Traveling Volunteer – A Win-Win

Traveling Volunteer – A Win-Win
By Craig Noke – Edited by Elyce Wair

Kayak mangroves quepos

Kayak mangroves quepos

When Craig Noke retired from Intel Santa Clara in 2001 he had specific retirement goals in mind. He wanted to help others and he wanted to travel. Being creative, Craig found a way to accomplish both. Most recently Craig engaged with Tropical Adventures http://tropicaladventures.com/index.php to assist an elementary school English teacher in Hojancha, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. This provided a great opportunity to help others and a chance to explore Central America. Although Craig has traveled extensively, he had not spent time in Central America so the travel alone presented a new adventure.

“We know a few people who live there and many who’ve travelled there and everything we’ve ever heard was incredibly positive – scenery, wildlife and especially the people.”

The three week trip that occurred in April, 2009 included one week of volunteering and two weeks vacationing.

From apartment balcony

From apartment balcony

Volunteering: We worked in an elementary school as aides to the teacher who gave all instructions in Spanish. (Being able to speak some Spanish would have been helpful but was not required.) The most rewarding thing about volunteering was seeing the kids’ smiles when they understood what we said or were able to say the words we’d been practicing. Living with a local family for one week while volunteering was easily the highlight of the experience.

“I’d recommend almost any type of volunteering. There are a ton of opportunities out there for native English speakers and in many cases the “teaching” is just speaking. Tropical Adventures also has opportunities to work with sea turtles, rescued wildlife and other types of community development.”

Craig’s past volunteer experiences include Habitat for Humanity Global Village in Mexico, New Zealand and Tanzania. If you are interested in this type of multitasking, you will need to go to the website, sign up, be willing to help, and pay the fee.

Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano

“The most enjoyable, rewarding and memorable trips have been when we’ve combined volunteering and sightseeing. Many volunteer opportunities involve a home stay – living with a local family. I cannot recommend this too highly, even if you don’t speak the language. Leave inhibitions behind and bring along bilingual dictionaries and be ready to use arm and hand signals. You might see mountains from a bus window but you won’t get to know the people and the culture. My advice is to pick a country, pick an interest and launch your browser. If in doubt, ask the organization to give you names / email and phone number of references, people who have done it.”

Vacation: We travelled quite a bit in-country. Some well-known areas were Manuel Antonio National Park [all kinds of wildlife], Savegre Valley [Quetzal bird watching] and Arenal Volcano. Comfortable shoes and binoculars helped us get the most out of our explorations and while we took easy hikes there are plenty of opportunities for more strenuous hiking as well as water activities. The food was great, transportation was hassle free, people were friendly, and the views were incredible. Compared to Guatemala and rural Mexico, Costa Rica is very safe. In most places one can even drink the tap water.

Based on our experience, here is some advice. Don’t go with a tour group. Intra-country travel is a snap using one of a handful of shared shuttle services that will take you door-to-door. Do some online research. Make reservations online, but book sightseeing trips locally when you get there. Consider renting an apartment and use it as a base for day trips. It is easy to rent a good vehicle and though many roads are unpaved, driving wasn’t a problem. Every local tour guide we had was outstanding – exceedingly competent, friendly, excellent English vocabulary and grammar, easy to understand even if accented. We enjoyed the trip so much that we’re considering vacationing in a few years with our children and 5 grandchildren, now ages 2-6.

If you would like more information or have questions about Craig’s travel or volunteering, Craig can be reached at craiglnoke@gmail.com.

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