I am a city girl! I identify with the pace of city life and love exploring new urban destinations. Navigating public transportation makes my heart quicken. I find throngs of people in public places to be more entertaining than any Broadway performance. Dancing between honking cars to cross busy streets is my version of an amusement park. City sounds, sights, and people, I love them all!
On the other hand, animal adventures fall on the other end of the spectrum. I grew up with some kind of a nut tree in front of my apartment and was raised viewing local squirrels as enemies that could lead to a series of rabies shots circling my belly button. The closest thing I had to a dog were the Doberman Pinschers that barked relentlessly from behind a chain link fence as I raced past the car dealership they were protecting. Pigeons were always considered rats that could fly, but they were always better than the real rats that scattered near garbage cans…even under the large signs saying the alley had recently been covered with poison to keep them at bay.
As for nature, I have never really gone camping unless you count the time I stayed in a tent with friends and begged them to drive me to a nearby McDonald’s bathroom. I love the idea of camping as long as there is a lot of activity and not just sitting on lawn chairs getting eaten by bugs. When people say they LOVE camping, I can only relate in that I love roasting marshmallows and the two activities seem to go hand and hand. I do love hiking… because I love walking and climbing and beautiful views…but I can’t really remember a time I hiked and took more than a minor glance at specific plants or an animal unless I was running in the other direction.
Yep…I admire people who have an affection for the isolation of nature and a selfless love and interest in animals, but I recognize these things are a stretch for me…and that is exactly the reason I am on this journey…to stretch myself. When planning a “round the world” trip, there are places that stand out as centers of nature that can’t be missed. Costa Rica is one of them…there are plenty of places where guide books and friends say it desirable to visit…solely to enjoy nature.
Before leaving home, I visited with our Geography teacher Mr. Landreth and his wife who had extensive traveling experience in Central America. As Peter highlighted National Parks to visit, I asked the question, “What do I do there?” His “look at the animals” response made us both laugh…he knows me well. To keep me interested, he assured me that I could swim, raft, hike, zip line, and do whatever else I needed to do to make the plant and animal sightings feel like adventures.
My first day of bonding with Mother Earth took place yesterday at Tortuguero National Park. I took a bus to a river and cruised to my cabin hotel in the forest giving appropriate oohs and aahs as the driver stopped near colorful birds and a crocodile. I arrived and laid on the bed listening to nuts fall from trees and onto my wooden roof…and jumped as if I heard gunshots at least five times.
In the dark of night, I left the comfort of my room and ventured out to see some turtles. I didn’t know what to expect, but what was ahead was my first big moment of turtle affection…and near tears of encouragement for the work of this amazing creature.
Years ago, the beaches of Tortuguero were loaded with tourists hoping to spot turtles returning to their place of birth to lay their own eggs. At the age of 25 years plus, and after traveling miles from this beach, the turtles know exactly were to return to lay their own eggs. The tourists would follow the turtles and make conditions less than ideal for dropping eggs and the whole process was at risk. In an effort to allow people to view this feat of nature, while protecting the turtles, the Costa Rican government developed a system called turtle spotting. At night, rangers roam the beaches watching for turtles coming home…there can be up to 400 per night during high season. When the ranger spots the turtle, he protects her privacy during sensitive moments as she comfortably digs a spot to lay the eggs. When the hole is complete, the ranger radios a local guide giving clearance to watch the laying process. We stopped along the dark beach, pacing like expectant fathers, waiting for our call. When the moment came, we shuffled over to find a huge green turtle sitting in a hole, dumping over a hundred eggs…one by one. They say the turtle is in a trance during this part of the process and not impacted by distractions. The turtle was huge…as big as one of those turtle sandboxes you see in backyards and it was hard to imagine that big, slow creature digging such a perfectly comfortable nesting spot. Plop…plop…plop…the pliable eggs dropped into a deeper hole. I was cheering her on in my mind. After all, I think she was kind of special because it was obvious she was working hard there. It reminded me of the time with was in the delivery room with my friend Janette. I was awed by her resilience and kind of freaked out by the fear of her breaking one of those eggs…or in Janette’s case, all the blood vessels in her eyes. After she finished, mommy turtle took a break and started moving her back flippers to cover the eggs. This process took a while, but the turtle was thorough because she knows that predators will be hunting for those eggs as soon as she gets back in the water. In fact, only one out of one thousand turtle eggs become adult turtles. After the hole was covered, the front flippers roared I to action…well, not really roared-turtles are really are slow-and started to camoflague the hole and make a fake nest area to confuse predators. Now come on…this isn’t just a turtle, but a symbol of strength and intelligence of women and mothers everywhere. As she slowly turned herself around, she removed most traces of the egg hole and even I wasn’t sure exactly were they were. When the turn was complete and her head was facing the ocean, it was time to leave those eggs behind and head back to the water. Okay…I know she abandons those eggs, but it was a lot of work popping them out and she had to get busy again because she was going to repeat this process again up to six times over the next months before heading out on a 2-4 year voyage of eating and rebuilding the strength to come back to this exact beach and do it again. She was one tough mamma.
So…today – I am a nature convert. Mama Turtle made me stop, open my eyes, and appreciate that there are some incredible things to see in the wild world of animal life. This morning, when I woke up in that cabin to the 5:00 A.M. sounds of howling monkeys, I tried to appreciate that funky alarm clock sound and not start howling back at them. Yep…I am bonding with nature here in Costa Rica.
I will be on Costa Rica for the next eight days before heading to Panama City to see the Canal.