Emma Parmer Sweeden
Four weeks of Romelia
My experience of Romelia is amazing. It feels like I’ve been living a whole different life for the three weeks I’ve been here. It’s been three weeks of relaxation. Stress doesn’t exist here.
I chose to come to Romelia mostly because I heard that it’s the most beautiful place for volunteering in Costa Rica. I did not get disappointed. The house is located in the jungle with a beautiful garden, but still one minute away from the beach. I fall asleep to the sound of waves every night.
We usually work from 7-10 AM and then 3-5 PM. I knew when I came here that it’s the wrong season for turtles, but there’s not a shortage of work anyways. We’ve been doing other important things instead, for example picking plastic from the beach, rebuilding the hatchery and taking care of the refuge in general. I’ve spent my free time lying in a hammock reading plenty of books, swimming in the ocean or going for small hikes to different places nearby.
There’s no wifi here, something I thought that I would miss, and instead became one of the reasons that I love this place. There’s not a thing here to bother me; I’ve been shutting out the outside world a bit, just to get some space to breath. If I’ve wanted to use wifi I just took a 30-minute walk to Montezuma, sitting at the ice cream shop to catch up a bit.
I have had a great experience here at Romelia, and this is not the last time I’m volunteering for sure. I recommend Romelia to everyone who needs a break from everyday life.
My time at Romelia
When I first came to Costa Rica, it was January, and about minus five degrees where I came from (Celsius, of course, I am afraid I am not to skilled with the Fahrenheit system). I had been flying for thirty-six hours, and our luggage was two hours late. I was exhausted. But the second I stepped outside of the airport and felt the heat hit me like a tidal wave I felt right at home. After two weeks of Spanish Studies in San José, we went off to Romelia. After the bus- and ferry ride to Montezuma we were met up by Martin who showed us the beautiful way to Romelia, our heavy backpacks carried by the horse in the striking sun and heat, along with the beaches. We arrived at Playa Grande, a several kilometers long strip of sand, on one side surrounded by palm trees and jungle, on the other of the vast Pacific Ocean. I have been here for more than three weeks now, and even though I remember getting here as if it were yesterday, it feels like much more time has passed. The days easily grow into each other and start feeling like one, in a right way, because stress is a non-existent phenomenon here. We get up; we have breakfast, we work, we have lunch, we hang out at the beach or walk the beautiful but sandy path back to Montezuma for some wifi, we work again, hang out in the hammocks, have dinner, we go to bed. I cannot explain how calm I am compared to when I left Sweden six weeks ago. Everyone here is so friendly and helpful, and I don’t know how many times I have laughed until my stomach has ached, making fun about how stressed and annoying people are back home compared to here or to the monkeys (these specifically are called white-faced monkeys, and they are our closest neighbors) constantly waiting in the trees for the moment to strike and search our bags for food. Luckily I haven’t lost anything to the little white-faced thieves spare my granola bars that day I forgot to close my bag.
Today, on the nineteenth of February as I sit writing this at the kitchen table, I never want to go home. The rhythm you fall into here is so calm, and being here, so far away from home, working in nature all day has made me realize so much about myself. Also, I think I’m about to finish my seventh book any time now. Right now, we are six volunteers here. Me, my friend Emma who I went from Sweden with, another Swedish girl, a Spanish couple and a guy from Belize. It is amazing how completely different cultures meet and how we all get along anyway, with some fascinating discussions on the way. It also feels so good to do something different, to not just go on vacation somewhere and be served by people, but to work yourself in a country completely different from your own. This morning we, for example, picked up plastic from the beach and even if it doesn’t make a big difference, it is so much better than not to do anything at all. I also have fallen in love with Montezuma; it is so close to these million beautiful places that we can explore on our days off. I wish I could completely describe what it is like to hear the sound of the ocean every hour of the day, to be woken up by howler monkeys at four thirty in the morning or what it feels like to open coconuts with your hands or walk along the beach into the sunset. If I were to describe this place with one word, it would be genuine. But it cannot be described; it must be experienced.
Ida, 19 years old, Sweden
We are so exited about finding in Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Romelia some members of this species.
Diclidurus albus is rare but widespread, ranging from Mexico to eastern Brazil. Found in some Caribbean Islands including Trinidad. During the summer months, no sightings of D. albus have been made in Mexico, the northern edge of its range, suggesting that members of this species migrate south seasonally, from May to October. Little information is available on D. albus migration patterns.
Northern ghost bats prefer humid habitats like riparian and tropical rainforests also have been found in human-disturbed areas like plantations, clearings, and to villages. They prefer to roost underneath the fronds of palms, including coconut, chocho palms, and coquito palms. These bats are seen in less mesic habitats, like deciduous and evergreen forests. Diclidurus albus migrates within the Neotropics. They occur from sea level to 1500 m. Observed at highest elevations in Costa Rica
Diclidurus albus is a distinctive looking bat species. The common name, Northern ghost bats, refers to their soft, long, white pelage. Sometimes the proximal ends of the hairs are grey in color, while the distal ends are white, giving the animal an ashy grey tone.
Northern ghost bats have nearly naked faces with large eyes and shorter, yellowish ears. They do not have a nose leaf, and their tragus is prominent, broad, and rounded.
Northern ghost bats are solitary. They do not form colonies and found in small groups only during the breeding season. Northern ghost bats are nocturnal and roost under palms during the day. They tend to fly high and in reasonably straight lines. Most studies of D. albus have focused on physical properties instead of behavioral characteristics, so the behavior of this species is not well known.
Like all members of the family Emballonuridae, Northern ghost bats are insectivorous. Stomach contents have a high proportion of moths.
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
Northern ghost bats may be significant in helping keep agricultural pest populations in check, but their rarity suggests that they might not contribute much to insect control.
Text by biologist Jennifer Rivera
Photos by Andrea Kasper
All rights reserved to Refugio Romelia
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
Rich Coast of Montezuma
On the southern of Nicoya Peninsula – 30 minutes’ walk from Montezuma – the Tropical Adventures’ team has finally reached the tropical paradise with a breathtaking beach and its rough waves.
When we arrived at the national wildlife nature – refuge of Refugio Mixto de Vida Silvestre Romelia – my shoulders were glowing red, my throat was dry and I probably lost some pounds from sweating! It was a long walk on the beach and we were carrying our own luggage the whole time.
There was Fidel the project manager, Martin the field worker and perhaps one of the sweetest cooks ever, Antonia. They were all waiting for us and we were all warmly welcomed by them with a typical tico dish, Pinto (rice and beans) with salad. After the lunch, we took a walk to explore this nature refuge. Suddenly in the middle of the refuge, we found out that there was a vineyard! I have seen this types of vineyard many times in France and Switzerland, but I could never imagine seeing one of them here in Costa Rica, and especially not in Romelia!
So, overwhelmed and pretty surprised, we continued the walk down the beach. Playa Grande – probably the richest coast of Montezuma – is the travel destination for any beach lover and eco-volunteer. The beach is hemmed in by high cliffs surrounded with jungle, where rivers tumble into scenic waterfalls and natural pools. Also it is perfectly combined with white sand and transparent turquoise water where surfers can be easily spotted trying to surf on the waves.
I took a lot of pictures and enjoyed of the beautiful, tropical view. There are no roads at all and the only developments are few houses tucked back into the jungle, which were built by people who have brought the materials by boat or airplanes. It was in the past legal to land small planes on the coast, but nowadays not anymore – unfortunately!
When we arrived back at Romelia, we met Nefertiti, the daughter of Albert Ingalls and Gatti Gitza (founders of this nature refuge). Nefertiti grew up on Romelia, together with her brother Thoren and their parents. So this was a good chance to interview Nefertiti and to find out everything about this place! She told us many great stories about her childhood, the history and about the presence of this refuge.
Back in the time it was much harder to live on the land, because there were poor living conditions. The Wildife Refuge was born from the initiative of Albert Ingalls. He came with his wife by boat, overwhelmed by the biodiversity and amazed by the nature, the couple hoped to find an appropriate house for living. He met Karen Mogensen, who along with her husband were responsible for the creation of Costa Rica’s first protected nature reserve, Cabo Blanco.
Both Karen and Albert shared the same ideals about conservation and she offered him a piece of land in order to prevent the land from ending up in the wrong hands.
Later on, the family decided to donate this land to the government and from there the Refugio Mixto de Vida Silvestre Romelia was created on November 24, 1998, whose main objective was to contribute to the conservation of biodiversity in the Tempisque Conservation Area (ACT). The main goals are moreover to protect the tropical forest, the animals and beach areas of the southern coast of the Nicoya Peninsula.
Within this territory there are a number of distinct ecosystems and various types of forest. The avifauna includes more than 57 species of birds, 26 species of herpetofauna including, 13 reptiles and 7 amphibians. There are also 26 species of mammals, including 11 types of bats.
The house where we were staying is the same as where our volunteers stay. It is actually very basic; it is made from wood and there is no electricity. To get to the supermarket you need to walk 3 km to reach Montezuma. (this is the only acces!)
One of the main issues we are faced with is the fact that many people are harming the turtles and turtle eggs on the beach. Protecting them right now is our main priority!
The Montezuma Sea Turtle & Conservation Program consists of various parts. The most important is the care and protection of the sea turtles which nest on the beaches of the Refuge and on adjacent beaches. As part of that goal, we are cleaning up the beaches because there is so much trash and wood which have washed ashore. Beach cleanups can help to solve this problem and helping hands are definitely needed.
Another volunteer task is helping with the hatchery, working in shifts and taking care of the relocated nests. This consists of simply being there so that predators (people who steal the eggs and sell them or eat themselves!) and tourists will stay out, as well as helping the little baby turtles get to the water when their eggs hatch. Trail Maintenance is another area where our volunteers help. Trails need constant maintenance due to the weather conditions and how quickly everything grows here in this climate.
The main part of this project is really to protect the endangered environment and its diversity. This can be accomplished by trail construction, cleaning and maintenance of facilities, supporting in research projects, collaboration with the environmental education program and the attention of the tourists. At last, if there are volunteers who love to gardening, then this is the opportunity to help in the onsite vineyard and many tropical plants.
What the volunteers need to bring: Good walking (water) shoes, light clothes for day, dark clothes for night, towel, beach towel, swimsuits, sandals, extra clothes, sun block (+30!), head lamp with red light (for sea turtles), batteries, personal first aid kit, hat, bug repellent, mosquito net, sheets and pillow, biodegradable soap, shampoo and conditioner, biodegradable detergent, shorts, t-shirts, sun glasses, English/Spanish dictionary, table games/games to play, camera, extra medicine, and possibly something from your country to share with others.
For the volunteers, there is no prior experience necessary, however one must have the ability to adapt to a tropical environment, be in excellent health, and be willing to help in the conservation or marine turtles and other natural resources. Also be aware of the fact that the weather is characterized as humid, hot and very hot! Annual precipitation is about 3,000 mm, distributed from May to December. So if your clothes are wet, it could take them a while to dry!
Overall, it was a wise and full experience for me, especially for a girl from a busy city like me. If you want to take a break from your hectic, chaotic life and want some rest and peace, I definitely would recommend you to visit and help this place! There is an opportunity to offer the environment a new beginning, to fight for the protection and future of the of sea turtles and to explore a total new ‘tropical’ adventure into the natural world.
Written by Irma Smaili, Marketing Intern