Volunteering in Costa Rica

Spanish lessons ended and the next day I had to meet up with all the incoming people who hadn’t done the Spanish lessons. The Spanish lessons and the meet-up place were in San Jose, Costa Rica. I don’t remember if I took a cab or if my host mom dropped me off where I had to meet everyone but I know I made it there hahaha!

I met up with the other nine people I would be volunteering with, including our guide. We stayed in a hostel that night and boarded a bus early the next morning to head up into the mountains, our destination was San Cristobel Norte.

When we got there we played a few ice breaker games and were introduced to our host families.

Thankfully one of the nine other people was going to by my roommate so I would not be alone this time. We hopped in the back of our host dads truck (which we were told the next day was a big no-no, whoops) and headed up to our home sweet home for the next 2 weeks……to say that it was different than what I was used to is an understatement, it wasn’t horrible or anything it was just not what I was used to but it was cozy and my host family was very welcoming. We hung out with our host family that night and went to bed early, or tried to go to bed early, we had to meet the group at 7am the next morning.

We were there to build the town a new water tower. The water tower was up a pretty good hill, that got very muddy whenever it rained……..it was summer in Costa Rica, it pretty much rained everyday at some point. What we started with was just a hole in the side of a mountain, it had been leveled out already by the towns people in preparation. We laid out grids then got everything to make concrete, we had a cement like mix but also added rocks and water to it and mixed it all up and poured wheel barrel after wheel barrel until it was a big cement slab. Thankfully we had oxen pulling an ox cart to haul the heavy materials up the hill for us……………yep you read that right, we worked with an oxen! It was pretty awesome!

In just over a week we went from an empty hillside to poured concrete, rebar reinforcement and rebar legs to hold the tank up, then we had to wait for an inspector to approve the next step.

Since we didn’t want to waste our time there just waiting we painted some desks in their school, repainted their boys and girls football (soccer) locker rooms and started paving a road.

Each morning out host mama would make us breakfast: usually eggs, tortillas and GalloPinto (rice and beans, don’t ask me why it was gallo pinto when I thought arroz meant rice) and fresh cheese! We also had black coffee with sugar, they do not have cream for your coffee over there.

My host family

Our host mama would bring us lunch every day, I was full vegetarian at the time so it was always a guess what I would get. Gallo pinto was part of EVERY meal, strangely I never really tired of it. One time when we were going for an afternoon hike I got a butter and cheese sandwich………I could only stomach about half of that before I had to say no way and dig into an odwalla bar I had packed from home.


After lunch it was back to work for a few hours then in the afternoon we would stop for coffee and snacks at the various people of the towns homes. What we did at night depended on the day, some times we would play soccer with the local kids until the sun went down or would have little gatherings in the town. One family had an area in their backyard with a wood stove and a pretty big room. In two weeks we must have had at least 4 party type nights. We danced and cook and ate. There was a woman in town with the peace corps, we hung out with her a little bit. Some nights we would head home earlier than other nights due to exhaustion. Overall it was an amazing, sometimes very trying, but wonderful experience.

Milking a cow

Two things I distinctly remember that were difficult but definitely made me a better person:

HUGE spiders. I am afraid of spiders so this was very hard for me, especially when almost every night 2 giant spiders would show up on the walls of the room I was staying in at my host families house. We are talking the size of my hand. I would flip out a bit, my host family would tease me but kill the spiders and kick them out the doors!!!!!!! That is how big they were you can’t flush them down the toilet or anything like that, you just kick them out in the yard…….. It certainly helped me deal with small spiders a lot better hahahaha.

Our room

The other one was cold showers. I grew up in middle class America, I have never really not been able to take a hot shower. Our host family had this thing on their showerhead that was supposed to heat the water but it either didn’t work or work for about 10 seconds. Now I am been camping and am no stranger to a quick rinse off with cold water but when you have been laying concrete in the mud all day or paining or paving a road all with summer bugs nesting in your hair, you want a proper shower. I would turn the water on, rise off, get my hair wet, then turn the water off while I shampooed and scrubbed the dirt off, then the water would go back on, rinse everything off, turn the water off and repeat with conditioner. I also had to detangle my hair every time I washed it because the humidity was wreaking havoc on my hair.

When I got back to the states to my aunts house I hadn’t had a proper shower in over a week and my hair was a crazy mess. I jumped in a hot shower and stayed in there forever, detangling my hair and taking care of it………..my forever shower that I would have been like an hour was 20 minutes. My idea of a long shower had totally changed.

The ox cart parade happened while we were there. The designs were amazing

And that was my two weeks of volunteering in Costa Rica.

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