Entries in #costarica (7)


Trail Volunteers Join Camp  Osita

After 6 weeks of high intensity travel through Central America, I arrived at Camposita. The turtles, primates and big cats conservation project in Costa Rica practically wired me to expect the unexpected - or at least feel a constant uncertainty and excitement.

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The Princes and the Poison Dart Frog 

Will Aaron finally see his first poison dart frog today? This is the question he’s been asking for ten days now, and his hope rests on his debut of Leona Ridge (the second longest survey trail on offer for us plucky young volunteers). Sam has seen eight frogs already much to Aaron’s annoyance, but today that all changes…

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Trail Maintenance - Always A Day To Remember

Every now and then something special happens on the board that provides us with our weekly schedule, and rather than seeing your initials scrawled underneath ‘Shady Lane - bird survey’, or ‘Luna Ridge – primate survey’, you’ll see them written under something wonderfully rare, and for those who know the deal, your heart may even flutter with excitement. Before I came to Costa Rica I didn’t realise that two seemingly ordinary words could combine to create an extraordinary rush of exhilaration. I naively thought that this kind of thrill is reserved only for Formula One drivers, or those who hold a special love for adrenaline. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Behold – trail maintenance.

Sure, on the face of it trail maintenance seems like nothing special, in fact if anything it might seem like hard work, a laborious day spent sweating as the Central American sun beats down on your sweaty back. This, however, only tells half the story, and while it would be unwise to suggest that trail maintenance is easy work, it would be equally unwise for you to assume that a day spent shovelling dirt and shifting rocks is any less fun than hunting Howler Monkeys or tracking turtles.

And so it was that our motley crew of eight set out towards Rio Carate to meet our temporary boss for the day, Adrian, owner of La Leona eco-lodge, unsure of what ‘trail maintenance’ would entail this time (for it is different almost every time). When he did arrive he hopped off his quadbike, turned his eyes to the sky, swivelled back to face us, and with the wisdom of a man who has lived in this part of Costa Rica for many, many years, said to us ‘we have around an hour till the sun gets too hot, so let’s move some rocks’. And so we did, without not a single one of us doubting that the rocks we were shifting would serve a great purpose (it turns out we were helping to build stone steps to make the trail more accessible), and to do so we created a human conveyer belt, passing the rocks along until a huge and glorious pile had built up. And then we continued.

The second part of trail maintenance saw us split into two groups – the shovellers and the rakers. Adrian had decided that the trail path needed to be cleared of the fallen leaves and rotting mangoes, and that also some steps needed to be built into what had become a rather steep path. We set about our work with bags of enthusiasm, glad to have escaped from the sun and into the shady trail before the sun had become too unbearable, just as Adrian had prophesised. It was hard work, but after a few hours the trail was as clean as a whistle, and twice as easy to navigate as it had been previously. This is one of two moments which make trail maintenance so special, as it is these trails which we use for surveys, and that others use to travel around the peninsula, so to look back on it and appreciate that your hard work makes life easier for others is rewarding in the most simple of ways.

However it is the third and final part of trail maintenance which really makes it stand out so splendidly when you see it on the board. Tired and sweaty, we take our shovels and rakes and trudge towards Adrian’s kingdom – La Leona eco-lodge. Here we are met with clean towels, and ushered towards the showers. Once fresh, we then move over towards the dining area, our minds whirring in anticipation, thinking feverishly about what is soon to follow. To begin with, we are treated with a seemingly endless supply of iced tea and coffee, which is much needed after the days work. Then what we are all waiting for happens. A pair of waiters appear, and deliver to us the finest lunch that Carate can offer, courtesy of Adrian and eco-lodge. A salad of vegetables, egg and olives, chunky slices of warm, crisp bread, and a huge, steaming portion of pasta in the sweetest, most delicious tomato sauce. Oh Adrian, you’ve done it again you sly dog.

There is no kick-out time, so we spend our day lounging in La Leona’s hammocks, listening to the sound of the sea which is not even 20 meters from us, and day-dreaming of the glorious lunch we’ve just devoured. A round of desserts come out for us, more coffee is drunk, and eventually we decide it’s time to leave this life behind and head back to camp, where we are hounded for the details of the food we were treated to this time.

In this day and age a true hero is hard to come by, but for us, Adrian will always be a knight in shining armour.

By Alistair Ross - Field Communications Officer

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.

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What to Expect in Costa Rica

Having done the Central America trail before hand, I was a little in the dark as to what Frontier Costa Rica's work was all about. I thought therefore that this would be a good chance to explain things for anyone else in my position!

Despite its size, the OSA peninsula is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, home to a whopping 4% of the worlds species. Most of these are endangered, and to make matters worse, endemic to the area - they cannot live anywhere else. Furthermore, many of these species are data deficient (one bird species hasn't had a paper published on it since 1954!).

Frontier's purpose in this area is to collect data that could potentially help protect these species and the local ecosystem. We study a huge variety of animals, grouped into birds, mammals, primates, turtles, reptiles and amphibians. It's a lot to keep track of but you learn quickly! We go out on surveys every morning very early (and sometimes night surveys which are incredible), so be ready to be hiking at 5 am! Each survey will go through a part of the jungle or beach in order to keep track of what animals can be seen or heard on that trail, helping Frontier understand the numbers and distribution of the target species.

Bird surveys for example, will be organised into three stop points, where volunteers will put their newly acquired bird calls knowledge to use, and attempt to identify the fifty bird species Frontier studies. I've had problems learning the bird calls (some sound so similar!) but there are some funny ways to remember them, one in particular we call the party bird since it sounds like a dubstep, while the macaw is quickly committed to memory  (screeching nails). Primate trails are slightly different, as you walk slowly through the jungle while staring into the trees and trying not to trip over a rogue root. They are equally fun however, and while I've never had this happen to me I've heard stories from other volunteers that they will throw poo if they feel aggressed!

My favourite trails however are the turtle ones, mostly because I saw a pacific green laying eggs up close, then accompanied her to the sea, which was incredible. A normal turtle survey will involve hiking the beaches in search of turtle tracks or nests, and seeing which nests have been predated (eaten by predators). Turtles don't like laying eggs with lots of light or disturbances, and they will always pick the same beaches, which is part of why they are becoming endangered. Many of their beaches are becoming tourist traps, and the light pollution and increased activity is scaring them away, not to mention poachers taking the eggs once their nests have been laid. Something I thought was really interesting, is that around only one in a thousand turtle eggs will survive; there are so many problems, from predators, to making it to the sea, that very few make it.

The OSA peninsula is one of two areas in Costa Rica that are protected reserves, where the wildlife can thrive - the other is situated around the other side of the mainland. The problem is that for many species, this stretch of land isn't enough. For example, a healthy jaguar population needs 1500 km2 to survive, whereas at the moment, they only have 500 km2 in the OSA peninsula. No one on camp has ever seen a jaguar, due in part to their dwindling numbers (and the fact that they don't like to be seen!). Another problem the wildlife here faces is codependency - ie a particular bird species spreads the seeds of a certain tree, and some primates need that tree to survive. If we lose the bird, the whole cycle is then potentially lost. Frontier's overarching aim would be to gather enough data on such difficulties, and present them to the government via an organisation called Minae, ideally linking the two reserves and creating enough land for these endangered species to thrive.

So there you have it, an abbreviated summary of what on earth Frontier are doing in Costa Rica! I hope it helps (and makes you want to come help out - seriously, the wildlife and location are stunning!).

By Meriel Clementson - Central American Ethical Trail Volunteer

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.

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An Introduction to the Jungle

It was, with much huffing, a little puffing, and a lot of sweating, that I bundled onto the collectivo in Puerto Jiminez. My bag crashed to the floor as I, with an equal amount of force, crashed onto a little wooden bench which ran down the side of the van. No First Class this time. This was to be the final journey on the Central America trail, and I was about to become an ex-trail leader. Frontier Costa Rica’s jungle camp was beckoning me, but I had no idea what that would involve.

If I was apprehensive about it, which I can’t really remember now, then with two weeks of jungle life behind me I know that those would have been silly thoughts. As I write this I’m swinging in a hammock hanging from two trees which a few days ago had a group of monkeys swinging through them too. Around me people are laughing and chatting and there is talk of someone making a cake. The kitchen and dining area, which is always a hub of activity, has just produced another batch of jungle cuisine, and even a self-proclaimed meat fanatic  would love the meat-less food which this fridge-less camp produces.

I’ll admit it wasn’t all rosy to begin with, the 04.30am starts take a few days to adjust to, but once you’ve hit the road for surveys you’re good to go, even if you’ve only managed a mouthful of coffee and spoonful of porridge, a form of sustenance which has become a way of life for many in our little microcosm within the Carate Jungle. The mornings work could involve a number of things, hunting for mammal or turtle tracks, cracking your binoculars out and scoping for birds by the lagoon, or headings into the jungle to search out troops of primates, to name but a few.

Once your morning surveys are done you’ll arrive back, feast on jungle cuisine, and then get involved in something else. Organised debates occur (should we all be vegetarian? Should prisoners have the vote?), Spanish is taught, there is workout classes for the brave, and hammocks for the dozy. A new addition is sunset beach yoga, which I even tried my hand at because, well, why not?

So there we have it, a brief introduction to the jungle. From an ex-trail leader who likes to be on the move, I don’t think I’ll be complaining about sitting still for 3 and a half months while I’m on the Osa Peninsula.

By Alistair Ross - Ex Trail Leader and Field Communications Officer

Find out more about Costa Rica Big Cats, Primates & Turtles Conservation.

Check out what volunteer in Costa Rica are up to right now!