Do Turtles Shit on the Beach?

3 08 2010

At 7am I was awoken by a “knock” on my tent. Much to my surprise Jenna had remembered my request to wake me up when I’d asked her at the start of the evening. After a mere hour or so’s sleep I checked out: my funds were now looking quite desperate. I got a taxi to the bus stop and then caught a bus to Puerto Limón. Finally I was on the road once more! I dozed on and off but I was super-paranoid about getting my day-pack robbed again so I didn’t sleep that deeply. I also worried about whether

At one point a policeman boarded the bus and spent an absolute age looking through my passport: I thought at first that maybe he was just impressed by my overwhelming array of stamps and was marvelling at all the places I’d been. After 5 minutes perusal he proclaimed (in Spanish), “You don’t have an entry stamp”. Panic gripped me: normally I look at my passport after a border control so that I can see how interesting the new stamp is. I didn’t remember doing it for Costa Rica.

I grabbed the passport off him, looked at it for 2 seconds and said, “Esta!” The Costa Rica stamp was quite clear and practically alone on its own page. Suitably pacified and hopefully feeling a bit stupid, he moved on, casting just a cursory look at everyone else’s ID. At Puerto Limón I hopped in a taxi with two Austrian girls, Sabrina and Martina. I asked the taxi driver if we could stop at an ATM en route and he said “Si”. But he either ignored my request, forgot it, or didn’t really understand me because, before I knew it, we were at the dock (miles from any ATM) ready to head off to the remote town of Tortuguero.

I didn’t even have enough to pay for the boat with so I paid a taxi driver another $16 to take me all the way back into town and bring me back. The first ATM was out-of-order and I had visions of not being able to get any cash at all but fortunately the second bank did work. Much to my relief the boat hadn’t left when I got back so we set off down the river. It was absolutely beautiful and our driver pointed out lots of birds and wild sloths for us as we went along.

Wild sloth on the way to Tortuguero

At Tortuguero we headed to Cabañas Aracari. The girls got a room and then I was shown to mine. The woman wanted to charge me $10 but I said that the girls were only paying $8, so she said that was okay too. It was only later that I realised that the girls had a triple room whilst I’d managed to get a queen-sized bed, en-suite for the same price. I was dead chuffed with my bargain deal.

After we dumped our stuff off we went for a bite to eat in town. Tortuguero wasn’t what I expected. The fact that there were no real roads and the only way to get there was by boat or plane gave the village a unique feel. It didn’t feel particularly dangerous either, although I was a bit wary after dark. After lunch I booked my turtle tour for that evening. The girls wanted to go kayaking too, so they were going to do both activities the next day to save on park fees.

The girls realised that they were also out of cash but there were no banks or ATM’s in this remote outpost so they had to charge their credit card at the supermarket and pay a 10% commission. Whilst they were doing this I went to an Internet cafe. In the afternoon they went to the nearby beach but I was still trying to keep the infected bites on my legs dry (in the hope that they’d perhaps finally heal and stop leaking pus over my bed sheets) so I just hung out at the hostel.

In the evening we went out for some dinner. I had to leave before paying so that I could make it in time for my turtle tour but I left the girls some money and asked them if they could wake me up when they went kayaking the next day so that I could catch the first ferry out of town.

Martina and Sabrina at dinner

We walked for about an hour along dark paths before we arrived at the turtle-nesting beach. I’d brought my head torch so I was able to see quite well at this point but as soon as we got to the beach we had to switch all our torches off and we had to stumble along the rocky beach with just the guide’s red light to guide us. There was no moon that night so it was pitch-black on the beach. After a lengthy bilingual explanation about turtles we wandered quietly along the beach to view the main attraction: a giant green sea turtle laying a clutch of eggs on the beach.

I think I was expecting an emotionally charged, transcendent experience but watching a trunk-like cloaca shitting white eggs into a hole in the sand under the red-tinged hue of the guide’s light didn’t really do it for me. There were lots of other groups around and we kept walking away from the turtle so that the next group could have a look. The whole thing felt very voyeuristic and I don’t really know how ecologically sound it was having a hundred tourists on a beach at night disturbing the turtles as they laid their eggs. We kept going back every so often to get another dose of turtle egg-shitting and then got to watch her burying the eggs too. I was done after the first viewing. We also got to see some new turtles clambering their way up the beach but my night vision was completely shot and I could barely make them out. At one point one of the turtles got wind of the large groups of tourists in its way and headed back to the ocean: I only hope she did make it back up the beach to lay her eggs once our invasive presence was gone.

I chatted to a few of the other people in the group as we wandered back to the village including a couple from Jersey (well he was quite obviously from Liverpool but lived there now) and a French Canadian. Back at the hostel I heard what sounded like someone climbing over the fence and saw a sketchy-looking guy walking past all the rooms towards me. I quickly got into my room and locked the door shut behind me. As I walked away from the door, it was if someone tried to push it open from outside. “Oh my God,” I thought. “He’s trying to get in!” It turned out that my shoelace had come undone and was stuck under the door, pulling it inwards as I walked away. Heart pounding from what I thought was another near-robbery, I went to sleep for the night: star-fishing in the rare luxury of a double bed.