Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Sunday, December 11, 2011


by Claudia Rey

A year later and nothing has changed: the sand is still warm, there are hundreds of stars over our heads, the waves are luminescent with plankton and roll gently towards the beach. We are here for a different reason, though. We did come to see turtles, but babies and not mothers.

It is nearly seven, already dark, and at first the beach looks desert and still. We sort of expected a frenzy of movement, but the only sign that something is about to happen is the loud quak of garzas, black birds similar to crows but bigger and uglier.

“They are waiting” explains our guide Luis. “They know that in a while they will have a good dinner.” I shiver. Okay, the laws of nature and so on, but do garzas have to eat baby turtles? Now?

We walk for some minutes by the light of our torches, but we only see broken whitish eggshell. Then Luis stops us. “Look, a nest” he says pointing to a spot where something is moving. I fall to my knees. A tiny black head, the size of a hazelnut, is surfacing from the sand… then I see a flipper. Slowly the tortuguita emerges from the nest, moving very weakly as if it was drunk. Another follows, then another. And soon there are dozens of them, stepping one over the other in their desperate quest for air - and the security of the ocean.

I'm dying to touch one of the little creatures, but I'm afraid a human hand might affect them in some way, possibly removing some protective film or whatever… “Of course you can” smiles Luis. So I reach slowly and caress the shell, which is surprisingly hard, while head and flippers are as soft as velvet. The babies are not bigger than a hen's egg and look sweet and vulnerable, but are in fact strong and resilient, and very good at fighting for life. At the end of their nose they have a sort of hard needle which they use to break the egg shell, and after emerging from a rather deep nest - which is in itself a challenge - they run to the sea and they start swimming, without eating anything for at least three days. Not bad for newborns, with no mummy to tell them what to do or at least to encourage them.

As if an alarm clock had started, hundreds of hatchlings are now leaving their nests all at the same time. It is nearly ten, the half moon is shining and we don't need torches any more. Now the sand is swarming of small creatures, at least fifty for each nest, and we walk from one nest to another very carefully to avoid stepping on them. Here and there we can still see the big round form of a mother turtle laying her eggs, but those are the younger ones who probably lost their way, explains our guide, and they are very few. The two events are very well spaced by Mother Nature: first the delivery, forty-five days later the birth. And they rarely mix.

Well, it's time to leave the babies to their business. But the real treat of the evening has still to come: we are allowed to put a tortuguita on our hand, and Luis takes an infra-red photo. The proportions are amazing: I can only imagine how scared the babies would be if they could see themselves on our giant palms. But they couldn't care less, or so it seems.

The tide has changed and big waves come nearer. A dozen of newborn have nearly reached their goal… then a wave enfolds them, taking them away. “So long, babies” whispers the lady near me. She has come from Puebla expressly to see this "milagro" as she calls it. “And now, let's have a nice cold beer” she suggests.

Sure, why not? Right now, a cold beer seems just the thing.

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