A few years ago, when Backcountry Journeys (BCJ) announced the addition of a Costa Rica extension to Tortuguero National Park, I couldn’t have been more excited. I had long dreamt of visiting this park but had not yet had the chance. All of my prior Costa Rica experience had been on the Pacific coast of the country. And though Costa Rica is only 75 miles wide at its narrowest point, the two coasts could not be more different. Culturally, the east coast has Caribbean and afro influences. The cuisines differ greatly, and there are different species on each coast that do not venture across to the other side. Specifically, one species resides only in the far northeast of the country, one that I was desperate to see and photograph, the critically endangered great green macaw, or in Spanish, the Lapa Verde.
Historically, Tortuguero holds a special place in the story of Costa Rica’s green revolution. It was here in the mid-1970s, that then-president Daniel Oduber witnessed a horror that inspired him to designate Tortuguero as Costa Rica’s first national park. While on a visit there with a local conservationist and biologist, Oduber observed a green sea turtle crawling along the beach, presumably to dig a nest and lay her eggs. But, something was wrong. Her gait was labored, and she was trailing something behind her. As they approached, he saw that she was dropping her eggs on the beach as she went, a sure death sentence for the eggs. It was then they saw that her entire lower carapace (shell) had been removed by a poacher. The poacher must’ve chucked her back into the sea after cutting away her bottom shell, unconcerned about the turtle’s suffering. The lower carapace was to be used in soup, and the mutilated turtle was destined to die a slow death. This horrendous sight so moved Oduber that he declared that these prolific nesting beaches would be set aside and protected so that the sea turtles could nest here in peace.