Last spring, I was lucky enough to participate in one of the most challenging and rewarding travel experiences of my life – a service project in Ecuador. I travelled with a group of teachers and fellow classmates to Quito, where we volunteered at a school, painted a mural, and worked at a lodge in a cloud forest. On this project, I gained new skills and learned about the importance of teamwork, building relationships, and having a sense of adventure.
When I was given the opportunity to take part in another service project this March in Costa Rica, this time as a senior leader, I couldn’t pack my bags fast enough! On March 8th, I headed to San Jose with a group of 12 middle school students on an 11-day service excursion. I was looking forward to the familiarity of doing service work with a group of classmates, but was equally thrilled about the diversity of helping to lead the group in a country I’d never travelled to before.
We spent the first few days of our trip in the city of San Jose. On our first full day, we were given the opportunity to sightsee, visiting the incredible Poas National Park – home to one of Costa Rica’s largest active volcanoes. We hiked as a group to see two of the breathtaking craters. Later that day, we travelled into the city to meet Gerardo Montoya – a man famous in Costa Rica for his hand-made ceremonial masks. We had a great time wearing the masks and participating in traditional dances, and later making masks of our own.
Over the next couple of days, we did a service project in the small community of La Carpio. I was amazed by this village for several reasons – the colourful little houses, the warm welcome we received, and the strong sense of community demonstrated by its inhabitants. We worked to clean up the community and dig out a large, concrete water pipe. Though it was challenging to work all day in the hot sun, we felt a strong sense of accomplishment when we were able to complete this task. The villagers were extremely grateful for our help, and I’m happy we were able to make a small dent in their community projects.
We packed our bags and left San Jose for the Caribbean Coast. After a long 3-hour bus ride, we hopped on a riverboat to get to our destination – a small peninsula between the Pacuare River and the Caribbean Sea called La Tortuga Feliz Lodge. The property was beautiful, covered by hammocks, palm trees, and surrounded by the sound of the ocean waves. Here, we worked at a turtle hatchery. We shoveled, sifted and treated the sand on the beach to make suitable conditions for the sea turtles to lay their eggs. We also travelled by boat to a small school where we helped with a variety of refurbishing tasks. We also saw a lot of wildlife – monkeys, lizards, turtles, dolphins, and even a scorpion! Before we knew it, our time at La Tortuga Feliz was up – and it was time to head to Punta Uva to enjoy one of the country’s most beautiful beaches.
The long bus ride was well worth it – by noon, we were diving into the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea. The group swam, tanned, and played in the ocean for hours. Later in the evening, we travelled into the tourist town of Punta Uva, where we enjoyed pizza for dinner (even though we had to go to three restaurants before we found one that could actually feed all of us!). The pizza was a nice break from the classic Costa Rican meal of rice and beans, which we ate at least twice a day. We headed back to our hotel for some much-needed rest, as I tried not to think about what was going to occur the next day… a ziplining tour in the rainforest!
As someone who is slightly afraid of heights, I was not thrilled about the prospect of being clipped to a wire and thrown over a rainforest. But I knew it was something I couldn’t miss, so I held my breath as I glided across the first wire. It wasn’t long before I realized how much fun I was having! It was exhilarating to soar above a river and through the trees. I was so happy that I challenged myself to take on this adventure, truly enjoying every second of it. Finally, we drove back to San Jose for our last night in Costa Rica.
This service project was an incredible experience for me. I was able to develop leadership skills by working with a number of young students. I loved getting to know a new group of classmates, and I especially enjoyed helping them accomplish their goals and have fun. I was also able to overcome my own personal challenges with the amount of physical work we accomplished. After 11 incredible days, I arrived home from Costa Rica with amazing memories, new friendships, and a stronger sense of my own abilities and who I am as a person.
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