Costa Rica and Nicaragua
Raleigh International is a youth development charity founded by the Prince of Wales in 1984 that provides aid in rural areas across the world, including countries such as Borneo, India and Tanzania; it was this charity that I chose to join for a ten-week trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. My expedition was split into three phases: trekking, environmental work and community projects, all of which were very different and really enjoyable.
The first phase of my expedition was a three-week trek from the north to the south of Nicaragua over the various mountains and volcanoes of the region. We followed a route 285km in length, from Miraflor near the Honduran border to the Laguna de Asososca in the south of Nicaragua, via the regions of Leon and Esteli. Highlights of my trek included climbing the active volcano Cerro Negro in the dark to watch the sunrise (and then running down its black sand slopes) and camping next to a natural sinkhole on the side of the inactive volcano El Hoyo, in the Maribios volcano chain, which gave us spectacular views over Lake Managua and the capital Managua. The trek finished in the national park of Laguna de Asososca, which is a lake in a volcanic crater where our whole group slept outdoors for the final night.
My Environmental work was four weeks long, split into two phases each lasting a fortnight. The first of these phases entailed living at Playa Hermosa (literally “beautiful beach”) in Costa Rica. This shore is the nesting site for thousands of Olive Ridley, Black and Leatherback turtles each year. During my stay I worked with the rangers to help conserve these turtles, which are at risk from both predators and poachers (who can sell eggs for up to $50 each). The work at Playa Hermosa entailed moving eggs from nests on the beach to a protected hatchery to ensure the survival of turtles and together we managed to move 1,000 eggs. While at the beach I also had the opportunity to release baby turtles and to watch as two turtles – a Black and a Green – laid their eggs, both of which sights were truly unforgettable. In Playa Hermosa we also acted to reverse deforestation that had taken place decades earlier by replanting indigenous tree species.
The second half of my environmental phase involved living deep in the rainforest at Carara National Park, one of the oldest nature reserves in Costa Rica. Living in the rainforest was a challenge as we had to collect our water from 600m away and then carry back 25kg jerry cans to our campsite, where we slept in hammocks. Although it was humid and full of bugs, I enjoyed the jungle immensely, purely for the huge variation of plants and animals we saw near our camp, including howler monkeys, crocodiles, pythons and scarlet macaws. We also worked in the national park with the rangers, digging drainage ditches for the jungle paths to prevent flooding. Although the work was physically difficult, it was very satisfying.
My final phase was in many ways my most enjoyable as I moved in with a Nicaraguan farming family for the last three weeks of my travels. In the rural village of El Portillo, Carmello and Veronica Gonzales acted as my host ‘parents’ during my stay, while our group built and finished 20 eco-latrines for the local community. Living with the Gonzales family proved an amazing experience – despite every meal being some form of rice, beans and tortillas – and I am glad to say I picked up some Spanish during my stay. Staying with my family meant I helped around the house (which had no electricity) with day-to-day tasks, such as making tortillas and even killing a chicken! Construction of eco-latrines was very important to the local community as the traditional latrines polluted water supplies in the local area, creating numerous health problems. The local people were very grateful and on our final night threw us a touching leaving party with several piñatas and lots of salsa dancing!
My travels would not have been possible without the MPW travel fund and I would recommend the Raleigh programme as a life experience to anyone who is looking to travel and be challenged. Perhaps the best part of my time in Central America was meeting so many new people from all over the world and forming what I’m sure will be lasting friendships with them. I am already planning my next travels during my summer holidays from university!