A significant event in my life, that has recently passed, was when I traveled to Costa Rica. At the end of my junior year of high school, I decided that I wanted to graduate a half year early and travel to do a volunteer project. After my early graduation I traveled with a volunteer group out of Europe to Costa Rica for two months. This event has taught me many knew things and has influenced me to look into more volunteer projects for the future.
Trying to decide what volunteer project I wanted to do was the most difficult part. I wanted to do something that I was interested in but something that was educational as well. It took me about two weeks of searching around on the internet to pick the country I wanted to travel to. After discussing with my parents, I chose Costa Rica. I then had to decide on the type of project that I wanted to participate in. I was stumped, so I decided to go talk to my guidance counselor at school. She helped me narrow down my options and helped me decide on doing something that I was truly interested in. I finally chose to work alongside the staff at the Wild Animal Rescue Centre in San Carlos, Costa Rica. I chose this project not only for my love for animals but because animal abuse is a common thing in Central America.
Many people in Costa Rica keep wild animals as pets. One of the main objectives of the Rescue Centre was to take care of the wild animals that have been kept captive, making sure they recover in a safe environment, and eventually taking them back to their natural habitat. Another objective of this volunteer project was to become familiar with the Costa Rican culture and its’ language. My experience at the Animal Rescue Centre was one that I will never forget. I had work Monday through Friday from eight in the morning to three in the afternoon. Some tasks I had to do at the Centre was cleaning the animals cages, preparing and feeding the animals, exercising them, and helping release the animals in the quarantine to the wild. Some animals that I worked with included: lions, ocelots, spider monkeys, parrots, jaguars, and many more. My typical day started off with the monkeys. Every morning I went and took one monkey with me to the banana hut to prepare their food, which consisted of chopped mangos and peanuts.
I then fed and cleaned their cage and walked over to the lion field. Here, all I was required to do was to play with them. The lions were at the Rescue Centre because they were saved from being in a circus and were obese and mistreated. Some of the exercise drills I put the lions through were chasing fake animals. In the wild, lions are known for catching their own food and being fast on their feet. The Rescue Centre had fake motorized animals that would run in the fields for the lions to “catch”. When the lions got close enough to it, they would back down because they couldn’t smell the fresh scent. Although the lions were a little intimidating at first, they were probably the sweetest animals I worked with.
When they known who the feeder is, they would nuzzle up to that person. After, I would go in for an hour break and eat lunch and practice my Spanish with the local workers. I quickly began to understand the Spanish language but had a very hard time trying to speak it myself. For the rest of the day I had to clean 30 parrot cages and then work in the quarantine. The parrot cages was probably the worst job. The parrots were nasty and always attacked my hands. The only job I had in the quarantine was to take care of a pregnant jaguar. I bottle-fed her other cubs because she was incapable of taking care of them while she was pregnant. By the end of the day, I left feeling exhausted but happy because I knew I was helping the animals.
For the last ten days of my trip, my friend and I decided to travel around Costa Rica and explore. We went with a group of kids that were part of the same volunteer group and were in Costa Rica at the time. Our first “adventure” was to the Arenal Volcano in the north. Here, we stayed for three nights and went water fall repelling, hiking around the volcano, rope swinging into hot springs, and studied more about the culture. We then took the local bus two hours south to the rainforest. We stayed at the rainforest for another three nights and got to horseback ride up to the actual forest, learn about different species of animals, and got to swim in one of the seven wonders of Costa Rica.
The Blue Lagoon is considered to be one of the Seven Wonders because of the mysterious blue color. For the final three nights of my trip, my group of friends and I traveled to the coast and went to Samara Beach. The only productive thing we did here, besides sitting on the beach and relaxing, was kayaking to a deserted island. We got a tour guide to lead our kayaking adventure a half-mile off shore to a deserted island. Our day on this island consisted of eating lunch, snorkeling, and climbing trees to collect fresh fruit to feed the iguanas. These last few days traveling served as a gift to myself. I felt that I deserved this because of all my hard work and dedication to my volunteering the prior weeks.
I left Costa Rica feeling so proud of myself because I felt that I made a difference in my own way. I hope to travel back to the Animal Rescue Centre this summer to check up on the animals. I like to refer to the monkey that helped me cut the fruit, the two lions, and the pregnant jaguar as “my animals” because I felt like a strong bond was built while I was there volunteering. I learned a lot during this two-month experience, but the most important thing I learned was that every little bit that you help will go a long way. I can’t wait to travel to different places to volunteer at more projects. I will always remember my two-month adventure in San Carlos, Costa Rica at the Animal Rescue Centre.
Courtney from Study Moose