Picture the scene – you’re just about to embark on a 10 week placement, courtesy of ICS. As you sit and read various blogs recounting tales of colourful parrots, people and most importantly, hammocks, you begin to imagine the only challenge you’ll face is getting used to being woken up by the noise of a cockerel rather than the hustle and bustle of cars you’re used to at home. I’m here to establish that this idea is both true and false, via the medium of some real life challenges that I myself have faced here in beautiful Santa Marta, El Salvador. 

Disclaimer: no one will blame you if upon reading this blog, you forget that you aren’t reading the words of Bear Grylls himself.

Challenge Número Uno

You arrive to your first night in a host family home, feeling tired and excited, to be confronted by what can only be described as a mutant hybrid grasshopper-spider, sitting on the strap of your rucksack. Do you…

A) Risk looking like an inexperienced traveller and ask as politely as your Spanish allows for your host parents to assist you with removing the invading “insecto.”

B) Stand for at least 40 minutes with your roommate mustering the courage to take a swipe, making sure to take multiple photographs to document the incident. Then after three failed attempts with various implements allow your host mum to enter with a flip-flop after hearing the commotion and kill it in one foul swoop of a flip-flop. Or…

C) Quickly spray it with the insect killer which was the first item you put in your suitcase, of course.

While A and C may seem like the most intelligent and logical outcomes, of course the second option is in actual fact what took place right here in the Central American rainforest. Seven weeks later my roomie Mary and I have become an indestructible team of insect killing experts. (Read as I cower under the safety of my mosquito net whilst Mary deals with the scary creatures. Though fear not, you will adapt, quickly becoming one with insects, for instance as I type I have a cocoon dangling from the rope which hangs my mosquito net up. Brushing teeth will never be as exciting as when you can’t decide if it’s a moth or a bird fluttering around your head, that’s for sure.

Challenge Número Dos

After downing a rehydration sachet just before bed, because dehydration is the enemy you know? You wake up in the middle of the night with an incredibly full bladder and a mild fear of the toilet at night time due to your fellow travellers accounts of cockroaches scuttling around the rim and/or flying in their faces. Peeking out from under your eye mask you witness no change in the depth of the darkness and immediately realise you didn’t bring a torch to bed.  This leaves you with three options: 

A) Bravely exit the safety of your mosquito net and quickly insert your feet into the flip-flops you left by the bed and root around for the torch.

B) Wait out the discomfort for another hour and a half to see if you actually need to go before running barefoot to the toilet. Or…

C) Wake up your long suffering roommate by singing their name very gently until they wake up so they might think it’s sheer coincidence you both happen to be awake at this hour.

Of course the real life outcome is C. What else could it be? Luckily we both did a toilet run in the pitch black and saw the most beautiful starry sky either of us had ever seen, and didn’t even encounter a single creepy crawly.

Group photo

One final scenario…

Whilst in the midst of an incredibly fun and insightful weekend here in Santa Marta, visiting swimming holes and stunning viewpoints, you find yourself with a dilemma whilst on a tour of the village’s Civil War history. The amazing in-country facilitator Ana Maria is showing you one of the “hospitals” for guerrillas which were used throughout the war. This consists of a four foot high hole in the side of a hill, which leads to a tiny underground cave, in which there is room for two hammocks to treat the injured guerrillas in secret, in which they might stay and recover from amputated limbs or healing injuries for weeks on end. Not before long everyone is invited inside the cave, which bats keep flying out of, in maximum groups of three do you:

A) Admit your fear of small spaces and/or gigantic spiders and refuse to go in.

B) Give yourself a pep talk, tell yourself not be a melt and that if you were a TV presenter you’d HAVE to go in.

C) Leap into the cave, first one in and happily reminisce for years to come about the time a bat flew in your face.

Reality – B, always B. It would have 100 per cent made a great scene on a BBC documentary.

So in conclusion, it would appear that all of my challenges have revolved around a fear of insects. So if you fancy yourself as a tarantula rescuing man/woman of the wilderness type, these may not have seemed like tests at all. Even to me these are just new anecdotes to add to the back catalogue of tales I have created whilst being on my ICS placement. And if you are afraid of the little critters, just think, when you return to the UK, what’s a tiny little spider got on a palm sized cockroach?! Ultimately, as I relax in my hammock (getting pestered by a tiny, slightly crazy, dog, but relaxed all the same) I can only stress what an amazing experience you are about to have if you have signed up for ICS, and if you haven’t… Why not? They say you should do something which scares you every single day, the only difference here, is that thing isn’t watching an episode of American Horror Story alone, it’s venturing down the side of a cliff to get that perfect Instagram. So, rather aptly as anyone who knows me would agree, I sign off parting with a final pearl of wisdom; think of Instagram, always. 

Written by ICS volunteer by Abby Mercer