1) I have always wanted to volunteer with wildlife as it has always interested me greatly. I was also about to start a degree in Zoology, so I wanted a hands on experience of what my studies could lead me to. It was the best decision I ever made, and has opened up so many doors for me.
2) The reason why I chose GVI was because the organisation looked so professional, not like those many dodgy scams you may come across as a gap year student. The website and the reviews were very helpful at showing that the organisation was well lead too. Furthermore, the amount of experience and qualification offered out-competed any of the other organisations I was looking at at the time, from getting my first aid course, learning how to use a camera trap to being qualified in biological survey techniques are invaluable, especially for my studies.
I was very impressed with all the documents sent out for preparing for your departure, from the kit list to the contact information, and the slides to learn in advance the canal birds we had to know how to identify for one of the surveys.
3) It is hard to choose which experience was my favorite while volunteering with GVI as there were so many. But one of the best must have been the first Jag walk I went on where I saw two jaguars out on the beach. This survey was completed once a week where a team of 6 would trek 15 miles up the beach from base to the town Tortuguero, recording all the turtles which had been predated on by jaguars, what parts had been eaten and when they had been killed. We would also count all the new nests and half moons, as well as jaguar activity on the beach by recording the presence of paw prints in the sand as well as their entry/exit points into the vegetation.
We had been walking for at least two hours already when our team leader took out his binoculars from his bag, scanning the horizon for any signs of vultures which are the clue for killed turtles. He spotted some, and then to his astonishment, a jaguar coming out of the jungle! We had to refrain ourselves from jumping with excitement so we could creep up and get a better look at this amazing animal. We went from palm tree to palm tree until we got 50m away, and he still hadn't seen us, too engrossed in eating his victim, a female leatherback turtle who had almost made it back to sea after laying her eggs. We marveled at the site from our hiding spot, when all of a sudden, a second jaguar emerged from the vegetation! Tortuguero National Park is home to unique behaviour of jaguars which is has not been recorded anywhere else, where these inhabitants seem to be a lot more social then their usually solitary jaguars found elsewere. It was an experience beyond belief to have witnessed such an event, until the second jag noticed us and they both returned to the jungle. We could hardly feel the next 10 miles from all the excitement!
4) Make sure you look at all the programs offered, it took me 2 weeks just to narrow the expeditions down to 2. The kit list supplied is very useful and you do in fact pretty much need everything on it, and bring as many pairs of socks and insect repellent as possible! Living conditions are not like home, the faster you get to terms with it, the faster you enjoy sharing your dorm with more wildlife than humans. You will have an incredible experience, not only by the things you see and do, but the people you meet will become your family away from home.