Staying right at Sukamade beach had one clear advantage: We could tag along to the release of hatchlings in the morning! It would be an early start at 6am but well worth it. A few words to the turtle saving program at Sukamade first though. The beach is, for some reason, the preferred beach for laying eggs for green turtles and leatherback turtles. No one really knows why as there are similar beaches around but it is how it is. Currently, Sukamade is part of the Meru Betiri National Park and a turtle saving program has been running since 1988. Turtles will come on land to lay eggs, burrow them and then go back into the ocean, leaving vulnerable eggs on the beach. Those eggs are threatened by natural predators such as wild boars, crabs and even ants but maybe even more so from poachers. To help keep turtles numbers up, the rangers dig up the eggs, burrow them in their own hatchery and release the hatched turtles back into the ocean.
Since 2005, all adult turtles coming on land to lay eggs are checked and tagged. Flo and I were lucky enough to see a green turtle last night as it was checking out the beach, probably to lay eggs later.
This was the part I was very much looking forward. So in the morning, I got to carry the bucket full of tiny turtles to the beach. Flo and I were the only people staying that night so the honour of releasing was all ours. The beach looked beautiful in the morning! The ranger drew a line in the sand where we should put the turtles and then we started to put one after the other onto the sand. Most were heading straight into the water like little racing cars. Some took their time and one even wandered off into a completely different direction. The ranger thought that it might be good for the turtles to walk on the beach for a while before reaching the water to help imprint the location on their memory so they will find back in 20 to 50 years when they are fully grown and starting to procreate. Out of the more than ten little turtles we released, all of them made it into the water.*
After this amazing start, we got to see the hatchery where three little turtles had hatched that night. The ranger was quite concerned about the numbers this year: For two months now, turtles return to the beach to lay eggs but so far, only 700 eggs have been found compared to 2000 eggs last year in the same time span. It is unclear what caused the drop on numbers. Maybe, there are so few turtles left. Maybe, the weird weather patterns due to El Nino are delaying the turtles. Rainy season should have started in October here but still rain is a rare sight.
All of it made me sad because those turtles are awesome so we donated some money to the cause. An added worry for the rangers is the discovery of valuable resources within the boundaries of the national park. They might loose their status so that the resources can be exploited, mainly open-face gold mining. Meru Betiri is also a refuge for the Java tiger but it is a loose-loose situation if you report their numbers or not. If you report the number of tigers, hunters get encourage to try shot a tiger here. If you are silent about the numbers, it is that much more likely that the status as a national park is lost.
Later I was confronted with the clear downside of having stayed in Sukamade … my bed obviously had bed bugs and I was covered in bites from head to toe. Luckily, they weren’t too itchy yet but (spoiler) they were after a whole day in full gear.
Having had an awesome morning, we now needed to get back to Rocinante. No truck would be passing today as they only come to Sukamade if there are goods to carry and they don’t come to the camp unless arranged for. So our only other option was to hire ojeks. Ojeks means hitching a ride on the back of one of the local motorbikes. To be able to do this, we needed three; one for me, one for Flo and one for our luggage. The ride was way smoother than the truck last night but still no comparison to our own bike.
Back at the bike, our ojek riders were amazed at the sheer size of our bike. They were lovely to talk to and one of them even dared to it on Rocinante, both feet dangling off the ground.
Leaving the national park we saw the first couple on a bike here in Indonesian who also used aluminium paniers to transport luggage. This moment had to be eternalized in a picture as both of them were very happy we had stopped to chat.
From here, we wanted to go to Bromo, a volcano to you can hike up. Unfortunately, the easiest access is from the north and we just left the south coast. So it was quite a ride ahead of us. Crossing from coast to coast was a lovely forested, windy road…jammed by cars and trucks. One of the bus drivers was insane in his overtaking and at one time nearly pushed a truck off the road as he squeezed his bus back into the line where there was no space for it. Flo and I sighed in relief when we were able to leave him behind us. Our first taste of India right there, huh?
Traffic didn’t get much lighter though, especially when the GPS lead us straight through the city of Jember. The sky overhead had taken on a dark colour and it looked like rain. In fact, shortly before 2pm, we stopped to pack some of our gear into waterproof bags just in case it will pour down as it looked like. The stop turned into a water and biscuit stop at which time, a door behind us opened and the guy living here and having his second hand car dealership here invited us in for a coffee. This is how we met Viqy and had a lovely one hour break. It was a very good time for a break as there was an hour of downpour before the sky cleared up again. Thank you Viqy for the hospitality, all the best.
At 3pm, we continued on our way but only made it to Probolinggo, a coastal town in the north, instead of the mountain. This turned out to be a blessing in the end. We were both knackered from weaving through the traffic plus I was near whimpering because of my bites. Once we found our hotel at the edge of town (once again with some assistance given by a lovely family on their motorbike), I just needed a cold shower very badly to pacify my aching and swollen ankles and elbows. Those blood sucking bastards have concentrated on my hands, feet, forearms and lower legs which are the parts that rub the most in my gear so it all irritated the bites for a whole day…ouch.
*At least that is what I tell myself. A diminutive turtle had trouble really getting into the water as the waves always carried it back onto sand and the turtle who wandered off only waddled into the direction of the water when we left.