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June 17, 2005

Sea Turtles in La Flor

As we were discussing where to go next, the Australian girl, Margot, who we had run into at the last two border crossings, mentioned something about a beach where turtles are going to be laying eggs in the next few days. We decided to go, and it turned out to be a fantastic experience; but at the same time, a sad and frustrating one. La Flor beach is a bit south of San Juan, on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. There is a small, but heavily guarded nature reserve here, and you can camp by the beach. We arrived in the afternoon so there was enough time to get a little tour from one of the nature guides there.

The idea of walking around turtles why they are laying eggs initially made me feel uncomfortable and a bit guilty -- at other turtle beaches, for example in Costa Rica, you are not even supposed to walk on the beach, to avoid compressing the sand. With the small number of visitors here, this did not seem to be a problem (especially compared to the other problems here; see below).
The guide seemed a whole lot less concerned, and proceeded to dig a little hole behind one of the turtles so that we could see her while she was laying eggs.

It was quite interesting; one popped out every few seconds, and we were told they lay about a hundred eggs. The turtles seemed to be in trance during the process; and very tired afterwards. But what do I know about turtle's facial expressions...?

We set up camp right by the beach. One guy decided to sleep on the beach, and was woken up by a turtle covering him in the sand she had to dispose of while digging the hole for the eggs. (The process of digging the holes is quite interesting -- they have specially shaped flippers to allow them to dig).

At night, the process continued. The military was patrolling the beach all night. One of the soldiers bragged about having once eaten 27 eggs in one night. Yes, that's right, one of the soldiers who is supposed to be protecting the turtles from poachers. Some of the turtles had fish attached to them -- must be quite an unpleasant surprise to a fish who was trying to feed on whatever was growing on the turtle, to find itself on land..

Occasionally, we heard gunfire. No idea whether that was for entertainment, or directed at poachers. In the morning, we saw a lot of people digging up the eggs again. Apparently, locals are allowed to take a certain quota, to preserve their lifestyle. However, the way they do that is rather inefficient. They probe the sand with a stick... if it comes up with egg goo stuck to it, they start digging up the eggs that they did not destroy with their crude method of finding them.

They also seem to take more eggs than they are allowed. After a short discussion, a guard confiscated a sack of eggs from an older man. Probably for dinner.

Later, we went snorkeling. It was quite an experience to see the turtles in their element. However, after seeing a sea snake, we decided it was not the safest place to be.

On our way on to Costa Rica, we had lunch in San Juan. The "vegetarian" plate included a boiled turtle egg - lovely.  Given that it was already boiled and doubting that a gringo actually eating the turtle egg that was served would make any difference whatsoever, I tried it. It tasted like a fishy egg. Big surprise there...


Posted by rick at June 17, 2005 07:56 PM