Saturday, December 17, 2005

From Monteverde to Playa Langosta, Costa Rica (11/11/04 - 11/24/04)

We arrived at Playa Langosta, Costa Rica hot, sweaty and frustrated from a bus ride that took 2 and a half hours longer than it was supposed to on Monday (11/15/04). Our late arrival meant not only that we'd eat lunch late (not good for the half of the group that gets cranky when blood sugar levels drop - or for the other half who have to deal with us either, now that I think about it), but also that our representative from MINAE (Ministerio de Ambiente y Energia) would not be there to meet us at the drop-off/pick-up point. By time we finally find the camp site, drop our backpacks on the filthy linen-less bunk beds, and find out that there is 1 cold shower for the 17 of us at the campsite there is a sufficient amount of frustration, crankiness and disappointment in the air.

Dormitory, Playa Langosta, Costa Rica  Posted by Picasa

During the orientation that followed lunch we learned that the population is so dangerously low that if no action is taken to protect the eggs from poachers and the adults from commercial shrimp nets and fishing lines, the Pacific leatherback will be extinct in less than 10 years. We also learned that the peak season for leatherback turtles to come ashore to lay their eggs is December to January, and that the group that was just there for 10 days had seen none, so we weren't expecting much for our 10 days either.

The 7 members of the group who patrolled the beach from 8:00PM to 1:00AM Monday night saw no signs of turtles. And while group morale was better (after a good night's sleep) for the 7 of us who removed invasive species from prime nesting areas the following morning, the overall sentiments within the group were of doubt and disappointment. After all, we were all looking forward to seeing the majestic leatherback sea turtles which can grow up to 6 feet long, but the biggest animals we had seen to date were the 3 foot long iguanas that hung out near the kitchen at the campsite.

Kitchen Iguanas, Playa Langosta, Costa Rica Posted by Picasa

Everything changed Tuesday night. It was AWE-some (in the truest sense of the word)!

As we were patrolling the beach 2 evenings later the park ranger called us to a halt and pointed to the distance, "Es una baula," he whispered. We could barely control our excitement as we were witnessing part of the cycle of life in action.

The mother leatherback takes about an hour and a half to complete a 7 step process that is amazing to witness. First it drags itself from the surf and crawl up to 70 yards to the dry sand. Next it digs a body pit meant to support it while it does the work of digging the egg chamber (step 3) and laying the eggs (step 4). It then covers the eggs, camouflages the nest, and heads back to sea.

Most amazing in the process was realizing just how dexterous the hind flippers are. They actually use them like hands to dig an egg chamber the circumference of which is about that of a 1 gallon milk jug, and as deep as my arm length. The tips of the flippers curl like the fingers of a hand and they take great care digging the nest. The camouflaging that took place after the eggs were laid was also impressive. The only real predators that they have to worry about are humans, and the job they do is such that if you weren't there to see exactly where she laid the eggs you could spend a good hour digging up a 10 yard by 10 yard patch of beach trying to find them.

During the time that she's actually dropping the 70 fertilized eggs and 30 infertile ones (to protect and insulate the fertilized ones) she falls into a trance. That's when we sprang into action: measuring her, checking to see if she's tagged (injecting her with a rice grained sized microchip if she's not), measuring the depth and width of the egg chamber, catching the eggs (to transport them to a safer spot if she's chosen a dangerous one), etc.

Invasive species removal has always been a dreaded phrase in all my years of community service with AmeriCorps-NCCC. Corps Members often had trouble realizing how laboring in the heat to remove plants that will "just grow back in less than a year," was helping native plants and animals. But after having seen this beautiful animal labor to ensure the survival of her species in a nesting area that we had just cleared of invasive plants, we were now invigorated: happy to be an active part of the solution.

We're still working late shifts (e.g. 11:00PM - 5:00AM), but life on the beach is alright! I haven't worn shoes for a week. I play soccer with Costa Rican construction workers (my kind of people) on the beach every other afternoon, and jump in the ocean to cool off after matches. And the sunsets are beautiful. Yeah, still having a good time!

Sunset, Playa Langosta, Costa Rica Posted by Picasa

Oh, and I almost forgot to talk about everything else between here and Antigua.

Hanging from and cruising along the zip lines in the tree canopy of Monteverde was a lot of fun, but I think the highlight of my time in that part of Costa Rica was observing a family of howler monkeys hanging out in the trees just a few yards above the sky bridge I was on. I've never been fond of zoos. Have yet to visit one where the animals truly seem free. So this was the epitome of animal observation for me. A family just doing their thing as if I wasn't there. There was a baby on the back of one of the adult monkeys. Once the adult made it to a nest the baby climbed off the back and climbed across several branches to the back of another adult. The second adult jumped from one tree to the next until it joined another group, some of which were grooming one another, others of which were sleeping and lounging. I once again felt like I had stepped into one of those Discovery Channel programs on nature and animals. Cool.

Monkey Family, Monteverde, Costa Rica Posted by Picasa

From Monteverde we went to La Fortuna to soak in the hot springs warmed by Arenal, the active volcano nearby. I caught a cold in Monteverde, but mom and Mom (i.e. Mother Nature) helped me get rid of it in 2 days. Mom (and dad) always taught me that live foods and liquids are the best way to fight colds. So I cut out the meat and dairy products and LOADED up on fresh fruits and vegetables, and drank plenty of water, juices, teas and soups. Then there is the idea that the feminine face of God (i.e. the nurturing aspects, as presented by Paulo Coelho) is present in environmental water. So mom's advice, and Mother Nature's embrace in the hot springs did the trick. (See Inca Trail to Machu Picchu entry)


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