Our group of high school juniors and seniors stayed up until midnight at Las Tortugas, a turtle reserve in Limón, Costa Rica. The night before, we patrolled for four hours and saw no turtles. However, that night I learned something from Manuel, our guide. He told us to respond ‘sin cuenta’ when asked how many stars there are. Most of us Spanish scholars heard ‘cincuenta’, fifty. He explained that though it sounds like fifty, the two words ‘sin cuenta’ mean ‘without count’.
That night, there were sin cuenta stars and a bright moon to light our walk. Tonight, there were clouds that sprinkled water on us early in our patrol, making us believe rain would refresh us after the long day. Instead, we played cards on an equally long night with the periodic arrival of guests such as a gecko or sand crab.
Honorable mention 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
Manuel relayed our eagerness to show a Leatherback to Las Tortugas officers. They promised to call him via walky-talky if a Leatherback appeared. However, our teacher, Ms. Peters, soon declared it bedtime; we had to leave Las Tortugas at dawn.
When my roommates and I were in PJs, ready for bed, we heard Manuel knocking at the door along with the bustling of our neighbors. Our group of twenty girls hastened to the beach, in the dark and in PJs. The now dry clouds covered the moon, so I clasped the shoulder of the person closest to me. Another person clasped my hand, and we lead each other in the dark. I later determined that I was both leading and being lead by two juniors, girls who, despite being a year younger than me, felt like sisters. There was no awkwardness in clasping their shoulder and hand, though previously I may have found it so. Rather, there was a pervading sense of sisters guiding one another through the dark.
A red flashlight drew our attention to four figures, one of which was a mother Leatherback climbing up the beach. As she began to build her nest, three officers from Las Tortugas grouped behind her and beckoned us over. She didn’t mind us clustered behind her while she dug her nest. Her eggs were more important to her.
A beautiful, dry lightning storm danced over the waters of the Caribbean, periodically illuminating our silhouettes along with that of Mama Leatherback. We were fascinated by her motherly care and patience as she began to lay her eggs. A Las Tortugas officer collected the fertile eggs to replant near the reserve, away from poachers who threatened the species’ existence by using the eggs in beverages popular in the region.
As the mother finished her nest and headed back to sea, we respectfully pet her shell. True to her name, it was like leather, having the dexterity to allow her to dive depths of 1000 meters. She paused at the edge of the sea where water and lightning kissed, then climbed into the water. In the darkness, her body became one with the Caribbean.
I’ve often questioned why my mother’s family left Costa Rica. However, with my experience at Las Tortugas, I grew to feel content with their choice. My grandparents came to the states so their children would receive a stronger education than they’d receive on the farm. Due to the education I’ve consequently received, I was able to enjoy the experience at Las Tortugas with my Biology teacher and schoolmates, schoolmates who, by the end of the trip, were like sisters. And I now know Costa Rica, my second home, where the hospitality of people and the beauty of the country is sin cuenta.
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