My recent vacation to Costa Rica took me to a place that was beyond my expectations. I admit that I had often heard how wonderful Costa Rica is for nature lovers, but I did not get my expectations up. I did minimal research, confining myself to becoming aware of the bird forms via "Birds of Costa Rica" by Garriques and Dean, and the Travelers Wildlife Guide series book for Costa Rica. Other than that I prepared myself to make my discoveries unadulterated by preconceived thoughts.
I signed myself up for a Gap Adventure vacation called Project Costa Rica, 15 days visiting two of the big visitor attractions, Monteverde and Fortuna /Arenal Volcano. The first 5 days were to be spent doing volunteer work in a Sea Turtle conservation project on the south Pacific coast in a village called Matapalo. That was certainly in keeping with my desire to give back to the environment.
We were a group of six plus a guide/coordinator. After I spent Sunday wandering around San Jose visiting the limited sites of interest, we met for dinner and got acquainted. I quickly determined we were a nice balance of age and interest, male and female from US Canada and Malaysia. Our leader was a Texas ex-pat who had lived in CR for 2 years. My roommate was beginning an extended around-the-world sabbatical. She and I are of a very similar temperament and that last apprehension about the conditions of the next two weeks quickly disappeared.
Monday morning, we zipped over to the San Jose bus depot, and boarded our bus for the coast. After the police walked through ( looking for what???) we were off exactly on time. It was a beautiful , harrowing ride through coffee country, over mountains and down twisty hairpin turns. We arrived one-half hour early in the seaside town of Quipos. I decided that the bus driver was eager to watch one of the soccer matches involving the National team. We had a few minutes to visit the bank and take care of any last minute details before the van would pick us up to take us to Matapalo. I quickly determined that I would need a small towel , hairbands to act as sweatbands and some extra bug spray. It proved to be some of the best things I purchased, all would get a good workout in the days to come. It was easily 90 degrees at mid day and the saturation was just below that of a shower.
Matapalo proved to be a dirt road, a surfer camp, some small houses and cabanas, a pulparia and the Turtle HQ and dorm (affectionately called "The Cage") The conservancy patrols 5.4 Km of beach, watching and protecting Olive Ridley Sea Turtles. This is one of 5 species native to the waters on either side of Costa Rica and the only species not on the Endangered List. A pulparia is a community general store and center. Usually there is a " soda" associated with it. Sodas are open air diners where you can get basic food and drinks. Our rooms were above the pulparia and the soda was a happening place for the community with music into the wee hours. They also started work, like many Ticos, at 630 am.
It was not a quiet and peaceful venue.
The work started right away with my first hatchery duty at 2am Tuesday morning. We did have a hatch and release and I spent a quiet 4 hours slowly watching the day come alive. A wonderful lightning storm off shore was almost mystical in its qualities. The clouds remained lit for what seemed an extraordinary length of time. I wish I had the presence of mind to play with my camera in that moment. At the time however I was nearing 24 hours without sleep and I was in a muddle of sensory overload. A slow dawn came with waves and clouds and a flock of swallows and swifts. I was eager to get off duty, to take pictures of the place I released the hatchlings. It was high tide at the time and we had no choice but to release the babies in the softer sand. They need "flipper time" in the sand to imprint with the smell of the beach, allowing them to arrive back in the future for mating at sea and nesting ashore. The resulting pictures are among my favorite of the trip