It has officially been a week since we arrived here in Costa Rica—a whole seven days. While it honestly feels like I have spent more than a week here, it is still strange to think that a whole week has passed. For whatever reason, I feel as though time works differently here, in the sense that time passes slower. Our itinerary accounts for so much to do everyday, but we somehow still have time to rest and relax, making the days seem noticeably longer than at home. Perhaps it is the early wake ups, or the two hour time difference, which is not long enough to cause jet lag, but long enough to confuse one’s biological clock. Whatever the cause is, I can say with certainty that I will miss the unusually long days.
All that aside, Day 7 of our service trip accounted for a morning boat tour of the canals of Tortuguero National Park and an afternoon of Tortuguero beach cleanup. The park’s canals run parallel to the ocean with only a sliver of land separating them. Some of the canals are natural, but loggers dug up other ones in the 1940’s. Now, visitors to the park use the canals when in search for rare and unique wildlife.
After a typical Costa Rican breakfast, we gathered the necessities for the boat tour and departed at 8:15 a.m. We were treated to an authentic Costa Rican wildlife tour, as there was a light rain throughout a majority of the 2.5 hour tour. The highlights of the tour were some sightings a plethora of exotic birds, including but not limited to toucans, kingfishers, Jacanas with really long feet that had yellow highlights, Anhingas with long necks and long beaks, night herons, parrots, in addition to a startlingly large wolf spider, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, basilisk lizards, and a cayman, which is basically a small crocodile. It wasn’t until I saw the cayman that I truly began to appreciate the fact that we are in such a unique environment, an environment that may not be around much longer due to pollution and global warming. To think that such incredible fauna is in danger, the colorful birds and fearless monkeys, and such beautiful flora, the giant palm trees and vibrant fruit. I feel blessed to have been able to experience Costa Rica while it is still flourishing.
Later in the day we took a short boat ride from our hotel across the Tortuguero River to access the beach and clean up some trash that has washed in or left by visitors. We walked down a narrow pathway from where the boat docked to get to a small green shelter that would serve as our “base camp.” Once we got all our work gloves on and were designated trash bags (general trash, plastic, and metal), we headed to the beach. Along the way, we were lucky enough to spot a dozen Great Green Macaws, an endemic and endangered species of large parrots only found in Costa Rica and Panama. This provided another opportunity to appreciate the fantastic and one-of-a-kind fauna that exists in this truly special country.
Once on the beach, we were certainly not at a loss for trash to clean up. We mostly focused on plastic items since that can harm turtles when ingested. All in all, we covered half a kilometer of beach and found lots of small plastic items. After some time, I was alerted by Pacho’s voice indicating that he had found something of interest. Once everyone had gathered, he revealed that he had found a broken turtle egg, probably a very common site in later months, but not in June, as we learned yesterday. (Yesterday we visited a Tortuguero Sea Turtle research and care conservatory to learn of the important of sea turtles). As one of the staff had explained, it is most important for people to have real, visceral experiences with sea turtles in order to understand their importance, as those experiences are far more effective than facts and statistics. I had obviously never had a true experience with sea turtles until I touched the baby turtle shell today and felt for myself how frail and easily breakable they are. More than any video or lecture could have ever influenced me, my experience with the turtle shell gave me a true appreciation for the impertinence of nature and how important it is to protect the environment.