Culebra – (Thurs., April 28) – Our last afternoon

We wrapped up our time in Culebra with a beautiful afternoon filled with kids, snorkeling, a stroll through town, and a final effort to find the elusive Leatherback.

     After the morning trip to Mosquito, we returned to base to wash up. A small group of us got ready in lightning speed and zipped off in Tortuga Verde to visit Abby’s School; a small, one-room school for 24 children aged 6 to 16. The school is run by an incredible woman, Abby, whom we met on Zoni beach on Sunday. She is in charge of Leatherback nest monitoring on Zoni and she was excited to meet a group that shares her love of turtles. She asked if we would be able to come talk to her students to encourage them and tell our varied life journeys that brought us to Duke University.

     We arrived during their recess where all of the students – from little 6 year-old Dash up through the tall, high-school kids – were playing basketball together, taking turns and having a great time!

Abby instructed them to go upstairs to the classroom and get ready for our talk. We followed shortly after and were greeted by a brightly painted classroom, full of books and posters, and all 24 students sitting at their desks (which were also very colorful). If ever there were a creative space for learning, this was it!

     The students took turns introducing themselves and listed their interests and dreams for what they want to be when they grow up. It was really heartwarming to hear their aspirations! You can tell that Abby works hard to instill a “sky’s the limit” attitude in her students as she encourages them to try new things and experience things outside of their norm. For instance, she told us about a class skiing trip to New England, where the kids experienced snow for the first time. Abby said she tries to do big trips like this every couple of years, funded entirely by money the students raise through various fundraisers.

     Each of us took a few minutes to talk about the milestones in our lives that defined our passions and guided our life paths. We all came from different circumstances and so we tried to show the students that, no matter what your situation or interests, you can find your passion and figure out a way to realize your dreams. The kids seemed very interested in our stories and Duke University! It is very likely that Duke will see several applications from Abby’s School in the years to come!

     After talking to the students, we said farewell, though we would have loved to stay and talk to the kids because they were so much fun! A crew took Ballena Blanca and ventured to the town for some shopping and sightseeing, while the Tortuga Verde group went for one last snorkel. Those of us snorkeling drove to Flamenco beach and walked a trail that led to Tamarindo beach, just south of Carlos Rosario where we snorkeled for Hawksbills on Tuesday.  We failed to find turtles during our snorkel, but we saw many beautiful reef fishes, corals, sea fans, and rays (even one eating!).

     We returned, washed up and set off for dinner at the Dinghy Dock. After dinner, we returned to base for some extreme cleaning and packing in preparation for our 4:30am departure the next morning. A small group of us, who were in denial about the high level of fatigue we were experiencing, then traveled back to Zoni beach to find Leatherbacks, but were only able to last until midnight. Something tells me a turtle was lurking in the water, waiting for us to leave before coming to shore to nest…but we all agreed it’s best not to know if a turtle came that night, because we’d rather not know if we missed her! Though we saw no Leatherbacks on this journey, we saw Hawksbills and Greens, did a lot of really cool fieldwork and experienced the beauty of the Caribbean, which made the trip spectacular!