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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Turtles and Tortuguero

COSTA RICA | Friday, 16 October 2009 | Views [1671]

eyelash viper

eyelash viper

As I approached Tortuguero after the one-hour boat ride, I immediately thought "Venice of the Caribbean." However, once I walked into town I realized that only the few buildings near the dock are partially built on water. Tortuguero means "turtle place" and that's what everyone comes here for: to see these prehistoric-looking creatures. Immediately I was met by a man named Ricardo who offered a turtle tour. At first I thought he was just another tout but it turned out he was legit. He told me the turtle tours cost $20 and I thought they were $10. He told us all about a deal to go on a night-time turtle walk, a wildlife river cruise in the morning, and an entrance ticket to Parque Nacional Tortuguero for $40. Oy, I've spent so much money as it is, but I have to stop complaining. My upper jaw still hurts a little after having two screws placed into the bone yesterday. I'm surprised I feel this good! I booked two nights at the cheapest place in town; there are no CouchSurfers. When I think about it, I think this is the first place I've ever travelled to that's inaccessible by car (well, a place that's not an island, but Tortuguero actually IS on an island). You can only reach the village by plane or boat and there are no vehicles. Ricardo told us to wear dark clothing because the turtles can see white t-shirts. After taking my antibiotics, I went to the restaurant and got some papas fritas (french fries) to snack on. Chewing them very lightly, I was thinking about seeing some magnificent turtles. Cameras are not allowed; some things you just can't take photos of when you're travelling. Another good example are the glowworms at Waitomo (for those of you who don't know where that is, there's an article about it in my blog). My only choice was to take the turtle tour from 10 to midnight, because the 8 to 10 tour was full. I would have preferred the earlier tour because I have to be up at 5:30 tomorrow for the wildlife cruise. Ultimately the 10 to 12 tour ended up being in my favour, and I'll tell you why in a bit. The place I'm staying at is very ramshackle, and it's owned by a local family who has a little girl that runs around all the time. Everywhere I go I've been hearing or seeing futbol. Nothing excites Ticos more than hearing "goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooal" by the announcer. Turtles, futbol, rainforests, and a view of the Caribbean out back! What more can I ask for in this tropical paradise? Over on this side of the coast, the cuisine is different, and the Caribbean influence is definitely here! However, I've been on a "banana diet" these past few days because of my dental work. At 9:00, I walked up to the restaurant and our guide, Ruben, met us. We were on our way to see these magnificent creatures. Too bad I didn't bring my camera anyway because we saw two different species of frogs on our way to the beach. Green turtles are the species that are most abundant. Leatherback and hawksbill turtles exist in smaller numbers. The latter two are endangered but all three species are at risk for poachers, egg collectors, and predators. On the beach, we saw a green turtle. Incredibly, we even saw her lay her eggs! What an otherworldly experience! She lays about 100 eggs, about the size of a ping-pong ball. The shell is mad of a balloon-like material; it's not like chicken eggs. She then returns to sea, and when the eggs hatch the tiny turtles dig their way to the surface and then slowly make it out to sea. Sadly, just one or two turtles out of 100 will survive their first year. Sitting right next to the enormous turtle, I was just in complete awe. Literally I could have placed my hand right on her back. We then observed another turtle making her way back out to sea. The male turtles never leave the ocean, and the females only come ashore to lay their eggs. Lastly, we observed another turtle covering her eggs. As I sat next to her, she used her flipper and splashed me with sand! I've loved turtles since my first days of Super Mario Bros. but I've never had a turtle as a pet. In high school I had a classmate named Arturo whose nickname is "turtle". If I ever get a pet turtle I will name him "Arturo". In all we saw three turtles, and the previous group only saw one as she was on her way back to sea, so it's a good thing I didn't go on the previous tour. As we walked back I was getting tired. The combination of antibiotics and constant walking have made me tired. Dreaming of turtles, I drift off quietly like a turtle....

As my alarm went off, it was time for me to go on my wildlife cruise. I had no idea what was in store for me today. Will I see monkeys? snakes? toucans? or even a jaguar? Let's find out. I made a quick cup of tea and took two bananas along with me. What a quiet morning it was. Warning for Tortuguero: you will get wet, you may get drenched! It's one of the rainiest of all rainforests. Bring a bucketful of insect repellent as well; the mosquitoes had their way with me last night. As our boat quietly drifted away from the dock, a light drizzle came down, and I was praying that it wouldn't become a full-on downpour. My camera has taken enough damage already. As we made our way across Lagunas del Tortuguero, we saw some magnificent blue herons fly just above the water. Ricardo pointed out a basilisk lizard, but I had so much trouble spotting it! And I actually at one point thought about being a biologist. Finally I saw it, but I couldn't get a good photo. At university I majored in biology for one semester before deciding it'd be better to stick to geography. Basilisk lizards can actually run across the water! And we observed that. This is such an otherworldly place; seeing spider monkeys, lizards that look like small dinosaurs, and magnificent rainforests. It's more like being on another planet. The most beautiful creature we saw is an eyelash viper. This highly venomous, yet non-aggressive snake is as yellow as a golden sun. Like Australia, Central America is home to isn't fair share of venomous snakes. The deadliest is the fer-de-lance. Plantation workers are bitten and often die from this snake's extremely toxic venom. As we rowed back toward Tortuguero, we saw a female basilisk lizard. The male has a crest on it's head but the female doesn't. We were in our rush to get back to shore, but I seemed to enjoy the rain like Gene Kelley. Now if this were Milford Sound or someplace cold, then yes, I'd want to be inside by the fire. Except for one or two photos of the snake I didn't really get any good photos, but that didn't make the experience any less memorable. Back on shore I wanted some of the tasty Caribbean food, but my teeth and wallet can't really handle it right now, so I decided to go for a stroll. Locals smile at me as I explore their land. I must say I really love this place. Falling asleep in the hammock Caribbean-style I woke up later to see USA vs. Costa Rica futbol. The game ended up tied but the Ticos sure love their futbol! Afterward I decided to utilize my entrance ticket to Parque Nacional Tortuguero. You have to take a pair of Wellingtons or risk getting bitten by the fer-de-lance. This time I had my camera with me, and I was hoping to see some frogs like I did last night. As I kept walking and walking, I wasn't seeing a thing. All I saw was one tiny lizard. On the beach I stood there for a bit, gazing at the Caribbean. This is my second trip to Costa Rica and it's the first time I've actually made it to the coast! It turned out I walked so much that I was starting to get blisters on my feet from the boots; they're too small. Barefoot, I walked back to the village but I didn't want to get sore anymore than I already was. Tonight I treated myself to a Cuba Libre. That turned out be a bad move because I'm not sure if antibiotics and alcohol mix well. I've never been drunk before, but tonight I was actually staggering. I washed up and just crashed on the bed and called it a night in this lovely Caribbean village.

On the way back to Cariari the next day I saw three turtles as we cruised up the Rio Tortuguero. All in all I spent two days in Tortuguero. There's more than just turtles...there's a lifetime of memories. 

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