Turtles and Tortuguero

After leaving Rara Avis, we went on our way to the North Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.  This area, called Tortuguero, is known for the many turtles that come to the beach to lay their eggs.  The night before, we stayed at a hotel in a nearby town, and met the hotel owner’s wife, Karla, who is a guide at Tortuguero.  We took a bus to a small town called Pavonna, which is where you get on a boat that brings you to the actual town of Tortuguero (it’s hard to know where Tortuguero actually is, every hotel and store within 100km seems to has something to do with Tortuguero and turtles).  The boat ride was pretty cool, because it was all through canals in thick jungle.  The town itself was cool as well.  It was full of people selling wood carvings of turtles and ice cold jelly coconuts.  They’re so delicious!  And what makes the town really cool is that there are no cars or roads, just little paths and lots of bikes.  Our simple hotel room was right on the beach.

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We booked a night tour to see the mother turtles come to lay their eggs.  The time we were there was the green sea turtle season, one of 4 species of sea turtles to come lay its eggs at Tortuguero.  When night came, we met with our tour and walked to the place where a spotter had reported a turtle.  But on our way there, it started raining.  And then it started pouring.  And we didn’t bring rain jackets!  But we had to deal with it.  Rain doesn’t bother the turtles though, so we still got to watch the whole process.  I never knew how big they were, over a metre long!  First, the turtle drags itself (sea turtles can’t walk, because they have fins instead of legs) to the end of the beach, near the trees.  It then digs the egg chamber out, then starts laying the eggs.  However, if the turtle gets scared before it starts laying eggs, it will probably go back into the ocean.  So we had to wait under a little roof in the rain for the spotter to tell us it was now laying eggs before we could come watch.  Once it is laying, it is too concentrated on it to be alert for predators, and has no choice but to sit there.  But we still don’t want to disturb it, so no lights, cameras or phones are allowed.  The guide uses a special red light which won’t confuse the turtle.  And we were only allowed to look at it from behind, so it wouldn’t see us.  It uses its tail to help push the eggs out and into the egg chamber.  After it finishes laying its 80 to 110 eggs, it becomes like a backhoe, covering up the egg chamber and throwing sand backwards and hitting us!  It then digs the “camouflage” or decoy chamber, so that if predators like coatimundi (like a raccon) try digging up the eggs, they might find it empty and then leave.  The eggs incubate in the sand for 60 to 65 days, then the babies crawl back into the ocean.  Finally, after being out of water for about 2 hours, the mother turtle drags herself back down the beach and into the ocean.  When she made it back safely everyone clapped.  They’re very vulnerable out of water, because they can’t move quickly and are a great meal for jaguars.  On our walk back though, we got very lucky.  Since the green sea turtles come to this beach for about 3 months a year, and we were there near the end of those 3 months, some of the early nests were hatching already.  Somehow, in the dark, our guide Fransisco spotted 1 baby turtle crawling on the beach!  It was so unusual to see only 1, because normally they all come out of a nest at once.  But this one little guy we named Squirt, after the little sea turtle in Finding Nemo, hatched a bit before his siblings and was crawling towards the ocean.  But baby sea turtles go towards the brightest spot, which is normally the white foam of the waves breaking,  But with the lights of the town, Squirt was all confused.  Francisco shone his light in front of Squirt, so that he would crawl in the right direction, but he kept going in circles.  So eventually, Francisco picked him up and carried him to close enough to the ocean, and he made it in.  Only 1 in 1000 baby sea turtles make it to adulthood because they have so many predators both in and out of water, so I hope Squirt is still alive!

We went back to our hotel room and were in bed by about 11:00.  But we decided to get up at 4 in the morning the next day to see if turtles were still on the beach.  We saw 3 mother turtles that morning, and watched 1 crawl into the ocean.  And my dad was very happy to get some photos!

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Almost there...
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Phew. Made it!

We then went to the dock on the other side of the peninsula at 6 am for a canal tour in a canoe with Karla, who we had met in Cariari the day before.  We paddled through canals in the jungle and saw 3 different kinds of monkeys, some caimans, spectacualar birds like toucans, some sleeping bats hanging from a tree, and much more.

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Some baby caimans
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A tiger heron
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An anhinga, drying its wings after diving for fish
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A young basilisc, also known as Jesus Christ lizard, because they can run on water
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Some small bats hanging upside down on a tree hanging over the canal

After that, we got some cold drinks, explored the town a bit, then packed up and left on a boat back to Pavonna.  We only spent a bit more than 24 hours there, but man, did we do a lot of stuff.

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Kaia and I with a turtle statue

Maintenant je suis a la plage Zancudo pour une semaine.  On est a la maison de nos amis de Peterborough qui vivent ici entre novembre et avril, donc nous avons la maison juste pour nous.  L’ocean est a peu pres 50 metres d’ici, et on loue une planche de surf et on essaie d’apprendre!  Je m’amuse tellement ici a Costa Rica.  Pura Vida!

Jake

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