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Once were Gondwanan

Playa Cabuyal - One Of My Favourite Places

COSTA RICA | Tuesday, 3 April 2012 | Views [3237] | Comments [3]

It is 4.30 in the afternoon at Playa Cabuyal, in the Gulf of Papagayo. I am the only person here, but I am far from alone. Myriads of crabs scurry quickly from one hole to the next, sea birds are floating beyond the breakers looking for their dinner, and the trees along the sand also host a variety of other birds. On my way to the beach I stopped to watch a family of Howler Monkeys in the trees. The opportunity to volunteer with the Leatherback Trust, researching Sea Turtles, brought me here -the tranquillity, abundant wild-life and sense of community are unexpected bonuses. The basic living conditions enhance rather than detract from the experience.

Having read the briefing material, I wasn’t expecting five star luxury. (That can be found a short way up the road at the Four Seasons Hotel, for around $1 000 a night.) My accommodation is much more affordable and perfect for the purposes of the project. The Leatherback Trust leases the house, which is a short walk or an extremely bumpy car ride to the beach. There are numerous short cuts; across the estuary, through the mangroves, past the salt pans, or through the dry forest. Crocodiles and sting rays frequent the area, although we still swim. A few days ago we saw a dolphin in the ocean, and whales are sometimes spotted as well.

The project accommodation is a house consisting of an office, a store room, two bedrooms and a bathroom (with flushing toilet). This is linked to the basic outdoor kitchen by a breezeway which is the dining and recreation area. There is also another bathroom with toilet outside. The various hammocks and chairs provide more options for relaxing and escaping the heat. There is a solar panel, which does not generate enough power for a fridge, but is used to recharge the project’s laptop and smaller electrical items. The panel also powers lights for the indoor bathroom, the dining area (albeit a very dim one) and occasionally the kitchen. Generally-harmless wasps are a permanent fixture at the kitchen sink, and truly free-range chickens are more interested in pecking around than laying eggs. Resident iguanas enjoy the opportunity to bask in the sun, and the surrounding trees abound with parrots, magpie jays, humming birds and many other birds that I can’t name without referring to a nature guide. The occasional cane-toad can be seen in the outside bathroom and I have to remind myself that they are a native here and not the pest that they are at home. There is no internet here, but if you climb the hill near the house you can get a phone signal and a stunning view of the hills and ocean. Despite the mosquitos, it is well worth the climb at sundown to see the sun set over the Pacific.

So this is my home for four weeks. For me, this is the perfect balance of productivity and relaxation. Doing the patrols and other tasks is rewarding and exciting. The down-time for reading, writing, wild-life observation, going to the beach and socialising is relaxing and energising. It is surprising how quickly the days go with so much free time.

To my unexpected pleasure the food here is better than any other I have had in Costa Rica. The staff are excellent at preparing delicious meals with only basic ingredients and equipment – their Costa Rican and Venezuelan heritage are reproduced in deliciously varied creations. Before I came I was preparing myself for some very ordinary meals but my fears were happily unfounded. There was a day or two where our supplies were low & meals were basic, but generally the food is delicious.

And of course, the reason I am here; – the turtles. Although the project is managed by The Leatherback Trust, the most common species of turtles found here is the Black Turtle (negra) which is the same species as the Green Turtle, but they are found in different locations. Olive Ridleys (loras) and Leatherbacks (baulas) are also sometimes found here.

The general routine is to do a morning patrol, starting at 6.30 am, then a patrol that night, beginning between 8 or 9 pm, depending on the tide. Night patrol may not finish until between 3.30 or 6.30 am, depending on what is happening. After a night patrol, the next day is generally free, and then the cycle begins again with a morning patrol on the following day. There are also afternoon tasks such as checking nest temperatures and sometimes conducting nest excavations, nest triangulation, maintenance of marks, nest protection, etc.

On a night patrol, the turtles are monitored, scanned for their ID chip, and their nests are marked and the eggs they lay are counted. Sometimes the eggs need to be relocated because there may be people on the beach who have seen the nest, or it may be in an unsuitable position. Night patrol also involves in speaking to people who come onto the beach (it is a public beach) and politely finding out why they are there, and encouraging them not to use white lights as these disturb the turtles.  In between turtles we rest on the beach, lying under the stars and moonlight. The purposes of the morning patrols are to verify the data from the previous night and identify nests where the baby turtles (totugitas) have emerged.

For me, there have been so many firsts – up close and personal with a turtle; feeling her flipper; removing her eggs to another hole, being kicked in the face with sand,  more times than I can remember; watching the tortugitas waddling to the water- it has all been so interesting and exciting.

The project at Cabuyal is managed by a small team, who are all lovely and very knowledgeable about the turtles.  The local people are warm and friendly; the neighbours who gave us food and visited regularly, the municipal guards at the beach and the local coast guards. In the first week I was at Cabuyal, there were bushfires burning all around us.  While the other volunteer and I were by ourselves, some neighbours invited us to stay in their cabin if we were scared. We weren’t, but it was that kind of hospitality that helped make Cabuyal such a great experience.

As I left Playa Cabuyal, I was sorry that I couldn't stay longer, but the season is coming to an end, as is my trip. I am off to the mountains to escape the busy Santa Semana (Easter week) before I head back to Australia.

Tags: beaches, central amrica, costa rica, sea turtles, travel, volunteering



Hi Sally, it sounds very special. xx

  Jan Apr 4, 2012 5:24 PM


We loved having you at Cabuyal too!

  Bibi Oct 6, 2012 5:43 AM


awesome blog

  connor Nov 1, 2012 1:32 PM

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