Some of Nature’s Top Predators

They’re bodies are sleek, evolved to carry out quick stealth-like attacks in near silence on slacking prey. They kill thousands annually and their appetite for blood is unparalleled. And upon our arrival into Chiang Mai, we chanced upon seeing these top predators in action…unfortunately. Actually, we saw at least 64 of these guys in action, as that’s how many mosquitoes we killed in our room in a day. Turning on the fan caused 5 of them to scramble in all directions. Walking by the bed, 3 fly out from under it, 2 more make their appearance known from on top the blanket. Trying to lock in on one to smash it, meant ignoring others flying by your face in the commotion. They were everywhere, and if we stayed still, they attacked our exposed legs and arms unmercifully.
And let me say, I HATE mosquitoes. HATE them. The shrill buzz of its wings always finds me just as I’m about to nod off. And their bites on me don’t just result in a little red dot and a slight itch. When mosquitoes bite me, it’s like a mosquito clown is blowing balloon animals with my epidermis. My skin reacts into massive red irregular shaped patches with legs and tails shooting off them. I really can’t stress how much I HATE them. This also means then, that I take a real pleasure in killing them. Each clapping of my hands that ends with a little needle-nosed insect falling out of the sky brings me a smile.

The day after the day that became known as the “Massacre of 64,” I went out and bought a mosquito zapper. I’ve been looking forward to this for months, but have held off for not wanting to actually carry it around. It’s a tennis racket shaped instrument that has a small electrical current running through the “face” of the racket. See a mosquito, show it your backhand (remembering to follow through with your body) and zap! Mesquite BBQ mosquito. The prey has become the predator.

The same day I bought the zapper we went to see another of the world’s top predators. This one however is warm, cuddly and a welcome sight (under the right circumstances). We visited a place called Tiger Kingdom and spent about half an hour inside the enclosures with the equivalent of toddler and adult tigers. Mari entered and was in heaven. I was somewhere in the SF Zoo around Christmas time. But my fears subsided and we were able to sit and touch the tigers if they were lying down. When they were up and walking around us, we happily stepped back and observed. Being this close to these animals was a real highlight for us.
And it was a highlight that almost didn’t happen. We originally planned to volunteer in Kanchaniburi, Thailand for a month working with tigers at a place called Tiger Temple. We were both really amped to work with animals that had been illegally poached and couldn’t be returned to the wild. However, our research into the program brought up some concerns about the animal’s treatment (even in a country where animal conservation has a different meaning from our own) and we had decided we couldn’t support it.

And Tiger Kingdom isn’t perfect either. Assuming “perfect” is only the wild in protected areas, free from illegal logging, human interaction and hunting, this is far from perfect. The tigers are in enclosures and are fed chicken daily. They interact with humans daily, from birth. They will never be returned to the wild. But, that’s not the goal of the kingdom either. It’s a breeding program, keeping a species from extinction from a world that is far from perfect. And in a country without government commitment around conservation, this agency has naturally turned to tourism dollars to fill a void. And they do seem to treat the animals well, especially by South East Asian standards. They are cared for by handlers who have known them since birth. They look healthy and happy. And even if we’ll continue to hope for an ideal world, and hope that one day there will be large scale sanctuaries set up for these majestic animals, in the present we’ll happily settle for a step in its direction.

Posted: January 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

A Tad High in Tadlo

Despite what some may infer from this blog title, we have not yet partaken in the special pizzas offered on many a menu in Laos. Usually dubbed “happy pizzas” or “space pizzas”, they are cooked special to order with your herb of choice. Not something that would fly in the states, but apparently legal here. Maybe we’ll give it a shot in Cambodia, another place well known for its pizzas, and chalk it up to another “when in Rome…” moment. But, I digress.

Tadlo is a teeny town in Southern Laos, known by tourists for its waterfalls and as a place where one can trek through the forests atop an elephant. To get to Tadlo, we took an overnight bus from the capital, Vientiane, to the town of Pakse. Having now been on our fair share of overnight buses, our expectations were pretty much set. At best, we figured we were in for individual clean-enough reclining beds and maybe even a stinky but working on-bus toilet. At worst, we geared ourselves up for not-so-clean, semi-reclining chair-beds, middle of the night pit stops, and loud Lao music blaring out of the speakers all night long. Maybe the stars aligned, because the bus gods were kind to us, and our 11-hour trip turned out to be the best overnight bus journey to date. As we entered the upper deck, semi-private double beds awaited us. If you happen to be a solo traveler, this is a potential hazard, but for us, it was perfect. The sleepers were clean, the toilet was only slightly disgusting, but best and most surprising of all (in addition to a peaceful music-less night), we were given dinner, bottled water, then dessert, and packaged towelettes (for freshy!). We were reluctant to get off the bus in the morning.

From Pakse, we ventured out to Tadlo. After hearing animal abuse horror stories, particularly from Thailand, I was wary of hopping on any old elephant. We had heard of elephants at the very least being bribed with food, and at the worst, having hooks through their ears, or being kicked and beaten. My hope for Tadlo was that the elephants were treated respectfully and humanely. We asked a few questions before signing up for the morning walk and it turned out to be a good experience. Jeff and I both rode in a hand-made basket, stuffed with a couple of rice sacks and cushions, atop the elephant. Our non-talkative guide sat on a blanket straddling the elephant’s neck. No sticks, poles, hooks, or even treats. Aside from the occasional verbal command, we only witnessed him using his feet to push on the elephant’s ears in order to guide her. Moon (our elephant) seemed happy enough and got to eat lots and lots of vegetation all along the way as we loped through the jungle, through a village, and even forded a couple of rather strong streams. I got a chance to see our surroundings from a different point of view and it was just pretty darn cool. Blue sky above. Water, ground, people and animals below. And canopy all around. It was nothing like our camel ride in Africa where I was teetering back and forth with each step and holding on for dear life. This was leisurely and peaceful and I enjoyed my high ride. I’m hoping Moon did too. Several times, she raised her trunk very slowly back over her head, as if to say hello or make sure we were still there. I’m no expert in elephant behavior, so I hope that’s what she was communicating, as opposed to “get the heck off my back” or some similar sentiment. After we climbed down, I wanted to give her a pat and hoped to share a moment or something, but she had already started in on a huge bunch of bananas.

Hanging out with Moon

Hanging out with Moon

Posted: December 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Laos | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

For the Animal Lovers Out There…

Posted: September 23rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: China | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Full Circle

Way back when (in April) we were in Costa Rica volunteering with giant leatherback sea turtles. It was nesting season, and at the time the only thing that would have made the experience more special would have been if we could have been present for hatching season. Mission complete! Because it turns out that it is hatching season for the green sea turtles here in Indonesia. Unfortunately, the handling, procedures, and overall treatment of the turtles falls short of ecological standards. In fact, it would probably make the research assistants and directors in Costa Rica (and other organizations) cringe. However, we were lucky enough to enter the hatchery and release the hatchlings back into the sea, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. A few days later, we got to see and do the photo op thing with another bunch of hatchlings in the middle of the day. The guy with the bucket of turtles, reached in a handed one to me. I hesitated, and tried to question if it was ok (which obviously to him it was since he was calling my name and holding it out). I’m not sure why they were kept in a dry bucket for hours until their release, but with the language barrier I was only able to be told that they were fine and did not need water. There’s something weird about sea turtles not needing water, but the guys were supposedly trained members of the World Wildlife Federation and who am I to challenge the way things are done on the island? I know conservation efforts and humans the world over are trying to help, but sometimes I wonder if in some instances it would be best to let nature take its course. So in a moment of weakness and deliberate selfishness, I took the turtle from him (ok, and another one out of the bucket so that turtle #1 wouldn’t be lonely and freaked out-my lame justification). It’s like when you are a kid, and your mom has taught you not to touch [fill in the blank], but one day it’s right there in front of you. No one else is in sight (although in my case there were witnesses). The chance may never come again. What do you do? As I got eye to eye with one of the babies, I felt lucky for experiencing a dream, saddened by the slim chances of it ever reaching adulthood, and guilty for the part I had so willingly played in it.

Green sea turtle hatchlings awaiting their release

Green sea turtle hatchlings awaiting their release

*Side note: I would have felt a little better about this, but my google search on handling hatchlings revealed that although there are all sorts of pictures of people holding baby turtles (even on the conservation websites), the majority state that this is a serious no-no. Apologies to all those conservationists and animal rights activists out there.

Posted: August 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Indonesia | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Shark Penguin Shark Oreo

Outside of Hermanus, a whale-watching coastal town that seems equally as comfortable with its high end resort homes as with its resident baboons in the middle of streets, we embarked on an ocean dive of a different sort—cage diving with the Great Whites. Apparently, here the animals are known simply as white sharks. Maybe the sheer number of them here desensitized the area residents into forgetting the power of this predator. I, however, will show my respect for them and continue to mention their greatness.

Anyway, Great Whites here range from 1.5 to 6 meters. Separating us from them are 2 inch steel bars. But despite the stupidity of those numbers, Mari and I were excited but not scared of the trip. We boarded the boat with about 25 other excited people and set off towards Shark Alley. The ocean though, was rough this day and rocked the boat, constant like a heaving breath. About 1/3 of the excited boat stopped smiling pretty quickly with this motion, myself included. Ten minutes into our 4 hour viewing session and the first of us was over the side of the boat, heaving up her complimentary breakfast. More people followed suit. I stared at the horizon hard in an effort not to join them. About 2 hours out at sea, we spotted our first Great White as it swam up to the tuna heads placed as bait beside the boat. People rushed into their wet suits so they could jump into the cage and get a better look. I sat hunched on a bench with my wet suit pants on unable to will the rest of it up. Mari was a trooper, and in between sessions of throwing up she went into the cage and got close and personal with a Great White. It stayed around for another hour or so before we headed back to shore. I turned green, from the seasickness and from envy at those not affected by seasickness. I never was able to get into the cage and left the day disappointed— not with the shark adventure, but with myself.

Maybe it was an effort to redeem myself, but two days later in Cape Town I was at the Two Ocean’s Aquarium, signing up for a Predator Dive. That’s a dive in their 2 million liter tank which includes five ragged tooth sharks, two sea turtles, stingrays (the largest was bigger than a queen-sized bed), and numerous fish.


Three of us were going into the tank. The Dive Master would tell us when to enter into the tank to avoid descending onto one of the sharks. He entered with what looked like half a broom stick and told us it would deter the sharks if they got too close. I looked at the sharks, saw their 2 ½ meters of length, and thought that must be one special stick. But he jumped in the water and we followed. He told us to watch out for the Mussel Crackers and then he descended. Having no idea what a Mussel Cracker was, I watched out for everything as I went to the bottom of the tank. And for the rest of the dive, every time a fish came towards me, my hands instantly withdrew to my armpits. But the dive itself was amazing. I even found some shark teeth during the dive, which the aquarium let me keep as a souvenir.

Before the trip I emailed a South African friend of mine and told her South Africa was one of our destinations. She replied back that the country is beautiful and a ton of fun—just be careful because it can be dangerous. I quickly replied back to her asking what the hell the dangers were. She, um, never did write me back.

But after having driven through it I think I understand her and the country a little better. Adventure. Unique landscapes. Wildlife. Adrenaline and danger. This is South Africa. Nature at both its rawest and at its shiny display best. Car jackings and muggings are as much a possibility as a shark attack or the bungee line breaking. That is to say that all seemed equally unlikely, but nevertheless a possible reality. But there’s also a better respect and maybe even harmony (even the commercialized versions of it) with nature that allow us to fold ourselves into it, even for a short time. And there’s a rush here that you can’t experience anywhere else. And that’s why we came. We wanted extreme experiences in the most fitting of settings.

In between the cage diving and the predator dive we drove to Betty’s Bay. Here exists one of 3 colonies of an endangered species, the African Penguin. We walked close to these beautiful creatures and watched as they waddled in front of us, returning to the water or back into their homes. A mother kept watch of her baby, whose feathers were still like down. About a thousand remained in the colony and allowed us to hang out with them as they went about their day. One was curious of me and let me within a few inches of him before I moved on and let him be. We left there that day feeling fortunate to have visited them, sad for their future, and in love with the most awkward of animals.


We came for the sharks. We came for the lions and for the elephants. It was the 216 meter bungee jump and the opportunity to ride an ostrich that made our palms sweat. But in between all of the quickened heart palpitations South Africa offers something else. Quietly, it is encountering an endangered species and in doing so becoming more invested in it. Or more loudly and resolutely it is Robben Island, where Mandela was locked away during apartheid. It is the education of both nature and in a social experiment which is every bit as interesting as the USA. Eventually reflecting back on South Africa as one of our favorite countries, I have a feeling we’ll remember the moment our feet left the safety of a bridge and what a shark’s teeth look like from a meter away, but it will have been the moments in between those which will have made the impact on us.

Posted: August 2nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: South Africa | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

South Africa

As far as countries go, South Africa has been a bit of everything…in extremes. Of course there is the country’s fascinating history, of black and white, of pride and shame. And as in other countries, evidence of extravagance and poverty within a stone’s throw away from each other. Tribal villages, beaches, cities, townships, mountains, wilderness, and all the activities and life that go with each, all jumbled together in South Africa. Three weeks is not nearly enough to explore South Africa, but we’ve been getting a feel for what we can. The warnings about corruption and crime are valid in certain areas and dispensed not only from guide books and travel websites, but from locals themselves. Luckily, aside from one very minor ATM incident (from which I emerged unscathed, just a little shaken and a lot more savvy), we have had no trouble, and the South Africans that we have met have been friendly, outgoing, and more than willing to help us find our way. The one thing that has been a bit of a challenge is finding (free) wireless internet, which has hindered our blog upkeep. But the country has kept us busy and there has been no shortage of excitement. Here are a few highlights of our travels through South Africa.

• Two days in Kruger National Park doing our own version of a safari and animal tracking through the park in our little rental car. Spotted just three of the “Big Five”, but saw more than enough wildlife and close encounters to make up for the elusive two. Still hoping to spot a leopard and a black rhino one of these days, but for now we are happy to substitute cheetahs and white rhinos in their place, of which we were lucky enough to see several.
• Driving through South Africa on our own (on the left-hand side), seeing the landscape for ourselves, stopping whenever, wherever and for as long as we please, has been a new and refreshing way of travel for us. South Africa seems as if it was designed for backpackers, and the hostels here have most other countries’ beat. Even the most basic places have kitchens, pools, bars, lounge areas, laundry, etc. Knowing this, we bought some cheap camp gear (a tiny tent and two sleeping bags) which gives us the flexibility to stay almost anywhere for a fraction of the cost of a room or dorm, while still getting to use the amenities. We did end up spending one freezing night in what we thought was a B&B, where we set up camp after arriving close to midnight, only to discover the next morning that it was someone’s backyard! Luckily, they made light of the situation and even invited us in and offered us the use of their shower. (And for anyone traveling through Ladysmith, Boer & Brit closed a year ago and is no longer in operation.)
• Apparently surfing is big in South Africa. After one surf lesson (the cheapest in the universe–$5 for two hours!!), I have caught the bug. Was even able to ride one wave all the way into shore. Santa Cruz, here I come…
• Visiting the Nelson Mandela Museum would be an incredible experience in itself, but visiting the museum on his birthday felt even more meaningful. The man is a hero in every sense of the word, respected the world over and adored by his people. His birthday is celebrated by all in South Africa. When we arrived at the museum, there were balloons and people dancing at the entrance, and everywhere we drove that day, we saw signs saying, “Happy Birthday, Madiba!”, with all the radio stations broadcasting birthday wishes from celebrities and locals alike throughout the day.
• I have fulfilled a life long dream. We stopped off at Lion Park near East London, where we had the chance to play with a 5 month old lion cub-an experience that, if you love animals as much as me, is hard to put into words. I could have stayed forever. They practically had to kick us out of the park.
• Bungee jumping off Bloukrans Bridge–the highest bungee jump in the world….again, there are some moments you can not put into words. When you are standing 216 meters on a bridge looking down into a canyon, the word “scary” does not quite do justice to the experience and thoughts running through my head the moments before taking the plunge. It’s a good thing the fun-loving and well-trained staff push you off, otherwise it might not have happened at all. The most surprising aspect for me was how fun the freefall portion was-after the first split second of mind and leg-numbing fear, it really was a freeing feeling. And for a few seconds I felt like I was flying (versus the stomach flipping falling to my death feeling that I had anticipated).
• The Little Karoo area of the country provided us the opportunity to get up close and personal with its natural inhabitants-ostriches. They may be dumb and curious, but to make up for it, they are fast. Jeff and I each took a bumpy turn riding a speedy ostrich around the farm. If anyone is curious as to how to ride an ostrich, you jump on its back, remove the hood, steer left and right by pushing and pulling its neck in the desired direction as it careens around at breakneck speed (no pun intended) and stop by yanking its head backwards. That’s how you do it if you are an ostrich jockey. For me, I was helped on, told to squeeze my legs around the base of the poor bird’s neck, lean back, and hold on to its wings while two jockeys ran alongside to catch me before falling off. It was hilarious. Ostriches must have strong wings because I was holding on and pulling for dear life (and even ended up with an ostrich feather upon dismounting).

*In response to some comments regarding this video, the screaming/crying/laughing heard is not me.  While I may have let a minor scream or two escape, what you hear on the audio is the girl sitting next to Jeff and the camera.
• Shark feeding while scuba diving is next on the adventure agenda, as we make our way towards Cape Town. We will do the very best we can to stay safe and check out the city for ourselves before flying out to Indonesia at the end of the month.

Posted: July 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: South Africa | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

This is Kenya

From Egypt we were scheduled to take a 3:20am flight to Nairobi, Kenya. The flight however was delayed till about 5:30am, which made Mari and me miss our connecting flight, stranding us in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a day. But we ate well and slept in a decent hotel courtesy of Ethiopian Airlines as we geared up for Kenya.
We arrived in Nairobi at noon, but our Kenyan experience really didn’t feel like it began till that night’s dinner. We ventured into a local restaurant (with butcher shop attached), picked out a little over a kilo of goat’s meat hanging in the window and asked for it to be prepared as Nyama Choma (roasted goat). About an hour and a half later, our waiter brought to the table a pitcher of hot water, and a wash bowl with soap and we dutifully washed our hands. After that he brought a large wooden cutting board out with our Nyama Choma laid out on top of it. And that’s it. No knives or forks. No napkins. No plates. So we “when in Rome”-‘d it and dug in. I was chewing on a rib when I looked at Mari and saw her tearing the meat off a bone with her teeth. The piles of bones on the table were growing in front of us both. I heard her growl, but she denies it now. The meal was fun and made me feel like if you’re going to eat meat—this is how it should always be done. It only lacked the stuffy air of western “sophistication…” and maybe a side of spinach. After the meal, Mari asked me whether we were supposed to get vegetables or a staple dish, to which I replied that maybe this is how they do it in Kenya. My heart hurt a little bit, but my stomach seemed happy.
We spent the following days visiting Kenya’s game parks. We were greeted about 3 minutes into our first game drive by a zebra in the distance. I shouted to the driver to stop, as if I had been the first to discover the animal. We took some crappy photos of it in the distance, wanting to make sure we had proof of our first sighting, especially in case it was our last. But as we drove on we passed another zebra, and another, and another. We passed Thompson gazelles, warthogs and Impalas by the dozen. There were buffalo, monkeys and baboons eating, drinking and for the most part, ignoring us as we gawked at them.
Lake Nakuru continued the animal voyeurism. As we drove towards the water it unfolded as a bed of blue and pink from the thousands of flamingoes that stand there. They fly in long lines, accentuating their profiles. The sheer number of the birds made it a unique spectacle. We eventually tore ourselves away from the flamingoes to go up to Baboon Cliff. I almost asked our driver if we would see any of the animals the cliff was named after when my question was answered. About 25 baboons greeted us in our car running away from people and towards others. I heard a growl and turned to see an adult baboon grabbing a schoolboy’s shirt. The boy escaped as an aggressive man nearby threw a rock at the aggressive baboon to teach him a lesson. The baboons eventually blocked our return to the car as three were sitting on it. Mari tried to show dominance and banged on the roof of the car and told them to get off. The adult male baboon charged Mari and growled something to the effect of “dominance, schmominance.” Mari retreated.
The Masai Mara offered us almost completely different animals to wander across, as well as the main reason we came to Kenya. There were elephant herds, cheetahs, lions, ostriches, hippos and giraffes. And of course there were the wildebeests. The wildebeest migration is referred to as the largest animal migration and their abundance was evident everywhere. At times hills looked as brown from the wildebeests as they were green from the grass. At other times the wildebeests appeared British in heritage as they lined up in long queues, patient and orderly, following each other across the landscape. We drove past them by the thousands. I remarked to Mari, “Wow, this is Kenya.”
After the game drives we spent a final day back in Nairobi. We were on our way to dinner, when a cop pulled us over. The driver, Mari and I hurriedly put on our seatbelts. The cop asked us all a couple of questions, but in the end it was evident he wanted only one thing. We paid him a thousand shillings as a bribe and he left us to be on our way. We were saddened by the blatant corruption, but our driver told us not to worry about it. He said he was glad we saw it and simply stated, “This is Kenya.”

Posted: July 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Kenya | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

Putting on the Ritz and Bio Bay in San Juan

After leaving Central America, we flew to San Juan and spent a couple of days in Puerto Rico. It was a little strange at first. It was a comforting and appropriate transition in that it was nice to be back in the United States (or territory of) again, but also where Spanish continued to be spoken everywhere. We were lucky enough to stay as couchsurfers with our very cool host in San Juan. His apartment was surrounded by similar high rise condos, and just a few blocks from the beach, museums, restaurants, and stores so we got to do a little exploring.

The day before we left, we were able to get reservations to go on a kayak tour of Fajardo Bay, a bio-luminescent bay in Puerto Rico. A friend had recommended we check it out if we had a chance, and it was worth it. We were instructed to meet our tour guide and fellow kayakers at the Ritz Carlton Hotel at sunset. Jeff and I decided that we might as well make the most of it and went several hours early. We took a cab and walked straight through the lobby to the pool area. Coming from the type of environments that we have become accustomed to, the Ritz Carlton was like an oasis, a beacon of luxury. Since we were already in our swimming suits (in preparation for the tour), we blended in as best we could. Jeff brazenly grabbed a towel and an ice water infused with orange, and we did our best to walk nonchalantly toward some empty chairs. We set up shop and lay out by the pool for the rest of the afternoon until it was time to leave for our tour.

A bioluminescent bay is exactly what it sounds like—a bay that glows in the dark naturally. This phenomenon occurs due to the microorganisms in the water. With movement or upon being touched, the water lights up, becoming a neon blue-white. This only occurs in two places in the world. I wish we could have taken pictures because it was an unbelievable experience, one that I can not do justice to with my writing. The sight of the water illuminating in the dark was awesome. Fish jumped out of the water, creating shooting comets. With each stroke of our oars a bright fluorescent light would shine for as long as the movement continued simultaneously highlighting both our path and showing us where we had just come from. I scooped up handfuls of water and watched as a tail of electric blue followed and I tossed brilliant blue droplets back into the bay.

I feel justified in blaming our kayaking abilities (or lack thereof) on the fact that we were so in awe of the bioluminescence all around us. We ran into some communication difficulties, leading our kayak in a zigzag, running into trees and the riverbank, and eventually needing to be towed out by one of the guides. Just as we began to get the hang of things and build confidence in our ability to maneuver our kayak, the tour came to an end. By then, our clothes were wet, we smelled like lagoon water, and my arms felt like they were about to fall off. Still, the experience itself was well worth it.

Posted: May 5th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Puerto Rico | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Leatherbacks

I guess it’s only natural that I’m the one writing this entry. I’ve always liked turtles and friends draw parallels between me and the genus a little too freely. But there is something about them that draws people to them like no other reptiles do, as evidenced by their religious significance in Polynesian culture. So on April 3rd, we arrived at Reserva Pacaure to work with Leatherback turtles, the largest of the existing species, during their nesting season. We wanted to experience a connection between these prehistoric relics and do so while improving their 1 in 1000 odds of egg-to-adulthood survival.

I started my first patrol at 11 pm under an almost full moon, the black sand beach still dark to my maladjusted eyes. The unevenness of the beach, coupled with the washed up driftwood made my first minute’s steps small and unsure. Only the constant sound of the ocean and the white of the waves kept me steady with their rhythm. About 45 minutes in, I caught up with another person on the beach, a Research Assistant sitting close to where the beach met the forest. We started talking for a couple of minutes in the dark, when she asked me how it felt. I responded with, “what?” to which she answered, “to see your first turtle,” as she leaned to the side, revealing a Leatherback a foot away. I had missed seeing this animal as big as a clown car. But now it sat there preparing her nest as those before her had been doing for nearly 200 million years. For the next hour we worked with her; measuring, relocating the eggs, and camouflaging the tracks—-but mostly just connecting with the experience. I watched her return to her element and continued my patrol.

As the night wore on, my steps gained confidence, getting used to the slope of the sand and eager to come across another sighting. Shooting stars and fireflies broke into the monotony of the trek and made me feel nature was encouraging those who tried to aid her. At 4 am, walking back to the lodges, we came across another nesting turtle. We worked with her till nearly 6 am, the sun rising as she finally made her way back to the ocean, enabling a rare site—seeing a Leatherback by day.

Since my first night, Mari and I have gone out patrolling nightly, doing what we could to help, and feeling closer to nature in the process. We were scheduled to leave on April 10th, Good Friday, but have extended our stay through Easter. So while the rest of Central America will be observing Semana Santa, we’ve opted for a subtler communion, right here with the turtles.

Posted: April 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Costa Rica | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »