After High School, I had a problem most German graduates face: What now? The options were clear: Going straight to university, starting to work, or doing a gap year. The latter could either be in the form of work and travel or voluntary work.
None of all these options seemed appealing to me. I did know I wanted to study, but I didn’t know which subject. Work and Travel wasn’t my cup of tea because I didn’t want to go to Australia or New Zealand, where I would only meat the thousands of other Germans doing the same thing. Also, a full year seemed too long for me (looking back, this is so stupid! One year doesn’t really weigh much in the grand scheme of things! You’re still so young).
After doing a it of research, I found the perfect alternative: Voluntary Work in Costa Rica, a small but very beautiful Central American country!
My plan was the following:
1. One month of language school in San José, the country’s capital
2. One month in a turtle rescue project at the Pacific coast
3. One month of social work in a village in the tropical forest
When considering this option, you must be aware of one thing:
Yes, you are working- but don’t expect to get any remuneration! In fact, you need to PAY to work. It was hard for me to accept this. But after searching for ages and not finding any organisation offering a project where one could work for cost and logis, I had to come to terms with it and booked it anyway.
THE LANGUAGE SCHOOL
I don’t even remember which German organisation I chose to go there. It doesn’t matter anyway. They didn’t do much- the only thing they did was placing me with the llanguage school. From there, this school organised everything. They werre truly amazing (and believe me, after bad experiences with another organisation during my high school exchange, I can definitely tell the difference!). They chose a host family, provided lessons in small groups or even 1-1. They organised your travel to the voluntary projecs and organised special events to make your experience even more interesting.
On top of that, they offered to organise weekend trips for you, and they were always available when there was a problem. A friend of mine had an issue with her host family- on the next day, the issue was solved by a rep of the language school. When I got stung by a scorpion, a rep travelled all the way to the abandoned location of our project to make sure I was ok.
During the week, we had the possibility to attentd various classes. Amongst others, I went to several Latin Dance classes, learned how to cook Empanadas (fried or baked dough filled with cheese, beans, potatoes, or chicken) and Gallo Pinto, which is basically rice with beans, and which is eaten any time of the day.
All in all, I recommend them 100%. You can check them out here.
THE TURTLE PROJECT
In this post, I’ll share my experience in the turtle project. It was in Bahía de los Piratas (Pirate Bay, is there any cooler name than that?!), a beach in the region Guanacaste.
The project was located directly at the beach, an hour’s drive on a bumpy path through the jungle away from the next village. Usually, we were around 5-10 volunteers and two rangers (one male and one female),, as well as two dogs and two cats. We had a very basic bungalow without glass in the windows, which had two rooms and two toilets. One room was shared by the volunteers, the other one was the private space of the rangers. The kitchen(= a stove and a fridge) and living space were outside. It wasn’t very clean either, but it was ok for a month, and after all, I didn’t come for comfort and luxury, right? 🙂
The beach we worked at. During the day and in the light of the first rays of sunshine of the day. We often had cute visitors in our so-called kitchen 🙂
We were working 6 days per week. There were three shifts per day: In the early morning, we had to go to the three beaches we were patrolling on, to measure the temperature of the nests, count the turtle traces on the beach (to see how many visited the beach that night) and search for new nests so we could protect them. Traces of a turtle.
During the day, we were free to do whatever we wanted. On some days, we also had to clean up the beaches, since the tide often left plastic and metal items behind. Also, when we had some hedgings, we helped the baby turtles to get into the water safely. Did you know that most babies (tortugitas in Spanish) die on the way to the water, and not when they are in the ocean?! These were definitely the most rewarding moments of my work.
In the afternoon, the second temperature measurment took place.
Then, at night, we went for the last patrol. We would spend countless hours waiting for the arrival of a turtle to lay the eggs on the beach. Upon their arrival, we would take their measuurments for documentation, give them a ring if they didn’t have one, and help them lay their eggs. If the place it had chosen for its eggs was at a part of the beach that was too rocky, we would re-allocate the eggs to make sure they were covered by enough sand. Also, we would count the eggs to see how many babies could potentially result from them 🙂
Usually, these nights were amazing. We would sit at the beach, watch the stars and talk about anything and everything. The only scary part was the way back through the jungle in the absolute darkness.
One night, however, there was a huge thunderstorm. And when I say huge, I mean South American terms, not European! It was crazy. Within minutes, we had to hold each other’s hands on our way back to the camp, so the enormous flood wouldn’t tear us down. The lightenings were omnipresent- even the rangers got scared and took selfies upon our safe arrival to share it with their colleagues at other camps.
All in all, my stay at the project was a great experience.
However, we had a lot of spare time. In the beginning, that was awesome, as we could relax at the beach, swim a bit in the sea or go for a stroll along the beaches. But after a while, when you had climbed every cliff, turned every stone and walked every metre, there is not much you can do (in the end of the day, you are in the middle of nowhere, so what do you expect?). Fortunately, I had amazing co-volunteers, so we just had a lot of fun in each other’s company. Nonetheless, this is something you should take into consideration when contemplating about doing such a project.My favourite place to read a book during the day.
3. The time I got attacked by a scorpion
In 10 years of working in the project, the ranger hadn’t seen a single scorpion. I was so (un)fortunate to find the first one. The moment just wasn’t ideal. When putting on my pants, I suddendly felt a stinging pain in my leg- yes, that’s right: A scorpion had chosen my pants as its new home and evidently wasn’t too pleased about me entering his private space. We all didn’t know what to do. The scorpion had hidden under the bed, and when the ranger came running into our room, he chased it and killed it- it turned out to be a rather huge specimen, which increased our fear even further.
Luckily, the ranger had an old, rusty car which he never moved, and we hopped into the car and rushed into the 2-hour-distant private clinic. There, the docotr explained to us that the big scorpions are less dangerous than the small ones.
But he also said that this didn’t mean I wasn’t in danger, as it was my first stich, and I could potentially have an allergic reaction. Hence, I got attached to a lot of scary monitors, received a lot of injections and had to stay under surveillance for several hours. But that was it. End of the story 😀 Sorry to those who expected more drama.
The point of this anectode is: DO NOT WORRY! Costa Rica is a rather well-developed country, with good infrastructure. You will not die there 🙂 It’s great for going onto a backpacking tour or a gap year.
Some more impressions of my time at the beach: