I look out at the sea and notice hundreds of heads popping in and out of the waves. They are scattered throughout the horizon, uniquely positioned like a cunning naval offense. It’s that time of year–the turtle invasion has begun.
Thanks to our friend Rolf at Hotel Luna Azul in Ostional, we were alerted to their arrival. He is the area’s turtle whisperer, “The big “arribadas” has started,” he writes. “You do not want to miss this.”
I glance down the beach and see many have already laid their eggs in the sand. Some are dragging their exhausted bodies back to the sea; each step a struggle, their bodies not designed to maneuver in this terrain.
Their appendages dig into the sand and push, inch by inch, towards the ocean leaving what looks like tire tracks in the sand. They let out deep breaths and rest for prolonged periods of time. It’s taking every last bit of their energy to return home.
“There is a delicate balance here.” Rolf tells us over breakfast at his hotel. I sit at an ocean view table spreading homemade marmalade on toast. He has just poured me a second cup of coffee after bringing out a plate of fruit. Rolf’s hospitality is as good as his breakfast.
Rolf enthusiastically explains the phenomenon that is occurring, “Playa Ostional is one of the world’s most important nesting beaches for Olive Ridley turtles. It would seem this close-knit community has struck a delicate balance between preserving the turtles for future generations and the culture of the people.
So many turtles arrive with each new wave that they trample and destroy the nests that were laid the night before.
These eggs are thought to be an aphrodisiac and are highly sort after by people of Costa Rica. The community participates in a program that allows collection of up to 5% of this first wave of eggs likely to be destroyed by the turtles themselves.
The later batches laid by the turtles are to be left to hatch and hopefully make it back to the sea.
Video: Turtles at Playa Ostional, Costa Rica.
“It is possible to conserve our resources and live in harmony with nature,” Rolf explains. “But only if we all come together through education and develop programs to make that possible.”
Playa Ostional couldn’t be a more beautiful beach. It’s a peaceful area located approximately an hour and a half south of Tamarindo. It’s exactly what I love about living here, uninterrupted landscapes with seawater at my feet.
No wonder the turtles come here year after year. It would seem our friend Rolf runs his hotel in one of the most spectacular places in all of Costa Rica.
We return to Ostional once again after Rolf informs us the babies are hatching. When we arrive, we follow tiny prints in the sand until we catch up with the babies. They are fast and scurry towards the sea. The vultures are hovering overhead; the turtles know this is the most important race of their lives.
The babies sprint across the hot beach, their little paddles flinging up grains of sand to the top of their shells. The grains resemble tiny flakes of gold glitter in the sunlight, turning their grayish shells into sparkling gems.
Rolf warned us to resist the urge to pick them up and rush them to the water–if you don’t allow them to walk to the water their lungs will not have a chance to fill with air and they will ultimately drown. The turtles must do this journey on their own. All I can do is chant, “go turtle go!” as I protect them from the predators overhead.
This one will make it, I say to myself. I watch as he finally hits the surf, his little appendages instinctively paddle rapidly. In a split second, he disappears into the darkness of the ocean.
Costa Rica often gifts me with life-affirming moments. Today I reflected on my own existence by simply watching these turtles recreate their miraculous return, an event that has gone on for thousands of years.
I can’t help but think how rich my life has become while living in Costa Rica and how lucky I am that people like Rolf are here to share their love for this country.
Perhaps I’ll stop by his hotel again this week. I have a feeling he has other secrets to share over breakfast.
Written by Nadine Hays Pisani who was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey and attended Rutgers University. Nadine moved to Costa Rica in 2007 with her husband and dog, Clementine. When not writing, you can find her at the beach, on the back of a scooter, or frantically tossing scorpions out of her bed. She shares her weekly adventures on her blog: Happier Than A Billionaire.
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