The Parismina posts are a tad humiliating to write because the complete and utter depth of my APness is painfully obvious. AP is JAP without the Jewish. Being a materialistic pampered little thing is certainly not reserved for a people. I can tell any lawyer joke without batting an eye. But in the pre-PC-JAP-joke days, I always had a hard time laughing because I could empathize. What’s so funny about making reservations for dinner? I so understand Janice. We must be twins separated at birth. Who in their right mind would touch something icky? And if there’s anything disgusting or exhausting to do… well, aren’t there people for that? Let’s just say Parismina is no place for a Princess…
We land at Parismina at 6pm after our LONG deliriously dangerous day whitewater rafting. Up at 4:30am, packing (God forbid we should have done this the night before), almost getting shmushed by a train, driving three hours, having the car breakdown, then having to leave Hal and my beloved cel phone on the side of the road. It had been quite the adventure already. Bed was looking pretty good. We just had to find it first…
There is a soda [diner] right when you get off the ferry and we asked The Girl, barefoot (everyone is barefoot) and pregnant, where we might find Vicki. She goes off in search.
Vicki IS the Parismina Turtle project. Everything turtle that happens here, has ever happened here, is the result of her determination. People like Vicki are amazing. She went there 27 years ago as a Peace Corps volunteer, married a local boy and here she is: three grown sons later. I am in awe.
Vicki has arranged a homestay for us: we will live with a local family for the next four or five nights. For $20/night per person, they will feed us three meals a day, offer a bed, a shower and do laundry. We will turtle patrol at night. The patrols are from 8p-12a, 10p-2a, 12a-4a and 4a-8a. I do know this going in. I also know I’m not able to do any patrols starting after 10p. The boys can do what they want. Besides, how hard can it be to wait for a turtle to stroll up and lay some eggs?
Even though it’s been a long day, Vicki has us signed up for 10pm. Could we do that? Just do three hours, maybe? We look at each other and figure what the heck? We are excited to see turtles, we can stay awake till 1am. There’s even time to take a nap. So, yes, we say: we are good to go! She drops us off at our homestay to get settled in, eat dinner, nap or roam, and tells us someone will pick us up at 10pm.
At 9:45pm, I get out of bed where I’ve been laying very still for two hours so as not to sweat too much, and we prepare for the patrol. Which is mostly just layering ourselves with bug spray since it’s dengue season. You probably won’t die from the most common form of dengue, but apparently you wish you would. We know we don’t want it. Only I could plan a trip with three teens in the height of dengue season to the very area you are most likely to contract it. What can I say? I gotta knack.
I’m not sure what else we need. I figure if there is anything, we can get it there or they will supply it. We haven’t had a chance to get water, but if there’s none at the site, one of us can run to a pulperia [pull-pear-EE-ah, tiny market] or back to the house to get some.
Real fatigue has also set in and we wonder if maybe we shouldn’t have opted for sleep this first night. But we said we would, how hard could this be? And – wow! – a great big giant turtle… we psych ourselves up again.
Ten pm rolls around and no knock at the door, so we wander outside to stand under the only street light we can see save for the one off in the distance next to a little blue building near the beach. A minute later, a barefoot guy strolls out of the dark across a yard towards us. He does not look official in any way (I gotta do something about these expectations). He comes right up to us and says "hi" in English. We say hi back. We all kinda look at each other. He looks around, then says "let’s go" and heads off into the darkness.
OK. Parismina is even smaller than Puerto Viejo, much much smaller and about a million times less developed. If he is going to do away with us, everyone in town has to be in on it, including Vicki. I figure those chances are slim so we follow. Into the darkness. We are heading towards the blue building, cutting across a yard, then across a big soccer field. It is pitch black and no flashlight, walking on tierra firma. Mostly firma… Our guide is surefooted. We are stumbling. Shades of things to come.
We make it to the blue building and our guide departs without a word. I look back and, of course, I can see our house from here. That stretch of land between here and there is so dangerous, we needed a guide? Anyway. There is no one to greet us or inform us what will happen next. We wander into the blue building where we meet a young gringa who is also volunteering and has been here for a week. She saw a turtle her first night, none since. There’s also a rasta guy who opens the door for volunteers at start/finish times. Maybe he lives in the back, I’m not sure. It’s all so informal, no chairs. There’s a board resting on two bricks so I sit there.
La gringa tells us we are waiting for the guide. Who appears ten minutes later: another rasta guy, young, wiry, looks like a gentle soul. He looks at us but doesn’t speak. He quietly greets la ginga. I suspect they have a thing goin’ on, but I tactfully do not ask. You know: practicing what I preach.
He and la gringa head out the door… we follow. She has a big bottle of water and I have a moment of panic, but figure if we need some after we’ve been at the site, we can run back and get some… Clearly, I do not have my wits about me.
We are walking along the beach. There is a half moon but mostly shrouded in clouds. There is no other light, a few stars, but nothing else. The sand here is black. When I tell you it is pitch black out there, I am not exaggerating. We can just barely make out our hands in front of our faces. LG and the guide are in front, leading the way at a nice steady pace. If they get too far ahead – like over 10′ – we lose sight of them. The boys and I are staring hard at the ground trying to make out the objects before we stumble over them. Several times we accidentally discover we are walking on a 5′ high sand precipice… none of us slides down one, but only by the grace of God. The sand is just deep enough to make walking really really good exercise. I try to think how tiny my butt will be by the end of the night. That helps a tiny bit, but only until I stumble over the next huge dead crab.
Princesses everywhere are shaking their heads and moaning in sympathetic horror. But wait. It gets worse.
After walking for 30 minutes, I politely ask how much further to the site? LG and the guide stop walking and stare at me without speaking. They do this A LOT. I ask again: "How much further to the site? You know, where we wait for the turtles?"
Silence. Finally, LG speaks: "There is no site."
Now it’s my turn. No site? This registers. Then I ask the obvious: "Where are we going?"
LG: "We walk until we see a turtle. Once it starts laying eggs, we can approach for a better look. When she’s done, we watch her get back to the ocean, then we collect the eggs and carry them back to the hatchery."
Me: "How long does that process take?"
LG: "About two hours."
Me: "What if we don’t see a turtle?
LG: "We’ll patrol the whole beach, walk to the end, turn around…"
Me, interrupting her, a tad panicked: "How far to the end?"
LG: "About an hour and a half walk.
LG, wearily: "Yes."
I am speechless. I can feel the Little Princes behind me deflate. "I can’t walk for three hours tonight."
Silence. We are standing there in the pitch black, cannot see each other’s faces, taking turns giving each other the silent treatment. I am SO not happy.
Me: "I’m going to have to go back. I had no idea we needed to walk for three hours. We need a night’s sleep, then we’ll try this again tomorrow night."
Silence. Long silence. I wait. LG says: "He cannot let you go back alone."
I immediately get the picture. I am a smart princess. If I want to go back, I am ruining their night, turtles could die, turtle eggs will definitely disappear and it’s all on my head. I look at the boys. We will not die if we have to walk for three hours. One day, maybe this will even be funny. IT SURE AS HELL ISN’T FUNNY NOW. I say: "OK. Let’s go."
Time crawls along. At midnight, we have walked steadily for two hours, about 3.5 miles, we are so hot, so sweaty, so thirsty, Jacob and Ryan are already staggering… we are so completely and utterly over stumbling around in the pitch black… the moon has disappeared over the yardarm now and the sky is chock full of stars right over our heads. We can’t enjoy them, of course, because we have to concentrate on not falling down. And we can do the math: we gotta walk two hours back. But it’s after midnight and LG and her precious guide show no signs of turning around, just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
My patience and good nature (?) is at an end. I say: "No puedo caminar más." [I can’t take another frickin’ step.]
They stop and give me the silent staring treatment. At least I think they are staring. I wait. Finally, I repeat: "No puedo caminar más." The guide turns his head and looks longingly toward the end of the beach. If there is an end. Which I am seriously starting to doubt. I wait him out. Finally, he sits. I guess he thinks I just need a second off my feet. I sit. Everyone else sits. About ten minutes later, I stand up. The boys stand up. LG and the guide stand. They start walking toward the alleged end of the beach. The boys and I start walking toward our beds. Eventually they follow.
We do not see a turtle except for one far off in the distance near the water’s edge. To me, it looks like a big black rock. It disappears into the ocean. Thrilling.
At a little after 2am, we reach the blue building. My hips are killing me because I am old and phat. The boys are beyond exhausted. Mo says: "If those turtles are supposed to die out, they’ll just have to do it." Don’t ever hire me to teach ecology.
We skip the post-walk frivolities in the blue building and stagger off across the dangerous soccer field to the house. We fall into bed, sweaty, filthy and exhausted, completely devoid of any love for turtles. Maybe we just need a good night’s sleep.