Day 4 |
Sep 20, 2008

Mazatlan, Mexico

By Juan José Apéstegui, General Naturalist

Position: 23° 11.8’ N 106° 24.7’ W

Weather: Hot day, partly overcast in the morning, clear in the afternoon.

It was an overcast and humid morning, as is usual in the tropics during this time of the year, when we came alongside at the pier in Mazatlan. We gained an extra hour of sleep last night since we went to a different time zone between Puerto Vallarta and our present destination.

Around 0730 we heard Suzana, our Expedition Leader over the PA system, giving a wake-up call in preparation for the day’s activities. The group that chose to join the excursion of the day departed at 0800 sharp. This involved going on a special trolley from the ship to the terminal, as we were moored a little far away in a very busy port. Mazatlan is one of the most important ports in Mexico, and the traffic of containers in the port attested to that.

We took a short bus ride of about 30 minutes to the Estrella de Mar resort, which, besides being the site of a modern golf course, also sponsors the Sea Turtle camp within its property. This camp is dedicated to the protection of the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) and has 3.5 miles of beach habitat where they come to lay their eggs every year. In a natural situation, this species will come to the beach in huge groups (arribadas) to lay eggs on the beach. Each female turtle can lay eggs between four and six times a year in the beach where it was born. But with the development of the beaches, this has become a smaller event as their habitat is encroached upon by humanity, thus the importance of projects like the Sea Turtle Camp.

We were greeted by the person in charge of the program, Marine Biologist Eréndira Gonzalez Diego, who explained the workings of the program. The turtle eggs are dug up from the nest where the mother laid them and kept in an incubating area within the protected zone. The decision to keep the eggs in a protected area justifies itself because the local people invade the beach and plunder the nests for the pregnant females and the eggs. It takes about 45 days for the hatchlings to come out of the eggs, and then they are kept for a short while in order to give them a better chance at survival before releasing them.

Eréndira puts them in a box and takes them to the beach, putting them in the sand in order that they get imprinted on their native beach, which they will recognize when they themselves reach the adult age and come to spawn. Often the children of the local schools take part in this ceremony. Each child takes a baby tortoise in his/her hands to say goodbye and releases it on the beach, and this is exactly what we were allowed to do.

The success of the program is proven by the numbers: in 1998 when it was started there were around 7,300 baby turtles released, by 2007 that number had climbed to 12,8000.

After this we had some refreshments followed by a presentation of the Papantla flyers. Theirs is a ritualistic dance originally performed by the Totonac Indians. Five men, each representing the five elements of the indigenous world, climb atop a pole, one of them stays on the pole playing a flute and dancing while the remaining four descend the pole with a rope tied by one of their feet. The rope unwraps itself 13 times for each of the four flyers, symbolizing the 52 weeks of the year. This dance is thought to be the vestige of a pre-Hispanic 'volador' (flyer) ritual common not only in ancient Veracruz but in western Mexico as well.

After this, we went back to historic Mazatlan for a typical shrimp lunch and a short walk around the old part of town with its buildings built in the Neocolonial Tropical style, including the historical center, the Plaza Machado and the Angela Peralta theater, named after a famous Mexican diva, known as the ‘Nightingale of Mexico’ who died tragically at the end of the nineteen century. In 1992, the theater was restored to its former glory. We also looked at the market and the cathedral as we were leaving on the bus to go back to the Prince Albert II.