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Volunteering with sea turtles, Playa Buena Vista, Costa Rica

sunny 30 °C

After New Year we were now focusing on finding a way to get to Samara to see the turtle volunteer project. We weren´t 100% sure still if we would do it as there were some doubts about the cost and also what other activities we could do there. We waited a day to travel to avoid the hordes of people travelling after New Year. However, on the 2nd it was still super chaotic. We actually only wanted to travel 30-40 km up the coast, but the roads are so bad that you have to take a 12 hour trip around taking 5 buses, a taxi, and a ferry ride. In the end the trip took so long that we stopped for a night in Nicoya, which must probably the only place in Costa Rica without tourist.

The next day we called the director for the project and we managed to clarify some things that we were a bit worried about, actually we even managed to negotiate down the fees. This was all we needed to be certain about going there. After a bus ride to Samara, we then took a taxi to Playa Buena Vista. Or actually there was a small river that we had to wade across to get to the actual beach. It was really an amazing place, completely deserted as far as the eye could see. A real paradise. Actually we learnt later that Mel Gibson has a house on the next beach.

We were told that we would be picked up by the river by the volunteer coordinator. However after waiting for an hour we decided to try to find the center by ourselves. After 10 minutes walking on the beach we finally found the place. It looked more or less like a big tree house, basic, but still pretty cool. Unfortunately we didn’t get a very nice greeting. Instead of apologizing for not meeting us, the coordinator, Roy, was upset with us for some strange reason as apparently he has a policy of not going to meet volunteers after 3pm. Really weird guy, but we decided to not let it affect us. A bit later he did come and apologies in a sort of way.

Otherwise the place was really cool. We both loved that it was pretty rustic, simple wooden construction on a wilderness beach without electricity and sometimes without any showers even. Right next to the house was the turtle hatchery, where the eggs are buried. Basically there were two main work tasks regarding turtles, first was to patrol the beach for turtles laying eggs, dig them up and bury them in the hatchery. The second task was to constantly monitor the hatchery, and whenever the turtles started to hatch, we would weight them, measure them, then and then finally realize the tiny babies on the beach, so that they could crawl into the sea by themselves.

Actually the cool thing about working here compared to working with other animals, is that you get to see the result of your work directly. Even the first night we got to see babies hatching. A few would stick their heads up and after a while more, and more, and more, until there would be nearly a 100 tiny turtle babies crawling around. We then took them down to the beach, and realized them at the same spot as the mother had originally laid these eggs. Some would have trouble getting down, as waves would push them up sometimes, but after a while all the tiny babies have made it to the “safety” of the sea. Though we ensure that the eggs or the babies are not eaten by any animal or taken by poachers, only one out of 500 survives until fully grown.

The only negative thing in the center was Roy the coordinator. He was just getting worse, he would have these mood swings and just get upset for anything. You would never know what he would tell you off about. A lot of issues would also be around food. We always got very little and very basic food and they would be so tight with everything, yet we are paying 22 dollars per day. We would ask logic things like can I have another cup of coffee or some more food or some spice with the food, and we would be told no very angrily. To make the thing even worse the Ticas working in the center, would eat more and better than us, like eating meat, when we had rice and beans. Roy would even invite friends to have lunch or coffee while we weren´t even getting enough. Because we worked pretty physical and also surfed most days, we were constantly very hungry. Felt like we were on that survivor show (Robinsson in Swedish). Actually we lost loads of weight; I was down to 67 kilos, which is what I weight when I was 20 years old.

Everyone else was very nice though. When we came there were only 5 people. However, in a few days we were 15 people and at one point we were actually 23 volunteers working there. One guy even had to sleep on the floor for a few nights. Having new people coming was great as it meant that the atmosphere changed and it was always people around. However, with so many people it was difficult to get to know the other people really well, even though we spent 24 hours together. There were people from all over the world, but the two main groups were Germans and funnily enough Swedish. We were 5 Swedish people for a while. I have not spoken so much Swedish in years, which was pretty weird being in Costa Rica and all.

There were too many people to mention all by names, but we got closer to a few people like Barbara who this was crazy little Austrian girl, so funny and a super sweet French girl named Cloe. There were also three fun loving Brazilian girls, four nice Swedish girls, a Spanish guy, and loads of Germans. On our spare time, which was loads of time, we would play volleyball, go exploring and surfing. In the evenings, we would sit around the camp fire, grilling marshmallows, making Smers (cookies, chocolate, and marshmallows sandwiched together).
Though in general the evenings were very short, as people started to go to bed from 19pm and by 21pm no one would be up. This was because we had to monitor the hatchery 24 hours a day, meaning that you would have to get up for 2 hours during the night to monitor the turtles. Even though we had to do this every night, I never got used to this weird sleeping pattern, suppose its like having a kid. Unless you had a nest hatching in the night, the night shift meant sitting like a zombie, checking all the nests for hatching every 20 minutes. Afterwards you would try to go to bed for a few hours, then be woken up at 6am.

Actually I didn´t get any hatching during my shifts until one of the last nights. Though I helped out during some hatchings. Still it was so nice in the end to finally sit down and weight and measure the little ones. They would put up quite a struggle when being put into the scale. Very strong for weighing 15 grams and being 4 cm long.
Just a few days before we left, the main thing that we came for finally happened. One evening just before we were going to bed, the search team came running back, screaming that there were a big turtle laying eggs. We all dropped whatever we were doing and ran on the beach. It turned out that we were very lucky as it was a green turtle laying egg, which is the second biggest type. This big mamma had a shell that was 85 cm long and it probably weighted 300 kilos. We waited for her to finish covering the eggs for two hours. In the end we were only a few people waiting, but the wait was worth it, when we got to see the gigantic turtle crawl out to sea. This was the last thing we felt like we missed to complete the turtle experience. It had been a great two weeks at the turtle center, but we felt that we have now seen and done it all, and it was time to move on again.

Playa Buena vista

Playa Buena vista

Lonely log on the beach

Lonely log on the beach

The chillout area

The chillout area

Cute puppy popping by

Cute puppy popping by

Laura working hard on a hole

Laura working hard on a hole

Can you dig it...hoping to find some alive turtles when excavating a hatched nest

Can you dig it...hoping to find some alive turtles when excavating a hatched nest

Can you dig it...hoping to find some alive turtles when excavating a hatched nest

Can you dig it...hoping to find some alive turtles when excavating a hatched nest

Turtles making it up to surfice after hatching 50 cm deep in the sand

Turtles making it up to surfice after hatching 50 cm deep in the sand

and more turtles coming up...

and more turtles coming up...

...and even more turtles coming up...sometimes up to a 100 turtles could be crawling around in one cage

...and even more turtles coming up...sometimes up to a 100 turtles could be crawling around in one cage

Little turtles going to the sea

Little turtles going to the sea

Baby turtle posing up for a photo

Baby turtle posing up for a photo

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165106_10150373156450212_808910211_16948294_6095337_n

Hiding behind the hatchery

Hiding behind the hatchery

Sunset Playa Buena Vista

Sunset Playa Buena Vista

Hanging out at the dinner table

Hanging out at the dinner table

The turtle crew hanging out by the campfire

The turtle crew hanging out by the campfire

Bunkbed city...18 in one room

Bunkbed city...18 in one room

Laura surfing baby waves

Laura surfing baby waves

The next beach where Mel Gibson has a house....its not the one in the picture

The next beach where Mel Gibson has a house....its not the one in the picture

Henrik surfing

Henrik surfing

To surf more or not to surf more thats the question on Henrik´s mind

To surf more or not to surf more thats the question on Henrik´s mind

The turtle crew Jan 2011 posing up for a school photo

The turtle crew Jan 2011 posing up for a school photo

The daily vollyball match

The daily vollyball match

Always great to find alive baby turtles when digging up the eggs and unborn babies

Always great to find alive baby turtles when digging up the eggs and unborn babies

Henrik and Cloe mudfighting in the river

Henrik and Cloe mudfighting in the river

Big momma green turtle laying eggs...we flash was not allowed hence the redness

Big momma green turtle laying eggs...we flash was not allowed hence the redness

Baby turtles being released on the beach

Baby turtles being released on the beach

Turtles on their way to freedom...they only have to pass Laura

Turtles on their way to freedom...they only have to pass Laura

Small little ones rushing to the water

Small little ones rushing to the water

Baby turtle sprinting to the sea

Baby turtle sprinting to the sea

Pretty strong for a 15 gram baby

Pretty strong for a 15 gram baby

Jules Vernes starting his trip

Jules Vernes starting his trip

Small little turtle

Small little turtle

Posted by hmontonen 20:53 Archived in Costa Rica

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