Playa Ostional

Finally taking a break from working on my final papers to write a little update! This past weekend, I spent Friday white water rafting on the Pacuare River with Braden and Lizz.  It was a full day trip because we rafted down 18 miles of the river.  There was so much to see along the way too — beautiful waterfalls, animal sightings, and groups of indigenous people who live along the river.  National Geographic has even named the Pacuare as one of the top five rivers in the world for recreational white water rafting! Because it was my first time, I was a little nervous about falling off the raft.  I think our guide, Abel, could sense this, because he made me jump off the raft and practice being pulled back in as a demonstration.  I didn’t fall off though!! I remained safe and secure the whole time, and it was a blast.  I don’t have any photos right now — their CD burner was broken, so a CD of pictures will be mailed to Lizz’s house!

Saturday and Sunday were spent at Playa Ostional.  This trip was not quite what I expected it to be, but it was great nonetheless.  I was expecting a weekend full of turtles – but it turns out, the only turtle I saw was the one we made on the beach.

Lots of free time to make sand art
Lots of free time to make sand art

A guide took us out on the beach to look for turtles, because Olive Ridley turtles do come out of the water every night to lay their eggs.  We were a bit unlucky, though, because after an  hour or so of scouring the beach, we hadn’t come across any.  We went back to where we were staying, and our guide told us he would call us if anyone notified him that they had found a turtle.  I tried to stay up for another hour or so, but I was exhausted from the early morning and the rafting activities the day before, so I gave up and went to sleep.  All of the other girls did the same.  The three boys, Braden, Bradley, and Shingo, were a little more persistent.  They went back out on the beach on their own and walked around for a bit.  I wish I had had the willpower (or maybe an energy drink) to keep me awake longer, but they saw an Olive Ridley turtle lay her eggs on the beach! While I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see one, I was glad some members of our group did.

The small community of Ostional seems to function around these turtles and work in a very mutual relationship with them.  We were staying on the private property of a group of biologists and researchers, and we had come there to do some volunteer work.  First, the man in charge, Herbert, showed us a video to explain how things work in Ostional.  Their stated goal is to preserve the turtle population, in order to benefit the turtles as well as the community.  All members of the community — men, women, and children — are involved in collecting less than 1% of the turtle eggs to sell as food.  One of these turtle eggs has the nutrients of 40 chicken eggs, and no cholesterol.  The community has created a cooperative to prevent illegal looting of the eggs.  Everything is marked, stamped, and approved so that the number of eggs they take is fully regulated.  Part of the money earned has been used to benefit the turtles, so while it may seem paradoxical, taking and selling the eggs is meant to benefit the turtle population as well.  Herbert told us that over the past 29 years, the population of Olive Ridleys has gradually increased.  They obviously cannot let the number of turtles diminish, because much of the community’s livelihood depends on it.  Herbert emphasized several times that their work is entirely sustainable, to benefit the people and the turtles.

I was not entirely sure how I felt about all of this.  As I watched the video of the eggs being taken out of the ground, I found it kind of upsetting — why couldn’t the turtles just be left alone?  But I do recognize the importance of this relationship for the community of Ostional, as well as the protection it gives the turtles from illegal looting.  I decided to do a little more research, and it turns out this is a very controversial topic.  This article explains many angles of the issues (it’s long, but it covers it pretty thoroughly if you’re interested):

http://coastalcare.org/2011/07/legalized-poaching-turtles-eggs-and-playa-ostional-costa-rica/

 

Many people are upset by the work done in Ostional, because they see it as “legalized poaching.”  I can’t quite make up my mind how I feel about it all, but in any case, it was interesting to see how a small community in Costa Rica has come to be so fully dependent on nature for survival.

For our part, we just did some beach cleanup.  We picked up pieces of trash we found along the beach, in order to make it easier for little baby turtles to get to the ocean after they have hatched.

Cleaning up the beach
Cleaning up the beach

Other than that, we had lots of free time to enjoy the beach, which I can never complain about.  I read all of The Hunger Games (so nice having time to read for pleasure) and definitely did some work on my tan.

More sand art!
More sand art!

Herbert also showed us another piece of local culture- taking shots of raw turtle eggs, combined with some sort of sauce.  I don’t know how exactly this was safe, but it’s the second time I’ve been offered a shot of a turtle egg in Costa Rica, so it is apparently widespread and common.  I’ve been told people will take shots of turtle eggs out at the bar.  When I visited Anthony’s family with Imani and Alyssa, his mother tried to get all of us to try it as well — to no avail.  Well, this time, almost everybody gave it a shot (pun intended).

Turtle egg
Turtle egg

I wasn’t planning on being so bold, but after thinking about it, I decided to do as the Ticos do.  I figured I’ve eaten enough raw chicken eggs in my life with all the cookie dough and brownie batter I’ve consumed, one raw turtle egg wouldn’t kill me (and it hasn’t)! Can’t say I was a big fan, but I can saw I tried it, and it had lots of protein.

Feeling skeptical
Feeling skeptical, but going for it anyway!

A last main highlight of my time in Ostional was the chance to enjoy a beautiful sunset.  While I didn’t see any sea turtles, I don’t think I have a right to complain, because I had this incredible view to end the day…

Beautiful sunsets
Beautiful sunset
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