One of only seven beaches where mass arrivals of nesting turtles occur, Reserva la Flor is a beautiful spot. As the sun goes down, we prepare to walk the beach and scan for turtles arriving to lay their eggs - over 100,000 of them use this beach to nest every year.
In the wrong place at the wrong time to see the migrating whales in Baja California back in November, we were determined not to miss a chance to see nesting turtles in Central America. So after Ometepe, we crossed back over to the Pacific coast of Nicaragua to visit Reserva La Flor. Olive Ridley turtles begin “arribadas”, mass arrivals, here in vast numbers in July so we were hoping to get lucky and see some ladies land on the beach to lay their eggs. A lovely dirt road ride took us from San Juan del Sur to Reserva la Flor, where a real treat lay in store for us.
The warden of the reserve waived our camping fee and only charged us half price to enter the reseve – he seemed shocked and amused when we showed up on bikes. We didn’t ask for any favours but it’s always so nice when someone warms to us simply because of the way we’re travelling. We spent the night camped outside the military dorms; they have a 24 hour military armed guard here to protect the turtles’ eggs from poachers.
Under a beautiful sky packed with stars, we are lucky to see an Olive Ridley turtle make her way back to the ocean having laid her eggs and another enormous Green Turtle, who also use the beach, in the process of nesting as we and other visitors look on. No flash photography is allowed as it disturbs the mothers so without the camera, we watch breathlessly as these amazing creatures follow their nesting patterns which haven’t changed for thousands of years.
There is no mass arrival on the night that we’re there but we feel privileged to have seen these two turtles at all. Little are we to know that the next morning, we’re in for another exceptional treat – this time with the beach to ourselves…
We wake at 6am to be told that during the night over 200 turtles came to lay eggs on the beach. We're in luck as the warden tells us to head straight to the beach where an Olive Ridley is making her nest in the daylight. Tell-tale tracks lead us to where the turtles have exited and returned to the ocean...
...and to the Olive Ridley who has begun digging her nest, under the watchful eye of one of the soldiers. These turtles take less than an hour to lay about 100 eggs and might come back a number of times during one season.
It's tiring work as the turtle has to dig out a hole in the sand deep enough to hold her eggs with just her flippers. She stops every few moments to take a deep breath and lets out a weary sigh before carrying on. She looks for all the world like she'd really rather be doing something else.
Now she has laid the eggs, it is time to cover them over and pack them down to give them the best chance. The turtle launches herself up and down onto the sand to pack it down making an odd thumping sound and looking most ungainly. These creatures are so much more graceful once in the water.
And the result of her labour of love: a nest of disturbed sand. It will be 50-60 days before the eggs are ready and then the babies will hatch all at once to ensure a greater chance of survival. If they survive the dash into the ocean (and are not defeated by sun, predators, poachers or dehydration first) they will travel as far as Alaska and Chile before the females return here to nest as their mothers have done.
Her exhausting nest building work done, the turtle returns to the ocean...
...but not before modestly taking in the applause from the crowd.
No doubt she's looking forward to cooling off and relaxing...
... while I follow behind to wave her off, pinching myself at how lucky we were to have witnessed this fascinating and humbling ritual.