After extending our stay on beautiful Ometepe, we were inclined to do the practical thing and head straight back to San José for the final days of our vacation. But I still really wanted to see Tortuguero National Park. The problem was that Tortuguero is situated WAYYY far away from anything, up in the northeastern corner of Costa Rica in an area accessible only by small plane or river boat. Plus we’d read in the Nicaraguan papers that the region was experiencing heavy flooding and an epidemic of dengue fever. And we only had a couple of days left. Oh, what the hey, we said. When are we ever going to be back here again? Let’s go. It’s probably just Nicaraguan propaganda.
I don’t know about the dengue fever (we used a lot of mosquito repellent) but the flooding part was quite true, adding another dimension to the already complicated getting-there experience. But that’s half the fun, right?
Our route from Omotepe to Tortuguero: take the ferry from Omotepe to San Jorge; taxi to the border; walk across the border to Costa Rica; bus south toward San José (some backtracking necessary when we got kicked off the bus by border police because we’d missed one of the bureaucratic steps at the crossing – oops); bus back north to the border; get the stamp; bus all the way to San José terminal (hurray); cross-town taxi to a different bus station; bus to Cariari; bus through the United Fruit banana towns on flooded roads to La Pavona. There the road officially ends so you get a boat for the last leg of the journey on the Rio Suerte and Tortuguero Rivers to the village of Tortuguero.
The area is called Tortuguero because it is the turtle place. Leatherback and green sea turtles lay their eggs here at different times of the year. Right now is green turtle nesting season. Tourist access to the turtles is tightly controlled.
The beach is closed after dark when the sea turtles come up to lay their eggs. You can go out to watch them only in a small group led by a licensed local guide.
We had two nights before we needed to be back in San José. We hired a turtle guide to take us out the first night. Our time slot was 8-10 pm (you get to choose 8-10 or 10-12). We sat on the airstrip just inland from the beach waiting for a “spotter” to give our guide the OK to take us onto the beach. Sadly, the sea had been rough that day and no turtles came up onto the beach. Bummer. But we did get to enjoy one of the nicest dinners we’ve had all summer at the Wild Ginger restaurant.
The next morning Alekka stayed at the hostel to study while Andreas and I went out in a canoe to explore the canals. You can say that Alekka misses a lot of the fun, but actually she hates boats and is happier practicing her physics problems than paddling on the river. We’d booked a guide for 6 am when birds and animals are most active, but it was pouring then so we rescheduled for a little later in the morning. The sun came out and we were fortunate to see all kinds of rainforest creatures.
That last night we decided to try again to see the turtles. We hired another guide, this time for 10-midnight. We had another great dinner at Wild Ginger (as the practical proprietor said, better to celebrate before you go out, because if you don’t see turtles, at least you enjoyed your meal).
This time we were met with success. It was raining fairly hard on us at about 11:00 when the spotter gave the signal to our guide. We followed him down the dark beach trail for about 20 minutes to a place on the sand where a huge turtle, probably more than a yard long, had dug a deep pit. She was poised half-in, half-out of the hole. We watched her lay the last 30 or so of her hundred eggs, then stayed while she used her flippers to begin filling in the pit with sand. No photos at all are allowed, either with or without flash (I suppose to avoid the “oops” factor). So, sorry, no photos of the mama turtles.
Mission accomplished. Now for the journey back to San José, Los Angeles, and finally home to Addis Ababa.