Monday, October 4, 2010


I hate to start off every time with "sorry I have written in a while," but I really am. I wish I had the time to update my blog every day, but it's impossible due to my perfectionism need to include every single detail. I could update much more often if I didn't write so much, but I just cannot make myself write less. Even when I tell myself, "ok, make this a quick blog," it ends up just as long as the rest. I would like to think that a detailed but less frequent update is more enjoyable to read than a more frequent but less detailed update. Hopefully you agree. Side note: this little introduction is a perfect example of why my blogs end up being so long.

So getting to the stuff that you actually care about, this past week was one of the most stressful I have experienced here. Even this stress, however, is nothing compared to the anxiety I normally face at Miami. Nonetheless, it shook me up a bit since I've become quite accustomed to living the laid-back and relaxed "pura vida." Last Sunday I had one of the days when you get stressed out about one thing and then can't stop thinking about it until it is solved. I suddenly felt overwhelmed about all of the things that I need to apply for back in the states while I am still here. For the past week I have been sending tons of e-mails and researching online to try to sort things out, but I think that I have it under control now. Aside from all of this business, I had 2 exams last week, one of which I was worried would be really hard, and as for the other, I had no idea what it was going to test. It turned out that I was very well-prepared for the first exam and the second wasn't as vague and difficult as I had expected. I was able to relax a little bit after wards and start getting excited for my trip this past weekend :)

Caitlin, Abby, and I had been planning to go somewhere last weekend for a couple weeks, but where we ended up going, Tortuguero, was a bit of a last minute decision, but it worked out perfectly. Tortuguero, one of Costa Rica's national parks, is on the Caribbean side of the country near the Nicaraguan border. Its name literally means "land of the turtles" because it is home to several species of sea turtles that come to shore between the months of July and November to lay their eggs. Unlike the tourist locations throughout the rest of the country, Tortuguero is in its "high season" right now because many people come to see the turtles laying their eggs, and this is exactly why we decided to go.

Since sea turtles are an endangered species, the government forbade the construction of any direct roads to Tortuguero when the park was founded during the 1970s. As a result, it takes a little bit of work to get there. I woke up at 4 a.m. on Friday morning so that we could make it to the bus terminal by 5 a.m. We were practically the first ones to arrive at the bus station, which was a good thing because we found out that the transportation (as usual) was different than what we had read. Our bus left for Cariari at 6:30 and we arrived at about 8:30 to find out that we had to wait until 11:30 for the bus to come to take us to Pavona. We had quite a bit of waiting to do, but we met two British girls who had been backpacking throughout Central America for 2 months and were in the last week of their trip. We had fun talking to them and before we knew it we were on the next bus, which was much less comfortable and much more crowded. That bus lasted about an hour and a half and once we got to Pavona, we took a boat to Tortuguero. I felt as if I was on the "African Queen" as we journeyed through marshes and canals surrounded by lush vegetation. After about an hour, we finally entered the park parameters and made it to the tiny town of Tortuguero, home to about 400 inhabitants. What struck me about Tortuguero is that although it is a tourist destination, it didn't feel touristy in the least bit. The livelihood of this town is completely dependent upon tourism: everyone either works as a tour guide, in a restaurant, in a souvenir shop, or a lodge. As we made our way to our hostel, I was literally in the townspeoples' backyards feeling as if I had been invited to each and every one of their homes. This in it of itself was a very comforting and interesting experience.

On our way to Tortuguero, an inhabitant of the town, Ricardo, befriended us in order to, as we discovered later, convince us to come on his tours. He had his act down: he helped us with our bags, introduced us to his adorable son, escorted us to our hostel, and bought us the most delicious homemade bread I have ever eaten in my entire life. Since it is necessary to see the park with a tour guide and his prices were comparable to the other tour prices I had read about in my guide book, we didn't see any reason not to take up this nice man's offer. So, as soon as we arrived, we already had a turtle tour booked for that night and a canoe tour booked for the following morning.

The rest of our Friday before the turtle tour at 7:30 consisted of checking into our hostel, getting some lunch and exploring the town a bit, cooling off on the beach, napping, and coffee (I have come so accustomed to daily 4:30 coffee that I don't think I am going to be able to break the habit when I come back to the U.S.) We met with our guide, Roberto (Ricardo's seemed as if everyone is somehow related in Tortuguero), at 7:30 so that he could explain the guidelines to our group before we went to the beach. Our group in it of itself was quite interesting: a very friendly couple from Holland; a young couple, one from L.A. and the other from New York, who do voices for cartoons and video games (the man is the voice for Leonardo in Ninja Turtles!); our new British friends, and us. We had to wear dark clothes and were not allowed to use white lights so that we would not disturb the nesting process. Almost as soon as we got to the beach, Roberto spotted a turtle already laying her eggs. Since the mother turtles go into a "trance" while laying their eggs, Roberto was able to pull back her back flippers so that we could perfectly see the entire process. I watched from only a few feet away as a sea turtle laid egg after egg after egg underneath a full moon on the Caribbean Sea...I promise that I am not making this up. It was incredible. After she finished laying her eggs, she covered up the nest and camouflaged herself by covering herself in sand using her back flippers. We walked a little bit further down the beach to wait for her to come out to sea, but while we sat there, we were lucky enough to sea another turtle coming out from the sea to lay her eggs. A little later, our first turtle made her way out to the sea and we followed right behind her the entire way.

After seeing this amazing process, I now feel more attached to sea turtles and obligated to advocate for their protection as an endangered species. I knew that it was difficult for the baby turtles to make it out to sea on their own, but I didn't realize that only 1-2 of 1,000 actually survive! These poor little creatures face so many dangers as soon as they're born, if they even make it out of the shell. After the mother lays her eggs and covers the nest, it is quite likely that other animals - dogs, raccoons, birds, etc. - will sniff out the nest, dig up the eggs, and then eat them. If the eggs go unharmed until they are ready to hatch, they face the same dangers as they did inside their shells. And even if they can survive the long trek from the beach to the ocean, birds can swoop down and eat them or fish can gobble them right up. What a life!

Already off to a great start, we woke up in the "madrugada" (early early morning) to meet Ricardo for our canoe tour. The six of us - Caitlin, Abby, me, Ricardo, and our British friends (their names are Hannah and Lucia by the way) - headed off to see some wildlife. Roberto was a great guide. He was funny, knowledgeable, and had an amazing eye. With all of their camouflage tricks, I cannot believe that he spotted so many animals. We saw different species of iguanas, lizards (one of which is called the "Jesus Christ Lizard" because it can run on water), tucans, herons, parrots, a caiman (a bit smaller than an alligator), and spider monkeys. I was especially excited about the monkey, since I had not yet seen that species. There are 4 in Costa Rica and I have seen the white-faced capuccin and spider, so now I need to find a howler monkey and a squirrel monkey.

After our canoe tour, we ate breakfast with the British girls and then went for a walk in the land portion of the park. Most of the park consists of the 20 mile-long beach and the canals, so there wasn't too much to see in the forest, although we spotted more spider monkeys and lots of spiders, literally. They were the sort that I have already seen quite frequently, but I have never seen so many all at once. They are huge and just hang out right in the middle of their enormous webs. The strange thing is that they don't even phase me at this point. I was pretty freaked out, however, when I found a cockroach in my suitcase later that night.

Since we woke up so early, we finished all of our exploring around 12:30, so we had the rest of the day to just relax. We enjoyed more delicious Caribbean food with our British friends for both lunch and dinner. In between, we had coffee of course and we went to the same place we went to on Friday because we were hooked on the banana bread we tried the first time. The owner recognized us from the day before and since we were the only customers inside, she sat down and talked with us. We ended up talking to her for an hour. Her name is Dorling and she is Nicaraguan just like the other 85% of the people who live in Tortuguero, but she has lived in Costa Rica for 12 years. I'm not sure how we even got on the topic, but we started talking about the history of Costa Rica. I could tell that Abby and Caitlin were thinking the same thing as me: wow, this woman is really intelligent...why is she working in a coffee shop? I'm not sure about her past, but we found out that she writes stories about the history of Central America, both fact and fiction. While talking to her, I had one of those moments that come every once in a while when I suddenly realize, wow this is all happening in Spanish. It was really nice talking to her and we made plans to stop by on Sunday morning before we left to eat some more of her wonderful banana bread.

We then met Lucia and Hannah for dinner at a restaurant that served Caribbean food. It was one of the best meals I have had here yet. I ate "rice and beans" with coconut milk, the most flavorful and tender roast chicken, and a variety of typical Costa Rican vegetables. Mmm, I am getting hungry just thinking about it. It was certainly a pleasant ending to a great weekend. I can now check off on my list that I have been to the Caribbean side of the country and seen turtles up close and personal. I am planning my next trip to the opposite side of the country in Guanacaste, "si Dios quiere" (if God wants), as the ticans would say.

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