Day Four – Trip to Grande Riviere and a turtle-less night

A Day in Three Voices

Part I – written by Lacey Crabill

Bus ride to Grande Riviere

With an earlier start to our day, we departed Matura Village at 7:30am and drove up to the northeastern coast to Grand Riviere.   Along the way, we stopped at Galera Point, the most northeasterly point on Trinidad.  Here, we climbed over large rocks on the coastline and watched ocean waves crash against them.

Wednesday testimony meeting at Galera Point

After a little while, we gathered together under the shade of a few trees and had a beautiful testimony meeting where Mia read and others shared gratitude for the blessings and healings they’ve experienced thus far.  Afterward, we drove the rest of the way to Grand Riviere where we were introduced to the Grand Riviere sea turtle conservation project and learned about the increased numbers of nesting sea turtles over the past 20 years.

Heading in for a talk at Grande Riviere Nature Guide Association

Today, it is believed to be the most densely nested leatherback beach in the world.  When they first started their conservation program, they would only find up to 60 sea turtles on their 1km long beach every night during the peak of the season.  Now, they will have up to 200-500 turtles nesting there each night at this same time!  With each turtle laying up to 85 eggs in one nest, as many as 42,500 sea turtle eggs are laid per night!  Yet, even with this abundance, due to other nesting sea turtles digging up previously laid nests (because of the small land mass on which they are digging 25,000 nests annually) , predators, poaching, fishing nets, etc., most of the sea turtles will not survive (the average is 1-2 per 1000 hatchlings survive).

*Learn more at this website: http://www.turtlevillagetrust.org/grande-riviere.htm

Part II – written by Steve Bailey

After lunch (including a thoroughly entertaining Discovery video featuring a decades younger Dr. Scott Eckert) the group adjourned to the nearby beach for an afternoon of kickin’ back and enjoying the sun and surf.

Grande Riviere Beach

It was particularly nice to get some time on a beach during the day, since up until this point, all of the group’s beach experience had been at night.

We set up camp in the shade and spent the next several hours soaking up the sun, diving for a frisbee, and body surfing with the waves as they rolled in.

Austin and Steve attack the frisbee

Nearby we discovered a small beachfront shop that sold traditional island knickknacks and souvenirs. Two friendly dreadlocked locals even convinced me that the sarongs they were selling were adequately manly, despite the presence of red and pink flowers, to warrant me buying one. It became a functional purchase immediately (serving as a beach towel) as we laid out in the warm sand and watched the rolling surf and diving sea birds.

Handicraft shop in Grande Riviere

The group even managed to catch a glimpse of several sea turtles surfacing amidst the waves just offshore. After several hours and more-than-adequate sun exposure (given the current tender and reddened state of most of our shoulders and necks), we shook the sand from our towels, packed our bags, and bid the northern coast farewell.

LOVE

Though our time there had been limited, the beach at Grande Riviere provided a much-welcomed and peaceful afternoon of relaxation amidst an otherwise busy schedule.

Part III – written by Heather Barron

Happily rejuvenated, we all boarded the bus for the long drive back to Matura. Our trusty driver, Tony, wound us around the northern/northeastern coastline on narrow roads lush with banana, mango and cacao trees, pausing at one lane bridges when there was oncoming traffic, honking signals to acknowledge people he knew, or to alert anyone coming opposite us on blind corners, or to shoo a dog out of the road.

Driving back to Matura

We passed a colorful array of homes, out buildings, kiosks, schools and the like as we went through village after village. Another beautiful day to precede another night of going and looking for turtles.

Some of the group stayed back this night to work on papers/projects, or simply to rest, while others ventured back out to Matura Beach to look for turtles.

Part IV – written by Jewelle Matheny

Francis - our super guide

Francis Donald Superville. What an incredible guy full of one liners, life wisdom and an amazing life story. We pelted him with life questions and he gave us speeches about each topic. Here is a quick list of a few of his sayings:

“Think twice, do once.”

“Everyday is a special day, as soon as you see it as special.”

“Try and fail but don’t fail to try.”

“Go with the flow, Man.”

Since there were no turtles coming up on shore, we basically sat and chatted on logs peering into the ocean listening to background undistinguishable chatter on the radio, erupting in fits of laughter every couple of minutes. Multiple times we donned our raingear only to realize the storm had just barely missed us.

Francis and his "daughters" in the palm hut they found

We learned how to spot turtles far off in the ocean with our night vision, After walking two zones (which the beach is broken into 18 zones) , we came across a palm hut. All of us huddled in it and took funny pictures. Then we pestered Francis to pretend to be a sea turtle so that we could collect data from him! After a bit more pestering from all six of his “daughters” (which he called us), he and Sam did a little turtle imitation including “camoflauging” (the process turtles go through to hide their nests on the beach after laying eggs). One adventure led to the next . Soon enough, under Francis’ watch, we were all hiding in the palm fort ready to jump out at the other returning groups. Even though our surprise attack did not go as planned, we successfully scared four people! It was a night I will never forget, even though we did not see any turtles (other than Francis and Sam). We relaxed, we laughed, and we were goofy. We embodied the qualities that Francis so obviously role models for everyone: childlikeness, curiosity, ingenuity and fetterless joy. Francis has taught all of us a lot about loving and “working smart not hard.”

Francis teaching

Day Three – Kayaking the Rio Seco River, and, yes, MORE turtles!

Kayak put-in for Rio Seco trip

Written by Mia Shotwell

Kayaking was an amazing adventure! We departed from Suzan’s Guest House dressed for wet. Bathing suits on, water bottles galore, snazzy sporty suave shades, chacos, flip flops, Tevas and many smiles, we were ready to get on the road and paddle down the Rio Seco! We arrived at the beach and were welcomed by cool breezes, a reggae music fiesta, swaying palm trees, and the sound of crashing waves. A beautiful scene.

Salybia - Rio Seco put-in

We carried our kayaks to the river put-in and joyfully glided down the river with radiant beaming smiles. We love kayaking! So peaceful, serene, freeing, refreshing, exhilarating, liberating…

Relaxing on the Rio Seco

There is nothing quite like kayaking alongside the dense jungle filled with a symphony of curious sounds and exotic noises echoing from the vast green canopy of rustling leaves, vibrant flowers, and little trickling waterfalls. A little less than half an hour into our paddle, we turned a bend and were met by a cluster of tangled branches of a massive Mora tree that had fallen into the river and was completely blocking our way. We turned our enormous kayak fleet around and took this great opportunity to relax, unwind, reflect, muse, ponder, dream, delight, wonder, marvel, contemplate, and soak in the day.

Kayak paparazzi - Austin paddling and Brent with camera

We floated down the river and watched the clouds go by, a few quite obviously shaped like leatherback sea turtles, of course! The gentle white-water currents powered and directed our kayaks. We parked our kayaks in a little sand cove and plunged into the cool jade water. A few people bobbed like apples in their life jackets on the surface of crystalline water with big smiles for a long, wonderful time, and embraced the moment of being immersed in pure river beauty. A few others skipped rocks and chatted happily along the shore while enjoying the day and the company of merry friends.

Diana relaxing

It was such a wonderful day of freedom and gratitude! Kayaking, friends, swimming in cool waters, listening to the jungle symphony, laughter, heart-warming moments, smiles, harmony, joy, love, humility, and liberation. Trinidad is an inspiring place to be.

Day 2 – Suzan the “Crazy Turtle Lady”, Rio Seco Waterfall Hike, Homemade Ice Cream, and More Turtles!

Day 2, Monday, March 12, 2012 (written by Lulu Mosman)

Hiking down to Rio Seco waterfall

Another “early” morning for us meant 9:00 breakfast of eggs, fry bread, mashed potatoes with flavor that would knock the socks off any Midwestern dish, and watermelon as a treat. Eating outside offers a chorus of tropical birds.

Suzan inspired us with a history of Nature Seekers, the organization we are working with. Traditionally, and into the 1990s, local people treated sea turtles as disposable resources. The animals were killed for meat or fishing bait, and their eggs were stolen. Suzan was one of the first to question this. She answered with the vision that people could be educated to respect the turtles.

Working with family members she could entice into helping, and a few other volunteers, Suzan patrolled Matura Beach for several years, stopping poachers. Chipping away at the norms was hard for people to accept, and Suz received unpleasant reactions from many in the community who wanted her to give up. Her secret was unflagging dedication and energy to continue protecting the turtles.

“It’s good to be crazy in a positive way,” she laughed. Eventually this crazy positivism resulted in governmental protection of sea turtles and the growth of Nature Seekers into a nationally and internationally successful ecotourism business. The impact close to home was that they could prove live turtles had more economic benefit than turtles under attack, and the community grew closer as a result of teamwork for the turtles’ sake.

Incredible root system along the hike - people had to step over all the roots on the trail!

In the afternoon our group took a jungle hike to a waterfall, and, you guessed it, the trail was MUDDY again! Massive Mora trees and giant bamboo formed the canopy, flowers and plants filled in the understory, and birds, insects, frogs, and howler monkeys (or wait, was that Francis?) created a serene yet exotic soundscape.

We approached the 16-foot waterfall in awe of its beauty. Sun dappled on the pool’s surface and vines hung from the surrounding rocks. Everyone felt refreshed by the brisk water. A rope was anchored into the rocks beside the waterfall. The first brave souls climbed up and with a loud “Wahoo!” jumped into the pool. A few people were not used to leaping but found the courage. We cheered for everyone and had a blast.

Rio Seco Waterfall

After the hike we stopped at Gail’s Homemade Ice Cream to try her flavor of the day: babadee, a local melon that tasted like butterscotch.

Tonight we became independent scientists by collecting our own data. Equipment ready, we walked the beach in research project groups with Nature Seeker staff. The turtles were few because of the falling tide, but by one in the morning we had studied three leatherbacks. Different groups measured heart rate, breathing rate, body temperature, size of the turtle, number and weight of eggs, slope of the beach, and other factors. Watching the moon traverse half the sky was beautiful, and the constant wind off the ocean was exhilarating. Life is good here.

Mia, Lindsey and Lacey with a nesting Leatherback

Day One – Matura Village – “Home of the Leatherback Sea Turtles”

After a full day of travel, 19 students, a professor and a resident counselor filed into the spacious living room of Suzan’s Guesthouse. A full spread had been prepared in anticipation of our arrival. The group gratefully indulged and then Suzan showed everyone their rooms. A few hours of rest and the group was back at the table with another delicious meal that had magically appeared.

 

First on the agenda was a group reading of the week’s lesson for church. Then we were up in the classroom for an introduction to Nature Seekers provided by the organization’s Managing Director, Dennis Sammie. He shared a bit of the history and the mission the organization has served for 22 years. After an introduction to why tagging sea turtles is important, it was time for lunch.

 

Dennis Sammie, Managing Director of Nature Seekers, teaches us about tagging turtles

The itinerary was switched up in the afternoon from more classroom work to a hike. We left straight from the guesthouse, our fearless leader and Nature Seekers’ extraordinaire, Francis, led the troops on a jungle adventure, machete in hand. There was some bushwhacking, several muddy creek crossings, frog encounters, and many fascinating biological diversions (moss, mold, sap, fungi, flora, fauna, etc.).

Some of us even had up close and personal encounters with the mud – and ALL of us returned filthy! As the row of sopping wet shoes dried on the front porch banister, many of us took much needed naps. We awoke to another full buffet to fill the hungry bellies.

Satisfied, everyone prepped for the night on the beach with visions of sea turtles dancing in their heads. Earlier in the day Scott had mentioned that we might not see a turtle, so to be prepared for lots of beach walking with no guarantee. Francis (you may remember our fearless leader from the jungle hike?)  had put out his “S.O.S.” and was convinced that we would see turtles because he had called them.

 

We all piled into a long flatbed and made our way to the beach. The beach is broken into zones over several kilometers. We broke into groups of 4 or 5 students and each team had a Nature Seekers guide. The groups, armed with red-lit headlamps (the white light drives the sea turtles away from the beach) hit the sand hiking and watching the surf and beach for signs of turtle life.

Francis, our fearless jungle leader and turtle summoner, lives on the edge!

 

Francis led one of the groups. I had joined the group early on and we stayed at one spot for about 20 minutes and then began hiking back to the beginning of our assigned region – Zone 13. We came to a log and all sat down together. The moon had yet to come out and the sky was threatening storms, but patches of stars kept poking through. The waves crashed on the beach in a lulling rhythm.

 

“This is where the first turtle will come,” Francis told all of us. “They will come.” Earlier in the day the gauntlet had been thrown that whichever group spotted the first turtle would be treated to ice cream by the rest of the group. Francis LIKES ice cream!

 

“What goes up but never comes down?” Francis asked the group. “It’s a riddle!” We guessed it (“age”), and he had moved onto a more complex riddle, when all of a sudden he shouted, “Ice cream! Turtle!” Then he said, “See, I told you Zone 13 is where the turtles will come because I called to them.”

Katie, Katy and Tavia with a momma leatherback

 

Austin, Katy, Hilary, Heather, and Steve and Nick (in backgrnd)

4 more turtles would nest in Zone 13 that night before we left at midnight. Another would approach the beach at our pick-up zone but turn around due to the steepness of the slope. It was a magical night for this group of weary wanderers and all settled in for some deep, sweet rest, thrilled for the adventures to come.

So what will tomorrow bring? Suzan will share the incredible story of how she helped the community turn Matura Village beach from a graveyard into a maternity ward*, followed by hiking to the Rio Seco waterfall for a swim and then an evening of data collection and hanging with more of these majestic momma turtles.

*Visit this site to see Suzan interviewed as one of the CNN Hero nominees. She is wonderful! http://edition.cnn.com/2009/TECH/05/28/cnnheroes.suzan.lakhan.baptiste/index.html#cnnSTCVideo

In the middle of her laying the eggs