Sophie Harris - Conservation & Environment, Tropical Dry Forest Conservation in Costa Rica
My decision to volunteer
Initially I decided to volunteer mainly because of my interest in Geography which is what I wanted to study at university. I thought that a visit to a new environment may help broaden my geographical knowledge and interests.
On top of this I thought that it may a good opportunity to improve and practice my Spanish. Another element which attracted me to Costa Rica was the trip as an example of eco-tourism. I have always been interested in helping the environment so viewed the trip as Barra Honda as a chance to learn about how we can be more environmentally friendly. It was also an opportunity to do my bit to help out.
Finally, once I had begun looking into to the programme I was attracted by the social aspect and the idea of meeting likeminded people of a similar age group from all over the world.
My first impressions
I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from looking at the website. I knew how the days were structured and also about the type of work I could expect to be doing, although some of the work we did was more physical than I expected – however I actually really enjoyed all of the work we did and was glad to improve my fitness.
What surprised me most was how much freedom we were given. In our free time we were able to do whatever we wanted, a group of us travelled to the beach and decided to hire surf boards one weekend which was very good fun. I definitely did not anticipate that we would have quite this much freedom. What it meant is that I was able to see a broader picture of Costa Rica instead of just a small snapshot of one area.
I also hadn’t anticipated how often we left the park. There was a lot of work in the local community about a five minute drive away, all of which was really fun as it meant seeing all the local children who were very sweet. Another trip out of the park was to a turtle conservation area where we cleared the beach ready for the nesting season. I particularly enjoyed this as it felt like we had a very direct and active role in helping conserve the nesting sites.
Time in Costa Rica
When I arrived at the park I was quite nervous but everyone, including the staff, was incredibly friendly and welcoming meaning that I settled in very quickly. I was also amazed by what seemed at first like the most enormous portions of rice and beans for lunch but I soon found that they were very much needed.
I also noticed at once how sociable the camp was, no one particularly hung out in their dormitories but instead everyone sat together in the same area, chatting and playing games. After my first tour of the camp I was impressed (and quite overwhelmed!) by the number of projects undertaken at Barra Honda the bio digester, the bat project and the bird project were just a few explained to me in my first tour.
I was also amazed by the wildlife, I had expected this to be bountiful but never in such close quarters, it wasn’t long at all before I had encountered an enormous spider and various insects in the camp.
Leaving Barra Honda
Even the family holiday planned for after my stay in Barra Honda national park could not detract from how sad I was to leave the park. Even though I had been eating rice and beans for the last two weeks and sweating under the sun every day, I would have happily stayed far longer to stay with the new companions I had made and continue with the routine I’d happily settled into.
After just over two weeks in Costa Rica my time was up and my parents drove to the park to collect my sister and I, my sister had also been volunteering. We travelled to a different part of Costa Rica around two hours away.
We stayed for a week in a hotel right by the beach was a nice change from the forest at Barra Honda. Even now around six months on from my trip I have kept in touch with many of the friends that I made in Costa Rica and even had lunch with one back in England where we recounted our fond memories of rice and beans and cleaning sessions in our dormitory.