Day one: scary but exciting. Where am I going? What will Costa Rica be like? Where will this program take me in my life? I barely slept the night before I arrived and when Laura and Meaw came to pick me up, I was dead tired and almost incoherent. But I was soon energized by the arrival of other volunteers into the pickup van, the feel of the city of San Ramon and, of course, by the great presence of the coordinators. All my concerns about the performance of the program were swept away, and I found myself relaxing and enjoying the presence of other likeminded volunteers, all of whom were eager to get out there and start making a difference in Costa Rica.
I spent two nights in San Ramon and quickly packed up to where my real project would begin, in Camaronal. I walked around in a daze upon arrival, stunned by the natural beauty of the beach and the incredible heat that permeates your bones. My first night I could barely contain my excitement as I picked up baby turtles from the nursery and took them towards the sea. Then, of course, the momma turtles came up at night to lay their eggs. There’s something indescribable and magical about seeing this slow lumbering turtle emerge from the sea and interact with the world on land just long enough to create new life. It’s hard to find an example of a similar experience well, imagine if there were aliens, and you saw one the first time when it came to earth to lay eggs. Ok, so that’s a weak example, but just trust me, it’s AWESOME. When the turtles return into the sea, they’re going back to a place where you can’t follow them, where they have a blissfully free life of swimming and eating and just being, and all the ocean is their home.
I loved Camaronal so much I decided to stay an extra month. Apart from the incredible sea turtle visits, all of the people there are lovely people with remarkable life stories.
I realized, with so many amazing people coming in and out of Camaronal to volunteer, that bad people just don’t volunteer with turtles. Everyone you meet there is a dedicated lover of the earth, someone who wants to give back a little, and those kind of people are great to be around, and easy to get along with.
I slept outside and never wore shoes. I took naps on tables, in trees, on the beach, in the river. One time I woke up from a midday nap to find an iguana casually seated on my FACE, enjoying the heat radiating from my body. I don’t know who was more startled when the other one moved me or the iguana. I got so comfortable with bugs that I could easily pick up the biggest, hairiest spider that exists with no squeamishness. I got bronzed and burned in turns, and took long walks along the beach where I wouldn’t see another living soul for miles. I caught my first fish with the cook who works there and made my first (failed) attempt at surfing on a nearby beach. In the day the volunteers talk, play cards, read, write, and very often just sit there and think about life, and it was never boring.
In the span of days I got to know the other volunteers better than I know friends I’ve had for years.
Leaving Camaronal was bittersweet. I was ready to move on to my next project in San Ramon, but I mourned for the loss of a place that has so inspired me, and given me the tranquility to just slow down and think about the world. But upon arriving in San Ramon, my feelings of loss were negated by the open arms and welcome that I found in my host mom. Honestly, if you’re going to do a home stay ask for Dona Nidia, she is literally the warmest and most beautiful soul I know. Doing home stay was a very effective way for me to polish up my Spanish, too, and I am now leaving Costa Rica with ten times better Spanish that when I arrived just three months ago (having already studied and lived in Argentina for 5 months.)
The program at the school is great. The first day I came all the little kids came up to me and gave me notes that read “Te quiero Quenbra!” (I love you Quenbra), and they had just met me five minutes ago. After ten or so of such kind notes, I decided to write my name on the board so that I could set straight that whole thing about my name apparently being Quenbra. The night classes are equally endearing with some students of fifty plus years who have an inspirational, dogged determination to conquer English. With time I learned to admire my students even more, whom I saw had all the responsibilities in the world but still has the determination and will power to take time out of their day to further their educations.
My time in Costa Rica has helped me to grow so much as a person that I barely recognize myself anymore when I look in the mirror.
The language, the culture, the natural beauty, and the everything else that can’t be summed up in a list make this country unique to all others. I would direct anyone who asked me straight to uVolunteer, the program that provided me with the opportunity to really experience the essence of this country. Hell, I’m directing people who HAVEN’t asked me to Costa Rica, I want everyone to experience the happiness I felt here and la pura vida!