This past week, my husband and I took a trip to Costa Rica before our move to San Francisco. We decided to keep a travel journal in which we write about our day, funny stories etc. for memory sake. So in the next few days, I'll be posting about the highlights of our trip!
After an early 6 am start to the day, we filled our tummies with breakfast at the Courtyard Mariott. With our trusted GPS system, we started on our 7 day journey! The first part of our 2.5 hour drive consisted of driving through Parque Nacional Brauilo Carillo. Imagine: driving up and down a mountain surrounded by greenery and oncoming speeding trucks filled with thousands of pineapples. It was quite a thrill!
Soon after, we passed a huge banana plantation and finally started seeing signs for La Pavona. The roads here started getting more confusing as it turned to gravel, and seemed like we were just driving on an off-beaten dirt road. Chirag, who had the car at this point had to constantly swerve the car thanks to hidden speed bumps and massive water-filled ditches that were waiting to eat up and flatten our tire. It became a game for us, how many potholes can we ditch! (pun intended). We parked the car at La Pavona for the next night, as our goal was to get to a place called Tortuguero and the only way to get there was by boat. The primary reason to visit was to see Green Turtles nesting at Tortuguero National Park, a completely natural and live process.
Chirag and I left the lodge at around 7:15pm with two other couples as well as our tour guide, Juan. The boat ride was actually pretty frightening, as the lagoon was pitch dark at this point, guided only by the occasional hut / lodge on either side. Once we reached the village, Juan quickly shuttled us to a holding area where all the other tour groups, rangers and turtle spotters gathered. There, Juan began to explain to us that the spotters would first go to the beach and look for turtles or their tracks, and then radio us to come to them. This was to avoid large groups of tours searching for turtles by themselves, and moreover to avoid scaring the turtles as they came ashore and searched for a nesting ground near the vegetation.
Then all of a sudden Juan got a radio message and before we knew it, we were rushing through a dark, thin trail filled with muddy water ankle deep, through the rain forest, trying to get to the beach. We really got lucky that our lodge provided us with rain boots, and flashlights, which we were not allowed to use once we got to the beach in efforts to protect the turtles’ natural habitat. In about 10-15 minutes, we reached the clearing. Bright stars lighted the beach on a very clear and brisk night by the sea.
Juan walked us a few more feet forward and began pointing. We were a bit confused at first because we couldn’t see the turtle. Then we realized that Juan was actually standing over the turtle, and we were only looking at its back half. It was massive. We later learnt that it was 1 meter and 20 cm long, which is larger than average. Once we peered closer into the ditch below the turtle, we saw a collection of what looked like white golf balls - the eggs. In a matter of moments we began to see more eggs emerge and the burrow filling up! National Geographic missed out.
Juan then took us to the side and began to further explain the process of laying eggs, what determines sex, predators, etc. The turtle eventually began to use its back flippers to cover up the nest. Then used its front flippers to move forward a bit and create a "fake" nest, in order to trick predators (jaguars, birds, crabs, dogs, etc.) A group of conservationists also came by and determined that this turtle was tagged about 10-12 years ago, and must be at least 40 years in age.
After about 30 minutes, the turtle began to turn around and make its way back to sea. At this point, nearly 20 people had accumulated on the beach, and each one of us was anxiously following the slow-moving turtle, inch by inch. Eventually the turtle reached the sea line and became a mere moving boulder in the dim light. The process was complete. The night was over.
We were extremely fortunate to be able to witness this entire cycle. The night was clear, our guide was fantastic and our group was just the right size. This experience is probably one of the closest we've got to a natural nesting process and what an unforgettable one it was!