This is from a blog from Kathryn Gunderson.
So this is what I posted on my own blog, feel free to use it for anything. Hope it works; miss you guys, hope everything’s going great, and tell Fidel that Jack and I say hi!
My recent trip to Costa Rica was the first of my three summer adventures planned, and it started way back in October. A lot of people ask how I came upon it—it really isn’t much of a story. I knew I wanted to volunteer abroad this summer, so I started googling different opportunities and realized that one of the most popular types was eco-volunteering in Central America, particularly in Costa Rica, with beach preservation and sea turtle conservation. It seemed like the perfect way for someone with, at that point, little experience in international travel to dip her feet into volunteering in different countries. The program I chose to volunteer with—a nonprofit called Tropical Adventures—was incredible; they were helpful and fast to respond to my emails, and they planned out everything for us. All I had to do was follow the itinerary.
The most experience I’d had with Latin America was a resort in Mexico, so the culture shock definitely hit me immediately upon leaving the San Jose airport. It took some time to acclimate to an entirely different way of doing things, but it was so wonderful to get to know this beautiful country and their hardworking, proud people. Costa Ricans (or Ticos and Ticas, as they call them there) are undoubtedly the most welcoming people I’ve ever come across; they all went out of their way to make us feel comfortable. And it wasn’t just the locals whose kindness and compassion stood out; the wide array of other travelers we met were always quick to strike up a meaningful and warm conversation. From Scandinavian surfers, study abroad students, an English teacher-slash-Yoga instructor, and an elderly expat man with an eyepatch who helped to translate Spanish for us, I was truly impressed with everyone I met.
Of course, the natural beauty was astounding. Stunning beaches, diverse rain forests, rolling mountains, green, green everywhere. We lived and worked at the Romelia Wildlife Refuge, located on the absolutely picturesque Playa Grande, about a 45 minute hike from the small surfing town of Montezuma on the Nicoya Peninsula. Our rustic volunteer lodge was farther back from the beach, surrounded by lush green jungle. We would work hard during the day doing beach cleanup, building the turtle hatchery, and maintaining the jungle, with breaks in between to enjoy the sun and waves and hike to the freshwater pools in the nearby creek. At night we would patrol for turtles, and I’ll never forget how amazing it was to watch a large Olive Ridley lay each one of her 129 eggs.
It’s strange how quickly we got used to life there—little electricity, no hot water or (perish the thought) wifi, iguanas that run around like squirrels, and howler monkeys so loud they woke us up at the crack of dawn every day. All of this, though, added to the appeal of our little escape in the Costa Rican rainforest. Unlike on my cruise the month before, when I’d constantly craved wifi, I found that here I wasn’t wishing for that connection. I didn’t need to hear what was going on in “civilization,” not while I was happily encased in my bubble of wilderness. A trip into town for Costa Rica’s final 8 World Cup match (which, by the way, was amazing—there is nothing like watching the World Cup in a country that cares so much about soccer) was our only taste of it for the week at the refuge, and that was plenty for me.
Costa Rica changed my perspective on life in numerous ways, and not just the change in perspective that comes from being suspended hundreds of feet in the air on a zipline over the rain forest. It taught me to appreciate simplicity a lot more. It taught me that, with some small changes in our lifestyles, we can live in harmony with nature rather than at odds with it. It taught me that all work—even something as small as picking up 200 lollipop sticks that washed up on a beach—is important in the grand scheme of things. It taught me that you meet the best people traveling. And above all, it taught me that pura vida, or pure life, is the way to live.
Pura vida, Costa Rica. I miss you already and I’ll be back again someday.
The most noticeable thing missing in the kitchen of Romelia is something that most people take for granted – a refrigerator. The most notable item in the kitchen is the wood stove. Without electricity, Romelia is without common appliances that I was used to using back home and after taking on the role of fill-in cook when Antonia has her days off, I had to adapt to the way I prepared food – both in the way I cooked it (using only the wood stove) and the amount (no refrigeration means that leftover food goes to waste). Also, due to our location and lack of accessibility, our fresh produce is delivered weekly, our dried and canned goods delivered monthly. This means that we need to use all produce before they go bad, be conscientious to budget food for each meal, and decrease excess food in order to decrease our amount of waste.
This is vastly different to the way most see and experience food and cooking. Because of refrigeration, there is less concern with excess food, which can be saved, and vegetables and fruits can be used at leisure as it’s shelf life is extended. Also, due to the accessibility and ease in which one can buy and obtain food, there is no need to use only what one has to create a meal.
When I returned to the US after my first Romelia experience, I was shocked at the amount of food in my family’s kitchen. It seemed as if my mother had stockpiled food for the month and yet we would still go to the store to buy food to cook a meal we were “craving.” Although I enjoyed my break from rice and beans, I still tried to carry on the habits I had learned at Romelia. I cooked only what I needed, made sure to use all produce in a timely manner, and used what I had before buying more. I decreased my waste and also saved money. I think that this experience has made a lasting effect on my life, a lesson that can be applied to more than just food, and that is, “Waste less and use what you have before buying more.” Jennifer Adams
Originally when asked to write a blog for this week at Romelia, I was going to title it “Work Hard, Play Hard” and it was going to be about all the fun activities that we do when we are not saving sea turtles. But things around here change so suddenly and some bad news from back home in Australia has forced me to say good-bye to Romelia in a few short weeks. This has left me to sit here and reflect over my time here at Romelia.
When I arrive back home, I am sure to have people ask that big question… “How was your trip?” However, I am starting to realize that it is impossible to sum up my experience in a few words. Although I have only just reached the intended half way point (3 1/2 months) of my Costa Rica experience, I can safely say that I have had some incredible experiences that I am never going to forget.
Like the first time I saw a sea turtle lay a nest, releasing hatchlings into the ocean, the fun times here with friends, having both a beach and a jungle almost all to ourselves, visa runs to Nicaragua, the nicknames, great food, long crazy nights, and sun-filled chilled out days.
It is crazy for me to think that right now I am laying in a hammock in a hatchery that I helped build, watching over sea turtle eggs that we all have worked so hard to protect during countless long nights with intense amounts of coffee, which we then release to the ocean like proud parents.
Of course there are times and things that you miss about home while you are here like family or friends or even more importantly…. A huge barbecue, cold beers, and hot showers. Coming from an Australian who has an indescribable love for barbecues and spends half his time thinking or talking about how much I want a steak with cheese, it is pretty obvious that Costa Rica and Romelia must be pretty special if I am willing to sacrifice it all to be here.
My time here at Romelia might be ending early but there is not a thing that I would change (apart from waiting until my plane ride to Costa Rica to begin learning Spanish). As with anything, it’s not so much about what you are doing but who you are doing it with. The volunteers, field assistants, managers, staff and the various other people that I have met on this trip are responsible for my amazing time here.
I want to say a huge thank you to everyone and I look forward to having you all visit me for a barbecue on my houseboat in Australia. Also to anyone reading this thinking about joining the family at Romelia, just do it. You will not regret it.
Luke (Also known as Kinka or Mowgli)
El Refugio Mixto de Vida Silvestre Romelia, fue creado en el mes de noviembre 1998, con la idea de proteger los recursos naturales de una zona, los cuales habían sufrido bastante a través de los años debido a las actividades de tala y de ganadería intensiva. Además la región comenzaba a mostrar evidencia de un desarrollo turístico acelerado, por lo que su creación vino a resguardar los ecosistemas naturales de la región.
Se encuentra ubicado en la Península de Nicoya, en el cantón de Puntarenas, distrito Cóbano, a unos 3 km al este de la Escuela de la comunidad de Montezuma.
La misión del refugio es ser un territorio dedicado a la conservación, la investigación y el manejo de los ecosistemas costeros de playas Cocal y Cocalito, asimismo ofrece dentro de sus servicios ambientales espacios para la recreación, la educación ambiental y uso sostenible de los recursos naturales.
Al ser un refugio de categoría mixta, cuenta con tierras del estado (aproximadamente 67 ha, de la zona marítimo terrestre) y con tierras de propiedad privada, siendo estas la de mayor extensión, cubriendo una superficie de 157 hectáreas 857m2, para un total de 224 hectáreas 8349 m2. No obstante, la administración y las actividades de conservación recaen casi totalmente en esfuerzos particulares.
El Refugio se ubica en la zona de vida conocida como bosque húmedo tropical (bh-T), cuyas características son: bosques semicaducifolio o perennifolio, alto de varios estratos, generalmente tres bien diferenciados. Precipitación entre 1950 y 3000 mm anuales y temperatura media anual de entre 24 y 27 ºC. En la región de Cóbano el bh-T presenta una época seca. La vegetación natural del bh-T son árboles de 40 a 50 metros de altura en su mayoría de copas anchas y altas, de tallos delgados, generalmente de menos de 100 cm de dap, sin ramas hasta 25 a 35 metros, a menudo con gambas altas y lisas, de corteza de color claro.
Dentro de los principales ecosistemas vegetativos, en Romelia se pueden encontrar:
Pastizales, remanentes del antiguo uso pastoril que se le daba al área.
“Yolillal”, conformado principalmente por palmas en las zonas inundables del Refugio.
Bosque costero, formando una línea a lo largo de la línea costera del área protegida.
Bosque ripario, comunidades boscosa creciendo a la orilla de afluentes.
Bosque secundario, resultado de la regeneración natural del Refugio.
Bosque primario o remanente del bosque original de sitio.
En monitores ecológicos e inventarios rápidos, se han desarrollado listas preliminares de la fauna presente en el Refugio, en donde se reportaron 57 especies de aves, 7 especies de anfibios, 13 especies de reptiles y 27 especies de mamíferos terrestres más 11 de murciélagos.
Con base en lo mencionado anteriormente es que se está trabajando en la implementación de varios proyectos de conservación, desarrollados por el personal del Refugio, así como de la ayuda generosa de voluntarios de todas partes del mundo que vienen a aportar su colaboración:
Proyecto de conservación de tortugas marinas, el cual es uno de los proyectos insignia del Refugio. Con este proyecto se pretende monitorear la actividad anidatoria de las poblaciones de tortugas marinas que llegan a anidar a las playas del Refugio. Además de brindarle protección a las nidadas. Las tareas en este proyecto incluyen la construcción de vivero, patrullas nocturnas y/o matutinas para determinar la actividad de anidación y colecta de datos relacionados a la población de hembras anidantes, colecta y traslado de nidos, marcaje de nidos in situ, vigilancia del vivero las 24 horas del día, liberación de neonatos, otras. Se implementa de junio a enero.
Viñedo, se mantiene un viñedo con el propósito de preservar una tradición que se ha venido llevando a cabo desde hace más de veinte años. Los trabajos que se realizan en este proyecto son de forma artesanal y de bajo impacto. Las principales actividades que se llevan a cabo son la poda y limpieza de vides, cosecha y preparación de vino. Se trabaja de setiembre a marzo.
Monitoreo de mamíferos terrestres, este pequeño proyecto que todavía se encuentra en una fase temprana de ejecución pretende generar información sobre las poblaciones de mamíferos terrestres, medianos y grandes. Datos como la distribución, diversidad y uso de hábitat son algunos de los que se esperan colectar a lo largo del tiempo. Las labores contemplan caminatas matutinas y nocturnas por senderos, preparación de parcelas de huellas, limpieza de senderos, colocación y revisión de cámaras trampa. Estos trabajos se estarían realizando a lo largo de todo el año.
Además, se realizan otro tipo de actividades de forma permanente, dependiendo de las necesidades del momento, así como del recurso son que se cuente. Estas actividades son: huerta orgánica, control y protección dentro del áreas del Refugio, monitoreos rápidos de flora y otro tipo de fauna, trabajos de limpieza de playas, educación ambiental, mejoras y mantenimiento de senderos y de la rotulación, rehabilitación de ecosistemas (reforestación, erradicación de especies invasoras) entre otras.
Montezuma is known by many as a very calm and relaxed, yet vibrant and vivid surfer’s town on the western coast of Costa Rica, situated on the peninsula de Nicoya, in the Puntarenas Province.
It is relatively unknown, however, that from Montezuma, a 45-minute hike along the beach and through the jungle, brings adventurers to our enthralling “Romelia Sea Turtle and Conservation Project.” In this particular project, volunteers care for and protect sea turtles, carry out beach cleanings, participate in our brand new mammal observation and research project, learn about the broad variety of wild animals and help in the onsite vineyard and greenhouse.
In order to gain a lucid idea about what’s happening out there, and how our appreciated volunteers are enjoying this place, it is essential to visit the project now and then. With this in mind, we planned a field trip a few months back to go and see the project for a couple of days.
Last Saturday we packed our backpacks with flashlights, pocket knives, and some victuals. We put on some firm hiking shoes and went off to this tranquil place, in which both our project coordinators and volunteers — along with many animals including turtles, monkeys, and iguanas — feel at home.
After a long trip from Hojancha to Montezuma, and an astonishing but dark hike along the coast, we arrived at the Romelia project around 8:30 in the evening. The Romelia staff had made us some delicious dinner which we ate before we went to bed around 09:30 pm.
The next day we had to be fresh and fruity for the beach patrol walk at 05:15 in the morning. Unfortunately, February is not the season for turtles to lay eggs in the Romelia region and thus we were left with merely a stunning sunrise at the beach. We returned to the lodge in the jungle, in which our volunteers read and do research about the various species living in Romelia. To our delight, breakfast was already made.
After breakfast, Jennifer and Antonia showed us their pool. Jenn is our research assistant and Antonia is one of our current volunteers. Although, “pool” is genuinely underrated; it was more like a crystal blue natural pool with a small waterfall surrounded by a distinct range of tropical trees and plants. Not to mention the howling monkeys, the thumping butterflies and other local residents.
Subsequently, the volunteers together with the local family guided us through the jungle via a mammal trail. At the end of the path, the volunteers had attached a camera to a tree which starts snapping photos when there is little motion in front of the camera. Such a camera is perfect to track which species of the colourful jungle call home. When we arrived at the “camera tree” we saw proof of the fact that their research program was fruitful, since the counter on the camera increased from 27 to 81 photos.
We got so excited that we went almost running back to the main lodge where we plugged the camera into one of our laptops.
What we then saw was just marvellous. The camera had made several photos during the night of a deer and a tempesquinte, which is a beautiful coyote-like animal. Thereafter, we sure enough had to roll up our sleeves and assemble wood from the beach and bring it to the kitchen, as it is used to cook with. After a hearty and “rico” (commonly used for “delicious” in Costa Rica) dinner, we learned some more about the research project and did another beach patrol. Again, we did not succeed in finding turtles or turtle eggs but the bright, starry sky was certainly more than worth the walk.
After a good sleep, the next morning we helped clean the beach and headed back to Hojancha. Altogether, being at the Refugio Mixto Nacional de Vida Silvestra Romelia was a life-changing experience and a place which I can’t wait to visit again. In case you have the same feeling after reading this blog, check out our Montezuma Sea Turtle Program!
By Bram Voets, Marketing Intern