Letting Go of a Baby Tortoise

Well we are back in our beloved Winter home in Mexico. For a full week now we are perpetually meeting and greeting all our friends and fellow snowbirds, and do the usual settling in and putting things in order.  The gringos here help each other out, and Guy lends us his van to collect supplies in Manzanillo and coincidentally also allows us to pick up our friend Danielle who is travelling through Mexico.  Like us, Danielle cannot tolerate the lack of sunshine and warmth that a Canadian winter forces us to endure, and is here to get her dose of ultraviolet, vitamin D, and give the sinuses a break.

We have been showing off our little town to her and she is much impressed.  Not just with the scenery but how we drop in on people at any time and they welcome us in.  Even people who we don’t know invite us in, as long as we say the name of someone that they do know.  This is our Mexico, filled with friends, lots of info sharing, many small adventures that give us amusing and interesting stories that would never happen back home.  One of the best for me happened to us tonight.

Tonight, while having a drink in our favourite bar at the end of the beach, a volunteer from the Tortuga (Tortoise) Shelter came in and asked us if we understood Spanish and if we would like to help release the baby Tortugas that were hatched only an hour ago.  We all jumped at the chance.  Coincidentally, Jim and I had been by the shelter two days before.  We peeked in at the fenced off section of the beach with the little flags indicating where the tortuga eggs are buried below the sand. We had often done this before, but this time we read the cards on the flags. On the cards it said “Proximo Nac.” and a date.  I tell Jim that this means the next time for their birth, but we look at the dates and Jim notices that the dates are all this week and over the next few weeks.  But we continue on our merry way, not knowing that we will be pressed into service two days  later in the early evening to release these babies to the ocean. 

Now a bunch of us gather around a bin of sand with dozens of baby Tortugas, only and inch and a half long, all struggling to get out and move forward to the ocean.  The volunteer gives us a little history.  The babies are only one hour old and they release them after sunset, about seven p.m., so that the birds won’t pick them off. They show us that in the tummy of these little creatures is the area that contains the mysterious locator that will ensure these tortugas will return to this exact spot, fully grown, in 15 years, and ready to lay more eggs each season. Over their lifetime, (which is up to 150 years old) they will hatch 900 eggs, of which only a small percent will survive.  They ask us to never take part, or condone in the consumption of Tortoise eggs (a delicacy). 

They tell us to take off our shoes and socks, and roll up our pant legs as we will be getting wet. They prepare the palms of our hands by smoothing a bit of sand across them, so the tortugas are oriented with the sands they will be returning to in 15 years.  Then we each get a baby tortuga, so small and new, placed in our palms. They try to wriggle up the mini beaches of our sand-laden palms, instinct pulling them to the ocean.  We have to keep re-placing them to the bottom of our palms or they will get away on us.  I am amazed to think that this wee creature will one day be as large as the kitchen table I am now typing at.  Out of Jim, Danielle and I, Jim is the only one who has seen the magnificence of a full grown Tortoise in the ocean, while he was sailing in these waters a few years ago.

Now the volunteers are taking us down to the ocean and explaining that we have to go to the edge of the surf with our wriggling babes, and after a wave the volunteers will tell us when to release our tortugas to their fates.  The wave comes crashing in and christens our ankles up to our knees. “Ahora!” the volunteer calls, “Now!” In we place them, and as the water from the wave withdraws the undertow sucks the babies out into the ocean, the small creatures left up to their destinies in the vastness of the Pacific.  I am overcome with emotion, and call out “Good luck!” the only thing I can think to wish the small babe that was entrusted to me for mere minutes before I had to release it. My voice is lost in the waves, but I put up a silent prayer as a surrogate mother wishing a long and happy life to this one. And that is all any of us can hope for.

I reflect how nature has prepared these little ones to go straight out into the world and handle all that befalls them immediately, unlike us humans.  After nearly 50 years I still don’t know if I am prepared for all that life may throw at me.  But perhaps we always do have everything we need. A little luck and our persistent wriggling through is the only thing we ever needed and ever will need.  Whatever our life here on the planet will be, I am once again eternally grateful to be part of the mystery, the adventure, and yes, even the struggle. For life is a vast and deep ocean which none of us can fully fathom, yet to help others, all creatures great and small, seems to give us an ethereal joy, and may be our highest purpose.

Kathrin Lake, author of From Survival to Thrival www.survivaltothrival.com

See Writing retreats to Mexico on sale now at: www.survivaltothrival.com/services/retreats

One thought on “Letting Go of a Baby Tortoise

  1. Pamela Chatry says:

    Beautiful story! We had a similar experience a number of years ago but in our case, we were walking the beach and happened upon a wild nest that had just been born. It was early in the morning and the sun just coming up. The beach was black with baby turtles; most heading towards the town, not the water. My husband and I spent the next two hours picking up hundreds of babies and putting them in the water! We like to think we helped a few along in their new journey and prevented the gulls from picking off most of them. It was a once in a lifetime experience.

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