The alarm buzzes, just like it does at the beginning of every other workday, signaling that time for sleep is over and your feet better hit the floor and get this day going. But there's something different about today. In fact, it's not day at all - it's 10:45 p.m. and, headlamp partially covered, you're quietly sifting through your things to find black pants and a long-sleeve black shirt. After pulling them on, you tip toe past the other rooms of the bunk house to the darkened night, alive with chirps of bugs, crashing waves and the occasional howl of a nearby monkey.

It is there in the yard that you greet your co-workers - a few others dressed like night time ninjas, all with backpacks and headlamps, double checking to be sure all necessary supplies are in tow. You are the turtle protectors, and the "work day" you're about to begin is four hours of patrolling several kilometers of beach where nesting leatherback sea turtles will soon swim ashore to drop their clutches of eggs.

You arrived at this moment in your life in a bit of an extraordinary fashion. Deep inside, you had the desire to do more, be more, give more. Back in the office in the city from which you came, you filled out your vacation request months in advance and sent the papers off to the next in line for a signature of "OK." Setting up your out of office reply and packing your bags, you were ready for a working vacation.

The idea of a working vacation is starting early in the lives of many young people involved in church youth groups, community service organizations or clubs in high school or college. Students may take an alternative spring break - one that sends them not to the must-visit party location of the year, but to a place that desperately needs the help of outsiders to stay afloat and carry on.

It is in giving to others that we receive. It is in the opportunities that we may find ourselves. If only for a week, you live the life of another, or experience your dream job in a distant locale. While your vacation from work may not exemplify the most understood definition of detach and relax, you will likely still return refreshed, eyes open, ready to tackle the next obstacle in your way.

Have you ever participated in an alternative spring break program or taken a working vacation? Leave a comment about your experiences. If the organization you made your trip through has a website, be sure to leave the link so others may check it out as well. Pura vida, friends!
Photo: Anne-Marie D'Onofrio excavating a leatherback nest at Pacuare Reserve in Costa Rica.