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I see turtles – Part 3

Posted by on June 27, 2017

Waves of volunteers

Oh boy, you could tell a good volunteer from a bad one. Camp ‘Last’ had 5 french boys (all around 19-20yrs old) who stayed for a week and did nothing much apart from swim, try to impress the ladies with their ‘manly’ press ups on the beach and chopping things down with the kitchens machete. I gave them the nickname of ‘The f**k boys’ because they were just always mucking about and generally being a nuisance.

On their final day, they were all meant to patrol 10-2am but they point blank refused. And it was in that night that a turtle got poached! We were so angry with them. Our whole aim, our mission was to help avoid that very situation from happening. Helen, one of the other awesome Research Assistants said they certainly won’t be giving their college a good reference – ‘Good’ we thought! Naturally, this deeply saddened all of us so much so that the vibes of the camp were pretty crappy that day.

Days and nights passed and volunteers would come and go. Some people would even leave early because they couldn’t bear the heat or perhaps even the work itself. When it was hot here, it was SUPER hot and well, the work was never going to be easy. You don’t come here to be a turtle tourist, you come here to learn and to help. Plus, you’re constantly sweating and your clothes always wet. And even if they did dry, they’d only smell ‘musky’ and damp!

‘Oh no’ I thought to myself. Karen and Jodi had come to the end of their trip and were leaving the next morning! I was gutted! I’d arrived with them and shared this wonderful journey with them except theirs was now over. They were leaving with 6 others so camp was going to be quiet in the morning.

“The boat leaves at 5am sharp. It won’t wait for you so you must be outside ready”. The Manager of our camp briefed the volunteers on their final afternoon. “Have your bags outside nice and early”. His monotone voice had reminded me of Hannibal Lecter all week! I imagined him saying “I ate his liver with some spicy beans and coconut water hissssss” hahahah.

A new bunch of volunteers that saw me through the last leg of my trip included Lucy from Crawley, Toni from Aberdeen and Charlotte from Norwich. A lovely bunch of people who are now also part of my facebook community :)

One afternoon, a couple of us booked ourselves onto a 2 hour wildlife boat tour. It was utterly fantastic! I think the boatman was actually secretly the Terminator or something because without his keen eye, none of us would have spotted the wildlife hidden in the trees above haha!

We were shown, Iguana’s, cayman, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys (the same ones from that film Virus and Night of the museum) , toucans, hummingbirds, various other colourful birds and OMG….a SLOTH!! He was super cute…he didn’t move but was just hanging out there high up in the trees, wow! We couldn’t believe how much we saw in the space of 2 hours! I still didn’t get to see any snakes or scorpians though hehe, nevermind. It was just great to escape the camp for a bit and feel a breeze blowing through our hair :)

Memories to last a lifetime

My 2 weeks absolutely flew! I’d met the most wonderful people and seen and experienced the most incredible things – things that I will never ever forget.

I’ve collected eggs, buried eggs, released babies, buried dead babies, tagged turtles and measured them. I walked 12 of my 14 nights stay covering 5 miles at a time and trudged over challenging conditions in both wet and dry sand. I’ve lost weight but walked away knowing I have a lot of endurance, a stronger stomach, more appreciation for this kind of work having now seen it first hand and grown such a love of these beautiful creatures…oh as well as gotten more toned legs haha.

I’d earnt the name ‘Turtle queen’ and set the record for bagging 3 turtle nests with Sergio in one night oh and wore the nickname of ‘Oreo’ which was given to me by Mauricio, one of the other local guides. If I was patrolling with Mauricio he’d always roll up sleeve in our break time and hold it against one of my pasty white arms. “Ellen…you Oreo hahaha!” We both laughed every time and even if I wasn’t patrolling with him, I’d sometimes see him patrolling with a different volunteer so in passing I’d hear “Hola Oreo!” It was rather endearing actually haha.

I’ll also miss the fresh food, the cocounts that our guides would sometimes cut down for us on our night walks! I believe they are called the peeper coconuts? That’s probably the wrong spelling but they are different from the usual coconuts in our stores…they are much sweeter tasting. Oh and the fresh pineapples that the locals would hand us. The flesh of the Pineapple is actually white you know but we were told our home countries add so many chemicals to them to perserve them that that’s why they have a ‘yellowy’ colour! Who knew!

I’ll also miss their simply yet grateful lifestyle. The men fish here everyday for their dinner – well, who wouldn’t if the beach was your front garden haha. And I’ll also miss walking past the locals selling their handmade jewellery outside their front door which would boast of a collection of turtle necklaces and bracelets carved from coconuts and shells gathered from the beach…just utterly beautiful keepsakes.

I will sincerley miss the people I have met. Without these projects, it does make me wonder what would happen to the wildlife? I guess turtles wouldn’t fare much of a chance. Well, to be precise, with the help of the Research Assistants and volunteers, the success rate of the nests here are at 70%. If nests were left, stats show they have a 40% chance of making it naturally but that’s without adding in the poachers I guess.

The only thing I won’t miss are the mozzies, sand fleas and hundreds of beach crabs haha. I almost had my butt pinched by one of the giant crabs you know! I was minding my own and sitting on a tree on the beach one afternoon and felt something climb up and prod me…ARGHHH…I bolted upright and jumped straight out the way just as I saw the pincers abouts to clench! “Hahah, you missed me! Sucker!” I’d say, giving the crab the finger hehe.

My departure

The morning came for me to pack up and head out on the boat ride back to Bataan. And yep, the Manager was right…the boat was outside bang on time at 5am. On went all our backpacks and off we went for our hour long trip along the Pacuare River.

I couldn’t help feel a little choked up to be leaving this little piece of paradise but at the same time, I knew it was time for my next adventure.

We made it to the bus stop in time for the 6:30am bus to San Jose and guess what….the roads were clear and this bus was headed straight for the city…phew! No chopping and changing this time.

Arriving at San Jose around 11:30am we all grabbed something to eat and chatted as we were each waiting for our next buses/departures.

One by one, we all left until it was just me, myself and I once more. I was then overcome with a feeling of lonliness but I managed to focus on getting myself to my hotel where I could lay in a proper bed and rest up before heading to Monteverde to volunteer at the bugs centre! 😀

I feel utterly proud and so so blessed and grateful to have had this experience.

And what a wonderful world we live in.

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