AdventureCentral AmericaNicaragua

Friday, November 28, 2008 – San Juan del Sur

Sunrise brought the sound of howler monkeys swinging through the trees. I mean, really. Life is hard and someone must put up with these difficulties. *sigh* I suppose we’ll have to make due with such atrocities as furry, noisy neighbors, along with the sound of the waves breaking on the beach and the occasional breeze ruffling the mosquito net around the bed. It’s a real hardship.

Mirielle had prepared a lovely breakfast of eggs, fruit, yogurt, and toast. We filled up because we needed our energy for the tough day ahead at the beach.

Day at the Beach
We walked to an edge of the Playa Maderas and found a spot near one of the few trees on the beach so we’d have some shade when we needed it. But soon we were getting sand blasted by wind and eventually moved past the rocks to Playa Mathilda again. There we sat for the rest of the morning and into the afternoon.


Shannon, Mark, and Mirielle on the beach

We had lunch at the little hostel/shack on the beach and topped it off with delicious smoothies, and then went back to the hotel to shower and prepare for the evening activities – the turtle sanctuary at Le Flor. But first we had to get there.

San Juan del Sur
The BVSC was about 30 minutes outside the town of San Juan del Sur, and to get there we had to catch the free 5:00 shuttle from Playa Maderas to the main hostel in town. “Shuttle” is actually a kind word since it was more of a truck with bench seats thrown in the back of it, but it was designed specifically to transport surfers and their boards between the beach and the town. Not exactly comfortable, but we decided to call this our “chicken bus ride” – since we weren’t going to have the opportunity (or the time) to ride on a chicken bus during our trip.

Mindy and Shannon on the bus/truck

Sunset from the truck

It was bumpy but fun, and we chose the correct side of the bus since we got to enjoy the gorgeous colors of the sunset the entire ride, not to mention the witty repartee of the Aussies next to us.

La Flor Turtle Refuge
At the hostel Casa Oro we checked in for our 7:00 turtle tour, but we had a quick hour to grab a bite to eat. The hostel referred us to a pizza place down the street and we shared some really delicious cheese and pepperoni pizzas. Then we headed back for our turtle briefing.

Waiting for the briefing to start
La Flor is the local turtle refuge where sea turtles – the majority being Olive Ridley sea turtles – come to dig their nests, lay their eggs, and hatch. They usually come in “arrivals” sometimes thousands of turtles strong, but during the season they often arrive in ones and twos during the night to do their thing. We were given a full briefing on how to act at the refuge: don’t touch, keep your distance, keep your voices down, no white lights or flashes at all, use only the red flashlights we were given at the hostel, and – by all means – watch where we step! And we were all but guaranteed to see both an adult come to land and hatchlings make their way to the ocean.

No flash of course means no pictures of turtles, so I’ll try to make up for it with internet pictures and descriptive rhetoric…

The drive to La Flor was half the effort, though. The refuge was 45-60 minutes down a dark, bumpy, unpaved road in the back of the same bench-seated-truck that brought us to the hostel. It was a long, long drive and though Mindy and Shannon tried to make it fun by calling it a Nicaraguan Safari (“Look! It’s a rare Nicaraguan cow!”), we were ready to be off the truck when it finally arrived.

The Truck

Back of the truck

We walked down a path to the beach with a basket full of olive ridley hatchlings from the ranger station – they do some controlled hatch and releases to help the turtle population – and we set them free. Between the three of us we only had one red flashlight, and those little guys sure did travel fast so we stuck close together to ensure we wouldn’t step on any. And eventually we adopted one and followed him all the way to the waterline where the waves swept him into the ocean.

Turtle eggs have a 1 in 1000 chance of hatching and surviving to adulthood. We hope our little guy makes the odds.

An Olive Ridley Sea Turltle
(totally not my picture – stole it from Google)
After all the hatchlings were off and swimming, our guide took us further down the beach to search for an adult turtle who was here to lay her nest. We followed him quietly until he stopped us and had us line up in a line. There on the beach was a dark half-shell slowly progressing from the waves. Remember we had no lights aside from the sky but we could see her dark profile travel up the slope of the wet sand until she reached the dry area protected from the waves. We sat on the beach and waited for 20 minutes while she found her spot and dug her nest, and eventually our guide led us closer so we could quietly gather behind and, using his red flashlight, watch her lay her eggs. It was pretty incredible since we’re never likely to see something like that ever again.

Now, what I didn’t mention is that while we sat and waited for the Momma Turtle to walk up the beach, I asked Mindy and Shannon, “Um, do either of you feel a little sick from the pizza?”
Shannon: “Not sick, though I might have a little heartburn. Is that what you’re feeling?
Me: “No. I feel sick.”
Mindy: “Like, nauseous sick?”
Me: “Yeah. Definitely nauseous.”

I did some deep breathing but as the minutes ticked by the worse I felt. Not long after we had gathered to watch the turtle lay her eggs, I tapped Shannon on the arm, “Um, I’m going to be sick and I’m not sure where to do it.” We were in a turtle refuge and I really didn’t want to get sick on someone’s nest. So she quietly asked the guide who pointed me toward the trees. And off I went. Ick.

So the long, long bumpy bus ride back to town wasn’t much fun. I sat in the front of the truck this time with a British woman named Emma who was 12 weeks pregnant and who very graciously talked to me for distraction. It worked very well until the last 10 minutes when I had to get the driver to pull over. There’s nothing quite as humbling as throwing up in front of a busload of people. (But as Shannon later pointed out, “A busload of people you’ll never see again.”)

Rough Night
Without going into the gory details, let’s just say it was a rough night. And at one point, while I was dodging the little red-legged crabs and the roaches in outside toilet, I was reminded of the other times I’ve been truly ill on a trip. It doesn’t happen often, but when it has it’s never been in the comfort of a normal, western-style hotel room. Not even once. And not that anyone else cares, but it’s my journal and I thought it was funny (at the time) to inventory those instances: the hostel in Tibet where the bathroom was down the hall and down a flight of stairs; the boat trip to Cocos where I didn’t want to wake Eric in our little cabin so I’d race up the stairs to the one in the main lounge; the mountain bike trip through Botswana; and a visit to Turkey, long before the online journaling began. So not too many – but always, always, always in an inconvenient location. Just like this one with its outdoor toilets and overabundance of bugs and crabs. Chalk it up to another adventure!