I stayed in a small host family cabin on the edge of the rainforest and felt most welcome and safe. Bedding and mosquito netting was provided, along with a 1940's washing machine for doing my own laundry. The window to my room overlooked the forest and its many creatures. I saw monkeys, iguanas, chickens and a host of beautiful birds from my room. The window was either open (and letting in all the bugs) or closed (with it's wooden door blocking out all light). A small light bulb and a floor fan were my precious amenities, although I did have some stacked crates for my "closet". The basic food was served family style. It was delicious, healthy and plentiful...served with pride. There was a community bathroom with a solar, sort-of-heated shower, plus outdoor showers for cleaning up after beach duties.
Training sessions were few and often lacked complete information, so that sometimes there was confusion as to proper procedure. There were valuable hands-on activities such as digging nests so that we would be prepared for transferring egg clutches into hatchery nests. The daily work schedule could include beach clean up, hatchery duty, helping gather nest data and looking for trapped hatchlings, and night beach patrols. The more duties I volunteered for, the more I learned, and it often brought great rewards...like the afternoon that I found 7 hatchlings wandering near the woods, with no known nests in that area. We took data on them and set them on the beach, cheering as they made for the sea. Finding a huge leatherback brought tears to one's eyes. They were so primitive and beautiful, and measuring them or collecting eggs was one of the most exciting things I have ever experienced!
Free time offered opportunities to lounge or play volleyball on the beach, rest in a hammock, play pool or watch TV in the local open-air pub, or taking a taxi into town on our "free" days. The local store was a small thatched hut with very limited supplies, but did offer cold drinks. A public telephone on a power pole in the middle of nowhere was available if one could shoo some tethered horses away and wait for the daily downpour to stop. I was disappointed that the water was too treacherous for swimming, as the days were so very hot and sticky. It certainly wasn't a place for those afraid of hard work, bugs or lizards! Nights were a wonder of stars and fire flies blinking in the blackness, with the waves crashing on the beach and always the hope of seeing a magnificent turtle lumbering onto shore.
Our community of volunteers hailed from 7 different countries, but we were united in our awe with and determination to help the turtles. It felt fantastic to know that we were making a difference in promoting their preservation. I will always be proud of my contribution to the turtles.
Overall, the experience felt like boot camp...a test of strength and endurance, will and commitment. I came away with bitten up legs and a broken toe, but knowing myself better and feeling pride in the accomplishments that we all achieved together for the turtles. Two years later it still brings tears of joy to my eyes, and I'd go back in a heartbeat.