Pure nature – Isabelle in the Wildlife Sanctuary in Costa Rica
“The people I have met here live a very different life than we do in Europe. Everything is much more relaxed and calm. As the motto in Costa Rica also says: Pura Vida! In Latin America, it’s more important to be happy than to strive for prestige or possessions.”
Isabelle was fascinated by the tropical nature and animals of Costa Rica from day one. Her big heart for animals moved her to volunteer at the Wildlife Sanctuary Project in Puntarenas, Costa Rica for one month. In this report, she tells us how she experienced her first days in Costa Rica and what a normal day at the project looked like. Also, learn what she learned on the trip and what experiences she took home with her in her heart.
After graduating from high school, I started to think about it, but I always knew that I would spend a year abroad. It was important for me to get support from an organization at the beginning and to have experienced people on site to help me. That’s why I searched for projects and WanderWorld Travel had the best offers and variety for Latin America. I took my time choosing a project. With the help of WanderWorld Travel’s guides and good project descriptions, I chose the Wildlife Sanctuary in Costa Rica.
WanderWorld Travel helped me a lot with my preparation and I started packing about 2 months before. I also got in touch with other participants of the project, we talked on the phone and exchanged ideas. Helpful was a lot of information from WanderWorld Travel. To feel well prepared, I read through reports from other participants and took Spanish lessons.
Especially exciting for me were the last weeks before departure. To say goodbye to my friends at home, there was also a farewell party.
MY FIRST DAYS
After arrival, we stayed two days in San José for the introductory meeting in a very nice hostel. We did a little city tour and met new friends through WanderWorld Travel, who I even met again later in Costa Rica. Then it was off to another project for everyone. Once we arrived at the project, we immediately went on our first excursion. However, after a great day, we were all very exhausted. Of course it was hard at the beginning, we all had jet lag and the temperature in the project was very hot because it was at the beginning of the dry season. Sleep was scarce for the first few days. Unfortunately, I got sick due to the climate change. However, the project supported me well, sent me to the doctor and I was able to rest.
On the other hand, the first days in the project were incredibly beautiful. There are many beautiful animals living in the Wildlife Sanctuary. I was overwhelmed by the tropical birds. Everything was colorful and full of life. I had the honor to see tapirs, macaws, sloths and many other animals up close. Of course, care was taken not to let the animals get too used to people, so you are only allowed to have as much contact with the animals as necessary.
MY DAILY ROUTINE AT THE WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
The day was strictly timed. Early in the morning the alarm clocks went off in the volunteer house and at 5:20 am the first ones got up. There you only do the most necessary: quickly get dressed and apply insect spray. At 6 o’clock everyone gathered at the so-called feeding area to prepare the food. Despite 33° it was necessary to wear long clothes to protect oneself from the mosquitoes and the undergrowth. But everyone was sweating, which became normal at some point. From 6:00 to 8:00 we prepared and distributed the animals’ food. We cut and distributed fresh vegetables and fruits into the feeding bowls, which we cleaned beforehand. Then the food was taken to the animals in the enclosures. Each volunteer was assigned an area and it was changed weekly. This involved getting around the sanctuary a lot and seeing incredible animals every day. Then there was breakfast for everyone.
After the meal, it was time for the hard part of the work. We had different tasks to do. For example, we dug a compost hole or laid a path with stones. We also did the cleaning of the enclosures. We also built and painted new enclosures and incubators for the animals. If you were there a little longer, you could also volunteer to give tours to the tourists.
Lunch was always traditional Costa Rican: rice and beans. To get some variety now and then, the volunteers made trips to a burger restaurant. After the lunch break, we were fed again until about 3 pm. After that we had free time. In the afternoon we rested and relaxed.
MY FREE TIME
On our days off, we always went on excursions. I went on tours with another participant. For example, we ziplined through the jungle or relaxed on beautiful beaches. We were able to see national parks and even went surfing once. We also did a snorkeling tour in the Pacific Ocean.
Every week the project had a day where we did something special. Once we went to the next river and made a campfire. In the evening, we often went to the next town and had a party there.
In the project you don’t have so many days off, because you help 6 days a week. However, this makes you enjoy your free time even more. It is definitely worth planning some free time after the project so that you can discover more of the country.
MY PERSONAL HIGHLIGHT
I found it most beautiful to be so close to the beautiful animals. When feeding the large Macaws, the majestic parrots fly very close to you and you can admire their full color splendor. Once I was cleaning the floor and suddenly a large Scarlet Macaw sat down right next to me on the tree trunk. It was breathtaking to get so close to a parrot.
For me, nature in general was the most fascinating. In the project, but also on my days off, I was able to see so much tropical nature. The whole ecosystem in Costa Rica is very different from the one in Germany. The national parks in Costa Rica are also beautiful and the beaches look like paradise.
THAT’S WHY I LOVE LATIN AMERICA
I love the atmosphere in Costa Rica. The people I have met here live a very different life than we do in Europe. Everything is much more relaxed and calm. As the motto in Costa Rica also says: Pura Vida! Everyone lives their life here and enjoys it as it is. Therefore, the people always seemed positive and friendly to me. Nothing is as strict and stressful as in Germany. Everything will work out and you can just ask your way through. A lot of the pressure I felt at home is gone there. In Latin America, it is more important to be happy than to strive for prestige or possessions.
THIS IS HOW THE JOURNEY HAS CHANGED ME
The trip showed me how much there is in the world that I haven’t seen yet. Traveling will be a part of my life from now on and I am already planning where else I will go. It’s wonderful to make new discoveries and explore places. I have become much more independent and have learned to plan my own daily life and be open to new things. My view on things has changed and I take a lot of experiences home with me.
TIPS: SAFETY ON SITE
I felt very safe at all times in the project. You are never alone and the area is guarded and fenced. Even when we left the site, there was usually a worker with us and we were always in a group.
In Latin America, you only have to follow certain rules, so you can move around freely. I traveled for a total of 6 months after the project and because I was always careful and paid attention, nothing happened to me and I felt safe.
Dealing with women is generally a bit different than in Germany. It happens more often there that you are whistled at by men on the street, but with time I got used to it and simply ignored the comments. Nothing else happened then either.
I am very happy to have done this project because I could help the animals. We made them nicer enclosures or provided toys with food. Thereby it makes the life of the animals nicer as they deserve it.
I was traveling in Latin America for a total of 6 months, as I planned some free travel time after the project and I would really recommend it to everyone to travel to Latin America! It is an extraordinary experience to see the culture and nature. We are not used to seeing a hummingbird flying by here or just a sloth relaxing in a tree there. When it comes to food, I also discovered many new dishes that I will miss in Europe. Avocados and plantains, as well as coconuts were part of everyday life. My stay in Latin America was like living in paradise for me: surrounded by beautiful nature and getting to know exciting new cultures.