Last Friday marked the end of our first night in Isla Cañas. From Saturday-Tuesday, we had a jam-packed schedule of activities during our time on the island. The Policía Ecológica guided us throughout our experience, giving us invaluable knowledge along the way.
Saturday morning meant waking up early to walk the 45-minute walk along the beach in order to make it to the turtle hatchery. The Policía, alongside representatives from MiAmbiente (the Ministry of Environment), had been working to expand the hatchery to four times its original size. In order to do so, the Policía requested the support from AMIGOS participants.
Once the Subteniente finished his explanation, the participants got to work! Participants split into groups. The first group started cleaning out the weeds, plants, and debris in the newly expanded sections of the hatchery in order to prepare the area to start receiving turtle eggs. The second group began assisting with moving PVC pipes necessary for the vivero’s expansion. Both groups then had the chance to start cleaning out the original hatchery of old turtle eggs. By clearing the old eggshells, participants helped make room for new turtle eggs to be placed and then have a better chance at hatching successfully.
After a delicious lunch at Doña Victoria’s house, the participants headed back to the hostal to participate in AMIGOS Briefing activities. In addition to covering topics of health and safety, cultural respect and understanding, and training on the projects and activities that participants would be doing while in community, our daily Briefing also included lots of games and dinámicas!
On Sunday, participants started the day off by participating in AMIGOS-specific activities. Sunday was also the day when participants found out which community they were placed in, who their partner would be, and who their supervisor was. Our project supervisors Emma and Nuria planned an elaborate route reveal that required participants to untangle themselves from a human knot, pop balloons, and dance in sync in order to find out their placements!
In the afternoon, participants went to the beach with the Policía Ecológica and some local youth. Together, we played a bunch of games, dinámicas, and soccer. The local kids from Isla Cañas made the experience much more fun and it was incredible to see the AMIGOS participants jumping at the opportunity to speak Spanish and get to know the kids.
Sunday night was the moment we had all been waiting for. Night Patrol! Around 8:45PM, we strapped on our flashlights (red light only to prevent startling any nesting sea turtles!) and began walking along the beach. The Policía rode ahead on their four-wheeler searching for any sea turtles that had come up to lay eggs. As we walked, we saw a procession in the distance walking along the beach. As it was the Fiestas Patronales for the Virgen del Carmen on the island, the people on the island would have religious processions as they carried a statue of the Virgen and shot off fireworks. We were all very worried that the fireworks would scare off any sea turtles, and we began to prepare ourselves for the disappointment of not finding any turtles.
We continued to walk along the beach, however, and after about 15 minutes after the procession had left, we decided to take a rest and start a reflection session while we could catch our breath. Only a few minutes after we sat down did we see the Policía shining their flashlights into the air – the sign that they had found a sea turtle!!! We all rushed over as silently as possible to where the police were standing. As we were quietly waiting for instructions from the Policía on how to carefully and quietly approach the turtle, the Policía let us know that the turtle had finished laying its eggs and was now heading back to the water. This meant that we were able to accompany the sea turtle on its long journey to the ocean. The turtle was big! The Policía informed us that it was at least 35 years old and it had most likely returned to the beach to lay its eggs many, many times before.
Illuminating the turtle with our red lights, we were all able to see the beautiful sea turtle as it slowly made its way back to the water. The turtle stopped to take breaks every couple feet, and the Policía explained that it was exhausted after having laid so many eggs. It was an incredible experience to see such a beautiful animal up close and we felt especially fortunate because it is such a rare opportunity!
After our night patrol finished, it was around 11pm by the time we made it back to the hostal. The participants quickly got ready for bed and went to sleep, ready for our last full day on the island.
On Monday, we started our day by going to the school at Isla Cañas. This cute little school hosts around 70 students from kindergarten to 9th grade. We first learned about the school and participants had the opportunity to ask questions to the Policía about what the school was like, how many students it had, etc. Since it was still the Fiestas Patronales, school was cancelled for the day, which made it much easier for us to get involved in helping support some of the work that the school needed to get done.
As with our other activities, we split into three groups in order to get as much work done as possible. The first group went to the garden and began lifting heavy palm tree logs and clearing debris from the garden. It was a big job and the participants made a lot of progress in the time they helped out. The second group did a general cleaning of the school – trash pickup all around the school, sweeping, and hosing down muddy floors. The third group worked on a special surprise gift for the Policía: a mural canvas that we would give to the Policía as a thank you for all of the support they had given us in making this trip possible, and so enjoyable.
In addition to AMIGOS participants, we had 4 local children, all of whom attend the school, join us as volunteers – helping clear out the garden and clean the school. It was a really cool experience and afterward, the Police told us that the school almost never receives any outside support to get work like this finished and that the couple hours the participants got to work truly was a big help to the school.
Tuesday morning was our last few hours on the island before heading to Penonomé on the bus. We had to wake everyone up at 5:00AM in order to get an early breakfast and pack up everything onto the boats to cross over to the other side. Since high tide was at 8AM, we had to make sure we made it in time before the tide was too low to cross.
While these days in Isla Cañas were exhausting, they were also incredible. For us as staff, it was amazing to see how the group had bonded and formed really close relationships not only with each other, but with the local kids on the island. We were so impressed with seeing how at every opportunity, the participants jumped to get to know the local kids and continuously made an effort to form friendships.
We had to say goodbye to our wonderful cook, Doña Victoria and her husband Catalino, who had provided 3 delicious meals each day for our entire group. We also presented our gift of the painted canvas to the Policía and thanked them for all of their tremendous support throughout our time on the island. Once on the dock and waiting for the boat in order to cross, participants had to say goodbye to some of the friends they had made.
While it was sad to have to leave after such a crazy, beautiful, fun experience, we all felt so grateful for the opportunity to have shared these amazing memories with one another and with the people on the island.