Watching turtle hatchlings in Tortugueros

After saying our goodbye to David and Katy, we hit the road hard. We had a lot of ground to cover if we wanted to make the Vanlife social gathering in Todos Santos, and we weren’t entirely sure if we would get another chance to see turtle hatchlings released into the sea.

I’d like to write that we drove parts of Baja’s most specular highway… But we didn’t! The drive was pretty mundane, but at least it gave us time to listen to more of our Spanish audio lessons. We were eager to be able to hold basic conversations with the locals, or at least seem to be trying.

We broke the drive up by stopping at a small town, hoping to buy some tacos to save us from making lunch. Sadly, the only taco stalls open only served meat, so we had a quick toilet break and then hit the road once more, stopping only to fill our petrol tank up.

To get to the beach spot, you had to follow a dirt track off of the highway. It was thirty minutes of unbearable washboard road, and after all of the driving, we were happy to be able to pull up and park.

Although we had practically sacrificed a day to driving, we were holding onto the small hope that we would at least be rewarded for our efforts by watching the baby turtles released into nature.

In the morning, we realised that it we had been travelling officially six months. Neither of us could believe where the time had gone. Our New York arrival now a distant memory.

Celebrating 6 months on the road

We were greeted by a guy collecting fees for the site owner. It was only $100pesos, so not the end of the world. He made it seem more worthwhile by informing us that there was a shower on the site, and so we moved the van around, hoping for a better showering experience compared to San Ignacio… It wasn’t!

On second thoughts… Maybe not

The shower was full of bees, pulling up alongside another guy who was washing his surf gear, he told us that we’d just have to risk it if we really wanted a shower. We did… But not that much.

At least the drive was shorter today, and before we knew it, we had reached La Paz. Baja’s ‘capital city’. We soon passed familiar American stores such as Home Depo and Dominoes Pizza. Definitely not a place we felt desperate to make a stop at just yet.

We arrived at Todos Santos in the late afternoon. There was a beach clearing activity in the morning, but it was just too soon for us to make. Introducing ourselves, we met a group of travellers, all who were living a similar lifestyle to ourselves. The event was the second gathering for the Vanlife app, who had hoped to host events from Baja, all the way up to Alaska. Although, it seemed a lot of people had just turned up to hang with people living the same lifestyle.

Gotta love two VWs together
Our new neighbours

We were parked right next to a greenhouse, owned by a local company who released the turtles. As the group was quickly outgrowing the parking space, they decided to move up to the next beach parking space, as apparently there was more room AND better surf. Most had already seen the turtles released, so they headed off, whilst we eagerly waited. Excited to see a once in a life time experience.

A teenage girl on a quad bike soon arrived, carrying some plastic boxes, containing the newly hatched turtles. She set up a stall and placed the hatchlings in washing up bowls for people to have a closer inspection. I couldn’t believe how small the turtles were. The waves were breaking quite close to the shore, violently crashing against the sand. It didn’t seem fair for these delicate looking creatures, which had only be alive for a couple of hours, to be set free into that chaos. It was surely a death trap waiting to happen!

Just chilling before the main event

As the sun slowly sank behind the horizon, a group of volunteers carried the bowls down to the sea. A boy, presumably the girls brother, drew a line in the sand and warned the gathering crowd.

“You all have to stand behind this line. Otherwise the babies can get washed into your foot prints and find it hard to get out.”

Getting ready

As soon as the sun had set, they gave the carriers the instruction to release the turtles, and so they tipped them out onto the sand. It was now over to nature to do the rest!

And they’re off
My monies on number 10

There was about fifty hatchlings in total, some wasted no time scurrying towards the incoming waves. A few made no attempts to move, laying in the spot that they were placed.

“Do not touch the turtles. ” The boy instructed. “You have oils on your skin which are harmful to the babies.”

The early movers were making steady process, as the volunteers tried to coax the remaining turtles into life, some more successful than others.

Getting closer

Another wave crept up the shore, now only inches away from the first turtle. The while crowd let out a sigh of frustration. Surely the next wave will be the one.

A powerful wave, strong than any of the previous ones, swept across the shore, sweeping up six or seven of the turtles, resulting in a large cheer from the gathered observers. The joy was short lived however, the strong wave washing the turtles right back to where they started. Nature can be cruel at times. For many of the turtles, this was their first life challenge to overcome. Quite a few had been washed into their backs, and were desperately struggling to turn themselves over. This was obviously a staged releasing, and the gathered masses ensured that the turtles were safe from predators. In the wild, whilst on their backs, they were waiting to be eaten by lurking birds!

Amazingly, everyone managed to flip themselves back onto their feet. Even better though, the wave seemed to have motivated the last few who hadn’t moved since being dropped into the beach. They too were now powering towards the sea, a thirst for life now clearly motivating them!

Another wave hit the beach, scouping up some of the hatchlings who had made good progress, this time carrying them towards the freedom of the ocean. A huge cheer erupting from the crowd, who were completely gripped with the events unfolding before us.

We stayed around thirty minutes in total, watching as the waves toyed with the turtles. Washing some back, whilst carrying more down to the ocean depths. Watching the turtles was truly inspirational, and definitely a memory I would treasure forever. It may also provide a useful teaching experience when I return to a classroom.

And they’re free

The battle wasn’t over for the turtles, they would now have to adapt and learn how to survive in the ocean, sourcing food and avoiding predators.

We headed back to Ruby and moved to the new camp spot, meeting up with the rest of the Vanlife gathering, who had formed a giant circle of campers. Like the turtles, we too had to learn about our new environment, and that meant trying to learn the names of all of our new neighbours.

After making something to eat, we joined everyone outside and started to share stories about our travels. We found out that two of the campers had arranged a vegan cooking event for the following evening. Offering a three course meal to guests for $25 p.p. An interesting idea, but a little bit out of our budget.

We also learned that Ola and Rachel, who were there on behalf of the Vanlife app, were recording their own travel documentary. We spoke to many people that night, hearing about everyone’s origin stories. Many of which were similar to ours, which the exception of shipping their from a different country.

With our brains overloaded with stories and names to remember, we headed to bed, so we would be fresh in the morning to continue getting to know our new friends.

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