WRITER NEVIN MARTELL
Rough costs of trip|
I explore a small chain of islands, buffering Pacific Ocean currents northwest of Costa Rica, called Islas Murcielagos (The Bat Islands). They are an untouched, Shangri-La for graceful dolphins to greet my chartered vessel. As we pulled into one cove of the main island, Isla San Jose, the air permeates with the rich smell of chan, a native aromatic plant hinting lavender and mint. I pinch myself. My bare feet dig into snow-white beach sand littered with exotic shells and scuttling hermit crabs. I quickly shudder-away the thought of these shoe-bound toes pounding Manhattan sidewalks only a handful of days earlier.
Compared with the air-flight to Costa Rica, my boat ride to Isle San Jose was a short 3-4 hours this day. The isle is home to a state marine biology station overlooking the harbor. Its vantage boosts the rangers' watchful eyes against poaching and drug trafficking activities, which are a problem due to San Jose's proximity to Nicaragua.
Inland from the shoreline, visitors may camp in the meadow lands. My entourage pitched tents amongst scattered, wind snarled trees, but tents only act to absorb heat and we chose to sleep under the cooler night sky. Nighttime on Isle San Jose is busy-time to thousands of fireflies illuminating the meadow lands like the audience of a U2 concert. Even offshore, nighttime proves theatrical below the water line as well, with bioluminescent organisms turning an evening ocean dip into an mystical swim glowing with marine creatures, that either illuminate to prevent attack, or light-up to attract prey.
BABY TURTLE, PHOTO BY NEVIN MARTELL
One evening during low tide, we followed fresh turtle tracks tracing an expectant Olive Ridley's last few steps from the sea into the sand dunes. She dug herself into a deep pit using her flippers, she lowered her back into the hole to lay about 100 eggs. Even while we witnessed the extraordinary process, our presence didn't seem to phase her duty. She carefully covered the eggs with sand and headed-back to sea, leaving the fate of her offspring to nature. It will be 60 days before these eggs emerge from their dune as baby turtles.
Their regular cycle permitted us to watch a birth of turtles. One balmy afternoon was delightfully interrupted with a call from the beach, "Tortugitas!" On fast-skip back to the ocean shore, like giddy children running to open Christmas presents, we witnessed several hundred baby turtles from an earlier nest racing towards the surf. We kept out of their sea-bound path while snapping their pictures, and clapping for them upon reaching their destination of blue-green Pacific water.
With snorkel and mask, I entered the waters to accompany these miniature mariners on their inaugural voyage. Though all of them made it into the ocean, Mother Nature was not to be cheated. When turtles swim across the surface, pelicans and frigate birds begin kamikaze attacks in search of a fresh lunch. It was difficult to watch, but we all knew that nature does not weigh-in our mourning.
During our return cruise to the mainland, we spotted humpback whales. The giant mammals surfaced, and gracefully brought their tails into the water with a theatrical slap. Their wake attracted manta rays, flying above the waves, flipping their bodies in midair like electrified flapjacks.
While snorkeling a few days later, we came across a trio of the massive rays hidden in the sandy ocean floor, but upon our approach to examine their hideaway, they shot away from us at an extraordinary speed. My dive brought me close to milk sharks, a non-aggressive elasmobranchii, although they do have razor-sharp teeth and should be avoided. On almost any dive, you'll witness hundreds of varieties of colorful tropical fish, including the comical spotted puffer fish. Our guide plucked one from under a rock outcropping, which put it on the defensive by inflating itself. The fish felt like Velcro underwater, and is unlike its close relative -- the spiny blowfish -- which is poisonous and dangerous to handle.
My visit took a back seat to imaginative words, and was far superior to reading any storybook. Even with real images fresh in my mind, it is difficult to believe such a romantic destination exists in our ever-so-populated world. However, this is one childhood fantasy actually did come true.