Today is the day we head off to our volunteer project in Ostional. The reason we are all in Costa Rica. Waking up way too early after a night out we pack up our bags and head downstairs. What awaits us is one mini bus which we must squeeze in two volunteer groups, both heading in the same direction. My friends and I claim the back seat and automatically fell asleep. Sleeping is of course the best way to spend a six hour drive, especially after a night drinking. Forty minutes until arrival turns into two hours along dirt roads. No one along these roads is in a rush, and if you are best of luck, the journey always takes longer than expected.
Arriving at Ostional and jumping off the bus we immediately miss the comfort of the air conditioning. Covered in sweat under the intense Guanacaste sun we are told who we will be spending the next two weeks with. I am paired with the only other vegetarian, Yan. She’s a friendly, smart Australian chick who speaks amazing Spanish, even though she’s only been learning for a week with me. Our host mother is named Digna (this is likely the incorrect spelling).
We all walk to our home for the next two weeks which is set just off the dirt road with the front yard full of plantain trees. Seeing our room for the first time is definitely a new experience. Two brightly hung mosquito nets hang over the beds with a single fan is placed in the middle. The bathroom has a hose hanging through a hole in the wall as a shower.
Due back at the station where we will be working, Yan and I head back out into the heat. Thinking we know the way, it quickly becomes obvious this is not true as we end up twenty minutes in the wrong direction. Aimlessly wondering around the small village for forty five minutes we finally find the station. Unimpressed gazes greet us from the cabana. During orientation we learn a bit about what kind of work we will be doing here and our roster for the next two weeks. Dinner time is not too much later- beans and rice, of and of course plantains, my favourite.
The next day. . .
The morning begins with some turtle training before the sun and heat get too intense. With the help of the locals and an IVQH volunteer we make a leatherback turtle out of sand. This is so we can learn how to correctly take measurements, tag and collect the eggs as the turtle lays them. If you have never heard of leatherback turtles before, seriously, google them. These bad boys are massive and obviously from prehistoric times.
Wade, our leader, teaches us for an hour. Then, it is time to destroy the sand turtles. This is important as the ground needs to be flat for real turtles. As Guanacaste is such a hot climate during the middle of the day there is never anything planned. Instead everyone heads for shade and listens to the iguanas chilling on the roof and waiting for them to scrap the tin when they eventually fall down.
That afternoon everyone has hatchery training. One kilometer down the beach is the hatchery. For a better chance of survival the black and leatherback turtle’s nests are relocated here. The hatchery is a wooden structure covered in mesh. Set up where the sand meets the tree line. The sand has been cleaned and to ensure it is not contaminated. We even need to wash our feet every time we enter/exit the hatchery. Lastly, we learned about what to do in case babies hatch and the processes which take place.
Next, it was time to put all this learning into practice when we had to build our own turtle nests. It’s actually ridiculous how deep the nests are. Everyone had their face right up to the sand trying to extend arms to get to the desired depth. There is no way better to wash sand off than to run into the ocean.
That night I had my first patrol shift with some of the IVHQ volunteers. This is where we would be walking the beach from 8pm-12 midnight, totaling approximately 12km. Playa Ostional is beautiful under moonlight, absolutely serene. It’s so surprising how your eyes soon adapt as no torches are allowed. During the four hours we saw an olive ridley as well as a green sea turtle (otherwise known as a black turtle in Costa Rica) which were trying to nest. Though, we left the turtles to do their own thing as it is the leatherbacks we are on lookout for. I end up falling asleep to the sound of waves crashing on the beach with the bright moon above. That moment where the whole beach is silent, in between wave breaks, is what I live for.
I am travelling through Costa Rica with a volunteer program called International Student Volunteers or ISV. For the next two weeks I will be calling Playa Ostional home while participating in conservation work to help protect the leatherback and black turtles.