Wander around on a dark beach with two sweet ladies from West Texas long enough and you’re bound to find something miraculous. That or you’ll twist your ankle, whatever comes first. Nevertheless, that’s what I found myself doing on Friday night. While most tourists were shaking their stuff at local nightclubs, the husband, the aforementioned Texans, myself and a guide were wandering around a Puerto Vallarta beach in the dark. The task at hand? Sea turtles. Baby ones, to be exact. The husband saw the “awwww!” look on my face when he mentioned a tour that worked with a sea turtle rescue and responded by booking said tour. From July to about December, big mama sea turtles pop up all over the shores of Puerto Vallarta, kinda like American tourists but better dressed. That guy I married and I often say to one another,”It’ll be an adventure.” This can apply to going into a really sketchy looking discount store or waiting in line at the post office or, in this case, helping sea turtles.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: sea turtles who have been doing their thang on the shores of the planet for thousands of years certainly know what the hell they’re doing so why do they need people to help them? Thanks to our polluting and generally destructive asses, sea turtles are in trouble. So if we can make laying more eggs easier, protect those eggs and then help these little infants back into the ocean, we can hopefully grow the species as a whole and therefore reverse a teeny bit of the fuckery we’ve caused these poor creatures by ruining their oceans and hunting them.
Our five person turtle loving brigade walked along a stretch of beach populated by posh hotels and the obligatory white people who come along with them. Our mission? To see if we could find any mammas laying eggs. The tour doesn’t promise you’ll see this phenomenon and wisely so. These mothers are on their own schedule and won’t pop ’em out just so some family from Pomona can snap photos for their Instagram pages. But we optimistically trudged along the sand anyway. It was warm and quiet, the kind of beach quiet you can buy if you’ve got enough cash. I’m more of a hustle and bustle type so we were staying in a part of the city that actually looked like Mexico and less like glamour Burbank by the sea. After no sighting and with one of our Texas ladies exhaustedly taking solace under a tiki covered patio, we started to head back to the nursery. It wasn’t going to be a complete wash. The rescue had set aside a bucket of flapping baby sea turtles that we could release when we returned.
As we walked, we ran into a 40-something Owen Wilson type and his equally blonde girlfriend crouched down in the sand with flashlights. The pair, along with some Solo cup clenching randoms, had stumbled on a hatching nest of baby sea turtles. Hundreds of them, as a matter of fact. Their ingenious but totally uninvolved mother buries the eggs by the dozens in the sand so when they hatch they spring up, in the words of our guide, “like popcorn.” And boy did they. The little guys kept crawling out of the sand, one by one. The minute you thought it had to be the end of this adorable family reunion, a bunch more would show up with sand covered heads and their itty bitty slits-for-eyes just barely opened. We’d pick them up and place them in the bucket, seen below. With their funny flapping arms and soft rubbery shells, I fell in love about 300 times that night as I placed them gently in this plastic waiting room before they went out into the world by themselves.
We were instructed not to use our flash as turtles use the light of the moon to guide them and a bunch of flashing lights could really disorient the little fellas. All on their own and without parents, these babies would learn to swim, eat and come back to shores like this one. It was all instinct and mystery and had nothing to do with me. What our group of five could do was help them out of the bucket. Turtle by turtle, we watched them flap, stumble and march towards the surf like little soldiers. In fact, they were off to quite the battle. Our guide informed us, because of predators, mainly shady birds which we saw earlier in the night nibbling on turtle eggs, only one in one hundred would survive. Our guide stood in the tide holding her flashlight acting as a beacon to hopefully direct turtle traffic into the water.”They’ll swim towards the light,”she said and gosh darn it despite being only alive for a few moments they did precisely that. Waves rushed in and swooped some of them in the water. Others walked with purpose into the ocean. And a few more sort of meandered, taking their time and often required additional help getting near the water. I think we know which group I identified with.
As we wished them well on their journey, it struck me that really none of our odds are very good but somehow some of us make it. If you’ve beat cancer, you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve come back from the brink of mental illness, you know what I’m talking about. And if, like me, you’ve somehow managed to stay sober you know what I’m talking about. Over the last nearly eight years, I know I’ve had tons of people help me out of metaphorical plastic buckets, brush the sand off me and guide me towards the light. My chance for survival if I try to do anything alone are not very damn good. Hobbling along alone in the dark, whether human or sea turtle, fucking sucks. Sure, instinct will help a turtle out but we people? We need one another.
2016 has felt like a never-ending process of me swimming towards the light. Despite darkness, difficulty and a brain that really wants to uses drugs and drink until it explodes, I’ve somehow kept swimming. From job stuff and life stuff to Orlando and the election to the recent death of my grandmother, the battle to fend off depression and addiction and alcoholism has kept me on my muthafucking toes this year. Any more time on my toes and the damn Bolshoi will be calling me. Yet it’s all part of the gig called life. A gig I’m lucky to have.
Our trip back to the nursery got delayed–twice. The not-guaranteed-but-wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if sighting of a mother turtle laying eggs happened! Two gals, one successful and one who sort of fell asleep during the process and didn’t really seal the deal (again, I identify), laid eggs. Just like that: more little lives, more daunting odds and more trips towards the light were set in motion. The whole journey humbled me and my own does too. It puts a lump in my throat when I think about how many people have held up the light for me. Inexplicably, dozens of folks in person, online and even people I don’t know have lit the way and told me to keep swimming. If you’re reading this, you are probably one of those people. Thank you for that. Seriously. I cannot do any of this alone. I’ve felt so much love in the most trying and horrible times of this year, it truly knocks me out. Like those little guys on the beach in Mexico, I could do it by myself but your help makes it a fuck ton easier.
And just so you know, I’d gladly stumble around in the dark and hold up the light for you too.