A misstep in our journey to Panama? I'd like to think not, but it was not the highlight like everyone thought it was going to be. Originally, we had planned an entire week here, but it was cut short due to several factors. But before I begin this post, I need to say that it was an incredible experience for the brief amount of time we were there. I don't regret coming here as we did accomplish our mission. After our trip from Bastimentos, we stayed in the Bocas del Toro area and headed for the overgrown and neglected Soropta Canal towards Chiriqui Beach which is home to a turtle conservation program by ANAM. The place, like the people working for the program, seemed worn down and indifferent. The buildings were falling apart and not well maintained. I had an experience with a pier that collapsed from under me while yet another part of it had completely fallen down. In fact, the pier had more personality than the workers did. Although I did like one of the researchers. She was from Costa Rica and had warned me to walk on the edge of the pier. Her first time on this rickety thing resulted in falling into the swampy area. I snapped a pic below of this rotted nightmare. Secretly I kind of loved it. It would also be a sign of what was to come. There were two things about this planned stay that made it difficult. One was natural and the second was unfortunate. The first was the difficulty of the infamous "chitras" or tiny little flies that will bite you up and down when you least expect it. It was here that our team suffered the most. One night, we incurred over a 100 bites on each of our bodies. If you do go turtle watching, make sure you bring long sleeves to protect against these nasty critters. And the second? The staff. There seemed to be an unwelcoming vibe going on as if we weren't wanted there. So why have volunteers come and help? The lead director was alright. We had to ask her questions though about the turtles to get any answers. The other underpaid people, were reserved and suspicious. Two young men were inappropriate as one of them opened a shower door on my female counterpart to "sneak a peak". So yes...there was a creepy element to the place as well:) And they wonder why no one was coming to volunteer anymore? Last year they had too many people helping out, but this year we were only the second tiny group to arrive....and the last. My other friend completely shut down and within two days, we left. My only issue was the attitude of the place. Most of these people didn't care for the extra help nor was it wanted. I wish someone would have told us this before we got there. We got the hint and left. There are a lot of better volunteer turtle programs out there, this place was not one of them. It's too bad because there are a lot of turtles to see! So let's talk about that:)
|The pier that went on forever and almost cost me a leg!!:)|
Traveler tips. Bring a long sleeved shirt and pants. No white lights at night....only red. Bring plenty of water. Also consider wearing water shoes. The beaches are full of driftwood and other dead things like a caiman's carcass:) Our trek was quite lengthy at around 5 hours from 10 PM to 3 AM. Three shifts were assigned throughout the night. The hiking was a bit treacherous at times as we hiked through jungles and steep cliffs where the ocean met. Again, this isn't for the faint of heart.
|Run! Crabs start coming out of their holes as they sense the vibrations on the sand. Pic by Desiree Hanson|
"Run! There are crabs awaiting you wanting to eat you alive. I heard they love the eyes. Watch out for birds flying above you. If you make it before sunrise, you should be able to avoid them." I'm not going to paint a beautiful pic here of what these little turtles have to go through as they leave their nests. As the team finds the hatchlings, they will go to the nest and wear their rubber gloves to help these little babies out to sea. Why gloves? Bacteria and um...maggots from the hatched eggs. Sorry for that image, but it's pretty gross. However, a lot of turtles make it out to sea because of these dedicated people. No matter what I may think about them; they did do their jobs.
|Pic of leatherback. If this baby grows to full size, the only predator s/he will have to look out for is of the human variety. Pic by Desiree Hanson|
It was frustrating for me to see several nests dug up by either human poachers or dogs. A farmer's dog roamed the beach one night and destroyed 2 nests!!! All eggs gone! The ANAM team spoke with the farmer and now the dog is on the leash. Human poachers are the worst. It is accepted freely that eggs are okay to eat by Panamanians. It is getting better as word is spreading to people but the poachers are still out there. We luckily didn't see anyone. All marine turtles are endangered...some critically. While this trip was a physical and mental challenge for all of us, it was also worthwhile. If you are prone to mosquito attacks in your own hometown, be forewarned. This little trip to the beach can have its setbacks. Our guide and research also suggested this place was pretty rough. Turtle nesting begins in May and ends July 15th...or at least that's when the funding stops:) Until tomorrow.....