Got up early today to meet the driver Jorge. He was there right at 7 a.m., with a big van for just the four of us. We drove out through Braulio Carillo National Park to HWY 32 (stopping for rice and beans along the way, of course!), through Guapiles and Siquirres, through Matina and the banana plantations to a boat dock. After a few minutes waiting, a Pacuare staff member picked us up in a motor boat. The ride through the canal was beautiful and we got to know Kate, a volunteer that was there for two weeks, who had come along for the ride.
The Pacuare Reserve was an amazing place. There's the lodge, where we stayed, a house for the security team (the guys who walk the beach 24/7), several houses for the volunteer staff, a classroom and a kitchen. The lodge was the nicest, with a great view of the beach and the river, about 10 feet from the start of the rain forest. Huge wrap-around porch with hammocks (they were rarely empty!). Everyone eats together in the kitchen building (daily at 9, 1, and 6, and don't be late!). Lots of vegetarian meals, which I loved. The purpose of the reserve, as I understand it, is first to protect and second to study the leatherback and green turtles that nest in the area. There are real research opportunities there, and I learned there are international turtle conferences yearly where people share info. The directors, Scott and Sara, and all the folks there are really organized and focused on their work -- and there's so much to do.
About an hour after we got there, we were asked to accompany two volunteers on an excavation. This is where they dig up a nest that has already hatched and count the eggs in categories (hatched, and not hatched but: fertilized, not fertilzed, and some more fine categories). The digging is done by hand, scooping out sand, the eggs and anything else you find down there: crabs, maggots, and turtles that haven't yet made it out of the nest. Some of them are no longer alive, but this day we found six live healthy babies! They are set on the sand to perk up and make their way out to sea. The kids were beside themselves with excitement as each little one crawled across the beach. One with a bent shell they nicknamed Peanut. Another baby had a slightly bent flipper. Hope the little guy or girl made it once they started swimming! I was up to my armpits in sand digging, and the kids helped with the digging, and counting once all the babies made it to the ocean. What a way to start our visit!
That night we went on a patrol with Sara. It's a 7 km round trip up the black sand beach at night with no lights. We did not see much turtle activity. Laying season for the leatherbacks was essentially over, and the green turtles hadn't yet started. We went at this time because the leatherbacks were hatching. However, it was fascinating as she explained about their work at Pacuare, quizzed the kids about turtle facts, and made it a fun walk. It was just us on the dark sand beach with the ocean crashing on one side and all the stars above us.