Project Review & Country Wrap Up: Love Volunteers in Costa Rica

Overview

January 2017 marked the beginning of my around-the-world adventure.  My first project was volunteering at an animal rescue center in Costa Rica through  the placement company, Love Volunteers, for 11 weeks.  I started at a small center named Neo Fauna outside of Jacó.  After 5 weeks, I asked to be transferred due to a lack of work available at the time.  I was also the only volunteer, which made the whole experience a little less exciting.  The second rescue center, Paraíso Carlisa, provided much more to do as well as the ability to work with other volunteers.  It’s located in a rural, mountain area near Parrita and really exposes you to a wide array of wildlife.

Placement Company: Love Volunteers

As I mentioned in my post, How to Choose a Volunteer Company, communication is one of the most important aspects of working with a volunteer company.  Mike, from Love Volunteers, was exceptional in providing me with pre-departure information and he ensured my transfer was smooth and successful when I requested it.  All of my questions were answered in full and I never felt as if I was being brushed off.  This was important to me because I asked a lot of questions and was very firm in my request for transfer.  I felt like I was being a pest, but Mike was the consummate professional in responding to my inquiries.  Some of the responses took a few days, but Love Volunteers is based out of New Zealand, so that was totally understandable.

Local NGO: Amistad Institute

Amistad Institute is the local NGO that Love Volunteers works with to place prospective volunteers at rescue centers, schools, and other projects in Costa Rica.  I was pleased with my experience with AI through my 11 weeks in Costa Rica.  Their response time was slow, but that’s typical in Costa Rica (i.e. Tico Time).

Marco, the director of AI, was very helpful throughout my project and was able to have me transferred a week after I submitted my request.  My only frustration was his inability to get the WiFi activated in my first volunteer house, but that’s #FirstWorldProblems that we’re not going to nitpick about.  It also has to do with the fact that it’s not like calling up Verizon and asking them to turn it on, you have to actually go to a store and have it set up – and he wasn’t located in Jacó.

My hosts in Jacó, Grettel & Ingrid, were fantastic.  I felt very welcome in their home and they truly took excellent care of me.  I speak very little Spanish and they were very patient with the language barrier.  We shared lots of laughs and they taught me quite a bit about Costa Rican life.

Cost & Value

Project Fee: $2,445 (11 weeks)

Application Fee: $249 (good for 1 year)

The daily cost for this project was $31.75 per day; excluding the application fee because I intend to volunteer with Love Volunteers again this year.  Despite working with Workaway volunteers who volunteered for free, I feel as if this was money well spent.  The accommodations were not luxurious, but they were comfortable.  I was provided with 3 home cooked meals per day at both locations and was very pleased with the food.

Even more than the food and lodging, I was happy to see that the money I paid to volunteer went towards buying food for the animals and paying wages to the staff members that took care of us, the facilities, and the animals.  While the work may not have been overly-strenuous all the time, some members of the staff were often on-site from 6AM to midnight some days.  No matter what, that’s a long day!

Animal Rescue: Neo Fauna & Paraíso Carlisa

As this was my first-time volunteering, my expectations were different than reality.  I was expecting more of a hospital/emergency room type environment.  In reality, animal rescue is more along the lines of maintaining the animal’s well-being and comfort while you feed and clean up after them.  It’s like a long-term nursing home for animals that cannot be released into the wild.  This allows volunteers to truly care for the animals that become like family.

Neo Fauna was a small center that focused primarily on frogs, turtles, snakes, and butterflies.  They also had 6 macaws that helped to brighten up the place.  As the only volunteer, I felt a bit out of place at first.  The staff members were very knowledgeable about the animals and helped me expand my knowledge of the animals quite a bit in my five weeks there.  I also learned more about butterflies than I ever thought I would!  They’re actually really interesting, google it!

Ultimately, however, there just wasn’t much work available.  I suppose that’s the case when you’re dealing with cold-blooded animals that eat mostly insects.  I enjoyed leading the tours, but I didn’t feel like I was able to make much of a difference there.  Most of my time was spent raking leaves and leading English-speaking tours of the center.

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Paraíso Carlisa was a much larger facility and housed up to 18 volunteers at once during my 6 weeks there.  The more people we had, the less work that had to be done, so we had quite a bit of down time for exploring and relaxing.  The facilities were excellent and featured an infinity pool, hotel room style dorms (some with air conditioning), and within walking distance to 2 waterfalls and a hot spring.

The animals there included: whitetail deer, macaws, parrots, caiman (mini crocodiles), pacas (huge rodents), spider monkeys, a howler monkey, a white-nosed coati, horses, raccoons, butterflies, and a baby variegated squirrel.

Most of the daily work here consisted of cutting fruit, feeding the animals, and cleaning their cages.  Though occasionally we’d help with additional maintenance around the grounds, clear the trail, move enclosures, and work on other small projects.

The staff at Paraíso Carlisa was exceptional.  Despite not speaking Spanish, I was able to communicate and bond with the staff that didn’t speak English.  They were truly wonderful people who care deeply for the volunteers and make every effort to make you feel welcome and comfortable.  Tito, Kimberly, and Federico were simply amazing.  There were definitely some tears being held back when I left.

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Costa Rica Wrap Up

Days Spent in Country: 80

Days at Volunteer Projects: 76

Money Spent: $3,818 (including flights, project fees)

Average Spend per Day: $47.73

Donations Received: $1,055 (before GoFundMe fees)

Local beers tasted: 10

Favorite Local Beers: Malacrianza Scottish Ale & Mamacandela Tropical Stout

Accomplishments:

  • 21 tours led at Neo Fauna
  • Injured bird perch built
  • Improved my Spanish
  • Learned how to play chess & Danish (card game)

Injuries:

  • Sprained foot
  • Cut toe
  • Kicked in the leg by a horse
  • Hand full of thorns

Lessons Learned:

  • I can adapt to the heat and humidity of the tropics, but only if I have a pool
  • I look pretty good with a buzzcut
  • I’m much less afraid of small bugs now that I’ve had Godzilla on my back
  • In the tropics, I can do pretty much anything in sandals that I can in sneakers

2017 Travel Resolutions Progress

Learn Spanish

I’ve made some progress with my Spanish, but I still consider myself a basic beginner.

Learn New Skills

Nothing significant stands out.

Get Out of my Comfort Zone

Hot, tropical jungle filled with giant bugs?  Check.

Cut the Fat

I don’t know how much weight I lost, but I’m noticeably slimmer – enough so that I have been comfortable taking my shirt off around other people!  Still have a long way to go though before this resolution is fully satisfied.

Complete 3 Major Hikes

Not yet.  But I feel as if I’m getting close to being ready for the TMB!

Make a Difference

This one is hard to judge, but I feel like I helped motivate some of the other volunteers to work hard and care about the project.  This will always be an open-ended resolution.

Cleanse my Soul

I still harbor more internal strife than I should.  I’m continuing to purge the rage/anger I have inside by spending time with positive, happy people.

Grow Stronger

This is another resolution that is hard to judge.  I feel a bit more confident in myself and especially with my solo travel prospects, however, I still have a lot of work to do to be a stronger individual.


Overall, Costa Rica is not the type of country I would normally visit.  It’s very hot and filled with giant bugs – 2 things that are “no bueno” in my book.  But the people & wildlife are what make this beautiful, mountainous country great.  The individuals that worked full-time at the rescue centers are tremendous people and I’m proud to call them my friends.  The projects were much different than I expected, but that just adjusted my expectations.  As my first foray into volunteering, I can say that I am happy that I chose Costa Rica.  I made wonderful new friends (staff & other volunteers), spent time with some amazing animals, and made significant progress on several of my 2017 travel resolutions.  Simply put, Costa Rica is Pura Vida.

Love Volunteers provides a great value in the placement with Amistad Institute’s project and I give them both my recommendation.  I will definitely work with Love Volunteers in the future.

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