VOLUNTEER / RESEARCHER FAQ
The nature reserve is quite isolated — 1 1/2 miles (2.5 kilometers) from the village — and conditions are basic. This is great for some people, but the isolation may prove frustrating to others. There is no television or phone or refrigerator. There is limited electricity via micro-hydro and solar panels at the Casa. At times you may find that you’re the only volunteer up there. Most locals (Ticos) speak only Spanish.
There may be knowledgeable people among the mix of volunteers and the locals working on the project, and all volunteers and researchers are supervised by the Cloudbridge Program Director. Time spent at Cloudbridge is an opportunity to learn about forest recovery and conservation through hands-on experience and daily challenges. For research projects such as photomonitoring and biomonitoring, you’ll receive clear guidelines but your work will be unsupervised. The “forestry work” generally involves planting trees (it’s tiring) and basic plantation management (such as chopping and pruning with a machete). Additional projects include fence removal, trailbuilding and trail maintenance, and constructing benches and shelters.
Much of the work involves manual labor, which can sometimes be quite physically challenging, especially in a hot, humid climate. Typically, volunteers work a five-hour day on the plantation and reserve, often on a unique research project, and dedicate the afternoon to reading, or writing up field research results, or just relaxing. These projects can be quite varied, including monitoring a particular tree species, flora identification, biological research, wildlife observation, and others.
Each volunteer is expected to propose and complete a research study, and to write up their report on the results before departing Cloudbridge. Once accepted, your proposal and your findings (including some photos) may be published on the Cloudbridge web site.
Criteria for Acceptance into the Cloudbridge Research Volunteer Program:
- Preference will be given to University students or graduates of an environmental or biological studies program, but enthusiastic volunteers without academic credentials may also be welcomed
- Age – 20 or older
- Some level of Spanish
- Outdoor experience
- Financial means and upfront payments for first month
- Independent personality, but able to function as part of a team
- Ability to design and plan a research project
- Good references from teachers or employers that focus on your suitability as a research volunteer for the projects at Cloudbridge.
- Commitment to stay for the entire period.
If you’re ready to commit, complete the Volunteer Application Form
What are the costs?
Volunteers pay a “good faith” fee of $200, of which you get $50 back when you complete your assigned stay and project report. (The remainder goes to reforestation, research expenses, accommodation upkeep, and for two complementary Spanish lessons – see below.) The cost of living is low: actual costs depend on the accommodation available. Volunteers usually live in one of our houses, but can stay with local families or in a nearby B&B. Transportation by bus to San Gerardo from San Jose runs under $20. Sometimes volunteers make a specific contribution where there’s an identifiable need.
What’s the accommodation like?
There are several places for volunteers and researchers to stay at Cloudbridge. There is a daily fee of $10 and space is based on availability. The daily fee must be paid to the Cloudbridge Manager in advance for each month. If there is not a vacancy at Cloudbridge, we’ll help find you accommodation in town. We may also be able to assist with a finding a host family, which is great for improving your Spanish! Camping on the Reserve is not permitted, but some dedicated researchers stay in the Gavilan Field Station, up on the side of a mountain.
What about the toilet and shower facilities?
Most village posadas have flush toilets and lukewarm showers. There are basic toilet facilities (outhouses) up on the reserve itself. The Casa and The Casita each have their own hot water heater, shower and toilet.
Can I drink the water?
The water at The Casa and on Cloudbridge comes from pure mountain springs and need no treatment. In the village, we recommend drinking boiled or bottled water. Some people take a week or so to adjust to the water, and you should prepare yourself for this possibility. (Pepto-Bismal?)
What happens if there is an emergency — eg., someone gets hurt, or bitten by a snake?
First-aid equipment is kept at The Casa and the Field Station for immediate use. If someone needs professional medical help, there is the Hospital San Isidro (tel. 771-3122) and other clinics in San Isidro. The best hospital in the country is reportedly CIMA in Escazu, near San Jose (tel. 208-1430). We recommend that you get medical insurance in your home country. Volunteers are totally responsible for their own health and safety.
Snakes and insects?
Yes. It’s a jungle out there. No volunteer that we know of has been bitten by a snake at Cloudbridge, and everybody’s been bitten by mosquitoes. To alleviate itching, try applying aloe, or cactus salve, hydrocortisone cream, calamine lotion, or some other kind of anti-itch cream, or soaking in baking soda. Scratching will quickly open bites and cause them to become infected.
There are fewer snakes and insects at this altitude, but there are some. While very unlikely at this altitude, elsewhere in the country there have been cases of tropical diseases like malaria and dengue fever. No special vaccinations are necessary for travel in Costa Rica at this time. Nevertheless, health care providers may suggest vaccinations against hepatitis A, typhoid, hepatitis B or influenza. Hepatitis A is generally recommended for all travelers. Typhoid is often suggested for those with adventurous dietary habits and those traveling off the beaten path. Hepatitis B is recommended for those with risk-taking travel habits.
Is there supervision at the Reserve?
All volunteers and researchers are supervised by our English speaking Program Director, Tom Gode. Local Spanish-speaking workers will be working with you, on the tree planting, the trails, and other projects including some around the house. They will provide you with initial guidance, but you will be expected to take the initiative and work on your own from time to time. Hence volunteers should be independent and self-sufficient.
Orientation is done by Tom, who is also the Manager at Cloudbridge.
How many volunteers are there? How long do they stay?
Usually no more than 6 at any one time; usually fewer, particularly in the really rainy season. The usual stay is 6 weeks or more; some have stayed for much longer. A few dedicated volunteers have returned for two or more stints, some have never left.
How do we get food?
There are several restaurants in the village. A few groceries can be bought at Albergue Uran, 15 minutes from The Casa, and there is a limited selection at the pulperia (small grocery store) in the village of San Gerardo. There’s a fruit and vegetable store close to the pulperia. When you first arrive in San Isidro, before taking the bus or taxi up to Cloudbridge, it is advisable to stock up on supplies. The best supermarkets are La Corona, and the Cooperativa opposite the main bus station. If you know you are going to have cooking facilities (such as at The Casa), you will need groceries like oil, eggs, butter, long-life milk, cereal, coffee, chicken, meat, fruit, vegetables, canned goods, bread, jams, nuts, dried fruit. You can take periodic trips back into San Isidro by bus or taxi from San Gerardo, or perhaps you can get a ride with someone going into town. You may be able to supplement your diet with organic produce grown by the neighbors, or catch trout for your dinner at Los Cocolisos trout farm nearby. Delicioso!
What’s a typical work day?
It’s the tropics – the sun rises at 6 and sets at 6. Also, it often rains in the afternoon, especially in the rainy season (May-November). So the locals find it best to start early, beginning work at 6:30 and finishing by about 1:30pm. Expect to work about 5 hours a day. Afternoons are for computer work and reading. The Casa has a small but good research library, and a computer with internet access. There’s still time for personal projects, a visit to the village store or exploring before night suddenly falls.
What do people do in the evening?
Evening is one of the magical parts of life in the Chirripo Valley. After dinner, visitors often chat or write letters, play cards, read a novel or study the various tropical fruit, animal, and plant books from the Cloudbridge library. All is done by candlelight or solar power amidst the noise of the crickets and frogs and the rushing Chirripo River down below. We are generally in bed before 9 and awake about 5:30 to the dawn and the songs of the birds. Of course you can always have dinner at one of the local restaurants and meet new friends.
What else is there to do?
A majority of a volunteer’s time, during the day, will be spent up at the Cloudbridge Reserve and around The Casa or Gavilan Field Station. However, there are other places to visit. You can walk down the road to the village of San Gerardo de Rivas (you may even be staying there). You can hike to the top of Mount Chirripo to put your stamina to the test. (Book in advance!) There are other beautiful hikes both on the Cloudbridge Reserve and in the surrounding area. You can explore the waterfalls and swim in the chilly river pools on a hot day. You can go to the nearby hot springs to ease your muscles. You can stop for a beer at the Roca Dura and chat to hikers or locals. A popular break is to head to the beach at Dominical, about 2.5 hours away.
Finally, every week or so when volunteers need to send postcards, check their email, call home, or eat pizza, they head off to San Isidro — one can take the morning bus there (7:00 am) and the afternoon bus back (2:00pm), or negotiate a ride with someone going into town.
Cloudbridge volunteers are entitled to two free Spanish Lessons, and thereafter receive a special rate. Ellen Wisse who lives nearby is the teacher. (Ellen was one of the first volunteers at Cloudbridge who returned to live here permanently.)
What to Bring?
Be aware that you are coming to work in a high-altitude, humid tropical climate that can be hot in the day and cool at night. When packing to come here, you should plan on bringing three kinds of clothes: work clothes, night clothes and city clothes. Your Cloudbridge work clothes will inevitably be stained, so these should be tough workwear. Bring enough underwear and T-shirts so that you only have to do laundry occasionally. Some people take their laundry to San Isidro so it can be washed and dried while they are shopping, hanging out at the Chirripo Hotel cafe, or checking email in a nearby Internet cafe.
- Rubber boots. Even in the dry season it rains and the ground can be muddy. Inexpensive boots can be bought in San Isidro at the Cinco Menos department store.
- Another pair of good walking shoes or sneakers (you might want to bring hiking boots if you plan to ascend Mt. Chirripo).
- Light rain jacket or poncho.
- Work clothes: at least 2 long-sleeved, 3 short-sleeved lightweight shirts and 2 pairs of long lightweight pants. These clothes will become stained. Note: Don’t bring too many clothes – you can have fun shopping for cast-offs from North America at “American Ropa” stores in San Isidro (eg, the one opposite Cinco Menos) – all items, such as jeans, t-shirts, sweaters, denim jackets, are about $2.00 each and are in good condition.
- Swimsuit, and flip flops or Tevas. There is a great beach in Dominical, and you’ll surely want to take dips in the chilly Chirripo River pools.
- Sweater or fleece for the evenings – it can get quite cool.
- 2-3 pairs of high socks (up to knee). These are much more comfortable when wearing your boots.
- 2-3 changes of clothes to wear at night after your shower (these won’t become quite as stained).
- Hat with a brim: This serves as protection from the sun as well as from insects.
Toiletries and Medicine
- Malaria pills: -most people do not bother to take Malaria pills – we never have. However you should be aware that there is a slight risk, and the decision is yours. Outbreaks occasionally occur in other parts of Costa Rica that you may visit. Consult with your doctor at home about the proper medications and immunizations for you.
First-aid kit including:
- Pharmaceuticals (e.g. Neosporin, Hydrogen Peroxide) to clean small wounds and blisters
- Band aids
- Sports tape in case of twisted ankles
- Aspirin or other headache medicine
- Vitamins supplement if required
- Afterbite, Calamine lotion or anti-histamines for mosquito bites.
- Lots of mosquito repellent (organic type does not work as well as ones with 50% deet or more, sorry)
- Mosquito netting: it is better to buy this at home as there is not a large selection in Costa Rica. (Casa Amanzimtoti has a couple of nets.)
Other necessary items
- Sheets or sleeping bag liner (expensive in CR)
- A light sleeping bag or a blanket (optional)
- 2 towels (light camp towels best)
- Flashlight (headlight best) and extra batteries
- A good pocketknife (with can and bottle opener)
- Reading matter and notebook (but there’s a selection of natural history books at Cloudbridge)
- Compact Spanish dictionary (for reference, there’s one at Casa Amanzimtoti)
Life is easiest in Costa Rica if you have cash (local currency and dollars), an ATM card and a credit card (Visa is best). Carry some cash and draw more from your ATM card as needed. There are ATMs in San José and San Isidro (and you can use a credit card to pay for groceries at the supermarkets in San Isidro). There is a bank machine in the airport’s baggage claim area, and another outside. For peace of mind, some people prefer travelers checks. Before leaving Costa Rica, make sure that you have the airport tax (about $27) saved in cash, preferably US dollars. (Or buy it at the airport when you arrive, just before you go through immigration.) Don’t keep all your money together. Keep money, passport, tickets, etc in a very safe place on your person while traveling around Costa Rica. Pickpockets are highly skilled, and the crowded bus from San Isidro to Dominical is a golden opportunity for them, and a sorry end to your holiday photos when your camera disappears, as has happened to a couple of volunteers.
Visas and Documents
You will need a passport to enter Costa Rica. Passports should be valid for at least six months beyond the dates of your trip. You can stay for 3 months at a a time on a tourist visa. (During your stay, the law requires that you carry your passport at all times, although a copy usually suffices.) Keep a photocopy of all key documents, such as passport, drivers licence and credit cards, in a ziploc deep in your backpack. Better still, scan them and send the images to yourself as an email attachment. Same with all credit card numbers and key telephone numbers.
High speed Internet with a wireless connection, so bring your own laptop, just make sure you have an anti-virus program on it. Backing up your data onto the Cloudbridge hard drive is a must. If you don’t have your own computer, there might be one available for research work at Cloudbridge. If our Internet is down, visit Albergue Uran and pay to use their system, or the Talamanca Restaurant nearby which has internet facilities too.
Public phones – the nearest one is outside the Albergue Uran, just 12 minutes from the casa. You’ll need to buy a phone card. In San Isidro you can use public phones using a calling card (widely available). San Isidro and other cities have internet cafes. Stamps are available only at the Post Office. The mailing address is Reserva Cloudbridge, San Gerardo de Rivas, PZ, Costa Rica.