the trail was way too muddy to hike up. We spent the rest of the time on the boat with the dolphins and doing our optional activities like going to a chocolate farm and visiting a wildlife refuge.
Kathryn Burnett is from Brighton in the South of England and is a student currently studying Forensic Science at the University of Kent. She enjoys dancing, skiing, traveling and trying new cuisines. She loves to take photographs and use them to scrapbook all her memories of her trips.
Morning: A typical day working for Widecast in Pacuare would start with waking up at 7-7.30am for breakfast which would be available between 7.30am-10am and consisted of pancakes, scrambled egg, pineapple and/or watermelon and occasionally Galla Pinto (Costa Rican rice and beans dish). We had to wash up our plates after finishing breakfast and then there was time to have showers and get dressed. The mornings were never very busy as many people had night shifts so they were a good time to lounge in the hammocks, write in journals or read books.
Afternoon: In the afternoons we usually had either Hatchery work or beach cleaning. Hatchery work meant digging in the Hatchery (where the turtle nests were being looked after) creating a two meter wide, one meter deep hole and then bleaching the sand, leaving it for three days, and then filling in the hole. This was to stop ay bacteria or plants from trying to grow in the Hatchery, to give the turtle eggs more chance of hatching and the hatchlings more chance of survival. If we were not doing Hatchery work, we were beach cleaning. We would walk along sections of the six mile long beach with rubbish sacks and rakes, putting any litter found in the rubbish sacks and rake debris into the edge of the jungle.
Evening: In the evenings, dinner would be 6-8pm and if you didn't have a night shift you could just relax and socialise with the people around you. We used to play games of UNO and make friendship bracelets with our ISV group and the other volunteers who were there helping Widecast. Night patrol schedules were at 8pm-12am, 10pm-2am or 12am-4am and you would walk either Sector A, B or C for the whole 4 hours with a team leader and usually one other, so there was 3 of you on a patrol. You would look for turtle tracks on the sand, nests made and also looking for turtles coming out the sea to lay their eggs and protect them from any poachers also walking the beach. You may have had a Hatchery night shift which were rotated every 6 hours so, 6pm-12am, 12am-6am, 6am-12pm, 12pm-6pm. This involved guarding the Hatchery areas and checking the nests every 10 minutes for crabs, flies or any nests hatching.
Highlights: A highlight of my trip happened on the second day on arriving to the Widecast site. We were walking along the beach and our ISV leader Andrey spotted a hole in the sand on the edge of the jungle and a single baby leatherback turtle was moving inside the hole! It was a natural nest and we ended up finding 79 hatchlings in the hole, which we carried back to the Widecast station, weighed and measured fifteen of them and then released them into the sea!
A second highlight occurred on my last night patrol before we left the project. I was lucky enough to see a green turtle camouflage her nest and walk behind her as she made her way back to the sea. She was a meter long by 80cm wide. During the course of my patrol I saw three shooting stars and the whole night is something I will never forget!
Both my highlights taught me a lot about turtles, I was able to witness their strength and power they possess, and what turtles feel like, as I got to hold the baby leatherbacks and stroke the shell of the green turtle. I had the experience of watching the turtles move across the sand and into the water and how majestic and elegant they are.
Mathew Murray is a 19-year old film student from Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. He currently works as a freelance filmmaker and loves traveling, filming life, conversations, and any and all music by Frank Ocean.
Morning: Every morning we were woken up by the beautiful, soothing sounds of the white, salty waves crashing against the beach shoreline. Of course, we were also woken up by the extreme heat of the Costa Rican sun. We slept in mosquito nets; so one thing we always looked forward too in the morning was going to the restrooms. Once you tucked yourself into that mosquito net at night, there was no turning back.
Afternoon: Since our prime volunteer task took place in the evening and at night, we got to do a variety of different things during the day. Every day we performed some sort of enriching or eco-conscious activity, such as cooking dinner, clearing the forest trails, cleaning the beach, going on hikes, playing volleyball, and of course, getting to know one another. If we were lucky, we also got to help harvest the old nests, and save the babies trapped inside. The baby turtles were without a doubt my favorite part; they were incredible little things. They resulted in amazing footage for my video as well.
Evening: Although the evenings were a lot less leisurely than our afternoons, they were equally as fun and much more tiring, and exciting. We split our group of 13 volunteers into 2 sub-groups: 1 group would patrol the beach from 8pm until 12am, and then the other group would patrol from 12am until 4am. Of course, whoever was put into the second group was never too pleased and had to make up for the missed sleep by going to bed extra early.
On patrol, we'd walk up and down the 1km beach until a mama turtle would make her way onto the beach to lay her eggs. We would then collect all the necessary information for the professionals to handle, while protecting the mama turtle from local predators such as crocodiles and spotted jaguars. It was always very enlightening to see the mama turtles in action after having seen the babies hatch earlier. It was essentially like watching the circle of life take place right in front of us.
Highlights: I would say that the highlight of my volunteer experience would have to be the same as the highlight of my overall ISV experience, Spanish Week and Adventure Tour included. This moment, the highlight of my summer, would most definitely be on the last day of our volunteer project on Nancite Beach.
All 13 of us put on our volunteer and ISV shirts to take pictures, and in the process we ended up having our own little party on the beach; just laughing, dancing. We were celebrating our incredible experience and all the hard work we put into helping not only the turtles, but all of Nancite Beach - sand, mangrove, and all. It was so incredible to stand there with each other. I remember feeling pure joy and ecstasy. A moment for life, that's for sure.
Highlights: The best part of the volunteer experience was the relationships that I formed. Our host family took us in like we were their own children. They were so genuine and hardworking, I found myself amazed by them every day. And it wasn't just our family who was like that; it was every person in the village. And don't even get me started on my fellow volunteers.
The three people that I lived with during the volunteer experience were so great and I really enjoyed how close we got over such a short period of time. The rest of the group was awesome as well and I got to know many more of them during the adventure tour. My highlight of the whole trip was the adventure tour. To be able to rappel a waterfall, raft three and four class rapids, float down a river, zip line through the rainforest, enjoy hot springs and swim in two oceans and three rivers in one trip is just life changing. I've never experienced anything like it, and it was wonderful.
Morning: In the mornings we would wake up early to begin our hike. Our gracious mama tica (host mom) would have breakfast ready for us. Breakfast ranged from pancakes and eggs to cereal and coffee. And every morning we would have a different fresh fruit. With good food to fuel us, we would meet our guide for the day and start out on the hike. The hiking was sometimes a bit difficult, but the sunrise, the rainforest, and the monkeys made it worth it every time. My team was helping collect data about the nutmeg trees in the area, so we would hike anywhere from two to five miles to the trees or traps that we needed to collect data from. Some mornings, we would observe what animals interacted with the trees and other days we would count the seeds that were caught in traps. Our guides taught us so much about the land and the culture during those walks, it was hard to walk away thinking that they were anything but fountains of knowledge.
Afternoon: We would often get back from our hike before it was time for lunch at noon, so we would cool off in the ocean. You usually went on the hikes in teams of 3-4 with a guide. So, when each team came back we would meet up at the beach. After some good ocean time, we would have lunch with our families. Lunch was made up of rice and beans plus fresh vegetables and meat. After some free time to journal, nap, or kick the soccer ball around, we would meet up as a group again. In the afternoons we would work on a project for the village that we were staying with. In my case, we made eco-bricks out of their trash that could be used as building materials and we helped with a tree nursery.
Evening: Dinner was always fun. Every meal that we ate, we ate as a household. So, I would eat with three other people from the group for three square meals a day. At dinner, we would talk about the day's events. There was a lot of laughter and with each meal, I felt more like an actual family with these people who I had only met a few days prior. Dinner would consist of rice, beans, meat, and some Costa Rican cookies and sometimes Oreos or ice cream! We would play card games, hang out with our host parents and their little baby boy, watch Will Smith movies on their tv, and enjoy a shower. Our host dad was a prankster, so he would always be pulling pranks that would entertain us and make us laugh. Most nights we would be in bed by eight in order to be rested for the early start the next morning. I would journal for a half hour every night to make sure that I didn't forget any part of the trip!
Rowena Nagy is from Tasmania, Australia and studies Journalism at the University of Tasmania. She enjoys reading, listening to music, spending time with friends and one day hopes to travel some more around the world, particularly around the UK and Europe.
Where: Costa Rica
What: Environmental Management with ISV
When: January 8th, 2013 - February 11th, 2013
Highlights: The highlight of my entire trip was the entire thing. I made heaps of new friends, saw so many beautiful sights and had the best time of my life. Being able to travel around a new country which has so much to offer with so many wonderful people is honestly one of the best ways to do it and far better experience than travelling there alone. I really enjoyed my entire time there and I really cannot wait to go back one day.
Morning: My typical morning in Costa Rica began pretty early - I would get up around 6 or 6:30am and have breakfast which was usually around 7am and with my host sister and my host mother would also be up doing something around the house. Then I would get ready to go to work, which in the morning was building an eco house for coffee farmers in the town that we stayed in.
But first my group, project leader and I would meet at the Salon (community centre) at 7:30 and then we would all go up together and then begin working on whatever we were doing that day for the eco house. Work in the morning was pretty easy because nothing was ever beyond what we could do either individually or as a group and our morning was broken up by a break around 9:45 and then by lunch we would be done with the eco house for the day.
Afternoon: My Typical afternoon would start at noon with lunch with my group, project leader and one or two members of each of our host families who would make and bring us our lunch everyday. That would be from 12 to 1pm and then from 1 to 3pm we would make eco bricks for a small bridge we made on our last official day of work for the town. Then at 3pm we would finish work for the day and have a free afternoon where we could either go home, play soccer with each other and some local kids or go to the small shop near the salon and hang out there for a few hours. Then from around 5 or 6pm we would all start going home and spend time with our host families.
Evening: Evenings were pretty relaxing because I would usually shower, have dinner and then do something with my host family (usually just watch TV or talk with my host sister). Then most nights around 8/8:30 I would go to bed. But the first Monday and Tuesday there was church event that my host family and I went to in a town close by and the second weekend that I was there San Pedro (my host town) had a town festival which ran for the entire weekend in the evenings and my group and I went to that while it was on.
What is your role at ISV? What inspired you to join them?
Laura: My role is being a group leader. It means that I work with a group of volunteers on a specific project or program. I joined ISV because I love to work in conservation projects, especially sea turtles projects.
ISV had many years working in Costa Rica in different conservation projects and involving the communities in the places where they have the project. I think it is really important that the communities get involved in these kind of projects. The conservation is not only the work of a few persons, or a few actions of the government or nongovernmental organizations.
ISV's vision is to combine the volunteer work of a conservation program with vulnerable species and providing benefits to the local communities. And that dual focus on conservation and communities is the main reason of why I joined the ISV team.
What do you enjoy most as far as your role?
Laura: As a group leader, I like to work with volunteers because they are people with a spirit of adventure. They also have a passion for conservation, and independent of the country are respectful of nature, customs and local people. I enjoy interacting with volunteers who often teach me new things about different cultures, different practices, and different ways of thinking.
What I like most is to see how the volunteers work with a lot of sacrifice but also with love, enjoying the experience which a beautiful country like Costa Rica gives them. I also love, how lots of the volunteers return to their country with the conviction to come back to Costa Rica and keep helping the conservation programs.
What is your favorite story of a volunteer's experience with ISV in Costa Rica?
Laura: The experience that I liked most is from a group of volunteers on a sea turtle conservation project in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. That group of volunteers was not only deeply involved with sea turtle conservation, but also with the community where they stayed.
This group helped a woman who had breast cancer. Sh had no money to go to the hospital, so the volunteer group collected money for her, so she could arrive at the hospital to receive treatment.
For me was it was very impressive to see how a group of volunteers from another country selflessly helped a sick person. I think that is an important part of the volunteer experience, to not only help the a vulnerable or endangered species like the sea turtles, but also to be motivated to help people.
What should every volunteer considering Costa Rica know?
Laura: Costa Rica is a country blessed by its geographical location in the tropics and in the middle of the corridor linking North America with South America. Depending on the region, two well marked climates can be observed - the dry season and the rainy season. This is mainly for the Pacific region and the Central Valley, as well as a rainy season almost all year on the Caribbean coast.
Volunteers wanting a hot and dry environment can choose to come from December to April and participate in projects on the Pacific coast. But if they want to enjoy the rainy season, they can opt to volunteer between May and November and choose the Pacific Coast projects as well as the projects on the Caribbean coast.
In coastal areas there are mainly conservation projects related with sea turtles. But there are many other species of animals that can be observed as well as different types of forest and ecosystems. So bringing comfortable clothing and walking shoes, camera, and binoculars is a very useful idea. People in Costa Rica have traditionally been very friendly and it is an ideal country to make friends.
What tips/insights do you have for volunteers in Costa Rica?
Laura: If the volunteers want to visit the tropical rain forest, they can go to the Caribbean coast and the South Pacific Coast, where it rains almost all the year. So they have to be sure to bring a coat with them.
If the volunteers want to visit the dry tropical forest, they can go to the North Pacific Coast. It is important, independently of the region they visit in Costa Rica, that the volunteers always bring sunblock and insect repellent. It is important for the volunteers that come for the first time to Costa Rica to buy a book or read information about this country, mainly about the history, the culture, the main economic production, the religions and also about the conservation history.
Remember that Costa Rica as well as the other Latin-American countries have problems of security, so be careful with you luggage and carry your passport closely. Coming to Costa Rica could be an amazing experience and volunteers can learn lots of things about conservation and Costa Rican culture. The volunteers just have to open their minds to new experiences.
Our mission is to create an environment that combines conservation, education, community development and recreation into the ultimate adventure travel program for participants who desire to make a difference by volunteering in communities abroad. ISV offers life-changing volunteer and adventure programs across 6 continents. Over 22,000 participants from around the world have experienced our volunteer, educational, cultural and adventure programs.
Many college and university students who participated in ISV Programs also earned academic credit for their involvement. ISV is recognized as one of the highest rated volunteer and travel organizations in the world. ISV is a non-profit organization in the USA, Costa Rica, Thailand and Ecuador. While our sending offices in Australia, New Zealand, UK and Canada serve the same purpose as our USA office (looking after students and sending them abroad), they are not registered as a non-profit. Begin your adventure with ISV!