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Costa Rica, Tales about..., Voluntourism

A day in the life of a volunteer…part 1

After a muggy night of sleeping to the lullaby of the rainforest, we arise for the day’s work. We eat breakfast and then head over to the hatchery site at Playa Tortuga (“Turtle Beach”). The hatchery is a large square of sand that has been painstakingly cleaned and sifted to remove contaminants and debris, and then sectioned off so each nest of eggs can be kept separate from the next. As you might expect, it’s impossible to monitor random turtle nests all over the beach, so after the turtles lay their eggs and slowly scootch out back to sea, the volunteers carefully collect them (taking care to keep them within their own nests) and place them in the hatchery. Then, they keep round-the-clock vigil over the eggs to ensure they are not stolen by poachers. Without the efforts of Reserva Playa Tortuga (RPT) and the volunteers, the eggs laid at this beach—which are primarily those of the olive ridley sea turtle—would be almost completely lost. The numbers are grim—of the hundred or so eggs that can be laid at one time, only one of them will survive to become a turtle. This isn’t only due to poaching of course, but illegal poaching certainly has a dramatic impact on the longevity of the species. And what do the poachers do with all these eggs? Good question, but I bet you can guess the answer. In some cultures, sea turtle eggs are believed to be a delicacy; however, in Central America in particular, some people believe that eating a sea turtle egg (with a great deal of alcohol, because apparently the egg is extremely unpalatable) is akin to taking Viagra. [sigh]

A local man who lives near the hatchery tells Oscar, the biologist, that he has spotted some caiman (crocodile) nearby. Since monitoring caiman is another of RPTs projects, Oscar asks the local man to show him the site. We walk away from the nice, sandy beach and head into the swampy rainforest. After tramping through brackish water and over a forest floor thick with leaves and vines, we arrive at the spot. We pause so Oscar can see if he can detect the caiman, and immediately, my feet are engulfed by fire ants. The fire ants here are many, vicious, and seem to like me very much. Within my first hour at the reserve, I was marked as easy prey and now feel like they just appear every time I stop moving my feet when I’m outside. The ants are tiny, so I was surprised that their bite packed such a wallop. In actuality, they only bite to get a hold of your skin, it’s their sting that causes the pain that gives them their well-earned moniker. The sting delivers a toxic alkaloid venom that creates a burning sensation that continues to burn and prick, making you think they are still crawling on you long after you smoosh them with a swift slap of the hand. If I had to live here, I think the fire ants would drive me insane.

Oscar doesn’t see the caiman, but takes note of the site for another day. That concludes our morning and we head back to the center for lunch and a siesta. We have to rest up now because in the evening, we will continue our search for caiman…

About colleen f

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


2 thoughts on “A day in the life of a volunteer…part 1

  1. I’ve been absent for some time, but now I remember why I used to love this site Thank you, I will try and check back more frequently How frequently you update your web site?

    Posted by Jorel Zarklist | July 22, 2012, 4:40 am

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