An Apology, My Tan, and 500 Baby Sea Turtles

  1. It has been far too long since my last update. I apologize.
  2. This entire post is going to be in list form because it prevents me from writing far too much.
  3. Little interesting things:
    1. In Mexico, you never flush the toilet paper. Paper goes in the trash can.
    2. In the States, you can nod your head to mean “yes.” In Mexico, you may hold up your index finger and wiggle it up and down to mean the same thing. This is especially cute when my Mexican roommate Laura does it and is convenient when snorkeling.
    3. Here, it is traditional to lean over and take a bite from your birthday cake when your friends finish singing to you. It is also traditional that your friends try to smush your face into the cake while you take that bite.
    4. In Spanish, popcorn is called palomitas, a word that literally means, “little doves.”
  4. Things I never thought I would do but have in fact now done:
    1. Kayak in the Sea of Cortez
    2. Teach English classes to children and adults and thoroughly enjoy it
    3. Get a horrible stomach parasite while living in a tent on the beach (I’m leaving out the nasty, nasty details for those of you who can’t stomach such descriptions. Ahem, Bryan.)
    4. Swim through a big, swirling school of fish
    5. Go to a movie theater and see a movie in Spanish and actually be able to follow what people are saying
    6. Snorkel with sea lion pups
    7. Drive a boat
    8. Be able to identify different species of mangrove
    9. Climb down a mountainside in a bikini
    10. Eat raw pen-shell scallop straight from the shell (Salty, rubbery, not necessarily recommended)
  5. Also, I am very, very tan. It is almost ridiculous. Pictures don’t really capture it.
  6. We got to help release Olive Ridley sea turtle hatchlings. 500 of them. They are tiny and leathery and move their flippers like little webbed wings and fit in your hand, and they are lovely.
  7. My research project here involves doing life history interviews and asking questions like, “How did you meet your wife? What do you remember of your grandmother? Who taught you to cook?” I am in heaven.
  8. Here are some pictures:

Where I Live

At Asupmatoma Beach: Holly, Logan, Me, Emma, and Katey

From the cemetery on Isla Magdalena, where we’ve been doing life history research.
Puerto Magdalena Cemetery

We went to Las Dunas for my birthday. Emma and Katey are napping.
Emma and Katey at Las Dunas



The San Carlos Park. Our favorite part is the Spinny Thing.
Spinny Thing of Death at the San Carlos Plaza



This is Tania, a scallops researcher, giving us a lecture on aquaculture.
Class at San Buto


My hut-mate Laura and our friend Emma
Laura and Emma during a fútbol game


Una Tortugita


Me and Baby
Me and a Baby Olive Ridley

So I think that’s all for now. I hope you are all well. Peace and sustainability, friends.

P.S. The current header picture is the view at the back of ‘campus,’ right after sundown. That’s Georgina, one of my beloved SFS professors. I took this during a fútbol game, and Georgina was goalie. If you look behind her, you can see the silhouette of Isla Magdalena.


Estero Banderitas

See the current picture in the header? That’s my hand on the sea turtle. Let me say it again: THAT IS MY HAND ON THE SEA TURTLE. How unbelievably, incredibly cool is that? Below is the original picture. The one in the orange shirt is my new friend Emma. The one in the black jacket is my Coastal Ecology professor Gustavo. Click to see a bigger version.


Our research involves netting and tagging and monitoring sea turtles once every two weeks. This week we boated 45 minutes north along the bahía to a little estuary called Estero Banderitas. Below is the view from our tents.

We camped for three days. Peed behind cacti. Saw a tarantula. And we spent each night out in the estuary in little boats called pangas, hauling 120 feet of wet, heavy net once every hour. There’s something about lying frozen and wet and sore in a creaky, little panga at three-o-clock in the morning, listening to coyotes howling on shore, that makes your skin sing. It was wonderful. And that’s not even considering the sea turtles and the shooting stars. We saw a lot of stars. And we hauled a lot of turtles.

The ones we caught this week are Chelonia mydas, or Pacific Green Sea Turtles. They’re beautiful and heavy and have leathery skin around the neck and these Deep Dark Intense Brown Eyes, and when they’re pissed at you, they make these sighing noises. We collected them during the night, and then during the day we measured them and tagged them.

And then—AND THEN—we got to release them. Which means CARRYING THEM INTO THE OCEAN. When you think sea turtle, you usually think “Slow, lazy, quiet.” Well, our turtles averaged at about 180 pounds each, and in the words of Gustavo: “They are strong, they are mean, and with their flippers they will slap you.” I carried a heavy, kicking, hissing, beautiful turtle away from the shore and once it hit the water, I held onto its shell and it pulled me for awhile. They move like angry kites, all wheeling flippers and speed. I held on until I ran out of breath. I still have bruises on my legs and stomach. It was wonderful.

I miss you all. Big turtley hugs from San Carlos. Love.

P.S. Sorry about the sparseness of pictures. My camera cord is missing, and I won’t be able to upload until I find more. The pictures here are from my groupmate Katey’s camera.

P.P.S. I’m going to try to post at least once every two weeks. Look for it.

Cacti and Sand and Tortillas

 So I’m here! Baja California Sur is hot and sticky and sandy and there are stray dogs all over and the roads are bumpy and right now I’m looking at the ocean, which is the exact same blue as the sky. If there weren’t any  islands on the horizon I wouldn’t be able to tell where the water ends.

Getting here  involved two flights and a four-hour drive over bumpy dirt roads. The tire on the van blew out. I got to see a tumbleweed. Actually a lot of tumbleweeds.Have you ever seen a tumbleweed rolling across the desert? Have you ever picked one up and tossed it in the air? I was practically giddy.

I also got really excited when I saw my first cactus. And then the second. And then the third. Eventually the novelty wore off, and then I saw a bird on a cactus and I got really excited all over again. Some of these cacti are over 400 years old. The look like slouching  giants.

The people in my program are lovely. The faculty are wonderful. We eat tortillas and rice with every meal. My first night sleeping in a cabana was… interesting. (Remember how I’m a clean-freak? Living under a palm-frond roof with a family of crickits is going to be an exercise in patience.)

I feel little homesickness pangs every once in a while. This still feels like a bizarre dream. It will get easier as we go.
As soon as I can beg a USB cord out of one of my program-mates, pictures will appear. Te lo prometo.

I miss you all and love you so much.

Thirteen Days to Mexico

I’ve been back in Grinnell for nearly two weeks now, and I’m understanding more and more (in a hundred brilliant, different, new ways) how this place is basically one of my vital organs. But it’s weird because I’m about to leave. I’m just getting into the foothold of this place again—into the swing of lunch-with-Sarah and napping-with-March and (now) spending wonderful hours with the Loosehead staff—but on Friday, I’m out of this town. On the the tenth of September I’ll be on a plane toLa Paz. I feel a little uprooted and a lot unready.