|Explore North America Caribbean Trinidad & Tobago|
Leatherback turtles are the largest sea turtles and they are on the endangered species list. They come to nest on few selected beaches of the world. Matura beach of Trinidad is one of them. They come to the beach to lay eggs between March and September of every year. Since these turtles are huge (they can be up to 10 feet in length the average being about 6 feet, and they can weigh close to a 1000 pounds), and since it is not a very commonly seen species, tourists visiting Trinidad during the turtles' nesting season usually make it a point to go to Matura to see the turtles. But one has to go at night since that is the time the turtles come to shore to lay their eggs. Though we had three little kids (aged 4, 3, and 1) in our party, we decided not to miss the opportunity as we were in Trinidad during the turtles' nesting season.
Going to see the leatherback turtles on Matura beach of Trinidad was quite an adventure. Our original plan was to start out from Pax Guesthouse around 6:30 pm and return around 12:30 in the morning. The visit was planned for the day we returned from Barbados. Our flight was supposed to arrive at Port of Spain at 1:20 pm. So going out to see the turtles at 6:30 pm seemed easy enough.
Unfortunately, when we arrived at the airport at Barbados for our return trip to Trinidad, we were told that the Caribbean Star flight in which we were booked, had been grounded at Grenada for maintenance. The airlines arranged with British West Indies Airlines (BWIA) to take us to Trinidad but that flight does not leave until about 7 pm! So we spent the whole day at the Grantley Adams International Airport at Barbados but decided not to miss the turtle watching trip. We called Pax Guesthouse informing them of our changed flight schedule and requesting them to have the taxi pick us up from the airport and take us straight to Matura beach first and then drop us off at Pax.
At Piarco International Airport in Trinidad after going through Immigration and Customs when we eventually came out and sat in our minivan taxi it was already past nine o'clock. The taxi driver (Shannon) informed us that it would take little over an hour to reach Matura beach.
Matura beach is on the east coast of Trinidad. Port of Spain is on the west coast. We were soon on a highway, which is the east-west corridor of Trinidad, and along with the children we all soon fell asleep. I woke up when suddenly the taxi fell on a small pothole and then kept on moving slowly on an unpaved, dirt road. The sky was probably overcast. I could not see any star or the moon. I looked through the window. It was pitch black outside. I could not see what was on the side of the road. The taxi continued to move forward at a very slow pace. I tried to see the time. But it was so dark, I could not even see my watch. The taxi's headlight fell on a strange looking animal standing right on the middle of the road, looking scared. The driver announced the name of the animal (which I do not remember). It was a large rodent, may be a local species. I started wondering if we made the right decision to bring the kids on a trip like this in such a dark night on such rough road. Things started looking a bit scary.
After, what seemed like quite a while, the taxi stopped in front of a shed with no lights. I could hear the sound of crickets coming from, what seemed like, dense forest all around us. It was an eerie feeling. Shannon, our taxi driver, announced that we need to pay some kind of fee per person here and obtain a permit to proceed to the beach. As we did not have any TT dollars (local money) with us, Shannon agreed to take care of the fees. But then we learnt that we have to walk to the beach from here. Though it was a short walk, it seemed impossible to walk to the beach in that total darkness with three sleeping kids! Eventually, the men at the shed permitted us to take the taxi right up to the beach with all lights of the taxi turned off.
It was quite an experience. A guide, who was wearing a tiny headlamp, led the way and the taxi driver drove behind him at snail's pace in complete darkness over uneven ground.
In a few minutes we reached our final destination. The guide asked the driver to stop the taxi. We all got down. The one year old, still sleeping, was carried by the grandma. The other two kids, now awake, held the hands of their parents and we all started following the guide by foot. The guide soon stopped and spoke with someone on his walkie-talkie. I heard him saying, "Show us some light". A tiny beam of faint light was seen at a distance. The guide continued to walk in the direction of the light. We all followed him. It was so dark that I was unable to see the ground on which I was walking. I knew it was sand and it certainly felt like sand, but I could see nothing. I was afraid there might be debris on the sand, I might tumble on something, or the sand might be wet.
Anyway, after walking a short distance on the beach, the guide stopped and we all stopped behind him. He asked us to come closer. We did. He focused his tiny headlamp on the sand and pointed his finger. There it was. We saw a huge turtle digging the sand with its back flippers. The guide explained that the turtle will keep digging until the hole is about 30 inches deep. Then she will lay her eggs. But the sand she was removing was kind of falling back on the hole and as a result she was making a slow progress. At this point the guide decided to take us to a different location where he knew another turtle was digging a hole in the sand in preparation to laying her eggs. When we arrived at this new site, the turtle had almost completed digging a hole in the sand of the desired depth and was almost ready to lay her eggs. In a few minutes, she started laying the eggs before our very eyes. The eggs are like large size chicken eggs except that they are round (ball-like) in shape. The guide informed us that these turtles lay 80 to 120 eggs at a time and it takes only 5-6 minutes to lay the eggs. One cannot shine lights on the turtle while it is digging hole, or when she has finished laying her eggs. But DURING the egg laying process, one can shine light, take pictures, or even touch the turtles. So when the turtle was laying her eggs, I took the following pictures completely blindly because I could not see anything through my viewfinder or on the LCD screen of my camera because of the almost total darkness. I kind of aimed my camera at the turtle and pressed the shutter. That is why in some pictures you will see only a part of the turtle (Obviously, I did not aim well). But you will get an idea about what they look like.
We returned to Pax Guesthouse that night after 2:30 am, hungry and tired. We had a very long day. But it was all worth it.
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article published 4/12/2006