started on Wednesday at 4.30 in the morning when I woke up to prepare for the first walk on the beach that was going to teach me how to recognize and count the turtle tracks and the nests. I had a quick coffee and a sandwich and by 5.30 I was ready. My nose/head felt a little less blocked and I could almost breathe properly but my lungs suddenly started to express their desire to get out of my chest through the most horrible cough. It didn’t matter, I was eager to go.
At the beginning, everything seemed to look the same and after the two hour walk in torrential rain I was still a little confused about how to tell an old nest from a new one or an up track (out of the water) from a down one (back to the water). By the time we went back I was soaked and sore. My hiking boots were completely wet from the rain that was pouring down my legs and getting right inside, making their waterproof material completely useless and assuring that they would stay wet for the next week. My raincoat, made for heavy Romanian rains, not for tropical ones, was just as useless as my boots and I was all wet under it. My previously infected ear didn’t seem very happy about it and my cold got even worse. I felt like I wanted to die, right there, on the spot, and to be spared of the misery. I was beginning to question my decision of leaving my easy, comfortable life back home for what seemed to be a never ending storm from hell.
And above all, like this wasn’t enough, after some theoretical classes, at night we had the first patrol, which meant another 3 hours of walking on the beach, in order to find the turtles and learn how to work with them. My energy was somewhere under the sea level, I was struggling with the sweating and the sleepiness that my medicine caused me and I could barely drag my feet through the sand, but I didn’t want to start the whole process by asking for a night off. Even if the whole time I couldn’t focus and I was just hoping for it to finish faster, I made it! I survived the entire day and veeeeeery deep down I was feeling good about it and proud of myself.
The next few days flew by extremely quickly as we were engaged in different classes, exercises, patrols and track surveys. Actually, when I started this entry its name was “My first day as a research assistant” but all of a sudden all this time just disappeared and I realized I’ve been here for more than a week now.
My mates and I managed to make a lot of progress and to learn loads about the turtles and how to approach them. At the beginning, as we were watching Jaime, our teacher, everything seemed so easy. I thought everybody could do it, given that the turtles are not exactly the most dangerous of all animals and that measuring a carapace and counting some eggs didn’t feel like such a big deal. But on the field everything changes. You find out that the turtles are extremely powerful and that they can easily harm you. We were taught to work with them after they had laid their eggs, while they are covering and camouflaging their nests. Which means when they strongly move their flippers and throw sand everywhere around them. My first turtle broke my shoe and threw so much sand in my eyes when I tried to measure her that someone else had to do it while I was washing it away. I couldn’t see a thing. But then I learned exactly when to get closer and when to move away so that this never happens again.
One of the many things we do here is nest marking. We learned how to do it on coconuts. We were split into teams, each one with its own coconut and all the materials needed for nest marking. We had to bury it as if it were a clutch of eggs and mark the exact spot where it was so that the next day another team would go and dig it up. The look on the tourists’ faces as we were making holes in the sand for our precious coconut – priceless.
But after all the fun and games, last night was the most memorable one of the entire week. We were out on patrol, trying to find turtles to tag and nests to mark. We were lucky to find one just about 15 minutes after we started and I was all excited about it: she was in the correct phase. She was digging the egg chamber and preparing to lay. I put a rubber glove on one hand, took the counter in the other and waited. Soon enough I found myself lying down with one hand under the turtle, feeling each one of the eggs as they were coming out. I can’t find the right words to express what I was feeling that moment. It was a mixture of fascination, respect and love that I had never felt before. That marvelous creature was right there in front of me, all vulnerable, putting all her strength and effort into making sure that her babies would have the optimum chance, giving her best to ensure that her genes would continue, without minding this strange creature that wasn’t supposed to be behind her, touching her eggs. I was so close that with a simple movement of the flipper she could have slapped my face or thrown sand in my eyes. But she didn’t. She continued her job and after that she gently stretched and started to cover the nest with sand. I could almost count it as a spiritual experience, as for a few moments in time I felt absolutely amazed with the perfection of mother nature.
As the days went by, my health state got a little better. Can’t say I am completely healed now but it doesn’t stop me from feeling alright and doing what I have to. At night I am on patrols, during the day I am doing track surveys or having some time off to chill, do some bird watching, take short walks in the forest in search for other interesting (and probably deadly) life forms or just lie in the hammock reading about another little girl with a big dream that came true because she believed in it. Jane Goodall is now even more of an inspiration and a reason to continue on my new path into the unknown. Somehow all the adversities make me feel more alive and grateful for what I have. I get to appreciate the warmth of a shower after the rain, the privilege of spending most of my day outside, the difference that exercising makes for my body and the joy of having people around, even if I am still hiding in my autistic shell, too lazy and afraid to come out. I feel that these months will fly so fast that they will seem like a blink of an eye. One that will change and shape me more than I can possibly imagine.