Saturday, October 6, 2012

Visa Run Day 7: The Dog Days

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 and the journey through Costa Rica back to Costa de Oro.  

Date: Saturday 10/6/12 

Location: Playa de Costa de Oro 

Word of the day: perro - dog; the dogs on the beach at Playa Costa de Oro are all strays who have their run of the beach. This makes them free to invade the turtle hatchery and not friends of Pretoma! Some locals will feed and house the dogs, but for the most part, they are untrained and have their free reign of the beach

Costa Rica Fact: Halloween crabs - named for their vivid Halloween colors - live on the land all throughout the Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica and wreak havoc with the baby turtles! According to recent research, these little dudes are everywhere and among the most important factors affecting tropical forest growth along coasts, on islands, and in mangroves. 

2AM wake up call for turtle patrol! As we head out to check the hatchery, A DOG GOT IN. We can see something is awry as we are approaching the hatchery. The sand around the nests is darker. We are confused until we open the door, walk in and see that one nest has clearly been dug up. They are egg shells in the sand  and dirt everywhere. But it’s only one nest. (spoiler alert: we find out later - from Courtney - that most of the babies in that nest were already hatched and released before the dog got in; the dog probably only got one or two stragglers; we were really sad until we found that out so I thought I’d save y'all from the same fate). 

We examine around the hatchery to find where the dog could have gotten in. There’s a small hole under the fence on the Southwest side that only a small dog could have used, but on the Northwest side, the two-part wall of the hatchery is ripped. A bigger dog clearly jumped in between the two pieces. 

We decide to save the cleaning up for our return and head out to do patrol, sans any babies for release. We walk the beach and try to avoid the topic of troublesome dogs on both our minds. We chat and enjoy the patrol. I am still loving the moon and the light it gives off this late at night – it never gets old. Tonight the moon is waning, meaning shrinking away from the previously full moon, but still throws plenty of light for us to see the beach and any possible turtle tracks.

As we are walking down the beach, Vic explains that, because it’s the weekend, there will be more poachers on the beach tonight. Poachers come in from other towns on the weekends to gather eggs and bring them back and sell them in their home towns. The price of a turtle egg increases the farther a town is away from the beach, so they are looking to turn a larger profit by bringing the eggs inland. 

We chat and walk until we come across the first set of turtle tracks. Right away we can tell there are footprints over the top of the tracks; it doesn’t look good for the nest.

Upon further examination, we can tell this nest has been poached. It’s the first poached nest I’ve seen on a patrol so far, and it makes me super sad. The dog invasion and a poached nest in one night – lots of destruction.

The poachers clearly walked up on top of the tracks, dug up the hole and then filled it back in. Part of me thinks they fill it back in just to waste the time of Pretoma volunteers – but Vic has said on more than one occasion that they are not quite that vindictive or crafty. 

We continue on our walk and find no more poached nests. We get to the estuary and stand around for a bit before turning back and heading the other direction in an attempt to let more turtles (hopefully) come up on the beach and lay nests. When we make our walk back, however, we do not find any new nests.

The sun is starting to come up when we get back to the Pretoma house and we can more clearly assess the hatchery damage that the dog(s) have done. The dirt from the dug up nest is sprayed all over the hatchery and the protective cages around the nests are scattered all over the place.

A couple nests have a few straggler babies that have come up – so we gather them in the bucket and walk them down to the beach for release. This time it’s a sunrise release – and a beautiful counter to the sunset release of a few days ago.

After the last little dudes make it out with the current (one with our very explicit help) we head back up to the hatchery. 

We decide to start removing the old-nest dirt before our morning breakfast & siesta – it really looks like a disaster in the hatchery. So we grab some buckets and start digging out all the old dirt and putting it in the bucket to eventually wheel barrow down to the beach. It’s important to remove all the sand that was inside this nest as it is with any old and already hatched nest, because that sand can become contaminated. Especially if that nest had bugs or fungus or anything like that. The Pretoma hatchery just north of Vic’s actually had a problem with that and it affected their hatch rate, so his team is very conscious to remove any old sand.

We spend about 20 minutes clearing out the old sand from the nest and the surrounding areas. Vic wheels the last wheel barrow full of sand down to the water line and dumps it at the beach. Then we reallocate the nest cages around the nests that may soon hatch so that those babies will be protected and easily catch-able when they come up.

It looks much better when we are done. There are still more repairs to do – but first it’s time for desayunos. 

We head inside the house and Vic makes us breakfast using our coconut curried chicken leftovers. He heats these up in two small mounds in a pan, the top of which he covers with a an egg that cooks up in the mix. He serves with rice, beans and more coffee sweetened with horchata. Breakfast is warm, a little spicy and delicious.
 After breakfast and dishes, exhausted from the crazy week, our 2AM patrol and the hatchery clean up, we grab the camping hammocks and head toward the beach to hang them from the coconut trees and take a nap. Nothing will ever rival the nap from the first day on Playa Costa de Oro – but this nap comes close.

We sleep for a few hours and then wake up as the sun begins warming up the day. We break down hammock camp and decide to head back to the hatchery to see what can be done about fixing the dog-damage.

Vic has some string and we decide the first step is “sewing” together the two pieces of mesh that make up the fence. This will at least prevent the dog from getting into the hatchery by breaking in between those two pieces again. 

Kayla comes out to join us in the repairs. We have to sew together the walls surrounding the entire hatchery and fill in the dug-up nest with new sand. Lots to be done. 

The three of us spend the first ten minutes trying to determine the best way to complete the sewing of the mesh wall. It's a little complicated with two of us inside the hatchery and one outside, trying to pass the string back and forth through the square holes in the mesh. After several attempts, we settle on the fact that this is a two-person job best done with a make shift needle that is actually a piece of a palm frawn with the string tied to it. Vic and I take on this part of the job and Kayla starts working on bringing clean sand up from the beach to fill in the dug-up nest.

Vic and I chat and sew for an hour or so as the sun rises in the sky and gets hotter. We have to wear our sandals because the sand is so hot! I can see how the turtle eggs “cook” – i.e. incubate - in the beach sand all day. It’s hot, hard work to be bent over and focusing in the heat, but it’s fun and semi-mindless too. Plus there’s the ever present feeling that the work we are doing means something; it’s making a tangible difference.

We get about halfway around the hatchery and decide we need to cool off . . . in the ocean! We take a quick break to go swimming in the waves. They are much tamer than the first time and no fear of riptides. We swim and chat and play in the waves. Vic finds a bright orange starfish and it’s the first time he has found one on this beach! Fun, exciting, he mimics a mermaid top and then we put the little dude back in the water to live another day.

To be clear – Vic whips him a little ways into the waves and I freak out. When I was in second grade in Sarasota, FL – we learned that you cannot throw lives shells or starfish into the water because as they fly through the air and then sink to the bottom – the trauma and fast moving action can actually kill them by way of a weird type of “drowning.” I react dramatically and Vic feels bad. However, upon further research, it appears this isn’t actually the case. No starfish died and all is well.

While swimming, we can see the sky to the East behind the Pretoma house filled with what looks like a major storm. It’s dark and rolling in quickly but seemingly unthreatening for now. We finish up our swim and walk back up the beach in the yellow-ish light the dark clouds are creating over us.

We walk up to the sand/yard line and pick some coconuts to smash on the tree trunks and drink. Warm and delicious. After our brief repose – we head back to the hatchery with the goal to finish sewing the second half before the storm arrives. More chatting and needle-sewing later and we are done just as the first rain drops are starting to hit! Kayla has finished filling the dug-up nest as well, so we all head inside away from the rain for some lunch. 

Kayla cuts up a papaya and adds some lime juice for us to snack on while Vic prepares some quesadillas with the final leftovers from the curry chicken.
 After lunch, Vic and I decide to take the car down the road to get a bit of gas to get me to the next town in the morning and so he can show me the first Pretoma house and hatchery that he stayed in a couple kilometers North of the current beach. We hop in the car and head north on the dirt roads. 

We stop at a tiny roadside convenience store on our way where we know they sell gas by the liter. The towns on Vic’s side of the peninsula are so remote, that many of the smaller, local stores will drive into the larger towns and get gasoline to bring back that they can sell for a slightly higher price by the liter so that people don’t have to run cross peninsula for their gas. 

We purchase one liter and the woman brings it out to our car in a reusable jug with a funnel and tube to pour it into the car. Vic helps her situate the contraption and we put the liter in the car – plenty to get me to Jicara for the next refill on my morning drive to the airport to head home in the AM.  

We continue our drive over to check out the other Pretoma house. The Pretoma family at that house is just hanging out and they are all very excited to see Vic. 

They introduce themselves and give me the tour of their place. It’s much different than Vic’s current house. Their living area and kitchen are outside with a tin roof and only the bedrooms and bathrooms are truly “inside rooms.” The setup is very beach-y and cool – but leaves little protection for the bugs. 

The show us the hatchery, which has had many improvements since Vic first saw it a few months back. It’s big and full of turtles nests – very promising. We go for a walk on their beach to scope it out and chat a bit. After finishing up our convo, Vic and I hop back in the car and head a bit north to check out the beach just north of the Pretoma house, which is a little more touristy and still very beautiful. We hang for a bit and enjoy the pre-sunset before we have to head back to the house and head out for turtle patrol number one with Kayla. 

We head back to the house and prepare a delicious pasta dinner with homemade marinara sauce, which we will enjoy after we return from the 7:30PM-9:30PM patrol of the evening. 

Kayla, Vic and I chat as Vic prepares the meal. The cute little lizards are in the house, making their chirping noises and eating all the moths and bugs that have snuck inside. They are really a pleasure to share a Costa Rican beach house with - never thought lizards would be such a welcome roommate!

As 7:30 approaches, we get ready to head out on the first patrol. 

This is my first time heading out on the early patrol and I’m shocked how dark it is before the moon rises! We really need the flashlights on this first patrol, much more than on the 2AM patrols when the moon is up. But again, once we are on the beach, I am surprised by how quickly our eyes adjust and how well we can see the water and any potential turtle tracks. 

Our first trip to the hatchery revelas a few hatched babies to release, which we put in the bucket to carry with us and release further down the beach. We also find an unwelcome resident in the hatchery - a crab!

These little dudes - though cute and composed of really cool colors - eat baby turtles! They are the enemy. I get to see Vic take care of the infestation first hand. It looked a lot like this: 
We walk and chat and enjoy some patrol-snacks Vic has brought along as a pre-dinner, mid-patrol appetizer. 

Unfortunately, there are no turtles and we head back to the Pretoma house from the walk empty handed. 
Fortunately, when we arrive, there is a warm and delicious dinner waiting for us. 

We eat and chat a bit and then head to bed to rest before the 2AM turtle patrol and my 5AM trip back to San Jose for my flight out the following day. Sleep is good! 

  • Post-breakfast naps rule all
  • Any kind of work is worth it if you can take a break to swim in the ocean
  • Coconut chicken curry makes the world's most versatile leftovers
  • The starfish is AOK
  • Crabs are the enemy - show no mercy


  • Café con leche
  • Curry chicken with egg, rice & beans
  • Curry chicken quesadilla
  • Spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce and sautéed vegetables
  • Rice pudding

Animals: turtles (and dogs – boo) 

Something I am thankful for: the conversation and innovation behind fixing up the hatchery. We spent a lot of time on the front end of the project coming up with the best way to effectively sew the hatchery shut using all our resources - and the time paid for itself time ten once we discovered the two-person-needle-method

Something I don't want to admit: I was a little sad to see the crab go. But it's either him or the baby turtles and I have developed quite the affinity for those little guys

Total Nest I have saved: two

Total Nests Poached on my Patrol: one - boo.
Total Turtle Eggs I saved: 204+
Total Baby Turtles I Released: 300+
Days of Rain: 1.5 - the rain forest and the semi-rain over lunch today; still not so bad
Miles traveled: None! We stayed local again today - very nice

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