In 1835 Charles Darwin arrived on the Galapagos Islands. 179 years later it was my turn to step foot on land. Unfortunately I did not came up with a new evolutionary theory, but I did do my contribution to “The Enchanted Islands” by a nice 10 days of volunteering at Hacienda Tranquila on the island of San Cristobal. I have coordinated my group of volunteers, helped in the farm and looked for new volunteer projects for the Yanapuma Foundation.
The remaining 12 days of my 3 weeks in Galapagos, I did some island hopping on the archipelago. Again, unfortunately, not aboard of the legendary Beagle (Darwin’s ship) but with typical lanchas (boats), good for $25 per ride: a cheap and sustainable way to visit these unique and expensive places… Here follows a story of my first 10 days at Hacienda Tranquila…
My last blog post ended up with leaving the community of Tsachila, somewhere deep in the jungle of Ecuador… We (me and my group) travelled back to Quito for two hectic nights before heading to the airport to catch our flight from Quito to San Cristobal via Guayaquil. After a crazy bus ride that took us from 750 meters of altitude back to 2850 meters of altitude in Quito, we had an orientation about Galapagos in the Yanapuma office, did our laundry, went to the hairdresser, bought groceries and I made my reports for work and school. Next day was time to do the online pre-registrations and check-ins for Galapagos, put my pictures of Tsachila online, meet my host family, celebrate Semana Santa, pick the laundry up, write my blog and switch my luggage. As if that was not hectic and busy enough, we all had to wake up at 5AM on Saturday to catch our flight…
Saturday the 19th of April we arrived on the island of San Cristobal, the aerial views from the plane were very impressive and promising. We couldn’t wait to get out of the airport (after paying our $100 National Park entrance fee) to get to explore the surrounding area. We were picked up in a pick-up truck, bought food and left to Hacienda Tranquila, in the higher area of the island. There we would start volunteering Monday.
As it was weekend, we could start our experience with some exploring and relaxing…. Therefor, we decided to leave for a good welcome party night in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (capital city) at night, after installing ourselves and our stuff in the Hacienda. We enjoyed some Piña Colada and Caña (local strong liquor) and enjoyed clubbing in ‘Discoteca La Isla’, where the islanders welcomed us warmly (and hot) for some sweet bachata, salsa and merengue dancing. At a surprisingly decent hour we left for the Hacienda, tired as we were from the long day traveling and adapting to this new environment and climate.
Sunday we had our first breakfast together on the pick-nick table outstide after a long night of sleep. In the afternoon we left for La Loberia, a popular beach in San Cristobal were you can swim and tan with and near the sealions. The road to the beach itself is like one public zoo (entrance is free) where you can encounter sea iguanas, lizzards, crabs, birds and sea lions, lots of ‘happy’ sea lions…
We went for our first swim in the Pacific Ocean, regret that we didn’t take snorkel gear and enjoyed tanning on the beach.
Of course, tourists as we were, we all took some pictures with the sealions in front of us. Nice to have such a sweet memory, though…
After enjoying some tanning (and first sunburning, yep, the UV is strong near the Equator), we enjoyed the sunset and head back to the Hacienda.
As we didn’t feel like cooking – after all it was a little bit of holiday today – we took a taxi to town, had dinner in a restaurant, walked on the Malecon (strip/peer) and spotted some more sea lions chilling there. Late at night we finally went to bed. It had been a beautiful Sun-day and life was beautiful! The only thing I didn’t really like was sleeping in a dorm (room of 5 beds) and having to share a bathroom with 20 other volunteers… Lack of privacy 😉
Monday at 8.15AM we had our first meeting with Giovanny, the dueño (big boss) of the Hacienda (farm). A little bit later we started our first day of work, full of fresh energy and motivation! We worked in the hot sun until lunch time, clearing an area nearby where they would construct a nursery to cultivate more vegetables for the local communities. Just before lunch time, I had to go to the hospital with one of my group members… Food infection… Bahhhh 😦
In the afternoon, we had another thing to do… Cleaning a house and its ‘lush’ garden nearby. We splitted up the group in 2: one for the garden, one for the house. Around 4PM we finally finished our day of work, longing for a refreshing shower. We went to the supermarket and I decided to cook some Cocos Curry with Rice for the girls (the boys cooked seperately). Jummie! But, one of the girls cut her finger very badly in the kitchen and so I had another visit to the hospital late at night. What a day, what a day… Fortunately, it was not that bad and she is still alive! 😉
Around 10PM I went to bed exhausted from the work, cooking and hospital visits. Apparently, I was already snoring when the others entered the room later at night. Good sleep I had there! At 6.30AM I was alive and kicking again, so I decided to help the locals with milking the cow. Oh my god, I’m really getting a peasant woman here!!
Another day of work was planned, using the machete until I got blisters from cutting invasive species to restore natural habitats for the local species of flora and fauna. Small detail: we were controling the Guayaba plant today.
After lunch I went to the airport to pick up another group member / volunteer, and immediately I put him to work in the farm. Luckily for him (and me) the work was some more relaxing this afternoon as we were just peeling coffee beans to prepare them for roasting.
Around 4PM we finished work and took a taxi into town to go to the internet cafe, because of course, there was no WiFi at our volunteer spot. Small detail: with town I mean Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, which is not only the capital of San Cristobal but of the whole Galapagos Islands, but it doesn’t feel like a capital at all. A taxi to town took us around 20 minutes and costs $5, which we could divide by the number of passengers in the car (or in the back of the car).
We had dinner in the Mockingbird Cafe and went back to the Hacienda for a movie night. We watched a documentary about Ecuadorian social problems, and went to bed on time because at 7AM we had to be ready again to make pizza dough and milk the cows. It is actually a nice thing to cultivate your own food here: we use milk from the cows, fruits/herbs/vegetables from the garden, eggs from the chickens and so on. We make our own coffee and sometimes they even make cheese here!
Apart from that is our work, that started as always at 8.30AM. Wednesday we had to walk about 20 minutes to a jungle place where we collected leafs and earth to use as compost for the nursery we were constructing. We had use rakes to collect the material and carry all the bags of compost to the farm. It was a pretty hard work to do, as it was hot and humid in this part of the island.
You cannot imagine how happy we were to be back in the farm, because it was Wednesday and that means pizza day! The farm has a stone oven and so we prepared our dough and put all the toppings we wanted on our pizzas and baked our own freshly created designs…
It tasting amazing, probably because we had putted so much effort in it. You get to appreciate things way more when you realize how much effort they demand. And it is so much rewarding when you do things yourself. So, to all of you out there: move your lazy buts and start to make your own healthy pizzas at home to! 😉
After that delicious lunch, there was a good atmosphere between the volunteers. In the Hacienda it was not only my group but also other individual volunteers from France, Germany, Australia, United States, … We started to do the cleaning of the farm, which included kitchen, bathroom, dorms and so on, while others painted the house we cleaned the other day and some others roasted the coffee.
As every day, we stopped working around 4PM and chilled a little bit. I did a nap in the hammock, even though I felt quite a bit restless being with so many people in the same place all the time, sharing all the facilities and having not one place of privacy. At such moments I missed the jungle, where I had my own cabaña (wooden house) and even though there were no doors or windows in it, at least I had that private room to chill for a while. Maybe I was just a bit homesick, cold turkey from the jungle life?!
At the same time, I was excited to leave the Hacienda and start travelling, but I also would miss my group as they would stay for another 12 days to volunteer. Mixed feelings? Or just a difficult day? In the end, my whole group said that they did like the Hacienda a lot more than the jungle, so it was probably just my having issues… And it was obviously a completely different place, and I realized I had to stop comparing it to the jungle. I had to accept that I was here and make the best out of this place and time, but it was also a hard time for me accepting that Giovanny was leading the group here more than I did because he spoke English and there was less need for me as a coordinator / group leader here. Sometimes I felt like I was just there to call taxis and tell my group to clean the kitchen, but I realized at the same time I had to stop feeling bad and thinking negative. I just hoped this feeling would go over soon… (And yes, it did. But everybody has his difficult moments somewhere somehow, right?)
Smoking area where I relaxed and over thought life…
On the other hand, oh my god, I was living my dream, being happy in the middle of the ocean… Feeling blessed for being on the one and only Galapagos Islands. But I was so far away, missing my boyfriend and realizing that happiness ment nothing when it couldn’t be shared with the ones you truly love. And yes, I did find my dream job here by doing this internship, this is my passion, I am born to do this. But how can I ever get a stable life if I stay traveling and working abroad, far away from family and friends?
The things that make me happy, seems to be opposites of each other and that made me think a lot. I was having a hard time dealing with this paradoxes. Something in me wanted to keep working and traveling like this for another year at least, but another part in me was missing home and wanted to be as fast as possible back home to be with my love.
Maybe I should find a way to get ‘The best of both worlds’: travel with my boyfriend one day, and for now: focus on the island life and enjoy it to the fullest!
Thursday morning… Early in the morning we left by car to drive 40 minutes to an area of another community. There we would help them to reverse the negative effects of invasive or introduced species, restoring the native and endemic forests of San Cristobal. We worked in a controlled plot of land to eliminate introduced/ invasive plant species. Today it was time to eliminate a whole field of blackberry plants.
After work we took the pick-up truck another 40 minutes back to the Hacienda, where we had some salad for lunch. In the afternoon we went to the house nearby, where we continued renovation work. The idea was to make a workshop place here for local children.
After work, as usually we called a taxi to go into town, where I finally got to Skype with my boyfriend. This helped me a lot to get over my issues… What a release, and a good night of sleep with a peaceful mind as a result.
Friday, my ultimate day of work before the weekend and my travels…. But oh what a day, what a day… I had to wake up at 5AM to get early to the hospital with one of my group members, had a difficult time to get the right diagnosis and finally got back around 9.30AM at the Hacienda, where everybody started to work already. I was so tired and lacking the energy to work, that I decided to do a nap instead until lunch time. I felt a little bit guilty, but in the same time I think it is important to listen to the needs of your body. Enough is enough!
After sleep and lunch I felt like a new person and joined the volunteer work. It was a funny afternoon, catching wild chickens and driving cattle to another field. We also cleaned the local soccer field from trash and played football on it afterwards. Farm life is more funny then most people think!
In the afternoon the group went for a beer in a local bar nearby, which they opened on demand of my group. I guess they did good business that night! While the rest of the group went further out in town, I went back to bed. In my bed, I realized today I was exactly in the half of my time in Ecuador. 56 days passed, 56 days to go. Let’s start the countdown!
Saturday, time for the weekend!! As we booked an excursion with the whole group, we left at 8AM to town. We were going to do a boattrip all together to finally discover some more of the island after a week of hard work. We had booked a $70 trip from 9AM to 4PM, including 2 snorkel sites and 1 beach. Lunchbox included.
First we went to Cerro Brujo, here we did our first snorkel. I was kind of nervous as it had been a long time ago and it was my first time at the rough see again, but I managed to do it well and after 10 minutes I felt comfortable as a fish in the water. I was proud of myself!
Overall, it was a wonderful experience snorkeling through a natural stone bridge where the sun rays shined in and put a beautiful light illumination, where I have no words for. The many fish in that cristal blue water with top visibility made me feel like in a different world.
We saw lots of fish and were getting more and more exciting. How fast can a human being change from state of mind? From a scared swimmer I went to an enthousiast snorkeler in less than half an hour. We hopped on board of our boat again and headed to the next stop: the famous Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido in Spanish). It is the most popular dive and snorkeling site off of San Cristobal Island, and is the remains of a lava cone, now split in two.
The two vertical rocks rise 500 ft above the ocean and form a small channel that is navigable by small boats, whilst the cliffs are home to many boobies, frigates and tropic birds. Under the water, the channel with a sandy/ rocky bottom is one of the best places in Galápagos to spot the elusive Galápagos sharks. Yep, yep, we did see sharks here! A little bit frightening but I survived it! It was definetely special to see a 2m long shark passing at 5 meters in front of me…
Spotted eagle rays, green sea turtles and white tip reef sharks also like to glide against the current through the channel, as well as a large variety of colourful reef fish. It was all an awesome sight to see. This trip was definetely worth its $70, as it included also a nice lunch on board after the 2 snorkel stops.
Last but not least, we stopped by Manglecito Beach. After a wet landing we visited the mangrove area and spend some time enjoying the beach. We saw some sea iguanas and got bitten by horseflies, so kind of a nice experience, let’s say. I mainly enjoyed walking near the sea, enjoying the nature to the fullest.
After that, it was time to head back to the port of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, where we started the tour. On our way back I talked to the naturalist guide and the boat men and I for the first time I felt like a real tourism professional, making connections and talking about the tourism industry as if I was part of it for years already. I felt appreciated, not only by my ‘colleagues’ but also by my group members.
We ended the day eating dinner in the Hacienda, discovering we were amazingly sunburned. ALL OF US. And it lasted for about a week, no matter how much aftersun and aloe vera extract gel I have put on it. After a good shower and dressing up, we left for party in town again. After all it was Saturday night and my last party opportunity in the Galapagos with my group. We did some drinking games near the peer, went to a hippie bar and 2 clubs (La Isla & Neptunus). After all that partying, we headed back to the farm exhausted.
Sunday we slept long, took a shower and prepared ourselves for another tour. I had rented a pick-up truck with private driver for a day to take the group to some visitor’s site on the island, so that they could explore some more areas. Unfortunately, we couldn’t complete our program the way we planned it, due to rainy weather. We ended up visiting La Galapaguera, which is a breeding center for giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands.
After lunch in a local town, we went to Laguna El Junco, located about 700m above sea level. It is one of the few permanent freshwater bodies in Galapagos. There was not a lot to see there as it was very misty, but at least the group was able to visit this place.
Laguna El Junco – or how it looks like with better weather conditions
It was a nice way to end my last day on the island of San Cristobal with my Leapers (volunteers). I was completely ready to travel further on my own for some days to the other islands, including Santa Cruz and Isabela. I will write another blog post about that experience, as the volunteering part was completelly different from my further ‘discovery’ of the Galapagos archipelago. And of course, because this blog post is going to become too long other wise.