Rainforest adventure 2: Shell Beach and the Turtles

Destination: Shell Beach, a stretch of remote underdeveloped tropical coastline in Guyana and  nesting ground for 4 of the world’s 8 endangered species of marine turtles: Leatherback, Green, Hawksbill, Olive Ridley. 

The telephone rings at 5.15 am. It’s the hotel receptionist delivering our wake up call. Half an hour later we are in the taxi and on way to Ogle airport for our flight to Mabaruma.

At the airport we made our way to ‘Departures’ only to find out after a 10 minute wait that we were in the wrong place and needed to be in ‘Check in’ round the corner! Note to self  ‘never make assumptions, different countries have their own procedures, systems and processes’.

At 7.10 am we boarded the 12 seater plane accompanied by 5 other passengers. The flight to Maburama was an hour long and the vista below was extraordinary. It was verdant green with the exception of the huge rivers which snaked their way through the vegetation.

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We landed on a strip of land, checked in at ‘customs’, collected our bags and jumped into the taxi that had been arranged to collect us. 

Ten minutes later we were dropped off at a landing by the river. Scattered around the landing was a number of little market stalls that sold fruit, fish and other goods.

We were met by Audley James, boat master, our host and converted turtle hunter who now protects these magnificent turtles. Our vessel for the trip was a little wooden boat, named ‘Becky’.

The journey to Shell Beach was over an hour long and a most unforgettable experience. Massive expanses of brown coloured water could be seen ahead with many tributaries, some of which flowed into other rivers.

Along the way, vivid flashes of scarlet were seen from the flocks of scarlet ibis darting above. The birdlife was abundant including hawks and egrets.

After what was a relatively gentle ride on 3 rivers, we entered the mighty Atlantic Ocean. As far as the eye could see, we were surrounded by the vast expanse of this majestic Ocean. And here we were in a tiny wooden motorised boat on choppy waters, going against the current with not another single vessel in sight.

You could literally feel the boat (and your bottom) hitting the waves as we bumped up and down, getting completely drenched by the stinging salty spray.  It was a truly hair raising yet exhilarating feeling!  Luckily our bags remained dry under the tarpaulin cover.

About 30 metres in front of Shell Beach we had to jump out into the Ocean and make our way up to the Beach. The boat was then hauled up the embankment where it was safe.

Home for the next couple of days  was a hut. The toilet was a hole in the ground   and shower was rain water from a bucket.

The youngest was not feeling too good. A touch of sunstroke, dehydration and no food had rendered him unwell. He opted for a slice of bread and jam, a drink, a couple of neurofen and a rest whilst we headed off for a late lunch of rice and beans – followed by a rest! 

The meeting place for food, drink, conversation was a thatched hut in which the kitchen was housed.

Dinner was snook (fish) which was cooked in a wonderfully tasty sauce and served with homemade bread. Violet (Audley’s wife) and Verita did all the cooking on this open type home made stove. Everything was freshly prepared, local and simply delicious.

Equipped with torches we set off at 7.30pm with Audley in search of turtles. After 2 hours of walking, there were no sightings, so we sat on the shells (the beach is made up of tiny particles of shells and not sand) resting against a fallen palm tree to take in this piece of paradise – the gentle breeze, lapping of the waves, the twinkling of the stars against a pitch black skyline and the absence of noise and anything artificial – bliss.

The next turtle patrol was in 4 hours so we decided to use the intervening hours to catch up on some sleep.  At 2 am we were back on the beach. This time we did not require any torches as the moon glowed soft above casting enough light to make our way safely.

Spotting some tracks we followed it from the water’s edge inland to find a green turtle making her back into the ocean leaving her freshly covered nest of eggs. A further 200 m on, we spotted another green turtle making its way up the sand bank. We sat for an hour or so watching her as she located a spot under a coconut tree, used her flippers to dig her nest, lay her eggs (about 130), cover them up and make her way back down to the ocean. Watching this turtle with its gentle eyes, hard shell and prehistoric appearance carrying out an instinctive act was simply magical.

As she entered into the water I felt rather sad as out of the 130 so eggs that she has laid, less than a handful of her hatchlings would survive to maturity and hence the need for conservation.

‘Our time here cannot be explained in words: a haven, natural, as nature intended’…are some of the words that spring to mind.         

The warmth and hospitality of the people, the local and home cooked food (picked a paw paw for breakfast) made it a really special experience. 

On our last day we rose at 4.45 am, had a cuppa and then made our way to the boat which we had to get into the water. This time we were prepared and wore waterproofs for riding the waves of the mighty Atlantic!

Dotted along the way were several smattering of huts set in between the mangroves.  There are no roads in this region and the only way to get about is by boat and we saw a handful of wooden canoes.  

Meandering down the river with the  sun creeping up the horizon casting its orange glow, the moon in the distance and a vivid display of birds up in the tress was one of those goose bumps moments of how privileged I was to experience this.

Next stop Rockview Lodge, Annai, the Savannah

This blog is a series of blogs capturing my adventures in the Rainforest. If you missed the first one, here it is, Rainforest adventure 1: Kaiteur and Orinduik Falls 

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About verawoodhead

I help professional women, aspiring leaders and managers to get ahead, progress their careers, be confident and successful by developing their leadership skills and capability...through coaching, mentoring and skills development workshops. Connect with me on Twitter @verawoodhead
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