By Shakia Stewart
Last updated: 14th November 2011
Friday morning and we’re off out of the city of San Jose, heading towards the Pacific coast of Costa Rica along winding roads through luscious green mountains and low lying clouds. First stop – Punta Mala turtle project. The lodge is right on the beach, an amazing expanse of black sand, palm trees and crashing waves, and one and half hours walk from the nearest shop!
I arrived and spent the day chilling with the other volunteers on the beach, reading books and playing cards. The days here are very relaxed and there is lots of free time if they are not clearing rubbish from the beach or helping to cook the communal meals. The real action here happens after dark.
That night around 9pm we headed out to look for turtles laying their eggs on the beach. The turtles walk up from the sea after dark to lay and bury their eggs in the sand, but due to the heavy rains, and pesty dogs and other animals, most of these eggs are destroyed or eaten. The volunteers here go out looking for the eggs to collect them and bury them in a protected hatchery so they have a much higher probability of survival. When the turtles hatch from theirs eggs, they are released back into the sea.
We walked for about an hour an a half along the moonlit beach – we couldn’t use torches or any lights so as not to scare the turtles. We then reached a river coming in from the sea that we couldn’t cross because of the crocodiles!! Pretty menacing animals indeed.
At first I was disappointed..I really wanted to see some turtles! But then we turned around and headed back to the lodge..and we saw tracks! We followed the tracks up the sand and there was a turtle digging a hole to bury her eggs. I’d never seen a turtle before like this! It was beautiful. We dug a larger hole under her, and then I got down in the sand and lay with my hand under her to catch her eggs. It was beautifully silent, we all held our breath, watching in awe, and then slowly her eggs started popping out from underneath her, one by one, like little gooey ping pong balls, and I caught them in my hands as gently as possible and placed them in a bag to be taken back to the hatchery. It was the most amazing and surreal experience, laying there in the sand catching this beautiful turtle’s eggs in the moonlight. An experience I will never forget!
On the way back we found another turtle laying and one nest from which we also collected the eggs. All of those who are volunteering in Costa Rica stay for 2 weeks, but most end up extending their stay for much longer. It’s not hard to see why. The relaxed atmosphere, beautiful surroundings, and amazing feeling of helping these turtles was so inviting. Absolutely a once in a life time experience.