International CALUE Service Break: Wrap Up

We SERVED, We LEARNED, We TRAVELED!

Sea Turtle Conservation Project:

We have wrapped up our FIRST INTERNATIONAL SUMMER CALUE SERVICE BREAK! We could not have picked a better country (Costa Rica) and group of people to work with ACI (Interculturalidad & Servicio Voluntario) , Verdiazul, and United Planet. These groups were essential for us having an outstanding trip and they went above and beyond!

To name drop a few:

Mauricio: 

Six CALUE Service Breakers give a guns up with Mauricio, the Director of ACI-Costa Rica.

Left to right: Jesus, Taylor, Ahalee, Mauricio, Kennadee, Alyssa, Jerylme.

Director of ACI, welcomed our group with open arms the minute we stepped off the plane. Mauricio’s orientation, the first 2 days, were extremely beneficial to our understanding of Costa Rica, the culture, geography, and environment!

Kat, ACI volunteer, who was a long-term volunteer from England, was so sweet and really gave our students a better understanding of options they have for volunteering long-term abroad!

Valerie: 

Six CALUE Service Breaks participants along side Co-founder and Director of Verdiazul.

Left to right: Jerylme, Valerie, Ahalee, Jesus, Kennadee, Taylor, Alyssa.

the co-founder and Director of Verdiazul, was so passionate about her work. She is a biologist who fell in love with Sea Turtles! She helped start the organization 11 years ago and it was amazing to see how excited she would get when we found a nest or released the baby turtles.

Joselyn Jimenez: 

Joselyn, an employee of Verdiazul, gives a local girl a piggy back ride.

Joselyn

a full time employee at Verdiazul, was the hardest working individual. She led patrols, directed people where they were supposed to be, and had a love for her job that was hard not to notice. She made the experience so exciting just by allowing us to see how much she loved her job!

Dan, another full time employee, and Bran, a long-term volunteer from England, were leaders in the organization who took us on night patrols and answered any of our questions. They were both amazing!

Pictured right is Bran, a volunteer from Verdiazul.

Right: Bran

Dan, a employee of Veridazul, holds a baby turtle on the beach while giving volunteers instructions on how to handle the turtles.

Dan

My next 2 awesome individuals who were there from the very beginning as well; but were also there for the duration of our 10 day experience:

Older: 

Ahalee, CALUE Service Breaks participant, sits in a hammock, while Older, our Costa Rica bus driver, stands while taking a picture.

Ahalee in hammock, and Older leaning in for a picture.

was the best bus driver, he not only helped us constantly get from A to B but also loved teaching us Spanish and making jokes when we tried! He took us to impromptu grocery store runs for ice cream and even drove us to a better part of the beach on our beach afternoon so we didn’t have to walk. He was full of information about Costa Rica and always had a smile!

Germàn: 

Jerylme, CALUE staff member, and Germàn, Costa Rican guide pose for picture.

Left: Jerylme Right: Germàn

our in-country guide, went above and beyond to make our experience special. He was full of information on all things Costa Rica, but also random things such as, where do hamburgers come from; the history of Marco Polo, and many others! He participated in everything and always made sure everyone was taken care of! From sunburns, bugs, scrapes, scratches, blisters, to many many questions about Costa Rica he had the answers! We loved getting to see how passionate he was about his country!

The Sea Turtle Conservation Project at Verdiazul did an amazing job in giving us an understanding of why what they are doing is important. It was a consensus in our group that they did a great job of making everything we were learning come full circle. From the information about the country’s culture, economy, politics, environment, and conservation we were able to tie all those things into what we were doing. Night patrols, hatchery work, beach clean ups, and reforestation all played a huge role in the conservation, education, and rehabilitation of Sea Turtles. Even the importance that the organization placed on getting the backing of the local community, Junquillal, and changing culture showed through the everyday activities.

I hope this CALUE Service Break group was INSPIRED to see the full circle of our actions in the environment. I hope they were INSPIRED to continue their goal of becoming active citizens, both locally and globally! I hope they are INSPIRED to reach out to all communities, and realize that even the most minute of actions can make a difference.

-PURA VIDA-

Baby turtle on the beach in front of a Costa Rican flag hat.

Junquillal, Costa Rica

 

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Sunday FUNday!

Checking in from Costa Rica! This trip has been amazing thus far. My blog post will be about the differences in culture that have really stuck out to me.

  1. People– The people of Costa Rica are so friendly and genuine. They have really made adapting to the “Costa Rican” ways, much easier than it could have been. The people we have been able to enjoy from Costa Rica are German (our group leader), Older (our bus driver), Valerie (manager of Verdiazul), and Joss (full-time employee of Verdiazul). Each were kind and patient, even when they probably should not have been.
  2. Food– The food here has been hard to adjust to because there is not much variation. There is not Italian food one day, Chinese food the next day, and then Mexican food the day after that. We have had rice, fruit, and salad with each meal along with a different meat. No seasoning and no sauce. Very bland, but it has been good.
  3. Climate– This has been the hardest to adjust to. The humidity here is unbelievable, and I will never get used to it. I have often been saying, “I have never sweated this much in my life.” Right now, it is winter or rainy season (May to mid-November), which means it is beautiful in the mornings and rainy in the afternoon. But thank goodness, it has not been raining every afternoon.
  4. Community Lifestyle– Junquillal’s community is awesome. As a community, they have really come together to help with sea turtle conservation. The atmosphere of everyone coming together is so refreshing and really makes it easier to work in such a hard environment. Some other things I have noticed: There are dogs roaming EVERYWHERE; there are bars on all windows of houses; there are fences around all houses; everyone has their doors open music playing.

Adapting to other cultures is often difficult, but luckily, Costa Rica’s transition has been easy and awesome. The days are winding down and I cannot wait to see what the rest of this trip has in store for us. Stay tuned!

 

PURA VIDA~

Kennadee Buchanan

Chillin’ and Sunburnin’ : Day 6

Hola from Costa Rica! It has been quite an adventure these past few days in Junquillal. I was a little weary about waking up at 3 a.m. to go do night patrol on Junquillal’s beach. The 3 a.m. patrol quickly filled with excitement as we found a Lora, also known as an Olive Ridley, sea turtle nest. We got the opportunity to reach in and grab the eggs from the nest. I was able to pull out 100 of the 152 overall eggs. It was quite interesting because unlike chicken eggs, sea turtle eggs are very squishy and quite flexible. I was afraid I was going to squish them too hard while pulling them out of the nest! We finished walking the North end of the beach and then went to the hatchery to put the eggs into a protected nest.

The rest of the day was spent helping Verdiazul fix the hatchery baskets. It was fun to try and figure out how to sew the basket holes up with a curved needle and fishing thread. At 6 p.m. we had a nice meal of spaghetti, some veggies, and a little bit of meat on top. I think we were all happy to have some pasta! Group 3 headed out for night patrol at 7. There were no sea turtles or nest sightings. It did help my step count go up; I ended the day with 32,000 steps.

This morning the group headed down for a light breakfast and headed out for a few hours of beach clean up. We were divided into groups and we picked up recyclables and trash that we found on the beach. I started feeling defeated while picking up plastic because the amount that we were able to pick up seemed minuscule compared to all of it that was out there. At one point I thought it would have just been easier to shovel up patches of the sand because of the amount of small pieces of plastic mixed in. It really put in to perspective just how much plastic, glass, and trash washes up on to the shores and the need to reduce our use of these products.

After lunch we headed out to Playa Blanca for a day in the sand! The waves here are a lot more rough then the waves in Texas or even Florida. It was funny when our group got flipped over on the sand because the wave hit us faster than we expected. I also enjoyed walking down the beach and finding the most beautifully colored and swirly sea shells. I will be missing the beaches when we head back on Tuesday to San Jose.

Well I’ve got to run to finish these chips and guacamole!

Sunburned back of CALUE Service Break participant

PSA: Wear your sunscreen kids!

-Alyssa Weaver-

Day 5 – “X” Marks the Spot

Our day started off at 12:00 a.m. for the night patrol in which we look for nesting turtles on the beach. About 15 minutes into our walk, we see the tracks of a Lora turtle leading to a possible nest. Bran, the leader of our patrol, uses a walking stick to find a soft spot in the nest. By poking the sand with a stick you can tell where the eggs could be based on how easily the stick goes into the sand. After finding one of the soft spots, Bran begins to dig. Unfortunately, no eggs are found. After several attempts at finding other soft spots and digging, we come the conclusion that the turtle may have been scared off. We ventured off to the north. About 25 minutes later we head back to patrol the south side of the coast. On the way, we stopped to say hi to Cecil, the local crocodile. Heading towards the south side of the beach and through a hiking trail with barely any light, we began to look for more hints of a turtle. Walking through sand with low visibility is a tiring task, but at last we spot tracks. This time finding the soft spot was easy. Removing a small layer of sand revealed the treasure we were looking for. 79 turtle eggs were counted! We collected the eggs in a plastic bag and walked on to finish the patrol. We finally reached the hatchery and made a new home for the eggs until they hatch. Finding those eggs made the waking up early, staying up late, working and walking on unstable sand in the heat and humidity worth it.

The morning started off like the other days, waking up early after a night of patrolling with breakfast at 8 a.m. at Verdiazul. Breakfast consisted of eggs, toast, watermelon and papaya. NO RICE AND BEANS! After breakfast, the children from the local school of Junquillal came to Verdiazul to spend the morning with us. We went to the beach to play futbol (soccer for the Americans out there). Jerlym, Jacy, Ahalee and I were on a team against some of the boys. Let me just say that they have some fancy footwork. Apparently, I had so many red cards thrown at me that I was ejected from the game and put in jail. At the end I don’t even know who won. We were all covered in sand and exhausted. Overall, it was a fun workout while getting to spend time with some of the local children.

The day was long with some rain in between. Now I am ready for bed at 8:00 p.m. for the night patrol at three in the morning. It’s been a very fun and interesting week so far filled with information and great experiences. I got to hold and release a baby sea turtle! I am looking forward to what these next few days have in store for us. Overall, Costa Rica is a beautiful country with amazing people and I am extremely grateful I got to go on this trip.

-Jesus Gonzalez

 

WE HAVE BABIES! Day 4

Today was an early morning after a very late patrol night, and although we were tired we got up to eat and see the water. Around this time is when we really first started being introduced to the other volunteers from around the world- Belgium, London, Maine, Wisconsin, and Costa Rica itself! Breakfast was good- eggs, toast, fruit, and a combination of rice and beans referred to as ‘Gallo Pinto’ (roughly translated to ‘painted rooster’). After our morning started, we went on a short tour around Junquillal to see the hatchery, the reforestation areas, the nursery, and the mangrove. Just in this short time we managed to see iguanas, black hawks, howler monkeys, and a Mot Mot- the national bird of Nicaragua! Following our tour, we ate a lunch of garbanzo beans, rice, and a burger patty. As a few of us did the dishes, the others went to get us all ice cream as a refresher from the heat. One of the Verdiazul volunteers, Ben, presented a short power point over the types of turtles and the many dangers to them before we headed to the beach to learn about finding their nests and removing their eggs on the shores. While the information was extremely interesting and helpful to us all, the heat and exhaustion were diminishing our spirits until we heard the news- the babies had hatched! Nicknamed ‘Lora’ after a type of macaw locals believe to have a similar beak, the Olive Ridley’s were 72 in number. We all took several photographs as we hopped on then bus to return them to their original beach. As they were released, we named them, raced them, and showed them to a young local boy who was excited to play in the sand. After all the excitement, we returned to our cabana and swam in the pool to cool off from the long day. We returned to Verdiazul for dinner, and added a super spicy salsa to our food to try it out! Tonight it is storming pretty hard, so night patrol might have to be put on hold. Overall, Costa Rica is a beautiful country beaming with life in every corner and, even though it’s only the first full day, it has been incredibly rewarding and life changing. 

-Taylor Keeler-

Closer to the Reward: Day 3

We are only three days into this 10 day journey and this CALUE Service Break (CSB) has been an outstanding experience. Everything from our immediate stop in San Jose (Costa Rica’s heart and capitol city) for some American fast food on day 1, to the a second day filled with more Costa Rican history, perspective-expanding, sea turtle interaction anxiousness building, and hip-shaking salsa lessons than you can imagine has successfully deepen this experience. I now feel a connection with not only the potential sea turtles that I may encounter; but this country, its intriguing people and the importance of environmental conservation.

Today, day 3, our main objective was to travel to our ultimate destination, Juquillal.
Road in Costa Rica leading to ocean, surrounded on both sides with tropical foliage.
For the second day in a row I was awakened at 6:00 a.m. by the faint sound of various species of birds and the soft glow of the sun peaking around my poorly drawn curtains. It reminded me a lot of the alarm with which my cellphone disturbs my slumber. However, it was a welcomed symphony because this time it was the real birds in the real place – paradise.

After floating though my morning grooming routine, accompanied by the symphony, I headed down to our group’s meeting place to eat breakfast. That was followed by a couple hours of free time for the group before our departure. Most of us sat by the pool and chatted about things like the previous day’s events or the symphony that was, in fact, not just a performance for my personal enjoyment.

During all of the small talk it did cross my mind that we would now be heading to do what we came here for, serve. All of the beauty, intrigue, and exoticism would now be accompanied by uncomfortableness, hard work, and hopefully the reward of seeing a sea turtle. Fortunately, yesterday’s orientation made me feel at ease with whatever was to come – especially the reward.

Following pool time, we ate lunch as a group. We even got to eat with our tour guide, German, and awesome driver, Oldemar. Bellies full with a meal that included chicken, rice and beans (the Costa Rican staple), and yucca (a vegetable that was new to most of us), we hit the road.

After a brief reroute due to road construction, the 6 hour drive to Junquillal went by in a flash. I was able see more of the beautifully lush scenery of the San Jose area. I even had my first (yes first ever) glimpse at the ocean through the still lush, but slightly more spread out, foliage of the areas closer to the coast. During this transition in scenery, we made two pit stops. The first was two hours in at a small place called Cafeteria Mi Finca. We all got smoothies and caught a few snapshots of their most beautiful customers, two Scarlet macaws. The second stop was in Santa Cruz, which is about 45 minutes from our destination so we could pick up a few last minute supplies such as insect repellent, sunscreen, and good socks – all of which we were promised would be vital.

Service break participants roll suitcases into a Costa Rican resort

We arrived at Guacamaya lodge (our sleeping quarters) on time at 6:00 p.m., put our bags in our rooms, and then walked down the road to Verdiazul. whilewalking, it quickly sank in that the humidity near San Jose couldn’t hold a candle to the aqueuos substance that we were being forced to breathe in Junquillal. When we reached Verdiazul we were welcomed by 6 of their “long-term” volunteers. These are young adults who have agreed to volunteer with Verdiazul for a time-frame of 6 or more months. Hearing them exchange witty banter in their wildly different accents led me to believe that they had become a pretty tight-knit group at this point. I hoped that something proportionately similar would happen with our group in the short 10 days we will spend together. Things are trending as if it will.
After dinner, which was provided by the Verdiazul staff and volunteers, we were given a brief orientation by Valerie Guthrie. Valerie is a tropical biologist and naturalist guide who has been working as an environmental educator for the Junquillal sea turtle project since 2005. After orientation we were given the details of the the next day’s schedule and then given recommendations about what we should wear on our first night patrol that would start 3 1/2 hours later at 11:30 p.m.  I was glad to know that she was scheduled to lead the first one. We were also told that the sea turtle hatching season had only recently started and there had been activity almost every night. The groups excitement continued to grow. Check back to get updates on this and other Summer 2017 CSB activities!
-Jerylme Robins

Let Costa Rica Orientation Begin: Day 2

Day 2 in paradise! Today was a very busy but informative day. We started the day with a traditional Costa Rican breakfast of eggs, fried plantains, gallo pinto (rice and beans mixed together) and fruit juice. We then had some free time so we explored the hotel. There is a ropes course, two pools and about 6 hot tubs and it is in the middle of a forest on the side of a volcano. We have an amazing view from our room! We then had two separate meetings: one about our expectations of this trip and one about stereotypes.

Service break participants sit around a large piece of paper during orientation

We then had another break where we talked with Kat and German about  our homes and showed pictures to each other which was fun since we are all from different places. Kat is from Britain, German is from Costa Rica and our group is from Texas and Georgia. We then ate lunch which was chicken, rice, potatoes and juice. Our group also tried beets and heart of palm but none of us were fans. After lunch some of us went back and took a nap during our first rain storm in Costa Rica. After our nap we had another meeting which was my favorite of the day. We discussed Costa Rica and learned a lot of interesting facts about the country. Some of the most interesting were that Costa Rica has not had an army since 1948, 5% of the world’s biodiversity is present in Costa Rica, and 25% of their total land is protected which is the most in the world. We had a 30 minute break but since our group wasn’t brave enough to go out into the pouring rain, we played Uno. Our last meeting was to discuss the Sea Turtle Project and our schedule for the next few days in Junquillal. After dinner, we ended the night with a dance class which was the most fun part of the day! We learned salsa, merengue, and a Costa Rican choreographed dance. We all had a lot of fun and we are already looking forward to finding a salsa night in Lubbock. Today we received a lot of information and had a lot of rain, but it was a nice relaxing day before our busy week with Verdiazul and the sea turtles. I can’t wait to see what else we get to experience this week!

— Ahalee Cathey–