My First Week on the Costa Rica Adventure!
A few days before I was set to jet off to Costa Rica, someone else on the trip, Ishah, emailed the group to say hi before we got to Central America. I emailed Ishah back and we soon figured we were on the exact same flights, so decided to meet up at Heathrow airport. I was glad that I wouldn’t be travelling completely alone as I hadn’t flown solo before!
When we got to San Jose, we were picked up from the airport to the hostel with 5 of the girls already in the taxi before us. There was Katie, who like Ishah and I are from England, and four Scottish girls called Ruth, Logan, Ellen and Lauren. Feeling extremely sleep deprived, we soon got to Aldea hostel around 2am (There is a 7 hour time difference so 9am UK time!) and headed straight to bed. The next day we could do whatever we wanted to. It was a chance to get to know each other and check out what San Jose had to offer. We spent most of the day chilling at the hostel. The hostel was very clean, vibrantly designed and even had a pool table in the lobby.
Wasting no time, we went to explore the local area and grabbed some Imperial beer, which is the national beer and is quite literally everywhere. A bottle is around ₡1000, which is around £1.20. In my prep blog post, I mentioned how I got American dollars and would get Costa Rican colones out once in Costa Rica. The colones are insanely beautiful with monkeys, sharks and sloths on them. US dollars are accepted everywhere, but the cashier will give you colones back unless you ask. My tip is to have a mixture of both just to cover yourself!
Gemma, the final Costa Rican adventurer, came straight from her travels in LA (very jealous) mid day on the Sunday. Priscilla, our amazing tour guide, meet us soon after and gave us a breakdown of the trip and the low down on her home country. As a group, we headed out for a meal at an Italian and had an early night ready for the adventure to properly kick off tomorrow.
We woke up at 5am to get ready to volunteer at the Verdiazul turtle conservation in Playa Junquillal (which is pronounced roughly as hunky-gal) for 5 nights. We got our first public bus from San Jose to Santa Cruz, which took around 5 hours. From there, we thankfully only had to wait half an hour for the next bus, which was only 1 hour long. Upon arrival, we could see the Pacific Coast and boy was it a beautiful sight. The waves are unlike anything I had ever seen before and the place itself is literally paradise. Think palm trees, coconuts and clear blue skies.
The turtle conservation, which is also where our local home stay was situated, was only a short walk away from the beach. The place had outside showers where howler monkeys were swinging around and throwing mangos. It was certainly a unique experience!
We each had a number and had to follow a schedule during our stay. For example, certain numbers had to wash the dishes at a certain time on a certain day; everyone has to contribute in some way, but it makes it fair on everyone. We got breakfast, lunch and dinner cooked for us everyday. Typically, the food was a mix of beans and rice, salads, some meat and fruits like pineapple or watermelon. The portions were always big enough that there was no need to snack during the day.
On the first morning, we had a workshop with Valerie, who runs the conservation. She filled us in on everything we would want to know about turtles and how to identify them. To put our newly found knowledge to the test, we did a mock up on the beach of how they collect eggs and safely re-bury them in the hatchery. It soon became apparent to me what impact climate change is having on this part of the world. It was swelteringly hot on the coast, making the sand hot, so some turtles die before they hatch or reach the sea. The conservation of course helps stop this, but the change in temperature really could be felt and I’ve never sweated as much as I did during this week. Despite it being rainy season, Valerie told us that it hadn’t rained for a while and even she struggled with the heat. Most days it reached around 35-40 degrees.
Every night, we would go on turtle patrol, essentially walking along the beach to see whether any turtle eggs had been laid. We were looking for turtle tracks, to lead us to the nest. I have to say, the night sky on the coast was absolutely insane that I still can’t quite get over it. As there is no light pollution, or just pollution in general, the sky was so clear that a countless amount of stars could be seen. I’ve never seen a shooting star and then I saw several in one night, including one that exploded. It was out of this world, literally. I was so in awe of it and I don’t think any photo could do justice as being able to see it with my eyes.
Katie, Ishah, Gemma and I were put on the only 2am shift of the week. That night we came across some turtle tracks and found 114 eggs! Turtle eggs look like ping pong balls and feeling thrilled to find them, we soon put them in the hatchery. We named our nest in the hatch ‘Pura Vida’, which is a famous Costa Rican saying for ‘pure life’.
The following night, everyone was on patrol in “North” or “South” groups, I headed ‘North’ with Gabriel. Gabriel checked on the hatchery and it turned out that some had hatched! This was the first time we had seen an actual turtle and we each got to hold one and watched as they crawled their way to the ocean. To say we were buzzed was an understatement!
Around 10 minutes into the patrol we came across turtle tracks that were just in one direction, and the turtle just happened to be there! Gabriel called Sergio and the ‘South’ group, who were already pretty far into their walk, ran as fast as they could to see the turtle. The turtle itself wasn’t in the greatest condition. Her shell was badly damaged, Gabriel said that she really had been through the wars, she laid 115 eggs. Thankfully, they made it just in time to see the Olive Ridley. We were so lucky to see so much in one night and we were absolutely euphoric from the night’s events.
After the final day working at the nursery, we got back to the camp and Sergio told us that 5 more turtles had hatched. They were from last nights hatch, but just needed a little more time before they were ready. This time, we got to see them off to the ocean just as the sun was setting in all of its fabulous velvet red glory. It was a truly magical moment that I won’t be forgetting any time soon.
The ethos of the turtle conservation was all about making the world a better place, which you do by helping your local community. Community is right at the heart of this place. It’s also about eating well, working hard and being active, and to be honest, I’ve never felt as good as I did when I was staying here.
We said our goodbyes to Valerie and met up with Prisiclla to head to Playa Grande, north of Playa Junquillal, for 2 nights. Priscilla had arrived the night before to take us back to Santa Cruz first to then get the bus to Playa Grande.
At the turtle conservation, we were in a small room based on 4 sharing, so it was a complete luxury to be sharing rooms as pairs at our new hotel! The rooms were air conned and very spacious, with a kitchen and seating area. There was a very nice restaurant a few minutes walk away from the hotel so we got dinner there and a few of us even grabbed a cheeky Sangria. We decided to have some fun so we headed to Tamarindo and partied that night!
After we devoured pancakes for breakfast, we spent our Sunday learning how to surf. Surfing is something I’ve always wanted to try out but just never got around to doing, so I was ecstatic to be trying it out for the first time on the pacific coast. Surfing is great fun and it was a hit with all of us, considering it was most of our first time doing it. I will certainly try it again, but I doubt it will be the same in the UK. From my own experience, I do have to say be careful girls; if you are wearing a bikini you do so at your own risk. The guys who taught us must certainly love their job!
The rest of the day was spent relaxing in the pool before most of us walked along the beach to a chilled restaurant called Shakas.
Next up, spending the week safari floating, chilling in the hot springs and zip lining in the rainforest!
Check out our Costa Rica Adventure tour here