Maria Simmerling - Sea Turtle & Coastal Conservation in Mexico
On July 5th when I stepped off of the plane after landing in Mexico, I already knew that I would have a life-changing adventure. When I got to the airport in Guadalajara, a staff member from Projects Abroad was there waiting to pick me up and bring me to my host family for the night.
When I got to my host family’s house, Casa de Vaca, I met some very welcoming and kind people, Mr. and Mrs. Vaca and one of the staff members from the Turtle Camp, Flora, who I would be spending the next month with.
The following morning my journey in Mexico began with an early bus ride to El Campamento Tecoman where I would be spending my trip. Towards the end of the three-hour bus ride from Guadalajara, I began to feel nervous and the amount of butterflies in my stomach grew and grew until the bus finally came to its last stop in Tecoman. From there the car ride to the turtle camp flew by and before I knew it, I caught my first glimpse of my new home.
The camp was everything I expected it to be; approximately 15 feet from where the monstrous waves crashed, simple thatched roof buildings and hammocks with tired, sun kissed volunteers distributed around the camp. However, a storm was arriving and the winds were strong. That night I watched the lightening and waves with the other volunteers I had just met and would grow to love.
My first morning at the camp started at around 6am when I was thrown into the excitement of burying my first nest of turtle eggs. One of the main jobs at the camp is to go on night time patrols and collect turtle nests so that poachers and predators would not take them. We then reburied the eggs, hatched them and then released them back into the ocean. Each day I spent at the camp was a new adventure.
On my first night time patrol, I had the mesmerizing event of having an Olive Ridley sea turtle lay its oozing, slimy eggs into my hands. Although the eggs smelled weird and my hands were disgusting, it felt incredible being a part of such a momentous occasion in the cycle of life. When on patrol, you go with one of the Mexican staff members and ride on the quad bikes down the beach.
On some days, we went to a local crocodile farm where we mostly helped do farm maintenance and clean the crocodile cages and tanks.
On other trips to the croc farm we went on bird watches around the center of the farm on a long boardwalk. On other days we stayed at the camp and did maintenance work and bird watches. We did bird watches in the local lagoon, some in the paddleboat and some in a motorboat. The motorboat bird watchers were beautiful as they started off with traveling under a canopy of trees that was almost like a mangrove until we got to a clearing full of birds and lily pads.
During my first week at the turtle camp, there were around twelve volunteers including myself, and in that time we had to build a new house for the 25 2 Week Special volunteers that would be arriving before my second week. The labor was filled with machete cutting palm trees and nailing them to the roof and putting up boards for walls. After all of the work, we would all go swimming in the ocean to cool down and drink out of fresh coconuts. By the end of the week, we managed to complete the building!
We spent a lot of nights down at the little bar down the beach from the camp, about a five minute walk. We would eat quesadillas and drink cokes and cerevezas and talk about where we were from, the memories from the day and watch the sunset as we played with the owner of the bar’s dogs.
Weekends were incredible as we spent them traveling to different towns. My favorite of which was Melaque. On my first full weekend we went to Melaque, which was around an hour and a half bus ride away from Tecoman. Melaque was a smaller beach town, which was filled with tourist shops and delicious smelling restaurants. We spent the first day wandering around the shops and observing the locals before going to the beach for the rest of the afternoon.
In the evenings after dinner we would play card games and hang around. The beach was much calmer than the ones at the camp, which made it safe to go night swimming under the stars. In the morning, we would have breakfast on the beach and spend the rest of the day at the beach and exploring more.
When it came to the end of my four weeks at the turtle camp, I had realized I’d made friends and memories that will last for a lifetime. Although it’s been six months since my project in Mexico, not a day goes by that I don’t miss all the people I met and the great times that I had. If you are even considering going on a project to Mexico, do it. You will not regret it.
Read more about Conservation in Mexico