Mexico | Tiny Turtles

I stayed in Escondido until my three-week jaded weird stage had passed. My time was spent chatting to people by the hostel pool – people who were also there for a week or so, so the stream of new faces slowed right down and made way for deeper friendships. I cooked, I watched sunsets, I lay on my bed and did nothing for hours at a time: nice. It took about five days before I felt back to full energy – once again ready to get out there and find a new adventure.

One the last day before leaving the surf city, I headed with Nienke to a beach a little outside town for a ceremony I’d heard about. To get there we took a collectivo, and they’re different on the Pacific Coast to the ones on the Yucatan Peninsula. The ones at the start of my trip were white minivans. In Escondido they’re semi-open trucks, with the driver in the cabin (almost always the driver and his wife, for some reason), and you sit on a covered flatbed thing with two rows of seats in the back. There’s no door – the back is open, and you simply flag the truck down, hop aboard, and try to get yourself seated before it drives on. If there are no seats, you stand on the back bumper and hold onto a rope, and the hot road flits beneath you. The locals do this with ease. I had to do it for a five-minute journey and shat myself.

Still, collectivos are great, and we should have them in the UK. Wind in your hair, random people to chat to, 50p a journey – it’s such a cool way to get around. Even nipping to the shops for a loaf of bread becomes an adventure, sprinkled with just a little bit of danger.

We had a way to walk after the taxi, and eventually arrived at our destination: a beachfront sanctuary for sea turtles. The turtles are critically endangered, and to help ensure their survival the charity collects the eggs lain by adult turtles and keeps them safe from birds and other predators in little mesh huts until they hatch. Every day, at 5pm, the latest batch of baby turtles are released into the ocean, to make their own way in life.

The dangers to the turtles are myriad; alongside predators, manmade threats are constant. They mistake cigarette butts and plastic for food, and they die after eating it. They get caught in nets too. Strangest of all, warmest climates are changing the gender of baby turtles. If a turtle’s egg is incubated below 28 degrees, it will be born a boy. If the eggs are incubated above 31 degrees, they’ll be female – and then there’s a middle ground where it’s an even mix. As the world gets hotter, turtles are overwhelmingly being born female, and the population is consequently dropping severely.

There were perhaps fifty people waiting at the little turtle shack, and we joined the queue. From what I’d heard, you pay a little money to the charity, then they had you a little half coconut with a baby turtle in it. Then you take it to the beach, and at a spot marked with a rope, you release your turtle to find its way over the sand and into the sea, its new home.

I’d told Nienke what I myself had been told: that it was around 100 pesos, or 5 quid. At the front of the queue, however, it turned out that the experience cost 250 pesos, or about £12.50. I shrugged and paid: no big deal. I used to spend that on two pints in London – and this was surely a once in a lifetime experience. Nienke, in her eternal Dutchness, saw things differently:

“Two hundred and fifty pesos?” she exclaimed. “For a fucking turtle? Fuck that.”

I smiled benignly at the nice turtle people and hurried away, face flushing. Sorry sorry sorry.

We listened to the nice turtle people talk about the different species of turtles and the threats they face, but I missed the last five minutes of the speech because I was standing in beaming direct sunlight and started to pant and trip out. Then it was time to get our turtles. I was handed a half coconut, and then, from a little sandy bucket, I was handed a tiny baby turtle. It would have fit perfectly in the palm of my hand – but the coconuts are to avoid contaminating them with sunscreen and whatnot.

I watched my little guy as I carried him to the waterfront. He didn’t move much, and for a moment I thought he might be dead. As we neared the sea, however, he must have sensed the ocean calling him; he came alive, wriggling and flapping and trying to crawl out over the lip of the coconut so that I had to jiggle it to drop him back into the centre.

I put my little dude down on the sand, and sat and watched as he flapped his way out of the coconut and saw the ocean for the first time. He looked absolutely miniscule before the vast, glittering blue ahead. I don’t know whether he heard it, saw it or smelled it, but he immediately knew what was out there: he began to crawl, hesitantly at first, in bursts of three or four steps at a time, towards his home.

I watched my tiny shell-boy shuffle himself down the beach, and after perhaps ten minutes, a wave swept up the sand and he felt water for the first time. The wave was strong enough to bowl him over and knock him backwards, and deposited back up the beach, he once more made his attempt to enter the sea and join his friends and family. Finally, one last wave swept over his little shell, and when the wave cleared, he was gone. Farewell, baby turtle. Bon courage.

It would probably have been a very moving and profound experience, but there was a lot of people and a lot of photo-snapping so I couldn’t really get in the right headspace to get all choked up. It would have been nice to have felt a dramatic swell of emotion – to be struck by some sudden and profound revelation – but ah well. You can’t force it. I just hope my dinky bro is having a nice time swimming around out there. Hopefully nothing has gobbled him.

*****

After Escondido I decided to travel alone again for a while. Travelling with company is lovely, but there comes a point when you want to do things your own way, and not to compromise. That’s what it’s all about, right? Discovering new sides of yourself and stuff. Experimenting. Trying on new personality traits like outfits in a changing room, because nobody has any reason to believe you’re anybody different than who you are in that moment. It’s nice – you learn about yourself. Travelling with somebody who knows you and expects you to act a certain way can slow that process down, or halt it altogether. Reverse it, even.

So yeah: at the next town, a little beachy paradise hideaway called Mazunte, I stayed behind while Nienke continued on to San Jose, and we parted as friends. I’ve been here three nights now, and I have one more. And check it out: I’m writing in the present tense finally! I caught up with my diaries, motherfucker! I’m literally in Mazunte writing about Mazunte! HOOOOOOO!

It’s nice here. It’s a tiny town with palm trees everywhere and boats and little wooden shacks you can eat at. I’m writing this looking out to sea, pretending I’m Hemingway during his Cuba years. I had ceviche for lunch – fish cooked without heat, solely through the acidity of lemon juice – and a cola and a cappuccino. It’s humid as shit here, but at least on this café balcony there’s a nice cool breeze coming off the ocean. I’ve not actually walked on the beach or gone in the sea the whole time I’ve been here – after a week in Escondido I’m kind of satisfied. And I don’t want to get sand everywhere because I lost my towel two weeks ago and have since been drying myself with a T-shirt. Plus my white tennis shoes – the only footwear I have – are falling to pieces, hanging open at the ends, and they fill up with sand and get all heavy like spaceman boots. So whatever, I like to look at the beach but not touch the beach.

There’s really not much to do here beyond lie down and eat. There’s a spot called Punta Cometa from which you can watch the sunset – to get there you clamber up a big hill, down the other side of the big hill, and then navigate a clifftop path to a spot overlooking great craggy rocks with waves smashing into them far below. I saw a gorgeous red sunset there on my first night. It made me feel very small and fragile.

I’ve been sleeping pretty badly here, because the hostel I’m staying in is very rough around the edges: it’s a cute, family-run place that looks like it’s been assembled by the hostel owner himself from scratch. Everything is chopped lumber, roped together along with palm leaves woven into rooftops. The bathrooms are a mosquito infested horror and the toilets have no seats, and on my first night I got too hot in the bunk and left the safety of the mosquito net to go sleep outside in a hammock and of course got absolutely fucking feasted upon, so much that my back and shoulders now look like I’ve been machine-gunned by the baddies from Small Soldiers – but it’s okay. I’ve stayed in worse. Not much worse. But worse.

I spent last night drinking with a French ski instructor I met in Escondido, Theo, and an English guy based in Australia the past two decades – George. We chatted and laughed and in the evening we ate tlayudas, which I’d never heard of before but is apparently a typical Oaxacan dish. I don’t remember whether it was nice or not because I was drunk.

Tomorrow I’ll travel north a few hours to the mountain village of San Jose, where I hear you live in huts and do some weird ritual thing in a little clay house and take magic mushrooms. Sounds weird: sounds cool.

Leave a Reply