Parrot ambassador in Costa Rica

I wasn’t sure what to expect as a parrot ambassador for The Ara Project in Costa Rica.

The only thing I knew was that I had won the online competition with Holiday Pirates and I was very excited and happy about that.

On May 2nd I boarded the plane to Costa Rica. Upon arrival in San Jose I took a taxi to my first night’s accommodation. Arriving at my hostel I was glad to relax after a long exhausting journey. I shared a room with 4 other travellers, three Mexicans and one North Amercian. The next morning after breakfast, we took a bus to our final destination: Estrada. After leaving busy and noisy San José the bus route took us through remote countryside and finally reached the western coastline passing sandy palm fringed beaches and dense jungle like forest.Untitled1

It took five hours to reach Estrada where I was met by Sarah, Operations Manager at The Ara Project in Punta Islita.  I was truly impressed by the mango trees, papayas,…beaches …..a surfers paradise!  After 30 minutes we finally reached Punta Islita.  The Ara Project is located on the grounds of Hotel Punta Islita near the tiny village of Islita.  There a 6 zones with various aviaries, which are home to Great Green Macaws and Scarlet Macaws. Volunteers sleep at the volunteer house in one of the four bunk beds, or in small “cabins” where they can pitch a tent.

The first day was very exhausting. I had trouble adapting to the heat and humidity.  Up by 5am we would start the day chopping 12kg of fruits and vegetables, mixing them with seeds and vitamins and taking it out to 120 birds, which takes time of course.  By 8am we were done and took a 20 min break for our breakfast.  After that we had a staff meeting during which we discussed the birds conditions, behaviours and breeding progress.  At 8:30am we started cleaning the aviaries. We took buckets, soap and brushes and we scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed….Untitled4

Dirty and soaked it was time for a shower. I also got sunburned. But it is all worthwhile working with these incredibly colourful birds. It was a great atmosphere working amidst macaws and in the jungle.  I used to prepare my food at the volunteer house kitchen, mainly pasta for the first few days until I discovered new cool recipes thanks to all the new people I had met from around the world. I finally discovered that you can create a great meal with “platoons” (plantains).  The first week I also met a coati family, racoons of the jungle, who seem to know how to open doors. What happened was: 1 kg of sugar, bread, muesli and spaghetti went missing.  When you followed the trail of oats that led into the bushes you found the empty package at the end of it.  Though it was quite annoying to run out of food in the middle of the week, I must admit it was also fun to develop new strategies together with Tom, the onsite biologist to outsmart the coatis.  After a couple of weeks we got control of it and the coatis had to look for their lunch elsewhere.

We would resume work at 2 pm, feeding the parrots again and sweeping aviaries that were not cleaned during the morning shift. Normally we would finish between 4 and 5 pm.  During the first two weeks I borrowed a surfboard from The Ara Project and went surfing at the local beach, which was about 15-20 minutes walking distance. The hotel owned beach bar provides great drinks and food at fair prices, friendly staff and fast wifi.  I got to meet the surfing teacher who gave me free surfing lessons. My first attempts mastering the waves on my shortboard were a bit shaky. My mobile phone made a rather wet encounter with Playa Islita, too, which resulted in me being disconnected from the outside world for about a week.Untitled2

Besides surfing I tried zip-lining, which was a lot of fun. During my last week I also went on the Ultra Light Aircraft of Samara. We flew above the west coast of Costa Rica. The sight of sea turtles, the beaches and the ocean from above was very impressive.  Sunset was around 6-6:30pm .We often met up in the “middle room” to play Monopoly or cook together.  Some of the college students would study and read for a while and I also had to do some homework.  Some evenings large numbers of army ants would invade the house. They don`t seem to have a home but wander around the jungle and take whatever they can find. The walls were black and all my stuff was completely covered by ants.  Nevertheless we were pleased about these little fellas visiting us, as they don’t eat our food, only flies, mosquitoes and other insects.

It was the end of the dry season when I arrived in Costa Rica. The trees were quite brown and the riverbeds had dried up. The second week it started to rain. Everything turned green overnight and within a couple of days everything was overgrown. It is quite impressive how fast everything grows in a rainforest. The biodiversity is incredible. Hummingbirds, coatis, iguanas, scorpions, glowworms and much more. Howler monkeys and macaws shouting across the jungle. That is an incredible sound. During the day hummingbirds were buzzing through the air and at nighttime you would be surrounded by a sea of tiny dancing lights.Untitled3

My time with The Ara Project as a parrot ambassador was a great experience and I learned a lot. It was a great pleasure to work with such fantastic people. I am taking home precious memories and I am glad that I was able to experience all that.  I can highly recommend Costa Rica, it is definitely worth a trip – Pura Vida!

By Tilia Sabrowski

About the Author
Staff and volunteers at The Ara Project come from all over the world and all walks of life! Some of us have years of experience working with parrots and in conservation and for some of us, this work is brand new! But we all have one thing in common which is that we're dedicated to helping these beautiful birds roam free once again in Costa Rica.