Saving turtles...or eating carbs!

Trip Start Jan 21, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Uruguay  , Rocha,
Friday, February 10, 2012

And I am back on the ¨grid¨ as my fellow travellers call it....

Turtles here we come....

A quick bus ride to the buquebus turned into me nearly missing the ferry as the bus driver decided to pick up every random soul in beunos one point I was seriously not sure where we were going to fit all the people, i started thinking there was a comfy airconditioned second floor to bus 152!!!

After a whole bunch more bus spanish I was told where to get off for the ferry and after sprinting with my 15 kg bag I managed to find Katya my soon to be new partner in crime and we climbed onto the ferry to cross Rio del Plato aka  the brown sea that is actually a big river!!!

An hour on the ferry to Colonia, change to a bus, 2 and a half hours to Montevideo, change buses and then a quick trip to the coast. Katya who speaks real spanish went to ask the bus driver how far La coronilla was... 3 hours he says....trusty lonely planet mentions something in the region of 5 and a half....3 hours into the trip and Katya wants to get off at every little town we arrive at!!!

Uruguay is almost completely flat and has a lot of green farmland, cows and maté (a tea thing that is kind of like green tea - what I was soon to realise is that Uruguayans go nowhere without their maté...I even saw a guy riding a bike, with his thermos, maté cup, his surfboard, and holding onto his mate who was on a motorbike and the pedal power).

Eventually we arrive in the minute town of La Coronilla (5 and a half hours later) and the bus drops us off and leaves....The dust settles and we can see absolutely nothing....ok a small exaggeration on my part... We can see the corner café come bus stop where we have been dropped off and that is seriously it. So off we trundle to find the fantastic paradise of the turtle saving world... Karumbé. Luckily just before we walked into the ocean, we found our new home. Danny and Gabi came out to welcome us in tortuga (turtle) spanish...Having arrived at 10pm we are just in time for dinner and we have hamburgers and a cake! ( at this point I was thinking this isn't as bad as some of the things I have read about volunteer programs) False sense of security!!!

Day 1 and we are overly excited to clean turtle pools....first step is for experienced volunteer or marine biologist or vet to remove turtle, then useless volunteers scoop up turtle water and pour it into buckets and into the garden!! Then scrub the pool, then put in clean water, experienced person replaces turtle and new volunteer admires turtle in clean water!!!! Ooooo, ahhhhh, wow a clean turtle...

Lunch is pasta and veges...The vegetables here consist of carorts, onions and this pumpkin/ squash thing which has the same name in spanish as a horse!

In uruguay they mostly get 3 types of turtles, loggerheads and leatherbacks. The two biggest threats to the turtles here are fishermen and plastic...

Turtles apparently do not differentiate between food types and plastic looks pretty so they eat it...ravens of the sea. This then clogs up their digestion and sadly they dont have senokot!

The second threat is fisherman, here the shore fisherman mostly fish with drift nets and because the green turtles feed on algae close to the shore this is their biggest threat. The leatherbacks get caught on long lines as they are carnivorous and the loggerheads in trawling nets.

The turtles that are kept at karumbe for rehabilitation are usually found on the beach. Turtles only come on to shore to nest or because they are sick and in Uruguay the turtles are in the juvenile part of their lifecycle.

Dinner is rice and vegetables!!

Day 2... Rain cancels all activities, turtles melt in rain... It's a known fact. I'm later told that they have massive electical storms in uruguay and its dangerous to volunteers. But we do get to do rehab...interbate the turtle and then chuck yummy fish smoothie down its gullet. Delicious! Turtle smoothie consists of fish, horse vitamins and iodine solution (although this could be an entirely different thing based on my newly acquired tortuga spanish). The entertainment starts when experienced coordinator says to useless volunteer, just pour the smoothie into the syringe, useless volunteer looks at experienced coordinator and says shouldn´t we rather suck up the smoothie into the syringe, experienced coordinator looks at useless volunteer and says, not necessary, useless volunteer flippantly says okkkk but when it goes all over the floor I'm not cleaning it up...experienced coordinator gives useless volunteer a "it's never going to happen" look and starts pouring, useless volunteer has to attempt to suppress fits of laughter!!! Experienced coordinator cleans floor.

Lunch is pasta and vegetables!

Karumbé also holds a carnival for the children of the surrounding part of volunteering is making aprons (the sports bib types), masks and a huge flag! Useless volunteer warns other volunteers about lack of art skills, other volunteers make schoolboy error of saying oh it can't be that bad! Uselss volunteer is eventually relegated to management position after a few hours due to lack of even the most basic cutting skills!

Dinner is rice and vegetables...

Day 3..."captura" off we go down the beach towards cerro verde (green hill) which is a protected area to capture and tag turtles. So we put out a drift net...and we managed to bring in 6 little green turtles. After catching the turtles, they are then measured and tagged. Measurements of shell length, width, head size and weight are taken. (The six turtles we caught range from 6 kgs to 12 kgs.) Metal tags are put in each turtle for tracking purposes and photos of each turtle's face are taken (the markings on each turtle's face are like finger prints and are different on each turtle)

Lunch is pasta and vegetables....

Once all the turtles are tagged and measured we take them down to the beach draw a line in the sand and have a turtle australia they have cane toad it is tortuga races...lots of fun, as tortugas are initially not sure if they are being tricked into freedom so start off slowly and then do a quick head turn to check they are free and make a run for the water....flipper over flipper....go, go, go!!!!

Dinner is vegetables and rice (each volunteer gets a turn to cook so in theory the food should taste different everytime...but there is only so much you can do with green peppers, onions and squash things and oh wait rice or pasta!!!)

Day 4 is hanging out at the camp and explaining to tourists about the turtles and the centre!! Useless volunteer can point at turtle and go... Tortuga!!! Tourist looks at me going well yes we didnt think it was a lion! Luckily Karumbé have already figured out that bus spanish is not quite so useful and have paired me up with a spanish speaking person!!!! Well more like portenol which is a brazilian speaking espanol.

Lunch... You'll never guess!!! Rice and vegetables!!!

Then off to do turtle this activity you cruise over to cerro verde which is a beautiful stretch of beach with no people. We were dropped at Cerro Verde in the beach buggie, told where to sit for three hours and then you have to count turtle heads popping out the water (10 mins on, 5 mins off). I saw a whole pod of dolphins and commorants and seagulle and all of two tortugas. Thankfully my partner Katya has great eyes and therefore our count was not quite as close to zero else they might have thought we were sleeping or tanning!!! Or getting a spanish lesson. The irony that dawned on me was when the russian girl was teaching the south african girl spanish!!!

Ivan is one of the park rangers and lives at Karumbé he is also an ex chef...and made tortas fritas..a south american doughnut type thing and a cake as it was Karumbé's 13th birthday and then to my disappointment we fed it to all the passing souls who came to watch the 'Liberation' of some turtles in honour of Karumbé's birthday....

Dinner was potato and vegetables....and Ivan made empanados for lunch the following day. I wanted some without ham so got to fill my own empanados. Brilliant plan, execution less effective!!!

Day 5...and we are off to do a census from punto diablo back to la coronilla about an 18km walk on the beach...It is beautiful. In theory we have to count all the dead things on the beach and if there is a turtle do a necropsy on the beach...thankfully we didnt find anything except a skeleton or two...

Lunch was the yummy empanados that I made, only problem was that i didnt fill them full enough so they landed up being more like pastry with a combination of air, onion, air, green pepper and more air!!! Not as tasty as I had imagined.

Suddenly this insane storm cloud came in and we were running to get across the cliff as Gabi told us that they get flash floods and then get stranded, but it blew in and straight out to sea changing the sky from blue to pitch black to blue again in a matter of minutes...absolutely bizarre and a little tiring after running for the cover that doesnt exist in Uruguay.

While we were away from the camp, two of the turtles died suddenly so my dreams of getting through this experience necropsy free immediately I got to see inside the turtle and more to the point i got to smell inside the turtle. Apparently green turtles smell better than any of the others because all they eat is algae!!! Luckily for me there was a mint plant close by so I stuck some up my nose, only problem is that I may have killed mojitos for myself for the rest of eternity!!! And by the end of it we still had no clue why the turtle died!

Dinner was rice and vegetables....but to be fair, any meat after the necropsy may have been ever so slightly less than apetizing!!!

Day 6 is back at camp... Point and smile... There are now about 20 people at Karumbé so the house is a little full. Dinner conversations are now in ridiculously fast social spanish (I haven't yet covered this chapter in my spanish book). So for all activities we are now split into two groups to cope with the numbers. So I'm on point and smile duty as usual and to my delight some english speaking tourists arrived!!  I finally got to add some value to the world of tourism! Back at camp we are told that the following day Katya and i have the day off together so with much excitement we plan our day to Cavo Polonio. Katya thinks an excellent idea will be to catch the bus to Punto Diablo and then walk along the beach to Cavo Polonio as it is really close....on the map! After a few horrified faces at our brilliant plan we decide to google it!!! Close on the map is a 50km walk! Hmmmm...small glitch in the matrix....but no problem we are flexible and decide to catch the bus to Valisas and then walk to Cavo Polonio along the beach through the dunes!

Next installment coming to an email near you really´s 2am and I am now tired of fighting with the PC!!!

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JR on

Sounds as if you are having a lot of fun! Enjou!!!!

michael cabral on

Thanks so much for the brilliant updates-keep 'em coming! I hope that you're enjoying Uruguay, can't wait to hear how you liked Cabo Polonia

Patience on

Wow. Keeping it going as usual. You are sure having fun I see and gaining such varied experience. But eish - I feel for you coz we had a braai yesterday and had a lot of juicy steaks. Enjoy - miss you!

Eric Cotton on

Hey Katherine - i hope you still have all dem fingers, those turts know how to byte.


Looks so amazing - have fun!

Melisha Pillay on

Katerina looks like you are having a blast:) Keep the blogs coming- living vicariously through you. Thinking of you lots.

Lots of love

Max on

Lol - so much fun. And thank you for including pictures of the men you write about this time ;)

Zimiti on

Loving the updates Kath!!! I reckon you'll have enough veggies to last you a lifetime by the time you are done with saving the turtles;)) xoxo

Otsile on

Dude have you suddenly gone vegetarian? Well I guess as long as you're not eating turtles, it's cool.

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