Turtle laying eggs on a beach in Mexico

The Night of the Turtle

It was getting late but, according to the instructions Eric had given us, it wasn’t quite late enough. He’d told us they didn’t emerge from the water until at least gone midnight and it was barely ten o’clock, but the beach was calling.

We abandoned our tequilas and padded between the palms, looking up at the fronds as we went to check for falling coconuts.   

Our temporary home (which also housed a worrying number of scorpions) was one of only two structures on the remote beach.

We’d been tempted there by the promise of all-you-can-drink coconuts, free surfboards, home-cooked Mexican food and 10km of golden sand for no one but us to enjoy once the handful of day-trippers had been kicked out of the natural park.

That, and the fact it was nesting season on Oaxaca’s beaches.

Emerging onto the beach, we headed left, endless sand stretching out ahead of us and not a single light to mar the brilliance of the starry, moonless sky.

A shape loomed ahead of us and my breath caught in my throat, but it was just an impressive piece of driftwood.

A couple of hundred metres further along, another piece of driftwood suddenly morphed into life. It was a leatherback turtle, almost as long as I am tall. And that’s saying something.

She’d hatched on that very beach decades before, smaller than the palm of my hand.

She’d survived everything thrown at her by nature and humanity and made it back onto that beach, at that moment. And there we were, witnessing it.

She was digging determinedly, ignoring us entirely, and we quietly sank onto the sand to watch her.

Soon, we were joined by a pair of wardens who’d been pacing the beach looking for just what we’d found.

They explained that once she’d finished digging and started laying, she wouldn’t move for the earth, which was what made her so vulnerable to attack.

Eventually, she fell still. The wardens fished her eggs out of the nest one by one to be reburied somewhere a little safer.

Turtle eggs on a beach in Mexico

Egg-laying done and dusted, she blinked her sand-encrusted eyes and began to cover over her empty nest.

Having, she imagined, safely tucked her eggs under a thick blanket of warm sand, she laid a false trail for those who’d devour her eggs if given half a chance.

She hauled herself in ever larger circles on the beach so that there was no tell-tale X-marks-the-spot on the treasure map.

Desperate to feel useful and important, we were delighted when the wardens asked us to wait and keep an eye on her whilst she worked so that they could get the eggs safely tucked up in a protected nest and get on with their long night of patrolling.

After a long while, she finally seemed satisfied that her tracks were well covered.

We’d been told she’d use the light of the stars reflecting on the water to find her way back into her element, just as her babies would when they eventually hatched.

Slowly but surely, she slid down the steep bank of sand and disappeared into the black waves.

We sat staring after her for a long while, our thoughts following her as she set off on her odyssey.

Dusting ourselves off, we were drawn back into the pool of light spilling from our ramshackle house in the coconut grove.

There we fell into bed with sandy toes, lulled into dreams of adventures to come by the sigh of the endless ocean.

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