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“Hey, shhhhhh! She’s coming out!” was the unexpected whisper directed our way as a turtle emerged from the ocean on to the dark Salvadorian beach we were walking along, to lay her eggs.
We had arrived in El Cuco in southern El Salvador after an epic bus journey from Nicaragua. Our bus driver’s night driving was put to the test as we hit a bat, narrowly missed a pig, and only missed a guy lying in road thanks to a dramatic last second swerve! In my mind, there were 3 possible reasons that this guy could be lying in the road:
1 – he was dead. This was a strong contender as he lay motionless on his back, arm outstretched.
2 – he was drunk. Also highly possible, presumably the middle of the road looked like a safe and comfy spot for a mid-walk-home-nap.
3 – he was a highway bandit. Apparently the most likely option was that he was the key player in an elaborate, high stakes hoax where any driver stupid enough to stop and offer help, would be robbed of everything in their possession.
I wasn’t about to argue with the driver as he sailed past, content not knowing which of the above was true.
We passed through the Honduras border, continued for a couple of hours and soon arrived in El Salvador, my favourite country in Central America. The country is full of the friendliest, smiliest and most helpful people that we encountered on our trip. About 3 metres past the border I asked a policeman where we could catch the bus to San Miguel, his reply was: “throw your bags in the back of my truck, I’ll give you a ride!”. It wasn’t a short journey either. For the next 30 minutes we chatted away with our new friend from the back of his police truck about how he’d lived in the States for 12 years and about his top tips for our stay.
We waved goodbye to our new friend and hopped on to a bus down to the sleepy beach town of El Cuco. There wasn’t much more to do than chill out, surf and if you’re lucky, see a turtle. We were here for all three.
We stayed at La Tortuga Verde, a local turtle-focused hotel who would pay locals a slight premium to bring turtle eggs to them rather than selling them for food. Turtle eggs are a delicacy here but La Tortuga Verde is trying its best to keep as many in the sand for the 50 days needed for them to hatch. One day, a huge bucket full of eggs turned up and we were lucky enough to be on hand to first dig a deep hole in a secure part of the beach, then carefully place the 60 or so eggs inside.
The night before we had tried and failed to see a turtle, but with the knowledge that we had only missed the mother of these eggs by minutes, we headed out that night even more determined. We walked to one end of the beach, past hundreds of small crabs sprinting across the sand, occasionally disappearing down tiny holes. Turning around we headed all the way down to the other end of the beach, passing by dozens of dead puffer fish, strangely appearing out of the darkness, stranded by the tide.
We were on our way back to the hotel, thinking our search was again going to be fruitless when we hit the jackpot. A local egg collector ran over to us as a huge dark silhouette slowly moved through the waves and on to the beach. It was pitch black, and we could only just about make it out at first but it was a turtle. The enormous turtle that we had been hoping for!
We were told to stay far away from her to give her plenty of space to lay her eggs without distraction or disturbance. The last thing we wanted to do now was to put her off and see her return to the sea without laying her eggs! So we waited patiently, in the pitch black for about 45 minutes. Then with the flash a torch, we were waved over. She’d finished and was slowly heading back to the water.
The first turtle that I’ve ever seen in the wild was there in front of me, flicking sand behind her in the direction of the eggs. She was huge. Dry from being out of the water for so long, sand was sticking to her shell as she slowly moved forwards towards the water. She had just laid 98 eggs and looked understandably shattered. The local egg collectors told us that it was a bigger turtle than they were used to seeing hence the huge amount of eggs that she had left on the beach.
As she slowly walked then swam in to the evening waves, disappearing in to the darkness, I couldn’t stop thinking about how lucky we were to be there at that moment.