Stacy Barr - Sea Turtle & Coastal Conservation with Spanish in Mexico
During my time in Mexico, in the early hours of the morning, I would sit with the other volunteers and look out onto the Pacific Ocean. It felt surreal as we all realised that soon we would each be travelling home and breaking apart from the group of friends who we had grown so attached to. None of us wanted to leave; we would rather have stayed watching the sunrise over the palm trees and mountains.
I was taken for lunch where I had my first encounter with Mexican cuisine. Being a vegetarian I kept it simple with rice and some form of quesadilla, and then was invited to try a traditional drink. I decided to be adventurous, and ended up with a glass full of brown sludge. I took the whole meal to convince myself to drink it, and it turns out it’s a drink made from preserved fruit and honey. Later that evening we tried a special type of chilli. To tell the truth it was so hot my eyes burned, but the video of it was a favourite at camp.
We began our journey to the turtle camp the next morning. It took us about five hours on a bus and then another 45 minutes in the van. As we stepped out onto scorching hot sand, we were welcomed by the camp manager Oliver who was waiting for us. The turtle camp is fronted by the Pacific Ocean and backs onto a palm tree plantation. The house was built like a lighthouse, tall and circular, with a basic kitchen on the ground floor. There are two classrooms and covered areas for the tents and a recreation area.
Work at camp was hard but fun. We spent almost every morning collecting rubbish on the beaches, running across the scorching sand to cool our feet in the ocean. Occasionally we took the opportunity to take a swim in one of the costal lagoons. We would then return to Spanish class where there were a range of classes suiting our Spanish abilities. Our teachers always made class interesting, showing us the Nahuatl language, which is the Aztecan language. If we had Spanish first thing in the morning we were able to go into the nearest local town Tecoman. This trip was essential to stock up on insect repellent, which at camp is a lifeline.
Before I left the camp I took part in the last patrol. Every night a volunteer joins a staff member on patrol to the north or south of the camp. They look for nests to retrieve eggs from, count them, record where they found the nest and take them back to camp to be reburied at corral at 8am the next morning. Some volunteers are lucky enough to find a turtle laying eggs, and in this case they measure the turtle too.
On my last patrol the weather was bad, and Oliver said it was called a wind effect which meant that we found a huge number of nests. We encountered five adult turtles, and it was amazing to be so close to them when they are laying eggs and see how they go into a trance-like state.
Releasing the baby turtles was equally as special; setting them each down onto the sand and watching them race towards the sea. Sometimes there could be hundreds at a time, most of which would be named Donatello, Rafael, Leonardo and Michelangelo. Seeing the baby turtles released really makes you feel like you’ve done something good, helping them on their way. When the tide washes them away it feels as if you are a proud mother, watching your own children venture out into the world.
Something that surprised me was how well I got on with the other volunteers. We quickly became friends and sat up most nights talking and getting to know each other. I still keep in touch with most of them, and leaving them was very difficult as I realised I had discovered a new family. The mix of people in the group was perfect; everyone had someone to confide in and I soon felt like I had known everyone for years.
However, I think what makes Projects Abroad so special, is the staff members. From the word go, they are always there to help. They really care about the volunteers and all have great personalities. Oliver runs the turtle camp, and he and Roberto, the Assistant Manager, both know so much about the wildlife. They make everything really interesting, and we were kept energised about the whole project for the entire visit.
Alex from the Guadalajara office came to stay with us over the two weeks, keeping us entertained, teaching us salsa dancing and arranging a huge barbecue on our last night at camp. Back in Guadalajara we also met two of the other staff from the office - Jonatan and Jorge, who are two of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I found it really difficult to leave all my new found friends; I’d never been good with saying goodbyes, even worse at seven in the morning. I distinctly remember seeing “Finding Nemo” on the flight home, and bursting into tears when I saw the turtles.
I still think back to it as the most amazing experience of my life, where I met wonderful people and had the opportunity to try so many new things. It is without a doubt, an experience that I will never forget and will always treasure close to my heart.