When I arrived, it was very dark and I had a long day of travelling so went straight to bed. In the morning, I took a few short steps to the beach and was absolutely stunned. The turtle reserve lies on one of the most pristine beaches I have ever seen, with roughly 2km of black sand in either direction, and it is bordered by picturesque mountains which seemingly rise right out of the ocean. My two weeks working in Alalay were amazing. I was here from July 10th to the 24th.The first weekend I was here I went on a city tour with my host family. We saw the downtown centre, the cathedral and shopped for a bit at the market.
The majority of the work at the reserve is done on night shifts (10pm-2am or 2am-6am). Although this surprised me at first, it really allows you to take full advantage of the day, and create your own experience. During the day, one can take a short walk along dirt roads and forest trails, and cross the river into the closest town. From there, it is a short bus ride to virtually anything that you might want to do, whether it is surfing, a canopy tour, or a jungle ATV ride. Personally, I spent almost every day surfing and busing from town to town, taking in the landscapes and local culture. After spending the first week and a half learning, I finally worked my way up to surfing on Camaronal beach, which is one of the most famous spots for local surfers. Surfers flock to the turtle reserve every morning and are happy to give you a few tips, let you borrow a board or give you a ride into town.
That is the lifestyle there, and that is what makes the experience so relaxing, and easy going.
At night, the second you see your first turtle track from meters down the beach, you can tell how big they are. After a week of working with the smaller ones (still very large), I finally saw a critically endangered Leatherback or ‘Baula’. At over 5ft long (4th largest reptilian animal on earth), it is hard to even comprehend this amazing animal. Volunteer responsibilities include patrolling the beach for poachers and predators such as raccoons and dogs who dig up the nests, recording nesting data, and moving nests to safer locations. Patrol is a really enriching experience, as one can easily see the remnants of hundreds of dug up nests on the beach. After moving four or five nests a night into the hatchery or a safer location, it is a great feeling to know that you have really made a difference. One of the most amazing parts of my experience was on nights where the moon was full and the tide was high. The tide brings in bioluminescent algae which, combined with the light of the moon, makes the usually black waves glow bright green and blue creating a perfect scene as the turtles slowly, methodically make there way out of the water.
It is hard to describe why the Camaronal reserve is such an amazing place, as everyone creates there own experience. Whether it is just relaxing in solitude on the pristine beach, discovering tide pools, secluded coves and forest trails, or surfing and ATVing through the jungle, there is something for everyone. The best advice I can give is to come into this experience with an open mind, and make what you want out of it.