Volunteer Traveler: Costa Rica: Introduction

My name is Adam Spencer. In this introduction I want to tell you why I believe that traveling as a volunteer travel is the best way to spend your life. I grew up watching Steve Irwin – the crocodile hunter – and since then my dream has always been to be a wildlife filmmaker. I am getting closer to that goal, but it is through volunteering that I’ve already gotten to live that dream. I volunteered for the Galapagos National Park and have worked with local kids and giant tortoises and even photographed a species of bird previously thought to be extinct on the island. I’ve been diving for free by volunteering to make videos to promote a local, environmentally-friendly dive shop. I volunteered in the Peruvian Amazon and got to work for National Geographic with Alastair McEwan – one of the best wildlife photographers in the world. And I’ve also met some amazing people and have helped tell their stories through advocacy documentaries for nonprofit organizations in South America. Most of this I did in one trip; I volunteered, I had amazing adventures, and I came back engaged to the love of my life. I could not have been happier, more fulfilled.

But I also came back with a parasite that would nearly ruin all my hopes.

This got bad. My face was literally dying. The parasite leishmania inhibited my immune system so the dead skin that fell off my face each day was not being replenished, and my face was rotting off. It spread to my throat. I looked into the mirror at my swollen, scabbed and oozing face, and wondered how I would ever be able to fulfill my dream of hosting a show about volunteer travel. But in the bizarre way things work, I sort of got to host my own episode of a Animal Planet show about parasites called “Monsters Inside Me.” Not the way I wanted to get on Animal Planet, but I got some international attention for being Adam “A parasite-ate-my-face” Spencer. I hoped to use that buzz to direct Youtube traffic to my other film projects which promote the work of NGO’s, but I think the most I got out of the viral fame was some sympathy and mostly crude Youtube comments.

Worst of all, most people used my example as a reason to not travel, to not explore the world, to stay at home where it is safe. So now I am trying to prove them all wrong. I am re-branding myself. And continuing working on my dream.

My fiancé Shalynn is again in the jungle – this time in Costa Rica. She is studying the reproductive habits of a small bird so that conservationists can better evaluate how human encroachment and habitat fragmentation affect similar birds and animals.

I am going down there to tell the story. I am returning to the jungle to show you that the risk of the adventure is worth the reward of personal discovery. Even though I am risking getting leishmaniasis again before I’ve even fully recovered it is worth it to me to explore a new wilderness and meet new people. I want to tell their stories of their conservation struggles, of their way of life. And I want to prove to you that volunteer travel is an incedible opportunity to better yourself. I do not want to let my legacy fade into memory as the disfigured parasite guy, but instead to be the guy who went back to do his life’s calling to try in his own way to make a positive impact in the world.

“Volunter Costa Rica” is a biographical non-fiction documentary about the life of a volunteer traveler. The main character is Shalynn Pack, who is volunteering as a technician on a doctoral project evaluating the predator pressures of understory insectivorous birds: primarily the Chestnut-collared ant bird. This film will feature footage from the crews’ nest camera traps, which observe the predator-caused mortalities of the antbirds breeding failures, aerial footage from a remote-controlled drone, and reality-style filming of the work and social interactions of the project’s team.

If you would like more information about the project, please email me (adam.carlton.spencer@gmail.com) or comment below.

2 Replies to “Volunteer Traveler: Costa Rica: Introduction”

  1. Courageous and smart. There are few things as fulfilling as donating your time and talents, whether for the environment, the less fortunate, or something local, like youth sports or animal causes. The only sure way we will help the planet recover and the human race to evolve is “one person at a time”. Be the example, Shay as well, and be what ALL the rest of us should strive to emulate. And try to avoid the paracites.

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