National Park / Costa Rica
(cortesy translation from German)
First of all: Costa Rica as a travel destination is highly recommended! Especially for me as a biology student, besides the open-minded population, the world's largest biodiversity and the most diverse vegetation zones such as mountains, dry forest, rain or cloud forest are simply stunning! Therefore, for my 5-week stay from March 7th to April 10th, 2016, I decided to see as many places of this small but very diverse country as possible.
In retrospect, this worked well because I was able to divide my 4 weeks of South America Inside project participation into 2 large projects. So I had the opportunity to get to know both the Pacific coast in the west and the Caribbean coast in the east of the country. After these two stays, I had a week for myself to explore as much of the rest of the country as possible. Although this was the first time for me that I was completely alone on my travels, it also worked surprisingly well, since you can find cheap hostels in almost every corner of the country and you can get everywhere at cheap prices using the public bus network.
But now let's tell you everything step by step. Upon arrival at the airport, I was greeted by a friendly driver and driven through the turbulent traffic from San Jose to my host family. After all the travel, I got a warm welcome meal there. As with almost all meals in Costa Rica, the national dish - Gallo Pinto or rice with black beans - could not be missing as a basis. Later in the day I went with my host sister to a language school that was cooperating with my organization. Since I already spoke Spanish, I did not take an additional language course. In retrospect, these are particularly recommended for beginners, because on my trip I met a lot of people who could easily communicate in Spanish even though they were absolute beginners before their time in Costa Rica!
In the language school I was then able to choose my two projects and also received detailed instructions on how I could reach the respective locations using public transport. In my first project in a national park in the northwest of the country, this included a large ferry and a nice boat trip. After arriving in the park after about 6 hours, the park manager gave me an introduction to the history, size and function of the national park. He also showed me my accommodation for the next 2 weeks in the Volunteer House, which was 30m from the beach with direct sea views and was in the middle of the wilderness. The daily encounter with coati, iguanas, capuchin and howler monkeys became almost routine after initial enthusiasm. During my stay I worked with 2 other volunteers from Germany and Switzerland, who were about the same age, but still had the luck to have my bedroom with 4 single beds all to myself.
Our main task was to inform visitors at the park entrance about possible hiking routes and the flora and fauna of the area. This was a good opportunity to talk to a wide variety of people from all over the world, and I met some of them on my later onward journey. Other tasks included cleaning the various beaches or cleaning the park entrance and our accommodation. Overall, however, there was no overwork, so that at noon there was time to watch the soccer champions league with the Sky connection in the middle of the jungle. In addition, after work or on days off, you could drive to the next larger city, Montezuma. I can highly recommend this as a party night e.g. in the bar "Chicos" is worth an experience! However, my personal highlight was a small snorkeling trip at low tide with my work colleague Nico. In the very clear and pleasantly warm sea water, in addition to numerous fish, we were very lucky to be able to observe and touch 2 adult sea turtles directly below us!
So the bar for my 2nd project on the Caribbean coast just at the border with Panama was high. Here I lived directly in the house of a host family, who in turn lived on a small farm that was in the middle of the rainforest but was only a 10-minute walk from the beach. Here I had the ideal opportunity to experience the everyday life of a typical Costa Rican family and their much greater sense of community than in Germany. Even if the schoolchildren in the village were too technical for football, playing together was always a lot of fun.
But now to my tasks: In the morning I helped with all kinds of work. This could be the care of the numerous banana or cocoa plants, or e.g. painting my host family house. In the afternoons, it was usually always free. Here you had time to bathe in the nearby lagoon or go on canoe trips. In contrast to the dry forest at Montezuma, you were confronted with an even greener vegetation and could observe sloths or the colorful toucans. After dark, the real task of my stay then followed: tracking down large sea turtles and observing them while laying their eggs! We were often accompanied by tourists who were willing to pay for such an experience. In fact, it is really memorable moments when you can watch a turtle weighing several 100kg laying its numerous eggs. Just amazing!
Together with my two projects and the subsequent one-week journey, I had an unforgettable stay in Central America, which I would repeat at any time!