At risk of writing the most dramatized review of Ara Manzanillo / El Proyecto Ara allow me to begin by saying my volunteer experience with the Macaws truly changed my life.
In the midst of the first Covid winter, needing a tropical escape, a friend who had previously worked at Ara Manzanillo raved about his experience with the Macaws, the proximity to the beach, and living in the jungle. Immediately I was sold! I recruited my best friend, we applied and quickly heard back that our dreams of living in Costa Rica would soon become reality. Providing the looming edge of escape and adventure.
Six months later, we arrived wide eyed and unknowing at night to Costa Rica to stay in the volunteer jungle bungalow, located high on a hill, alive with the jungle symphony of cicadas, geckos and the unknown chirping outside. The best part of being at Ara Manzanillo – whither you excitedly endear or dread it – is the morning squawking alarm clock from the Macaws! Starting at sunrise, the birds are the first to let you know the day has begun and they are hungry!
Getting into the swing of the Ara field station routine is straight forward – beginning around sunrise with morning bird feedings, then breakfast on your own, cleaning the bird infrastructure and then my personal favorite – the field work!. Depending on the season, this task consists of foraging for beach almonds for the macaw supplemental feeding, maintaining and constructing the nest boxes, cleaning the aviary (depending on the state of recently rescued Macaws), and best of all – climbing trees.
The daily afternoon tour was my most dreaded aspect when I first arrived at Ara Manzanillo. I was horrified of public speaking and avoided presenting as much as possible in college and high school. However, in the span of my first month volunteering that summer, and upon returning to Ara only a few months later – due to sheer LOVE and admiration for the project – I have concluded it is true that exposure brings comfort. Guiding the visitation tours for international groups each day was up there as one of the most memorable and rewarding aspects of my Ara jungle experience.
In your time at Ara, you grow to love the birds – caring for them from the minute you wake up, thinking about them as you fall asleep – even when they are loud and squawking they are still the most magnificent “roommates” you could have. Living in the jungle you inherently learn a lot through experience and exposure, which you embody and share with the visitors during the tours – about the birds’ critical endangerment, their life span and the success of the project’s reintroduction of the Great Green Macaws!
Upon finishing my first month volunteering at the Ara Project I closed the gate a final time, swearing to be back. Less than four months later, it became reality, upon reaching another crossroad and opportunity to return – personally receiving more from the experience than I could ever tangibly give back. Time in the jungle can be rough, testing of your limits, and lonely. At the end of every day though, no matter how adventurous and crazy the day’s events were – being at Ara Manzanillo is truly LIVING – a return to the mundane instills a life-long passion for the amazing Macaws and all things jungle.