My Turtling Experience

So when we were at San San we ,of course,we did turtle patrols in addition to hatchery duty. I heard some of my friends had seen at least four different adult turtles during their stay. I ,however, had seen just two. Even so, I will never in my life forget those moments. My first encounter was around midnight on day 4 of our trip. We were part of the 10 to 2 shift and as we wondered for what seemed like endlessly on the beach in darkness we saw in the distance , lights. They would flash red and white and soon they were not 20 feet from us. “There is a turtle! We collected her eggs but if you hurry you can still see her!” And soon we were met with a creature larger than I imagined.

She resembled a prehistoric creature and she was preforming the most touching labor of love. She used her front flippers to smooth the sand that her front flippers kicked back. She was making the best effort to provide life for her babies and it was an honor to watch. She was crying salty tears that are designed to rid her body of too much salt. Just the process of filling in the hole she had made took over an hour.

Baby Leatherback turtle.

Baby Leatherback turtle.

During this process I couldn’t help but be in awe that those tiny little babies we released a day earlier would grow to her size. While we were waiting our guide left and appeared with some coconuts to enjoy. It was such a surreal moment, sitting on the beach in Panama, watching a giant sea turtle on land while drinking out of a freshly chopped coconut. Definitely something I will always remember and as she left I actually felt sad. I felt a fondness towards her, all the energy that it must take to hull her heavy body up the beach, you can’t help but to cheer her on.  The same goes for the second turtle that I encountered.

We were walking toward the hatchery when all of a sudden Brian came running up to everyone announcing that their was a turtle close by. We all followed quickly and within 5 minutes of brisk walking we came up a mother turtle digging her nest. We all watched in amazement as she layed her eggs, got tagged, and measured.We were even able to feel her strong flipper and her solid shell. That magical moment of getting to touch this endangered and beautiful creature was truly humbling. It was a blessing and honor that I will carry with me always.

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Getting Back Home!

Hello everyone! So by now the trip has passed and I’ve been home for a few days. I’ve gotten settled and back in the swing of things. But I realize that I haven’t shared all of my experiences with you and I would really like to do that. So what I was thinking is that I would just pickup from where I left off and explain to all of you just what we all did. So if you want to stick around that would be wonderful!

Picture taken at one of the hotels we stayed at.

Picture I took  at one of the hotels we stayed at.

I have to say that this trip was the best I’ve ever been on  in my life! From the friendly locals to my group members , everyone was truly kind and inspiring.Also from the beaches of San San to the forest of Corcovado National Park, every experience was breathtaking. I would love to share them with you! So I will do my best to post the rest very soon. Have a very happy 4th of July!

Manatees and Turtle Eggs

I’m so very sorry I haven’t posted in a while! The wi-fi here has been off and on. Also I have been busy trying to soak up the experience while it lasts.The day following reforestation, our groups then switched and we went manatee watching. The river that San San is located on is home to a conservative population of manatee.The manatees are fond of roaming in amongst the mangrove trees that border the river. This is where we set out to.

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Manatee  watching sight at San San  in Panama.

Unlike group “B” our manatee experience consisted of falling asleep on the platform from which a good view of potential aquatic visitors was to be had. Although we did not see any manatees that day,despite the bananas meant to entice them below, we did get a really good nap. That was just the easy part of the day.

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San San’s hatchery where the exhumation took place.

Exhumation was next on the to-do-list. This concept was new to me, but it is just one of the many tough jobs that must be done at San San for the sake of the turtle’s population growth. For exhumation we must dig up the eggs from nests in the hatchery that already had hatched and look at the eggs that remained unhatched. We want to find out why they didn’t make it. For that to be possible, we must open the eggs to examine the cause of death. We wrote down the expert’s classifications to compile the data. It wasn’t very pleasant, I’ll leave it at that. But regardless it is a very important job to be done because it gives us insight into a great understanding of the dangers to sea turtles and how to fix those potential dangers. Overall , today, was a great learning experience. It ,once again, opened my eyes to the dedication that emanates from this place, something that should not be taken for granite.

*This post was written around 6/23/2015 about my experience in San San

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San San Station: Saving the Forest One Tree at a Time

I’m pleased to report that I did not get eaten by the spider that I was sharing my bunk with me. Perched in the corner he just hung around and I came to realize that we had a mutual understanding. So as per usual we woke up and had a delicious breakfast cooked by the locals. Our entire group was broken up into group “A” and group “B”. Group “A” , which was my group, was chosen to do reforestation in the morning while the other group went manatee watching. I really didn’t know what I had signed up for.

We hopped on a boat and went back the way we had come to get to San San, about a 20 minute boat ride. Then we stopped along the river bank and docked. As we got out I realized that the land wasn’t the most solid, it was very marshy and soft. We walked along further and the muck became present. We walked through the wetland where we got a demo on how to plant a tree by the little makeshift nursery that had been established by them. And so i was handed my first tree and the planting begun. We were to go to the clearings in the grass to push the mangrove saplings into the water and cover them with the mud that had been in the hole. We repeated this process many times each as we planted 119 trees.

The sun was beating down on us with our long shirts and pants, and rubber boots on. The sweat was pouring down my face. But honestly I loved every moment of it, even when I fell in mud up to my knee. Walking back and forth getting the saplings and planting them became tiring, especially the farther we got from where we started. And not once did the men who were helping us complain. The people who plant the trees everyday are passionate and humble about the work that they do. It was inspiring and left me feeling inspired about the work that we did together, I think I speak for everyone when I say that.

Next we went to lunch, smelling fresh after my shower we then headed to nest maintenance. From there some of our group worked on making new cages to go on the top of the nest so that when the babies hatch they are contained to be counted, measured, and weighed. Myself, along with Natalia, JoAnna, and Torey then filled in holes outside that had been exhumed already. Then we also discarded dirtied sand from nests as well. You would really be surprised by how many jobs it takes to save a sea turtle, there is so much involved. But it really is all worth it. While cleaning the sand a miracle happened. Baby sea turtles started to hatch right out of the ground. One after the other they started their new journey. It was an honor and a great joy to witness such a miracle. Seeing creatures, endangered ones, begin the rest of their lives hoping that it is a prosperous one is a wonderful experience.

Crossing the Border: A World You Need To See

As we walked through the rainforest of Cahuita National Park, I honestly had no idea what would be waiting for me those next few days.You can speculate all you want, but when it comes down to it , nothing can prepare you for the actual experience. Walking through the lush greenery we saw many fascinating creatures such as agouti, laughing falcon, howler monkeys, white faced monkeys, purple grasshopper, tree crabs, and leaf cutter ants. It was just a taste of the amazing animals we are going to see. However the most impacting experience  was yet to come.

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Laughing falcon in Cahuita.

After going through a grueling customs experience we were met by Eric our new guide and saw how different life is there. When I reflect on life back home I think of many people having giant houses, nice cars, and expensive clothing. Often expect the same elsewhere. But then you go into Sixaola and realize life doesn’t function that way everywhere. There are tough living conditions out there. The young boys pester you to carry your things for some money while the gaunt dogs sniff looking for food.The buildings are ram-shackled together. It is a different way of living that I have never experienced.As we past through ,we headed to a local Panamanian kindergarten. There we saw many sweet smiling faces who buzzed with excitement at all the commotion. A basic concrete building with walls covered in colorful drawings, letters, and learning tools. While you could tell it was a school, it was a stretch from what I’ve come to know. The look of excitement and intrigue on their faces when we brought out all of the school supplies, shoes, and backpacks we’ve collected was priceless. It is very possible to have a full life without having much and these kids were an example of that. Their shining enthusiasm, willingness to interact and learn, as well as their playful attitude was indicative of any young happy child. The whole time there was very powerful and I was very touched by our interactions. We were told to draw a turtle with the children. It was a challenge as my Spanish is not very good at all but the young boy I drew with was so adorable. It was a very humbling interaction.

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Kindergarten class we visited in Sixaola .

After we left there we headed across the street to San San Pond Sak where we would be for the next upcoming days. From the station we were greeted by local women who make turtles and bags out of recycled plastic. It is one of the sustainable projects that San San works on, teaching the community this trade. From there we took a 40 minute boat ride to the actual station. Unbeknownst to me, I would grow to love this place. At first it was tough, there was no running water. It is all collected rainwater that you dump on yourself for a shower and use to flush the toilet.

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Leatherback sea turtle hatchlings ready to be released.

         But we had a magical experience that day as we got to release leatherback sea turtle hatchlings to the ocean, one of the many times we would get to to do so. It is something I will never forget as long as I live, something you can’t explain. Conserving one of earth’s oldest living creatures and one most fragile. Fighting for a species is a very tough and tiring job as  we would come to find out.

Pura Vida and Falling off Rafts

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Rafting down the Sarapiqui river as my guide , Alex, jumps into the air as we hit rapids.

            My heart was beating through my chest as the sinking rapids approached. I clutched my paddle tight and prepared to go tumbling into the churning water. I was certain this wouldn’t end well. I’m going to be honest with you, in that moment I was terrified. I’ve always had a fear of crashing waves and tumbling currents. I ‘m sure it has to do with getting pummeled by waves  as a child, when you lose your footing at the beach and go tumbling into the breaching waves.You don’t know which way is up, I was always so afraid. Today that fear surfaced and I can say I’m glad it did. The first few rapids I was scared but I quickly realized the more I slipped up because of my nervousness the worse it made the ride. Being scared would certainly not help my situation, but rather meeting it head on would. White water rafting is definitely a team activity and I did not want to be the weakest link to let my team down. I had to be brave and trust in the guide’s experience , executing  all orders. It is hard to do sometimes but when you put yourself out there you are always enriched for doing so. Being uncomfortable forces us to grow as people. And may I just say, it was well worth it because I had a blast! Going down those rapids was so fun and my guide Alex made it really enjoyable. As we floated down the river he used his wealth of knowledge to point out many different species of both plants and animals. We saw three-toed sloths and tiger herring to just name a few. Honestly, the scenery was something out of a painting. It was so lush and tropical just as you’d imagine paradise to be. Midway through the trip,we stopped for a snack of pineapple, watermelon,and cookies. While we were stopped we were allowed to jump off a short cliff into the water. It was exhilarating and so much fun.

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Hummingbird nest we saw at our lunch spot. Two tiny babies inside.

Finally to top off a wonderful experience we ate a beautifully  prepared lunch at a gorgeous location outside overlooking the Sarapiqui river we had just paddled. We even saw a hummingbird nest there with two baby birds inside, incredible experience!

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Our beautiful lunch location by Sarapiqui river.

After that we said our goodbyes to our guides and headed off toward Cahuita. We arrived at Cahuita around 7 and had dinner shortly after. Overall, today was an adventure. We drove through many different forest types as well as learned about them. We drove through a cloud forest , transitional, and a rain forest. All in one day! We saw so much lush greenery , many bungalows tucked into the vegetation, and wildlife as well. Everyone I’ve encountered here has been so very nice, Costa Rica is truly wonderful. But now it is time to head to San San Station ,in Panama, for a while to heed a necessary call. I see baby sea turtles in our future! Because San San has no electricity I will have to update you all when I get back! To living life with appreciation and optimism, Pura Vida everyone!