In the summer of 2010, I had the privilege to travel to Playa Caletas, Costa Rica for 10 days and help out with a sea turtle restoration project. Although I was to be working and volunteering throughout my trip, the beauty of my surroundings and my extraordinary experiences made me feel as if it were purely a vacation. Costa Rica, I came to realize, was as beautiful as advertised.
In the late afternoon I came to the beach, located on the Pacific coast in the Northwest corner of the country. Upon my arrival, I encountered nature immediately: howling monkeys swung from the trees, iguanas darted in and out of the semi-permanent camp where the workers lived, and large crabs---some the size of softballs---moved stealthily around the tents, avoiding humans and searching for food. At first I didn't fully grasp the fact that all of these animals were in no way domesticated, that they were the property of the Earth alone.
Not only were the animals various and impressive, but life in general took on a slightly more exotic air all along the wild beach. Plants along paths snapped quickly shut in response to human touch; the crabs around the camp were colored fiery orange, sky blue, and royal purple; the wind was saturated with a warm salty ocean smell which was ever-present. However, one experience from my nightly patrols remains etched firmly in my mind as the most fantastic of the Playa Caletas trip.
In maintaining the turtle populations, it was our job as volunteers to monitor the beaches at night and collect any freshly-laid turtle eggs to take to the incubation center, safe from predators. One night while I was patrolling the beach, the strong waves shone brightly in the moonlight---not white, but rather bluish-green (caused, as my girlfriend-the-biologist told me, by bioluminescence, micro-organisms in the water).
Soon after admiring the waves, we spotted a large sea turtle laying its eggs further along the beach. It was only the second turtle I had seen during the week. As we approached the turtle making its nest, the same bioluminescence glowed brightly from its broad, massive shell. This sight has not lost its allure or power in the years since that night; I can still see the turtle lumbering back to the ocean after laying its eggs, a green beacon in the sand.
The sunsets never ceased to amaze, and the stars were brilliant in the absence of artificial light and human presence. Swimming in the ocean was always warm and yet refreshing. The entire area of "Playa Caletas" seemed a paradise, a beach fit for Eden.
Costa Rica has so much to offer to tourists---hundreds of miles of natural beaches and large plots of rain forest, not to mention the exotic "getaway" appeal for travelers---but I will always cherish my unique opportunity to get "off the beaten path" and experience a truly wild side of a completely natural, beautiful country.
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