Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Saturday, March 5, 2011


by Claudia Rey

From June to November, once a moth, for a couple of nights, Golfina turtles come back to Playa Escobilla, the beach where they were born, to lay their eggs. They come at dusk, in dozens, then hundreds: slowly trudging in the sand, huffing and puffing, determined to go to a certain spot and nowhere else.

It’s mid November and the sun sets early. We started later than we planned and when we arrive the light is quickly fading. Camera flashes might distress the mothers and are not allowed, so we can take very few and darkish photos. Then Luis, our guide and photographer, sets up his infra-red camera and starts snapping.

The turtles go about their business, digging holes with their forelegs and showering with sand everything and everyone around. They are as big as a satellite dish but their holes are a much smaller size, deep and funnel-shaped. From time to time we are hit by hard objects, but in the growing dark it’s a while before we realize what they are. If a turtle finds some eggs in the spot she has chosen as her delivery room, explains Luis, she simply gets rid of them. They have certainly been laid the previous night by another mother – but sisterhood among turtles apparently doesn’t exist.

All this digging has woken a million of sand fleas which start feasting on our ankles and legs. We are asked not to use insect repellent because its smell could annoy the turtles and interrupt their delicate work in progress – so we sigh and endure. And finally the turtles settle: each one sits over her hole and starts producing perfectly round white eggs, the size of a ping-pong ball. Around fifty each, says our guide. The younger ones lay less than that, but this is the average amount.

To my dismay, Luis puts a torch in one of the holes, keeping it in place with some wet sand, and inserts a small video camera to film the actual “birth”. I feel that that we are intruding in a very private moment but I refrain from telling him. With typical Mexican realism he would answer that the turtle couldn’t care less, which is probably true; and I also know that he plans to sell films and photos to tourists, earning some money for his family.

When everything is finished, the exhausted mothers cover their holes again, tucking the future babies in a sand blanket, then collapse on the small mound and fall asleep. They will spend the night sitting on their eggs, and at dawn they will go back to sea. Left on their own, the eggs rest under the warm sand for a month and a half, the babies growing inside them. Until the day comes when the eggs hatch and the tiny turtles run to the sea. They run for their dear life, actually, because vultures and stray dogs lurk around and often succeed in breakfasting on them. But a good percentage of the newborns makes it to the waves. In this particular beach, patrolled by Navy soldiers with guns, a reassuring 80 percent.

Before leaving the Golfinas, Luis encourages some of us to caress their shells. We comply, lightly scratching them, and when cleaned from seaweeds and sand they shine with amazing streaks of luminous plankton. My turtle snorts, and Luis pretends that she is thanking me. “En serio, esta es una tortuga feliz” he smiles.

Oh, I am happy too. And moved, and grateful. A week later I will buy from Luis five of his photos – autographed.

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