El Tortugario – Another great Colima day trip

2017 April 2017 Colours of Mexico Suzanne A. Marshall

By Suzanne A. Marshall from the April 2017 Edition

It’s family visiting season and we delight in the abundance    of interesting tour options in the Manzanillo area. Today we are slated to take a 40 minute drive down the coast to Cuyutlán where we will view the turtle sanctuary and see much more than we were actually expecting!

El Tortugario is situated down a dusty road from the Cuyutlán beach zone. It is operated as a non-profit eco conservatory. Judging by the slightly bumpy and well-used road, they have had many tour buses from the resorts or travel companies, as well as carloads of tourists or locals such as us.

There is ample parking in their lot and, once through the gate, you are received by a small shop where you pay a nominal entrance fee and sanctuary information is available. As you proceed outside, and follow the walkways, you will find large holding tanks with various large turtles swimming about. They are an awesome sight, to be sure!

The facility also hosts an open shaded shelter where a tour guide was giving a lecture to a large group of people whom  we presumed had arrived on the bus. There are also large clean bathroom facilities there, so visitors have no need to worry about anything and can stay and explore as long as they like. And explore we did!

Our timing was excellent that day as we were told that they would be releasing a number of baby turtles to the sea and we were invited to participate. Along with a number of other visitors, we followed our host to a hatching area complete with various sheds and equipment. It almost looked like a  backyard vegetable garden where a section of tilled soil and sand was laid out in long rows under shelter of basic frames and nettings. I presume this was to keep the birds and insects away from newly hatching baby turtles.

Along each row were pails turned upside down all along the rows. Underneath were  the buried turtle eggs that had been carefully moved there to protect them and al- low the staff to assist them out to sea and hopefully better chances of survival. Generally a mature turtle will lay approximately 300 eggs of which 90% will hatch given nature’s  predators  and   vultures. The incubation period for the eggs is an estimated 8 to 10 weeks.

As we gathered round, a worker presented a pail of beautiful baby turtle hatchlings. We were allowed to pick them up and carefully examine them as we held them in the palms of our hands. Next, we walked a little further out to the beach and everyone set their baby turtle on the sand and watched as they instinctively started racing straight ahead for the open sea.

The event had the qualities of a competitive race as each per- son cheered their turtle on and they were all eventually swooped up by the surf and carried off to sea. We found the experience very exhilarating and touching since we are aware that survival for these little guys is not a large percentage. The survival rate is only 15% and of these just one will reach sexual maturity in the deep sea.

Next we headed for a trek down a boardwalk through the trees and headed out to the lagoon area where we hoped to take a boat ride through the mangroves. On our way, it was delightful to see the natural setting, mostly untouched by human hands. We viewed small lizards, birds and even spotted a big, dark lumpy termite nest up in the crook of a tree limb.

At the end of the boardwalk, we were greeted by a sanctuary guide who helped us into the big, flat bottomed skiff complete with some spare sun hats if we needed them. Our skiff held about 10 people as we slowly left the dock and began our smooth journey out of the tunnel of trees and into the wide open lagoon.

The expanse of the lagoon was surprising for me as I had not realized the size of the area. It was so refreshing to move along the water with the wafting breezes and the spectacular vista. In the surrounding shoreline trees, large white egrets and herons perched while hawks could be seen floating on the air currents above.

Though the waters are brackish or a combination of fresh water and sea water, there were water lilies floating on the surface and some were displaying their beautiful flowers. As we moved along, we also spotted fish swimming under the surface of the water, their scales reflecting from the strong sunlight through the water. I cannot describe the peace that one feels in such a place with the sounds and smells of nature all around. It’s definitely an experience to be had.

As we crossed the lagoon, we headed straight for the shoreline and our guide, who had been busy showing us all the wildlife we might have missed, announced we were entering the mangrove channels. And suddenly, we were lost in another world.

As the boat slowed we were completely engulfed in an other- worldly fantasy. At least if felt that way to me! All along the channel and above us the gnarled, bleached branches and foliage of the mangroves sheltered us from the sunlight while allowing just enough light through to view its hidden secrets.

Sometimes a few of us found ourselves ducking our heads to avoid the odd drooping branch. As we slowly cruised the channel, our guide was able to spot numerous animals that were so well camouflaged we really had to concentrate to find them. There were small tree snakes, lizards and even a couple of small crocodiles. If I was excited by this journey, you should have seen our family who described it as the best vacation day trip they had ever experienced. It makes you feel good to be able to show them something new and different and non- existent in Canada.

Eventually, the channel brought us around to an exit back to the vast lagoon and we found ourselves heading back to the dock area feeling exhilarated and satisfied by our brand new experience.

After leaving the sanctuary, we headed back down the dusty road to the beach area in Cuyutlán just a few minutes away. Our adventure had given us an appetite and we knew there were some great little restaurants and beach vendors to explore. We found ourselves a nice local taco stand and ate with gusto, so to speak.

Then of course it was souvenir shop time for the girls while the men rolled their eyes and patiently waited. Cuyutlán is a major beach area during high holidays for local people from Guadalajara as it is a vast expanse of volcanic black sand and, in springtime, home to the giant green surf known as Ola Verde. But that’s another story.

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