With these long nights and cold, crisp days, there’s nothing better than a warming bowl of delicious soup. Pumpkin is one of my favourite vegetables along with Butternut Squash, and I can think of few things as wonderful as a big bowl of this Ginger and Pumpkin Soup.Continue reading “Warming Pumpkin Soup”
This bowl is absolute indulgence! It is a real treat – creamy, rich and so chocolately. I often have it for brunch or, better still, dessert. The frozen banana makes a creamy texture which is perfect for the rich cacao, packed with skin-loving antioxidants that will help you get your glow on!Continue reading “Cacao Smoothie Bowl”
Are you a burger fan? So many people are. When making the switch to a more plant-based diet many people fear they have to stop eating some of their favourite foods. This is so not true! This recipe will satisfy all those cravings and will definately become one of your favourites, regardless of whether or not you’re a burger fanatic.Continue reading “Chickpea Burgers”
This week I took myself on a little ‘Christmas’ holiday to explore more of Chile. I packed myself off to Pichilemu, a small coastal town south of Santiago, which is renowned for its long flat beaches and steady flow of perfect waves for surfing. For a girl who loves the sea, this it seemed like the perfect getaway from the slightly oppressive heat and bustle of Santiago.
Pichilemu is about a 3 hour drive from Santiago and the buses run frequently. It is an easy journey across the sun-scorched plains of central Chile with some impressive views of both mountain ranges that run down either side of the country.
I arrived in Pichilemu at about 3pm and headed to find my hostal.The town, a favourite with surfers from across the country, is peppered with hostals and guest houses. After a little research I had found myself a delightful place just a few minutes from the beach, but still nicely hidden away from the main part of town full of restaurants and tourists.
Hostal Dolegant is a small, quaint house with no more than 10 rooms of only 1-3 people. The price in a dormitory was only £7 a night, with a complementary breakfast included and access to the kitchen space for cooking if you wish. There was one other girl in my room the first night and after that I had the room to myself. I also have to say that it was the comfiest bed I’ve slept on in a while! The hosts were just lovely; so kind and welcoming, and ready to help me with anything I needed, including pointing out where I could rent a bike and recommending some good places to go. I thoroughly recommend this hostal if you visit Pichilemu.
I headed to the beach as soon as I could, walking along the promenade to find a more sheltered corner. Pichilemu beach is very long and flat, which is what lends itself to being such a good surf location, but it also makes the beach quite windy. On my first attempt to find a good spot I quickly discovered that the wind causes the sand to whip up across the beach, which isn’t very enjoyable! However, at the far end of the beach there is some shelter from the wind against the bank. This is also where the surf shops are for renting boards and wetsuits, plus a few little cafes for tea, coffee, and snacks. One peculiar phenomenon I have witnessed here in Chile is that there are people who patrol the beach offering snacks and drinks, shouting their offerings in curiously musical tones. When I was in Vina del Mar, there was one man who had made a little song out of “bebida bebida, solo una lucita, bebida bebida, refrescita”.
Although the sun was shining without much cloud, it was a lot cooler than Santiago due to the sea breeze. It became pretty cold in the evening, and I found myself putting on jeans for the first time in about a month. The sea itself is also pretty cold – possibly more so than in England….!
On Tuesday I was keen to go to Punto de Lobos, a short way from Pichilemu and a renowned spot for the surf enthusiasts. I rented a bike and cycled down the highway about 30 minutes – it was not very far. On the way, I passed a small gallery of shops and cafes and was delighted to find a vegan café, Curcuma, with an array of different smoothies, brunch and lunch options. I of course stopped for a browse and enjoyed a delicious Banana and Strawberry Smoothie. When I made it to Punto de Lobos I simply sat an admired the view for a while, watching the surfers take on some serious waves and pulling some spectacular stunts.
The beach at Punto de Lobos is considerably more sheltered and so it was the perfect spot to spend the rest of the afternoon reading and enjoying the sun. A word about the sun in Chile – it is powerful. More so, it’s also a bit sneaky and tends to do its work without you really realising until you suddenly find yourself glowing a healthy tomato colour into the evening… I cycled back to Pichilemu in the early evening and ended up paying only £8 for 6 hours of bike rental. Pichilemu is definitely cheaper than Santiago!
Wednesday was Christmas Day, or at least that’s what people kept telling me but nothing special happened other than me opening the stocking my Mum had sent to me, which was a little treat. Chileans don’t really seem to do anything particular for Christmas; most shops and restaurants remained open and largely oblivious, except for perhaps reduced hours, and I don’t even think the majority of churches had a particular service. After chatting to various family members, I headed to the beach and decided it was time to test out my surf skills, which are amateur at best. While I only managed to stand up once or twice, I had a lot of fun out in the waves. They weren’t too big too be impossible, but big enough to give you plenty of chances to have a go. Unfortunately, I only lasted an hour and a half before I lost all feeling in my toes and had to abort due to fear of frost bite. Two hours later and I was still cold, sitting in the full sunshine in jeans and a hoodie! Not your average Christmas activity, but a pretty awesome way to spend the day. I headed back to the beach at about 6pm and watched the sun go down, which was beautiful.
Surfing really took it out of me, and after a slow start on Thursday I headed back to the vegan café for some brunch before enjoying the beach for the rest of the day. The trip was a perfect get away, relaxing on the beach with plenty of sun, sea and sleep! A great way to escape the hustle and enormity of Santiago, which can become a bit oppressive after a while.
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and are looking forward to New Year celebrations. I’ve been told that Chileans do actually get a little more excited for New Year than Christmas, so there may be some fun activities to be enjoyed this week.
Merry Christmas and joyful festivities to you all!
It’s been a while since I gave you an update, so here is a Santiago Christmas special – although if I’m completely honest, with these long sunny days and 30+ degree for the past few weeks, I don’t feel even remotely festive. I wasn’t joking when I said I came to Latin America for 18 months of summer!
Since our last chat, I have been attempting to fully immerse myself in Chilean life. From learning some Chilean slang to museums and balcony BBQs, I’m making the most of my time here as it is already flying by – I’m over half way through this placement already!
Once the protests had settled down a little and life began to return to normal, I was finally able to visit the Museo de la Memoria, which I have been itching to do since I arrived. We studied Latin America in first year and I have since been fascinated with the history of Chile and Pinochet’s dictatorship. It was a really valuable experience and I really encourage anyone to go when in Santiago. The dictatorship is a fundamental part of Chilean history and I think it also unlocks an understanding of the attitude of the people once you know more about those dark years. There are a lot of museums in Santiago, and I intend to visit most of them. I still haven’t managed to get to the Museo de Bellas Artes yet, but it is next on my list.
Last week we had a BBQ at work – in Chilean an ‘asado’ – as Lee, the other intern in the Magma Office was leaving, and also because they hadn’t had one for ages. At about 5pm, two of the team headed out to the shops and returned armed with meat, veg, bread, and a worrying amount of Pisco. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this potion, it is the Chilean elixir of life, and no dinner, event, party is complete without the sweet, syrupy taste of Pisco. Or so a Chilean would argue. Pisco is a variation of whisky (I think, don’t quote me on this, I’m definitely not an expert on alcohol!), and is customarily drunk with ice and coke. The strange thing is how powerful it is. Yes, I’m a lightweight, but that stuff is stronggg. Perhaps that’s why the Chileans love it so much.
It was a great evening, made even more enjoyable by the stunning sunset we witnessed over the surrounding hills of Santiago, and the subsequent rising of the moon. I’ve never seen a moon ‘rise’ before, and it was quite something to see it climb into the sky from behind the crest of the hill.
The following weekend I headed for the beach at Vina del Mar for some sea and (more) sun. Lots of people warned me that the sea would be freezing, but I don’t think they realised that I come from the UK where the sea is baltic on even the most scorching of summer days. I found the sheer size of the waves much more challenging than their temperature, and found myself getting sucked under a few times… No jellyfish though, which is the MOST. IMPORTANT. THING. I also managed to burn my ankles, knee caps and a small patch on my back that I couldn’t reach, so that not only did I look like that ‘classic Brit’ on the bus ride back, but it also looks like a small child decided to doodle on my back… Made the co-workers laugh though. You’ve got to take one for the team occasionally, you know.
Unfortunately, in the past few weeks I have also had to say goodbye to some of the friends I have made here as many of them finished their term at University and are off travelling or going back to Europe. This included the two other interns here, but there are more coming in January!
I have also steadily been working my way through Santiago’s long list of vegan cafes, with my new favourite definitely being Polen. It’s a beautiful little café tucked away off the main street in Providencia, where I live, and it has the most fabulous array of brunch options, lunch meals and vegan treats. I have a secret aim to try everything on the menu….For a country that is well-known for its love of meat, I am really impressed with the amount of vegan and vegetarian cafes there are here. I still have so many to try out!
All these adventures bring us to today, December 25th! Happy Christmas! I’ve taken a little week of holiday over the Christmas week to the little town of Pichilemu, a renowned surfing hideout. I’m here for 5 days before going back to sweltering Santiago and it’s certainly nice to be in some fresh air and feel a sea breeze for a change. Chileans don’t seem to really celebrate Christmas as most people seem to be away for the summer holidays or just not that interested. I can certainly understand this – the idea of feasting, snowy walks, and burning fires just seem out of place in this little beach town and under the searing heat of the Santiago sun. So this year, apart from a gorgeous little stocking my Mum sent me in my suitcase back in October, I think I’ll probably skip Christmas and try not to get burnt on the beach. I might even improve some of those surfing skills I discovered last summer in Exeter!
Someone please go and eat a mince pie while singing ‘O Holy Night’ as loud as humanly possible and wearing a fabulous festive jumper for me,
Christmas besitos, I miss you all.
After 4 weeks of defiant protest on the streets of Chile, the voice of the people finally seems to have reached politicians. On Sunday, President Piñera made a speech to the nation, celebrating Chile and promising a new constitution written with the input and consent of the people. This breakthrough did not come without significant struggle however, and the last month has seen Chile balancing on the edge of its own history, barely 30 years since the brutal dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
For 20 years, Chile shrivelled under one of the most brutal and repressive dictatorships seen in Latin America; the exact number of people abducted, imprisoned or killed, remains unknown during this time. It was an era of fear and violence, as many were taken from the beds at night, disappearing into the unknown, as ‘order’ was enforced by the military. Nubia Becker, a survivor, remembers Villa Grimaldi where he was imprisoned by Pinochet’s army as “a terrible place…a that place that really meant horror. Day and night you could hear the screams of the tortured. Such painful memories have been pushed far back into Chile’s history, but the past 4 weeks have unearthed an anger and a violence in Chile strongly reminiscent of those dark years.
From anger at metro fares and non-existent pensions, to the extortionate price of water – a basic human commodity, Chile is a nation boiling with resentment for the social injustices they suffer through every day, which many believe stem from an outdated constitution and the system of Neo-liberalism born from the Pinochet era. was only a matter of time before it spilled over and the people called out “Ya basta!”, enough is enough.
With the escalating violence on the streets that showed no sign of stopping, Chile was becoming increasingly damaged both on a ground level and an international one. Tourism was seen to drop by 40%, house rent fell by 10% in the wealthier areas of the city, and the peso has been steadily falling in the global market since the end of October.
President Piñera was faced with two options; “Por la razon o la fuerza” – “By force or by reason”. This is the motto of Chile. In the past, political leaders have always chosen la fuerza, and the last 4 weeks are certainly a testimony to this; over 15,000 people have been injured, 24 killed, and more than 7,000 injured since protests began. The misty hue of tear gas catches your throat on the morning commute to work, the same gas used to ‘restore the peace’ under Pinochet. Yet even more worrying is the story of the boy who reportedly ‘killed himself’ in a police cell after being arrested at a public protest, and the memories of similar stories from an era that many thought long gone have come rushing back. Walking the streets of Santiago, one feels the tenseness in the air; a nation holding its breath to see what happens next, to see which side the country will fall.
Last Tuesday when President Piñera appeared half an hour late to address the nation, it was not a classic display of Chilean tardiness, but rather a moment of stalling as a plan went wrong. The President had prepared a speech in which he would authorise military control of the country, exactly as it was under Pinochet. The Chilean army were ready to agree to this, yet demanded political immunity from international bodies such as the UN, Amnesty International, and other Human Rights associations who have already been calling out on the brutality and violence of the army; Barbara Sepulveda Hales of the feminist network of lawyers and her team have taken matters into their own hand, going to police stations to check on detainees where sexual violence is a big problem; women being stripped in front of others, and raped too.
These are dark echoes of time that many would prefer to forget. It is clear that the violent years of the Pinochet era still smother Chile. It took nothing more than a scratch to open the reeking wound left by the dictator, and for a moment it seemed that Chile would return to that bleak past it fought so hard to leave behind.
Yet Piñera stalled. Unable to guarantee protection for the army, the plan fell through. The question was, would they go ahead and declare military control regardless? All week the city of Santiago lay tense and coiled, ready to strike out and defend itself; demonstrations continued in Plaza Italia, the hub of the protests – just as it had been in 1974. Nobody could say which way the President would turn.
On Sunday evening, President Piñera once again addressed the nation with an entirely different tone to that of his previous speeches. He acknowledged the violence of the armed forces, going as far as to say that “abuses and crimes were committed, and the rights of all were not respected”. Chile is a changing nation on the brink of a brand new era; Piñera and his government have agreed to a public referendum to determine whether or not the people want a new constitution.
In his speech, Piñera told the nation that a new Chile would be born, asking for patience as the government addressed some of the issues raised by the protestors. With a little time, a lot of careful politics, and good communication with the people, a well-written constitution could be the start of a new era for Chile, a country which has worked so hard to shake off the shadows of its past and establish itself both in Latin America and world.
It’s been a while! A lot has happened since I left the jungle; I moved from 30 degrees climate to 10 degrees, climbed a snow-capped volcano, started a new job, and got caught in a few protests…so I hope you’ve got your cup of tea ready and have settled in for the long read.
I flew from Costa Rica to Santiago, Chile where my Dad was waiting for me with a suitcase full of delightfully non-mouldy clothes and a stash of teabags which would have seen any Brit through the war. I arrived at 5am (3am Costa Rica time), running on about 2 hours sleep in the past 24 hours of travelling. After unpacking enough to locate my pyjamas and having a good long shower – although not too hot as I couldn’t quite grasp the fact that a hot shower was once again an option -we went for lunch with my co-ordinator/mentor for this next internship before I crashed at about 3pm. I woke up at 6:30 after what was supposed to be a short nap, found some dinner, and went back to bed for another 10 hours!
On Monday, my Dad and I flew south to Puerto Varas, a small town in the Chilean Lakes at the top of Patagonia. Whereas in Santiago it had been an acceptable 24 degrees or so, here it was 10, and I was freezing! We quickly located the nearest café which served hot chocolate , Cafe Cassis – an excellent spot breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacking for vegans and non-vegans alike. As I has a week between the end of my Costa Rica internship and the start of the Santiago one, I had managed to entice my Dad out for a week of adventure in the Chilean Lakes, with the added bonus of a suitcase full of clothes and a nice hotel for a week for me (and his great company of course!).
Puerto Varas is located on the shore of the largest lake in Chile. When it’s not raining, which is a bit rare, there is a stunning view of the 4 volcanoes that surround the lake, one of which we climbed. Volcan Osorno is the tallest of the 4 volcanoes, and we were lucky that it was a perfectly clear day when we went up. Our guide drove us to the start of the summit where to snow line was, and we then walked a fair distance to the ‘Red Crater’. From jungle humidity to fresh crisp snow in under 5 days, I spent the whole time giggling at the absurdity of it – I really couldn’t believe I was stood in snow! The view from the volcano was stunning, and out guide was so lovely, chatty and knowledgeable. Unfortunately, that was the day with the best weather and the rest of the week it was pretty wet, so much so that our kayaking trip was cancelled as the river was too high and dangerous to go out on. Instead Dad and I went and slumped in a Spa – not a bad exchange really. Overall, it was a fun week fuelled by copious amounts of hot chocolate and tea, and we had a lot of fun facing the elements and seeing glorious crystal-blue rivers, snow-capped mountains and some furry llamas. If I’m honest, the week passed in a bit of a blur of excitement and exhaustion, and I didn’t feel like I’d completely recovered from jungle/jet lag when we came back to Santiago!
Dad and I went for brunch on Sunday morning before he flew home, leaving me to settle in to the city that is to be home for the next 3 months. After noting how many lovely little cafés there are on every street corner and climbing up San Cristobal hill in the glorious sunshine, I was in love with the city after just one day. I’ve said it before – nature and sunshine are all I need, but the added bonus of delicious brunches and a never-ending supply of avocado certainly don’t hurt!
The internship I’m doing here is with a large company called Magma Partners. They are a startup investment company, investing in predominantly tech companies across Latin America. My role is again in social media, helping to run LatAm List and hopefully Magma Media too, writing articles about startup news from other sources, sometimes in Spanish. This will be great for my language and I hope to become fully immersed in Spanish here, even if the Chileans have some interesting idioms and phrases! So far, I am really enjoying the work. I am certainly learning a lot about business and entrepreneurship, which may well be useful one day…
Aside from work, I am settling into Santiago the best way I know how: Brunch and boxing! There are two other girls here with the same internship organisation as I am, one of whom works in my office, and we are getting to know each other over some great brunch spreads. There are so many amazing little places with excellent vegetarian and vegan options here that I had to make a list to ensure I would try them all! I also found a great boxing gym, my favourite sport alongside running, and have been going as much as possible. I’m not promising anything, but they may be having a competition with another local gym in January, so watch this space……… I’ve also been making an effort to talk to other people in our accommodation, most of whom are Chilean students. With all the political unrest here at the moment, it is incredibly interesting to talk to people about what they think, especially as it was the student body who started the protests and are very much at the forefront of the conflict. While nearly everyone seems to be agreement with the motives, the increased violence (from all parties) is not widely supported, and people are beginning to tire of the disruption caused; with businesses closing early to avoid the chaos of the protests people can’t buy what they need, and the commute to work is more difficult without the smooth running of the metro.
So far, I have mostly been unaffected as we live and work in a part of the city away from the main centre near Plaza Italia. However, a few days last week the protest spread to our district, with people gathering outside the large shopping centre and marching. The police were out in force, and so was the tear gas. On one particular day, the protesters spread from their march into the surrounding streets, coming down ours too with their drums and whistles, pulling down bins, traffic lights and benches and setting fire to them. While it certainly wasn’t as severe as the protests in downtown Santiago, it perhaps had more of an effect in this strongly middle-class area of the city. Talking to people at work and in our accommodation, I am fascinated to see what happens next. Chile is truly making history as it calls for a reformation of its Constitution – a re-writing of the foundations of this country. If you haven’t yet read the article I wrote for our University magazine, HerCampus Exeter, check it out.
Perhaps the strangest thing about being here is that it’s 30 degrees and yet everywhere people are telling me that Christmas is approaching. There is a giant Christmas tree in the shopping centre, and my Instagram feed is full of people going to Christmas markets! Honestly, I couldn’t feel less festive. But I’m not really complaining – this sunshine is wonderful. Perhaps the only downfall is that Santiago is really lacking in monkeys and turtles, although I do see Mealy Parrots quite regularly, so I guess that will have to do!
I LOVE aubergines. They are such a great vegetable to cook with as they soak up all the flavours, becoming crispy and delicious. Aubergines appear frequently in Middle-Eastern cuisine, which is no wonder considering how well they go with the delicate, fragrant spices of this region.Continue reading “Moroccan Chickpea and Aubergine Salad”
9 hours spent sat in airports, 7 hours sat on 3 aeroplanes, and 2 hours on a bus in the past 2 days while I have been travelling from the Costa Rica to Santiago, Chile, have given me plenty of time to consider the last 8 weeks of my life in the jungle. When I first decided to do this little stint running around the rain-forest in the name of Science and Conservation, many of my friends and family were a bit incredulous – 2 months living in a fairly basic jungle camp, without many of the comforts of ‘normal’ life that we have come to know and rely on. The ease with which I left all this behind surprised me only a little. In fact, it was a welcome relief to disconnect (quite literally – there was only 3G in one corner of camp) from Western society and the racing pace of life that dominates our lives. I arrived in the jungle without any clear idea of what to expect, other than a few #costarica Instagram searches and the vaguest of briefings from the Frontier offices in London via my pre-departure emails. It’s safe to say that these past 2 months have exceeded anything I could have imagined.
From my first day on camp I have been as close to nature as anyone could ever dream of being. Barely 12 hours after arriving, I was escorting baby turtles down to the sea after waking up to the raucous sound of Howler Monkeys and Toucans above camp at dawn. I have scaled the slopes of Carate in the dark, humid night to count the calls of the birds in the dawn chorus as the sun crept into the sky in glorious hues of firey orange. Now an expert on the songs of the Riverside Wren, Black-hooded Antshrike, Blue-capped Manakin, Macaw and Toucan, to name just a few, I can firmly say that every sweaty 4am trek was worth those stunning sunrises.
For someone who’s core beliefs are firmly rooted in the awesome beauty of God’s creation, the sense of calm and quiet affirmation I have found in these moments, soaking in the greatest gift ever given to us, is like no other. I spent my last morning perched on a steadily decaying log, looking out over Carate and watching the sun climb into the day, filled with a sense of inner peace that can only exist in a place so pure and precious as it was created. Sharing these moments with some of the kindest and open-hearted people I have met made each moment more special, and these friendships founded in a place where people are unapologetically themselves, unhindered by the pressures and politics of real life, are some of the purest and most joyful that I have known.
The day before I left, Nadia turned to me and asked for the highs and lows of my time at Camp Osita. I can honestly say that there were no real low points; I of course had a few moments here or there when I was suddenly hit by an aching for a hug, missed my friends and family, or was just so exhausted that I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the end of the beach or to the top of the trail. But these moments were fleeting and my adventurous heart never once wished to actually be at home. I was constantly reminded that my closest friends are also out there currently living their unique adventures in various corners of the globe on our collective Years Abroad, and it made me proud, both of what we had achieved and because we had been brave enough to take that first step in the unknown.
It was a common theme on camp that people had run away to the jungle to run away from life in some form or another. I understand completely – the pure isolation together with the serenity of this life really is the best way to ‘find yourself’, away from the confusing demands of society and its rules. I found myself pondering this concept and also my own reasons for choosing the jungle to spend the first 2 months of my Year Abroad. In a world that has so much to offer, so much to discover and delight in, why are we always running away from life? I boarded that plane back in September with the thrill of running into the adventure; the thrill of the unknown and the undiscovered, the prospect of what I would see, who I would meet, and what I would learn both about the world and about myself. Why do we fear living, when it is the greatest gift ever given to us? When life is the most fleeting and precious thing on this earth? Instead of constantly running blindly forwards away from our pasts, or always looking backwards scared of the future and feeling nostalgic, we should be taking in the now. In my relatively short life so far, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve had more than my share of tough shit to deal with. My foundations have been shaken and my sense of self has been tested, and I have come out the other end so much more peaceful and rooted than ever before. Every day is precious; it is a gift that so many are denied.
Your ‘family’ are the people you take with you, the people you find, the people you share those moments with that you will fall asleep remembering. Your family are who you carry with you to the other side of the world. Most importantly, I find myself sitting in a completely foreign country, surrounded by hundreds of strangers also stuck in the strange limbo of ‘in transit’, and I know that I am not alone, that I am never alone. Both the people who are with me in heart, and the King that walks beside me and before me every step of the way give me strength, peace, and bountiful joy.
In the past 2 months I have seen with my own eyes what I honestly thought was just special effects. The mist really does rise from the rain-forest, the air really is thick with the buzz of animal life, pumas do exist and I (probably) saw one. I watched a Green turtle lay her nest in the sand, all 70 eggs brimming with perfect, porcelain life. I saw 115 Olive Ridley hatchlings make their way to the sea, racing from their nest to the water with what can only be described as a fearless thirst for life. I have seen birds I didn’t know existed, insects with all the colours of the rainbow, pink fungi, trees bigger than all buildings in my village, monkeys everywhere – literally, everywhere, heard the extravagant songs of Humpback whales, and watched the Lord paint the morning in colours I couldn’t have imagined. I braved my fears and touched a snake, and I swam in the sea among the jelly fish. I shared my nights with turtles, sand, rain and a mouldy mattress. I shared my bathroom with a lot of worms and one indignant toad. I shared my table with the greatest collection of random misfits I could have asked for, not to mention probably an uncountable amount of termites and ants, and I loved every single minute.
Costa Rica, you will forever have a piece of my heart, and in return you have given me a strength of heart too. I am leaving this place with such peace and love, eager for what awaits me next and thankful for everything I have been given. I have learnt that I only really need a few things in life to keep my heart full;
1) Good people around me to love and call my family
2) Legs that can carry me where I want to go
3) The simple and astounding beauty of this earth – from sunrise to sunset, I will never cease to be utterly in awe of the gift I have been given by life in this precious paradise.
Wherever you are right now, go and find a window and look out at the life around you. From a city brimming with the business of the working day, to a cloudy country view, I think you’ll agree that life is pretty amazing. I think you’ll agree that our earth is something worth fighting for and protecting. I think you’ll agree that sometimes, we all just need to go and hug a tree.
Now, I hope you’ll excuse me to I go and watch some Our Planet, because the jungle-withdrawal is hitting me hard.
It is almost time for me to leave beautiful Carate! But before that, here is a little snippet into my near death experience of a few weeks ago…..
As I have mentioned, Turtle conservation is a huge part of what we do here. At the moment it is peak season for nest laying, and so our night patrols on the beach are more important than ever. In turn with Planet Conservation, another organisation who helps us patrol Carate Beach, we walk the length of the beach during the night in order to catch mother turtles laying their nests. The majority of turtles come up on the incoming tide, so we start our patrol at around 2 hours before high tide. It is not always likely that you will see a turtle actually on the beach, but failing that there is sure to be easily distinguishable tracks from where a turtle has come up and lain her nest. When we find a nest, we either relocate it to a more suitable position higher up the beach, or simply tag it and record the date, time and location in our book. We also normally put a protective cage over it to help prevent predation from dogs and other mammals.
Last Sunday evening, I went on my first ‘Nurtle’ Patrol. I was quite excited, as those who had already done it had seen some mother turtles actually laying their nests. Also, the high tide time meant that we would probably be on the beach for sunrise, which was sure to be stunning.
At 2am, we dragged ourselves out of bed and down to the beach. Turtles are highly sensitive to light, so we always patrol the beach in darkness without using our torches, so as not to confuse the turtles. On a clear night, this isn’t so difficult, especially once your eyes have adjusted. On Sunday however, it was not fully clear, and while I could vaguely make out the shape of Matt in front of me, I still stumbled over just about every single log on the beach, and numerous bamboo cages, impaling myself on one and managing to rip my leggings. Off to a good start…
We started at sector 26, the top of the beach, and walked the whole way down. The tide was so high due to a new moon, that we were literally in the shrubbery, occasionally having to make a mad dash to avoid an incoming wave. Despite there having been more than 100 new nests recorded on the beach last week, we didn’t see a single track on the beach. Perhaps it was the high tide, which may have swept away any hint of a turtle track, or perhaps it just wasn’t our lucky day.
We paused for a quick break at the bottom of the beach – it’s 2.6km long – and then started to walk back up at 3:30, the exact time for high tide. One thing I noticed is that the beach smells very different at night. With the absence of clear vision, the sound of the crashing was waves was amplified tenfold – an awesome shudder of sheer force and power thundering onto the beach only metres away.
At one point, the river comes down onto the beach to get to the sea, and the combination of the lower sand level and the higher tide meant that we were faced with a channel of water easily as high as our knees. Instead of wading through in our walking boots, we went round onto the road, taking the path through the trees. Matt, in front of me, suddenly stopped in his tracks, and I almost went crashing into him. Barely 20cm from his foot was a Fer de Lance, the deadliest snake in all of Costa Rica, and possibly Central America too. We stood stock still for a frozen minute, then carefully all retreated backwards, inching away from this metre-long King of the Reptiles with fangs at least an inch in size. Matt, being the snake fanatic that he is, grabbed his stick and began to try and get a bit closer again. We had caught the snake unawares, but now it began to coil it’s upper body in a sinister ‘s’ as it sensed danger and prepared to strike. I was already a long, long way back from this beast – snakes, after jellyfish, are perhaps my least favourite in the animal kingdom. Perhaps its the chasm-black eyes or the gentle, flickering tongue; they are just downright creepy.
While Mateo snapped a quick photo and Matt danced with death, I marvelled at how quickly this could turn into a horror story. If one of us was bitten, we would have 7-8 hours to get the antidote, and even then there would probably be significant long-term damage, presuming that we even got the antidote – Carate is separated from the nearest town by a long and bumpy road, which takes two hours to drive. Then there would be the problem of getting to a hospital, which would be done by plane…..I could go on, but I think it’s fairly obvious that we would be in a bit of a situation.
The Fer de Lance, unimpressed with the poking stick, soon slithered back into the damp hole of death it had crawled from, and we were on our way, Matt cheerfully saying that was only the second closest he had been to death. After reaching the end of the beach and seeing not even the slightest inkling of a turtle track, we decided to call it a day and go back to camp before anyone else felt the cool breath of death at their shoulder.
While we may not have seen a turtle, we did at least see the coolest snake in all of Carate. Creepy, yes, but pretty cool too.