At first glance, the camp looks very modest and My journey to Buena Vista where I would work as a volunteer for 2 weeks was very smooth. My greeter in Samara took me to a very nice host family to stay the night before heading to the Turtle Conservation Camp the next morning. When I woke the next morning, I couldn’t wait to go to the camp and meet all of the new people that I would be living with for the next two weeks. First we went to the uVolunteer dorm in Samara, and I learned a lot about the organization. uVolunteer situates different people from around the world in schools and placements around the town of Samara, and the volunteers stayed in a little house that was only a 30 minute walk from where I would be staying. I met some of the other volunteers that had months ahead of them of teaching and learning in Samara. It was very comforting to meet some of the other people that had been travelling similar to me. After a traditional Costa Rican breakfast of gallopinto (rice and beans), I made my way to the camp. It was quite the hike; across a river and down the beach to the camp.
The main structure has two floors. The bottom floor has no walls – it’s just an open area that includes a kitchen and a big table where volunteers eat their meals and hang out. Upstairs you will find the bunk beds and mattresses where volunteers keep their things. It can get very hot upstairs during the day, but at night there is a nice breeze that comes through. If you are a light sleeper, you may want to consider staying in one of the tents that the camp also uses to house volunteers. People come and go throughout the night with their shifts, and it may be difficult to get sleep if you wake up easily. There is a shower and a toilet on site, as well as a “chill out” area which is perfect when the sun gets too hot to work. One of the nicest things about the camp is that you are right on the beach. During any free time you may have you are free to sit on the beach, enjoy the sun or go for a swim. It’s incredible to be able to relax in the calming waves of low tide, and have quite the adventure in the rushing waves of high tide.
A lot of people ask when they first arrive what they will be doing there for the next few weeks. The truth is that question is extremely difficult because plans can change so easily. Most of the time, volunteers will be expected to work between 8 – 11 in the morning, and 2 – 4 in the afternoon. Again, this can all change very quickly, depending on the need of work on that particular day. Breakfast is served around 7 in the morning, lunch around 11 and dinner around 5. For all the time in between, volunteers are allowed to hang out wherever they please on the camp. There is even a beach volleyball court if you are so inclined to play! The work that you will be doing depends on the season. I visited Buena Vista during low season, where there weren’t a large number of turtles. The work varied from garbage cleanups on the beach, fixing up the hatcheries, and even helping to fix up a children’s play area in the local town. During the night we were required to a two hour shift between 18:00 – 6:00. Your shift time rotates every night so that you aren’t required to work the same shift twice in a row. There is nothing more exciting than seeing the baby turtles dig their way from the sand, and being the one to take them to the ocean where they start their journey. Even two weeks for one baby turtle is entirely worth it.
As far as the week goes, volunteers are required to work at least 6 days of the week with one day off. During the day off you are free to venture into Samara where you can take surf lessons, enjoy delicious food and hang out on the beach. There are also internet cafes with Skype where you can keep in touch with friends and family. Sometimes you will be able to go into town more often, depending on the amount of work that needs to be done.
At any rate, a free day in Samara is definitely a great way to spend the day off before heading back to work.
My favourite part of the entire experience was the amazing people that I met. The people that you spend your time with are independent people who are most likely travelling around the world; this is just one of their stops along the way. The people during my two weeks were mostly from Europe (England, Belgium and Sweden). Being a Canadian, I had such a great time experiencing not only the Costa Rican culture, but the other cultures that surrounded me.
If there is any advice I can offer, be willing to accept the difference of culture that exists. For example, be prepared to have rice and beans at least twice a day for the entire week, as that is Costa Rican custom.
Be prepared to work when you travel to the Turtle Camp, as the reason you are there is to work.
The accommodations are not equivalent to a first class hotel, but if you love the outdoors and don’t mind getting your feet dirty, you may find that you enjoy the place more than anything else. Don’t bring anything too valuable, as you don’t want to be disappointed if you lose things that are expensive. There are bugs, so bring long clothes and bug spray for the night. I would also suggest bringing clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty. If you bring anything white, it may not be white when you return! Also, don’t test the Costa Rican sun – bring lots of sunscreen and wear it!
My favourite story from the trips happened the day before I left. During the week a few of us had to dig up old nests that had been in the hatchery for a long time. Some of the nests had merely egg shells left over. However, there was one particular nest that did not have any eggs shells, but eggs that had not hatched yet. Some of the eggs were still healthy, while others had rotted and would never have the chance to hatch. After seeing the rotted eggs, it was assumed that all the eggs were infected and had to be thrown out. However, my partner and I decided that the healthy eggs deserved the chance to live. We took the healthy eggs to the beach and dug our own nest for it. We knew that I probably would never see them hatch, if they ever did. Imagine my surprise when on my last day, two hours before I leave, I’m being called to the beach because a nest had been found hatching. Not only was it one turtle from our nest that had hatched, but 15 turtles had beaten all the odds of survival. The fact that they had been dug up as eggs, buried and still lived to see light was nothing short of miraculous. I was so incredibly proud and happy – what a fantastic way to end the trip.