After 5 moths there has come an end to my time in Central America, these past few months have been filled with travelling, meeting new people, volunteering, and above all learning. I have learned so much about new cultures, new languages and most of all; myself. I have had the opportunity to experience wildly different cultures, meet some amazing people, see stunning nature and have had loads of time to think. Experiencing all of this and have the freedom to all take it in on your one time made me reflect myself and made me grow as a human. That is why I hope that my experiences and my stories right here make it easier for other people to also take that step, to leave everything behind and to go out there, because I wish everybody the same great memories and experiences!
My journey began half September 2014, on the 16th I flew from Amsterdam, the Netherlands to San Jose, Costa Rica. This flight was the first, longer than just a few hours, I had ever made on my one. That anxiety, for experiencing that feeling of really being on your one, with nobody to help you or be with is at first really scary. And I will admit that I definitely had moments of doubt and thoughts like “What the hell did I get into?!”, but please let this never be enough to change your mind. Because it is awesome and rewarding if something you planned and did entirely by yourself works out, and moreover, you are never really alone. In whichever country you come there will always be friendly and helpful people and in addition to that; you always have your friend and family if things get really grim. They may seem far away but if you call them in the middle of the night with an emergency they will be there for you!
After having arrived safely in the central valley of Costa Rica I started with some weeks of Spanish lessons. Learning the local language is always a great way to really get in contact with the locals, plus a new language is always useful on your resume or just during the holidays! After a few weeks and an endless list of new grammar I was ready to begin my work as a volunteer. The first work I did was at a local day care, it was the perfect beginning, I got to help the English teacher and therefor had time to work on my Spanish a little bit more. But after some weeks I made the change to a public primary school in a neighbourhood that was a bit poorer because I felt that they needed my help a lot more. The school that I worked in was super small and very much in need of teachers, if a teacher was sick for a day the lessons would simply be cancelled for there was no money to hire somebody else. All the people I met at the school were so welcoming and lovely, they were interested in my journey and my culture. My time seemed to run by way too fast because before I knew it it was time to leave the Central Valley and travel on to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.
In Puerto Viejo, a relaxed beach village on the gorgeous white beaches of the southern Caribbean coast I worked in a animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre. The work here gave me the extraordinary opportunity to work in the closest proximity with all kinds of endangered species. The great thing about this rescue centre was that they received lots of tourists every day that were interested in the animals that they kept, this gave the centre and the volunteers the opportunity to educate about the endangerment of flora and fauna and how to preserve it all better. Therefor the work was not only useful for the animals that were kept at the centre, but for the future generations as well.
After this unforgettable time in Costa Rica, a time in which a mini vacation into Panama was also included, I continued my journey into Nicaragua. The departure of Costa Rica was a very hard one however, I cried many tears and that feeling on its one, that feeling of home in a totally strange country, after just two and a half month already made the journey worth everything. I fell in love with the nature, the animals, the culture and all the people that I met, it really was extraordinary to feel so strong for such a relatively unknown country and I wish for everybody to experience it!
Having arrived in Nicaragua, in the beautiful Granada, with the overview of Lake Nicaragua and different volcano’s, I continued my Spanish lessons. A lot of grammar had to be brought back again and the fact that I was living in a host family made my education go faster than ever. The opportunity to live with a local family is an absolute must for any traveller, it makes you get a connection with the culture so much easier and it is super good for your language skills! After my studies I had some time to travel in the beautiful Nicaragua, this combination of language lessons, volunteering and travelling made my journey exiting and ensured the good balance between vacation and hardcore volunteering. Because after having travelled on into Guatemala and having explored the touristic highlights over there I enrolled in a really heavy kind of volunteering.
I started working in a school project in the slums of Quetzaltenango, a city in the Highlands of Guatemala. My students were mostly really poor and stories about their background were sometime very heavy to take. I worked in the project for over six weeks, which gave me the change to really get to know the kids, the teachers and the area I lived in. This long term volunteering is something I would absolutely recommend to the more serious kind of traveller or to people who are studying some kind of social work/studies. Because I started my work at the beginning of the Guatemalan school year the kids really saw me as their teacher and that made them trust and respect me in a very natural way. Therefor we saw the real conditions under which they have to leave and were luckily able to help out some of the amazing, but so unfortunate kids! In the afternoons and the weekends there was plenty of time to take a break from this all and explore the beautiful highlands, city or surroundings, I got to do this with a great group of friends and I am so thankful for that.
To conclude I would like to make one last shout out to everybody out there that is considering a gap year or travelling and volunteering for a different reason: please do it, let nothing stop you and go all in it, you will have the best time of your life! That is not a vague promises, it is for sure, you will see so many great things, work under such unforgettable circumstances and most of all meet the most amazing people. To all those people I have met or who have helped the last few months (they are way to many to list them all) both from the Netherlands, the locals and the other travellers, thank you so much, I will never forget you and I love you all so much. This last thing especially goes out to my most awesome parents and sisters who were always there for me; I love you!