July 2006


Last night I had the first warm shower since I’ve been here! We finished with our portion of the sea turtle project. The next group will be arriving today and will be taking down all of the hatcheries and helping with the last of the hatchlings for the season. The local people will continue to check the beaches for signs of sea turtles but the season is pretty much over.

Now Sofia and I are in the famed Cloud Forest where we went ziplining today and enjoyed the most beautful views I’ve ever seen. I also took time out to go to the butterfly gardens here where I saw some of the famous Blue Morpho – one of Costa Rica’s symbolic animals.

Monteverde – home of the cloud forest – is amazing because it shows how a community has chosen sustainable living over development and it has worked in their favor. The city is very difficult to get to, as they have no developed roads, yet it is the biggest tourist destination in the country because it is the last of the cloud forests and boasts more than 5,000 species of animals.

We’re going on a hike through one of the reserves tomorrow at 7 a.m. I’m hoping we’re one of the firsts to arrive so we can actually see some of the tropical birds who call this place home….

Sorry for the gap in my postings. There have been a lot of storms here lately and when it rains that internet doesn’t really work. Also, I’m running out of cash for the internet.

A lot has happened since my last post. I finally saw a mommy turtle on Friday. It was a green turtle and when we saw it it had already laid it’s eggs and was in the process of covering its nest. It was SO amazing. We dug the eggs out the next morning and put them in the hatchery because she had nested right on a major thoroughfare which would have eventually compacted the sand and squashed the eggs.

I also took a hike from Gandoca to Manzanillo (12 km) through the jungle. It was awesome. We saw two sloths, a monkey, poison dart frogs, a yellow viper and bunches of other crazy animals. It was seriously the coolest hike I’ve ever been on. By the end of the hike my jeans were covered in mud up to my thighs. Luckily I had brought a change of clothes and my flip flops.

The only bad thing is that I’m about to go absolutely insane from these mosquito bites. I seriously have hundreds of bites and have scratched most of them to the point of bleeding.

Yesterday I worked at the hatchery by myself. It was kind of nice because it gave me a chance to really sit and reflect. It also gave me a chance to finally finish a book. I think it´s the first book I´ve read all the way through this year.

When we work hatchery we have to check the temperature at the beginning of our shift then check for hatchlings every half hour because they can fry in the sun if we don´t get them into the shade. I kind of do it nonchalantly because I´ve never actually found sea turtles in one of the nests, but yesterday I saw one of the nests sinking in, a sign the turtles have hatched and are making their way up the nest.

I wasn´t sure what to do really, but I went and got a bucket of wet sand and made my way back into the hatchery. Just then one of the research assistants made their way up (she was visiting me because she knows it can get lonely on those six hour shifts without a partner). It was reassuring to have someone else there. We found 21 hatchlings!

It was my first time touching any of the sea turtles and I was totally freaked out by it at first. Once I got used to all their squirming about I had to measure and weigh each one. Then I left them in the shade until the sun began to set because the sand was too hot for them yesterday. I let them go about 5:30. It was so amazing. I was the only person out there just watching all these little turtles making their way down the beach.

Yeah, yesterday was a good day.

Oh, and I finally saw a monkey.

At our orientation for this project one of the ISV coordinators said we´d get homesick and we´d start complaining about eating rice and beans every day. We´d be miserable from the sun, the heat, the bugs and the work. I had never realized that those were symptoms of homesickness. I always thought homesickness was just missing your friends and family a lot. I miss everyone, but I don´t feel homesick.

However, I am miserable today. I had to work night shift at the hatchery last night, which is from 6 p.m. to midnight. Those are the hours when the mosquitoes come out in full force. There are also sand fleas that bite. We where long pants and shirts to try to keep the number of bites down, but it doesn´t seem to be helping me much.

In addition, I was working at the furthest hatchery, which is about 3 km down the beach and requires walking through a creek. Super not fun to sit for six hours with wet, sandy socks and shoes, especially when the bottoms of your feet are already rubbed raw from walking across the beach so many times.

I also got a second degree sunburn on my left ear. The edge of my ear is now just a big blister.

I´m still not sure I´d classify this as homesickness though. I think it´s just me complaining.

Today we have beach clean up again. And it´s well-needed. I´ve seen tons of garbage again on the beach already. Then I have night patrol (looking for momma turtles) again tonight.

Yesterday we dug up a nest that had already hatched so we could count the number of eggs that hadn´t hatched and figure out what went wrong. When we got to the bottom we found 23 hatchlings that would have most likely died if we hadn´t exhumed the nest that day. We also found 8 dead from larvae infestation. We released 73 hatchlings into the ocen yesterday and watched a nest of 70 sea turtles hatch and make their way down the beach to the ocean. So even with all my complaining it was still a rather successful day. 

I woke up early this morning and caught a ride to Panama with some of the ANAI leaders. So far Panama to me is bananas and cows…and lots of police officers that look really scary.

When we crossed the border we had to get our passports stamped once on the Costa Rica side and once on the Panama side. Then we found a taxi but there were eight of us squished into an extended cab truck. So when we were driving toward Changuinola (where we are now) we got pulled over by two guys just standing in the middle of the road.

They made everybody get out while they checked our driver’s license and made him put a seatbelt on. Then they just let all of us get back in and drive off. All they wanted to do apparently was harrass us. I was still scared to death though.

Panama is pretty cool though. It’s still very jungly – obviously. But there seems to be more people. We even went to a bakery and got donuts and stuff. I didn’t expect to see stuff like that until I got back home. PLUS, the internet is WAY cheaper here so I can check my emails and write to some of you without feeling totally rushed.

Last night was my first night patrol. It went well, but the only sea turtle to come up on the beach didn’t lay it’s eggs. They say sometimes the turtles will come up two or three times in one night before laying. This one ended up going a bit farther down the beach and layed its eggs in Sector C (near the Panama border). We were stationed in Sector B. Regardless if I see a mommy turtle or not though, I’m just really excited to be a part of this.

Still haven’t seen a monkey.

Mosquito bite count = 20

Straws, plastic bottles, flip flops, candy wrappers, a wine bottle, bleach bottles, oil containers, plastic forks and spoons, plates, hair barrettes, clothes pins and blue banana bags – this is just a short list of the things I found on the beach today. A message in a bottle I did not find.

We were out on the beach for only two hours cleaning and we came back with four garbage bags more than half filled with litter. Beach cleanup is done twice a week by volunteers here. So that should give you an idea of how much garbage washes up onto these shores.

I say that they wash up onto the shores because this isn´t a tourist beach. There is no swimming in the ocean here because the riptides and waves are too dangerous. We have to do the cleaning because if the turtles come up to nest and they find too large of obtrusions in their path they will turn back and try again another day. (Which is why we also had to remove large trees from the beach and throw them into the jungle where they came from).

Besides that, I worked in the hatchery today and saw some more hatchlings. We also learned how to exhume the nests where hatchlings have already come from. Exhumation of the nests is to find the unhatched eggs and dissect them to see what went wrong. Most of the ones found were infested with larvae or were eaten by crabs.

Oh, and I heard my first howler monkeys this morning on my way to work! I still haven´t seen any monkeys, but just hearing them made my heart smile.

Tonight is my first night patrol. I´m working from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. looking for momma turtles. I hope I see one!

Yesterday we arrived in Gandoca, where we will be working with the sea turtles. The bus ride here was possibly the most beautiful (and hot) bus ride I’ve ever taken. On both sides all we could see was jungles for miles. We also drove through several banana plantations, which were really cool looking.

Unfortunately, later I found out that the banana plantations contribute to the demise of the sea turtle population. Surrounding each of the banana bunches is a blue bag used as a pesticide. During harvest time nobody assures that all of the bags make it into the garbage, so a lot of bags end up in the nearby rivers and are washed into the ocean. Once they arrive in the ocean the sea turtles mistake them, and other plastics, for jelly fish, which is the  main food source for sea turtles. The turtles eat them and choke on them because they can’t properly digest plastic.

I’m super sad because I’m a huge banana fan. I even bought banana paper when I first got here because it was made from recycled banana peels and leaves. The cover said 17 to 20 trees are saved when so and so tons of banana paper is made. They also had coffee paper. But now I’m stuck in a conundrum, save the turtles or the trees? I guess there’s always a trade off somewhere along the way, but I’d love if there was just someone to regulate the plantations.

Each plantation we passed boasted either Del Monte, Dole or Chiquita. I bet if enough people wrote to them about these concerns it would do something. But then, maybe it would do nothing. Nobody knows because there aren’t enough people here for anyone to notice. Seriously, this town we’re in has about 20 houses and that’s it. There’s not even a store.

Well, enough about that. I should be talking about happy things. I SAW MY FIRST BABY SEA TURTLES TODAY! I took some pictures but I still can’t download pictures, so you’ll have to wait til I get to a better computer or get home. The turtles are adorable though and only about the size of my hand.

I can’t wait to go out tonight on patrol and look for the mommy turtles. It’s nearing the end of the season though so they say we’ll mostly only see babies and very few mommies, if any at all.

Kay, I’ll write again soon when I have more to say or pictures to post. Miss you all tons!

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