The Jalova base camp is located in one of the Earth’s biodiversity hotspots. I could step out of my dorm to be greeted by any number of fascinating species, and always present is the camp’s resident cockerels – the colourful and charismatic Aztec kings (Montezuma orapendula) – which never fail to wake us all up at the unfortunate hour of 6am. In fact, if you were feeling lazy you would not need to leave the dorm, because you share it with a few house geckos, a stowaway bat, and the resident rafter iguana we affectionately called Trevor.
I was at Jalova for a month in April, 2017, and everything I did gave me a feeling of pride and accomplishment; simply put, my time there was life changing. Foremost is accommodation, which for me was a pleasant shared dorm, with kitchen and shower facilities, all of which located on the coast of the beautiful and secluded Tortuguero National Park: don’t expect a five-star hotel, we’re here to take part in jungle, beach, and canal research as a Jalova volunteers, and not to be shown around as tourists by guides.
As for ‘events and entertainment’, it would be hard to put a price on the amount of time spent canoeing and hiking the jungle, or the education that was provided by the experienced and engaging staff members. And the food? It was awesome. Everybody there cooks with an emphasis on making exceptional meals for everyone. I literally couldn’t list all of the incredible animals I saw in my month here, so I’ll give you a couple of highlights:
I first saw a great curassow in a zoo and thought they were a flightless bird – our legendary boat driver Jorge spotted one for us perched in a tree, and it quickly flew to another. The forest came alive for ten minutes when our survey was interrupted by a herd of at least 25 white lipped peccary – the canopy was wild with bird calls and monkey howls until something big (perhaps a tapiir or a jaguar) scared them away. On a quiet and serene canal survey, three neotropical river otters popped up and studied us not more than five meters away from the canoe – for five seconds, before they submerged again like little furry submarines, we were in the presence of animals so shy and rare that a lot of the staff hadn’t even seen them. During a night walk (a survey where you hike the beach without torches looking for nesting turtles) we spotted a leatherback disguising a nest – we were even able to measure her
before she returned to the sea.
I will conclude with something a holiday cannot provide: the valuable Conservation experience and education you can gain here. I’ve been told that employers love to see voluntary work on a CV, but my month at Jalova gave more than just a nice paragraph for my CV: it gave me the frame of mind that I can actually achieve whatever I set my mind to. This new frame of mind is of course something personal to me, and everyone will have a different experience, but based on my experience I would advise anybody thinking of volunteering to go for it and join the adventure.