Thursday, January 10, 2013

The End

Hola Family, Friends, and other People (I have not even met)!

For the past 8 months, I have been bringing you constant updates regarding my HelpingTurtles campaign, volunteerism and first hand experience. Who knew that such a simple gesture (applying for an online contest) would turn into such an elaborate and life altering event for me, the Olive Ridely Sea Turtles and the many of the people surrounding me. I am so thankful have to have undertaken this initiative with the wind at my back, friends at my side, water at my feet and coconut dangling above my head. With that said, I will attempt to recap my experiences.

The Recap
           After producing and executing an awesome marketing campaign and winning an online contest through SeeTurtles.Org, I was awarded one week, all expenses paid trip to volunteer at a Turtle Conservation Organization called Widecast in Costa Rica.  On Juy 1st, 2012 I start my travels and spend the next three days stuck in Ft. Lauderdale's airport. While celebrating Independence Day abroad, I finally make it to Costa Rica.
           Succeeding the debrief at the Widecast office, I take a lovely nine hour bus ride to Playa Blanca in the Osa Peninsula where I start my training. Throughout the next week, we capture live turtles in the gulf, bring them to the rescue center and conduct a series of observations and rehabilitation. Concurrently at this project site we also aide in the development of reforesting Mangrove trees.
           Prior to leaving for Costa I applied and was accepted to volunteer at a different Turtle Conservation Organization (Pretoma) for a service of three months. So after my stint with the adolescent Hawksbill and Green Sea Turtles to the south, I head to the north, Nicoya Peninsula, to aid with the nesting Olive Ridely Sea turtles.
           During my duration with Pretoma at Playa Costa de Oro (Gold Coast Beach) I built a hatchery, patrolled the beach nightly, collected the nested eggs, protected the hatchery full of eggs, released the hatchlings to the ocean, while all along collecting and recording scientific data for future marine research. Due to the success with our project, I was offered and accepted a two month extension in Costa Rica, HelpingTurtles.
           Coinciding with the sea turtle conservation, I also took part in community service activities, sustainable fishing projects and beach clean up initiatives. My time was also spent, preparing and cooking most of the meals for the coordinators and volunteers alike. In my spare time, I kept busy with venturing to various parts of coast line, making sand sculptures, building functional structures and utilizing coconuts in every way possible.
           Living in paradise was not always so safe. We experienced large earthquakes, torrential down pours and even contact with dangerous animals. However, strength in numbers, local knowledge about the area and sharp machete kept us out of harms way.
           As part of the process for renewing my visa in Costa Rica, I had to leave the country for at least 72 hours. This gave me the excuse to invite family and friends and enjoy the country side of Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
           As the season wraps up in late November for the Olive Ridely Sea Turtles, we began the process of compiling all the data collected and disassembling our project in preparation for the following year. Soon after, I returned back to the states to reunite with family and friends in time for the holiday season

Make sure to check out ALL of my recap videos online for more in depth detail and insight. WATCH THEM IN HD!

The Beginning

Getting My Feet Wet

Playing in the Sand

Extra Curricular
                                                       COMING SOON!

By The Numbers

Days Away from Home: 159
Days of Rain in Costa Rica: 90
Turtle Nests I Saved: 48
Total Turtle Nests  Saved: 92
Turtle Nest Poached on my Patrol: 50
Turtle Eggs I helped put into the Hatchery: 5102+
Total Turtle Eggs put into the Hatchery: 9,370
Baby Turtles I released into the Ocean: 2,111+
Total Baby Turtles released into the Ocean 2, 579
Dead Turtles Washed up: 7
Money Fundraiser: $1,725
Miles Traveled: 11,366+
Miles Patrolled on Beach: 400+
Cubic Feet of Sand/Dirt Moved: 72,000
Number of Significant Injuries: 0
Number of shorts I cycled through: 4
Showered with Hot Water: 6
Family and Friends Visit: 5
Fish Caught and Eat: 7
Stung by Wasps: 2
Took out Contact Lenses: 6
Post Cards Sent: 78
Dogs Estranged: 11
Sun Burnt: 1
Trits Ice Cream Consumed: 12
Computer Broke: 2
Experience: Unquantifiable

Random Tidbits
           Money - Cash is king: People will love to exchange you for American $. Just make sure you have enough cash as ATM's are not available everywhere.
           Camera - They break no matter what. I don't care how much you spent, or what type of camera you own; if you take it anywhere near the beach, it is inevitable that it will break somehow. Plan accordingly.

           Insecurity - This is one of the most unattractive attributes I have come to realize in the opposite sex.

           Freedom of Speech - Someone once said, "Freedom isn't free. No, there's a hefty f***'n fee." I have found that even in the world of blogging you still have to mind your P & Q's. Sure I'm sharing MY experiences, but unfortunately I am intertwined and attached to so many different parties by association. Even in this last journal entry I hold back my bold thoughts in order to preserve and maintain the bridges I have crossed. I suppose we shall save all the juicy things for the memoir in 80 years when all the traveling has been completed and bridges are no longer needed to cross back.

           The Family - Every family is unique and mine is no exception. I'm so lucky to have such a wonderful family who is involved in my adventures. From sending much needed care packages to keeping the family together in my absence and visiting me in Costa, my family is the best! Thanks!

           The Friends - The new, the old, the ugly; I love them all. Some as close as family while others are a perfect crutch in a time of need. They have attended fundraising parties, gave me jobs, sent goods, provided me shelter, listened to me vent and even gave me a little lovin! However the most common characteristic is that they have been supportive. With a great friends like this, it truly has been easy to stay confident and succeed through all these challenges. Gracias Amigos!
           The Turtles - What a unique group of animals. For being so green, some of them are actually living dinosaurs (that was pun if you didn't realize). Little do they know what type of impact they have on a person like me from my youth until I decide to swim with the fishes. Seeing the miracle of life happen before my eyes and assisting in the  process is really the wow factor for me. Every time I released one of those babies into the ocean and saw it swim away out of site, I always wonder if that is going to be one of the survivors. Research has shown that only one out of 1,000 hatchlings make it to sexual maturity. So out of the 2,000+ I personally released, most likely only two of them will  make it back to these same beaches (if it's a female) to lay her eggs. However, I made sure to pass along the positive, strong will to survive attitude to all of them.
Thank you Animalia Chordata Reptilia Testudines Cryptodira Dermochelyidae &  Cheloniidae for allowing this Animalia Chordata Mammalia Primata Hominidae Homo Homo sapiens to help you, help me!

Returning back to (North) America: Knowing that I was going to return to a different style of life than I had lived for the past five months, I made sure to take note of my initial thoughts coming back to my "normal" standards of living.
           Washing hands with warm water - This was the first experience I knowingly noticed. In between plane changes at Ft. Lauderdale's Airport, I stopped in the bathroom to relieve my bladder. Upon washing my hands, with soap and automatic water faucet, I felt a very lively feeling on the back of my hands. It was not like I had set fire to the back of my hands, however it was like warm liquid was being pushed through my veins within them.

           Going #2 - In Costa Rica there is rarely a toilet system that allows paper (or any other) waste in the toilet to be flushed. Instead, there is a often smelly basket filled with bunched up, toilet paper wipings in which you use to dispose. Most often, dumping this basket was the one task everyone dreaded. Well instinctively, the first time I had to go, I wiped and then look around for the waste basket which was located next to the toilet. As I leaned over to place the soiled paper in the receptacle, I noticed only used Q-Tips and disposable contacts containers filled the bin. This was odd, as I initially thought that no one had pooed in this toilet for a while. Then it sunk in. Leaned back to one side and put the toilet paper in the toilet.

           Phantom Ant Bits - After the fact that I have washed and dried all my clothes (using a machine and real detergent), I kept getting phantom ant bites on my ankles. This was the exact feeling I would have received while walking the beach at night, patrolling for turtles. Keeping in mind, I did not have any visible bug bits (thankfully) on my legs, this feeling lasted for the next week or so.

           Layers of clothing - Yes I loved being half naked almost 24 hours a day. Now having to put on multiple layers (yes, I admit my blood has "thinned out") is this daunting task, but so necessary for me to feel comfortable. Have you actually weighed out how much your clothes weigh?

           Grocery Store - Ohhh the options. Granted there was two grocery stores in the nearest town (5km away) there was not many options. You could almost compare these places to a high class-stocked gas station. Now within the first 20 seconds of walking into a grocery store, I am overwhelmed with all the options, colors and smells. SOOOO many fresh vegetables. Just looking at the back wall of lively green produce made my mouth water. Then I started thinking... wait a second, these Cutties (easy to peel, holiday tangerines) were not grown down the street on Michigan Ave (Chicago area). These were grown hundreds to thousands of miles away versus in Costa Rica, most produce were grown within in the surrounding areas. Definitely some logistical differences there. 

           Technology - Turning on that phone for the first time. First a wave of sounds and vibrations only familiar to me, like a vague memory in a dream. Next the notifications of all the messages. Then millions of "critical" updates to all the apps and software that was previously installed on my phone. Boom then silence - updating for the next 30 minutes while the phone is in sleep mode. From that point on, I believe I pulled my phone out of my pocket to check for notifications, emails and updates, almost as many times as I blinked. It's amazing how a device that has not been apart of my life for the past five months (and not been missed) is all of a sudden capturing all my attention and will continue to do so. How easily we can fall back into place…. 

           Pockets - Not being as lucky as a marsupial, I normally did not have any pockets for the majority of the time. Granted, my board shorts (and main staple of clothing) may have had one, I rarely used it as there was nothing to store in it. If I did store something in it, it would eventually drown in salt water as I head to the ocean for a "quick dip"  multiple times a day. Now having a ridiculous amount of pockets in my ever day where, I lose things easily. Passport, plane tickets, cell phone, gum, etc. So many places for them to hide.

            Siesta - How I miss thee. I feel like I'm back on my college sleeping schedule. After every meal, I get this overwhelming urge to nap. It just doesn't feel right when the hustle and bustle of "American" culture is always on the move, when you want to just close your eyes for a moment.

           Cheese - One thing I miss, but my stomach does not. It was once said "Victor Maisano could digest a whole squirrel". Whether this is true or not, I have not tried yet, but I do know my stomach is very resilient - even though it will let me know. So after reuniting with a lost food group, I can immediately feel the awkwardness of the diary saying hello to my body.

           Relationships - It's amazing how your relationships with people and objects can change over time. Some grow. Some shrink. Some stay just the same. As with anything/everything else, your experience, repetition and last memory are what I find to be the most important factors on how you view your relationships. The people I stayed in contact with, the people who have supported me and those random people who just left the right impression seemed to be the people felt the closest to. It will be interesting to see how other people view our relationship as well, since the road goes both ways. As for objects, I fear and respect that I will no longer need a machete and the cheap watch I purchased in Costa. Now these objects will be replaced by a small Leatherman and cell phone.

           Minimalist - Just like that one time you ran the gas all the way down to fumes in your vehicle, its exciting and slightly frightening how little you need in order to survive and function normally. Taking a new perspective on needs and wants, I foresee that I will be trimming some of the excess things in my life in order to appreciate basics (with still having respect for fancy things)

            Food - Interestingly enough, I am not craving as much food as I thought I would. Sure the basics (for me) dirty "Mexican" food and sushi, but that is no different than when I left. Fortunately I had the chance to cook most things (within reason and limited supplies) which in turn satisfied most urges.

             Tracks - If you have been following along, you would have learned that when turtles walk up and down the beach, they leave tracks in the sand that are very similar to a large tractor tire. Finding these patterns in the sand has become an art, and even more so a talent in the dark. Being part of one of your main duties, I get really excited when I see these markings as I know a turles is/was nearby. As I have been driving more and more, passing construction sites and noticing the fresh tracks of car tires in the snow, I fool myself EVERYTIME for 0.5 seconds. I think, why would the turtle try to be nesting there?

            Impact on Followers - Ohh the power of social media works in so many ways. After attending a couple of large gatherings with friends, co-workers, family and peers I keep hearing the same sincere responses from people, "Thank You". It was not so much that I was HelpingTurtles as it was the decision I had made throughout this entire process; the will power and positive attitude needed to undergo such an initiative and leave behind such a great deal in sacrifice. I feel as though living vicariously through me, they now have that much more confidence to overcome whatever it may be. Of course I selfishly love hearing this from people, as I never would have thought that this to be a product of sharing my experiences.

           Finding a New Path - It's no so much spiritual as it is was an "aha moment". Don't get me wrong, I love working and LOVE Marketing. Believe it or not, I thoroughly loved working inside an office too. It's that repetition and sense of security that is comforting and persuasive. However, like most people, adrenaline and sense of adventure can be more addictive. Once you have that taste, you want more, as you should (all in moderation of course). So it was with this notion, I have decided to make a pact with myself, to start down this path of continuing on with this alternative lifestyle (for at least the last couple years of my so called "youth"). No longer will my sites be set on just climbing the  corporate ladder, but also climbing nature's ladders. Keeping my head on straight, without going totally in debt, and my marketing skills sharp, I hope to continue my adventures in hopes that there will be a happy medium somewhere down the road. 

What's Next for Victor James? Great Question! Well I am thinking about going for a little hike. You may know of a trail called the green tunnel... The Appalachian Trail. Stretching from Georgia to Maine, over 2,100 miles of wilderness path is calling my name. Whatever happens, rest assured that I will let you know in true marketing form in hopes to recapture your attention and provide you with a VICarious experience and slight form of entertainment! Make sure to check out the BackpackingAT Website (in the future as we are getting it up and running) and get a head start by "Like"ing BackpackingAT on Facebook.

Well, it's time for me to hang my HelpingTurtles hat (and board shorts) for now.

Until next time, love más. Venture más.

Victor Maisano

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