Most things we write come out of a moment of enthusiasm
27 January 2012
We dodged through the banana plantation, careful to avoid any stray leaves and felt the soft sand invade our shoes as we stumbled over the ridge. Everyone tripped on that ridge. The black sand was chilly in my shoes, despite the socks. It would work between my toes and settle in the arch of my foot, absorbing my warmth while softly scratching at my sole. It got in everywhere, in your shoes, in your clothes if you dared to sit down, even worse if you lay down. I swear, I would get home some nights and find black sand in my bra, despite the back of my pants being the only thing to come into contact with the grainy surface. We staggered down to the shoreline where the wet sand could support our weight better and were simply told to run. We only had one torch between us, and Andrey turned on his heel and went to wake up more recruits. I, being sick and sleep deprived, was already breathing deeply, but none the less we ran.
My hiking boots were the only shoes on hand when Andrey had burst into the bedroom, lights glaring and calling at us to get up, to get dressed. The boots now slapped against the damp sand, sinking in and leaving deep ridges for baby turtles to navigate. Sleep still sat comfortably settled in my muscles and, like myself, did not take kindly to being asked to move in a semi-conscious state. But move they did, my legs working hard to run down the beach, lungs demanding more air than could be provided through my blocked sinuses. Penny and I leaped over logs, navigated stray dogs that bounded about, wanting to join in the game, whatever game it was. But we had no time for them, and on we ran.
Finally, miraculously, inspiringly, we saw the dim red torch lights ahead. People. Destination. This was all my overworked brain could comprehend as it tried desperately to pump blood and oxygen to my muscles, while fending off the cool night air that threatened to infect my lungs. We could finally stop, and see what we had come to see. A great hulking leatherback turtle, a nesting female, trying with disdain to preserve her species.
The clouds parted and the full moon illuminated the impressive two metre long carapace, and her stretching three metre flipper span. If any of us had had a bright light we could have seen her skin flushed pink from the exertion of dragging herself up the shore. When we arrived she was just lumbering back to the ocean, flippers working furiously to paddle through the sand in a desperate bid to return to the cool Pacific. It would take her two years to gather her energy together, and then she might be able to bear returning to land. We, standing on the beach at 5:15am in the dark, looked desperately to the horizon, willing the sun to rise just a little more so it can outshine the moon and provide enough light for us to use our cameras without the forbidden flash. No such luck. The tracks left by the great turtle reminded me of truck tracks, curious patterns carved into the sand that will wash away as the tide creeps up the beach. The turtle herself was now in the surf, relishing in the cool water, unaware of her mortality and imminent extinction.
It will take 20 years for her eggs to return to this beach. When they return, if they return, I wonder if there will be anyone to notice their silent pilgrimage up the black sand, over the Arribada egg shell remains. I wonder if anyone will care about these dinosaurs, or mark their comings and goings with scientific precision, like we did (and do) every night. Maybe we won’t make a difference, but while I stood on that beach in the dark, gasping for air and wanting to lie down and sleep, there was a quivering calm that settled on the crowd. It marked the awe that comes with admiration, another notch being added to our determination. We will make a difference.
If you would like to volunteer at Ostional and work with Leatherback, Olive Ridley and Black sea turtles, please visit http://proyectobaulaostional.blogspot.com.au/