My second volunteer project in Costa Rica was spent at the Costa Rica animal rescue centre, located in Alajuela. The reason why I chose two different projects is because I wanted to gain experience doing conservation, seeing animals in the wild along with getting hands on experience with some incredible species of animals. I loved the contrast of the two projects, and both of them were so different it is hard to choose a favourite.
Firstly, getting to the centre. This seemed a lot simpler on paper. The centre is located approx. thirty minutes from San Jose airport. I was told by Frontier to arrive before 12pm to get a free pick up. The centre had my flight details and knew what time I would be arriving. I was told I would be met in the arrivals area outside by someone holding an animal rescue centre sign. This didn’t happen, when I arrived there was no one there, I waited fifteen minutes then decided to ring a number that was provided to me. I spoke to the guy at the other end telling him I was at the airport waiting to be picked up, he assured me someone would be there in fifteen minutes; half an hour later I was still waiting. Feeling slightly frustrated I rang again to be told once more that they will be there in 15 minutes. The guy showed up half an hour after that phone call. I wish I could say the drive to the centre went smoothly but it didn’t. On route to the centre my driver all of a sudden changed direction, I initially thought he had made the wrong turn. Two minutes later we were pulled over by the police, where I was asked questions and had my passport took off me. I was pretty scared because I had no idea what was going on. Eventually, everything was explained to me basically the driver wasn’t a licensed taxi driver, I watched as the police took of his number plate and let us go. The rest of the drive was awkward to say the least. I was told by Frontier the pickup was included in the price, so I was shocked when I was told I needed to pay. However, he said I could pay later, which I opted for so unlike some other Frontier volunteers I did end up getting my free pick up.
I was greeted by so many volunteers; I was slightly shocked to see so many. There was people coming and going every day, people from all corners of the world. Everyone was extremely friendly and I met some incredible people. It was also a nice change to not be the only volunteer.
The accommodation was great. There were areas to relax in complete with hammocks, a dining area, plenty of toilets and showers (no, you can’t flush toilet paper and yes the showers were cold) and even a swimming pool. There were several rooms which consisted of bunk beds. Thankfully, I managed to get a bottom bunk which was relatively comfortable. I did struggle to sleep the first night since there was someone on the top bunk and it creaked every time they moved… There was always space to spend time alone or areas to socialise in. Overall, everywhere was kept relatively clean and tidy.
I really thought I was going to be eating healthy in Costa Rica, lots of fruit and fresh dishes. I was wrong. The food however was good even if it did consist mainly of carbohydrates. Breakfast mainly consisted of pancakes, or rice and beans a traditional food to eat here but a rather strange one to have for breakfast for me. Lunch and dinner was anything from potato stew, pasta to plantain. I enjoyed all of the food apart from the pasta, it just had an odd taste to it. They cater to all dietary requirements such as vegetarians, vegans, gluten free etc.
Every day at the centre has an order to it, breakfast was at 7am, lunch at 12pm and dinner at 6pm. After breakfast and lunch there would be a staff meeting to discuss anything that we might need to know or feedback from any volunteers. These meetings always finished with ‘who is the best team?’ followed by all of us shouting ‘the rescue centre team.’ After the meetings you would perform your afternoon or evening tasks. On your day of arrival, you will be put in a group, and each day you will have a different letter for the tasks you are doing. All of this is written on a board which is pretty easy to follow, I always took a photo on my phone so I could easily check what else was left to do. Tasks include everything from preparing food for the animals, helping in the kitchen, cleaning of enclosures and living spaces and feeding of the animals. For the first two days you are not allowed in the enclosures, you watch and learn how to do everything but everything is pretty simple and easy to do. Depending on how many people are in your group depends on how long it will take, sometimes I had loads of people and the tasks were done fairly quickly, one time there was just two of us and it took around an hour and a half. I enjoyed it with less people, mainly because then you had less free time. There is a lot of free time, it can be filled up doing other tasks such as making enrichment for enclosures etc. but with things like this you have to scavenge for what is already on site which can be hard. There is a shop and town not too far away. Lastly, everyone gets a day of per week to go further afield which I will be talking about in a different post.
I spent both Christmas and New Years at the centre. This was my first time away from home from both so it was a little strange being warm and not cold! For both occasions, the kitchen staff prepared us a special meal. We had Christmas dinner on Christmas eve which consisted of mash potato, crisp/dips, a vegetarian dish with lots of vegetables and cheese (and some kind of meat for the meat-eaters). We had the same meal on New year’s along with lunchtime being veggie (or meat) burgers and homemade chips, this was my favourite meal I had here. We were all like excited kids running up to get our food, it was good! On Christmas morning we had a present to open, volunteers bought a gift to put under the tree in exchange for a present. The gifts mainly consisted of food and I got a box of biscuits. On new year, some people used their day of to go do something whilst the rest of us sat around a bonfire and watch fireworks in the distance. I enjoyed both, they were quiet and different to what I am used to but I didn’t miss being away from home either.
So, lets talk about the animals! There were many different species here and every day I fell in love with a new one.
Each animal has their own story on how they arrived to the centre some more tragic than others, many were former pets apart of the exotic animal pet trade. Owls with broken wings, parrots from bad backgrounds who learnt how to scream and ask for help in Spanish, monkeys used for performing, one was even addicted to alcohol and cigarettes, the list goes on. It is sad how animals can be so mistreated by people but thankfully there are many people who want to make a difference to stop things like this happening.
So, I booked this through Frontier as well, paying £599 for two weeks. Now, I have a huge problem with that cost, unbeknownst to me I got charge extra for booking through Frontier. Turns out if you book directly through the rescue centre you pay $30 per day, which works out at $420 which converts to roughly £335 so basically I paid an extra £274. Now, I was told by someone at the rescue centre that they hadn’t received any money from Frontier since October, frontier deny this. Secondly, there was no frontier staff on site, and on my third day there the lady in charge left for Christmas holidays. Basically, for the majority of time I was there it was ran by volunteers and I am not even going to mention the potential health and safety hazards. A few of us who came from frontier decided to email them to ask where has that extra money gone etc. to be met with silence. It took me several emails to get a reply where I was told the extra money went on emergency services, £274. I contacted them again asking for the full break down of the cost, no reply. I emailed again and again. Two weeks later I got a reply saying they could not tell me where the money went other than some covered emergency service and marketing costs. One girl never got a response, another girl came for three weeks but paid an extra $745 due to booking through frontier to be told that she was charged extra due to the exchange rate, she is from Puerto Rica. I did email again but no reply. I am actually appalled and disgusted that they have charge people such a high amount and have pretty much ignored emails from several people which to me screams something isn’t right. If I had known prior to booking I would have gone directly through the rescue centre. I was given no extra help from booking though Frontier, since there was no staff there and only volunteers, if I had injured myself no one would have known I had this emergency service (I didn’t even know myself) I would have been treated the same as every other volunteer. So my advice, if you want to go here book through the centre and be aware if it is a partnership and check to see if they are charging you the same amount to if you go directly.
You can read more about the centre here, they have quite a sad story to tell… If you would like to help the centre in anyway this is their amazon wish list!
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.