Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Man versus Beach (and our friend the jaguar)

Last week Sally, Stuart, Leyre and Lena took on the ultimate Jalova challenge… the notorious fifteen mile “Jag Walk”. It’s the survey that all volunteers on the expedition anticipate – waiting for their name to come up on the weekly timetable with baited breath! Last week’s Jag Walk was led by Simon, his first time leading the survey (he is a 6 month intern currently completing his work placement) – and we were also joined by base manager Rich, who obviously fancied a gentle stroll along the beach!

The aim of the Jag Walk, as the name suggests, is to record the presence of jaguars along the full length of Playa Tortuguero. This will help both understand how many individuals are using the beach as part of their territory, as well as to inform where the camera traps are placed to increase the chances of capturing the beauties on film.

The preparation for the survey actually started the afternoon before… with a thorough brief from Simon and some pancake cooking (for our lunch). Well, we hoped to cook pancakes but realised with horror that keen bread-makers at base emptied the flour supplies! So Rich and Molly created some ‘pancakes’ out of leftover porridge, so panic over and we would have something to eat the next day, phew!

Anyway, back to the Jag Walk itself… we started at Mile 18 (the southern extent of the beach) at 5.52am precisely – fresh faced and ready to go! Each team member was assigned a role (e.g. data book recorder, GPS reader) and position on the beach – all of us keeping our eagle eyes open for jaguar prints.

Although a walk along a Caribbean beach sounds like an idyllic way to spend a day in Costa Rica, this survey is a true physical challenge. The weather was kind to us with rain the night before making the sand easier to walk on than usual, and during the survey a few showers giving us a refreshing break from the humid conditions. Unfortunately the rain also had the effect of blurring the jaguar prints and making it tricky to ascertain whether they were fresh or not for the first half of the survey (up to Mile 15).

Our luck was in though, with an abundance of prints appearing after our tasty porridge pancake lunch, showing that jaguars (and cubs) had been frolicking on the beach just hours before! (photo above) That thought spurred us on through the last few (tough) miles into Tortuguero village (photo on the victory line below).

It was a great sense of achievement to reach Mile 3.5 at just after 1pm, with the reality of freshly baked pizza and a beer just a few moments away in our fave hangout, Budda Cafe! We spent a few hours chilling out, before getting the boat back to base… the fresh breeze and splashes of waves from the canal bringing a perfect end to a challenging day.

Sally (5 week volunteer)