Monthly Archives: May 2016

Bali Beach turtle rescue

It is late afternoon in Bali. World-famous Kuta beach resembles an overcrowded anthill: a messy mix of surfers, retired Australians with big bellies enjoying their Bintang beers on plastic chairs, partying youngsters and Balinese either socializing in the sand or selling all imaginable types of products. Some also offer up drinks from improvised mini beach bars as well as mobile Rasta style hair braiding services or massages.

The muggy and stifling heat of an average tropical day at the end of the dry season is finally easing up. Palm trees along the narrow beach promenade mercifully stretch out their long leaves to shelter the gathering onlookers who await the dramatic sunsets of Bali’s Southern Coast.

The Balinese Sea Turtle Initiative

In between all the hustle and bustle, a giant turtle raises its head and commands attention. It belongs to the Kuta Beach Sea Turtle Center, an initiative created by Balinese Mr. Agung and his wife Wayan in 2001 as a safe haven for sea turtle eggs, which are being laid on Kuta beach by the thousands each year. The programm’s goal lies in protecting the tortoises’ eggs from threats in their original nesting locations such as high tide, tourist traffic, feral dogs or irresponsible human behavior. In a safe and sheltered environment, hatching rates are increased.

It’s the first time for me to help in a Sea turtle program, and even though I have worked with animals of a much bigger size before, I feel quite excited and a tiny bit nervous. More than forty or even fifty people linger around the oval, sand filled open-air container that harbors the now hatched eggs and the incredibly cute baby sea turtles that left their shells just the night before and crawl around for the first time in their short lives. Agitated and expectant sounding fragments of Malaysian, Indonesian, English, French and Italian around me fuse into a motley hotchpotch while we wait for Mr. Agung to give us instructions. Meanwhile, some trained volunteers carefully transport the sea turtles from their container to the point of the first encounter between the baby sea turtles and us international volunteer – bundles of excitement.

Mr. Agung is, even at first sight and before commencing his speech, a joyous force to be reckoned with. Bursting with energy, the founder of the Kuta Beach Sea Turtle Program addresses the curious multicultural crowd with an incredibly infectious enthusiasm that makes you feel in your bones how deeply he cares about the cause. While connecting with us volunteers for the day with a smile that seems as warm as an honest embrace, he tells us all about releasing the baby sea turtles back into the ocean and reveals some insightful facts about the conservation project.

How to be a Turtle Ranger aka almost a Ninja Turtle

The work of the long-term volunteers consists in morphing into heroic Turtle Rangers who patrol the beach all night long on the lookout for mother sea turtles that come out of the ocean to lay their eggs. They then go on to protect the mother turtle during the nesting process. Once she is finished laying the eggs and safely back in the ocean, the task concludes with the eggs’ relocation from the beach to the hatchery at Kuta. Subsequently it’s time to wait 45 to 60 days for the baby sea turtles to develop and hatch. Once they come out,  it’s all about being quick, as the sea turtles should be returned to their natural habitat as soon as possible, ergo the day after their nightly hatching.

Mr. Agung tells us that their survival rate without help, with the eggs remaining at often chaotic Kuta beach, would be just 1 in 3000- not very convincing odds and a huge driving force for the Sea Turtle program to work relentlessly towards bettering the baby sea turtles chances. General survival rates for hatchlings, baby sea turtles venturing to the ocean for the first time, are just 1 in 1000. After getting instructed in how to release the turtle into the Indian Ocean and encouraged to give “our” little tortoise a name, the excitement continues.

Tending to turtles or to let go and trust the flow

My little turtle friend is handed to me in a small plastic container with a bit of water, and I need to keep a hand on top so it does not escape. I try to keep steady as I don’t want baby Grace to feel like in a rollercoaster and get motion-sick. I am hoping a name like the one I chose could slightly increase her chances to make it in the unpredictable environment of the gigantic Indian Ocean.

Once the huge crowd of volunteers is safely at the shoreline, Mr. Agung gives us the sign: “Lower them down now!”, he shouts out excitedly and in a voice of determination against the backdrop of the crushing waves. I gently lower the plastic container and let Grace courageously crawl onto the beach. She seems a little unsure at first, but then her instincts lead her into the wide open waters of the Ocean. We all cheer the baby turtles on with everything we got and watch them getting closer and closer to the sea, incredibly tiny against the vastness of it all, until they are absorbed by the waters, bravely defying the huge waves.

It might not be the final goodbye I fear it to be, as astonishingly the sea turtles that make it tend to return to the exact same beach where they were born, guided by the Earth’s magnetic field. According to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, most female turtles come back faithfully to the same beach each time they are ready to nest. Not only do they appear on the same beach, they often emerge within a few hundred yards of where they last nested. Grace, I don’t know to 100% if you are female, but I certainly hope so…Catch you later, sweet turtle friend, may we meet again, I whisper with an almost mother like feeling as I watch the sun set in all its splendor over Kuta beach.

Practical information:

  • Facts concerning the Balinese Sea Turtle release: Between 2012 and 2013 there were more than 50,000 eggs safely relocated to the hatchery, and around 80% of these were successfully hatched and released to the ocean.
  • Sea Turtle nesting season on Kuta Beach is from March to September each year.
  • Sea turtle hatching season is from April to October each year.
  • Nesting dates are an estimation only and the baby turtles will hatch naturally when they are ready.Early and late in the season the frequency of baby sea turtle release will vary.

For more information on the Balinese initiative and to contact the centre directly:

For more information on Sea turtles and their protection in general:

What can YOU do to help and protect sea turtles?

Check out defenders.org suggestions:

5thingstosaveseaturtles

Categories: Posts in English, Reiselust- Hungry for travel, Reisen | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A monkey kind of day in Gibraltar

It must be a special kind of place if over 30.000 people of many different religions live around and on a massive Rock that once upon a time, in antiquity and Greek mythology, was thought off as the End of the World and the Portal to Hades, the underworld.

We know better nowadays than to mistake this intriguing melting pot at the tip of the Spanish peninsula and just 14km off the Moroccan coast for the last inhabited place of mankind. Instead, and despite its rather tiny size of 6.7 km2 (2.6 sq mi) it is nowadays known for being a great tourist destination, one of the most densely populated territories in the world and a much fought over geographical hot spot, claimed by Britain as well as Spain.

For me as a half Spaniard, it was a very unusual experience to “travel” the few metres that separate the British Overseas territory from the Spanish town la Linea de la Concepcion, passing a border control with slightly angry seeming Spanish frontier policemen and suddenly being emerged in a completely different world.

A journey to a distinct world of its own – British and then some

I didn’t expect it but Gibraltar truly turned out to be an absolutely contrasting place to Andalusia, the Southern Spanish autonomous community surrounding it. A town with its own character, architecture, a very unique vibe and interesting population. I also got to experience the worst food  and the best macaque shot I ever had…more on that later! Our adventure started with my friends and me hopping on the bus that conveniently stopped just off the entry point and brought us to the City Centre. Wherever I gazed upon: everything was suddenly labelled in English, and even the postboxes, yellow in Spain, denoted their British and in this case red identity.

When we got off the bus we were greeted by some canons pointing at us – well, not directly at us of course, but they were definitely showing off! Canons and other war memorabilia turned out to be an inherent part of the Gibraltarean cityscape – no wonder considering the role wars played in Gibraltar’s history.

Just to get a tiny insight: The origins of Gibraltar as we know it today lead back to 1704, when an Anglo-Dutch force captured Gibraltar from Spain during the War of the Spanish Succession (little side – note for the History geeks: this happened on behalf of the Habsburg pretender to the Spanish throne). The Spaniards did not realize in time how crucial Gibraltar’s extremely well positioned geographical location was to their interests and subsequently ceded Gibraltar to Britain “in perpetuity” under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Furthermore, it served as an important base for the Royal Navy during World War II. Got it? Awesome, let’s continue our little tale then.

The potato crime or what happened to glorious backed potatoes

Once we had walked around the picturesque historic centre of Gibraltar, admiring its unique architecture, statues and variety of churches – you can find everything from the Church of Scotland to Synagoges and mosques there- , we figured it would be interesting to try out some Gibraltarean food. It stands to reason that therefore we chose to eat in a British Pub close to the main square. Oh boy…I can just say these words: not -so – yum-at-freaking-all! Not knowing what a typical Gibraltarean food experience would be like, I helplessly ended up ordering a jacked potato. Little did I know then that it would be the completely massacred, tortured and unrecognizable potato cousin from hell, basically the black sheep sibling of my beloved good old yummy potato deliciousness! I actually still don’t know what that poor potato had done to deserve such a ferocious treatment. Managing to stuff a part of it in my mouth and to almost mask my absolute terror we then decided to flee the place of kitchen crime and find some solace in Gibraltar’s absolutely stunning Botanical Gardens. The beauty of its myriad of plants, cacti, and subtropical flowers flourishing in Gibraltar’s warm mediterranean climate immediately softened the potato blow.

The Rock of Gibraltar

To the back of the Gardens, the majestic Rock of Gibraltar overlooks the Mediterranean ocean and beckoned us insistently to find out its secrets. Luckily we found a smokey voiced earth mother – taxi driver willing to show us what was still accessible of the Rock on a Friday at almost sunset – and so the adventure mix of nearly peeing my pants on the one hand and sheer fascination and awe on the other hand began.

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The famous Rock of Gibraltar

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Pillars of Hercules, Rock of Gibraltar

While the long haired, intimitadingly assertive Gibraltarean women told us all about her hometown with her gin coloured Jazz voice, she drove in a slightly disconcerting speed up the Rock, with its narrow, naw rather super extremely narrow roads, and absolutely no freaking gate to protect a possible slight swerve ! I did not know what to focus on: the awe-inspiring beauty of the mediterranean ship and the closeness of Morocco, which seemed to challenge me  to take a dip and swim across, as the Mediterranean sea is only 13 kilometres/ eight miles wide at this point.  Or the at least in my mind very realistic option of an untimely death in this Gibraltarean’s possibly chain smoker’s car…At two points though we could luckily catch a break. At first, we stopped at the ‘Pilares de Hercules’, Pillars of Hercules, a monument describing how the Strait of Gibraltar was seen and called in antiquity. From there you can enjoy a mind-blowing panorama view of the narrow strait that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and separates Europe from Africa. There is no other place where the two continents are that close! Even swimming the 14 km might be an option for some, or alternatively crossing over by pedaling on a giant manmade sea bike, such as Australian comedians Hamish Blake and Andy Lee attempted.

Hanging out with Europe’s only wild monkey population

We decided not to venture on to Africa this time, but to continue in our speedy taxi and visit the world famous Gibraltarean macaques, one of Gibraltar’s strongest allures, as it is home to the last free-range population of monkeys in Europe! Lucky for us, we had the top of the Rock, located in the protected Upper Nature Reserve, where the monkeys usually hang out, almost exclusively to ourselves.

The monkeys around us were very curious and absolutely unapologetic: they climbed on our taxi, jumped up and down and did all the things monkeys love to do, aka monkey mischief was the go! However, we did also find a very thoughtful seeming monkey doing its evening meditation overlooking the ocean…so no prejudices! Our guide managed to get an absolutely brilliant shot with one of these macaques:

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No, the Barbary macaque did not take a Selfie with its foot for Facebook. Otherwise she/ he would probably have smiled more.

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One of about 230 Barbery macaques that call the Rock of Gibraltar their home. This one was quite pensive- probably doing her/ his sunset meditation.

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Cheeky monkey checking out our taxi.

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Actor Jason Biggs did probably not read this.

Afterwards, she introduced us a bit more to them: there are approximately about 230 Barbary macaques on the rock, and they hold quite the significance for the place. As the legend goes, Gibraltar stays British as long as there are macaques on the Rock! When numbers seemed to diminish during World War II, Winston Churchill grew so concerned with the legend that he even imported more of the monkeys from the Atlas mountains in Morocco. Powerful little ones! So show some respect when you visit them- also as bites do happen. I mean, how would you react if your home got invaded daily by a hord of unknown nosy guests? Read more on how a Tampon could cause an attack by the monkeys on American Pie actor Jason Biggs ( common, it wasn’t even an apple pie!) or how the guitarist of the Rolling Stones tried to bond with the Barbary macaques over some LSD in the olden days and ended up in tears and completely distraught by their disapproval in the Guardian’s article on Gibraltar.

Just while the sun was setting it was time for us to leave the Rock and Gibraltar, including its peculiar airport strip, one of the most dangerous in the world, its peacefully co habiting mix of Christians, Moslems, Jews, and believers of other faiths, its distincly British and then some identity and its many more surprises to be discovered. We will be back though, you amazing Rock City!

What about you, have you ever been to Gibraltar? What are your favourite things to experience there? Share below if you like and thanks for reading!

 

Categories: Posts in English, Reisen | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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