Last year while on a long-awaited trip around the world, my partner and I volunteered in the Costa Rican cloud forest for two months.
Anna and I both share a passion for wildlife and the natural world, so we planned our trip to include as many of these experiences as we could. We wanted to give something back and make a positive contribution towards the environment, not least to help offset our carbon emissions. We also wanted to stay in one place for a while so we could truly get to know one of the many environments we were visiting.
Costa Rica is a must for anyone who loves nature, with a series of fantastic national parks and a world-leading attitude towards eco-tourism. After much research, we found a project in the cloud forest, which had the right balance of cost, climate and cause and importantly to us, no captive animals.
The project we chose is called Cloudbridge Nature Reserve, a small cloud forest reserve on the slopes of Mount Chirripo (the highest mountain in Costa Rica). The reserve, former agricultural land, is a reforestation initiative to return the site to its former forested glory.
As a volunteer at Cloudbridge, we spent our time tree planting, clearing sites, looking after saplings, maintaining trails and manning the visitors centre. While the primary objective of the project is reforestation, they also carry out biological research and receive many students and scientists who come to study in the forest.
After sweet-talking the reserve director, we were given permission to help with some biological research too. Anna has a background and a degree from Portsmouth in environmental science, which no doubt helped. We were both very keen to gain some experience in biological research for our own interest and to aid with a potential change in career.
We chose to study hummingbird feeding behaviour, having been enthralled with the birds since arriving in Costa Rica. We spent our days in Cloudbridge hiking the steep paths to our various tree planting and hummingbird monitoring sites.
We found our volunteering experience to be worthwhile, rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable. We met some great people, planted a lot of trees, got to study magical hummingbirds and present our findings to the reserve managers, got very fit hiking steep trails every day and still had plenty of time to enjoy the beauty of the forest and its fascinating inhabitants.
It remains to be seen if our time in Cloudbridge will lead to a change in career for either of us, but it was certainly an experience we’d recommend to anyone. By contributing to a worthwhile cause, getting our hands dirty and immersing ourselves in another culture we gained a fresh perspective on the world and found it life-affirming. The Costa Rican people (Ticos) and the cloud forests will stay with us forever; although one day, we’re sure to return.
Christian studied BSc Computer Science graduating in 2005 and Anna studied BSc Environmental Science graduating in 2002.