Whilst 2020 was a challenging year, it was also extremely eye-opening and made each of us look at what we want and value in life. For RAF Nurse Lydia, it was a year she ticked off a bucket list dream, volunteering abroad. November saw Lydia travelling to the Costa Rica Turtle Conservation Experience and the following account is of her time on the project:
"I Googled it, I literally Googled it. I wanted to do something other than just go on holiday. I was retiring from the Air Force and I’ve never been to university or had a gap year or anything so, I wanted to experience something different and I thought it would be a really lovely thing to do. Of course, I knew it'd be a lot of young people, but I just took a leap of faith. I thought I'd just give it a go."
"I was nervous to begin with as I hadn’t done anything like that before, I’ve worked every day since I left school. Everybody at work thought I was amazing and mad all at the same time! I don’t have any regrets about it. It was really good fun!"
“It was so interesting, I felt like a qualified turtle midwife by the time I finished because I went for a longer time. Some people were there for a couple of weeks, some people go there for months and I did about four weeks. For me it was hard work with the sleep patterns, getting up in the middle of the night to walk across the beach, at three in the morning in the rain, but I understood the reason why we were doing what we were doing and when you did actually find a nest or turtle, it was amazing. Absolutely amazing.”
“The kids really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the mix of periods of not a lot to do and then periods when it was really busy, like when everyone’s having babies, you can’t predict when they’re going to come. So, I come from a really busy job, and really enjoyed the balance of some days of lots of work and other days with time to relax. We used the downtime to see some sites, go whale watching, and I found a spa, which was me all over!”
“I would say, I did a beach walk with Oscar the boss man and Gabrielle, and I was just coming back from a night walk and there wasn’t much going on. It was about five in the morning and Oscar said they were going to another beach as he had a call to say that they think a turtle has laid a nest there. I said ‘can I come with you?’ Changed my socks and went out again. That’s where I got my sunrise photos!"
"Anyway, we walked for a few hours and we found two nests that day. So, it was really exciting because they were fresh and it’s about saving as many as we can. I know that if they had been left there, poachers would have got them or the birds, so it was brilliant to be able to do that.”
“I think also that picture I sent you is such a perfect demonstration of what a turtle goes through, leaving its tracks coming in and out of the water, it's just amazing."
“Oscar’s really good at what he does. I sent you another random picture, but we went to search for crocodiles as well. There's a picture of me on a boat. I was desperate to go on the boat and go for a crocodile hunt before I came back. I missed the one the week before because I was down at the hatcheries, but that was great. That was really good fun.”
“There were loads of releases, loads of hatchlings, I was like the turtle mummy at one stage honestly, I can't even tell you how many turtles I got out of the hatchery. Every time I went down there, there was one or two running around, I was like ‘ oh quick!’ Another nest! It was lovely, really lovely, but it was hard work there. I don't think people should go thinking it's some kind of, ‘Oh, you just release the turtles and that's it.’ We spent lots of time digging holes, we had to bury the eggs and shells, we had to count all the shells. You have to get down to the beach with the wheelbarrows to collect more sand and put fresh sand in and you know, it wasn't a walk in the park - I didn't put any weight on, and I ate like a horse the whole time.”
“I was worried it would get canned, but I was like ‘I’m going, I’m going, I’m going’ absolutely determined. So, even though my flight changed about three times it was actually easier than I thought, and BA were great and sorted it for me. Costa Rica was probably one of the easiest places to get to and I felt safe. They took it seriously, we wore safe masks in restaurants etc and it’s fairly remote, so you don’t bump into a lot of people. You bump into more animals than people. So you don't have to worry about spreading the disease. There was just the group that were all based at the reserve.”
“It was a really good mixture of people, the majority were young sort of late teens, early twenties, but there was a good mix! They were fabulous and the team were fabulous, all of them really. You’ve got like-minded people that want to do this kind of crazy stuff and the team out there have brains the size of planets, there were more education opportunities than I took advantage of.”
“The one thing I would have said was, I should have taken more stuff to get wet with me. Gym leggings, t-shirts, socks etc, because you could be getting wet up to three times a day. There was a washing machine that we could all use and that wasn't a problem but waiting for things to dry and going out again at three in the morning with wet feet wasn’t nice. So more socks. There is a hardware store, which is kind of like a garden centre, literally a 10-minute walk from the reserve, I bought my wellies in there for £11.50 in my size, even if you ordered, you could get them in a couple of days. So they were really good.”
“The other thing I'd suggest that if you're going out there, if you like cooking, take a few herbs and spices and bits. Also, bring bug spray, I used two full bottles of the stuff and I hardly got bitten, so that would be my advice.”
“I would definitely consider doing another one, definitely for two or three weeks. It was hard work, but it was worth it, worth it for those moments when something amazing happened, you know, and it something you could never do in your daily life.”
“I wouldn't have missed it for the world.”
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