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12 Miles of Paradise

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Guest Author Brad Nahill
I’ve done a lot of jungle hiking but never at night and never at this pace. We moved quickly through the rainforest, hurrying to the beach at the end of the trail, in the hopes of arriving in time to put a satellite transmitter on a black turtle currently on the beach. The rumble of far-off thunder faded into the sound of crashing waves as we crested a hill near the end of the trail.

Our destination was Brasilon Beach, within the La Flor Wildlife Refuge in the southwestern corner of Nicaragua. This beach is one of several turtle nesting beaches along this stretch of coast protected by Paso Pacifico, an innovative young conservation organization. Paso Pacifico focuses on protecting the “Paso del Istmo”, an incredibly beautiful 12-mile stretch of land between Lake Nicaragua and the Pacific Ocean.

I had arrived to this incredible corner of Nicaragua earlier that day to learn about the inspiring efforts of this young organization to protect the isthmus. As we drove south from Managua, the view out the window changed from cattle pasture to forest. We passed through San Juan del Sur, the main stopping point for travelers in this area.


 

After arrival, our group headed out by boat to explore the spectacular stretch of coast, one of the most dramatic coastlines that I’ve ever seen with its flat sloping flat cliffs and white sand beaches. Hugging the coast of the wildlife refuge, we stopped in front of La Flor beach, one of a handful of beaches in the world that host the “arribada”, where thousands of olive ridley sea turtles nest over a few days several times a year. As we puttered around taking photos, a small head popped out of the water not far from our boat. The turtle heard our excited gasps and dropped back into the water, but there were plenty more bobbing around. 
That evening, we hiked to Brasilon, unaware of the rain that was coming. Catching our breath upon arrival, we checked in with the rangers who told us this turtle wasn’t suitable for a transmitter (her shell was too thin). Before the female black turtle (as known as the Pacific green turtle) headed back to the ocean, we collected her tag number and shell size and let her on her way. As the turtle got wet, so did we as a light rain began to fall. 
The next day, sun shining again, we visited La Flor. Though a small arribada of about 1,000 turtles had happened a few days earlier, there was little evidence of turtles on the beach. La Flor can host up to fifty thousand turtles during an arribada; with so many turtles, the refuge’s rangers can have a hard time protecting the nests on the edge, which often get collected illegally for sale on the black market.
 A short drive took us from La Flor to Hostel Don Miguel, a charming new small hotel owned by local residents. Don Miguel is participating in Paso Pacifico’s reforestation program and hosts a nursery for native trees. Nicaragua has been hard hit by deforestation but Paso Pacifico’s award-winning program has restored more than 1,000 acres across the area. This inspirational project not only helps the region’s incredible wildlife, it also creates jobs, absorbs carbon, and prevents erosion and flooding.

We ended the day with a tranquil kayak tour through a small mangrove forest. The quiet was interrupted though by our guide’s uncanny howler monkey imitation, which he used to stir up a troop of howlers occupying a couple of large trees on the edge of the estuary. As I headed home the next day, the sounds of this visit stayed with me as much as the views. Between the haunting wails of the howlers and the crashing waves on the coast, I can't wait to travel to Nicaragua again.

Your friendly wildlife conservationist,

Brad Nahill
About the author:
Brad Nahill is a wildlife conservationist, writer, activist, and fundraiser. He is the Director & Co-Founder of SEEtheWILD, the world’s first non-profit wildife conservation travel website. To date, we have generated more than $350,000 for wildlife conservation and local communities and our volunteers have completed more than 1,000 work shifts at sea turtle conservation project. SEEtheWILD is a project of The Ocean Foundation.

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