katestewart's Travel Journals


  • 26 years old
  • From Perth, Australia
  • Currently in Perth, Australia

ISV Costa Rica 2012 Trip

This is about my trip to Costa Rica with ISV over December 2012/January 2013, and the amazing experience I had

Costa Rica!

Costa Rica Heredia, Costa Rica  |  Jan 25, 2013
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I was always someone who had a holiday in the works – somewhere I was planning to go to in the not too distant future, like a girl’s trip to Bali or a weekend away down south. So when a representative from International Student Volunteers (ISV) came into my accounting lecture at uni last February to talk about the program, I was immediately interested. I’d already heard a little about the program from friends who had done it before, and with a future only full of work, uni and exams, I put my name down for more information. Two weeks later I was putting down the deposit and was officially going to Costa Rica in December!

Committing to this trip changed my life in so many ways. Firstly, I hardly knew anything about the region known as ‘Central America’, let alone the small county of Costa Rica right in the middle of it. And the more I researched and the more information I was given from ISV, the easier it became to motivate myself to seriously save and work hard for this trip. I was balancing extra hours at work with assignments and exams, but to me it was all worth it. ISV does encourage fundraising, but fortunately my savings were already in good enough shape that I didn’t need to do any.

It seemed to take forever for the trip to come around, but then suddenly it was mid-December and it was here. I left from Sydney and on the long flight to Dallas nervously made friends with others from the group. It was such a move out of my comfort zone to go travelling with complete strangers, but everyone was in the same boat and we all bonded so quickly.

The first week of the tour I lived with a local family in the town of Heredia, which is just outside the capital of San Jose. I lived with my fellow ISV student, and soon to be best friend, Bella, in a household that spoke only the most basic English. That first week was incredible – it opened my eyes to the Costa Rican culture, because I was truly immersed in it. I ate like a local, explored like a local, and tried very hard to speak like a local too by taking Spanish lessons through ISV there. It was an absolute whirlwind of a week; from meeting so many new people, to learning Spanish, and even doing crazy things like going bungy jumping!

It was sad to leave what had become home, but after that week I was off on my volunteer project. Bella and I were both on the same project along with 5 other ISV students – we would be travelling to the south west of Costa Rica, to a place called Las Caletas on the Osa Peninsula. Here we spent two weeks with our incredible project leader Pablo, collecting data on the native flora and fauna to assist in his PhD research, which would ultimately be presented to many different governing bodies to promote the preservation of the rainforest.

Those two weeks were the biggest shock to the system I’d ever experienced. Once again we were living with a local family, however this was in a much smaller village (6 houses!), and now we were doing real work. Every day we’d have breakfast at 6 and be hiking up muddy trails in our big gumboots by 7. Work would consist of either monitoring wildlife on hikes with a local guide, creating insect traps in the canopies of trees, or collecting seeds from a type of nutmeg tree in order to figure out what was dispersing the seeds the most (monkeys, macaws, insects). All of this in what truly felt like 110% humidity! We’d be back home for lunch (generally rice and beans and some sort of meat or vegetables) at 12, and then activities in the afternoon would vary. One day we did a clean- up of the beach, collecting bottles and trash that had washed up. Another afternoon was spent making eco bricks that would be used for sustainable buildings. All the time we were discussing conservation, and what it meant to both a small town like Las Caletas, as well as on a larger scale like Australia.

But it wasn’t all hard work. The beach was a 1 minute walk and, with the rainforest bordering it, was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, especially at sunset. We went on a one hour hike to a larger town, as well as canoeing down the river and jumping off waterfalls. We experienced the traditional Christmas activity of making tomales, as well as New Year’s celebrations and a local birthday party. It was truly the most magical place I’ve ever been, and leaving was incredibly sad.

But then there was so much to look forward to. The last 2 weeks consisted of an amazing adventure tour throughout Costa Rica with everyone back together from the different volunteer projects. Our tour started off with a 3-day white water rafting trip down the Pacuare River, down class 3 and 4 rapids. Then we visited the town of Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast, and partied like the locals on the beach. After that we visited the Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna, and went to hot springs. This was also where we went on a zip-lining adventure and abseiled down an 80m waterfall!

From here we went to another volcano, Rincon de la Vieja, where we went to natural mud pools, went horseback riding and then tubing down more rapids. After this we ended up at Samara Beach on the pacific coast for the last few days, where we surfed and experienced the truly chilled local beach life.

The hardest part was yet to come though – getting on that plane and leaving. I had never travelled to somewhere and felt so connected to both it and the people I was travelling with. Visiting a country this way, not just as a tourist but as a volunteer, made me value the community I was in so much more. I had such a different outlook on the way I travelled, and truly changed for the better.

ISV has given me so many wonderful memories, as well as friends for life, and I would encourage anyone who is even slightly interested to just go for it. It’s a once in a lifetime experience.

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  • Costa Rica!

    January 25, 2013
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