Leatherbacks or not?

Trip Start Jan 19, 2006
Trip End Jan 19, 2007

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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Saturday, January 6, 2007

Up early and got bus from San Juan to the carretera (“motorważ) to wait for another bus for Penas Blancas at the border.  Was jam packed in the bus including 2 icecream carts, obviously.  Fortunately the journey was only about 30 mins long and we got off and walked across to the border.  I was expecting this one to be the easiest and most organised as so many tourists come to Costa Rica.  Little did I know. Had to pay to exit Nicaragua and then queue for ages to get stamped into CR and pay more too.  It was very disorganised and customs was a shambles no idea what the process was sposed to be but was easy to skip any of it.  Just missed a bus to Liberia, our next stop, as the person allegedly employed to help people with information told us we needed to pay in Colones and not dollars (1,000 Colones to the pound) so Dave queued at the bank to change some and we missed the bus.  The unhelpful guy told us as the bus pulled out (completely crammed) that you can pay in Colones and the next bus was in 2 hours.  Nice guy.
Pondered whether to wait or not but queue was getting huge all the time and knew that it would be a mad panic when the 1300 bus did arrive.  Instead bargained for a taxi with 2 other tourists to Liberia for about 4 quid each and much quicker.  In Liberia discovered to our amazement a direct bus to Tamarindo (were expecting it to be much more difficult despite this being a touristy country).  Did cashpoint, supermarket shop (v exciting again!) and lunch before getting the bus to Tamarindo and getting off at Huacas a small town.  From there we got a taxi to our destination Playa Grande. 
There is no public transport here so we werent absolutely sure when and if we would arrive today but were very relieved to get there.  Checked in at our hotel.  Las Tortugas, very posh but we were staying at the apartments 300m up the road which were good and still had use of pool and jacuzzi plus next to beach pretty much (a pricey $30 a night).
Down to the beach which was beautiful stretched for miles and virtually empty and great waves.  Reminded us of Noosa (our hopeful destination in Oz) and me of Northumberland or Pembroke.  Swam in the pool and chilled in the jacuzzi before an early night.  Shattered again.

Despite having booked a turtle tour several weeks ago the hotel managed to screw it up so we went along to the national park office and thankfully they had 2 spaces for tonight.  Were very relieved as this was the only reason we came here (or could justify it to ourselves anyway!!).  Chilled by the pool, reading loads.  Had a few naps as tour not until 2330 tonight.  A very late night for us!  Turned up with about 50 others to the office.  This turned out to be pretty tortuous for us both, particularly me and my need for organisation!  Everyone was just hanging around inc the staff, no communication or plan.  We signed in and were given numbers for some reason.  Shuffled into a room to watch a video and be told about the park.  Didn“t know that leatherback turtles (so called as no shell) were the largest in the world and could be up to about 5ft!
Were glad to see them in the video as certainly weren“t anticipating on seeing any tonight as the breeding season lasts from about Oct to Feb and their numbers are sadly diminishing rapidly. 
After the video we hung around and people started leaving about 5 mins after.  It turns out we are sposed to wait here to see if the turtles turn up or not.  Unfortunately a couple left the beach as the video ended.  God knows why we had to see it first.  Turns out some of our fellow tourists expected the turtles to be here on cue so just leave and we are down to about 30 an hour and a half later inc several kids sleeping on benches. 
The radios go off as a turtle is spotted again on the beach.  Instead of us all going down there guess what we have to do?  All queue up and pay.  Frustration is not the word.  We then queue and are counted into 2 groups of 15 which takes a lot longer than it should and walk down to the beach.  There we see a bit further along a turtle moving into the sea.  It is pretty big.  Are happy to have seen one but disappointed it was not closer.
We all wait on the beach for about 10 minutes hoping it may come back and see what we think is its trail leading to and from the ocean.  Then we walk along the beach further and up to the dunes.  Suddenly I spot in a hole a huge turtle and realise that we were looking at the tracks of this one.  I nudge Dave who is also astounded to see it in front of us.  15 of us crowd around its back and watch her slowly, meticulously and painstakingly move each flipper into a smaller hole and lift out some sand and repeat the process.  She is digging her nest.  The ranger holds a night filter which shines red light for us to see without upsettling the turtle who is oblivious to us thankfully.  No cameras etc are allowed (we didnt take the shot below).

We watch as an earthwatch volunteer sits behind just in case to help the turtle create a perfect hole without the walls coming it.  It is a pretty small space and the walls incredibly hold up.
The next group watch for a bit and then we go back and actually see her laying eggs directly into the whole.  Another humbling and incredible experience. It almost brought me to tears again at the wonders of nature.  Another volunteer was measuring the turtle which was 130cm or 4ft big and running it under the bar code scanner to check the population, etc.  The turtle then started to pile sand back on the eggs and flatten it with her flipper.
For more info on earthwatch and turtles click here
After all that excitement we wandered back home.  Delighted we had seen exactly what we came for.
Obviously needed another day of relaxation after that.  Spent the day walking up the beach to see the turtle tracks and the sand where she made her nest and covered it back up.  Looked in the rock pools, watched the surfers (too scared to join them), jumped the waves instead and played ball (thanks to another stocking filler!), read more and tried to get our last chance of a tan.

Last few days have avoided eating out here, partly as there are only about 3 or 4 places here which are not cheap and partly because we have created the ultimate in backpacker dining.  We have airconditioning in our room.  A first on this trip I think.  It is amazing what you can create with a plastic bag and we have our own fridge when hung in front of the air con unit.  Hence meals consist of cream cheese and marmite (obviously mixed) on crackers or bread and yes, yet more, tinned sardines, yogurts.  We have decided to offer these meals to people when we get home.  Best is that for 3 days it all cost about 4 quid.  Yes, we are seriously worried about money when we get home!
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