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Turtle patrol!

COSTA RICA | Monday, 7 April 2008 | Views [711] | Comments [2]

Location: Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

With: Me, myself, and I (and a few ants left over in my backpack)

Whew! That week FLEW by faster than lightening, and I still doubt an entire seven days have gone by. On the 1st of this month I hopped the ever-confusing series of Costa Rican buses and managed to propel myself (if not a little clumsily) to the tiny village of Parismina, reachable only by boat. With a population of only 300 or so humans, and many more dogs, I had no idea what to expect. I've never been to a town that small for more than ten minutes before!

I stepped off the small motor boat and, after handing over a thousand colones (the equivalent of about two US dollars, or Canadian I guess...wait, how's our dollar doing back home now?), made my way down the dusty "street" (path in the sand, it's an island, and very small, so there are obviously no vehicles) to the turtle shack. Very quickly I was introduced to the project by Vicky, the ex-American who's lived in Parismina for 30 years and runs the project. She handed me over to my "mentor"; a 15-year-old girl with her dark hair in pigails and a lolipop in her mouth. She would be my guide around town.

She showed me the sights: 2 small concrete rooms that serve as bars, 3 general stores, the clinic that's open 2 days a week, the school. The town was made up of people of both Caribbean and Latin descent, and all had their eyes on me when I walked by.

Before dark I was delivered to my homestay, a young couple (20 years old, I later found out) and their 9-month-old baby, Angelica. My host mom, Jaqualine, was very shy. The house was painted cement floors and thin wooden walls, the whole thing sized about 20 feet by 20 feet, and divided into their bedroom, my bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen/living room. It was small and there were ants/beetles/you name it EVERYWHERE but it was a damn fine place to be.

Our volunteer duties are almost entirely at night, and consist of walking. On the beach, in the sand, for four hours with no light but the stars. Flashlights bother the turtles so we only use them when absolutely necessary, but I'm perfectly happy to walk by starlight.

Before the project was started here, 98% of turtle eggs laid on the beaches of Parismina were poached, and many of the green turtles were killed for meat. According to the locals it was commonplace to find rotting turtle carcasses, egg shells, and skeletons all over the town and beach. Since the project was started, the numbers have dropped from 98% to about 30%. Not only do the patrolers (usually 2 guides and a couple of volunteers) scare off the poachers now, but they usually make it to the nest far before the poachers and collect the eggs quickly to carry to the hatchery, a safe fenced-in part of the beach that offers the eggs protection until hatching.

The first night was murder. I decided I quit. Runners, socks and long pants were necessary for keeping the bugs off (though didn't do the job at all), and it is hot in Parismina at night. Hot, and humid, and so damn hot, and 4 hours stumbling over sand meant dripping sweat the entire time.

But quickly, we grew used to it. I still complained about the millions of bug bites I'm now covered in, but the walking became easy fast, and the heat became bearable.

In my time there, I witnessed 5 leatherback turtles. They were beautiful. And huge! 1.5 meters long, 1 meter wide! Like a small car! They hauled their gigantic bodies onto the beach and would curl their back flippers beneath them like precision tools, digging a perfect circle. Soon the eggs would fall, and she would kick sand over the eggs and then all around the area, hiding them successfully. With that she would look to the sea, spot the reflection of the dull moon on the water, and return home.

I actually got to gather the eggs from beneath her once, as she laid the eggs. It doesn't bother her, she doesn't even notice at all. We counted them, measured her, checked her tags, and she was off. It was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever taken part in, or witnessed.

During the day I hung out with the other volunteers, the local kids (my mentor gave me cornrows, but not complete, and they actually look really cute!), watched the local football games, and sought shade. I ate rice and beans 3 times a day every day (sometimes with egg, too, sometimes with pasta, too, but always rice and beans, my favorite!), slept under the safety of my mosquito net, and all around adored the entire experience.

SO NOW I have but 8 days left, and what shall I do?! The plan was to hang in Puerto Viejo, but just as last time I visited...I really, really dislike it. Kirsten and Puerto Viejo don't click. I thought staying at the "it" hostel might change things this time around, as everyone tells me they love it here, but most of the people at the "it" hostel are the spring break types- there were 5 girls standing in the hammock hotel part of the hostel (hammock camping! yay!) applying make up and doing their hair. And they're the kind of Americans people DON'T LIKE, which I haven't seen much of on this trip: kind of aggressive when they talk, very intense, just too much.

So pretty rapidly, I decided; I have 8 days left. Screw it, I'm going back to Bocas del Toro, Panama! Cause I KNOW I like it there! I'm looking for social fun, for dancing, and for scuba diving and beaches. Bocas has all of that. Puerto Viejo has gift shops, surfers, spring breakers and not really anything else. Onwards, tomorrow or the next day, to my happy place!!!!



Hi Kirst!! U & the Turtles...Wow! Sooo interesting and amazing! Glad u r having an awesome time.Can't wait 4 your next blog from Bocas del Toro!! Enjoy, be safe, luv u. Take care!

  Liz & Brice Apr 12, 2008 2:41 AM


Hey! I was in Bocas del Toro a few months ago.. I highly recommend hotel la coralina, if y ou don't stay there have a meal there and schedule a horseback ride on the beach.. I HAD SO MUCH FUN!!

:) sounds so much fun what u r doing

  tanya Apr 27, 2008 9:30 AM

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