Sunday, September 2, 2012

Guanacaste = paradise

For our last weekend in the beautiful paradise of Costa Rica we ventured out with the University of North Texas MIST (Masters in International Sustainable Tourism) crew to the scenic Guanacaste Province on the western shores of the country.  After a 7 hour bus ride we made it to our wonderful hotel (of which we were the only guests!) and indulged in some "real" corn (non-GMO and not as sweet as corn in the US) before setting out for the beach for a little bit of relaxation time. 

The beach at Guanacaste, Apuertocoyote, was fabulous!!!  Words cannot even describe how wonderful it was, so I will let the pictures speak for me:

After watching a very visually aesthetic sunset, we headed to a bar/restaurant nearby to eat some dinner (arroz frito con camarones - fried rice with very FRESH shrimp, oh! and of course, some fried plantains as usual).

The next morning we got up early and headed out to the shore with our friends from Pretoma, a local NGO who focuses on marine restoration, to go fishing as part of their sustainable fishing and tourism project (  Pretoma has been in the process of developing a tourism plan that educates people about the marine issues happening in the local area and the impact that tourists have on particular wildlife.  For example, turtle eggs are seen as a delicacy in the local bars, who usually sell them to tourists, claiming that they are aphrodisiacs.  Pretoma has a group of people who go out on the beach everyday in search of these eggs so that they can protect them in a reserve until ready to hatch, preventing poachers from stealing them for the bars.  The day consisted of us learning about the daily lives of the local fisherman and seeing how they are impacted by changing environmental and tourist patterns.      

We also got to go on a hands-on fishing excursion where we went out on the ocean to try and catch our own dinner.  This fishing excursion was one of my favorite activities of the entire CR trip.  We went out on private little fishing boats with the local people (our guide was the best, of course), learned about the strategies the fisherman use to catch fish (which is a very difficult job and requires the people to go out all night to fish while doing all their other duties during the day), and enjoyed the beautiful day out on the sea.  Some of our crew did not handle the sea too well and got a bit sick, but most of us did well.  We got to ride some crazy oceanic waves which was great!  The picture to the left is two girls from the UNT MIST program with Denisha.  While on the sea we busted into some refreshing watermelons (which some people threw up :-/) and even spent some time swimming out on the open waves.  It was such a gorgeous day!! 

Towards the end of the trip we went back towards the shore and explored the mangroves, which I learned from Dr. Vargas, a professor, are crucial for the existence of all life on earth!  Mangroves are places where the sea life come into shore to lay their eggs and without them, the new generations of sea wildlife would be jeopardized.

These drinks are called Mora (berry) and are SO good!
 Sadly, all of the fish we did catch were not appropriate to keep, so we put all of them back safely into the waters and dinner consisted of fish that the true fisherman caught that day - (talk about some freshly caught fish! And it tasted wonderful).  This was the first time I had ever eaten an entire fish before too.  Although it looks a little disturbing (picture below), it actually tasted really good and it was easier to eat than I thought it was going to be.   
After dinner we went to the camp where the Pretoma have their volunteers stationed.  While there we got to see the place where they rescue and preserve the turtle eggs.

Afterwards, we went down to a secluded beach to actually see the turtles in action.  Now, it is hard for me to describe this experience in words (we were not allowed to take pictures), but it definitely was the greatest part of the entire trip for me.  As we approached the beach, the sun had gone down and it was dark outside.  In Costa Rica, it is rare to ever see the moon because of all of the clouds.  That night, however, the clouds were scattered and the moon was shining down onto the beach and the water, creating this surreal shimmering glimmer that covered the area.  We silently moved along the beach until we finally spotted turtle tracks - and poof - there it was, a real life (and very archaic I might add) sea turtle.  It was an Olive Ridley Turtle, and it was beautiful!  We huddled close to it and watched as it dug a hole, squirted out a bunch of eggs, and then recovered the hole using this very unique twisting and squirming of the body.  After it jumped around to pack down the earth it preceded to make a mess in the sand by thrashing around so that predators would not be able to pinpoint the location of the eggs.  The sight was one that I'll never forget.  It truly was an inimitable (and probably once in a lifetime) experience.  Thinking back on it still makes me very happy : )

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