Thursday, 16 August 2012

Costa Rica Part 2: Welcome to the Jungle!

Here's Part 2 of my Costa Rican adventure: the volunteer project!The two weeks I spent volunteering at Proyecto Carey were certainly an experience! We stayed with host families in a small village, Las Caletas, which is on the Osa Peninsula (Pacific side). We had our own beach where we could chill in our free time, which was awesome, and the wildlife was absolutely amazing.

Saturday 14th July 2012

Wow, it’s been a long day! We left Hotel America at 7am for a 5-hour drive. It was pretty hot in the minibus! I spent the journey reading Switched by Amanda Hocking – I’m hooked! We drove out of Heredia and through the central valley, past beautiful scenery, including a lot of banana plantations, until we reached the coastline and got our first view of the Pacific Ocean! We followed the coast to the town of Sierpe, where we got the boat to our project site, which is near Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula. The boat journey was pretty fun – speeding down the Sierpe river through mangrove forests and out into the open sea. We had to wade ashore onto the beach with our luggage, which wasn’t fun – I was wearing leather sandals, which was a mistake! Still, the area’s beautiful. The rainforest runs right down to the beach, and there’s exotic wildlife everywhere! We even saw a toucan fly past!

We met all our host families at the project site. We’re staying in the small village of Las Caletas, which is home to six families, known as Los Paniquines. I’m staying with three other volunteers with this couple and their one-year-old and three dogs! The rooms are simple, but at least ours has a fan! It’s super-hot here! We also have mosquito nets, which I have a feeling are going to come in useful. We seem to have a lot of wildlife in our room – I have two cockroaches living in my safety box and we had to evacuate a frog and a crab earlier! Still, the fact that we’re in a group means less of the awkwardness of not being able to speak Spanish!

We had an introductory talk and tour of the area. The beaches are amazing, and we can even go swimming in one of them!  We watched the sunset from the beach. Loving this place already! Even if it’s really noisy – rain, dogs, roosters and small children! And of course you can hear the constant cries of birds in the rainforest. It’s also really humid – I’m starting to think cold showers might not be too bad after all! And I generally HATE them. This is totally different – and I love it!

Our beach at sunset :)

Sunday 15th July 2012

Woke to the crowing of roosters and other unidentifiable bird species! The rain’s stopped now; at least the roof doesn’t leak, because I’m on the top bunk! Saw a bunch of lizards on the way to the meeting place, scampering across the path. :) We started the day with a general talk on the project and some team activities, getting to know each other. We also learned about the wildlife we’ll be seeing: howler monkeys; white-faced monkeys; spider monkeys; agoutis; peccaries; toucans; macaws; and more! I saw a giant lizard dart in front of me, too. We’re pretty much in the jungle here, surrounded by vibrant forest. We walked down to the beach this afternoon to go swimming, and saw loads of white-faced monkeys on the way there! Apparently they aren’t our project leader’s friends, because they sometimes get into his house and steal stuff! They were so cute, though!

Today I can say that for the first time in my life, I ran right into the sea without caring how cold it was: I was that hot! The water’s lovely and warm here: a total contrast to pretty much everywhere else I’ve been on holiday! Afterwards we had another talk on the aims of the project. They’re investigating seed dispersal of a certain species of nutmeg by fruit-eating animals, in order to improve rainforest conservation strategies and note the effect of logging on the forest. Our activities, which vary from day to day, include hikes into the jungle to identify and count the animals we see and note their behaviour; checking seed traps and counting the number of nutmeg seeds in them; observing which animals visit certain trees; inputting data into the databases; working on the plant nursery; and making ‘ecobricks’ (which are basically plastic bottles stuffed with bits of plastic!). I’m on a 6.30 am hike tomorrow, fun times! But looking forward to exploring and seeing more wildlife! :)

More swimming at the beach this evening! Ended up sunburnt…more than ever before, actually! My shoulders, back, front, arms and face are all bright red! I’ve never been anywhere warm enough to get a tan before, so this should be interesting! I’m also covered in sand, which as it turns out is very hard to wash off in a cold shower! But it was worth it!

Talked to the family and my fellow housemates. Did some writing and read Torn, the sequel to Switched. It’s awesome! Loving the setting, loving the sunny weather (though it rains for a couple of hours every afternoon and overnight, too!) – and loving having time to write, too. :)

White-faced monkey!

Our beautiful beach :)

Monday 16th July 2012

First day – early start! We hiked through the jungle for around 4 hours, which was pretty intense! First we had to climb Red Hill (so-called because of the thick red mud that covers it and makes it a pretty precarious climb! Very steep, very slippery, and it’s easy to get your foot stuck in a hole! Plus we have to wear these rubber boots which aren’t comfortable at all, and really start to hurt after a couple of hours! We got totally covered with mud, as you can imagine. We were in the jungle, all right! Clambering over giant tree roots, dodging vines and branches and narrowly avoiding falling in rivers! Wildlife was all around us, from bizarre insects (including golden silk spiders, which are pretty big!) to tiny lizards, colonies of billions of ants (I’m not even exaggerating!), even spider monkeys! Though they were too high up for me to get a proper look. Got some cool photos, though! I was exhausted by the end, but it was surprisingly fun. Apart from the annoying boots, and carrying a rucksack on sunburnt shoulders hurts! But we went swimming at the beach again this afternoon, which was more relaxing. This afternoon we helped at the plant nursery, putting soil into pots and planting seedlings in them. Then a few of us went for a walk along the beach. Saw a howler monkey! :)

A group of us played card games this evening, which was pretty fun. Also encountered some tree frogs! God, those things can jump!
A picture of me looking adventurous :P
A golden silk spider we encountered in the rainforest!

Tuesday 17th July 2012

4.30am wakeup = ouch. And I’m burnt, bitten, stung, aching all over and have a giant blister on my foot. :( Oh, and I can’t sleep for the noise, insects and heat. Wonderful!

Still, at least today’s hike was short. Still agonising on my blister, though. I was on tree observation, which involved sitting under a tree for four hours.

I think the heat’s getting to me. I feel totally drained and can barely function. They weren’t kidding about ‘taxing physical conditions’! I wouldn’t mind the hiking if it wasn’t for the searing heat, agonising blisters, the humidity (which has also destroyed several people’s electronic devices!), and sunburn. But I have to say, I’m glad I’m here. It’s certainly an experience I’ll remember!

Talked to people. Read the whole of Ascend in one sitting! It’s awesome! Also did some writing – now I’m inspired!

Wednesday 18th July 2012

Another day, another five-mile jungle hike. Certainly an eventful one, and not in a good way! Basically, we were trap-checking, which sounds simpler than it is! After climbing Red Hill we had to leave the trail and go deeper into the jungle in order to find the seed traps which had been set up under the nutmeg trees. It turned out to be an ordeal! First, hiking through thick mud, up slippery slopes on an uneven trail where fallen trees and branches try to trip you up –fun times! But then when we reached the traps, our leader had omitted to mention that we’d unknowingly walked right through a swarm of jungle bees. Which all went for me. Seriously! I could hear this buzzing in my ears, which wouldn’t go away, then I realised there was something crawling in my hair…

That was when I lost it completely and legged it uphill, trying to swat away the 30-odd bees that were crawling all over my head! Everyone had to help me pull them out of my hair, and all I wanted to do was get back and have a shower! But we still had two hours of hiking left. Ugh. Not an experience I want to repeat any time soon!

But other than that, today was pretty good. We rescued some endangered tree saplings for the nursery this afternoon, and then we all went to the beach for a couple of hours. It was really fun, except when three massive waves came out of nowhere and literally lifted us off our feet and slammed us into the beach. Sand everywhere, again! There’s no way to be completely clean here. Sand, dirt and insects get into everything; our clothes are perpetually filthy and/or wet. But as I said before – it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Inspired! Written a LOT in the last few days – 44 pages since I got here! Wow. So much for not getting any writing done!

Thursday 19th July 2012

What a day! We were told we were going on a fishing hike, but I never expected it to be that much of an ordeal! First we had a three-hour hike – up red hill, through the jungle, past loads of fields then into the jungle again, to a river. Tested the new water shoes when we had to wade through it! What no one had thought to tell us was that we’d be wading in the river against the current. I’ll tell you something about river currents: they’re strong. And when every step makes you feel like your feet are going to be swept out from under you, and you can’t even see the bottom of the water so you’ve no idea where to put your feet – well, yeah. Health and safety?! It was a relief to get back and collapse!

A giant snake!

Friday 20th July 2012

Woken at four am by an epic jungle storm! The whole house was shaking because of the thunder – I thought the roof was going to fall in! Yikes!

Today was an ‘easy’ day, as we spent it updating the databases, entering the data from our observations this week into a spreadsheet. We also made ‘ecobricks’, by stuffing a load of plastic into bottles – since plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose, theoretically you could build a house out of them that’ll stand for hundreds of years! Then this afternoon we learnt how to remove coconuts from their husks (by repeatedly slamming them on a sharpened stake), then how to get the insides out. Pretty interesting!

Writing. Even in the jungle, so far away from my laptop, inspiration persists! :) Tomorrow’s a free day, too!

Saturday 21st July 2012

Free day – got up at 8.30! It was awesome. We hiked to the nearest town, Agujitas, which is about a 2-hour walk away. Managed to get lost on the way, though! It was really hot, but thankfully the hike wasn’t too intense. We stopped at a market on the way and I bought a new, pretty cheap dress, since I didn’t bring any nice clothes with me! And I also invested in some flipflops: a necessity!

Looked around the town for a bit, then rode back in the boat, which was fun. Went to the beach this afternoon, but the sea wasn’t playing friendly so I didn’t stay in for long. I’m not a fan of being pulled out to sea by a strong undercurrent then swamped by an enormous wave and thrown onto the beach! Still, I like that the waters are warm – it couldn’t be more different from the icy seas of England!

Now on the second-last chapter of my novel! Never expected to get so much done here! At this rate I’ll soon have a finished first draft!

Sunday 22nd July 2012

Early start for more tree observation! Still, got to see some spider monkeys and lizards as well as various insects, including giant tiger ants! Other than that, passed the time by reading and playing games on my phone. Not much else I can do with it – I’ve not had so much of a hint of a signal since I’ve been here!

Hiked back. I spent the afternoon writing and actually FINISHED the first draft of my book this afternoon! HELL YEAH! It’s very rough, but it’s done! My fourth novel. :) Yay!

Went on a beach cleanup walk this afternoon, which was fairly straightforward. Played some hilarious card games this evening. Our host dad scared the crap out of two of my housemates tonight by painting his face with shaving cream and lurking outside wearing a hooded coat! Ha! A pretty hysterical evening! I think we might be suffering from jungle madness. Apparently I’m secretly a ninja…so secret that I don’t even know it. Well, you never know… :P

A spider monkey eating nutmeg fruit!

Monday 23rd July 2012

Trap checking: oh joy! Well, at least there were no jungle bees this time! We actually finished really early, so we got back and watched Titanic as it happened to be on TV (in English with Spanish subtitles!). Then headed out on another seedling rescue! We planted over 50 seedlings! Then had a group discussion. And more card games. Definitely suffering from jungle madness. Everything seems hysterically funny for no reason! Played an intense game of spoons (with pens), which was hilarious! Fun times. :)

Tuesday 24th July 2012

Last day of hiking! I ended up on the trap checking team again, which wasn’t too bad. Hiked for about 2 ½ hours, checking traps and husking (checking areas of ground and counting the seed husks there). Pretty tiring, but OK. This afternoon, we had a mini ‘Olympics’ with the villagers, which was a laugh. Sack races, 3-legged races, ball games with water balloons, a tug of war which ended hilariously when the rope snapped… Really tired, though. And looking forward to the adventure tour already!

Wednesday 25th July 2012

Last day of actual work! Got a lie-in until 8 but woke up at 5 thanks to the roosters – typical! Spent the morning helping make garbage cans out of plastic bottles (recycling ftw) and doing more data entry. Then played cards and read American Gods. Awesome book.

We had a group discussion about responsible tourism this afternoon, then helped make a banner for the local school to enter in a competition. Then spent the evening reading.

Thursday 26th July 2012

As today was a free day, we went to see a local craftsman who made jewellery, and people had the chance to make their own. Then we had the option of hiking to a waterfall – you’d think I’d have learnt my lesson by now!  A five-hour trip involving kayaking upriver, which was fun (I’d never kayaked before, but I enjoyed it!), and swimming upstream in cold water, which wasn’t fun. At all. But I survived. This is becoming a theme, lol.

Had a bonfire for our last night. Back to Heredia tomorrow!

Final picture of our volunteer group with the villagers!

Friday 27th July 2012 

Long day travelling! Started with a trek to the beach at 6am with our luggage – fun! Then an hour on the boat, across the ocean and along the Sierpe river (including a rather eerie part where we went to a complete standstill in the middle of the mangrove forest!). Then we had a 5-hour drive back to Heredia! I spent it reading, of course! Arrived at Hotel America around 1.30 to collect the stuff we left behind before going to the Hotel Dehesa, where we’re spending the night. It’s so weird being back in civilisation again! Yeah, I finally got a phone signal, so I was happy!

We had the introductory talk at the hostel and met our tour guides, who went over the important information from the travel manual. Leaving for the Caribbean coast early tomorrow!

Finally I feel connected to the outside world again! So happy! :D

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