This past summer I decided to go not on 1 but 2 study abroad trips. My first was to Australia and New Zealand as part of UGA’s Discover Abroad program for the Maymester and the other was to Costa Rica in June. Having the opportunity to travel and visit new countries with different lifestyles is something I deeply value. Being able to personally connect with a variety of people any place you go is a key skill to have out in the working industry (networking), being able to effectively communicate, share ideas, and making friends. Within the natural resources field working with animals, it’s not just about the animals; it’s also about the people you meet and collaborate with. During my time in all three countries I visited, I met so many passionate individuals who wanted the best for their conservation efforts. Either working with Kiwis from New Zealand, sea turtles in Australia, or monkeys in Costa Rica, all had to make a joint effort in raising awareness for the species by drawing more audiences’ attention in as to why people should care and working with a handful of other animal activists to reinforce the ecological importance that animal provides.
I deeply loved and left some pieces of me back in Australia and New Zealand for when I visit next time. But on to my next adventure, Pura Vida! Once finally getting back to the US, I just had 6 days in between before I was off again. At least Costa Rica was only a 3hr flight (compared to my 15hr flight Down Under), that’s easy-peasy. Our first stop was Santa Ana, just on the outskirts of San Jose, where our first week we volunteered and did some basic veterinary practices on the rescued animals of the Refugio Animal de Costa Rica. Having the chance to interact with every animal taxonomic group was in incredible experience. We anesthetized, gave physical examinations, drew blood, and monitored respiratory rate and temperature of a sloth, parrot, parakeet, margay, turtles, snakes, kinkajou, crocodile, iguana, spectacled owl, capuchin monkey, and more just to name a few. Every day, we walked up a giant hill from our hotel to the Refugio while we were in Santa Ana, getting that morning cardio in and stayed at the refuge until about 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon. After Santa Ana, we went to Quepos on the Pacific side of the country where we took a tour of the Manuel Antonio National Park presenting on different animal species and their ecological role and going on night hikes to spot as many native wildlife as we could. Being in the tropics and seeing so much biodiversity, at the end of the trip we also had a plant practical, conduct a research project, and a final for all the veterinary practices we did as well as discussing Costa Rica’s conservation and ecotourism issues.
Next, after Quepos we went to Tirimbina Ecological Reserve where it’s primary use is for research, education, and conservation and preservation of the rainforest. Here we split into smaller groups for our own research projects. My research project I worked with 2 other amazing colleagues of mine where we tried to find the relationship between leech load and parasitemia of fresh-water turtles. This project was undoubtedly, the most labor intensive, a-day-in-the-life of a research, kind of research I have ever done. I had to get used to sweating through my clothes every day, walking, trampling, and macheting through thickets of vegetation, wading in the mud and murky waters, applying both layers of bug spray and sunscreen, watching where I put my hand (so many leaf cutter ants and bullet ants). Additionally, not to mention my team and I (Turtle Team) had to hand-make all our turtle traps using only chicken wire and zip-ties. We then set them out in the middle of the rainforest, going back out 2-3x per day to check all the traps, and bringing the turtles back to our research room to perform a physical evaluation, get all the leeches off and count from every turtle caught, draw blood from, perform blood tests, and then had to release them from the same location we caught them from. It was such a cool, life-impacting project, as a senior in my final year, I am trying to see what I can do with all the data we have to potentially publish it.
Finally after Tirimbina, our last stop was Monteverde where the UGA Costa Rica campus once was (now replaced, sadness). Here we finished our projects, went to coffee plantations learning about the sustainability of coffee, more hikes through the rainforest and going to the Children’s Eternal Rainforest where we spent the weekend in a hostel and hiked down and back up a huge mud and gravel road. Along the way, interacting with the locals and having them share their culture with us is something I’ll always treasure. Their “Pura Vida” state-of-mind is truly an expression they use not just on their tourist souvenirs, but also a standard phrase when communicating. I learned that Pura Vida (remember to roll your “r’s” to get the authenticity) has 3 meanings: 1) used as a greeting, 2) is just a general expression to say, and 3) a peaceful, or pure, life.