Thursday, the doorbell on our rental house rang. It was Leah, one of the property managers, with some news – news that made me dance around the living room. “The arribada will begin tonight.”
She knew we’d been waiting on word form the locals about the monthly phenomenon at nearby Playa Ostional known as the “arribada.” Literally translated as “the arrival,” it’s one of the few places in the world where turtles come on the beach en masse to lay their eggs. In the winter months, as many as 500,000 turtles will lay their eggs at Ostional during a 5-day span. This beach is home to an arribada of Olive Ridley turtles, and I’d been hoping we’d be able to witness this.
The turtles prefer to come ashore in the dark of night, so we rambled down the rural road to Ostional and arrived at the beach just before sunset. But alas, our timing was off. They also apparently enjoy coming in at high tide, which wasn’t happening for several hours. Even worse, a wicked lightening storm was moving onshore and our guide advised us to bail.
“But come back in the morning,” he said, “just at sunrise. Then you may still see some turtles, and you can take pictures too, because there will be light.”
So back home we went, disappointed but undefeated, setting our alarm clock for 4:15 a.m.
The car was quiet as we sleepily navigated the lonesome, precarious stretch of road in the pre-dawn hours. We pulled up to the beach just as the sunlight began to appear, and I hoped desperately that we would see turtles.
Mother nature cooperated. As we walked past the rockiest part of the shore (which is not ideal for incoming turtles), we could see up ahead a line of turtles coming and going in the sand. This time of day, most were on their way back to sea, having completed their inland duty.
Turtle tracks marked nearly every inch of beach, and volunteers told us that around midnight, the shore had been completely covered in turtles. But even now, there were about 3 dozen turtles on the shore in various stages of their work. Some were making their way onto the sand, others were digging, some were laying, covering, and still others were making the slow trek back into the waves.
It was simply amazing.
We ran from turtle to turtle, squatting right next to these big, beautiful creatures who ignored us as they went about their critical tasks. Camille wanted very badly to touch them all, but I told her she couldn’t disturb them as they worked. Instead, she tried to do her part by shooing away the vultures who crowded the beach. So many turtles come to lay at the same time that they often inadvertently uncover each other’s nests, tossing another turtle’s eggs back up onto the sand as a tasty snack.
Finally, as the turtles were making their way back into the water I told her it was ok to touch them gently and quickly. She did, and then would walk beside each of them, offering words of encouragement as they labored along, clearly struggling to walk with flippers much better suited for swimming.
I looked across the beach, at all the turtles, at the magic of it all, at my girl in the middle of it, and felt a lump rising in my throat. I willed it to go away, not wanting to be the silly girl crying about the turtles. But what an amazing thing to witness, and what an amazing adventure to share with my family. It was a sight I will never forget.