Saturday, 23 February 2008

Tortugas and Las Peñitas

20th - 22nd February.

Las Penitas

The waves roll in from the wide, blue Pacific, tumbling over into surging lines of foaming water before crashing into the dark yellow beach. The noise makes conversation impossible below a shout when walking at the edge of the surf. Welcome to Las Penitas, a small beach destination only a 45 minute bus ride south of Leon.

Turtle Crash

Here, the Pacific takes prisoners if you are not careful when entering the ocean. The undertow tugs at your legs, the occasional wave threatens to bowl you over. This is not a gentle swimming beach like those we have seen in the Caribbean. This sea is a monster who will gobble you up and, if your family is lucky, spit out your remains somewhere along the shore. It is a sea to treat with respect and caution – and is a whole load of fun to play in; leaping over the smaller waves, diving under the big crashers. Timing is of the essence to avoid being slammed into the hard sand and shingle. It gets the adrenalin coursing and every so often encourages a return to the beach to regather your wits.

Where is the Sea?

More gentle, much more gentle, is the mouth of the river with is sheltered behind a long sand island where turtles come to lay their eggs. The river is not sluggish, and just lying in the shallow warm waters you are gently turned and pushed towards the sea. The broad expanse of fresh water is home to numerous birds, waders, gulls and vultures, who line the banks and sand bars or stalk fish in the shallows. Further upstream the river slowly narrows to a mangrove-flanked wilderness that is a joy to explore by kayak, the silence only broken by the quiet directions of our guide Miguel pointing out a well-hidden camouflaged bird, the splash of an oar or fish, the call of birds or the rustle of something moving in the undergrowth. The occasional small log boat, ironically piled high with fresh-cut logs, chunters by or the larger, and more polluting, local fishing boat taking tourists on a noisy and dirty tour.

Arms tired from the unaccustomed effort of paddling, legs from being kept straight out in front and spirits drop until Miguel turns us around and we row with the current. We are tiring now and the mangrove does not appear to be moving past any quicker than when we went upstream but in less than 45 minutes we are back near the start of our journey, which had taken 2 hours upstream. Here we see the highlight, today’s freshly-hatched Atlantic Green Turtle babies desperate to find the sea. Except, they are penned in so that they can be released when it is dark and less of their predators are around. This is a hatchery where turtles break out of their eggs in a grid numbered from A-Z and 1-10. The eggs are laid along the beach at night by turtles returning to their own birth place and gathered up to be kept under the protection of guards. Our little 40 or so newly-borns come from V3. The urge to get to the sea is unabated for hours as the baby turtles continually cross and recross their pen searching for the water. It supposedly makes these tiny little things stronger and better equipped to make their dash through the pounding surf. They must be tossed and rolled like on a giant rollercoaster gone mad given the impact those waves have on us. Maybe two to five in a 1,000 will survive to return one day and give birth themselves on their beach. But will they find V3 if they do?

Turtle Pile Up

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