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Costa Rica, Voluntourism

Making ourselves at home at the reserve


After three cloudy days in San Jose and one evening of rain, summer has arrived in time for us to head to the reserve. The days in San Jose were warm and humid even with the cloud cover, but as we traveled south on our first clear, gorgeous day, the weather seemed to get increasingly hotter and more exhaustingly humid with each mile. I simply cannot imagine what this country is like during their summer; yet, with even all the heat and humidity…it’s still not as bad as Bangkok. If you’ve been to Thailand, just nod your head knowingly. (That’s my way of saying that I can deal with this.)

Now we’re at the reserve. Reserva Playa Tortuga (RPT) is a privately funded non-profit biological research center approximately three hours south of San Jose. The center is ideally located near the mouth of the Terraba river and is a part of the Terraba Sierpe National Wetlands, which covers over 118 square miles of tropical rainforest. RPT began as a sea turtle reserve, but gradually expanded their research programs to include water quality studies, sustainable fishing, a butterfly project, flora and fauna inventories, and otter and caiman monitoring (the caiman is a species of crocodile). They just wrapped up a water study project, so they are now focusing their main attention on preparing hatcheries for the sea turtle eggs. You see, July is the beginning of sea turtle season, but as you might expect, you never know when the turtles will actually arrive and begin laying their eggs. It’s just our luck that they haven’t arrived yet, but this is also good because that means there is still time to prepare the hatchery and the cabanas where volunteers can keep 24-hour vigil over the eggs so they are safe from poachers.

According to Oscar (one of the biologists on staff), just within the boundaries of reserve alone, the documented species number:

  • 15 medium-sized mammal species, including capuchin and spider monkeys, coati, and the three-toed sloth,
  • 200 species of birds, which include the macaw and toucans, and
  • 40 species of reptiles and amphibians, including the American crocodile, the caiman crocodile, and several species of coral snakes,

Yes, crocodiles and coral snakes…and this doesn’t begin to account for the number of species of bugs and insects here, which must surely run into the thousands. These include the tarantula, which is basically harmless (but I wouldn’t want to find one sleeping in my shoes), and this really large spider called a golden orb spider which are all over the place here. When David and I walked down to the beach, we saw one as large as three inches in diameter. Crazy.

As a brief aside, my friend Ryan would be happy to know that in this area, there are none of the bugs that are responsible for the transmission of Chagas disease. But I digress.

So, we’re here and as far as I can tell, the place is awesome. The staff biologists and volunteers are very friendly, the facility is nice, and the project seems well organized. This morning we familiarized ourselves with the hatchery site on the beach and then went in search of some caiman (imagine…searching for a crocodile), after which we tagged trees for a biological project that the organization will hold for local school children. Tomorrow, we continue hatchery construction on the beach. From what two of the other volunteers said, building the hatcheries is hot and hard work, so I guess we’re just in time.

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About colleen finn

Colleen Finn is a globe trotting, sight seeing, day tripping, frequent flying traveler with a penchant for voluntourism.

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