I just keep waiting....

Trip Start Jul 21, 2009
Trip End Apr 28, 2010

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Where I stayed
Hostel Bahia Paraiso

Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of Guanacaste,
Thursday, November 5, 2009

It turns out if you wait long enough, you can see a dinosaur.  Not a real one, of course, but pretty darn close.  So wait we did.

After our amazing turtle night in San Juan del Sur, we woke up the next morning for a travel day that took us to Tamarindo, in Costa Rica.  Tamarindo is another Pacific beach town, although this one is much more built up and touristy, in the sense that it has lots of Americans, and strip malls alternating between hotels, restaurants, tour agencies and souvenier stands.  It gained it's popularity in a surf movie, The Endless Summer, which boosted it from a small, 30-family fishing village to it's current state.  Itīs an interesting place, and definately different than other places weīve been recently. 

True to our recent form, we spent the first day and a half vegging out on the beach, exploring the town, and John even tried surfing again (and, once again, did quite well!).  On our second evening there, we signed up for another turtle tour.  Another one?  Yep, once more.  The difference here is in the type of turtle.  In Nicaragua, we saw Olive Ridley turtles, but the beach north of Tamarindo is one of the main Pacific nesting sites for the Leatherback turtle.  The chances of seeing a turtle are lower here, the number of turtles are lower, but the turtles themselves would be amazing -- the Leatherback is the largest sea turtle, and also one of the most endangered species.  So we couldnīt pass our opportunity to see something that may not even be there for our children to see.

The first downside to this tour was the start time.  The start time changes every day, depending on the tides, and when they think the turtles might come out.  Our designated start time was 11:45.  PM.  Ikes!  Whatīs worse, they were a little over a half hour late picking us up, so by the time we got to the office, it was nearly 12:30 in the morning.  At the office, they explained the process for the evening, and we boarded a small boat for the 45 second ride across the river to get to the nesting beach.  It was somewhere around this point that it started pouring, so by the time we arrived at the ranger station (about a quarter mile walk down the beach) we were pretty well drenched. 

Thatīs when the waiting began.  The beach (which is now a national park) is nearly 4 kilometers long, and they have rangers, volunteers and biologists patroling the beach all night.  When they see a turtle, they call in, and we walk out to go see it.  In the meantime, we settled in under a pool-side shelter at the hotel in the national park and began our wait. 

After a while, the chair started to get uncomfortable.  I tried lots of different positions, putting my head down on the table (not nearly as comfortable as it was in kindergarden), etc, but finally opted to try laying on the floor.  The floor worked for a while, but that got uncomfortable, too.  John managed to snag a lawn chair, so I eventually shoved him over and found a little space there.  It was, afterall, nearly 3:30 in the morning at this point.  That's right.  3:30 am -- we had spent so far nearly three hours waiting, and avoiding the rain.  Not too long after that, they announced that the tide was getting high.  Pretty soon, we were going to have to leave, unless a turtle showed up in the next few minutes.

Sadly, 4 am found us shuffling back to the boat, crossing the river, and going home exhausted, soaking wet, and absolutely turtle-free. 

John and I had planned to leave the next day, but we couldn't give up that easily on the turtles.  So, we decided that we would go ahead and spend one more day relaxing on the beach and soaking up sun, (and I know, this must sound really rough to everyone back home), and try again the next night.  One benefit to the tour was their quasi-guarantee:  if you don't see a turtle, you can try again the next night for free.

The second night was entirely different, from the very beginning.  For one, they decided on a 5:30 pick-up time, which is much more reasonable.  We were prepared, and brought cards, so as soon as we got back to our waiting shelter, John and I started to settle in and entertain ourselves, while everyone else commented on how prepared we were.  For another thing, it wasn't raining, which makes everything better.

Finally, it was better because eventually the radio got a call.  The first call was that there was a turtle -- not a leatherback, but an Olive Ridley -- right outside the waiting area.  So we went to watch that, but in the meantime, a leatherback did emerge.  Hurray!  On the downside, the turtle was a full 2 kilometers down the beach.  That's about a mile and a quarter (all sand, mind you), which we walked at a very rapid pace -- just a little bit tiring!

The walk and the wait paid off.  Up above the tide line, digging in the sand, was an amazing leatherback turtle.  It was beautiful.  And large -- the biologist measured it at 149 centimeters, or roughly 5 feet.  And that was only for her shell, not counting head or legs.  She was well into the process of digging the nest, but with an amazing amount of grace.  Most turtles use their back flippers to flick the sand out of the way.  This one had flippers that were large enough, powerful enough and flexible enough that she was actually able to reach in, curve her flipper around the sand, and use it to scoop out sand, which she then gently deposited to the side.

Once the nest was dug, she laid 80-some giant eggs, and began to cover them back up, again, using her body gracefully.  At that point, we headed back, stopping briefly to admire the tracks she left when crawling out of the ocean.  The tracks contained three parallel lines in the middle (where her body dragged along), flanked by two sets of marks left by her front legs, as she pulled her self along.  These marks were each the size of two of my hands. 

Overall, it was a great experience, and well worth waiting for. 

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Kathy on

Kim- Wow again!!!! Also- you are a very talented. descriptive writer!

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