Contributor

Costa Rica: My Experience

ANNA JOHNSON

Adrenaline overcame me as the first mama turtle swam ashore to lay her eggs. She was so peaceful and majestic as she moved her miraculous flippers one after the other, slowly making her way to the top of the beach to lay her eggs. She flicked sand behind her while she grunted making a hole for her nest. She was entirely unfazed as we measured her shell, 67 centimeters. She began to lay her eggs, entering a state of trance, and we collected them, one by one, counting out loud as we carefully placed them into the bag. The deflated ping-pong ball-like eggs were so fragile, I was petrified I was going to break one. But, I didn’t, and I got used to their fragileness throughout the 5 night walks I embarked upon. This past August I traveled to Costa Rica to participate in the Turtle Conservation Project.improve the hook I’ve always been an independent and adventurous person, so I wasn’t scared at all, just extremely excited. I imagined seeing unique and breathtaking sights, having thrilling adventures, and getting a little bit dirty. Most of my expectations came true, but what I didn’t realize was what I would take away and bring home into my everyday life from this experience. 

It wasn’t until we arrived to the Park Ranger Station in Punta Mala, a National Wildlife Refuge, that I realized how “rustic” this trip truly was. We couldn’t take the bus all the way to the house. We walked 10 minutes in sheets of rain and ankle deep mud while dragging our luggage and lugging our day backpacks on our backs; welcome to Costa Rica! On the house tour, I was immediately struck by the functional simplicity of life there; gutters drained into rain buckets that served to rinse off your feet before entering the house, hammocks (where I took the best naps of my life) lined one side of the house, soccer balls laid in the grass. 

Some of the “simplicity” did take some getting used to though: any quick or sudden motion upstairs would shake the whole house, showers were cold, dead bugs covered the top of the mosquito nets we slept under, and you had to watch your step for iguana poop. Sometimes you might even find an iguana in your shower with you. Or, like me, a little salamander would drop from the ceiling an inch from your head. 

We stayed at this ranger station most days, except for the weekend, when we traveled to local towns and did various activities. Saturday brought a trip to Jacó to go surfing, ziplining, and shopping. I’d already been surfing, but it’s always a fun time. Ziplining, however, was thrilling. I love heights, so with the 10 cable zipline, the feeling of floating through the jungle, and the excitement of leaning back and doing the “look mom, no hands,” was exhilarating. Sunday, we traveled to the Savegre (Savage) River, the cleanest river in Latin America, for white water rafting and relaxing in an incredible waterfall. Being the daredevil I am, naturally, I went to the front of the raft to face the Class 4 Rapids. “Forward, forward, faster,” our tour guide would yell as we approached a corner of rocky, choppy rapids. The raft dipped forward and I was drenched with water. Show instead of tell – these sound incredible! Paint a pic for reader

The most meaningful part of the trip for me, however, were the night walks. Every night, we walked the beach searching for mama turtles laying their eggs, or nests. We recorded the length of the turtle’s shell, length from the water and from the vegetation, and collected and counted the number of eggs in the nest. We also released hatchlings into the water, and watched them to the water to protect from predators. After each walk, the collected eggs would be relocated to a hatchery where they would be safe from predators. I had an emotional moment when we came across a nest that had been eaten by a racoon. It made me realize how important the work we were doing was to the survival of the turtles. The night walks also made me appreciate being off the grid. It’s easy to look past the little things, like a clear night sky, the sound of near silence while crickets chirp in the background, the softness of each single grain of sand, the sound of the powerful waves crashing on the beach. There was a particularly clear night, you could see every star in the sky. I laid down on the beach to take a rest as it was the other group’s turn, and just looked at the stars and listened to the waves crash. As cliché as it sounds, as I watched the mama turtle return to the water, I felt more connected to nature and felt like nothing else in the world mattered other than that particular moment. awesome

The trip was very physically demanding as well. We dug a trench to drain water from a river into the ocean so the hatchery wouldn’t flood as well as made baskets for the hatchery to enclose each nest. Not to mention, all the work we did was harder because we were all sleep deprived from being woken up every night for a night walk. 

Not only did I bring home new experiences, but I brought home new knowledge and understanding with me as well. One night, we watched videos and discussed the problem of plastics and participated in a beach cleanup. Although I had already been a freak about not using plastics prior to this trip, I came home feeling inspired by these other people who shared this passion to continue to rid my life of plastic and do what I could to help others do the same. yes!I made a promise to switch all of my face, shower, and hair products to those that don’t contain microplastics. 

But more important than the lessons and learning was feeling like my voice mattered. That was my greatest takeaway. That, I couldn’t pack in my luggage.

Now that I had this experience working with turtles firsthand to see how hard survival is without human interference, I felt obligated to help others realize the harm of plastics too, which I hadn’t had the courage to do before. yes!!!

This trip would stick with me forever: the new friends, knowledge, memories, and unique experiences. My life is forever changed by the experience of working with these amazing creatures. I brought home a new passion for the environment, turtles, and cleanliness. Oh, and E.coli too!

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