I wanted to do something crazy and fun for my summer this year, but I really didn't fancy World Challenge with all of my school friends - I was worried after a month living together we wouldn't be able to stand each other!
Instead I decided to look further afield at something to do that was relevant to my school subjects: Spanish, Biology and Geography A levels. When I stumbled across the 16 to 19 year-old 2 Week Special course in Mexico - volunteering with and conserving rare turtles - I was over the moon!
I knew the people I would meet would have exactly the same mind-set as me, and they definitely did! Even though a huge chunk of our group didn't even have English as their first language we all got on like a house on fire.
I had flown over on the same flight as the other British girls - ranging from Cornwall to Liverpool to two sisters from Kent who now live in Switzerland. We had all bonded after missing our connecting flight in Houston and having to stay the night in the Marriot hotel. None of us complained though, as we had $50 worth of food vouchers which we pretty much all spent on the best pizza I've ever tasted!
When we arrived in Guadalajara almost all of the rest of our group were there, and together we made 13 fresh-faced volunteers - 12 girls and one boy. We were driven to the Projects Abroad office which is a building in a lovely area of Guadalajara where they entertained us as we waited for the last people from our group to arrive.
We all got to know each other's names over the card game Go Fish, and a few hours later we were driven to our camp on the coast which was a few hours away. As our van pulled up to the beach everyone seemed to look around in wonder as we had just been dropped in what felt like paradise. The sea breeze cooled us down, and after we had been given a guided tour of the camp, and sorted our luggage and beds, we all met in the dining/lounge hut and swung in the many hammocks, watching the bright pink sun set which we all felt was a good omen for the start of our trip.
It was hard work volunteering - the salt-water showers and blisters from camp duties were the tough reality of working in the sun all day, but you can't complain when you're living on a remote beach in the middle of paradise, swinging on a hammock in the middle of the afternoon.
I soon forgot my blisters too, when my new friends and I discovered a newly hatched nest of turtles and had to help them into the sea before they got too hot on the black volcanic sand of the beach. That was one of the many rewarding experiences I had while I was out there, as well as being able to get 2 hours of Spanish lessons each day with an amazing and lovely local Mexican Spanish teacher, and going on patrol in the middle of the night, riding the quad bikes up and down the beach, searching for turtles laying their eggs.
My most memorable experience was on one patrol after a huge rainstorm, and all the clouds dissolved away to reveal a dense sky of stars above me - and I could still see the storm on the horizon occasionally lashing lightning at the sea. Being away from the city like that really made me appreciate nature, and what we were doing to conserve it felt all the more worthwhile.
We also visited a crocodile research centre and as well as completing a wildlife survey of all the amazing birds on the lagoon there, and we helped the staff by painting the doors of the crocodiles' enclosures - on the inside!
The accommodation in Mexico, as we discovered, had just been built the week before we arrived. The 12 girls from my 2 Week Special group all stayed in this wonderful, watertight beach hut, which was great fun. We all got on so well and had so much fun staying up late chatting, until some of us left for the turtle patrols.
At the end of our stay, there were a few super heavy rainstorms which were great fun to play in, but the local wildlife didn’t seem to think so - the crabs would take refuge in our hut and on one occasion in somebody's bag!
For our last night we stayed in Guadalajara for our flights the next day, and we were split into groups to stay in different homestays. I was put in a group of four, and we were left to ourselves for the evening.
On the middle weekend of our 2 weeks, we visited the beach resort of Malaque: a popular destination for holidaying Mexicans. We had an amazing time there, with a pool in the hotel and the beach just down the road - we even had a go on the banana boats! We also learned to really appreciate the little things in life: like freshwater showers! We had great fun relaxing and by the end of the weekend we were ready to get back to the camp for some more hard work.
I actually had enough time to finish both of the books I had brought with me, and everyone on the camp was happy to trade books - handy for us fast readers! I think this really helped add to the friendly, family atmosphere on the camp, as I guess this trip - as do most volunteering trips - attracts people who are always willing to help each other and care about the environment and other people. I really enjoyed my time making all of these new friends, none of whom I had known before I arrived but many I still keep in touch with now, 4 months later, and I plan to for a long time to come.
Travelling with Projects Abroad to Mexico was such a great experience and it has really encouraged me to do more volunteering on my gap year next summer, and has really improved my confidence in so many things: meeting new people and making new friends, my Spanish speaking, and (most of all) travelling and going on an adventure without any friends or family to help me.
I can only hope my story has inspired you to travel and volunteer with Projects Abroad, as I really feel they give you such a great insight into the world of travelling and helping others, and I can promise you will return home as a new, confident and assured person.