Sunday, September 30, 2012

Visa Run Day 1: All's well that ends . . . with a sunset

DISCLAIMER: Alison here . . .  I’m writing a series of guest blogs covering 9/30-10/7 – the dates where Nick, Minh and I joined Vic on his visa run to Nicaragua. It actually times out quite well with the non-working order of Vic’s lap top and the incidental lack of frequent updates! Admittedly, I am a bit intimidated – but will do my best to be as informative and witty as the turtle man himself and stick to the format. Here goes . . . 

Date: Sunday 9/30/12

Location: Nicaragua: Managua, Granada & San Juan del Sur

Word of the day: Hola (I’m just getting started here . . . )

Nicaragua Fact:  During the 1700's, when early Costa Ricans were cutting down rain forests to make grazing prairies for livestock - Nicaraguan rain forests were alive and well! The lack of leveling these trees has resulted in a wilder, more mature rain forest climate in this country than it's neighbor to the South

12:30AM land in Nicaragua, prepared to meet Nick & Vic and begin vacation!
When the plane touches down, it is the first moment I feel a small trace of panic as I realize that I just landed in a foreign country where I do not speak the language and have no way of contacting the two people I am meeting. Calm myself down, de-plane, collect my bags and head to customs. 
In the airport terminal, panic is slightly elevated as I realize I am unable to connect to the airport WiFi and alert the boys I have landed. This is an integral part of the plan in which Nick and Vic will have already rented the car at 7:30PM and I would alert them when I have landed. But nothing.  Eek.
Customs is a breeze and I’m checked in to the country (passport stamp – WOOHOO!) Quickly realize no one here speaks English. Should’ve brushed up on my (non-existent) Spanish.
I collect my bags and head to the final screening area where they will be scanned. After scanning, I will be released into the tropical outdoors of a country I have never seen. My last flickers of panic vanish as I walk through the double doors and immediately see Nick standing there with his bags! Yay! But then I quickly realize something has gone wrong as he is standing there alone – not riding in a car with Vic.
Turns out Nick couldn’t pick up the car since he was not 25 and Vic couldn’t come help out as his license was back in Costa Rica. Nick had to wait for me – but we were easily able to pick up the car together and head on our way!
Using the GPS and a pre-loaded Google Maps site – we attempted to navigate the dark, unmarked and increasingly windy roads of Managua on our way through down and out to the hotel where we are meeting Vic. After doubling back a time or two, and accidentally turning a corner into a group of surly teenagers and their thousand dogs – we finally make it to the hotel at 3AM local time (4AM for me; 5AM for Nick). So happy to see Vic! We all hug and chat and catch up – but eventually give in to tiredness and siesta for a couple hours before breakfast and our first adventure day. 

7AM wake up and head outside to grab some hotel breakfast and coffee. Vic chose a hotel that was run by some local Italian expats, so the food has an interesting Central American/Italian twist. Coffee is delicious, eggs, ciabatta and pastries are filling and yummy. We talk about what we want to do and where we want to go – consulting the Lonely Planet guidebook and our server throughout the meal. 
We decide on driving through Granada, checking out a local volcano hike and then ending in San Juan del Sur where we will try and find a hotel near the beach. In the Southern part where we are driving – things are pretty close together, so we are not looking at too many hours in the car.
After breakfast – we pack up and head out with the GPS set to Granada. We stop at a gasolinera on our way out of town to pick up water and snacks. Nick warns me of his fear that traveling with girls is nothing but complaining, stopping to pee and eating.  I immediately decide that we will get along and that I should drink less water.  

The drive was easy and the well paved road dumped us into the colorful, windy town of Granada. On first approach – you can see the influence of the well-built colonial buildings that welcome you into the city. But this quickly changes into the low rise, one-room buildings obscured by carts and vendors parked out front selling their wares. The streets are filled with throngs of people selling, shopping and buying. We drive along at a crawl navigating through the foot and car traffic, which gives us plenty of time to look around and scope out the town. None of us dare to mention any attempt to get out and observe the madness by foot. 
Through the slow crawl – we somehow find ourselves in the midst of a Sunday church parade through downtown Granada! We happily follow tuba players, banner holders and happy church goers down the main road until we turn off and find an open area to continue on our way to Mombacho (the volcano).
Mombacho is only a few kilometers South of Granada and before we know it, we have purchased a trail map (compliments of Nicks’s Spanish skills) and are waling up a steep, paved road toward the trails. There was an option to take a tram – but we opted out to save the $$. The hike kicked out butts – it was steep and HOT – but it was a great first look at the fauna of Nicaragua. 
Three uphill kilometers later, we arrive at a coffee shop perfectly positioned to relax and enjoy a sip before the next hiking section. We all try coffee (iced – we are still very hot) and sit and chat. At this point, we decide the tram is worth it to take us the rest of the way up the volcano toward the trails that circle Mombacho. We chat with the tram driver and are magically able to get him to agree for a lower price. We climb into the seats in the back – excited to see the views without the leg workout. 

The drive is bouncy, windy and worth it! Trees whipped by us and we climbed up the volcano, out of the heat of the day and into the cool, enveloping mist of a cloud. The top of the volcano is completely saturated with clouds and the cool, damp air is a relief! Ten minutes later, we are at the tippy top and ready to hike the trails around the volcano.
We get a quick briefly of what we will see and head on our way. We have an hour and a half to complete the trail and make the last tram down the volcano (definitely important – we had come a long way). The trail was gorgeous. Tropical vines and trees hung down over the entrance and the trail itself was lined with mossy trees, ferns and epiphites galore. Vistas where you could stop and look out were obscured by the density of the clouds we were within – but that site was amazing in itself – knowing how high up we were and what was below.

We took a break at the Vista with some cheese curds Vic received in a care package a la the other Romers. Delicious sustenance to continue the hike! There were some windy paths through the rocks of the volcano – just narrow enough to walk through. Roots dangled from the trees above to gather moisture and nutrients in the air – a truly “rainforest” way for a tree’s roots to behave. 

We came upon a sulfur vent where the hot gas from inside the volcano was released. It was obviously stinky – but pretty cool to see. 

At the end of the hike – we arrived off the trail just in time to catch the tram down. They drove us all the way down the volcano and back to our car – which was a happy relief to save both time and energy. 

Back in the car –we set the GPS to San Juan del Sur and began discussing hotel options that we found in the guidebook. Hotel Ana Mar seems pretty perfect – good reviews and right on the beach – so we set our sights on that, fingers crossed they would have rooms available.
A quick 45 minute drive later, we arrive in the small beach town of San Juan del Sur. This was much less intimidating than Granada and could easily be compared to a small surfing tow in Southern California. We followed the GPS to Hotel Ana Mar and to our delight saw it was RIGHT on the beach! We parked, walked in, chatting with the staff and discovered that we could have a private room with bunk beds (no air conditioning – but includes a private bathroom) for only $10 each! The room wasn’t much too look at – but it was nice and opened up into the outdoor hotel bar/restaurant, a pool and then BEACH (BEACH)! Not to mention an amazing view of the pacific ocean and the upcoming sunset. We booked two nights – moved our luggage in and got settled. 

Vic made up up a few beach cocktails of Nicaraguan rum and Coca-Cola and we set out to the beach to sit and watch the sun go down. The sun sets around 5:15PM here! There is no daylight savings time in Central America – so this probably varies dramatically throughout the year – but it’s a good reminder that you have to get up early if you want to enjoy the day time!
Our view of the sunset included tree-covered cliffs flanking the wide expanse of the Pacific ocean, one of which was topped with a tributary statue of Jesus overlooking the tiny town. The sunset was beautiful, the conversation was fun and the drinks were delicious! Easily a fabulous start to our Central American adventure. 

We ended the day with dinner and cervezas at a restaurant on the beach. We had ceviche, lobster, shrimp and a variety of other seafood, all with the sound of waves and a view of the ocean in the background Because of the conversion rate from American dollars to Nicaraguan cordobas – we were happy to pay the bill when we left! We walked back to the hotel along the beach during low-ish tide, stopping for an ice cream cone at a beach-side shop along the way.
9PM bedtime – we have an early morning ferry to catch for our next adventure!
  • Sometimes you just have to cross your fingers, wish for the best and just go for it
  • No matter what the day will bring – you’re always going to get sweaty in Nicaragua
  • Sunset + rum = vacation 
  • Poached (as in cooked – not stolen) eggs
  • Ciabatta
  • Fleur de Cana
  • Ceviche
  • Lobster
  • Cervezas
Animals: None! Vic informed us that Nicaraguans have been known to include lizards in their diet – so we didn’t even see one of those! We did see this awesome heart-shaped trail left by a sea snail though:  
Something I am thankful for: Good company! Starting a week-long adventure with good conversation and a lot of laughing was instantly relaxing and set the tone for our whole trip

Something I don't want to admit: The initial hike up Mombacho toward the trails kicked my butt. I tried really hard not to stop and catch my breath – but it had to be done.

Total Nest I have saved: no turtles yet . . .
Total Nests Poached on my Patrol:  NA
Total Turtle Eggs I saved: 0
Total Baby Turtles I Released: 0
Days of Rain: No rain - woohoo! It’s the rainy season – so this was a concern . . . but no problema
Distance traveled: 143 kilometers (88 miles)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Day 87 - Amo Baiter

Date: 9/25/12
Location: Costa de Oro, Costa Rica

Word of the day: Cebo - Bait
Turtle Fact:  TURTLE EXCLUDER DEVICE 1. At a cost of millions of dollars, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service developed the Turtle Excluder Device (TED). 2. The TED is a small, metal grid trapdoor inside a trawling net that allows shrimp to pass to the back while the turtles escape to safety before becoming entrapped or entangled. 3. Since 1989, federal law requires that this device be installed on the nets of all U.S. fishing trawlers working in areas populated by sea turtles.

7:30am wake up. updates. In honor of our first 111 turtles hatching I ran a little promotion within my previous work circle: for a donation of $10 I will send you a HelpingTurtles Badge/Patch and will send you a personalized postcard as well. For those of you reading this and interested in this deal let me know and I will gladly extend this offer to you as well!

Breakfast (cereal). Eric and Lotti stop by this morning to check in on us, see how the first release went and to take their baby for a little swim on the beach. Eric asks if I would like to join him on the fishing boat this afternoon and fish with a local fisherman throughout the night. I gladly accept the offer. 

Courtney, Ever, Ingrid, Kayla and myself head out to beach and exhume the two nests that the turtles came out of the night before. Courtney walks us through the process and explains the various stages on embryonic development just as Lotti had done a couple weeks prior. It was a great refresher as this task will be done on a daily basis for me in the future. 

While exhuming the nests we find several turtles in the hole that where alive, but just did not make it to the surface just yet. We place them in a bucket, with moist sand on the bottom and the top of them and place them in cool dark room (shower) until we release them this evening with the community. We do this in hopes they "go back to sleep" and stay inactive until we release them

Lunch (rice and veggie salad). Eric calls and informs me that we are leaving at 2pm, giving me a couple hours to finish up some chores and pack for a night on the ocean. I get picked up relatively earlier than expected and rush out the door (forgetting my rain jacket and pants - really the only thing I actually needed as I was was to be sleeping on the top side of the boat sin shelter. Ohh well, it will just add to the excitement and story if nothing else. 

On the way to fisherman's dock, we stop at the local grocery store and pick up a few items for the night. Having already packed some oatmeal and bread, I pick up some fruit and a little sweet treat (reward) for later in the night. 

3:15pm we arrive at the boats and proceed to wait an additional 1.5 hours before packing up the boat and taking off at 4:30pm. Being a in a smaller boat (than the Pretoma boat) there was quite a difference on how it rides on the water. Especially when trying to get past the initial waves close to shore. It's really like a cat and mouse game, trying to creep up during a lul in between the waves on our way out to the ocean. 

We wait in the calm waters just off the shore as the other fisherman (about 8 other boats) make the venture through the waves and join us. During this period Erick explains how everything works: In short, everyone takes off at the same time from these calm waters to head to their fishing spot. Some people wait to see where others go, as the night previous they had a good catch or perhaps that individual is known to be on a lucky streak, so they follow his boat to whichever area he goes to. While other others wait for everyone to leave, so they are not "followed" in hopes to retain all the large fish int he area they will head to, for themselves. 

We end up heading out to a spot in front of Playa San Miguel and Costa de Oro and probably about 5 km from shore. As the sun sets, we start the process of setting the anchors and buoys in the water, marking the start of their fishing line. Once set, the captain grabs the bait boxes (hooks with sardine segments on them) and feeds them to water as the boat is idling along the water ever so slowly. Hand over fist, 900 hooks leave our boat and end up on the Pacific floor about 30m from the surface. After completing setting the line at 8pm, we enjoy our individual meals, noted as "the best part of the job" the captain explains in Spanish. We relax for the next 3 hours.

Around Midnight we check the lines. We start at one end, and slowly go through all the hooks. After bringing each consecutive hook to the surface the captain examines the the current bait and decides if he wants to replace it or not. More than likely he does. As this process is taking place, Erick is cutting up new pieces of sardines for bait. He discards the heads and tails overboard and cuts the body (width wise) into 4 to 5 sections. Just think 900 pieces of bait in which you only get 4 pieces out one sardines... thats a lot of cutting and thus the title of today's blog "Amo (Master) Baiter". Sorry.

After going through the line the first time he gets about 20 kilos of red snapper. There was some bi-catch like eels and some smaller stingrays, but we were able to return them back to the ocean.

After going through the entire line which takes about 1.5 hours to complete, we take another siesta and repeat the processes. To be honest almost the exact things happened. Same amount caught and time spent. We siesta once more before I "begin" the next day.

SIDENOTE: All the while, there is thunderstorm on the horizon seeming like they are heading in our direction. Each time we take a siesta both Eric and I sleep on 2ft wide benches, while we stare into the star freckled night, bobbing up and down all night long. Without the aid of medicine, I have been able to keep my composure on the boat from sea sickness. My trick is to nibble on non-liquid food (like bread and oatmeal) all throughout my time. It works for me!

  • It what you get used to
  • All about perspective
  • Don't fear the reaper
  • Jokes are funny across cultures. You just need a translator.   

Food: Oatmeal mash... Oatmeal made with water, and dried out a malleable state where granola, and Kool Aid packet were added.
Animals: dogs, crabs, stingray, mantaray, red snapper, yellow snapper, Jackfish, "Preacher fish", churro shells, flying fish and Gnars

Something I am thankful for: Sustainability. Otherwise known as equilibrium and balance. 
Something I don't want to admit: I really did not do any of the work on the boat today, other than notate each type of fish we caught and the measurements of the fish. However Erick has plans for me to come out with the fisherman alone...

Total Nest I have saved: 31
Total Nests Poached on my Patrol: 25
Total Turtle Eggs I saved: 3,640
Total Baby Turtles I Released:151
Days of Rain: 52/83

Monday, September 24, 2012

Day 86 - Goodbye Amigo

Date: 9/24/12
Location: Costa de Oro, Costa Rica

Word of the day: Patata - Potato

...awake and full of energy from morning patrol I run along the beach to the South to double check my work and make sure no turtles came up after my walk. Still pretty early in the morning, I try to think of an elaborate breakfast I can make (using minimal of the rationed food we have and a lot of the abundant resources in our grasp) for Matt's last day. I come up with the idea of Caramelized young coconut "pancrepes".
SIDENOTE UNO: Pancrepes are my version of thinned out pancakes with great test and meant to be stuffed with goodness.

SIDENOTE DOS: Yes, the only other male companion I have is leaving the project. Sad to see him go and wish him the best of luck. updates. Find logs on beach. Pick up a bucket of trash on the beach. At this point Ever joins me on the quest for finding garbage and Mangrove seedlings. We manage to fill up several buckets of each. Due to the lovely sun and great arobic activity of bending down to get something every could inches, we build up our appetite and head in for lunch (leftovers). 

Already thinking about dinner, I decide to give ricebread one more try. This time, actually cooking the rice and mashing into a paste, before combining it with a little flour and yeast and throwing it in the oven. 
Visa run research. Siesta.

When I awake I challenge Courntey to make dinner tonight. She gratefully accepts and makes an awesome potatoe soup in which my bread compliments. Eat. Patrol.

Ever, Kayla and myself walk to the north. As we start to walk back from the end of the north we come across a turtle that has just walked out of the water. This is perfect as both Kayla and Ever have never seen the process in it's entirety. I make to talk through the process step by step using using our red lights to shine upon every step of this natural ritual. I assign everyone a task (Ever counting and collected eggs, Kayla measuring and tagging). 60eggs later, we watch the turtle pat down her nest using the weight of her body and continue with the rest of patrol. Unfortunately we do not find any more nest or tracks, but we were able to run into Courtney and Ingrid as they had a bucket of turtles they were want to release with us! BABIES! We release the first batch of 35 in the ocean and head back to the hatchery to put the eggs on our into our hole (sounds funny I know). 

When we arrive in the hatchery it looks like some more babies crawled out of their nest and are looking to start their lifes journey. We place the 76 new hatchlings in the bucket and release them as well. When releasing them a couple had some navigation issues due to some light pollution from a nearbye house. However this was remedied with a little white light of our own in the water. Off they go. Good Luck!


SIDENOTE: This was our very first OFFICIAL nest to hatch in our hatchery. I am so proud to be what we call a "turtle dad". It's great starting this project from the ground up and seeing your labors come to fruition. To this point, I have officially extended my volunteering term until sometime in December (versus ending in October), when the nesting season will have ended and all off our babies in the hatchery have hatched. I am always one to finish what I have started. This project will certainly not be an exception. Game on.
Don't burn bridges

Food:Caramelized young coconut Pancrepes
Animals: Crabs, Dogs, Birds, Lizards, Mosquitoes, Turtles

Something I am thankful for: Keeping it real
Something I don't want to admit: I am selfishly happy that now I get all the food scraps that is normally stuck to the bottom of the pans, to myself as I will not have to share with Matt

Total Nest I have saved: 31
Total Nests Poached on my Patrol: 25
Total Turtle Eggs I saved: 3,640
Total Baby Turtles I Released: 151
Days of Rain: 51/82