Just north of Sayulita at the back of a large, garbage-filled pullout, is a narrow dirt road that leads down a hill into the jungle. At the bottom of the hill there is a “Y” in the road. To the left the road becomes a four-wheeler track leading all the way back to the busy, crowded streets of Sayulita. To the right, the road leads further through the jungle, up and down a few hills, across a couple small arroyos, and opens up into a grove of large, shady trees overlooking a long, quiet beach.
This is where we set up camp. There is a spot to one side that has enough mid-day sun for our solar panel to charge our batteries. We set up the sun tarp, put up the hammock, and rake the leaves off the sand in front. The kids have a rocket ship in the roots of some trees and a spider friend that lives in some nearby bushes.
The beach offers solitary walks, rocks and caves to explore, beach combing, and endless digging with sand toys. The ocean offers refreshing swimming when the surf is not too hard, sailboats, gorgeous sunsets, and the occasional dolphin. The whales are not here yet, but that does not keep us from looking for them.
During the days a few tourists wander over from Sayulita to escape the crowds, but they all go home at night except one lone camper. We call him Creepy Guy because sometimes he sits in a tree near us or on the sand and stares at us. It’s a little awkward, but he seems harmless.
One morning when Matt is in town, Rylan is outside and I hear a strange voice. I go outside and there is Creepy Guy talking to Rylan. He says something unintelligible (at least to me) in Spanish. “Que?” I ask, in my best Spanish, walking toward him. I notice he has his shirt gathered up and something inside it. As I approach him, he holds up a black, baby turtle, freshly hatched. His shirt is full of baby turtles, wiggling and squirming.
“Graysen, Rylan, come look! Turtles!” I say. Graysen comes running out of the trailer.
He offers them to me, to pick one up. I take it and give it to Graysen. Rylan doesn’t want to hold his so I hold it for him. Creepy Guy turns and walks to the ocean. We follow him, holding our turtles gently. Near the edge of the surf we stop and Creepy Guy kneels, bends low, and gently releases the turtles from his shirt. They tumble out in a big pile of tiny, black wriggling turtles, all trying to right themselves on the sand and find their way toward the ocean.
Graysen and I set ours gently in the sand. Rylan holds my hand. Creepy Guy is helping the turtles turn over and we help too. The little guys know instinctively to run downhill toward the surf. We stand and watch, amazed by it all.
A big wave comes, but instead of sweeping the turtles out to sea, it sends them tumbling farther up the beach, thwarting their progress. It is difficult to watch something so small and helpless struggle so much. We help them turn over and continue their race towards the water. Graysen is running around the beach, righting turtles. Rylan is sitting with Creepy Guy, watching.
After a while, Creepy guy starts putting the struggling turtles directly into the surf. I pick one up gently to bring it down to the water and it looks at me, head cocked to one side, flippers pressed against my fingers. Its eyes seem old and wise for only being a few hours old. “Put me down,” it seems to say. “I can do it myself. I need this struggle.” I’ve seen this look before in my children’s eyes. I put it down.
I turn to say thank you to Creepy Guy, but he is already walking down the beach.
Later, Matt and I are talking about what happened. ”You mean, you didn’t even get his name?” Matt asks.
“We were just so in the moment. There wasn’t really any talking.” I reply. We can’t go on calling him Creepy Guy, however, it doesn’t seem right after sharing that experience with him. We decide to rename him Tortuga.
A few days later Tortuga comes to the camp when I am not around and asks Matt for water. He tells Matt that he is a conservationist and he was supposed to have a job cleaning and taking care of that beach but there was no money to pay him. But he didn’t have anything else to do, so he was doing it anyway. Matt gives him a cantaloup. He says something to the affect, “Now we are community.”