Travel, Turtles, Time Well Spent

Norman Hageman
Norman Hageman

I have traveled to San Jose, Costa Rica many times to support a children’s home, but I wanted to see more of the country. I found ConservationVIP’s Costa Rican volunteer trip a way to “Travel with Purpose,” expand my interest, and to be a great opportunity to experience and serve those in remote communities. The trip proved a safe and convenient way to make a meaningful difference in very remote areas that are challenging to get to on your own or to even know they exist. It’s also a great way to travel as an individual, as many other team members and I did.

One of four communities our volunteer team helped was Punta Banco, a remote Pacific beach community in SW Costa Rica, where we helped with the Punta Banco Sea Turtle Conservation Project. Traditionally sea turtle eggs are a delicacy and valued commodity. The government is working with the local community to find a balance between traditional use, while protecting healthy sea turtle populations. However, policing is poorly funded, and poaching is a problem. We worked alongside dedicated local volunteers who after their day jobs, patrol beaches nightly to prevent poaching. I found the trip unique in that it nurtured the efforts of locals to move their culture forward in protecting their ecosystems, while embracing traditions and economic opportunity.

Norman volunteering in Costa RicaThis volunteer trip seemed unique to me in that it contained some of my normal strenuous activities ranging from hauling sand out of a turtle hatchery to building a sea wall solely from washed up materials on the beach. It also included a much more nurturing, softer type of work which ranged from counting exotic birds and animals to setting newly hatched turtles free. It was a very nice blend.

This trip introduced me to ecotourism. In addition to helping with a community volunteer project, we dined in local homes. Not only fun, they provided some income to the local people. This trip was also full of new experiences and adventure, like driving through the rain forest on a dirt road, becoming more primitive and the bridges narrower with every turn.

I was soothed by being awakened in the morning with the amazing sounds of the rainforest, like howler monkeys, with the sound of the ocean and rain on the tin roof in the background. I quickly became accustomed to very basic accommodations, like showers without showerheads or hot water, standard issue for the remote rain forest. Our team was full of fun and interesting people who travel and live with purpose. By the time we left, I nearly cried knowing I was so blessed to have experienced this sanctuary.

We had one of the best guides in the county, as well as his understudy the bus driver. I can’t begin to adequately describe the knowledge, energy, and expertise they provided the team. Let me just summarize by saying that by the time the trip was over, they felt like brothers to me.

Very cool trip. Very special people. Very meaningful work. And the very best guides ever. A small piece of me has been created by this trip and I long to return for more and to support the efforts!

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