As we bumped and rocked along the 30-kilometer dirt road that literally stretched into the middle of nowhere in Baja California Sur, I couldn’t help but wonder exactly what we were getting ourselves into.
I had heard about volunteering with sea turtles before. The only contact I’d had with them was on a trip to Tortuguero, Costa Rica, where we walked along the beach at night so we could witness a large female making her way to the water.
In my mind, sea turtle conservation consisted of rescuing babies, protecting them as they scurry into the safety of the ocean so that they don’t get picked off by low-flying predators. I realized that beyond that, I didn’t know much about sea turtle conservation, until I got to spend a day at Red Travel Mexico’s camp in Magdalena Bay.
Into the middle of nowhere we go. (Photo: Jackie Laulainen)
Red Travel Mexico is based in La Paz, Baja California Sur, and its mission is to connect people to nature and sea turtle conservation. It exists as a hybrid organization, half tour operator in the secluded paradises of the Baja peninsula and half nonprofit conducting sea turtle research.
After nearly getting stuck in the sand and having to turn around in a fishing camp that seemed to appear out of nowhere, we eventually got to the end of the long dirt road, where boats awaited us.
Red is not just about work; this group also knows how to have fun. Our first stop was not camp, but rather a picnic lunch of triggerfish ceviche at the bottom of a towering sand dune at the end of an inlet that dries up with the tide every day. Our time in this secluded paradise was fleeting.
We couldn’t leave all that beautiful sand untouched! (Photo: Jackie Laulainen)
The motorboats escaped with the diminishing tide while we ran around the sand dunes like little kids. We managed to get covered head to toe in sand, smiles plastered across all our faces, and then we hit the kayaks just in time to escape with the tide as well. About a mile or so later, we pulled onto the shore of an unassuming stretch of beach, without a clue in the world where exactly we were, and loving that fact in itself.
We crested the first sand dune off the beach, which revealed the first part of the camp: a couple of main tents, which happened to function as the kitchen and dining room. It was love at first sight.
Further along the trail, among the mini dunes, tents emerged one by one as if part of the dunes themselves, blending in almost entirely with the vegetation that covered most of the sand. The group leaders explained the eco-toilet and pump sink systems and then invited us to visit our tents to freshen up and regroup for a sea turtle lesson and monitoring.
The camp tents, blending in with their surroundings. (Photo: Jackie Laulainen)
The organization caught three turtles in their nets earlier in the day, so we got to actively participate in the weighing, measuring, tagging, and even naming of these precious creatures. It’s a whole new ball game in terms of emotions after learning about the efforts of Grupo Tortuguero and Red Travel and actually observing and helping contribute to the species of these turtles, knowing that others poach them for pennies on the dollar.
We took turns measuring and recording the data. (Photo: Jackie Laulainen)
Our time with the turtles was short but sweet, as we released them into the water once again. This time, they would go back to their natural habitat as representatives of their species for the worldwide advancement of their own conservation.
We soon learned that margaritas and a sunset were calling from the beach at the other end of the camp, and it did not take us long to report.
I couldn’t see another sign of humanity in any direction, and there was no cell service whatsoever (not that we wanted any). As we closed the night with a mouthwatering plate of shrimp prepared by the famous camp chef and a summer-camp-style guitar session around the bonfire, I couldn’t help but be completely wrapped up in these moments. As if the extraordinary blanket of stars couldn’t get any better, the nearly full moon eventually made its grand entrance over the horizon as well, illuminating the path back to our tents.
There is nothing out here but you and nature. (Photo: Red Travel Mexico)
This is the very connection with nature that I crave and that Red executes so beautifully. Here at the end of the long dirt road in the middle of nowhere on the pacific coast of the Baja peninsula, it’s about much more than sea turtles. I was right to wonder what I was getting myself into, but once I understood, I certainly didn’t want to let it go.