Friday, November 13, 2015

From the Lazy Turtle to The Surfing Turtle (Lodge)

Its nice when something isn't what you expect it to be, but surprisingly better and a bit more of an adventure. That's what happened to us when we decided on a whim to spend a day at the chillaxed, sun drenched, Surfing Turtle Lodge outside of Leon.

Leon is known for its volcano boarding. We aren't really adrenaline junkies, but I was willing to give it a shot anyways. Jonathan was dead set against it, the old man that he is. But then I saw that our hostel, Tortuga Balooda (The Lazy Turtle) was offering a tour that sounded perfect for us. It was down to the ocean, which isn't far from Leon, and there was a boat ride through mangroves, a beach stop and then you would go to a local turtle sanctuary to help release baby turtles in the evening. Hook, line and sinker- they reeled me in- Hopefully very UNLIKE what would happen to the baby turtles I was about to meet. I would pick baby turtles over hurling myself down a steaming volcano any day.

The issue with the turtles here is that when mommy turtles come to the beach to lay their eggs, locals
steal them and sell them at the market to eat. These people are poor and just trying to feed their families. The turtles are endangered and clearly eating them is not going to help the matter. More than a few organizations along the coast have stepped up and they actually buy the eggs from the nest poachers, which they then bury in the sand in a protected area to hatch. Then the turtles are released and everyone keeps their fingers crossed.

So, we skipped the boarding and signed up for the baby turtles. And then the Baby Turtle Tour (its not actually called that) got cancelled. I was so disappointed. Our hostel manager was awesome and called a bunch of different tour operators in Leon to see if they had anything similar going that day, but no one did. Our shuttle to El Salvador wasn't leaving until 2am and I was determined to find something exciting to do with our last day in Nicaragua. J and I went out on a fun-finding hunt. We talked to a couple tour agencies, a couple hostels and then came upon the Surfing Turtle Hostel. The well spoken man at the desk told us about their sister hostel on a private island (very close to mainland) in the Pacific. They are one of the places that collects the turtle eggs, buries them and then releases them into the ocean after they hatch. They had released over 100 the day before! And, conveniently they had a 'direct' shuttle for $3 in a little over an hour to their resort and it would only cost $3 to hang out at the resort all day long. With any luck baby turtles were breaking out of their shells as we ran back to our hostel to grab our bathing suits and would be ready to be released (with my help) that very day!

The 'direct' shuttle started out predictably. One driver, one lodge employee and 7 tourists clambered into the van and it drove us down to the ocean in about 30 minutes. The road ended at the ocean. It literally sloped down and disappeared into the Pacific. The tide was out. We followed the group, only one of whom seemed to know what was going on around the back of a restaurant and onto the mucky ocean floor. We tossed off our flip flops and let the muck squish between our toes. It was unexpected- but fun. After 10 minutes or so we came to a river. There were 2 boats waiting there. One big, shiny safe looking boat with a decent size motor- and the one we were taking. Our boat was 12ft long and about 3 ft wide at its maximum. The fiberglass was cracked, the wood benches were rotting and there was a good 6 inches of water in the bottom of the boat. Four massively overstuffed backpacks and various other bags filled the front quarter of the boat. We all stood there, looking dubiously at our awaiting transportation. They motioned for 4 people to get in. We did. I assumed, our Captain was going to make 2 trips. The 'captain' surveyed the boat and its contents. 'Everyone In!' someone translated. I gaffed. Nine adults, only 2 of whom were Nica sized, and all those bags in this tiny boat!? I didn't even think it was physically possible. But, it happened. Three per bench. I was sweating all over this pour stranger unfortunate enough to be sitting next to me. The 'Captain' pushed us off. Without exaggeration our gunnels were one inch above the water. And, this was THE tippiest boat I had EVER been in. Now, J and I have been on many different transport boats on the course of our travels. We've been on ferries of every size, in varying degrees of decrepidness we have been on long boats that use whipper snippers for motors, dug out canoes and make shift glass bottom boats . We've
been on junks and boats that were super junky. Once we even commandeered a bamboo raft to get to our next night's sleep. Lots of boat action in lots of countries with little to no regard for safety- and I have never been so sure in my life, that my boat was going to tip. This even includes the time that I watched J take our very own 12ft aluminum boat, full to the gunnels with rain water, out into the middle of the lake with the genius idof of getting the boat moving really fast and then taking the plug out of the bottom to drain it. (Epic fail, in case the result of that wasn't obvious). I yelled profanities at him from the dock and even THEN I was less sure that he was going to sink than I felt at that very moment in Nicaragua. Let me preface this by saying that the river we were crossing was very narrow- maybe 30ft wide. It was the only water left with the tide out. Narrow, but deep, the Lodge employee pointed out- and full of things like stingrays and other bite-y sea creatures. Helpful bit of information to get when you are out in the middle of this river, listing terrifyingly to the port side. Yup, that definitely calmed the spirits. In truth, I was only concerned about my phone, which was zipped up in my pocket. What I really wanted to do was take it out and hold it above my head for the entire journey. But I couldn't move for fear of taking the whole boat over with me. I didn't even want to breathe heavy in fear of it unbalancing the boat. So I sat there, super tense, eyes wide and locked on Jonathan's in terror, sweating profusely on the poor Ozzie stranger. For the entire time.

I will swear until the end of my days that it was by some miracle that we landed on the other side of the river, dry and with the boat still facing upwards. We exited the boat much, much quicker than we had boarded.

It was on to the third unexpected chapter of our direct shuttle- a jungle trek. Because, why not? It was a beautiful, wide path pot-marked with huge puddles from the rainy season and muddy footprints. But it was flat, and easy and I had a feeling that the direct shuttle had almost made it to the beach.

The thatched roof of a beach cabanas came into view. The property was gorgeous and definitely worth the adventurous journey to spend the day there. We found a hammock in the shade spent the day swinging, reading, swimming and sipping on cold drinks. J played the guitar from his hammock perch and instantly gathered a small following of females. We ate dinner in the main atmospheric cabana as a downpour started. There was lightning and thunder, and quite storm whipped itself up. We had booked a shuttle back to Leon ($14) at 8pm, and were both wondering how that was going to work out, and hoping that the rain would stop. Thankfully the rain did stop for us, but sheet lightning continued to flash brightly in the black sky.

Instead of walking back through the jungle a horse and wooden cart awaited us. I could tell that this was going to be fun. Except that J is allergic to horses. He insisted he was fine so we hopped into the cart and bumped down the path, through the massive puddles in absolute blackness to the clip-cloppity sounds of the horse. The lightning lit up the jungle sporadically giving the entire scene an otherworldly feel. I felt like I was in Game of Thrones, taking the Kings Road up to visit Jon Snow at the Wall. It was surreal.

And then we got to the waters edge. A waterlogged, ancient dug out canoe sat on the shore sinking into the sand. I wondered if this would be a better or worse option than the boat that brought us here. The tide was back in and there was a lot more water than when we arrived. We waited 10 minutes before we saw the flashlight beam sweep across us from somewhere in the black water. I could tell before I could even see the boat, that it was the same, scary super tippy boat that had brought us here. Oh boy. We said hello to our Captain again and carefully climbed back into the dreaded boat. With only 4 people and no bags, the boat was still unreasonably tippy. But, this time we at least had a good 6 inches of boat out of the water. Although we still had the same 6 inches of water inside the boat. We set off. It was so black that we couldn't tell the sky from the water and the water from the land. It wasn't until we had passed them that our Captain's flashlight haphazardly passed over sharp looking wooden spikes protruding out of the water. How many more invisible dangers lurked out in the blackness? It was a scary thought. Thankfully I could see the faint lights of the shore growing closer
and it would all be over soon, back safe on solid ground. Then, out of nowhere, there was yelling back on the shore we came from. A yelling conversation over the water ensued. I have no idea what happened, but suddenly the boat was turning back around and headed back to the wrong shore! No! Nooooo!!

We approached the shore again. There was a man knee deep in the water. The boat neared him and he tossed something into the boat. There was the sound that I could only deduce was a crab's shell scraping along the inside of the boat and dropping into the water  in the bottom. I swear there was a scuttling noise. The boat turned back around for the far sure. We were in complete blackness and now there was apparently an angry crab scurrying around somewhere near my toes. Not that I could confirm that of course- but I also couldn't confirm that I still had all my toes, since I couldn't see them. On our second attempt, we made it all the way back across the water to the shore where our taxi was waiting. I counted upon arrival- all 10 toes intact.

Our taxi driver was friendly and eager to practice his Spanglish with us. As an added bonus, we
learned two interesting tidbits. First, that our driver refers to his girlfriend hilariously as his 'Controller.' And second, that the canal that is (sadly) being built through Lake Nicaragua is going to cost fifty hundred thousand million dollars. Oh, the things you learn in the back of a cab!



Penelope Pomes said...

So did you see the baby turtles?

Jonathan&Kristen said...

Nooo, there weren't any that day! Very sad!

Jonathan&Kristen said...
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