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08 January 2012

Tortuguero, Costa Rica; a natural wonderland

I recently had the privilege of visiting Tortuguero (loosely translate to “turtle land”), a small village and national park isolated in Costa Rica’s northwestern corner. The first thing that struck me upon arriving at Moin is that the road abruptly ends. From Moin the journey continues by boat as there are no roads leading to, or in the Village of Tortuguero. The boat ride up the Canals of Tortuguero National Park was amazing. Wildlife is abundant in this area, with three species of monkey in the trees, mellow manatees and snappy crocodile in the waters and beautiful toucans in the skies overhead. Unfortunately I was not lucky enough to see the elusive Jaguar, but the real stars of the show were still to come.
The small village of Tortuguero is home to only a little over 1000 people, but the town has many lodging options so there was no problem finding accommodations on the fly. I had left the sounds of cars and buses left long ago. This is a slow paced town where relaxation is the action, and the jungle songs of birds and insects mesh with rolling waves to create a natural feeling almost like traveling back in time.

I strolled along the Coffee colored beach and encountered a few Nesting Hawksbill Turtles. It was an interesting sight as the turtle’s eyes actually tear as they lay their eggs. I forgot to ask why this occurs but I will just go with my notion that they are tears of joy.  I walked about a mile then decided to turn around as I began to get hungry, and a local told me the real action happens after the sun goes down.

I went back to my lodge and booked a guide for a night time turtle tour. One thing to note is that visitors are not allowed on the beach without a guide after 6PM, sadly this is because poachers have stolen the turtle’s eggs pushing some species to the points of near extinction. We set out at 8PM, the guides use special red flashlights which I though was interesting and was told this is because the turtle use the moon as a navigational tool. Regular flashlights confuse the turtles and sometimes force them to return to the sea without laying their eggs.

There were many turtles exiting the sea and slowly crawling up the beach. The first turtle we approached was a massive Leatherback. I never imagined a turtle could be so big, the guide said they can reach lengths of over two meters and weights of 900 kilograms! We stayed a few minutes and watched the soon to be mother dig a hole by swatting away sand with her back flippers. An interesting fact is that Sea Turtles return to their birthplace to lay their eggs. Somehow after years at sea they find the beach where they hatched. This amazed me.

Four species lay their eggs here; Green, Hawksbill, Leatherback and Loggerhead. We had the pleasure of seeing all but the Green Turtle, possibly because our tour got cut a bit short by some scary lightning nearby. We did not get a chance to see the famed “arribada” which is an event that occurs a few times of year in which up to 100,000 turtles come to shore over a short period of time to nest, maybe next time.

All in all Tortuguero was an amazing experience. The naturalism of the area and knowledge of the guides made the trip one I will never forget. To this day the all species of Sea Turtle are either on the threatened or endangered list. Many commercial fishing boats are catching turtles in their nets and poachers are still a major problem. There are many foundations to help Sea Turtle conservation in Tortuguero and around the world. I truly hope they can effectively help preserve this natural wonderland for centuries to come.

Guest Post Written By Matt Ymbras for TV Pura Vida

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