Dear Alex, Amelie, Anthony, Parker, Charlie, Erin, Eva, Kara, Jayden, Jade, Jack, Izzy, Greyson, Gehrig, Karson, Kenai, Kiera, Kristen, Maddie, Minnie, Nolan, Reece, and Serenity,
Hola, maes! You were our very first group for the summer in Parismina, and we couldn’t have asked for a better collection of humans to start us off.
And what more perfect way could there have been to begin our adventure than speeding through the rainforest with the friendly guides at Braulio Carrillo National Park Canopy zip-line tours? We started off with a look at the tapir mama and baby, caught a glimpse of a sloth in the trees, and saw a couple of little armadillos nosing around the forest floor at the last platform. Speaking of which–a couple of us got to finish the course with a real bang, zooming across half a mile of jungle on the AdrenaLine in the pouring rain!
After moving our luggage from the bus to the boat, we sped through the network of canals from Caño Blanco to the back entrance of home base–the Green Gold Eco-Lodge outside of Parismina. You guys were troopers, slogging your luggage through the jungle in the darkening twilight. At the other end a reward was waiting–an outdoor lounge full of hammocks that came to be trusty friends over the course of the trip.
From our very first night patrol, luck was with us and we got to witness a giant leatherback turtle building her nest and laying her eggs. Our ASTOP guide, Pito (Carlos), was so knowledgeable and passionate and his expertise really enhanced the whole experience. He and Irvin led us out on four nights to protect and observe the turtles that come every year to make their nests on the beach where they were born. Adding to the magic were the fireflies in the trees, the bioluminescence in the sand, and the spectacular shows of lightning that made sky, well, lit.
Mako’s turtle talks provided some background information on the species that nest in Parismina and the efforts of ASTOP to protect them, and on our first visit to town we got to see the hatchery where eggs are relocated to mature in peace until the baby turtles are ready to make their rush to the sea. Once again, Pito worked his magic and brought a couple of tiny leatherback hatchlings for us to observe as they began their perilous journey (that will hopefully result in a return to their home beach in sixteen to twenty-five years so they can lay eggs of their own).
We also got the benefit of Jason’s expertise about the local environment. The first time was during the morning where he took us on a tour of his farm, pointing out the various plants and animals he shares his home with. It was a hands-on experience, where some of us emerged with red achiote war paint, and everyone got to taste the water, meat, and sponge of the coconuts that seem to grow everywhere. It was a treat for us mentors to see our group of super-cool teenage students get excited about sensi plants that close up when you touch them and about the capuchin monkeys that came to steal bananas before breakfast.
Another morning, he took us on a boat tour where he seemed to be able to find interesting animals behind every leaf. We saw two caimans (at least), and a crocodile, in addition to huge iguanas, an emerald basilisk, weird-looking roseate spoonbill birds, and tiny, bright poison dart frogs (both strawberry and blue-jean).
For service, you guys worked hard to patrol the beaches, and to pick up trash during the cleanup, from big bottles and lonely shoes to lollypop sticks and toothpaste caps, down to the tiniest bits of micro-plastic that are the biggest threat to the turtles and their nests. On our last day of service, you worked together to paint beautiful signs for the forest and town, urging passersby to care for the turtles and the environment and to remember how we’re all connected.
You swam in the rough, chocolate-milk-colored waves off our black sand beach, and you fell down, stood up, fell down, and stood up again during our surf lesson with Naima and her instructors in Puerto Viejo. During our big day in town, you visited the homes Sayleen and Ana, who generously invited you into their kitchens and showed you how to prepare empanadas and prestiños. Then you got a chance to shop at the local artisan fair at the ASTOP casona and headed over to the playing field to make friends with the local kids over volleyball and futbol.
For the mentors, the times we got to know you best were during night patrols and mentor groups, on the long bus rides and the times we rose early to watch the sun come up over the Caribbean. We loved hearing your insightful comments about complicated issues like conservation, poaching, and service and having a ringside seat as you made new connections and started to realize how much power you really have to change the world. It was a privilege to learn about your great tastes in music and anime, about the service and conservation work you’re already doing at home, and about your hopes and dreams for the future. Not gonna lie, it was also pretty entertaining to watch you flossing, working yourselves out of the human knot, and trying to remember not to swing in the hammocks. And don’t forget the afternoon we all got down with Maya during our dance lesson.
We hope you had as great a time as we did, and that your time with us taught you a little more about turtles, conservation, and yourselves. All silliness aside, it was really touching to see how you pulled together to comfort each other during hard moments, to protect each other from harsh words, to celebrate the special day of one of your own, and in the end, how you showed one another how much of an impact each of you made on the group during our appreciation circle on our last night.
We really believe that you are the leaders of our future, and the best hope we have for protecting our planet so that there are turtles to see and beaches to surf when your children and grandchildren are the age you are now. You each arrived with your own stories and we feel proud and lucky to be involved in one small chapter, and grateful to have you be part of ours. Don’t let anyone make you believe that you’re too young, too inexperienced, or too anything to make a difference. You already have. You already are.
Ciao from the Turtle Team!