Expectations vs Reality

    Article by Zaytoen Domingo

    Zaytoen Domingo

    Posted: September 23, 2018

    If you sign up for the GVI Jalova wildlife project, good job! But make sure that you read the checklist for your backpack very well. Because I actually forgot to read it and I packed my bag with stuff that I hoped that would be necessary. I had some thoughts about what it would be like to live in the jungle. You will have some too probably.

    In this blog I will compare the thoughts I had before I arrived at basecamp and the reality.

    My thoughts

    I could not sleep on the airplane. The only thing I could think about was how it is going to be in the rainforest. Are we going to sleep in a mixed-sex dorm­? Do we have the chance to wash ourselves daily? Is the water drinkable? Would the food be the same every day? And what food would it be? Do we have to pay attention while we are eating? Would there be a food-thief-monkey? Is there Wi-Fi? Can we recharge our phones?  And message signals? Can we go to the little village of Tortuguero? Do we have free time? Are we allowed to smoke in the jungle? Is there an opportunity to wash your clothes at base? What do we have to know about the animals? How difficult will the test be? What do we have to wear on a survey? Do we have to walk daily 15km at the beach?

    And I really hoped that I could use every single thing in my huge 80L backpack. For example

    • A paracord of 15m long and 2,5cm diameter (maybe needed to cross a river safely?)
    • Whistle (Blow on your whistle if you see an animal?)
    • 4 pairs of toe-closed shoes (if one pair is wet and it rains daily so it wont dry)
    • Lots of books (for my me-time)
    • Many snacks in a tupperwear-box (against ants)
    • Much expensive medication and watercleantablets (probably you will get sick soon because of the non-drinkable water)
    • Running shoes (I will work at my condition before I leave and I will jog with a backpack. I will make sure that I am allowed to go on survey because of my excellent condition)


    I have been here on base for 2 weeks now and I can tell you what it is really like to be here. Our basecamp is built in the middle of a coconut plantation in the jungle, next to the beach. There is a good partnership between staff at base and the farmer of the plantation. Because base is wthin his coconut plantation, there is a possibility to live in the National Park of Tortuguero. That is so important for us because the park is a beautiful island. Otherwise we always had to take the boat to start a forest-survey and it will destroy the peace of the forest, which is not good for the canal birds either.

    I sleep with the other girl-volunteers in a dorm far away from the boys-dorm. We are having a lot of fun and it looks like we have girl-sleepovers every night. I am very happy with my bed and my mosquito net that was ready when I arrived after a long days travel. And sometimes pets are visiting our dorm (a bat or a lizard). We have a shower daily but the sea is 50m from base to cool down when it gets too hot. There is also a little mirror (very useful especially for girls) and it’s a hiding place for a little green iguana juvenile. Very cute!

    The food here is cooked by volunteers and staff who are on duty that day (it changes every day). You make vegetarian food with the vegetables and pasta or rice that are left. You can eat delicious fruit and bring also your own snacks to survive your time here. I can tell you that the water is drinkable and you can drink as much as you need. (Drink lots of water!)

    Almost every morning you have to get up early by yourself so make sure that you have your smartphone with you (or an alarm clock). It is absolutely possible to recharge your phone when the sun shines. Wi-Fi is not available for volunteers. But if you buy your own SIM-card in Costa Rica, then you can reach your family and friends every day. You will have the best 4G signal on the beach. Another possibility is that you wait until you go to the little village and connect your phone there to the free Wi-Fi at the restaurant. You will go there twice in a month. It is not much but you live in the jungle so I think that is already a luxury.

    Every two weeks people arrive and leave on Saturday. Although from Friday afternoon till Saturday evening you are free to do what you want and to enjoy the last day with those who leave on Saturday. Also during the week you have some free-time. When you’re free depends on your activities that day. Everybody has 2 activities each day (morning, afternoon or night). The rest of the day you can wash your clothes, go for a swim in the sea, watch a movie, eat some leftovers… There is also a smoking-corner at base and a library.

    The training week is very long, however very informative and necessary because we head out into the field straight away. Here we are able to put what we learnt into practice. Usually you get lessons in the morning and go out for an incidental walk in the jungle after lunch. The test is separated in different parts and spread over a few days. That makes it less heavy.

    On the forest surveys wellies and long-sleeved clothes are a must and give you protection against mosquito- and snakebites. Furthermore Crocs with socks jungle-fashion are needed on the beach with comfortable clothes depending on the weather. And again, it depends on your activity how far you have to walk. The longest walk on a survey on the beach is 8 miles, but you can cool down in the blue, wild ocean.

    Don’t forget to take gloves and bandanas with you if you go on a night walk. The stars, milkyway, Mars and the sound of the sea make those walks so beautiful. But watch out for sandflies while you count the eggs of a pregnant mother sea turtle (named by the egg-counter). Totally covered in polyester and cotton you have the best night of your life while seeing the birth of those little eggs of the baby turtles. And of course you will join an excavation of a nest and see hatchlings crawling to the sea when it’s their time to learn to swim. I admit that they stole my heart.

    Thanks for reading my blog and I hope that you will read the checklist before packing.

    “In Jalova you don’t count the days, you count the memories.”

    Article by Zaytoen Domingo

    By Zaytoen Domingo

    Zaytoen Domingo is a content writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. She is currently enrolled in the Masters program in English at the University of the Western Cape. After graduating with an Honours Degree in English and Creative Writing, Zaytoen completed a skills-development program for writers and became an alum of the GVI Writing Academy.