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The Gap Year Blog

Costa Rica adventure - story of the volunteer

13 Jul 2020 15:50 PM

It’s September 2019. A cold, grey evening in Doncaster. I’m sitting in the kitchen with my housemates, after a day’s work on the local nature reserve. My phone is open on my emails, which I am scrolling through with no small amount of uncertainty. A bit of scrolling later and … my heart jumps into my throat. I am making a decision that will change my life for the next 10 months.


Fast-forward 2 months to November and after a 10-hour flight, a night in San Jose, an 8-hour bus ride and another night in Puerto Jimenez - I’m finally here! Carate is a beautiful part of Costa Rica. Home to an amazing array of species, some are so beautiful and weird looking, that you have to look twice to believe that they’re real.


Everything imaginable is here: cats (from the small tree-bound margay to the powerful jaguar); reptiles (all sorts of turtles, snakes and lizards (as well as crocodiles and caiman); frogs (from the tiny glassfrogs and poison-dart frogs to the gigantic smoky jungle frog); all 4 of Costa Rica’s primates (Spider Monkey, Howler Monkey (which wakes you up at the most ungodly hour), Capuchins and Squirrel Monkeys; and birds of prey (vultures, eagles, falcons, osprey, etc.) - the list could go on and on for pages.



My first week has been spent getting to know this incredible area and the people who I’ll be living with for the next 6 months. Everyone is so welcoming and willing to help me learn about each study species and all the trails. I’m especially looking forward to learning the primates and mammals’ surveys. That’s what I came here for, especially the big cats. Who wouldn’t want the chance to see a wild puma, ocelot or even jaguar!


Every day is different here and there are so many surveys and trails to learn. Sometimes I’m up at 5am, ready to help with the morning turtle patrol on Playa Carate. Other days I find myself hiking up what can only be described as a small mountain (like Luna trail) looking for mammals and monkeys or surrounded by dark on all sides, late at night, as we search for snakes, frogs and lizards (Puma is my favourite trail for this). In only my first week, I have seen how full of life this place is and I can’t wait to discover it even more.


8 months later and everything seems to have gone by so quickly. It feels like I only arrived yesterday. It has all passed in such a blur that the memories almost seem to meld into one. My time here was meant to have ended 2 months ago. If things had gone according to plan, I would be with my family and friends, back in my beloved Yorkshire, probably at our favourite local café. But things, don’t always happen how they’re meant to. It was a tough decision for me to stay out here.



Often, I find my thoughts drifting towards home. I can’t help it when I miss everyone and everything. This incredible place, however, constantly reminds me of how lucky I am to be here in this wonderful area of isolation that seems almost untouched by man. It is my home away from home and I would not choose anywhere else to be. Who knew that I have seen half the species I have, that I would have conducted one of the only studies on birds of prey in the Osa Peninsula, that I would have learnt the skills I’ve learnt, had the experience of a lifetime and made the friends I have.


Even though I know I’m on borrowed time here, I also know that this is a blessing in disguise. I can continue to learn new skills; gain more knowledge; see more species; and make the most of this incredible experience. I guess the phrase that comes to mind here is “there’s a silver lining to every cloud”. This, right now, is my silver lining and what a good one it is.



By India Ashfield - Frontier Costa Rica Volunteer

Frontier runs terrestrial and marine conservationcommunity and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!