Laura Sharp - Tropical Dry Forest Conservation in Costa Rica
My first trip abroad!
My trip to Costa Rica was the first time I’ve gone abroad alone, and it was the most rewarding experience of my life so far! I was a little nervous about this before I arrived but once I did, Projects Abroad were so organised and helpful that I didn’t feel intimidated or alone once.
Arrival to Costa Rica
They picked me up from the airport and dropped me off at my hotel, explaining how the town worked and what time they’d collect me in the morning. They showed me how to purchase bus tickets and advised me on what sort of stuff to buy at the Super Compro before we arrived at the National Park. They gave me the perfect balance between the independence of doing things myself but the security of knowing I had a list of English-speaking contacts in my phone who were happy to talk to me in the case of even the slightest problem.
The Conservation placement
I found out about Projects Abroad while researching conservation volunteering opportunities in Central and South America. I volunteered with Projects Abroad in the summer between my first and second year of A-levels. I chose conservation because I am currently applying for Ecology and Conservation degrees at university and felt it would be a breathtaking and well-preparing experience.
In fact, I enjoyed my placement so much that I have decided to take a gap year before university and volunteer in South Africa, South East Asia (particularly Cambodia and Vietnam) and Canada. I found Costa Rican culture fascinating! I was surprised that, for a Spanish-speaking country, there were very few other Spanish influences. It made me realise that you can never guess what a country will be like, you simply have to immerse yourself in their culture and lifestyle and volunteering with Projects Abroad is the perfect opportunity to do that.
The placement itself was amazing too. I wondered whether one month was too long to stay in the same place doing the same thing, but everyday was an adventure and something different. There was a huge range or projects available and I was put on a good variety of these. It was really rewarding to see the results of your hard work on the more labour-intensive projects such as the production of a bio digester. And I found the research projects such as the butterfly, monkey and bat projects fascinating.
Meeting many friends
I was particularly surprised at the number of fellow volunteers at Barra Honda National Park, for the whole month I was there, there was at least twenty other volunteers at any one time, with volunteers coming and going constantly. Because so many of the other volunteers are in the same boat as you, travelling alone, possibly for the first time, you quickly build up strong friendships. Other than the conservation, this was probably my favourite part of the whole experience; getting to know like-minded people of a similar age over a period of several weeks. And I am still in contact with most of the people I met.
Excursions in Costa Rica
Despite all the impact we were having in the national park, we still had plenty of time to enjoy ourselves exploring Costa Rica. We had time when it was too hot to work to visit the local towns and villages and get to know the locals through the medium of football or ‘soccer’ (the most popular sport in Costa Rica by far), and we also had weekends to explore further afield, whether that was pumping adrenaline by zip-lining over the cloud forest or relaxing on a flawless beach.
I highly recommend this once in a lifetime opportunity to all prospective Projects Abroad volunteers and encourage you to go for longer than a couple of weeks. It’s such good value, an eye-opening experience and it’s worth so much!