So after that adventurous Thursday (if you missed it click here for part one of this post) we headed over to the turtle reserve in Ras al Jinz. The tents where we were to stay in were awesome – if you have ever heard of “glamping” it was pretty much that (mom you would have loved it!). The tents were up on platforms and the canvas flaps securely fastened. The best part is that they were air conditioned, had a t.v., a complete bathroom (sink, toilet, shower), a front and back porch, and a little sitting area inside. I’m sad that I didn’t get better pictures of the place to share with you all. When we went to leave we carried the stuff to the car. When we walked back to our tent to take pictures one of the workers had already stripped the linens and started cleaning it up so I only snapped a few of the inside. Ok – here are the tents:
The tent was really cool. We spent the day relaxing, reading, and exploring the museum in the main building at the bottom of the hill. The museum was really neat too – you got a headset and the audio would change with you as you walked though the exhibits. If you go I recommend walking through it before seeing the turtle – and its free so you have nothing to lose! We learned that there are 7 species of turtles in the world and 5 of them come to lay their eggs in Oman! It’s really quite beautiful because the turtles are born on this beach and they will never return to this beach until they are mature (30-40 years old) and ready to lay their eggs. The males will never return to the beach. When the babies hatch they face so many obstacles and are on their own. They face desert foxes, birds, and crabs that want to eat them. Not to mention the huge waves that can cause them to drown (while there the waves we saw easily got to three feet).
After the museum we went down to the restaurant and had the buffet. There is really nothing around so its just about the only option. The dinner is really great though. While we were there they had a nice selection and variety. I was still feeling pretty sick though and was happy to see they had a plain vegetable noodle soup. I had this with a little rice. The chef came out and asked about the food. I mentioned my stomach and how the soup was helping. When Scott when to pay, however, the chef only charged us for one person! He said because I didn’t each much and wasn’t feeling well he wasn’t going to charge me for the buffet!! How nice is that??!
After the dinner everyone waited around for the tour to start. Like I said if you stayed at the reserve the price of the “tent” includes two excursions. If you stay off of the reserve you have to pay for the tour. The first excursion was from 8:30 at night until about 11:30 at night. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures because the flash can stress out the turtles and cause them to return to the ocean without laying their eggs. The turtles lay 100 or more eggs at a time and only a very marginal fraction of that will survive. So anyways, we were all rounded up for the tour and walked out of the main building and into the beautifully quiet night . . .
The stars were so brilliant. Because there is no major town or light pollution for miles the stars were numerous. I seriously don’t remember seeing that many stars since I was in Tanzania. When we got to the edge of the beach our Omani guide stopped us and gave us some information about how the female adult turtles lay their eggs and what we could expect to see that night. We gathered around and the drew diagrams in the sand and while the star shown brightly above and the waves crashed in the background behind him. We learned that it can take up to 45 minutes for a female to come from the sea and dig a nest in the sand (like a sand pit that is 2-3 feet deep and 3-5 feet wide). Once the nest is made she will use her back flippers to dig a smaller whole and lay the eggs. Then she will crawl about 10 feet away from the nest to create a second “decoy” nest to confuse predators – smart turtle! We were so lucky that night. Prime egg laying season is in July and August and we were able to see every step of the process that night. Even outside of these months the reserve guarantees that you will see at least one turtle. Each night they say, throughout the whole year, turtles will show up!
We ended up seeing about 10 turtles on the beach that night but that was just in range of the guide’s flashlight so you knew there were many more around you. We saw a female come out of the see. Another one digging her nest. A different female laying her eggs. We quietly approached her with a second guide in only small groups of 5 so as not to disturb her. We saw about three turtles return to the ocean and the waves carry them gently back out to sea. We were even lucky enough to see a baby turtle!! On the eve of my birthday! It was all so beautiful and magical to be a part of. The light reflecting off the ocean draws the babies to the sea and we watched this baby turtle vigorously make is way to the ocean waves. When we saw it disappear into the ocean we all gave a quiet clap in celebration. All of this happens each night, in a blanket of darkness and under the careful, loving gaze of the stars. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. To be a part of God’s creation, completely peaceful, serene, and witnessing one of the mysteries of the world is hard for me to describe and even if we could have taken pictures I know they wouldn’t have done it justice. You’ll just have to trust me on this one . . .
So, at about 11:30 at night it was time to return to our tents for the night. The next tour was at 3:45 in the morning – meaning we weren’t going to get much sleep!! The next morning was not as eventful as the evening but still just as beautiful. We were able to take pictures this time but only ended up seeing 2 turtles and sadly no babies this time! The sunrise was beautiful that morning and the light softly started the day. Again, the pictures don’t do a justice to describe what its like to actually be there with the turtles but here they are . . .
Most of the turtles we saw ranged from 3-4 feet long. Our guide informed us that one of the turtles was 55 years old! All of the ones we ended up seeing were green sea turtles that night and morning (they are the most popular).