Arica is the most northern beach town in Chile. We arrived there at the end of a week driving through the (never ending) desert. We were anxious to swim, relax and enjoy the Pacific. Our last surf session was in northern Peru and the temperature of the water had cooled significantly since then. We realized this was probably our last chance to surf for a while so we drove until we found a nice little break. As we parked the van we noticed a Tortuga Reserva sign on the beach. This was a little strange because it was obviously a public beach, surrounded by sunbathers and a busy boardwalk. We could see someone snorkeling and a few kayakers in the water but we didn’t want to intrude on a reserve.
There was a tent set up close by, so we went over to figure out the situation. As we approached, we noticed three men in the water carrying something in a red blanket. In the shallow water, they were struggling to lift up the heavy load. Robbie waded out to offer help and ended up hauling an enormous green sea turtle!
It turned out the area was one of a few on the coast where the turtles came that close to shore. The Tortumar Chile organization, with funding from the regional government, were investigating why the turtles populated the area. They were gathering information like the weight, size and patterns of the turtles before they tagged and released them. We were allowed to watch for a while and almost forgot about surfing until we saw someone else in the water. We were told it was fine to surf there, the turtles could see us in the clear water and if it was cloudy they would lift their heads to look around.
We eagerly got in the water, watching for the occasional head or flipper pop up. Paddling out, I looked over at Robbie and saw three curious turtles around him. The waves weren’t great, we spent most of our time waiting for a good break but we didn’t need the usual dose of patience. We sat out on our boards, watching the turtles swim by and the pelicans flying over our heads searching for their next meal. We only caught a couple waves each and were pretty cold by the time we got out of the water but it was the best farewell from the Pacific we could have asked for!