This was the first volunteering project I worked on overseas and Green life volunteers proved to be a good choice. I decided for the Bird Conservation project, which is run by Osa Birds: Research and Conservation.
I arrived onto the Osa peninsula at Drake bay after an hours boat trip from Sierpe through the mangroves. The bay is named after Sir Francis Drake who it is believed sheltered in the bay in the 16th century and may have hidden treasure in the area. I study in the UK town from where he began his journey so it was a fascinating gateway into the Osa and start to the project. After a few days following the trails and relaxing on the beach, I caught the 4am bus to Puerto Jimenez where I was met by Janina. I had already been provided with a list of items I should bring with me to Costa Rica but should I have forgotten any items, Janina was there to show me where in town I could find things like medicines, footwear or banking services. I was then introduced to Dona Angela who would be providing my lodging and Amelie, another volunteer who could translate my bad Spanish into good Tico Spanish. After some orientation lessons about the local area, I met up with the project lead, Karen to discuss further the schedule for the coming weeks.
The first week would be spent in Puerto Jimenez preparing for the International Bird Migratory Festival that weekend. I was put to work assisting with making bird costumes, information cards, logistical support and creating plywood bird cutouts to be painted at the festival. Preparations had been ongoing for a couple of months, so luckily much of the good work had already been done by other the volunteers Katarina and Jacky. On the eve of the festival, I was invited to a dinner with the Wisconsin Bird Association who were also attending and raising awareness about migratory bird routes when they were not off birding around the peninsula. They had seen an incredible number of bird species and it was a wonderful dinner with a great group of people. The day of the festival arrived and I was onsite bright and early with Pilar to set up the site for the day ahead. Proceedings began with schools from around the Osa taking part in a procession through the town in bird costumes, arriving at the festival site, where presentations by Karen and Osa Conservation took place alongside traditional Costa Rican song and dance festivities. By all accounts the day was a great success raising awareness in the community.
From Puerto Jimenez I was sent to the old gold mining town of Dos Brasos on the boundary of Corcavado National Park. Here I stayed with Tatiana and Eduardo who opened their home to me and cooked some wonderful Costa Rican dishes. The surrounding area of shallow river systems set against a backdrop of a towering forest canopy made for some great afternoon exploration of waterfalls and plant diversity. On many walks I encountered local gold miners panning for gold who were very friendly and offered guidance about the area. The plant nursery in Dos Brasos had already started construction on a new site after storms had washed away an initial Vivero at another site. Here Alexis and Kembly supervised my activities which included seed collection, seed propagation, bagging up soil and help with construction and site maintenance. They along with Jacky, the Peace Corps volunteer, welcomed me to their community and my week there was great.
My final two weeks were spent at Rancho Quemado. The plant nursery here was an Osa Birds sister project with Dos Brasos in the Gulfo Dulce Forest Reserve. I stayed at Cabinas Jaguar with Dona Alice surrounded by a garden filled with fruit trees and native plants. A site had been identified and preparations had been made by Yolanda to start construction when I arrived. Pilo and Ollie were on site everyday as we set about clearing the site and began constructing potting benches and propagation modules out of recycled timber. Later, structural walls were created and a roof would follow. Seed collection took place in the surrounding area as well as bird monitoring with Yolanda which is another initiative to encourage community ownership and engagement in biological monitoring of priority / indicator species for conservation. The son of Dona Alice provided orientation around the local area and I learnt much about the plant habitat of Osa as well as seeing many species of snake, spider, scorpion and birds such as the Bairds Trogon and a Jacamar. The Peace Corps volunteer, Katie was also very helpful and we worked together on the vegetable plots at the local school. The community of Rancho Quemado was very welcoming and my stay there was wonderful.
Volunteering with Green Life Volunteers and Osa Birds delivered a great personal experience and I am very grateful to Janina and Karen for organising such an interesting program. I hope these programs which they have set up will protect what is a very unique ecosystem even within Costa Rica. It was clear to me that having subsequently travelled around other areas of Costa Rica and Panama, that the bird species particularly were nowhere near as abundant elsewhere and conserving this biodiverse peninsula through reforestation where required and sustainable community run projects can protect the Osa into the future. The fabled treasure of Drake awaits.