The boys think it’s amusing when I fall off the sidewalks here in Costa Rica. “Why do they build such tall sidewalks?” they wonder. Last night provided the answer: torrential rain, unending thunder, and a night sky illuminated by so much lightning that our boat captain scarcely needed headlights at midnight as we sped through the dense jungle canals of Tortuguero. Those elevated sidewalks keep you from sloshing through the temporary rivers flowing everywhere.
Midnight adventuring with two young boys in a rainstorm like none you can imagine, you ask? Well, the thing I’ve learned in the past 18 days is that once you’ve committed to something here, it’s pretty hard to reverse course. Changed your mind about the zip line while you hover 200 meters above ground on a platform just large enough to hold six medium sized humans? Salada (too bad). Get your booty up there and terrorize the cloud forest howler monkeys with your own screams of trepidation and delight.
Now, about last night: in my opinion, you don’t come to Tortuguero without signing up for a slot in the coveted turtle tour. Back in the old days, this meant joining your 66 year old mom and a knowledgeable park ranger on a casual after dinner stroll down the beach, in search of giant nesting sea turtles. You came, you saw, you conquered. That was the expectation last night, but it’s 2018 and at this point in our journey, I really should have known better.
The boys and I set out at 8:30pm for a boat ride to the National park. We arrived at 9:15, and were promptly informed that our tour would begin at 10pm and end at midnight. (Remember: no turning back here.) The maximum-capacity-Oliver-whining thusly commenced as we trudged about a mile though an unlit dense forest path in knee high water, two hours past his bedtime. Our waterlogged rain boots were handy, I suppose, to defend against venemous snakes and brushes with poison dart frogs. After Oliver lost a boot in the mud suction cup swamp one time too many, I engaged my Jillian Michaels biceps and carried his 64 pound body to the beach. I recall, vividly, barking at his whiny little self that he was no longer entitled to complain; that the only complaints our group would hear for the rest of the evening would arise from me. I did pull out all the mama stops and agreed that the level of crappiness of this trek afforded the boys the opportunity to practice a few choice swear words. Everyone’s mood lightened substantially with each “This is so crappy, mom!” uttered by a school boy.
At long last, we reached Turtle Mecca. The Caribbean surf was deafening under the night skies, and tight groups of ten tourists gathered around dim red lights scattered along the beach. Our guide Giovanni, whose English was limited strictly to his memorized script, did his best to provide zero assistance in navigating across palm fronds, discarded Coke bottles and soggy coconuts in the pitch black night to our first mama turtle.
She was an enormous green sea turtle, about as long as Oliver is tall, half-buried in sand and clearly exhausted after hours of laying eggs (supposedly upwards of 500, according to Giovanni, although if he’s anything like me with foreign language numbers, he very well could have meant 50). Malcolm was over the moon: bucket list item, check. Oliver? “Well, there goes my dream of actually seeing a turtle lay her eggs. All we saw was some digging and then a slow shuffle back to sea.” He’s such a gracious kid, and fills me with a constant sense of parental pride.
Elated or disappointed, our grupito headed back to Tortuguero town. About ten minutes into the swamp trudging affair, Giovanni got a hot tip from guide #38 that another mama had come to the beach and was laying eggs. We all agreed, despite the time of 11:45pm, to stumble back to the beach to watch her in action.
When we arrived, zen mama had already excavated a deep cavern in which to lay her eggs. One by one, shiny eggs the size of golf balls fell into her hole. If I could have seen their faces, I’m certain the boys lower mandibles would have been rooted firmly on the beach. Even Oliver grumpy pants, three hours past bedtime, was ecstatic.
Adventuring with eight and ten year old boys through the urban and wild landscapes of Costa Rica is not easy, to put it as benignly as possible. There are arduous bus rides, waiting in lines, sweating buckets, fending off mosquitos, refusing to eat “weird” foods, drinking Fanta (so much Fanta!), dodging cars in San Jose, visiting a Costa Rican ER, smashing spiders as large as my palm (sorry, giant araña), making peace with the meaning of “ahora”—which technically means “now” but could be anywhere from ten minutes to three hours. But without a doubt, these spectacular moments convince me in some convoluted way that the family journey has all been worth it. My kids may never try gallo pinto or stare out the windows at endless jungle on long bus rides as I do, but I feel 88% certain that neither child will forget this trip filled with lessons in resilience and a whole lot of Pura Vida, mae.