Costa Rica highlights: volunteering with turtles
Jonah Cedar has recently returned from Costa Rica where he spent one week volunteering with turtles. Jonah is a passionate writer who loves music too, and has written about his Costa Rica highlights as if it were an album with different tracks for each section of his writing. We hope that you enjoy it as much as we did!
Track 01: Pura Vida
Pura Vida is a phrase that you become accustomed to as soon as you descend into the Juan Santamaria Airport in San Jose, Costa Rica. In english it translates to Pure Life, which will be the best description for your experience in this culturally rich country. Flight attendants, airport transfer drivers, hotel workers, even bus drivers on the six hour journey from San Jose to San Miguel, will welcome you with an enthusiastic handshake, hola, and pura vida. It is the most genuine greeting that I have experienced. People here really want that idea to stick in their culture. They live a pure life, and try to spread a pure life to others.
Track 02: The People
Part of the project’s goal is to implement changes to the beach life of the locals such as sustainable fishing, less poaching of sea turtles, and eliminating light pollution. These things, especially poaching, have just been the norm for the locals for decades. This being the case, I was surprised by how receptive all of the locals living around us were to the project. Every morning check of the hatchery or walk on the beach during time off was always met with a local asking how the project was going and what the purpose of it was and what brought you there to work on it. Knowing spanish of course helps in these interactions, but even knowing a small amount is okay because every local i encountered made it as easy as they could for me to understand. They were excited that I came to their home to help and involving them and greeting them with a smile and showing effort in speaking their language went a long way in getting their help with the project. Which I think is a great message into achieving conservation in the states and beyond: by being respectful, supportive, and kind.
Then of course there is the other volunteers that I met and worked with during the project. There was Kelly from the UK, Eddy from Italy, Alesia from Italy, and Costa Rican locals Sheila, Hernaldo, and William. There were also other volunteers from the project site on the next beach over. The most memorable part of any of these volunteer trips for me is the other volunteers that you get to interact with. Although you are from different parts of the world, you all are connected under this one commonality that connects you in a way that no other experience could. You go from never knowing each other, to playing board games and soccer on the beach; talking about music, tv shows, and cultural differences and ideas as if you’ve always known each other. It is overwhelmingly touching and makes more places in the world feel like home.
Track 03: Relaxing On A Quiet Beach
Since most of the work on the project is done at night, that leaves all day to chill on the beach. Imagine laying in a hammock. The weather is eighty degrees and sunny. There is sand on your toes and sea breeze gently spraying over your face. Everything around you is quiet because there are no tourists in sight; just the strength of the ocean pushing waves towards the coast. Now imagine having all day to do just that. There is nothing more relaxing in the world, and nothing more I need to say.
Track 04: Turtles, Turtles, And Even More Turtles!
There will never be another opportunity in life to hold your hand underneath a gigantic mother sea turtle under a night so clear you can see the milky way and shooting stars as she lays her eggs right into your hand. That is what your nights will look like on the project if your lucky. The work at night is all about patrolling the beach to find sea turtles that are laying eggs so you can save the eggs and put them in the project hatchery to protect them from poaching, not making it back to the ocean due to light pollution, and animals that might find the nests and eat the eggs. Also, due to how hot the beach can get, the hatchery also is for controlling the temperature of the eggs. Hotter sand equates to more females being born and therefore a smaller chance to grow the population. It will be dark when you go on patrol so watch your step for any large items on the beach like a washed up marine animal! (we had two) The other night job is checking the hatchery for any baby turtles that hatched and if there are any that hatched, releasing them into the ocean. The hatchery is supposed to be checked every twenty-four hours which might require you to get up a few times at night. But you’ll quickly forget about that when you shine your light on 200 or so baby turtles that you get to hold in your hands and watch crawl into the ocean by moonlight. There is just nothing in this world like it.
Track 05: The Food
The food provided on the project was made twice a day by a local named Sheila and the food she made was fantastic. All of the ingredients she used were purchased fresh from a food cart that came by once a week. I ate the juiciest mango I have ever eaten, the crispiest plantain chips, and and quite possibly the cleanest food I have ever put into my body. Most of the meals were rice, beans, eggs, and pasta; with the occasional mango cake here and there. It was simple yet elegant, and gave me more energy than I have ever had after eating a meal.
To sum it up, going to Costa Rica will not be something you will regret. The beaches are pristine, the people are genuine, the food is pure, and you will involve yourself in real scientific work that will fill you with meaning and teach you so much about yourself in the world around you. If you do go, I recommend allowing yourself to be bored in the way of no technology or books. Roam the beach, talk to volunteers and locals, and let your mind wander. Take it all in and live the pura vida.
If Jonah’s Costa Rica highlights have inspired you to travel too, check out our sea turtle conservation page.