Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sukamade Turtle Beach

I was at Mount Bromo, Ijen Crater and Sukamade Beach located on the island of Java, Indonesia. We traveled there from Surabaya airport for our Lunar New Year vacation break.

This is day 3 (evening) and day 4 (morning) of the trip.

 Instinctively making their way to the ocean as they hear the surf of the waves.


The green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) we saw on the beach that night laid a total of 94 eggs.
We saw flipper tracks on the darkened beach made by other turtles who were seeking a safe place to lay their eggs. This beach is the laying ground for 4 types of sea turtles and we had a dreamy experience of seeing the eggs being brought to a safe house where they were re-buried in sand, seeing the turtle-lings appear, miniature flippers and all, a pale shade of gray with white bellies, they later turned into charcoal black and then finally jewel tones of blue-purple as an adult. (Not green!) Later the next day we helped to re-bury the 94 eggs (I did 40). The other eggs were mostly of the same species with one batch being from the Hawksbill Turtle. We were told that the Leatherback also made its way there though it was rarer.

On my birthday the next morning, we helped a bucketful of the month-old babies return to the sea for a greater chance of survival. Make a wish as you let the turtle go, said the guide; and I did wish upon a turtle. A birthday wish I will remember and I hope, comes true.

The eggs were dug up and reburied in the hatchery. The signboards behind shows the date buried, type of sea turtle, and the 'helpers' names. We got to write our names later and buried the 94 eggs we saw the previous night.

Reaching the beach
The drive through the planations of the Meru Betiri National Park was a fun one for us - not only could we see the different crops, rubber, robusta coffee, cacao, we also made river crossings - one larger river and two that were streams or rivulets. We were on a FWD jeep on the basically rocky trail. The path was a good long one made up of straight roads that looked like it could be drawn by a ruler, and it probably was, back in the good old colonial times by a Dutch surveyor. There were also small villages that housed the plantation workers and a small school, and a Dutch-style factory that processed the spices and coffee which looked like a rather foreboding place.

Our driver was a fine young Indonesian, lanky with skinny jeans to match, and guilelessly bright-eyed, looking like he enjoyed a good laugh from time to time. We had encountered a small problem when the only road was blocked by a large truck with its tire busted. It was not easy to maneuver around the large truck and between the muddy grasses/trees of the plantation; but he did it in calm precision, to my deep admiration! At each waiting point he waited happily for us with a childlike naivete. Both myself and the other female traveler felt a sense of loss when we had to part... ...


Perched on top of the 4WD for a view of the river crossing!

At the end of the plantation there was a simple homestay that seemed to have only 4 rooms for travelers, a rustic canteen and the place was mainly focused on keeping in line with nature, the room was sparse but it was very clean. Being so close to nature, however, had its bearbugs, literally. A large black hornbug (scarab beetle) was sleeping soundly in the pillow of a fellow traveler, he heard strange hissing sounds coming from inside his pillowcase and creepy crawling sounds as well adding to his fearful nightmare... The next day he found it (and took a photo of the beetle!) We also saw a large monitor lizard, local cats, hive of bees droning around sago palm flowers, a family of black gibbon monkeys with funky hairdos; atop trees, and down on the ground the scheming looking macaques looking as if they are plotting to steal every shiny thing you possess - now I know why there are bars on the windows!

From the doorstep of our place there is a trail through the untouched forest that led to the 3.5 km long beach. Apart from two small rock islets, the sea was unencumbered as it led out into the Pacific. The beach had to be totally shrouded in darkness and it was a different, almost fearful experience walking the 700m to the beach without seeing what lay on the path below.

Morning rays of sun on the uninhabited Sukamade beach.

I had seen the incredible scene of turtles coming on to beaches to lay their eggs before, when I was very little. My Dad had brought me to the shores of Pahang, Malaysia. That was more than 20 years ago and the eggs were available to be bought and usually eaten raw. Now of course, everyone would be made aware that the endangered turtles are meant to be conserved and taken care of. And of course eating such things now are illegal. I had tasted turtle egg before as a young innocent and till now I can still remember the taste of it - horrible raw taste with a gritty sandpaper texture, if you imagine exactly how a reptilian mucus tasted like.

One day when we are all older, I hope that I will be able to bring my children to witness the same scene of a majestic sea turtle, rising from the ocean, laying its eggs and heading back to the great Pacific. I count myself very blessed to have been able to see this twice in my life.
 Making a wish upon a baby sea turtle before sending it on its way in the Great Pacific. I hope my wish comes true!

 All Analog Photos are taken with an analog camera Superheadz (also known as Vivitar Ultra wide & slim). Film used: Agfa Precisa CT100 / Lomography Color 200. Processed by Shalom Colorlab.

All Digital Photos taken by Seth Weisel.

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