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Emilia Zapata

¡Pura Vida! My name is Emilia Zapata and I recently arrived in Tortuguero, Costa Rica (right on the beach). Not that long ago the place we temporarily called “home” was Parismina. It was a unique experience that allowed our crew to experience a different kind of lifestyle. Parismina is a small community right on the beach which we traveled to by boat through the river that runs on the other side.

In the community ASTOP (Asociación Salvemos las Tortugas de Parismina, or in English, Association for Saving the Turtles of Parismina) helps the community a lot by providing work opportunities with tourism as well as protecting the beach and sea turtles. Our group was lucky enough to work with ASTOP and learn how to make bracelets, empanadas, cajetas, and discover more about protecting the sea turtles. Most of the magic happened on the beach: Not only was there beautiful warm water and endless sand, but ASTOP’s turtle hatchery, or “vivero,” was located right in front of the water. Turtle eggs found on any night patrol are counted and quickly taken to the vivero within a two-hour window. We learned how to take data about the mother turtles on night patrol, as well as how to aid our guides. Night patrol was quite a lot more work than we expected the first night, setting out in the Carribean heat from eight o’clock to midnight. We wore pants to keep out mosquitoes, and walked more than five miles, only using starlight to navigate past logs because lamps interfered with the sea turtles. Although we did not see turtles at night, the baby turtles during the day were enough. Our mere presence helped the turtles by keeping away the poachers who aren’t too keen with the punishment of three months to two years in jail if caught. This once-in-a-lifetime experience is something I will never forget. ¡Ciao!

         

Spencer Toth

iHola! Me llamo Spencer Toth. This is my first AMIGOS country visit and so far it has been the most insightful and beneficial experience I have ever had. These past weeks have been filled with some of the most incredible adventures and memories. One experience most of the AMIGOS volunteers were lucky enough to witness was the emerging of baby leatherback turtles from the hatchery and watching their first journey to the ocean. This encounter was a surprise to us all, as we had not expected to see baby sea turtles. Our group had gone to the beach to wade in the water and play volleyball. We were positioned right in front of the ASTOP (Association for Saving the Turtles of Parismina) turtle hatchery. I had been journaling on a log when I noticed one of the local ASTOP volunteers go up to Emily, our Project Coordinator, and tell her something. I had been sitting close enough to hear him say that the baby turtles were about to be taken from the hatchery and released into the ocean. The second I heard this my eyes went wide as I could not believe what I was about to witness. Once Emily thanked the volunteer and delivered the exciting news, we all ran quickly to the hatchery. We crowded around the fencing that enclosed the hatchery as we waited with eagerness for the ASTOP volunteers to begin.

Soon after, two ASTOP volunteers got down on their knees and started digging up the thick, black sand. Within seconds they started to remove the baby leatherback turtles. They blindly removed the turtles with one arm deep in the sand, placing them all in one large, circular tub, sometimes a few at a time. After about a little less than 10 minutes, all the turtles were taken from their nest. We were told by the volunteers that they now needed to wait until the turtles had woken up and become more active before releasing them. This was the time we all got to take turns peering into the open container. When I made my way to the front, their tiny sand-covered shells came into view. There were a little more than thirty nestled in the bin. The turtles — who had by now awakened — were now crawling over one another, trying to escape their temporary home. Soon all the turtles were frantically moving their flippers and ready to make their way to the ocean. The volunteers carried the container to a spot on the beach where they had made two lines in the sand, forming a designated lane. The volunteers had told us that the turtles needed to make their own journey to the ocean, as this was the only way they could remember what beach they would need to come back to as adults to lay their eggs.

When sea turtles lay their eggs, they return to the beach where they once hatched. For leatherback sea turtles, this time is anywhere between nine and fourteen years. We crowded around on both sides and watched as the volunteer took the turtles out of the bin one by one, and placed them softly onto the sand. The moment their bodies met the sand, they utilized their front two flippers to push themselves closer and closer to the waves. Occasionally a few would get off-course and need to be redirected towards the ocean. When the first wave rolled over the sand and took the first few turtles out to sea, everyone started cheering. They were on their way into the big, blue ocean to begin their journey. One wave was not strong enough to take them, but enough to clean them of the sand on their shells. Now their beautiful bodies were exposed to the bright sun shining down on them. Their black shells were decorated with speckled white lines in symmetrical rows down their back. Their eyes filled with determination as they exerted all their energy to make it to the ocean. When the last few turtles were engulfed by the wave, I could not believe what I had just witnessed. These beautiful creatures had just begun their journey to adulthood. Definitely not an easy one, but with conservation efforts from people like the volunteers at ASTOP,  hopefully we can give them a better chance at survival.

Myriam Cortez

Hola amigos y amigas. My name is Myriam Cortez and I was recently in Parismina, Costa Rica with an amazing group called AMIGOS. While this was not the only place we visited, it was one of the locations I enjoyed the most, because we got the chance to talk to the people in the town and enjoy the culture of the people and the place itself. The people here in Parismina are close to each other, as there are about 500 people living there! But most exciting to me was that we got to not only enjoy the creations of local artisans, but also get involved in the community. We collaborated with a group called ASTOP (Association for Saving the Turtles of Parismina) that watches out for turtles laying nests, takes them to guarded hatchery, and invited us on their nightly four-hour beach patrols to stay vigilant against poachers. Luckily, while I was there with AMIGOS, we got to see leatherback turtles being born. There were 14 little turtles and we said our goodbyes (and good luck!) as they went into the ocean.

Though this was an exciting experience on the trip, I also enjoyed going to Olga’s place, which quickly became a favorite local hang-out spot for food such as empanadas and smoothies made of all kinds of tropical fruit. After we received our snacks, we walked to the beach and dipped our feet in the water. At the local Fería de Artesanos, we were also able to enjoy crafts hand-made by community members, including bracelets, necklaces, and ankle bracelets. I was able to get many things for family and friends back home. And while buying some jewelry, we encountered a ten year-old kid named Kayngel who invited us to play volleyball. While communication was a little harder with masks, it was still a fun experience that I will never forget. While in Parismina, I was able to make some great connections and memories that will last a lifetime. iAdios amigos!