Bump on a log
NOVEMBER 17, 2008
Where to begin? I'd like to first start off by saying that I am sitting in our backyard, spellbound over the enchanting Pacific Ocean. The day is exceptionally beautiful, though yesterday was fairly cloudy. Ahh, welcome to Playa Caletas.
Yesterday was tough. First, I awoke at 3:30am in San José to pack my things and take a shower before my 6 hour travels by bus across the country. There were over-ripened bananas and white sandwich bread piled carelessly on a table by the office--this must be their version of a continental breakfast, San José style. I was still leery and unsure of exposed food, and it only being my second day on Typhoid preventative medication. I should have never listened to anyone about getting sick. Fear is a nasty disease within itself.
After checking out, and spending my last brief minutes on the internet contacting those I love until god knows when, it was time to carry on away from San José. The purchase of the bus tickets turned into yet another stressful adventure. I think it took me about 10 minutes to understand that I must purchase two tickets--one to Bejuco, which is about a 5 hour bus ride, and one from Bejuco to San Francisco de Coyote. I had detailed instructions from my project director, but I never recalled him saying anything about two tickets. Luckily, I ran into Sarah, Natalia, and Margarita outside the station. Margarita is a tough-looking tattooed chick who reminds me of myself. She's from Columbia with beautiful molasses-colored skin and not a lick-worth of English under her belt. Natalia is American-Dominican and speaks Spanish very well. She is ornate and her hair is short and tightly curled in mini spirals with flecks of silver that remind me of someone I miss. Sarah, the other white girl, inversely didn't know a lick of Spanish, but was incredibly cultured and hired as our project coordinator.
The trip to Bejuco was nice. We traveled on a tour bus and all of our things were neatly stashed away in the underneath compartment; away from our feet and our minds. I tell you, I'll never travel this way again--with two shoulder bags--what was I thinking? Some old Western film played silently during the ride as I ate half a powerbar from my ration, saving half for the second portion of the trip. I didn't bring my mp3 player. Less is more. I heard that we have no electricity and no way of charging things at camp. But I have lots of good mental music and am in need of a lot of uninfluenced personal time.
Five hours later and we've landed in Bejuco. The driver ushered us off the bus. Again, we were confused as our things were unloaded onto the dusty path. Following lead, we piled onto a city-style bus with Ticos (Costa Ricans), their sacs of rice and luggage. There was no seat for me, so I stood in the sunken, rear stairwell beside unsecured accordion doors as the driver flung that bus around mountains and cliffs like we were in the Indy 500. I don't think I've ever held on so tightly for dear life. One more hour. One more hour and I can finally unload these bags and rid my body and mind of this tension.
Our final arrival in San Francisco de Coyote was perfect. Our first sign of tropical life awaited us (above). The town is incredibly small. There is one doctor, one internet café (which is incredible because I never expected one at all), one church, one supermercado. We met Alec, our director, which was in search of another person from our group, Alan. Apparently Alan has already been here awhile and likes to surf. This is all that is currently known. Giving up on the location of Alan, we piled into Alec's rover and drove the 9km to camp. The roads are all rocks and dirt, but once we approached the end of the drive, the last 2km or so were on a sandy path that required 4-wheel drive. At camp, we also met Jeff and Stephanie, who are two previous coordinators that have decided to hang around for a couple days to teach us the ropes.
Camp is absolutely amazing. Everything is made from driftwood, palm trunks, scrap wood--the walls, structure, tables, benches; held together with hammer and nails. We even have a museum and a library. Ceilings are bound by ropes and old advertising tarps, and droves of these guys are everywhere!
fresh water well that we will use for bathing, washing clothes, and dishes. This is where I will sleep, and in addition to Sarah, this guy is my other bunkmate. Each month, we must ration out food between the 7 of us. Our diet is composed of rice, beans, pasta, tomato paste, TVP (textured vegetable protein), flour, cane dulce sugar, dried milk, corn flakes, oatmeal, crackers, eggs, and a weekly supply of vegetables. Vegetables are ordered once a week, and to retrieve them we must hike through the jungle to the local stop where they are delivered. Take a look at beautiful South Caletas and North Caletas. South Caletas spans south 2.5km where sharks meet crocodiles at the river bongo. North Caletas is 2km heading north back to the main dirt road.
Our first batch of sea turtle hatchlings came up yesterday. Forty something, I think. We piled them into a bucket and walked them down to the meter where they were originally lain, saving one little guy for the walk back who wasn't fully awake yet. In the meantime, Alec went to cut down some plantains near his old hut, and while doing so, found a red boa constrictor wrapped around the bushel and brought her back to show us.
Later, we learned how to excavate a hatched nest in the onsite hatchery--cleaning out its contents. Sand in one bucket, yuck in the other. Yuck is maggots, egg shells, glop.... We wait 2-3 days after a nest is hatched before excavating its contents on the beach. Hatched eggs are counted separately from unhatched, and peaked eggs, which means that maggots have likely infiltrated the egg. Unhatched eggs are breached and the inside is evaluated for cause of malproduction. What is found inside further ranks the stage of development (blood, black deterioration, baby sea turtle, yolk, etc.). The nest is also searched for still crawls, dead hatchlings that were maybe crushed by their brothers and sisters, the malformed, the weak, the asleep.
From 7:00-11:00pm we did beach patrols (it's supposed to be ~3 hours per patrol and times vary nightly depending on the times the tide comes in); this time down the south side of the beach to look for rastros (turtle tracks). The patrols occur in complete darkness, guided by the light of the moon. The reflection of the moonlight on the sand is the best way to spot a rastro. We all carry headlamps when collecting data, but the lights must be filtered red, because sea turtles cannot see red light, and white light is a deterrent.
Our first find brought us to an olive Ridley where Sarah collected the eggs as she laid them (the sea turtle, not Sarah). This is done by waiting for the female to dig her nest and begin laying. Once a female begins to lay her eggs, she falls into a state of euphoria and at this point you may approach her and carry out your necessary tasks. Jeff recorded the data as I measured the length and width of her carapace, and the width of her rastro. I also attempted my first tag, but we took too long and she had already begun to bury her now empty nest. Jeff restrained her as she headed back to the beach while I tagged, which seemed horribly distressful. The tags are silver clips with a sharp end that punctures through the skin of their front flipper and clamps secure on the through side. Each tag has different numbers or letters that let us know how many we've tagged thus far, and what there is to know about turtles that return to the beach to lay again. I had trouble getting my tag through, so Jeff retagged her in her frenzied state, which I am unsure about the weight of its worth. Poor lady.
Later we found 3 nests already laid with no females. Jeff taught us a technique for finding buried nest locations, that of which I will not share. We also came across one last nest with a female already burying her nest. Anytime you arrive to a nesting site early or late--say she is in search of a good patch of sand to begin digging, or say she is either burying her nest or heading back to the ocean--it is important to sit quietly in the darkness as to avoid spooking or annoying her. The other team that went North saw no turtles and had no nests.
My very first 3 hour patrol turned into a exhausting 5 hour patrol. It seems like we found a new nest every km or so, and the beach is so steep with the way the tide has been coming in. I was so wiped out by the time we returned to camp. Can you imagine carrying ~400+ eggs on your back and walking 5 km in soft sand at a 45 degree slope for 5 hours after little sleep, jet lag from Japan, and traveling across the country all morning? But our work was not yet over. The eggs we excavated still needed to be relocated into our onsite hatchery before our midnight dinner. It was tough work and an equally tough day.
The work here is nonstop. Someone must check the hatchery every hour of the day/night and if hatchlings are present it means taking them down to the beach where they were originally lain... even if it's all the way at the end of the beach several times a day.
Dinner: chickpea, mushroom, onion, carrot, and potato coconut milk curry.