by Hannah Nevitt, Greenheart Travel volunteer abroad participant
The property of Costa Rica’s Proyecto Asis spans over eight acres of protected tropical rainforest, bought and preserved by Don Jaime Castillo and his family. He is a trained veterinarian and has dedicated the property to be a haven for wild animals, either injured or unable to survive in the wild. His son, Alvaro Del Castillo is the director of Proyecto Asis, (Project Asis, named after Saint Asis, who cared deeply for animals) and started the volunteer center and language institute. They are a wonderful family and take great care of the animals that are often injured by cars, or abandoned and left at their doorstep.
Walking around the property you can see monkeys, toucans, and parrots in cages built for rehabilitation. Some are being rehabilitated to be released back into the forest, while others will remain on the reserve because they have been raised in captivity or are otherwise unable to survive due to injury. Beautiful flowers and exotic plants grow freely next to cacao, banana, plantain, and fruit trees. As I cross the bridge over the small lagoon, a train of ants are hard at work carrying small green leaves. To my left the lagoon is filled with lily-pads, perched ducks, colorful fish, and swimming turtles. It is also home to a few crocodiles…which are apparent as soon as I see quickly moving lily-pads and a pair of yellow eyes pop out of the water.
In the center of the property is a large hacienda where Don Jaime and his wife live. This is also an open space for volunteers to relax and have lunch or coffee breaks. As we sit and enjoy a cup of tea and crackers the two raccoons scurry by us playing with the dogs. On few occasions they join in for my Spanish lessons…sitting in the chairs curled up in a ball or sleeping on the porch of the hacienda.
The whole concept that they would roam around freely took some getting used to. My initial response was to run away or jump onto a chair…but I quickly learned to observe the reactions of those around me; if the people who work their everyday are not afraid of them…aka, if they are not jumping onto chairs…neither should I. Needless to say, I still keep a foot or two away.
The monkeys on the reserve, performing in their cages like acrobats, are incredible. They have Spider monkeys that will hold your hand and are always eager to say hello in the morning. Last week, Teniente and another volunteer finished building a new cage for them; however a white-faced monkey arrived just in time to claim residence. I watched excitedly as they released the new monkey into the pristine cage…he tested all the accommodations by running around and jumping from branch to branch. He looked the like the monkey from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies so Alvaro let me name him “Jack.”
Walking back to my office, I pass other cages of boars, kinkajous, and “Hedwig” the white owl (he looks like the owl in Harry Potter). How different it is for me to interact so freely with animals that normally I would be 20 feet away from in a zoo!
My job here is unique and exciting. I am here to provide orientation programming and to be an onsite director for incoming student volunteers. Proyecto Asis has a number of volunteer programs at varied durations including working in the wild animal rescue center; feeding animals, building and cleaning cages, etc. They also have social programs where students can teach English or Spanish in local schools, work on recycling projects, or work on other construction projects in the community. We highlight specialty programs for veterinary students or professionals as well as programs in reforestation and conservation.