Thursday, January 29, 2009

Playa Caleta, Costa Rica

It was like walking into an episode of Lost.

A group of strangers cast up on a tropical shore. Paradise it seems, and yet...Certainly there was a number of sunburned, skinny women in bikinis, some intense guys with patchy facial hair. A family of drifters in their midst, hyperactive children, earthy mom but there’s something a half bubble off plumb with dad...

This was all way more interesting than the turtles I came looking for.

In keeping with my newly compromised ethical standards, I opted not to spend days camped out on a sun-scorched beach waiting for little hatchlings to emerge into the bright light of day. I checked around and found an egg recovery team at Playa Caleta. They do the hard work of scouring the beach at night, collecting turtle eggs as they plop out of the mum, then incubate and guard them until they hatch. Then they hand deliver the hatchlings onto the beach and speed their way to the surf.

Wildlife, but with more convenient parameters.

It took five hours driving switchback miles of dust, rocks and sand to find the hatchery. Staffed with volunteers, it still had a vaguely governmental sound to it. I had a mental picture of something like an northwestern salmon hatchery, but with palm trees and tropical colors.

Imagine instead you’re on a plane going down over a mysterious island. The cargo hold is inexplicably filled with hammocks, blue tarp and lentils. This is the place you’d wind up with by the end of the first season. I wandered in dusty and sweaty from the road, but was nonetheless surrounded by eager, hungry eyes. It was as if this lonely band of survivors was awaiting word of impending rescue, or at a minimum the election results. From 2004.

Hermit crabs scuttled under feet, eying the dog's nether bits as he slept in the airless heat. Someone started cooking lentils. My value as a distraction ran it’s course. I sensed a buzz of tension in the air and soon spied a knot of women conferring on the beach. My first and only thought was; somebody’s getting voted off the island.

I came for the turtle hatchlings though, and they were having none of it. I sat for hours until darkness descended before driving back up the coast to my beach lodge. Which was pretty much closed, but they were kind enough to leave a key, and I managed to track down a cold beer or three.

Inexplicably, the only living thing in the place was toad, sitting under the only light in the place, collecting stunned insects off the floor of the bar.

It wasn’t a turtle, but beggars can’t be choosers.


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