The first weekend we were in Costa Rica, Quena's exchange student program was doing a group trip to Tortuguero, and Lacey and I got to go along. Tortuguero is on the northern Caribbean coast, where sea turtles go to lay their eggs every year. The tiny, one-street village of Tortuguero itself is completely supported by tourism, which is good because that keeps them from killing endangered animals for a living. The only way to get there is by boat along the Pacuare River, or by plane. We went by boat and stayed at the Mawamba Lodge.
This was the part of Costa Rica that reminded me most of Peru. There was a lot of rain-forest around, and we went on several boat rides and hikes to see all sorts of animals. Lacey got this great shot of a monkey by aiming her camera through her binoculars. Pretty impressive. We also saw a bunch of birds, some basilisks and iguanas, and we even got a caiman within a few feet of our boat.
Photos of the sea turtles aren't allowed, so Idin kindly posed for us with an egg, attempting to shuffle sand over it with his feet. The actual tours to see the turtles were at night, which is when they come out of the sea to lay their eggs. You're only supposed to go see a turtle when it is actually in the process of laying the eggs, since if you disturb them when they're just coming out, or at some other stage, they'll take off again. So you have to sit in small groups with your guide, while other guides carefully check out the beach to see where the nesting turtles are. Then they radio back and tell the groups where to go.
Our group waited about 45 minutes before we got a call. The turtle was a fair bit down the beach and already laying her eggs. So we took off on a 20-minute power walk along a trail that paralleled the beach, and got there just in time to miss the eggs and see the turtle laboriously piling sand over them with her flippers. She was about three or four feet across, and there was clearly immense strength in her flippers, slow though they were out of water. We started walking back along the beach then, and saw ahead of us another turtle hauling itself up the beach to find a nesting spot. We waited a few minutes and then walked very carefully around it, giving it as much space as we could. Still farther on, a guide that we passed found us another turtle. This one was still laying her eggs, so we could go right up to her, since they don't seem to notice anything at that stage. Our guide actually pulled back one of her back flippers and shone a flashlight down so we could see the eggs popping out, looking like ping pong balls. Once she started covering them with sand, we left her alone and headed back to the lodge. It was a remarkably successful turtle-outing, especially considering that some of the other groups didn't get to see any.
There were some tree frogs that lived near the pool at the lodge, and a guy there would would find them and let people hold them. The frog we found was asleep, and looked like a solid green pod stuck to a leaf. Then its eyes opened and bulged out, surprisingly huge and red. As it unfolded its legs, it revealed the blue and orange on its sides and legs, and stalked all over our hands and shoulders. When Lacey was holding it, it looked over at me, then suddenly took a flying leap of three feet or so, directly at me, landing squarely on my chest and sticking to my shirt. Surprised the heck out of me, especially since I couldn't tell where it was aiming for when it was flying at me. Very amusing.
One evening, there was a band playing at the lodge, and I was very surprised to see the lead singer playing a banjo. Especially since it looked like a five-string banjo with one string removed. I went up and talked to him later (in clumsy Spanish) and that's indeed what it was. He also pointed out that the Caribbean coast has a mix of different musical influences, including African, so I guess it makes sense that a banjo would show up. It's just not the context I'm used to seeing it in at all.
Also, on the evening after the turtle watching, some of the EAP kids taught us some basic cumbia dance steps. It's like Latin swing, and surprisingly bouncy. I may need to write a separate post about it, though unfortunately I didn't learn as much of it as I would have liked.