Joanna Burgess - Sea Turtle & Coastal Conservation in Mexico
Looking back on Mexico now, I can’t quite believe that a spur of the moment thing could have been quite so life changing! I mean I knew that I wanted to experience another culture and do something worthwhile with my summer other than mindlessly working! My aunt showed me a brochure from Projects Abroad and I just knew I had to do it! With my love of biology and sea animals I decided that Mexico and the Conservation project, including working with turtles, was a match made in heaven!
After what seemed like a lifetime on a plane and a couple of flight mishaps I had finally arrived in Guadalajara airport! Collected my luggage and was met by a friendly face, Jerylee from the Projects Abroad office. The car journey back to the main office in Guadalajara was overwhelming. It was really then that it hit home that I was in a different country and not just in transit! The atmosphere was different, the smells, sounds just everything. It gave me quite a fright. Before this I hadn’t really travelled further than Europe and never completely on my own!
I spent the night in the office with another conservation volunteer, Jenny! It was crazy how close we got in such a short space of time. After a good night’s sleep we were given a tour of Guadalajara by Jorge from the office. I initially thought this was kind of pointless seeing as I wouldn’t really be in Guadalajara for any length of time but I am so grateful for it. My eyes were opened even wider to this new culture and I loved every single minute. I was lapping up everything around me from the crazy fast driving, not unlike Britain, to the amazing smells of Mexican cuisine! The main thing I loved about the tour is that it was my first experience of proper authentic Mexican food.After our tour Jenny and I set off for the bus to Campamento Tecoman where the conservation project is based. If you’re like me as soon as you hear bus in Mexico you think of open buses, jam packed with people but no this bus was better quality than most of the British buses I have been on! The journey went quite quickly and we were met at the bus stop in Tecoman by the camp manager, Oliver and assistant manager, Roberto. We arrived at camp about 30 minutes later; by that time it was pitch dark. I felt quite disorientated but all the other volunteers made me feel incredibly at home and offered me help with my bags. I was so exhausted from all the travelling all I wanted to do was collapse in a heap! I was given a quick tour of the main areas in the camp mainly the toilet and my tent which I was sharing with Jenny and Becca.
That first night was a bit of a blur all I remember were the hypnotic sounds of the waves and the heat! I woke early the next day and started helping out with all the camp chores. I settled right in really easily. Everything was so laid back and I soon became really good friends with everyone at the camp. There was a bit of a language barrier between me and the biologists seeing as my Spanish was and still isn’t that great! We managed to communicate via sign language and Enrique Iglesias! The chores never really felt like work as you were doing your part to keep everything running smoothly!
Quad bike patrol was by far my favourite job, well that and bird watching, “hark a great egret!” Every night the beach had to be patrolled for turtle nests, if one was found it had to be dug up, the eggs counted and eventually re-buried back at camp safe from poachers and predators. On several occasions I have seen turtles building a nest and laying its eggs! These patrols happen twice a night, once at 12am and again at 3am, mainly during high season. I went during Mexico’s rainy season which incidentally is the high season for turtle nesting. The weather is crazy! It mainly rained at night but we did have a couple of tropical storms when I was there. I thought Scotland was bad for rain, boy was I wrong! It was incredible, between the volume of rain and the fork lightening! It was an amazing experience!Corral shift in the morning happens at about 8am and that’s when the volunteers make nests for all the eggs that were collected from the night before. I was lucky enough to be at camp when hatchlings had to be released! Baby turtles are adorable and incredibly sturdy little things! We released them at a safe location on the beach and watched them as they made their way to the sea making sure no birds or crabs got to them before they entered the water! It’s the most rewarding part of the whole experience!
It’s not all work though! About 5 minutes away from the camp is the lagoon with a classic Mexican bar where senora serves drinks and some pretty mean seafood! This is where most nights ended and often where the volunteers bonded. This is also where I had my 20th birthday party with all the volunteers and learnt how to salsa! In the opposite direction about 30 minutes away is another lagoon which you can swim in. Also during the week you could go into Tecoman and use the internet and buy essentials, like chocolate!!
At the weekends there were often things planned. When the 2 week special volunteers were at camp the weekend was spent at another beach where you could relax, have a proper bed and play a bit of beach volleyball. Other weekends we went to Colima and went shopping or to the cinema.I originally signed up for 4 weeks at the camp but soon came to realise that I wasn’t nearly ready to leave so I extended my stay an extra 2 and a half weeks! In those extra weeks I did a little travelling around Mexico. I went with my newly made friends, Becca, Jenny and Katie to the most beautiful little student city called Zacatecas. It was gorgeous with its cobbled streets and breath-taking views from the cable car. Becca and I also went to Mexico City with Roberto. He kindly invited to show us around his home town and he took us to his nephew’s communion. I am not a religious person but the ceremony was beautiful. We stayed in his family home and I have never felt so welcome in a house that wasn’t my own before.
By the time I had to leave the camp I didn’t feel nearly ready. I got quite emotional as it was my home and I already missed everything and everyone there. It truly changed my life. It made me more confident in myself and made me realise that no matter the situation I find myself I can adapt and prosper. What made the whole experience for me had to be the people I met. I have met so many people that I will probably be friends with for the rest of my life. I would most definitely go back to Mexico in a heartbeat! For those of you reading this thinking about going to Mexico and the conservation project, the best advice I can give you is: GO! Oh and take lots of bug spray!!