Part 1 – The journey to Bataan
I checked out of my hotel nice and early ready to start my journey to Bataan for the turtles project. The cab I’d ordered 10 minutes previous was already waiting for me outside. Scooping up my invisible man (aka my heavy lump of a backpack), I slung it over one shoulder and made my way for the exit.
I breezed past 2 women at the front desk and caught drifts of their conversation with the hotel manager requesting him to order them a cab.
I was almost at the door to the exit when, “Hey, are you going to the turtles?”. I instinctively knew the American voice was aiming the question at me so I turned to double check. “The turtles? Oh yeh, I am actually. Jump in my cab!” I was excited to be already meeting fellow volunteers and the fact that we’d be making our onward journey together. I was super glad too because we had a pig of a trip over.
Karen and Jodi, both special Ed teachers from California, were out together on vacation. Like me, they wanted to do something different and also help make a difference. They were then going on to tour Costa Rica for the next 10 days after. I instantly liked them both and it was as though we’d already bonded because we had the turtles as our base common interest.
The cabby dropped us at the front of the bus station where we were immediately hassled by vulturous taxi drivers. One driver came over and actually helped lift my invisible man out of the cab we’d arrived in and hooked it onto my back. “Where are you going?” He asked. “We’re all headed for Bataan” Karen promptly replied. “The road is closed today so it will take you 7-8 hours…but not if you take the cab!” A big hopeful grin grew across his dusty weathered face almost knowing that we’d already say no. After his explanation of the road closures, we decided to take our chances and take the bus anyways – for all we knew, he could have been scamming us?! Plus, we wanted to take the scenic route and gaze out of the window at the lush flora and fauna.
So we finally found the ticket counter we needed and one by one we all bought our tickets to Bataan. Waiting at our terminals, Jodi pulls out her ticket and starts checking it. “Hang on, do your tickets say Limon?” Umm…that’s the wrong direction! Yep, all our tickets appeared wrong. Marching back to the ticket office, we tried explaining we needed tickets to Bataan but the chap just wasn’t understanding us. We started to panic a lil as we knew our bus was meant to be departing within the next 10 mins or so.
Eventually, another member of staff came over to help translate (as well as the nice lady behind us in the queue who spoke fluent English). We realised that creepy taxi dude wasn’t joking when he said the road was closed. We had to catch the bus to Limon (5hrs) and then another to Bataan (3hrs). Hey ho, all part of the adventure I guess. Only thing was, we were meeting our turtle representative at 11:30am eekkk….what if he thinks we’ve done a bunk?! We were so glad to all be together in this. But luckily Karen managed to get an email over to them and they’d agreed to wait for us…phew!
The first bus wasn’t so bad but it was the bus from Limon that was the worst. The only seat I could find was next to a fella who was so large that he pretty much took up both seats. Perched on the edge, I knew it wasn’t going to get any better. People got on the bus at what felt like every stop, even when the bus was clearly full! I felt a bit Claustrophobic when the aisle filled with standing folk…yep, butt in my face! Oh and did I mention the masshoosive crack in the bus windscreen! We’d so get pulled over for that in the UK haha!
When we finally reached Bataan, we were all tired and hungry and I was desperate for a pee too! Bataan seemed like a small place and not much was going on. Karen, Jodi and I stood out like sore thumbs…we pretty much had neon signs over our heads ‘Tourist over here if you didn’t notice!’
After 10 minutes of waiting for our representative to appear, we started to feel a bit uneasy. I was scanning the area for hotels just incase we ended up stranded. ‘Oh god, what if he doesn’t show?’ I thought to myself. “So where is this guy David meeting us?” I asked. “There’s nobody here Helen, what do we do?” I could tell Jodi was becoming nervous and it was rather daunting as we knew it would soon start to get dark.
Suddenly a grey haired, leather faced local walked over to us “Hola! You go to turtles?” “Ahh Ci, Ci. You must be David?” I asked. “Ci”. ‘Yay, we’re saved I thought!’ We followed David over to his red pick up truck, lobbed our packs onto the back and started the next leg of our journey.
We all knew the place was in a remote location and I was super excited about getting off the beaten track. I was still busting for a pee and the rocky road we travelled seemed to go on forever. After an hour in the truck, we finally reached the end of the road. “Ah this must be where we board the boat!” I excitedly screeched to Jodi and Karen.
Our small boat transfer had 6 seats and not a lot of room. We helped transfer all the bags and boxes of food/supplies onto the boat and oh my god, I literally thought my invisible man was going to sink it haha! ‘Argh, we’re all going to become croc food’ haha.
The boat ride was so awesome and I felt like Indiana Jones adventuring up the Amazon River (except it was the Pacuare River but it’s very Amazonia looking). I was pretty much in a stunned silence. My senses were being blown away by the scenery, the adventure, the hum of the boats engine and the BUGS! Omg, I swear the jungle was singing us some kind of welcome chorus for our arrival. I’d missed those ‘jungle noises’.
Our boat driver skillfully dodged overhanging vines and swished around fallen branches. And as the light faded and the darkness crept in, I began day dreaming about what types of fish there might be under the boat? Hmm…I wonder if they have piranhas here? The boat driver wasn’t sure what a piranha was but he said they do get very large fish. “Ok how about crocodiles?” I inquisitively asked. “Ci, we do!” “WOW!” I was so excited and hoped to see one. And then, as if planned and on cue, I spotted a small cayman right in front of the boat! “LOOK! There’s one right there!” I shouted, pointing it out to Jodi and Karen. The cayman quickly ducked under the water but then wait….”Oooh there’s another!” I pointed at a bigger one by the waters edge. This one just watched us for a moment until it smoothly glided away under the nearest canopy.
The light was fading fast so arriving at our base camp in the dark was not ideal. Plus, we’d not managed to eat all day apart from brekkie. It took us another hour on the boat so it was well and truly pitch black when we reached camp.
“Hello and welcome to Tortuga Feliz!” A round bearded man introduced himself as the Manager and helped us off the boat and then gathered us round for a 30 mins pep talk. “Stick to the sand paths only. Here we have poisonous snakes and other creepies such as scorpions and spiders”. ‘WOW’ I thought, hoping to see all 3 of course! “Always check your shoes before stepping into them as the scorpions like dark places. We will give you some dinner and let you rest as you’ve had a long day. Your training will begin tomorrow.” Aww that’s nice of them I thought. We were all so grateful to get a dinner – a healthy portion of rice, beans and omg…hold on…is that a…Arrrghhh a cockroach! The thing emerged out of my rice in slow motion like something out of a horror movie! ‘The zombie cockroach’ lol. Eww, that really put me off so I flicked him off and ate around that patch!
We were then shown to our cabins and were happy we were all staying in the same one together. I took a bottom bunk and immediately started setting up my mozzie tent. It was so dark but I knew I had to set up my net as we were being bitten alive during our pep talk and didn’t fancy being a midnight bug snack haha.
With my torch clenched between my teeth and pointing at the various strings and hooks, I’d managed to do a quick blue peter job and hang up my net. I climbed in, pondered over the days events and looked forward to meeting everyone the next morning.
Eventually, I closed my eyes and fell asleep to the chorus of the jungle and beyond.
To be continued…