Over the course of 9 months in 2017, my partner and I sold all of our possessions, including 2 vehicles, and a house full of stuff. In order to sell the house for its maximum value, we also completed 3 months of renovations that had been lingering for over 3 years. We wrapped up 2 businesses and left a town and tight knit community that we both cherished. We did all of this in order to seek out a life of freedom, away from the hustle and bustle of the 9-5 life, but most importantly, we did it so that we could travel. This is our story…….
The monkeys were running around on the roof of the house and jumping from palm frond to palm frond as they made their way through our yard, just as they do everyday. Sometimes there are only a handful of them coming and going, and other times there are a dozen or more jumping around in the trees, knocking coconuts onto our roof, and just causing a general ruckus. As usual, I generally can’t help but to step out from our covered porch area, and look up to the trees to watch them move around. They are so curious about us, and really make honest to goodness eye contact, and I generally can’t help but to say “hi!” to each and every one of them. Although, I have recently learned that making eye contact is a practice that is not generally recommended when interacting with monkeys. Apparently doing so can make them aggressive and angry. However, I have so far found these to be peaceful exchanges, and have had nothing flung at me like coconuts or worse (!) monkey shit!
On this particular day, as I was watching them jump around in the branches, I noticed something else crawling around. At first I thought it was a possum, because it had such a long nose, and was crawling horizontally across the branch. I yelled to Chris that there was a possum in the tree, but as quickly as I got that out, I realized that, no, it was only an iguana. A really big iguana mind you, but an iguana none-the-less. We have tons of them around the house, so those too have become common place for us.
But all of a sudden, however, I noticed that the iguana was in an almond tree. We have been actively learning about the different trees in this area, there are almonds and teak, different kinds of palms and many types of bushes and shrubs and everything in between. But the unique thing about the almond trees, is that the Sloths like to sleep in them. I’m not sure if it is the tight knit branches, giving them lots of places to ball up and create a sleeping pad for themselves, or maybe it’s because they are so high up, and away from predators. Either way, I all of a sudden noticed that we had 5 different almond trees growing around the house.
As I backed away from the house, and looked way, way up there, I spotted one. Sure enough! A Big gray ball of fur was peacefully sleeping up in our branches. WOW! I ran and got Chris and we watched it for a few minutes. Of course, Sloths sleep all day, so we weren’t going to be seeing much action at that point anyways. In fact, we learned on our night walk in Monteverde that sloths are nocturnal, meaning that they are only active in the night, and they usually don’t come down from trees unless they need to poo, or migrate across an open area with no trees. And so, we decided that maybe later on we would be lucky enough to catch it pooing in our yard!
I did head out later on with the flashlight, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t in it’s perch anymore, and after shining my light across the sand floor outside our door, decided that it was definitely gone. Since then, I have looked up once or twice to try and spot another one, but haven’t had that particular privilege again.
A couple weeks ago we expressed some interest to one of our expat neighbours that we would like to see the turtles nesting, or hatching, on the beach if it was possible. There is a small turtle hatchery just down the beach from us, and each time we walk by, we get more and more curious about what is going on. The hatchery consists of a bamboo shack on the beach, and a levelled area with plastic netting surrounding it. Inside the net fence, are grids that are laid out, each with a number or a date, or some kind of indication of when the eggs were put there. We had asked a few people in the area about the cycles of the turtles, but nobody seemed to know the answers for sure. We are both curious about the goings on of nature, and would be honoured to see a turtle laying her eggs, or some small little babies hatching out of the sand. Of course, turtles only lay eggs at night, so to see that part, we had to go in the dark.
Because, there are literally no people at our beach, and it isn’t very discovered yet, there is no tourism program to go see turtles, so there are never throngs of people milling around with lights and shining them in the turtles eyes, like the time I experienced in 2004 at another Costa Rica location. We felt that a nice quiet walk with a local, would be a much better experience.
Our neighbour hooked us up with Andres, whom we had already met, and who told us that for $15, he would take us for a walk down the beach, to hopefully catch a mom in the act of laying her eggs. Andres is around 20 years old, and works for the local turtle hatchery where he is partially tasked with walking the beaches in the early a.m. and digging up the turtle nests before a local comes and takes the eggs home to eat. As we were nearing the end of nesting season, we knew that a sighting was not guaranteed on our outing, however we had seen the holes that were dug up in the early morning when we walk Omber, so we were still hopeful.
In retrospect, though, Andres took us out on a night that was likely not the best. The tide was really far out, and after we got about 2 kms down the beach, we started to discuss this issue. At that point, with nary a turtle in sight, we came up with the brilliant idea that it was probably better to do this at high tide. At least, I thought, if I was a turtle, I would appreciate a lift all the way to the beach, instead of having to walk half a mile through dragging wet sand, while ready to burst out all of my eggs!
We turned around to come back, only to find ourselves in an absolute torrential downpour of rain, for the entire 2 kms back to the house. All I can say is thank god for waterproof cameras!
There were actually 5 of us getting soaked, that night on the beach, as Andres had brought one semi-English translator, and another buddy along for the show. It didn’t take long for us to realize that the locals were absolutely HATING the walk, and were actually cold, while we were just on cloud nine with it all. Wow! That amount of rain, continually washing over you for an extended time, is nothing short of soul cleansing. We were both completely drenched, and despite our assurances that we were both fine, the local boys continued to worry about us, offering us some small tokens of shelter from the rain, such as an already drenched rain poncho. We laughed and told them that we were just fine. I still chuckle about the fact that they were so worried about us, yet we both felt like we had never been better.
At the end of the walk, Andres offered to take us to the hatchery the next day to see if we could see any turtles hatching there. Apparently they can hatch at any time, so he just had to let us know when it was happening. We couldn’t afford to wait another 5 or 6 days for the high tide to again be at night, as nesting season was already nearing to a close as it was, so instead of seeing a mother laying her eggs, we decided that the next best thing would be to see the babies hatching.
The next day came and went, and the next day………. and the next day, and still never a word from Andres. Mind you, he doesn’t speak a word of English, and our Spanish is still not anywhere near fluent, so these heavy discussions are difficult and do require some effort. Each time we would see him down on the beach, we would exchange pleasantries, but never really talked about the Tortugas again. In fact, after a few days I had just resigned myself to the fact that we many never see the turtles around here.
The signs in the hatchery were pretty cute! I especially like the “Don’t Eat” one:)
However, yesterday, about two weeks since our wet walk, Chris came running into the room early in the morning, and said that “Andres is here and there are turtles hatching at the hatchery! We have to go now!”
We quickly grabbed the camera and whatever we needed and took off down the beach with Andres. We arrived at the hatchery not really sure what was going on, but there was a guy headed down to the beach with a cutdown bucket. Andres yelled at him to stop and we ran and looked in it. Of course, there were about 4 or 5 baby turtles, only about 3 inches long. He was setting them free in the water. Instead of going down with him (duh), I went back up the beach to the hatchery to see if any more were coming.
There were three staff members involved with digging up the spots where the eggs get buried. One was digging the sand and siphoning through the egg shells for still full eggs, or hatched turtles. The other was taking field notes on what was extracted, and Andres was throwing the discarded egg shells into a bucket. When we got there, I half expected to see a swarm of baby turtles exploding out of nests, but sadly this wasn’t the case.
They dug up nest after nest of empty eggshells, only finding one fully developed turtle amongs 5 nests, and dozens of eggs. It was officially heartbreaking.
Unfortunately, we didn’t ask questions, and we weren’t told why the survival rate is so low. They seemed happy that at least one survived.
Andres, Chris and I walked down to the water, and Andres passed me the yellow glove to wear, indicating that I should be the one to let our little survivor go. When we got close to where the water was coming, I gently lifted him out of the bucket and set him down on the wet sand. He instinctively started heading towards the water, pulling himself across the wet sand with his tiny little fins. It seemed that the tide was receding, so I picked him up once more and ran with him another 8 feet or so, closer to the water. Finally a shallow wave came into the flats, and he swam free. We watched him get tossed around in the surge a little bit, but each time could spot his tiny little head, come back up to the surface for air. After watching him swim his little body away from the beach for about 5 minutes, Andres yelled “adios!” And laughed.
I waved at him/her and yelled “Buena suerte Totuga, Buen viaje.” (Good luck turtle, good journey.)
I couldn’t help but to contemplate about what a big ocean that must seem like for such a little fella. Heading out there, I’m sure his/her rate of survival at that size is still slim to none. But we can only send him/her on their journey with the best intentions, and a hope that they will thrive and prosper.
It was an amazing experience and I asked Andres if he still wanted some money, as we hadn’t settled the entire $15 payment yet, agreeing on a portion of it that night of the wet walk, and the rest when we saw them hatching. He insisted that he didn’t but made some mention about the tattoo he is getting from Chris next week. I didn’t understand the entire sentence but I understood enough.
‘Si, una descuento por el tatuaje.” (Yes, a discount for the tattoo.)
His eyes perked up at the mention of this, and I could see that he was very happy with this solution.
We thanked him for his kindness and for sharing the turtles with us, and made our way back to our house. We walked in silence, as we both contemplated what a neat experience it was that we had just had, realizing again just how grateful we are for what is unfolding around us day in and day out.
Our adventures with animals lately, don’t stop here though. In fact, it’s a day in and day out occasion around here! The other night, somehow, someway, we had a bat fly into our house. It took us about an hour of chasing it around, poking at it with the broom, trying to swing a sarong over it as it flew, and a lot of jumping around and screaming, but it finally flew out the door. If it had of been filmed, it would have made a great comedy script!
Thanks for reading! Please know that above all else, I aim to inspire others to just get out and see the world. Traveling is such an enriching experience, and I can’t even comprehend how much it has shaped me as an individual. If you have ANY questions, or need travel advice of ANY kind, PLEASE don’t hesitate to email me at the address below! I will do my very best to help you in any way I can!
Xoxoxo Happy Travels!
Current Location: We are housesitting until December 30th at Playa Matapalo, between Quepos and Dominical, in Costa Rica. If you are travelling in the area, please get in touch! We would love to connect with you.
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