There have been times over the past eight months where I find myself walking somewhere, sitting somewhere, driving somewhere, or doing something, and I can’t help but smile. I smile at nobody in particular. I smile at the crazy beautiful sights and sounds around me. I smile in disbelief at the circumstance I find myself in. After eight months of doing this, I still experience moments of disbelief–and they come in the most surprising moments: Listening to the sounds of calling birds as I hike through a forest; riding a bullet train past snow-capped mountains; sitting in an auditorium as I wait for a show to begin. Every moment of every day is fantastical; it’s just that sometimes time stops, and the ludicrous nature of the moment fully hits me.
The most recent moment came on the drive to Gladstone. I was admiring the blue sky, the rolling green hills on the horizon, and the trees that lined both sides of the road as Trevor and I drove through the countryside. We hadn’t seen a car in close to an hour. It was bliss. It was perfect. It was a reason to smile. I was in my own little world.
And then we hit traffic.
There were a half a dozen cows hanging out in the middle of the road.
I burst out laughing. A perfect moment made even better.
The rest of the drive was nice and quiet, but those cows stayed with me the rest of the way, and I couldn’t help but smile.
We eventually arrived at Gladstone and boarded the ferry to Heron Island, which is right on the Great Barrier Reef. It was a two hour ride to the island, so I figured I’d make a friend. Erin and I got to talking (in Spanish, even!), and the time flew by. We’d made it to Paradise.
Danielle–Kilimanjaro Danielle–had suggested Heron Island when I asked for recommendations in Australia. When I looked into it, I decided the island would be my birthday treat to myself. I just wanted to see some freakin’ sea turtles so badly.
Trevor and I had three nights booked. The afternoon was already well underway by the time we unpacked, so we just went for a stroll along the beach to orient ourselves around the island. (Not that there was much to orient ourselves around. It’s a pretty small island. You can walk the circumference of the whole thing in probably 20-25 minutes.)
We also figured we might be able to spot a few hatchlings. At orientation, they had told us that the hatchlings wait until the sun starts to set before they head for the water. That way the sand has cooled down.
Right away, we spotted a woman who was looking awfully carefully at something in the sand. We approached her and realized that she was watching a tiny little turtle hatchling trying to traverse the sandy beach and make its way to the water. Unfortunately, it had a difficult journey ahead. There were many rocks to climb. Not that they were particularly large rocks; but I’m sure to that poor little guy, they must have seemed like massive hills. I think their flippers must have super glue on them or something, because those guys practically leap over those rocks.
He got stuck after a bit, and I really wanted to pick him up, but we had been advised not to–partly because they carry some really bad bacteria, but also because by doing so, we might mess up their inner compass. This whole process helps them to orient themselves so that thirty years from now, they can return to this very island and lay eggs of their own.
A walking tour passed by just then. It was a hatchling walk. They were on the lookout for hatchlings as well. It was too difficult watching this little guy struggle without being able to do anything to help him, so I joined the walking group. We quickly found another turtle that had a clear path straight to the water. He was going to make it! We’d been told that only one in a thousand hatchlings actually survive, so this was exciting!
When he dove into the water, we all screamed with excitement!
Then a bunch of seagulls spotted the turtle. The guide tried to shoo them away, but alas, one of them managed to scoop up our little friend. My heart broke. It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. I hate seagulls so much. Vile creatures.
I mentioned to the guide that I’d seen another turtle nearby, so we went back to the rocks where I’d seen the first one. He was still trying to climb Mount Everest.
Then he did something stupid. He went into a hole in the rocks. Crabs live in that hole. Needless to say, our friend never came back out.
I was depressed! I didn’t want to see anymore suffering! I wanted a happy ending! Why must the world be so cruel?!
Trevor and I left the group and continued walking along the beach on our own. We eventually found a couple we had briefly talked to earlier; they were following another hatchling along its journey. In fact, there were two hatchlings!
They both made it! For whatever reason, all the birds seemed to be congregating further down the beach where we had just been. This area was completely clear of birds.
It was so adorable to see their tiny little heads pop up out of the water after they got in. My day was made.
Later that night, we headed out for a turtle walk. The fully matured female turtles return to the island at night to dig a hole in the sand and lay their eggs. It’s a very tiresome process for them. Our guide, Melissa, found one pretty quickly, thanks to the turtle’s tracks coming out of the water. The turtles crawl their way over the sand dunes and start digging with their massive flippers. We could just barely make out the sand flying in the shadows. It was tricky to see because it was so dark and because of the branches in the way.
Melissa mentioned that sometimes little hatchlings end up getting inadvertently flung with the sand as the turtles are digging. As she said that, I suddenly noticed a swarm of hatchlings crawling down the sand dune. It was like an army of ants! A couple of them bumped into or brushed past my foot and I got all giddy.
Then a father motioned for his son to go closer to the water. I overheard him say he saw some sting rays. I went over and sure enough, you could see shadows of the little buggers swimming to and fro. Some water would splash every time they gobbled up another hatchling.
Melissa also said that she had seen the female turtles take anywhere from one to five hours digging their holes and laying their eggs. Unfortunately, Trevor and I only had 20 minutes until our dinner reservation. Nonetheless, it was a pretty action-packed afternoon. I couldn’t wait for the next day.