I’ve been to ARCAS twice—a six-week trip in 2009, and a 3-month stay in 2013. Needless to say, it’s one of those places that’s had a lasting impact on my life, and I often find myself wondering about the next time I’ll be able to go. There isn’t just one thing about ARCAS that makes it so magical; it’s a combination of elements that takes you far from your ordinary life and plunges you into something incredibly different. The work is something that sets ARCAS apart from other animal rescue organizations. You’ll spend your days cleaning cages, preparing diets, and working on one of the long-term projects that’s going on. The amount of work varies with the number of volunteers there at the time—I’ve seen it range from 2 to 30—and on the days where there were just two of us, I gained an appreciation for just how much the volunteer force actually does, and how ARCAS truly relies on its volunteers to remain up and running. In terms of animal work, there’s no guaranteeing what you’ll see. There were weeks that went by when the animals were healthy and well-behaved, and others when cages full of sick animals were carted in, the spider monkeys had a mutiny, and some big cat outside of the facility was reaching into the cages at night and playing “pop the parrot.” Because I stayed for weeks at a time, I was able to see some of the incredible surgical work done with very limited supplies, and some of the astounding recoveries that the animals made. There were also disappointments and discouraging times that gave me an appreciation for just how unforgiving the animal world can be. No matter what you see, it’s guaranteed that you’ll walk away with an experience that makes you reconsider how you think about the world. The people are the heart and soul of ARCAS. The staff workers have been there for years, and are incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. They’ll also put you to shame as they haul crates of fruit up a steep slope of stairs while you’re gasping and dragging a box of bananas at half speed. The other volunteers, as I said earlier, vary every week and represent all ages, countries of origin, and reasons for wanting to be there. There have been some weeks that feel like a high school summer camp, others that lead you to stay at dinner past ten o’clock talking world politics and social issues, others where you compete with who can carry the most rocks to add to the foundation of a new building. No matter the week and flavor of the volunteers, it’ll be an eye-opening experience. After my months in Guatemala, I gained a greater appreciation for not how diverse the world is, but ultimately, how we’re all the same, and in the best ways possible. I can also swear in five languages now, but that seemed like a less profound statement. The place is the one thing that doesn’t change on a day-to-day basis. Every morning you’ll be awoken at predawn by the screech of the macaws or the Chewbacca-esk cry of the howler monkeys. You’ll be guaranteed to get beans and tortillas at nearly every meal. You’ll cringe a little when you step into the icy showers, but God it’ll feel good at the end of another sweaty day. You’ll enjoy the cocoon of your mosquito net and the smell of the old books from the library. You’ll swim in the lake with a slight fear of crocodiles (but not enough to stop you) and savor the wind on the boat ride to Flores. And when your time comes to leave, you’ll wonder how it went by so fast.