I go surfing and turtle-saving in Costa Rica

Hopefully there will be a few extra turtles in this world thanks to my not really very considerable efforts. A three week surf-and-turtle conservation project in Costa Rica must have saved at least one of the little critters.

Not only did your intrepid turtle tackler put her back into creating a hatchery ready for the young ‘uns but there was a wee bit of surfing involved in the trip too, which is lucky as this site is about sport and this is the tenuous link I’m using to warrant sticking this blog in…

A new-found friend carries my rucksack across the alligator-invested river

“I can get you as far as the river but then you’re on your own until you get to the camp,” said the rep from i-to-i, the company with whom I’d travelled to the west coast of Costa Rica.

On transferring to the camp I knew one situation was looming but now it was here.

‘It’ being hoiking one large, supremely heavy rucksack on one’s head, then crossing the waste-deep river… with alligators in it.

“But it’s okay because they live up the other end of the river,” we were told. Alrighty then.

The ‘accommodation’, which we continued to build in our spare time

Safely negotiated and a mile of traipsing through hot sand later and I’d arrived at the beach-side ‘accommodation’… which I’d be helping to continue building.

Shell on the beach
Previous volunteers had got it to the bare bones of a two-storey shack on which I’d spend the next two weeks hammering in boards to make the first outside wall, with two other volunteers.

Troops were depleted because we were there out of season.

The reason for the trip was to help them-there turtley fellas breed to survive, what with the locals slow to adapt to an income derived from keeping them in abundance for tourists rather than sticking them in soups. This made for a rather odd nightly tidal turtle check.

As the tide went out, the volunteers, led by the locals who ran the camp, would stroll up and down the mile-long beach – shining our lights into the eyes of the aforementioned alligators up t’other end of the river – checking for any turtle activity and collecting the fragile table-tennis-sized eggs to put in the safety of the hatchery back at camp.

Ninjas and turtles
Meanwhile, the poachers’ bright white torchlights – ours were infra-red so as not to disturb the turtles – could be seen flickering eerily in and around the beachside bush.

Oddly, the locals running the camp would often catch up with the poachers in the pub for a quick natter later on.

Building the turtle hatchery was back-breaking, hot work, so I took photos of other people doing it

Having arrived out of the main turtle season, the day’s work was focused on building the hatchery instead of shepherding newly hatched turtles toward the sea.

Set back from the beach so the baby turtles could still drag themselves to the sea, vital for them to be able to develop their lungs, we’d dig holes, arm’s-length deep, bag up the sand, trudge to the beach to empty the sack – and repeat (pic left).

All in roaring heat, which pervades every pore, even in the sunrise or sunset shifts.

We were surf goddesses before long

Lunch break
A long lunch enabled avoidance of the scorching mid-day heat to eat, sleep and… surf.

Our beach, Buena Vista, was not a tourist destination or even really on any map.

The surf was way too dangerous even for a cooling dip, so we headed back to the river, crossed it, and walked – or hitched if we got lucky – an hour to the beach up the road for the surf lessons.

We’d been told that straight after the surf lessons we mustn’t dawdle as we were there to work, so with sea spray drying quickly on our backs after the lesson, we’d tramp back to camp.

Pots and pans ready to wash up, watched by a horse, obvs

After a long nap and a few games of cards it was back to the hatchery for a couple of hours bagging sand before dinner.

Fried banana fritters, rice and salad was wolfed down by us now ravenous campers.

Room with a view
Washing up often took place eyeball to eyeball with one of the horses or cows who’d come to drink from our precious water, which spilled onto the dusty turf creating a mini stream.

With no running water at the camp, we took turns to traipse a mile up the beach – yep alligator side again – to where there was a tap.

Back at camp everyone had stockpiled every receptacle going to collect water and the switcher-onner would turn the tap on, sit back and relax before turning the tap off an hour later.

Every pot, pan and bucket was filled ready for washing, cooking and drinking for the next few days while water from a well was pumped out for use in the shed-housed showers.

I loved every minute of the rewarding, fun-filled, back-breaking, beach-side living, and you feel good because you’re doing your bit to help those turtley-types. As long as you don’t take out a few while surfing, that is…

More GoJo: Sport Travelogues
What goes on a netball tour, stays on a netball tour
Bear claws and cat paws – wintersports just got interesting
Is there such a thing as an affordable luxury ski trip?

Author: Jo Gunston

Roving blogging superfan shares behind the scenes stories of her sports life and the best of those from like-minded souls.

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