With the once in a lifetime baby turtle experience fresh in our minds, and the departure of most guests from that first night, we all felt as if we’d made the right decision to journey onward to Surfing Turtle Lodge. That morning was peaceful and quiet, as only a few other guests remained for our second night. It was the type of morning that called for 3 or 4 cups of coffee, while watching the sun rise higher and higher, and listening to the waves crash over and over.
By late morning, Atti and I decided to make the 2km trek down the beach and into the little town of Las Penitas. The hot sand burned our feet, but the beauty of the coast kept us distracted. Although beautiful, we were shocked to find plastic bottle after plastic, plastic bag after plastic bag and bottle cap after bottle cap scattered across the endless stretch of beach as we neared the river mouth and into town. We attempted to gather as many bottles as possible, with only our bare hands, but it only became more and more overwhelming. We recycled what we could in one trip into town and sat down at a small restaurant to escape the midday heat. Over fresh pineapple juice, Atti and I decided we’d gather Ilene and run an impromptu beach cleanup once we returned to Surfing Turtle. Atti grabbed some chicken, papas fritas and cotton candy from a local food truck on the beach. $3. We reminisced a bit about our last 2 weeks traveling together as new friends and the countries capable of a rendezvous in the future.
An hour passed and we were ready to make the hike back to Surfing Turtle. The tide was growing and I lead the way through waist-high water where the river meets the ocean waves. Wet and dehydrated, we returned to our beachside oasis and waited for the sun to dip lower. The 3 of us asked around for a couple large trash bags and began our self-run beach cleanup. I took the route near the vegetation line and Ilene/Atti took the evening tide line. Bottle after bottle, bag after bag, we again become overwhelmed in a hurry. Only 30 minutes into our quest to save the beach, our bags were overflowing.
Ilene emptied them to spell out the word “PLASTIC” in the sand. I counted 100 and some odd plastic bottles and we repacked everything. Atti and I slung the bags over our shoulders like Santa Claus prepared for a fresh delivery.
Upon our arrival, back at Surfing Turtle, the workers looked at us in amazement as we handed over the bags. One of the guys called for a free round of drinks as a thank you for our volunteering efforts. We accepted and enjoyed a cold one as the sky turned yellow to orange to pink.
In that moment, looking into the endless Pacific, I felt discouraged, yet accomplished. Discouraged, because that day was just a small-scale glimpse into the incredibly massive problem of global ocean trash. Accomplished, because we made the impact we were capable of in that moment. I also felt more and more motivated to organize larger efforts throughout our travels. Although thousands of plastic bottles were left untouched, we discovered a problem and hope to inspire others to make a difference in that region and around the world.
I wish everyone on this earth could experience, for just one moment, what we saw and felt that day. People will always have their judgements, their opinions. But no one can truly argue physical proof in a firsthand encounter. People will also tend to stay in the comfort of ignorance, whether or not they truly have a choice. Our hope is that, by sharing our REAL experiences, we might coerce you into accepting the environmental issues that our planet faces, and do whatever it is that you can to make an impact. If you can travel, go somewhere more remote. Somewhere off the touristic path. See and experience how other people live. Feel what nature has to offer. Understand how important its health is for our own survival. Do something that makes you uncomfortable, and bring home lessons and new knowledge into your daily life. It doesn’t matter how minute or grand your effort is. A single person can’t fix everything we face. Millions of people making small changes simultaneously will prove to be the most powerful method of all.