Joschka’s volunteering in Colombia and Mexico
“The most important thing for you as a new participant is to be open to other perspectives and cultures. Get involved and you will have the adventure and time of your life. I want to use this experience report to motivate everyone to get involved in an individual adventure.”
Just travel far away and get to know a new world. That’s what Joschka thought and decided to go to Latin America for four months with WanderWorld Travel. There he supported our children’s aid project on Tierra Bomba in Colombia and the Animal Shelter on Holbox Island in Mexico. He has summarized the many unforgettable experiences, feelings and knowledge he gained during this time for you in this report. He talks about the projects, the free time on site and the culture.
Juntos hacemos mas = together we can do more. This saying describes my adventure best and can be applied to all situations and problems. Every situation, no matter how tricky, can be solved better and more easily as a team.
Already in the middle of 2020, my decision was made to go abroad for a longer period of time after my studies and to volunteer in projects. After a lot of research and a few phone calls, I finally decided on WanderWorld Travel. After I had a longer look at the individual projects, I decided on the children’s aid project in Colombia and the work in the animal shelter in Mexico. I chose Latin America because I was interested in getting to know the culture, the language and the people and to broaden my horizons. I booked the trip at the beginning of January 2021, exactly one year before the official start. During the entire preparation period, WanderWorld was always by my side and I could turn to Lisa and Sophia with all my questions on the various topics such as flights, insurance, vaccinations and travel planning. The participant webinars also helped me a lot in my mental preparation for the trip, because you can get important information there and quickly make contact with other fellow travelers. I also watched a lot of YouTube videos and blogs from other travelers during the preparation time to shorten the waiting time for my adventure.
MY FIRST DAYS IN COLOMBIA
I flew from Frankfurt via Bogota to Cartagena at the beginning of January. I already knew in advance that another participant would be on the same plane as me. However, we only met in Cartagena at baggage claim. Together we were picked up by our contact person at the airport and brought to our hostel. The next morning we were picked up by our contact person at about 10:30 am for a city tour. There we explored the old town of Cartagena, the city wall, as well as the artistic quarter Getsemaní. Additionally, we received our sim card as well as withdrew money. The introduction ended in the afternoon in a typical Colombian restaurant. In the evening, two more participants arrived and the day ended with a fun evening. Sunday we had free time and I explored the old town of Cartagena. On Monday morning, myself, another WanderWorld Travel participant, and another volunteer from France took an Uber to the port of Boca Grande. There, a staff member from the project was already waiting for us. Together we took the lancha (small boats) about 15 min to our island Tierra Bomba. There we were warmly welcomed by the other volunteers and everything was shown and explained to us. In addition, we had our first contact with the kids right away. The organization received a large number of donations and so we were able to distribute 15 backpacks each with pens, notepads, glue, scissors and much more to the girls and boys. During the first week, we were told everything we needed to know about dealing with the children and about life at Tierra Bomba. Looking back, I can say that I did not feel homesick at all in the beginning. You are just so overwhelmed by the new impressions, plus the tiredness from the journey and the jet lag, so there is hardly any time to miss home. Once I settled in, both in Colombia and Mexico, and found a routine, it was nice to talk to family and friends on the phone and even if it was just one WhatsApp message a day, I knew I could always get in touch if I missed them or needed advice.
MY DAILY ROUTINE IN THE YOUTH DEVELOPMENT PROJECT
In the development program at Tierra Bomba, our main task was to prepare and conduct the various workshops. These took place on various topics such as English, technology and art with recycled materials. The aim is to give the children and young people better opportunities for the future and to create a more conscious approach to waste. A special highlight, not only for me but also for the children, were the surf lessons that took place twice a week. Here, the kids were full of joy and motivation and were already waiting an hour before the start in front of the project site. The connection to the sea can already be felt in the smallest participants. In addition, we spent our free time with the children, we played with them, went to the beach or supported them with their homework. We were very free in the organization and could also use the time for relaxation for us with a clear conscience. In addition, we often spent our evenings with the children and teenagers and cooked together. Working together with the other volunteers was a great joy for me. So in the end we were one big family and accordingly it was hard for me to say goodbye. What gave me the most joy was the sparkle in the eyes of the children and their positive attitude towards life despite living in poor conditions. This satisfaction about the little things in life as well as the sharing and the willingness to help are definitely important insights that I have taken with me for my life in Germany. The staff was available around the clock for questions and difficult situations and was more of a friend than a supervisor.
MY DAILY ROUTINE AT THE ANIMAL SHELTER
At the shelter in Mexico, our working hours were much more relaxed and so we had a lot of free time on Holbox Island. There we were divided into two shifts in the morning as well as in the afternoon. We were responsible for the scheduling ourselves and we could flexibly decide who worked when. Since I enjoyed the work so much, I was usually on duty for both shifts, not just one. The tasks included feeding and caring for the dogs and cats, cleaning the facility, cleaning the bowls as well as the leashes and assisting the veterinarians. Furthermore, we were responsible for the care of the tourists, the clarification of various questions, as well as the allocation of the dogs for walks. In addition, we were allowed to walk the dogs on the beach, which was the highlight of the work on Holbox for me. We experienced a special moment at the beach Punta Coco at night. There you can see glowing plankton when the moon is low. Words cannot describe this feeling and I thought I was walking in stars. I also got along very well with the staff from the shelter and new friendships were formed. The free time on Holbox I spent mainly with the locals on the beach, in bars and restaurants or we explored the jungle of Solferino, which is about 20 minutes away from Chiquilá. The support from the local staff was also good and I could always turn to the respective people with questions as well as problems.
MY FREE TIME
Since in Colombia in the Youth Development Program some actions and workshops took place on the weekend, we spent our free days mainly in the city of Cartagena. There we spent the days shopping, visiting the beach and going out in the evenings. I also got to know the sights of Cartagena. The city has become my second home and will always have a permanent place in my heart. What impressed me the most was the visit to Tayrona National Park with its beautiful beaches and the two nights in the jungle of Minca. Both can be reached within half a day by bus from Cartagena. I also visited the cities of Santa Marta, Barranquilla and Medellín. I got to experience these adventures with the other volunteers from WanderWorld Travel and my new friends from Colombia. It’s hard to single out one adventure because every day in Colombia was a new and exciting experience in itself and I wouldn’t want to miss a day of it. One situation that I got to experience for the first time in Colombia was swimming with small sharks. At the beginning it was a strange feeling, but with time I enjoyed this insane feeling more and more. I would like to thank all the people who made my time in Colombia so special.
In Mexico I had more than 2.5 weeks at my disposal and so I could get to know all the more cities and sights. From Holbox you can reach some famous cities and sights. Here my route went from Chiquilá to Mérida and Valladolid via Tulum to Playa del Carmen and Cancún. I also got to visit the two paradise islands of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres. My activities in Mexico ranged from kayak tours, city tours, relaxing by the ocean, and swimming in cenotes. The cenotes have definitely been one of my highlights in Mexico. Additionally, I learned a lot about Mayan culture and lifestyles during my visits to Chichén Itzá (wonder of the world) as well as Uxmal. Also the Mexican cuisine is very varied and therefore highly recommended. I got to know many travelers from all over the world during these weeks and thus one never felt alone. Since I still had a lot of time for myself, I was able to think and reflect on the experiences I had gained. This enabled me to gain some new insights for my life back home. During my free time on Holbox I often went to the beach, sometimes just stayed in the hostel to talk to the many interesting visitors or went for a walk around the island. In the evening, watching the sunset on the beach, that was never missing and belonged to the fixed routine.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH THE CULTURE
The culture and the people can best be described in three words: warm, open and happy. So right from the start, I felt welcome and part of the community in both countries after just a few days. The local people go out of their way to talk to you, even if you only know a little Spanish. They try to get in contact with you immediately and tell you something about their country. They are also very helpful and support you with all your questions and problems. I was also impressed by the serenity and the joy about the little things in life. This made me rethink my own views and question which things are important in life, namely happiness, health, a home as well as food and drink. Material things like money and possessions moved more and more into the background in my thoughts. Thus I could take a lot for my personal development and strengthen my self-confidence.
I would like to tell you about two experiences that have remained in my memory and have shown me the true Colombia away from tourism. One of them is the life in Tierra Bomba, in poor conditions. The people there are nevertheless happy with what they have and how they live. I was also very impressed by the sharing of food and toys at a young age, something that is rarely found in Germany. Another experience that shaped me and brought me closer to the culture of Colombia was the visit to a poor outlying district of Cartagena. Our surf instructor showed me life as well as his house in his neighborhood. I would never have had this experience without the openness of the young man and at that moment I just didn’t have the words. Thank you very much for that.
By participating in projects like this, I think the participants get to know the real life in South America. I was also very impressed by the culture in Mexico. The people are just as open and kind as in Colombia, yet very different. You can tell the difference from the bright, passionate Colombians and the reserved, big-hearted Central Americans. I am grateful that I was allowed to live in these so different countries for a while.
THAT’S WHY I LOVE LATIN AMERICA
As you could probably already hear, I can recommend a stay in Latin America to everyone. No one can take the experience away from you and it will shape you for the rest of your life. Not only do you develop personally, but you also make an important contribution to developing countries. Furthermore, the locals are very happy that you want to get to know their country, their culture and their language. The most important thing for you as a new participant is to be open to other perspectives and cultures. Get involved, just try to converse with your Spanish and you will have the adventure and time of your life. You will also be enriched by the encounters with the people and the new friendships formed. I would like to use this experience report to motivate everyone to embark on an individual adventure. I can highly recommend WanderWorld Travel and would like to thank them for everything they have done for me over the last few months. Thank you for the quick accessibility before, during and even now after the trip. I was able to contact them with any questions or problems and they always had a solution ready. When I came to Latin America, this continent welcomed me with open arms. I was allowed to exchange into a completely new world. I will definitely come back.
In Colombia, we volunteers lived and worked at the organization’s project site. There is space for eight volunteers there. Each participant has his own room there with a small bathroom and own toilet. In addition, there is a shared kitchen with the most important appliances. The standard of the accommodation as a whole is simple but clean. Once a week a cleaner comes to clean the rooms and the kitchen. What I first had to get used to was, among other things, that there was only cold water for showers or the electricity could also fail sometimes. These circumstances were for me the first week already a big change compared to my life in Germany, but it quickly becomes normality. Also the supply on the island is not comparable with that in Germany. There are no supermarkets here, only small stores with the most necessary food. Once a week we got a delivery from the mainland. With these ordered food we could provide ourselves and learn to budget properly. This way, you think twice about what or how much you eat, since there is a certain responsibility towards your roommates. The nice thing about it, however, was the feeling of community and I learned to share all the more and to put my own needs behind sometimes.
On Holbox, we lived in an apartment booked by WanderWorld Travel. This consisted of a kitchen with a lounge, a bathroom and a shared bedroom. Here, the water supply as well as the power supply is much more developed than on Tierra Bomba and the standards are similar to those in Germany. We were responsible for cleaning the rooms ourselves. As for the food supply, there are many supermarkets and stores where you can find everything you need. Since the food and drinks in the supermarkets were relatively expensive, I mainly went out to eat in inexpensive restaurants and cafes during my time. Through the simplicity and the supply system on site you learn to appreciate it even more in what good conditions we were allowed to grow up and live. The accommodation on Holbox was very close to the project, as everything on the island can be reached in a few minutes walk.
TIPS: SAFETY ON SITE
During my entire four months, I never felt unsafe. On the contrary, I felt welcome and in good hands from day one. Of course, one was cautious about valuables, but to go about one’s daily life with open eyes and ears is often enough. Basically, I was also alone during the day in the tourist areas on the road. At night, however, it is always more advisable to be at least in pairs or even in a group.
I would like to take away the fear of every future participant and encourage you to dare this adventure abroad. I had fears and concerns myself at the beginning, but the experiences you miss out on are absolutely not worth it.