A Miracle on Spindly Flippers

Yesterday was perfect from start to finish.  In the early afternoon we caught a shuttle bus to one of the beaches 45 minutes north of San Juan del Sur.  Because we arrived a few seconds before it took off, the last available seats were in the front cab of the truck, which gave me the opportunity to chat with the driver, a sweet young man named Juan Carlos.  When I joked that he must like his job because of all the young women travelers he shook his head no and told me that the backpacker girls were way too loose — all they wanted to do was drink to excess, get stoned and sleep with a different guy every night.  He wanted no part of that lifestyle.

When we arrived at the beach, the surfers and hostelers settled onto the sand in front of the surf shop.  William and I walked the coastline for about 20 minutes and found a secluded cove with a strip of light golden sand the texture of baby powder and a sea grape tree we could settle under for shade.  We had the area to ourselves so when we plunged into the clean and cool water we peeled off our swimsuits and swam in the buff.  Delightful!  A nap on the beach afterwards was sheer heaven.  What a great way to spend a day!

But it only got better.  Last night was one of the most moving experiences of my life.  At around 8:30 pm we piled onto a bench in the open-sided back of a Land Cruiser and bumped our way over a rutted, narrow dirt road for over an hour.  Dense forest was on either side of us and the tall trees formed an archway above our heads.  The only light was from a full moon and the truck’s headlights; the only sounds the chitters and chirrings of insects.  The air smelled at times like chamomile, at other times like swamp.  When we forded a couple of streams the sound of the truck splashing through the water was riveting.  I felt like Indiana Jones!

After we reached La Flor Sea Turtle Reserve, we walked along the 2 km. beach in the dark, searching for Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings.  It only took a few minutes before we spotted our first tiny little baby turtle the size of two silver dollars slowly making its way on spindly flippers toward the ocean.   What a sight!  This fragile, endangered little creature making the same journey its ancestors have been making for over 150 million years.  The sight brought tears to William’s and my eyes.

Baby turtles were everywhere, slowly marching toward the sea.  Marcela herded us up the beach about 75 yards from the waterline and asked us to sit silently.  She shone an infrared light and we waited, lulled by the rhythmic sound of the waves crashing against the shore.  In a little while there was a stirring of sand and up popped the first hatchling from a nest.  Baby turtles suddenly poured out of the hole like bees coming out of a hive.  5, 10, 15, 25, 50, 75, 100 of the prehistoric creatures emerged from the hole and began their marathon-length journey toward the sea.  I followed the first one as he/she navigated its way to the water.  It took a half-hour for this exhausted little hatchling to reach its destination, and there are no words to describe the feeling I had as I watched it disappear into the sea, the first part of its journey achieved, but with such long odds against it surviving to adulthood.  Only 1 out of every 1,000 hatchlings reach maturity.  Still, it had made it this far.  Up and down the beach were the bodies of hatchlings that had perished before ever tasting the salty waters of their homeland.  I felt profoundly elated that my little friend had succeeded so far, and as the tide carried it to the next stage of its life I silently wished it “safari njema” (safe journey in Swahili).  And as we walked back up the beach, under a full moon and a sky bright with stars, I gave a prayer of thanks that William and I been privileged to witness this miracle.

Peace & Blessings,