Sea Turtles and Marino Ballena in Costa Rica
Taylor, Sean and I piled in our rented land cruiser and headed out from our beach hostel, Coloso Del Mar, at Playa Zancudo, Costa Rica. We woke up feeling refreshed after three flights starting in the cold Minnesota winter and ending in Golfito, Costa Rica. Yesterday was a long day, but today was going to be all about adventure.
“Where are we headed, boss man?” asked my lovely daughter.
“We are off to see some turtles,” I replied, “But keep your hats on, because it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. Too bad mom is sick.”
My wife, Jessica, had caught a bug just before we left, and opted to stay in bed while I took the kids out for the day. The idea of bumping up and down a dirt road didn’t appeal to her, but she sent me and the kids with cameras, pads and phones to record the whole escapade.
We made our way on a pretty good stretch of road from Playa Zancudo around the Piedras Blancas National Park with its towering forest rooftop. The kids were already enthralled. You just don’t see this kind of stuff up north where the winters are long and harsh. Such greenery doesn’t grace our regular surroundings, and it had the tonic effect of drawing the kids’ attention away from their video games. I loved that.
“Wow! Dad, do you see that? The tree is shaking. Do you think it’s a monkey?” exclaimed my nine year old ecstatic boy.
“Well Sean, it just might be,” I replied, “Or maybe it’s a sloth.”
“What’s a sloth?” asked Taylor. She’s only six, and missed out on the whole Ice Age craze.
“It’s a really lazy, silly monkey,” replied Sean. He had seen the last movie.
“It’s not a monkey, Sean,” I replied, “But that’s a pretty good description.”
We carried on around the edge of Golfo Dulce (the Gulf of Sweetness) bumping and jostling down the road. The kids peered into the glistening sea, and wondered at what they would be seeing next. Marino Ballena National Park is known for its many aquatic inhabitants, but most prominently for the Humpback Whales that visit in order to birth their progeny in the warm waters around Costa Rica. We weren’t making it there in the right time of year to catch a glimpse of the giants of the sea, but nesting sea turtles come in September on the waning moon.
“Why are we goin’ to see turtles, Daddy?” perked up Taylor after we had passed the Sea. “We got turtles at home, too.”
“That’s true Taylor, but not the kind of turtles that we can see here,” I replied.
“Yeah, there sea turtles!” said a nearly shouting Sean, “And they’re real big! Right Dad?”
I had talked to Sean on the plane about the Leatherback Sea Turtles, which are the biggest in the sea, and how if we were lucky, we might spot one. Taylor and her mom had been sleeping, so they missed out on my inadequate description of the enormous testudine.
“That’s right,” I replied.
We continued on the road with the passing scenery of farms on our left and jungle on our right, and try as they might to fight it off, a nap soon took over my curious tikes. When we were about to cross Rio Grande de Terraba, I knew that we were nearly there. I couldn’t resist waking them to see the river basin as we hit the bridge. I blared the radio with Cumbia music. It was what was playing at the time, and it had the intended effect.
“Ohhhhhhh! Daddy!” retorted Taylor unpleased to be woken up.
“Look guys! We’re passing a river,” I said enthusiastically.
They weren’t impressed.
“Turn that down,” replied Sean.
“Please,” was my pedantic reply.
“Please! Turn it down,” Taylor returned.
I obliged them, and they soon went back into a slumber. I wasn’t disheartened by their disapproval, and continued in my delighted modus operandi. That leg of the trip was truly beautiful, and, unfortunately for my little guys, they missed it. We passed mangrove swamps at the mouth of the river, and went on to an even greater view of the Pacific Ocean. When we finally pulled into the entrance of Playa Uvita and Marino Ballena National Park, I could hear them stirring about in the back with their apps and games.
“We’re here,” I said.
The sun had started to go down, and we were making are way to visitor center in Uvita to see if we could find a guide to help lead us on our night excursion to view turtles. The man at the front desk shook his head no, but gave us information about where we needed to go in order to catch a glimpse of sea turtles. He also pointed us in the direction of a store in town that had flashlights with shields, and told us not to flash our cameras at the turtles. It scares the weary travelers, and could make them head back into the sea.
I also learned that we were a bit too late to see the giant Leatherback Sea Turtles, but there were loads of Hawksbill and Olive Ridley sea turtles coming in now. We departed from the Uvita information center and hit the makeshift general store where we picked up three of the aforementioned flashlights, and headed to the area of the arrowhead shaped beach where we were told that turtles would be coming. My kiddos and I were quite famished, so we bought a number of snacks and fruits to satiate them and myself.
It wasn’t long after we plopped down at the edge of the turtles’ nesting ground that we started to see little heads popping up and down in the rolling surf. The day had been a bit wet with a fair amount of rain falling in patches here and there along the trip, but the night was as clear as crystal.
“Daddy, do ya see those dark spots on the water?” asked Sean.
“Is that them?” added Taylor.
“I think so guys,” I said beginning to feel the same kind of fervor as my children. “But sit down or you might scare the little guys away.”
My kids crouched in close with me, and we got a fair amount of video made with the red light from our shielded flashlights. The moment that the first turtles crawled from the briny sea was met with exuberant yet hushed “oohs,” “Aahs,” and “Daddy, wows.” The expression of their jubilant faces was priceless. On returning to our little cottage by the sea, my kids were out and their mom was up worried, of course. She was satisfied when I lugged them into the house and we got them all covered up. They spent the next morning regaling their recovering momma with videos and tales of their sea turtle adventure before heading out for a family beach day. It was a magical experience that I will cherish for the rest of my days, and I know my kids will, too.