March 2019 — Playa Troncones, Mexico
It’s a couple of days into this yoga retreat and so far it’s bliss - which is also the name of my cabana.
On many vacations, especially when I’m traveling out of the country, I tend to over schedule myself: excursions, classes, sessions with spiritual healers/astrologers/tarot readers, sweat lodges, kayaking, zip lining... you name it, I’ve probably tried it. I’m actually working on writing up my epic “thrown from a horse” story during one such vacation. It’s a doozy.
But, on this trip, I’ve decided to unFOMO myself. To just be.
The days are long and lazy. I’m up pretty early for mediation and morning Yoga class then nothing on the schedule until evening yoga class except food, sun, naps, beach walks, and getting to know the other people on the retreat.
My meditation coach/protector.
We’re a mixed bag, mostly from NYC or the Pacific Northwest; everyone is interesting and interested. The best way to be, in my opinion.
There are a couple of exceptions to the no FOMO rule, of course. The first one is the release of the baby turtles. Turtle conservation is huge, and many places have created a tourist experience as a way to collect donations to help fund their efforts.
ECOT is a small operation on Playa Troncones, about a 15 minute walk down the beach from our retreat center. We go a couple of hours before sunset and find the place. It’s attached to an outdoor bar and restaurant where the staff is searing octopus on a wood-fire grill.
I’m really excited about the prospect of seeing baby turtles. I mean, they are BABY TURTLES.
Our guide, Carlos, has us wash our hands thoroughly, then instructs us through a second ritual involving Purell and sand. The babies are delicate and are susceptible to infection or contamination by our gross human oils and general stickiness. We love these babies we have yet to see, so we comply.
Carlos says that the volunteers go out and search for turtle nests and bring them here. They have found up to 80 nests in a single day. Outside the conservancy, the nests are in danger from birds, dogs, trampling horses, and - worst of all - humans. It’s illegal to tamper with or take eggs from a turtle nest, but people do it anyway for all manner of reasons ranging from curiosity to commerce.
It’s finally time to meet the 72 turtle babies that hatched only a few hours before. Carlos gives us each a small plastic bowl and leads us a few at a time to the nest. The babies are piled up on each other like kittens. Some are still covered in sand, sleeping. Others are wiggling around, climbing on their siblings, checking out the scene.
Under Carlos’s supervision, I gently pick up a baby turtle. It’s so light and dry. It protests a little, wriggling it’s front flippers. Carlos is patient while I take photos but then says, “Please. The babies are so stressed out.”
Traumatizing the babies with my love.
We each put 2 babies in our bowls. Some of the group are naming their pairs: Charlie and Louie, Oprah and Gayle, Grace and Frankie. I don’t name mine because I know they aren’t pets, but I secretly want to call them Starsky and Hutch.
Eventually, Carlos adds a few more babies to each bowl, making sure all 72 are accounted for. He tells us that now the babies have to rest a little before we can release them. They’ll need their energy to make the big trek into the ocean. He says he’ll know they’re ready when they get “activated” - meaning they start moving around a lot more.
Not pictured: Huggy Bear
While we wait for our babies to be activated, we check out the bar. Roberto’s Bistro is exactly the kind of place you want to find by the beach - open air, cold beer, and snacks. We’ve been eating delicious healthy food for three days so, of course, a few of us immediately raid the ice cream freezer while Barbara and I head to the bar and order beers for the whole crew. (Total cost: $16 USD).
Another excuse to show off this manicure.
While we’re enjoying our beers, tragedy strikes.
A crafty beach bird has breached the perimeter of the conservancy, scooping up one of the precious babies. We’re irate and scandalized. How DARE that fucking piece of shit, raven wannabe eat one of OUR BABIES???
Carlos is stoic. “Yes, this happened. Now there are 71 babies. But, you know, after we release them, probably only 2 will survive.”
Well, namaste, motherfuckers.
The babies are fully activated now, so we take our bowls down to the beach, about 15 feet from the water. On the way, I give my turtles a little pep talk. I know starting at a new school can be tough, but they can do hard things. And they have each other, which is all that matters!
I’m really getting into this thing.
Carlos draws a long and angular shape in the sand, with firm instructions to us not to cross it.
On his signal, we gently tip our babies out onto the sand. He says that they will know what to do. They will follow the sun and make their way into the waves.
At first, the babies are slow, tentative. But then, they seem to realize they are free and some primordial instinct kicks in. They all begin to scuttle across the sand towards the water.
We’re all shouting and cajoling the babies forward, like parents at a soccer game. I follow my gang as long as I can, until they merge in with the rest of their siblings. Soon, a small wave breaks over them, swirling them into the water, forcing them to swim for their lives. Many do, some are propelled backward a little. When the waves recede, they try again. And again. And again - until every one of them is finally in the sea.
For video of this marvel, check out my IG: @colleenhindsley
Carlos says that the surviving females will always return to this spot to lay their eggs. They remember their birthplace. It’s coded into their DNA. Even after they are past the point of being able to lay eggs, they often still come back home, every season for the rest of their lives.
As we walk back to the resort, we talk about the babies. I hope they make it, that we’ve cast some protective spell over them with our love and attention that will bring them home again.
FOMO or UnFOMO? Are you obsessed with baby animals, too? LMK in the comments and please subscribe!