22 September 2013

Costa Rica: Turtle work & the end of week 1

* WARNING - This post is incredibly picture heavy.... I couldn't narrow them down!! *

Turtle work & the end of week 1
Turtle work & the end of week 1
Turtle work & the end of week 1
Turtle work & the end of week 1

The Carate satellite camp was established so that there was a brief period (3 weeks) in which a group of volunteers could focus exclusively on turtle conservation. This involved both beach patrols and hatchery/nest predation prevention work. The two beaches we were working on sadly experienced high levels of human nest predation which meant that it wasn't really safe to patrol the beach at night - so we only ran morning patrols. Although less likely to see turtles on the morning patrols, they're just as important because they provided us with data about how many turtles had come up the beach the night before, whether they'd successfully laid eggs, some indication of what species of turtle had been about and also information about the size of the turtle.

Turtle work & the end of week 1
Turtle work & the end of week 1
Turtle work & the end of week 1
Turtle work & the end of week 1 Turtle work & the end of week 1

Morning patrols left at 5:15, so alarms went off at 4:15 to give us time to have breakfast/pack bags etc before heading out. It sounds (really) early, but because we're in bed not long after dark, I still got plenty of sleep! My first patrol was on Wednesday morning, and I absolutely loved it. Its hard to explain the sense of excitement you get when you see turtle tracks for the first time - even without seeing the turtles themselves, just knowing that they were there is incredible. Whenever we found tracks we recorded the following information: the sector (all beaches we worked on were split into 'sectors' of 0.1km), width of the tracks, whether the tracks were symmetrical or asymmetrical (which gives an indication of the species) and if the female was successful in laying eggs, or if it was a 'false crawl'. Female turtles are incredibly picky about their nesting sites, and they often dig several holes before they find a satisfactory nest site. If the turtle had nested then we recorded the distance of the nest from the sea, and also from the vegetation. All of the data we collected was fed back into an international turtle database to try and improve global understanding of their nesting behaviour - which was really rewarding because it actually felt like we were contributing to something 'bigger' that had wider significance.

Turtle work & the end of week 1 Turtle work & the end of week 1 Turtle work & the end of week 1 Turtle work & the end of week 1 Turtle work & the end of week 1

The other work we did was centred around protecting nests and maximising the chances of  eggs hatching and the young surviving. On Wednesday afternoon we walked down to one of the eco-lodges by the beach - a place called Finca Exotica. There we were introduced to the local turtle conservation programme Cotorco and a woman called Phoebe Edge, who devotes her life to sea turtle conservation. Listening to her talk about the work she does was truly inspirational - I have a lot of respect for people who dedicate their lives to their passion like she has. She spent an hour or so chatting to us about all things turtle & then we wandered down to start work on turtle meshes. The name is a bit misleading, they're more like grids than meshes - made out of bamboo and held together with wire. They're placed over nests to prevent dogs digging the eggs up, which is a really serious problem - particularly on beaches where dogs are just allowed to roam free. Mesh-making was hot, hard and itchy work. Sawing through bamboo, splitting it with machetes and then tying it all together - but we soon got into a rhythm and started making them up pretty quickly. Such a simple idea, but it really does make the world of difference!

Turtle work & the end of week 1 Turtle work & the end of week 1 Turtle work & the end of week 1 Turtle work & the end of week 1 Turtle work & the end of week 1

Thursday morning was spent clearing the hatchery of vegetation ready for it to be used this year. Nests that are considered 'vulnerable' will be moved to the hatchery for the incubation period and then returned to the nest site just before they're ready to hatch. Its really important for baby sea turtles to make the journey from the nest to the oceans by themselves - they pick up chemical cues from the sand that then enables them to return to the same beach when they themselves are ready to nest. So each time a nest is moved, the position of the nest is recorded and the hatchery is divided into grid squares so the eggs can be returned exactly where they were initially laid. Once the hatchery is up and running, there is a community initiative which pays local people to 'guard' the hatchery - thereby discouraging poachers and encouraging local people to make an income from protecting turtles rather than exploiting them. Its a fantastic example of community engagement in conservation work and it seems to be working excellently.

Turtle work & the end of week 1 Turtle work & the end of week 1 Turtle work & the end of week 1 Turtle work & the end of week 1 Turtle work & the end of week 1 Turtle work & the end of week 1

On Friday afternoon before we headed to mesh-making, one of the local guys (Fernando) took us on a walk for no particular reason. It was ridiculously uphill the whole way - the kind of uphill where you need your hands to help you up. By the time we'd finished climbing we were level with circling vultures and the views were absolutely incredible. Rainforest and ocean was all I could see.

Turtle work & the end of week 1 Turtle work & the end of week 1 Turtle work & the end of week 1 Turtle work & the end of week 1 Turtle work & the end of week 1 Turtle work & the end of week 1

Saturday morning it was time to leave! Time was odd the whole time I was out there, each day seemed to last forever but the weeks absolutely flew by. I know that makes absolutely no sense, but its just how it worked. Okay?!

If you have any questions about sea turtles then please feel free to ask! 

10 September 2013

Costa Rica: The first day at Carate

Tuesday morning. My first time waking up in the jungle. I'd slept a lot better than I thought I would, and when my alarm went off at 5am I was good to go. I was part of a group being sent down to a satellite camp further west along the coast at Carate, and the collectivo goes in that direction anywhere between 6:30 and 7am. With the exception of milk powder and cheese occasionally on a friday, we were a vegan camp - so breakfast consisted of porridge made with hot water. I put far too much water in my bowl & so it resembled oat soup more than anything else... tasty.

The first day at Carate
Waiting at the collectivo stop// Views from the collectivo

This time I was determined to actually be able to see something from the collectivo, so I hopped (climbed) in first and staked out a place at the front. There were already a fair few people in the back, so I didn't get a seat - but standing was perfect. The back of the truck was just high enough that I could see over the cab, so I had a pretty amazing view. The ride to Carate was just over an hour, but it didn't seem that long at all - there was so much to see. Jungle gave way to farmland as the landscape flattened, then we were back into the jungle as we headed further away from civilisation and towards the ocean once again. The camp at Carate only ran for a few weeks (three I think?) so I was really lucky to get the chance to stay there. Carate is much closer to Corcovado National Park than the main camp at Piro, so although the wildlife seen there is pretty much the same - everything is so much more abundant. Its incredible how much difference a few miles can make.

The first day at Carate The first day at Carate The first day at Carate
Carate beach

The actual 'camp' at Carate was the staff house of an eco-lodge, so we stayed 'indoors' and slept on bunkbeds. I say indoors... but most of the walls were actually just mesh, so it still felt like you were outside. I think the mesh was supposed to keep the bugs out, but it wasn't that successful! After ditching our stuff in our respective rooms, we headed down to the beach for a beach clean-up. (I'll be writing more about this later, because I feel that it deserves its own post - its something that really got to me while I was out there.) The walk to the beach was about 1/2 hour along the road through the forest, and I found it stunning every single time I walked it. Although it was overcast, it was still hot (even at 9am!), but the fact I was a hot mess didn't really bother me because the views I had were absolutely unreal. We didn't spend long on the beach - just short of two hours, but we filled several rubbish sacks and walked a couple of kilometres before heading back for lunch.
The first day at Carate
The first day at Carate

The first day at Carate
A Halloween/Moon crab shell I found on the beach - the colours are amazing! // Leafcutter ants going about their business // There is colour everywhere in the forest

Lunch was followed by a long walk in which we attempted to locate a waterfall that one of the locals had mentioned - unfortunately we were unsuccessful but it was my first real walk in the forest and I couldn't get over how many different shades of green there were. So beautiful. I spent most of the walk wishing I knew more about tropical plants and birds so that I could identify what I was seeing! On the way back to camp, I saw my first group of monkeys - Squirrel monkeys - it was unbelievably surreal to look up and see them swinging around. I loved the fact that they seemed just as fascinated by us as we were by them
The first day at Carate
The first day at Carate
The first day at Carate
Squirrel monkeys! // So many shades of green

04 September 2013

Peurto Jimenez & a first look at camp

The start of the story The start of the story_MG_6556 Peurto Jimenez - Costa Rica
1-3 = more pictures from the plane window, left is the view from my tent & right the view from where I sat in Carolina's

Landing in Peurto Jimenez was an interesting experience. We were flying over the sea, started heading towards land and then all of a sudden we were flying crazy low over the forest and then sort of fell out of the sky onto a runway the other side of the trees. I loved it. The 'airport' was a runway, surrounded by a chain-link fence and once the pilots had handed us our luggage, we let ourselves off the runway. We were met by one of the camp staff - Elle - who was absolutely fantastic and one of the most hilarious people I've ever met. Loved her. We hung around a bit at the 'airport' for the next flight to get in - there are two airlines that fly internally to PJ and the next couple of people had flown on a different airline to us. Once the troops were assembled Elle walked us to the main street, which isn't really too far from all the other streets because they don't really have a whole lot of town there. A short walk it may have been, but the combination of the heat and carrying two (heavy) rucksacks made it feel like I'd walked for approximately 473 hours by the time we got to the restaurant.

The last picture (on the right) shows the view from the restaurant - I loved the fact that all of the buildings were so open there. Even 'inside' felt like outside because you were seldom shut away completely. The restaurant/cafe we stopped at is called Carolina's and served the best lemonade I've ever tasted. If you ever happen to be in Peurto Jimenez, I highly recommend it - and the food is good too. There was even free WiFi so I had the chance to check in with home and let Mum know I'd got there safely.

We'd missed the morning collectivo (local bus) so we had to hang around until half one (ish) to catch the other one our of town. Elle advised us to buy plenty of snacks & wellies if we could get hold of them, so we headed to the supermarket to stock up. At just gone 1, we all piled onto the collectivo with our stuff to head to camp for the very first time. Piled is definitely the most accurate description, the collectivo was basically a cattle truck with benches along the side, but the amount of people and stuff that squeezed on was incredible. The ride to camp was just over an hour, and I was stuck right in the middle of the collectivo so I didn't really see a great deal. I even missed out on a sloth. A sloth. Disappointed does not even begin to cover it!

Once we arrived at camp we didn't really have another moment to ourselves! We arrived about 14:45 and the rest of the afternoon was taken up with presentations by the head of science and OSA Conservation  who we would be working quite closely with. The evening went by in a bit of a blur - I don't really remember it that well! I do remember that Pip and I were in a tent by half 7 and that I refused to get up to go to the loo in the night because I was paranoid about standing on a snake.

02 September 2013

The start of the story

I'm not really 100% where to start with this whole 'getting back into blogging' thing, 8 weeks is a long time to be away in a world where things are old as soon as you hit publish. More than that, I'm not really sure where to even start - I've had the most incredible experiences, met amazing people, seen things I never could have imagined seeing and I feel like I've been on a journey that's far deeper than just miles physically travelled. If I'm honest, my uncertainty about where to start is more of an uncertainty about whether I can find the words that do the memories justice. And there are so, so, many memories. And so many pictures.

So I'm starting at the beginning, and I'm not sure how long this story will take to tell.  More likely than not it'll be governed by how quickly I sort through the pictures (probably slowly). Having said that, there are less pictures than I anticipated, particularly of Costa Rica. Still a lot, because old habits die hard, but less than I thought for sure. Some parts of the world are just better when you're not seeing them through a viewfinder. Sometimes living the moment is more important than recording it, y'know?

The start of the story The start of the story The start of the story The start of the story The start of the story

I left England from Heathrow airport on Sunday 30th June at 12:15, on the aisle seat of the centre row of a Boeing 777, flight number AA39 and bound for Miami International. Remember how I met some of the people I was going with in London over Easter? I met Scott just before security & after an awkward 5 minutes where we both stood there trying to figure out if it was indeed the right person we said goodbye to our respective families and cleared security. I remember the whole morning, the drive to the airport, the coffee with Mum and Kev as a bit of a blur - I'd spent a year looking forward to this trip and after months of planning the last few weeks seemed to rush away and I was suddenly standing in an airport.

We met another couple of girls in the departures lounge, grabbed a meal deal from Boots and then stood in front of the departure boards waiting for our gate to be announced for approximately 400 hours. True story. Flight 1/11 was a good one, I was sat next to a really friendly couple on their honeymoon (also headed to Costa Rica) and although I missed out on lunch (don't eat your meal deal 5 minutes before they serve lunch, you won't be hungry...), dinner was actually pretty tasty.

We had just over 2 hours in Miami, but by the time we'd cleared immigration, gone through baggage control and re-checked our bags through to Miami there wasn't much of it left. One thing this whole experience has taught me is that time is weird in airports, I'm convinced they are magical places that do strange things to the passage of time. At the gate for flight 2 (Miami > San Jose) we met up with another 3 people & headed for San Jose. It was a shorter flight but seemed to take just as long as the last one, maybe because I'd been travelling all day but I think anticipation had a lot to do with it as well! By the time we landed in San Jose I was tired & so glad that I'd booked an airport hotel. My rucksack even had its own double bed ;)

My alarm call came too early Monday morning & I'm not entirely sure whether I answered the phone properly or just mumbled incoherent rubbish at the poor receptionist. Oops. The internal flight I was catching left at 8:20, we met for breakfast at 6:30 & caught the shuttle to the airport so we were there an hour in advance. We didn't need to be there an hour in advance. Nope. Calling it an airport is a bit of a stretch to be fair... While we were in the 'departures lounge' I was conned out of 13p by a security officer who "wanted to see what English money looked like". Lies. Our plane was small (it had a propeller!) and the flight was short - but amazing. It was my first real look at Costa Rica, and we flew low enough that we could see the ground the whole way. We flew beside mountains and over forest, across fields and over the ocean. It was hands down the best flight I've ever been on, I think I'm definitely a fan of small planes!

Camera's were allowed and it took me a fair while to whittle down those 'out the plane window' shots, I tell you. Tough stuff. There is so much I could write about sorting through pictures and deciding what to keep, but I'll save that for another day ;)
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