La Tortuga Feliz

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Counting hatchlings before release

La Tortuga Feliz is a non-profit on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast that works in collaboration with Latin American Sea Turtles (LAST) in Pacuare. In Summer 2015, I spent one week there leading a camp of aspiring marine biologists (all from the USA, all in high school) and volunteering with LAST. It was one of the best experiences I have had in the three years I ran that program.

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Entrance to LAST’s Pacuare Project. (Photo: Latin American Sea Turtles Facebook)

La Tortuga Feliz is located almost adjacent to the LAST headquarters in Pacuare. LTF itself is a dorm-style facility with no warm water and no electricity (you are in the jungle in a developing nation!). It is run by Robert and the volunteers who are staying at LTF; Robert and the long-term volunteers do all of the cooking and guests are asked to help with cleaning up the dishes, kitchen, and keeping the dorms clean. Linens and pillows are provided and there is a spigot and washing powder available to do laundry. All the food is vegetarian and delicious – the servings are HUGE (thanks to 4 hours of night walks every night) and everything is delicious. Robert rotates meals, but a lot of the meals feature the same staples.

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Photo: La Tortuga Feliz

All volunteers (long-term or short term) are assigned to help out at LAST. While we were there, we helped with building the hatchery, relocating eggs, releasing hatchlings, supervising the hatchery, and participated in night walks. The shifts for hatchery duty and night walks are about 4 hours long and when it’s dark out, it is DARK!

The first two years that I participated as a leader of this marine biology camp, I did not see any leatherback sea turtles (called baulas in Spanish) and I was dying for some baby leatherbacks. I had mentioned this to the campers when we arrived and after we got orientated to LTF, we were sent down to LAST because they were going to release some baby leatherbacks! I was beside myself with excitement and even got to hold one!

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Baulitas! After two unsuccessful years, I got them! 

 

The rest of the week was split up between hatchery construction, hatchery duty, and night walks. It was rainy season while we were there and we quickly learned that rain coats are of no use against constant torrential downpour. While I never saw any turtles on my night walks, three of my campers did and we all got our fair share of tortuguitas (baby turtles). The experience with LAST and LTF was one to remember and I would go back there to volunteer on my own in the future.

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The new hatchery

If you are interested in volunteering at La Tortuga Feliz, head to their website and check out their volunteer placements. They’re a great place for backpackers looking to volunteer and get some sea turtle experience!

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Holding a baby hawksbill (carey in Spanish) before release

Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, and Bath

**This is a post copied over from my old blog and has been edited**

2014

On the second day of my trip to London, I took a day trip to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Bath from London. Like my day trip to Blarney Castle, I booked through a company, this time through Premium Tours.

This was probably one of the most stressful (now hilarious) portions of my trip. I was with a friend and we left the hostel with an hour and a half to travel to the bus station where our tour would be departing. We decided to take the bus there from our hostel, but at 8 am (we needed to be at Victoria Coach Station at 8:10 am) we realized that we were too far away to get there on time. So, we decided to sprint to the bus station, but we were still halfway across London. We popped into the Ritz and asked to use their phone to call the tour group. We get ahold of the tour group and she says “sorry, you’ll have to reschedule.” We were only in London for one more day, so we didn’t think that that was an optioN!

I asked (okay, maybe begged) to see if they could pick us up somewhere else. The receptionist said that they could pick us up at Harrod’s, but that we’d have to take a taxi to get there on time. We sprinted out to the street, the doorman got us a taxi, and we got to Harrod’s….right as a Premium Tour Bus is driving by. Because we thought it was our tour bus, we chased after them. We then proceeded to panic for the next ten minutes before I went across the street and a nice gentleman lent me his phone. I called the tour company again, and the woman said “don’t worry, they’ll be there soon!” Right as she said that, my friend bangs on the door to tell me that they’re here, so we sprint across the street and get onto the bus! We boarded the bus with all of the other travelers (mostly middle aged or retired seniors) glared at us as we boarded…

Windsor Castle

 
This was the first stop on our trip. Windsor Castle was HUGE and gorgeous (over 950 rooms) and is the Queen’s favorite castle! We weren’t allowed to take photos indoors, so most of these images are from outside.
The grounds were gorgeous and everything was so green – another reminder that I need to spend more time in the countryside!

 

It was nice that most of the groups that were there were smallish tour groups, so it never really felt like we were standing right on top of each other, as we did at Buckingham Palace.

One complaint about the indoor tour of Windsor Castle is that it was a bit short – there were many areas that I wanted to see, but they weren’t open! The castle was also under construction, so those areas were closed as well.
Windsor Castle also holds a Changing of the Guards ceremony, so we were lucky to watch that before we had to head back to the bus. I was also able to snag one of those iconic tourist photos with a guardsman.

#cliche

On the grounds of Windsor Castle is also Windsor Abbey; there are many royal family members buried here and while the caretaker couldn’t tell us, my friend and I suspect that this is where the Queen herself will be buried.

Windsor Abbey

Bath
 
Our next stop was to Bath. Bath is home to the Roman Baths, where the citizens of Bath would take communal baths. It was very cool, but it was SO crowded that I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I would have liked. The water is from a natural hot spring and has a high mineral concentration. Obviously, the green water is no longer swimmable, but it was still cool to see!

 

Communal bath

In addition to the bathing areas that are still filled with water were different rooms to be toured. Each of these rooms had a placard that described their purpose and their original layout. I thought that this was really interesting, but again, there were so many people here that it was hard to really enjoy the tour.

 

Our final stop in Bath was for High Tea before we headed to Stonehenge. This was another “must have” experience and I must admit that it was much more enjoyable than my fish and chips. We split the lunch and it came with a cup of tea, a tier of finger sandwiches, shortbreads, and cakes. There was also a number of teas to choose from.

African bush tea

 

High Tea tray

Stonehenge
 
I loved Stonehenge. We got there after 5, so there were hardly any tourists there, and I had the BEST time! It was really cool to explore and have the place to ourselves. I may or may not have been tempted to run and touch the rocks, which happens to be strictly forbidden. I thought better of doing that and had some fun instead.

 

 

Even though we did not have much time here, it was still a really interesting place to be. It’s amazing to me that anthropologists still aren’t sure about the purpose of Stonehenge. I would love to return during one of the solstices to see the sun align perfectly with the stones!

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London

**This is a post copied over from my old blog and has been edited**

2014

London
 
I spent my first day in London with a friend who was also in Europe at the same time that I was. When we first arrived, it was a bit overcast, but we aimed to do as much as possible! We headed over to the Shakespeare Theatre and Millennium Bridge so that we could go to the Art Museum. One wonderful thing about London is that all of the museums are free – a practice that I think should be adopted more in the USA!

Millenium Bridge

The Globe Theatre

We made it to Buckingham Palace for The Changing of the Guards. We got to our spot about an hour early and we could see just about everything. We were right up against the barricades, so we had no one standing in front of us. The biggest issue was trying to leave the area afterwards, as there was only one direction you could go and thousands of people were being funneled through that direction!

 

Changing of the Guards

Our next stop was The London Eye, but we stopped for a traditional order of fish and chips, first! I am a vegetarian and only occasionally eat seafood (it is usually only sustainable sources), but I knew that I had to try fish and chips. Maybe it was because I haven’t eaten seafood in so long, but it did not do anything for me. I just overpaid for the experience.

Fish and chips

We waited in a long line to get onto the London Eye and in my experience, the price for the London Eye was not worth it. It was cool to get that view of the city, but expensive to ride so slowly for 30 minutes. It seemed as though after 15 or so minutes, there was nothing “new” to see from that view. I would not do it again.

London Eye

The first day in London was an overload, but I had limited time there, so we needed to get as much done as possible on that day!

Things I Learned from Living in The Bahamas

I still have to transfer over some posts from my old blog, but I figured I would start with what is more recent in my life and share some things I learned from life as an expat in The Bahamas. I suppose that it’s not really common to see expats in The Bahamas who are younger than retirement age, but the research center I was based at was full of young people in their 20s.

As stated in my “About Me,” I recently moved back to the United States after a year and a half of living on Eleuthera, The Bahamas. Eleuthera is considered a Family Island (as it is not the bustling Nassau or Freeport), and is a tiny, 110-mile long, 1-mile wide, island. This was my first experience of living in another country longer than a month, and it definitely changed my perspective on a lot of different aspects of my life, as listed below.

If it is a non-essential, I can live without it.

One of the biggest perspective shifts I had was related to materialism in everyday life. The United States is known for being a wealthy nation where many citizens live in excess. I had never been to The Bahamas before I moved there, but based on photos I had seen of cruise ship ports and the fact that The Bahamas is considered to be a First World nation, I was expecting the culture to be very similar. I was wrong. Living on a Family Island was like living in a developing nation, in that many people in the settlements were without jobs, electricity, and lived on government assistance. I was fortunate enough to have housing provided through my job, and I had the luxuries of air conditioning and wi-fi, something that not everyone in the settlement had. I also learned that I am lucky to have all that I have, but that I also don’t need 10 pairs of shoes, 14 pairs of jeans, or a big flashy car. I donated about 75% of my belongings (that I brought to The Bahamas) when I moved back to the States because there were people in the settlement who needed them more than I did. Now that I am back in the States and trying to figure out my next move, I’m determined to downsize many of my belongings, as I can live without a lot of what I have.

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Another plus of my housing

Island Fever is a real thing.

“I could live on an island forever and never tire of it.” That was a statement that I naively believed after my first month in The Bahamas. I learned after a few months that living on an island is hard. I worked with, lived near, and played with all of the same people. Getting around the island was difficult because we could only use company vehicles for company-sanctioned events, so we would either have to hitch to get out of the settlement (a common and fun activity), or we would have to rent a car. Renting a car was expensive – about $70 a day for a small vehicle, plus gas, which was around $4.50 a gallon. That meant that I did not get to do as much exploring as I had hoped. So, when I had been on the island for an extended period of time, I started to get antsy and grumpy and needed to get away, a statement I never thought I would write.

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Lighthouse Beach, a gorgeous get-away that was still difficult to get to, despite its close proximity to my settlement!

People will nearly always choose to stay with what is comfortable.

I love venturing out and having new experiences and meeting new people. That being said, I quickly formed friendships with my fellow expats, but also with local staff and the lovely people from my settlements. I sadly learned that this is not a universal trait. There were quite a few of my coworkers (expats) who after a few months had not even bothered to learn the names of the Bahamian staff and who actively avoided many of the locals, simply because they did not want to go out of their comfort zone to form new relationships. I feel as though my experience in The Bahamas was benefitted by the relationships I formed with my Bahamian friends and I am eternally grateful for their friendships.

A potcake is a suitable chaperone and a loving companion.

In most of the settlements on the island I lived on, there were numerous stray dogs, called potcakes. The potcakes get their name from the mixture that is burnt onto the bottom of the pan after cooking peas and rice (a common local dish) and was then fed to the dogs. Before, when I traveled to Costa Rica with students, I had a strict “don’t touch the stray animals” rule because I was unsure of their hygiene or what the animals were exposed to. That rule faded in the first week of living in The Bahamas. The potcakes LOVED all of us, as we loved them, and quickly became our pets. We would feed them, bathe them, and love on them. In turn, they would protect us by walking us home after a night of drinking, fight off unknown dogs or people, and go for runs with us when it was dark. I had a laugh to myself on my last night out as I walked home with Buddy, the mascot of potcakes, at 2 am without a worry in the world. I knew I was safe.

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A boy and his potcake

It is okay to do some things on Island Time.

This was another big lesson that I learned and this was a hard one for me to learn. I am a Type-A, always on the go, never late personality. That’s not really how island life works. People will show up around the time they tell you, but more often than not will be late and not early. Deadlines are flexible and people will take extra days off of work if they work just a few hours overtime. Working while you are sick is not a practice that is common here, mostly out of respect for colleagues, but also out of respect for your ailing body. Coming from the USA, a lot of these lessons were hard to handle. I was used to being early, as being ‘on time’ for me was already late. Deadlines were absolute and working overtime simply meant I would be tired at work tomorrow. Learning to do things on Island Time was great for my mental health. It taught me to relax and relieved some of my anxiety. It gave me a better perspective on how to take care of myself, physically and mentally, and that was a lesson I didn’t even know I needed.

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Cape Eleuthera Marina, our go-to spot for a mental health break!

Living in The Bahamas for a year and a half helped me become a bit more patient, a bit more giving, and really ignited a desire for more travel. My next adventure is in the works, but if it all works out, it involves moving out of the USA again into a new country. I hope to continue exploring the world around me and growing as a global citizen.