Although North Seymour Island covers an area of only 2 sq km, it is the perfect place to spot wildlife. The visitor site is just a trail on the southwestern part of the island, where I had to give a way to a passing sea lion and some marine iguanas. The whole island has a low, flat profile with a tiny forest of silver-grey Palo Santo trees where a limited amount of tourists can watch Blue-footed boobies nesting on either side of the trail. Mating pairs perfomed their courtship dance and further along the rocky shore lies a white sand beach where large flocks of sea birds mass together.
Walking trail in North Seymour
The trail in North Seymour Island turns inland and reveals the largest nesting site in the Galapagos of the magnificent frigate bird. Therefor, this island was – together with Isla Bartolome – my favourite island and very recommendable to visit on your Galapagos trip, if you ever have the chance to go.
Animals that are regularly seen:
the Magnificent and Great Frigatebirds nesting
California Sea Lions
Swallow Tail Gulls
My trip to North Seymour started the 2nd of May 2014 around 8AM. I happened to go on the tour together with the girl from New Zealand, as we booked our excursions in the same travel agency. We were transferred to the Canal near Isla Baltra, from where we would board our boat to head further to North Seymour which is more northern in the archipelago. We were lucky to have a great group for the day so the ‘travel conditions’ were excellent! However, I got a terrible cold from all that snorkeling last days. I guess I should be more carefully with cleaning my snorkel gear so I don’t get infected by the bacterias on it…
Map of the Galapagos Islands
Around 10AM we arrived. After a dry landing with the zodiac and being greeted by some sea lions near the cliffs, struggling to get on land on some slippery rocks… Our discovery could start! Aparrently, only 2 groups of 16 persons a day were allowed to step feet on this island each day, so I felt really lucky one of the happy few!
The walking trail was only about 2,5 km but it was super super super hot as there was not shadow at all. Even the birds sat with their mouths wide open and feathers up to get as much air as possible to cool off.
Magnificent Frigatebirds / Juveniles with their mouths open to cool off
Words cannot describe how amazing and unbelievable it was how many birds and iguanas I have seen there that day!
Land iguana having lunch
The Frigate Birds and Blue-footed boobies were all nesting and flying around. It was understandable that our Naturalist guide was very strict with us walking not further than 4 meters away from here presence. We all had to stay together and we had to keep always at least 2 meters distance from the nests and animals.
Luckily, I had brought my 200 mm lence so I could take wonderful pictures from far away (zoom in).
Because of the constant heat, I guess the whole group was happy to go back on board after an hour of walking around and listening to the interesting stories of the guide.
A short boat ride away we went snorkeling in the deep sea. To admit, I did not see anything very special today comparing to the other days I went snorkeling, except from some more tropical fish. Via the zodiac I struggled myself back on the boat. I also had some troubles with my mask today as it constantly fogged.
Back on the boat, I enjoyed another delicious and well deserved lunch with fish, beans, rice and some watermelon. Afterwards, we headed back to Santa Cruz, where we had a wetlanding at Playa de las Bachas to end our day with some daily portion of PARADISE.
Wetlanding at Playa Las Bachas
The site visit Las Bachas is located in the north of the island of Santa Cruz, and the beach has a total length of about 1 km long.
The name Bachas originates from the Second World War, when the U.S. Army left two barges (or “barches” in English) thrown away on this beach, the first settlers could not pronounce the name correctly in English so made it Playa de las Bachas.
It was truly a paradise on earth being on this beach, but there were a lot of horseflies too and it was really hot, so after an hour we were happy to get back on the zodiac to head back by boat to Puerto Ayora.
Me at Playa Las Bachas, feeling like a *godess*
It had been one of the most amazing days during my time on the Galapagos Islands so far, and I have made a lot of pictures.
In the evening I went to a travel agency to book a trip to the island of Isabela, as I got an inside tip from one of my fellow travellers who got a very good deal there. It was a very unexpected but good decision to book that trip and so I had suddenly a plan for the next days!
Later that night, I met my volunteer group in Santa Cruz, as they had taken the ferry now from San Cristobal too to enjoy their free weekend off. We had dinner together in a local restaurant and chatted about last week, them volunteering and me exploring the islands…
Very late in the evening I packed my bag to leave the next morning early to another island…
Next stop: ISABELA (6) –> Keep following for the next destination
What a day… What a day… Wildly enthousiast I woke up at 5AM to be ready to leave on time to the Big Day. Isla Bartolomé was without a doubt the highlight of all my Galapagos excursions and this trip is the one I wanted to do since years. But when I woke up, it was raining as it has never had before during my time on the islands, and even worse… The busdriver forgot to pick me up for the tour. After an hour of waiting and trying to call the travel agency to see what was going on (trying to figure out wether there was a delay because of the weather or there was something wrong), they sent me a private taxi to bring me to Isla Baltra, from where I could start sailing on a zodiac to reach my boat, that by that time already left for about 30 minutes on the ocean… I was kind of mad, but mostly terrified of being on an inflatable boat in the middle of the ocean. But when I finally reached the boat, there was a very nice breakfast waiting for me and I was warmly welcomed by the boat crew!
Apparently, I was accompanied by a group of American biology students from Maine, who were on a school trip investigating lava and stuff. They were all around 18 years old I guessed, and it was funny to watch their teacher being the group leader as she was doing the same job as I did. With the only difference that today was a day off for me, oufff… Not having to lead a group! 😉
Around 10AM we reached Isla Bartolomé. The closer we came to land, the more surreal this landscape looked. Isla Bartolomé is a volcanic islet just off the east coast of Santiago Island. It is one of the “younger” islands in the Galápagos archipelago.
With a total land area of just 1.2 km², this island offers some of the most beautiful landscapes in the archipelago. The island consists of an extinct volcano and a variety of red, orange, green, and glistening black volcanic formations.
Bartolomé has a volcanic cone that is easy to climb and provides great views of the other islands. Bartolomé is famous for its Pinnacle Rock, which is the distinctive characteristic of this island, and the most representative landmark of the Galápagos.
The landscape was very different from what I had seen so far in the Galapagos archipelago, and the lava formations were incredibely impressive! However, there was not a lot of time to enjoy the island as it was super hot (so hot that even the lizzards did not come out) and so we hiked up to the viewpoint, made pictures, drank loads of water, took breaks while listening to the stories by our Naturalist guide and hiked back, arroused to go snorkeling and cool off!
Even though I took my hiking boots for today and the Galapagos National Park has built a walking trail 4 years ago, the hike was quite tough with these hot temperatures. There was no shadow at all but the views are A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!! This the one and only place that I really really wanted to see on my Galapagos journey, and here I finally was then. The trip had been expensive, but was worth every cent of it. Words cannot describe how amazing it felt to be here!
In every direction you look at, you have another beautiful panoramic view. This is like another world, something I had never seen on this earth before… ❤
A very special moment was when the Naturalist guide asked us to close our eyes for a minute. She asked us to think about home, think about the waste, the safety, the stress, the traffic, the commercialisation, the infrastructure, the architecture and the many people crossing around.
After a minute she asked us to open our eyes again and to see the big difference here with this incredible place on earth. She asked us to spread a message to our friends and family and take this moments in our hearts: PLEASE SHARE THIS BEAUTIFUL EARTH WITH YOUR FAMILY, FRIENDS AND MAKE SURE YOUR CHILDREN WILL BE ABLE TO SEE A BEAUTIFUL PLACE LIKE THIS IN THE FUTURE.
I got tears in my eyes after this intense and very unexpected moment. God, what was this true. I realized for a 500% how special, unique and beautiful this place was compared to other places on earth that I had seen before. Visiting Isla Bartolomé was a unique experience!
We headed back for a snorkel session near the Pinnacle Rock and were happy to cool off. Even the boat ride was pretty impressive, because this way I had the chance to see the island from a different perspective.
It was, by the way, also very cool knowing that there were only +/- 50 persons allowed on this island every day, to protect the nature from ‘mass tourism’. There were also no facilities at all: no shops, no toilets, no houses. This island was uninhabited.
From the zodiac I dived into the sea, ready to discover the life beneath the sea level. I started to adore snorkeling! ❤
What marine life did I see today?
Fish eating marine iguanas, as well above as under the sea level
Some manta rays
Blue-chin parrotfish and Bicolor parrotfish : beautiful!
King Angelfish (like in Floreana island)
and…. a shark of +/- 2 meters long that scared the hell out of me because he was so big that he actually might have been able to eat me! 😉
Marine Iguana underwater
After a long and exhausting snorkel session, it was finally time to swim back as fast as we could (game) to the boat and get our lunch. I was so ready for that! Nice and again with fish!
On our way back to Santa Cruz we saw again a colony of Penguins and some typical Galapagos hawks flying over. It was a long way back so I did a nap again in the afternoon on the boat.
Galapagos Penguin colony
I can say it was a successful and busy day! I was so ready for some rest in the Island of Isabela, but there was one more day tour waiting for me, which I will write you about soon in the next blog post. I’m starting to think that boredom is something that does not exist anymore in this world. What a f*cking great life here! ❤ 😉
Next stop: NORTH SEYMOUR (5) –> Keep following for the next destination
Day 3 of my Galapagos trip, and again time for a daytour. Today the island of Floreana was on the schedule. At 8AM I left for a 2 hour boatride southwards from Santa Cruz. The sea was rough and a lot of people were sick on the boat. Me, I wasn’t because I am just feeling great at sea!
Welcome to Floreana
The island of Floreana is inhabited, but it has a long history of strange people and there is only one main road in which they all live. The Galapagos Islands captured the world’s attention in 1934 when they were the site of an international scandal of sex and murder.
Unsolved Murder Mystery: The Galapagos Affair – “Who Killed “The Baroness?”
Friedrich Ritter and Dore Strauch
In 1929, German doctor Friedrich Ritter abandoned his practice and moved to the Islands, feeling he needed a new start in a faraway place. He brought with him one of his patients, Dore Strauch: both of them left spouses behind. They set up a homestead on Floreana Island and worked very hard there, moving heavy lava rocks, planting fruits and vegetables and raising chickens. They became international celebrities: the rugged doctor and his lover, living on a far off island. Many people came to visit them, and some intended to stay, but the hard life on the islands eventually drove most of them off.
Heinz Wittmer arrived in 1931 with his teenage son and pregnant wife Margret. Unlike the others, they remained, setting up their own homestead with some help from Dr. Ritter. Once they were established, the two German families apparently had little contact with one another, which seems to be how they liked it. Like Dr. Ritter and Ms. Strauch, the Wittmers were rugged, independent and enjoyed occasional visitors but mostly kept to themselves.
The next arrival would change everything. Not long after the Wittmers came, a party of four arrived on Floreana, led by “Baroness” Eloise Wehrborn de Wagner-Bosquet, an attractive young Austrian. She was accompanied by her two German lovers, Robert Philippson and Rudolf Lorenz, as well as an Ecuadorian, Manuel Valdivieso, presumably hired to do all the work. The flamboyant Baroness set up a small homestead, named it “Hacienda Paradise” and announced her plans to build a grand hotel.
An Unhealthy Mix
The Baroness was a true character. She made up elaborate, grand stories to tell the visiting yacht captains, went about wearing a pistol and a whip, seduced the Governor of Galapagos and anointed herself “Queen” of Floreana. After her arrival, yachts went out of their way to visit Floreana: everyone sailing the Pacific wanted to be able to boast of an encounter with the Baroness. But she did not get along well with the others: the Wittmers managed to ignore her but Dr. Ritter despised her.
We were welcomed by a happy group of sealions and the Galapagos National Park security guards, who as always and everywhere checked our bags for fruits, nuts etc. You cannot import anything in these islands to protect the nature!
Sea iguana near the peer
Right after arrival we were brought by ‘ranchera’ (kind of pick up truck) to the higher part of Floreana, it was a beautiful road with a lot of sightseeing.
Yellow Warbler (Canaria Maria)
We visited a protected area with giant turtles and finally I got to make a picture with these massive animals. This was definetely one of the MUS TSEES on the Galapagos trip. By the way, I am posing behind a 90 years old one…
Me with the Giant Tortoise
After that, we hiked around and got a lot of information about the history of Floreana. Apparently there were pirats, but also some Inca-wise art is found which made the people believe that there were people since long time ago.
Inca looking sculptures during the hike
A lot more then that I don’t remember, because I was more busy with enjoying the surroundings then listening to this boring stories. (hihi, honest)
Hiking in the highlands of Floreana Island
After 2 hours of walking, we returned to the car and just when we wanted to head back, the tire was broken. ‘No pasa nada’ (no problem), we just waited until it was fixed and continued with some delay. I asked the guide why he did not call somebody to send another car, but there was no phone signal… Of course! There is no service, no WiFi etc. on this island!
During lunch in a local restaurant I found out that there were 3 Belgians in the group, but I absolutely did not feel like socializing with ‘my’ people as I do not really like to see Belgians in other countries. I know, I am a WEIRDO! And so I did as if I did not know, and I did not talk to them in ‘our’ language. Lol, afterwards I felt quite creepy as I could understood their conversations but they did not know that I could. But oh my god, I really hate this typical travellers questions: ‘Where are you from? How long have you been here? Where did you go before and where are you planning to go next? …’ Bla bla bla
After that moment which turned out completely AWKWARD, we headed to Playa Negra, a black beach where we could enjoy some snorkeling. I felt like having a nap on the beach and enjoyed some music. It was just chilling and relaxing with the sun burning me again as usually…
Playa Negra, Floreana
Around 3PM it was time to head back to Santa Cruz by boat, and we were lucky to see some Galapagos Penguins right on the cliffs where we left the island.
When I arrived, I bought myself an icecream on the peer, headed back to the hostal for a shower and bought some post cards to send home. Hope you received them, Mommy, Abdenbi, Kim, Karine, Linde and Grandparents!
I went to bed early as next day I had to leave to Isla Bartolomé at 6AM! But more about that later… Sorry for keeping the blog posts so short, but I’m trying to keep you up to date faster to keep up with my busy travelling schedule!
Next stop: ISLA BARTOLOMÉ (4) –> Keep following for the next destination
Day 2 of my independent travels in the Galapagos Islands, and I was ready for the second day trip to Santa Fé. I woke up early, slept like a baby and enjoyed finally having some privacy: walking naked in my room (anyone recognise this feeling, lol). Even the cold water shower could not bother me… I had the best breakfast in ages in a local bar called ‘Galapagos Deli’ where you can absorbe the wonderful smell of fresh baked bread from miles away in the street. Loved it!
At 8AM I tried my snorkel equipment on in Mocking Bird Travel Agency and met my fellow travellers for today there: a boy from Ireland on his world trip and a girl from New Zealand on her South American discovery voyage. Hehe… Great to hang around with some other young backpackers with a free state of mind.
We had a nice boat for the day and a somewhat less nice guide, who took us to the first snorkel place. As he did not make me feel comfortable in a rough open sea to do some deepwater snorkeling, I decided to put my lifevest on during the snorkeling. It would make me burn less anyway. We were driven by the current to the other side of the cove, where the boat waited for us.
The water was pretty cold and I felt quite released to get back on the boat after an hour snorkeling, but I saw a lot of great special animals: King Angelfish, Blue-Chin Parrotfish, a school of Razor Surgeonfish, a Stingray and top of all: a shark from about 1 meter swimming right in front and around me.
A school of Razor Surgeonfish
It was the best snorkel trip so far, and probably one of the best of the whole Galapagos trip! Therefor, I would like to recommend this day trip to everyone who wants to enjoy the underwater world of the Islands here…
The next stop with the boat was along the peninsula and island that juts out into the bay. I have had great times playing with the sea lions here, as they come very close and you can swim right up to the rocks. We just had to make sure that we stayed together as a group because the National Park regulations are very strict when it comes to the animal life and touris. After that, we head back to the boat for some cold drinks and then into the water directly from the boat.
Great time having fun, and this time without the lifevest in the turquoise blue water!
The best moment was when I put my head up and sea the sealions face above the water, and when I went back down in the water, I saw his whole body moving. Eye in eye with nature, a very unique experience with wild life!
Sea lions playing around
After this amazing time, it was time for lunch on the boat, which is always very cosy and special. Usually they serve rice, fish, vegetables and lots of lime with a fresh juice of the day. It was good to eat as you get very hungry after all the morning snorkeling around…
I also took some pictures of the life above the water afterwards as I spotted blue footed boobies and Swallow-tailed Gulls.
Last but not least, we had a wetlanding at Playa Escondida on our way back to Santa Cruz. This beach is also called ‘the hidden beach’. The water was cristal clear, the temperature as well outside as in the water perfect and the waves swept me away so much that I felt like as I was in paradise for real. This was heaven… Until I got so sunburned that I had to look for shadow under my towel 😉
On the last boat ride back to Puerto Ayora I did a siesta, and once back I took a fresh shower in the hostel and put AFTER SUN x 10000000.
Then it was time for another well deserved dinner with the people I met on the boat and with the motto of the day: no shoes, no shirts, no stress… And no make-up 😉
At night I went to the internet cafe to write my internship diary report and did some research with local people about volunteer possiblities for Yanapuma. Well, this was life and without a doubt the best internship ever!
Next stop: FLOREANA (3) –> Keep following for the next destination
Here follows the highly anticipated story of my exceptional journey to San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Santa Fé, Isla Bartolomé, North Seymour and Isla Isabela… Or the one and only Galápagos Islands.
My last blog post was about volunteering in Hacienda Tranquila. I left my group of volunteers there and travelled further during 2 weeks on my own. My employer approved me to discover the islands if I would come back with some new projects for the foundation. So, that deal being made I took a ferry to the first island…
1: SANTA CRUZ
Early in the morning I left San Cristobal for Santa Cruz (a $25/2hr boatride away), the most important and busy island of the Galapagos archipelago, from where most of the cruise ships and tours start of. Puerto Ayora is the largest town in on the island and the only one with tourist accommodation.
Puerto Ayora – Capital of Santa Cruz
After my check-in at Hostal Lirio de Mar ($15 a night for a single room with private bathroom, no AC) I headed to a local travel agency to start bargaining on my tours for the next days. I was planning to visit the Galapagos Islands on a budget, and so I had to OR book a cheap last minute cruise (which always stays more expensive than seperate tours with accommodation in backpacker hostals) OR buy the excursions for every day. I had honestly no idea about the different options and prices, so I informed myself in a few places, went for lunch to overthink everything and returned to the agency with the best deals, MOCKING BIRD TOURS (same street as the hostal) to bargain another few dollars out of the deal. I ended up getting a 10% discount and paid $475 for a daytours to Santa Fé, Floreana, Isla Bartolomé and North Seymour. And above that, I started immediately doing the Tour de Bahia in Santa Cruz itself… A lot of money, but definetely a good deal knowing that cruises start from 800$ last-minute.
The Tour de Bahia (Bay Tour) was worth a $30 and started from the main dock in Puerto Ayora. Together with 15 other passengers and a naturalist guide I visited the main attractions in the area. By boat we headed to La Loberia, where we could observe sea lions on the beach and rocks.
La Loberia, Santa Cruz
After that we went for a snorkel session near Punta Estrada, where I saw a Tiger Snake Eel and other impressive marine life.
Tiger Snake Eel
Then we had a dry landing near Canal de Amor, where a lot of animals were chilling on the rocks and there was a bright blue lagoon.
A marine iguana
Near Playa de los Perros I could see a lot of marine iguanas who were happy to pose for a picture with me.
After a small walk and lots of pictures, it was back on the boat for Las Grietas, the last stop of the trip. Directly translated, “grieta” means crevasse or crack. It is is a great place to swim in cool ocean water between two tall cliffs, where the earth has opened like a crack.
We had to follow a 15 minute trail that started off sandy and rocky, and winded up crossing over a jagged lava field, through a cactus forest, and up a sandy path once again to the top of Las Grietas. A nice experience!
Walking to Las Grietas
After the walk back I enjoyed a fresh Coke in a local bar, chatting with other travellers. Life was good! And another boat ride away, we arrived back in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island where I headed back to the Hostel for a fresh shower…
It wasn’t a bad last-minute day tour decision at all and I ended my day having a nice dinner in one of the many cosy restaurants near the main strip in Puerto Ayora. It was holiday time and so I enjoyed every single minute of it!
Next stop: SANTE FÉ (2) –> Keep following for the next destination
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.
Two weeks can change a lot in a humans life. I travelled with my group to the Comuna of Bua in the Tsachila area near Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas, spent a free weekend with them in Atacames, discovered that I can actually survive two weeks without Facebook, Gmail, Instagram and Google and that life in the jungle is the greatest: living together with indigenous, washing not only yourself but also your clothes in the river, sleeping under a mosquito net in a wooden cabin, eating rice ricerice and more rices (and bananas) and I became a happier, more relaxed person. All of this thanks to the nature which brought me litteraly more DOWN TO EARTH. Hereby I would like to share with you a summary and my diary during this wonderful jungle experience.
Thursday 3 April 2014
After picking up both LEAP groups at the airport, having orientations, check-ins, passport registrations, Spanish tests, a welcome dinner and so on, I was burned out. Never have I ever felt so stressed and nervous, unprepared and responsible in my life… But the good thing was that I had hardly time to think and realize that we were about to leave for a two week adventure in the middle of the jungle.
Fortunately, because if I would have had more time to prepare and think, I realize know that I would only get more nervous about that! And from the first day I could notice that I had a great team, 7 boys and 4 girls, and me… the leader! Break a leg…
Friday 4 April 2014
After a first breakfast we were about to start the first day of work (volunteering) in the Comuna de Búa. As a group leader I had to coordinate and especially translate a lot of things. We digged into the ground, made mountains of sand and carried all of that sand in bags to the nursery nearby. It was a really heavy job because of various reasons: climate (humid, hot, sunny) and work load (nobody was used to this type of work).
Fortunately in the afternoon we had free time to play some football with the local people of Santo Domingo, and enjoy the river. Yes yes, I say ENJOY because surprise, surprise… I love the river. I can tell you, after a day of sweating like a pig this is the most refreshing thing you can ever wish for!
My first impressions after this day: HUNGRY! I have to get used to having less food, around 11AM I get a small headache due to a very low sugar level. There are huge spiders in the river on the raft, watching how we wash ourselves,the group atmosphere is really awesome: they are independent, work hard, don’t complain and always enjoy their selves with playing games and stuff. Love it!
Saturday 5 April 2014
Lucky as we were, it was already weekend and that means NO WORK for two days. It was a perfect timing as that first day of worked asked for some recuperation. Instead of work, Alfonso (leader of the community about who I blogged about earlier), took us on a hiking tour through the reserve and botanical garden. Again I had to translate all his explanations, which is not only quite hard to do because the vocabulary is quite specific and I have difficulties remembering more than 10 sentences to translate in one time.
After the tour, we had a cacao workshop. We would be able to make chocolate in a few days.
I went with 5 of my group members to the nearby city of Santo Domingo. To get there, we had to take a bus for an hour, because we were living in a very remote cultural center. The main goal of the trip was eating sugar, buying more things containing sugar (cookies, sodas, chewing gum, …), visiting the local pharmacies (as some of us already had some ‘difficulties’) and buying a birthday cake for one of the group members which birthday was next day. Unfortunately, this trip was not so relaxing as planned to be as the city is really unsafe and you constantly have to take care about each other and your belongings. So when we got back to our jungle home, we were exhausted and cooled off in the river.
I also decorated my room, which obviously just means unpacking my bag and hanging stuff up to dry (humidity…). While I wrote my diary, I noticed that the days passed by so quickly and I reflected a little bit. I noticed that every day I woke up so peacefully and that I appreciate this place and the nature a lot more than I expected. I also felt way more relaxed then the first days when the group arrived. Moreover, I had the feeling quite fast that this place would probably be the most special of all three volunteer projects. But never say never, it can get better!
More impressions after this day: humid and hot climate, everywhere along the road banana trees, terrible traffic in Santo Domingo, crazy and dangerous city where you never should go if you don’t need to, the smell of burned wood, the everlasting sounds of insects in the forest, falling asleep with watching fireflies above your mosquito net, the smell of sunscreen and DEET on your skin, the continuous sweating, … It reminds me somehow of my trip in Central America and I realize this is the life I love!
Sunday 6 April 2014
Waking up in the rain is something else. You feel like you can’t go outside, but on the other hand… You are outside. And you notice that when your bed is wet due the a leak in the roof. There are only two options: remove your bed or remove your body to another side of the bed. And after that, waiting until it stops raining to cover the open gap in the roof with another leaf that you take from a tree. Life is simple!
When it stopped raining, Don Alfonso took us out for a walk to Umpechico, the nearest by civilization. It was not impressive and the shops were not worthy to call shops, the houses were not worthy to call houses and so on. You know what I mean, or maybe you don’t. Because honestly, you have to see it before you can believe it. And then when you did that, you say: ‘Okay. Ecuador is a third world country. Still a lot of improvement to be made.’ For lots of my group members, I could notice not only the disappointment of not encountering the places they wished to find, but also the culture shock. They wanted to return fast as they felt unsafe.
In the afternoon we celebrated the birthday of one of our group members. We had bought a cake in Santo Domingo and invited the Tsáchilas (simply called Chillas by the English volunteers) to join the party. We made popcorn, played games and had fun. I feel really blessed having such a positive group!
We finally got to know Alfonso’s wife and other community members, and even the puppy dogs came to join the celebrations.
Here you can see the jungle party crew in front of our “house”:
In the evening I felt really tired. I noticed that going to bed around 10PM and waking up at 6AM is giving me a minimum of sleep. I don’t know why the jungle makes me so exhausted, but it is probably also because I am constantly coordinating all the activities and schedules, organizing and planning with Alfonso and translating is probably the hardest part of work, as the communication between my group and the locals is very poor due to this language barrier. I even did a small nap in the hammock in the afternoon, which is heavenly!
I noticed that I didn’t miss anything yet of the civilized world, except from my ‘drugs’: sugar, boyfriend and cigarettes. Luckily, that last one I bought in advance so don’t really need to miss it. And I already realize that once back out of the jungle, I will have to adapt to the normal world again… Not sure if I like that idea…
Monday 7 April 2014
Now that the weekend was over, it was time to get back to work. It started to be a daily routine to wake my Leapers up at 07.15, have breakfast at 07.30, point the ‘cleaning team’ of the day at 07.45 and start working at 08.00 AM. As Don Alfonso was not available, the organisation went a little bit bad. Eventually, we started working around 9AM and today we filled up bags with the sand we carried on Friday. A local group of volunteers from Santo Domingo joined us and we managed to fill 7500 bags, which we lined up in rows of 5 bags according to size and height. In this bags will be planted seeds of trees and after 3 months they would be ready to be planted in the forest. This is what we call REFORESTATION! Quite a relaxing job to do today, and plenty of time to chat with the group and the locals during work.
After work, Alfonso passed by with some Papaya. I asked him about a natural cure for constipation as some group members, including myself have had problems going to the toilet (called “the loo” by the English). And I don’t know if it was superstition or not, but an hour after I managed to do “it”! This practical problem is quite crazy, as most of the groups have the opposite problem in the jungle…
Impressions of the day: I feel finally relaxed enough to focus on reading a roman in the hammock, slowly got frustrated by the fact that clothes and towels never ever dry here because of the humidity, jump under my mosquito net very fast every night to avoid any more insect bites, hate to go to the toilet after dark because of frogs, snakes, spiders and insects near the road to it, got frustrated because DEET and other repellents don’t seem to work at all and got bitten anyway, washed my clothes in the river today and woke up at night due to raindrops falling on my face… Another leak in the roof! Bats and insects don’t seem to understand that my cabaña is not their house and so I decided to compromise and just share it with them and the cockroaches, the fact that I see my textile stuff getting molded, my supply of cookies and chocolate that gets less and a sudden lightning storm and thunder that wakes me up in the middle of the night… A lot of things are frustrating, but I can only accept it, live with it, take a deep breath and go on, and I feel so much more quite when I do that. PEACE.
Tuesday 8 April 2014
At six I woke up from the pouring rain. I guess this is what they call “showers” in English. It would have been the perfect time to take a shower outside, but instead, I turned around in bed and slept some more. As it was raining so much, we could not go to work. It is very demotivating and frustrating. So after breakfast, we just waited until it stopped raining. In the meantime, I talked with Alfonso and out of nowhere I came up with a self-made quote: “En la selva la naturalezaes el jefe del trabajo.” (In the forest nature is the boss of work.)
At 9AM it finally was over, but as it was late we couldn’t do what we had planned to do for today. We supposed to go to another community to construct a “casa tipica cultural” (typical cultural house), but that plan was definitely cancelled now. Again we had to go to the nursery and fill some bags with sand. It was quite boring after two days… At 11AM everybody got very hungry, and we ate banana. Did I tell you that Ecuador has more than 5 types of bananas?!! Maduro, Banano, Verde, Platano, … And they make all different kinds of things with them.
As one of my group members had some emergency situation, I left quickly to the city of Santo Domingo with him. I was quite happy to get out of the jungle, not because I didn’t like the place but because I could go to the bakery to eat something sweet and ‘normal’. I ordered a cheese sandwich, which I didn’t manage to finish, no matter how hungry I was. I guess your stomach gets smaller when you eat less all the times. And oh yeah, the reason why I longed for that cheese sandwich is: we don’t have a fridge in the community so that means we don’t have fresh products like milk, cheese, yoghurt, meat, … Also, a bakery is unlikely to be nearby so we hardly eat bread there.
Before it got dark, we returned to our jungle home in Búa, where it was raining again. But because we were so sweaty, we went to the river anyway. You get wet anyway so what does it matter! We ate some more banana for dinner and Alfonso visited us to repair the beds and leaks in the roof. As always, the group members enjoyed their selves in the evening playing games, listening some music and so on.
Wednesday 9 April 2014
I woke up again around 5AM because of the rain. But luckily it stopped raining by the time I had to wake up the group. We had an awesome breakfast as they finally bought more tea and yes, we had some bread! Around 8 o’clock we started to work. This time, Alfonso decided that we could make a cultural house for our own community so we didn’t have to worry about the cancelation of the other project. Well, here in the jungle time is a concept that hardly exists. Everything changes from hour to hour and from day to day. You have to be open minded, flexible and accept that. It is the only way to survive.
And as we could only start the next day with our new project, today we would clean the road from the community to the public road. It wasn’t really a nice job, but clearing the leafs we saw a lot of insects and spiders. That made it a little bit more adventurous. As my group was not really motivated to do this job, I decided to work a little bit harder to give the right example. And as always, they did what they had to do, didn’t complain too much and finish the task of the day well. I was satisfied but tired!
By lunch time, I had blisters on my hands from cleaning the road so I was happy that we didn’t have to work again in the afternoon. Instead, Alfonso demonstrated the coloring of his hair with the typical plant called ACHIOTE.
After that, it was time for a siesta in the hammock. I love it! The worst part is getting out, you never want to leave that place once you get in… While I was chilling, I was smiling to myself. My mother should see me here, how her daughter that never ever before touched something in the garden because she was more an urban chick now slightly turned into a real Tarzan&Jane personage with green fingers, like she had never done anything else before in her life… But it is the perfect proof that it is never too late to change as a human being!
In the mean time I’ve got quite attached to my rain boots. My socks smell like a death mouse, but it didn’t matter. One day more of work, and then we had a free weekend which we would be spending on the beach. And oh, what was I happy to have some pasta (and for god sake, not RICE) as dinner. Like a culinary orgasm…
Thursday 10 April 2014
After breakfast we had a reunion with Alfonso. Yesterday in the afternoon we had made a design for some new volunteer cabins in Búa, as the current ones are obviously getting older. At 8AM we had a meeting with the Tsachilas, which I had to lead. I guess I did it quite well, involving as much people as I could, translating from English to Spanish and from Spanish to English. Alfonso was very happy with our suggestions and designs.
At 9AM we left walking to Umpechico, the nearby village, to hike into a forest where we would be cutting huge leafs with machetes for the construction of our typical house. It was a very hard task to do, as we had to go deep in the jungle, deal with lots of insect bites and snakes hanging around. It was also very very humid and hot so we were quite exhausted by the time we could return for lunch. Luckily, a pick-up truck (camioneta) took us back, so we didn’t have to make the hour long walk again to Bua.
Straight after lunch we had to get back to work and clean the area where we would construct the house. We cutted trees to make space, we cleared the leafs hanging around away and sorted the branches and trunks. I can tell you, I was exhausted after that and I am eating so much cookies whenever I can!
In the night, I woke up having a nightmare that I lost the group near the beach and I had my first night trip to the eco-toilet, which included an encounter with several frogs, spiders and other ugly insects. I can tell you, going to the toilet at night is the last thing you want at night, as you have to get out of your mosquito net, take your torch light, make sure your road is cleared from animals, survive a road in the jungle towards the toilet, do some stairs in the dark and go all the way back to your wooden cabin, jumping quickly back under your mosquito net, hoping no insect had entered. A whole adventure for a simple pee! But what needs to happen, needs to happen…
Oh yeah, and we have some small ducks in the community since a few days now. Unfortunately, two of them died but one of them seems to survive well. I called it PatitoLuís (little duck Louis) and took him for the first time to the river to learn it how to swim. He loved it, the cuttie! The girls of the kitched joined me also to the river today and they took me for a ride on the raft. We smiled a lot but didn’t really talk a lot as they are very shy, but I can see that I feel good back to basics and I noticed that these girls don’t need much to live here happily.
I thought about Tuesday, when I entered my Facebook account in the internet café and suddenly saw a mirror of my life and my friend’s lives. It was a shocking experience as it all seems so far away and different from this reality I am in now. It is like I am not the same person here, and I started to wonder if the life back there is the life I really want. Deep inside it felt like I entered a new road in life, and something in me was scared that my old life would not fit in anymore. I am following my heart and my dreams, and living outside makes you think about the outside world at home, which is something completely different. Here nobody cares about your looks or your status… I felt like the river I was in, I’ve landed in a stream of life and I’m floating in the right direction. But there are still 9 weeks left before I return to Belgium, so time enough to worry about my comeback…
Friday 11 April 2014
Time for the weekend to begin! At 8.30AM we took a pick-up truck to Santo Domingo, which I arranged for my group. There I assisted them to buy bus tickets for the bus to Atacames, which is a vibrant beach town in the north of Ecuador in the province of Esmeraldas. And yes, that’s a dangerous party place…
Around noon we arrived there and checked in into the hotel, which I also reserved for the group. It was really even more hot here in the coastline, and I had no hot water or air-conditioning in the room. But I did have a shower, and oh god, that did so good after this long time in the jungle river…
In the afternoon, after having lunch with the group, I went to an internet café to write my weekly reports for school, Yanapuma and The Leap, and to talk to my boyfriend, friends and family at home. At night it was time for a first night out with my group members, and like always we had a lot of fun. Going out in Atacames was a very nice but different experience as the bars are lined out next to each other on the beach and all playing reggeaton music as loud as they can. Late at night I went to sleep. Satisfied!
Saturday 12 April 2014
Quite early in the morning I woke up from the noises around my room. Atacames is definitely not the place where you should go for a good sleep! I had a nice breakfast near the hotel and chilled a little bit around. In the afternoon I went for some fresh seafood lunch with some of the group members and I had the chance to try the famous CAMARONES ENCOCADOS. It’s a local dish of the region. Delicious!
In the evening we all went for a pizza on the beach strip and after that we went to party again. It was a lovely time there and although the group members ask me for help, translations and other things a lot of the time, I must say I am enjoying every minute of this experience and I feel so blessed being part of this!
I feel super even though I am quite exhausted already. I just try to go to bed on time and get enough hours of sleep every day. So dear mother, don’t worry. I’m fine! 😉 I do miss my boyfriend a lot, but I also realize that in life you can’t have it all. As I always say to my friends: CHOOSING IS LOOSING. And I have chosen for this adventure/internship in Ecuador, and so far I got a lot of things in return for that.
Sunday 13 April 2014
The weekend in Atacames finished Sunday morning as we took the bus back to Santo Domingo. After 4 hours on the bus we arrived, had our last nice lunch in a local restaurant and then headed back with the pick-up truck to our jungle home community of Bua. Once arrived there, I realized the last 3 days were here and I am going to miss it a lot as I feel already home here…
I was happy to be back in my quite wooden cabin, as last night had been a rough night on the beach. I had some piña colada, which had some ice cubes inside, and gave me the “D” (diarrhea). Also, there had been a fight in the club we were and some of the group members were quite drunk. But fortunately, we had danced good, partied hard, enjoyed the food and the music, and nobody got robbed or sick. I just hoped my “D” got over quickly, because going to an eco-toilet like this is not fun!
That Sunday night, you can imagine I went to bed early as I was tired from the whole weekend trip.
Monday 14 April 2014
Yesterday evening I went to bed early, hoping to enjoy some private time under my mosquito net, enjoying reading a book. That wasn’t so nice and private as hoped… While reading I saw something coming closer and closer coming out of my pillow. When I turned, I saw it was a small snake/worm from about 25cm. I jumped out of the bed, catched the animal and threw it in the first plant I saw, I was shaking. Oh my god, in my bed!!
I didn’t read one page further or another giant insect entered my room. I could hear it flying in as if it were a helicopter, that big! It settled itself cosy on the ceiling, so there was no way catching it. So, as I was done with reading now, I decided to put the light out and go to sleep. But when I wanted to close my curtain, I was so surprised. My little gecko pet was hanging in the curtain and we both were shocked. The little poor animal looked like it could jump on top of me and so I didn’t know how to turn of the lights like this. I was done, enough jungle!!! I broke… I had enough of this jungle sh*t.
Finally I went to bed later then planned, frustrated and sad. I had to take peace all the time with the fact that all this animals entered the room without my permission and that sucked. But yeah, nothing else to do about it. Just sleep.
In the morning all animals were gone, and I enjoyed the sounds of the jungle as I woke up. When I went to the toilet, I had another “tropical surprise”. The ‘D’ had not disappeared but continued for about 3 times in the same morning. I decided to wait until noon to see if it got better. It didn’t got a lot better, but it also didn’t got worse…
And at 8AM it was time to work and construct the house. I don’t know what it was, but maybe I was weaker after the weekend and this toilet problem, but I couldn’t seem to motivate myself to work good today. Just as I thought the days were almost over and nothing could go wrong, I felt down… I had to take a lot of breaks, ask fruits to eat more in the kitchen and take enough rest. But I also had to coordinate the work of my group, so I didn’t really have time to take a day off…
Luckily, the group worked good and hard and they seemed happy finally being able to construct a little house. In the evening, they even helped to cook some dinner in the kitchen, and I am very happy that they take some initiatives. They are lovely!
Tuesday 15 April 2014
The penultimate day of work in the jungle! And you should think that this last days go easy and pass by, but no no, the last days were a hell for me. I didn’t have energy and had difficulties with work. But I fought with myself and continued, knowing it was the last day of work for me.
As I felt weaker, I suddenly felt a little bit down too. I had the need to talk with somebody about how I feel, because it is always me who is asking my group how they feel. And as a group leader, nobody ever asks you how you are really doing. Well yeah, they do but it is never a ‘deep’ conversation…
I just tried to keep everybody busy with work and didn’t work so hard myself, to be honest. But I kept coordinating and don’t think the group was bothered by that. When it was finally noon, I fell asleep fast in the hammock and I woke up an hour later to get back to work again. After work, we were all tired and relaxed and cooled off in the river… What a day!
In the evening Alsonso talked to me, because he could see I was tired. He told me that I was a fantastic group leader and that he admires my enthousiasm. I really appreciated that, as it was exactly the compliment I needed to feel a bit better.
Wednesday 16 April 2014
The last full day with the Tsachilas! I had to go early in the morning at 7AM with two group members to the hospital to assist them with some medical consults. I also bought bus tickets for our return to Quito, and by noon we were back in the community.
In the afternoon we visited a local farm where the Tsachilas harvest fruits and vegetables such as yucca and maracuya.
After getting back and going for a last time to the river, we had a goodbye celebration “la despedida” with all the community members. We evaluated our work, I translated as always what Alfonso said, coloured the hair of our boys with Achiote, bought souvenirs on the local market, made our own chocolate and had dinner all together. It was the perfect occasion to thank everybody for this wonderful experience and enjoy a last evening together.
Thursday 17 April 2014
At 8AM we left the Tsachila, heading back to Quito. The jungle adventure is over. It was a long blog story, for which I apologize. But I hope you can see that it was an incredible and unique experience living and volunteering there for 2 weeks. I am grateful for each and every moment I shared and each and every person that was part of it. I think 2 weeks are not enough to change as a person, but at least some twinkle in my eye changed, is more relaxed and peaceful. I will never ever forget this in my life. And even though a return visit is unlikely, in my mind I will travel back often. I promise. Love you all, Tsachilas!
The time has finally come… The Leapers (group of volunteers from the company The Leap) have arrived… This means that from now on I am officially Group Leader for 11 youngsters, including 7 boys and 4 girls from the United Kingdom. After one month of hard work, explorations, reservations and organisation, I am happy to present my program for the next 10 weeks with this group.
However, this also means that I will not be able to write so much as before anymore, because there will be not always access to the internet in the volunteer projects. Therefore, I apologize and promise to do my best to write and post something every once in a while…
What is THE LEAP?
Volunteering with The Leap is unique because every Volunteer Leap combines a unique mix of projects – so they will help with conservation, community and eco-tourism development over the course of 10 weeks overseas. Even better these projects are located in different places around the country of choice, with the Leap team moving around every few weeks. The result is a massively diverse, enjoyable mix of challenges, cultures and environments.
What is THE LEAP program in Ecuador?
ECUADOR: Jungle + Galapagos + Adventure Week + Andes
Jungle (Tsachila): 3 April – 18 April
Galapagos (San Cristobal): 20 April – 9 May
Adventure Week (Quilotoa, Baños, Riobamba): 10 May – 16 May
Andes (Chilcapamba, Mindo): 18 May – 2 June
Ruta del Sol (Guayaquil, Montañita): 4 June – 7 June
Between these dates, my home base will stay Quito, where I will return with the group to wash clothes, buy stuff and give orientations about the different destinations and volunteer projects. As you could see, I’ve already visited and posted about 2 of the voluntuur projects that we are going to (Tsachila and Chilcapamba). I will also go with the group to a volunteer project in the Galapagos Islands, where I will have some time off of being Group Leader to discover the islands on my own. This is without a doubt one of my biggest dreams coming true. Thank God for all this wonderful opportunities and let’s pray that everything is going well with my Leapers throughout the 10 weeks! We are going to work hard and travel harder! 😛
As you can see, this group leading will take almost all of my time in Ecuador. And when this program is done and the group members travel further or back to the UK, I will be finishing lots of administration in the office of Yanapuma (the operating agent for The Leap in Ecuador). Then I only have a few days left until I fly back to Belgium on the 19th of June. Time will fly, as you might be able to imagine, and before you know, I’m reunited with my love, my friends, my family and my cats. ❤
After spending Monday and Tuesday in Tsachila, I left on Wednesday to the next project: Chilcapamba. I will go to this project with my group in May for two weeks. I was happy that I could go and visit this project with my fellow leader Michel, so I didn’t have to travel on my own again.
We met each other at 10 o’clock in the bus terminal in the south of Quito, and took a bus to Otavalo there. After two hours we reached our destination. Otavalo is a small indigenous city surrounded by volcanoes. The Otavaleños (locals) are famous for weaving textiles, usually made of wool, which are sold at the famous Saturday market. Unfortunately, it was Wednesday so we couldn’t visit it (and we also came here for professional matters, and not to behave as a tourist 😉 ), but we figured out we would have plenty of time when returning with the groups.
From Otavalo, we took a local bus heading towards Quiroga, a small but nice looking village in the ‘Sierra’ (highlands) of Ecuador. Once we arrived there, we had to take a taxi to bring us to the community. And 10 minutes later we arrived at the volunteer house. Just like in Tsachila, the leader of the project was called Alfonso. But both men were very different, obviously as one was from the jungle-mentality and this the other from the mountain-mentality. It was interesting to notice the cultural differences between the various regions in Ecuador.
When we arrived around 1PM at the house however, there was no Alfonso to be found. We did encounter Francesca, his wife, and she showed us our room. In comparison to Tsachila we had quite some luxury here, with a private bathroom and very comfortable beds.
Francesca left us in the room and went cooking, so we had some time to explore the surrounding areas. I didn’t know exactly whether I had to call it a garden or a farm or a field, as the whole community was one big terrain with plants and animals. It was nice to check it out, but after half an hour we were already quite bored and with hungry stomachs we returned to the house, where lunch was waiting for us.
In the family kitchen we met the children: Tupac, Victor and Consuelo, who just arrived from school in their uniforms. I felt like an invader there, because it just seemed such a pieceful local family and me being this ‘gringa’ in the kitchen was like interrupting their lives. But they didn’t seem to mind at all. After a while Alfonso, our host, entered the building and after he had dinner we finally get to talk to him.
It was around 3PM that we left to visit the other volunteer house, which was completely newly build and looked somewhat too fancy for a community, but anyway… I didn’t complain about that!
After seeing the local school, and Alfonso explaining us that our volunteers will help painting the walls and floors, he took us to the surrounding forest.
He dropped me, Michel, Francesca and Tupac at the end of the road, and from there we would walk to see the big project: water supply for the community, sourcing from a waterfall nearby.
What was intentionally ment to be a small exploring walk, turned out in a huge hiking trip. We decided to walk all the way to the source of the water.
We had to walk more than an hour to get there, and on our way we crossed rivers and small paths in bushes. It was a very adventurous experience for me, as I am more a city-person. 😉
But the views were amazing every now and then…
On our way I got very motivated and entertained by Tupac, the youngest son of Alfonso and Francesca, who was very intelligent and enthusiastic for his age. He looked like a little Tarzan, and I noticed that it was so much better to let children play in nature, than to play Candy Crush games on their mobile devices all day… THIS WAS LIFE!
You might be thinking right now… What the **** Tupac? Well, Tupac’s name does absolutely not refer to the famous Afro-American rapper, but is an old and traditional Inca name of Andean origin. The name means “royal” in the Quechua language, and Tupac Amaru was also the last Inca ruler of the empire.
Don Tupac Amaru
After hiking an hour through the forest, we finally reached the waterfall. To be honest, it was not really impressive, but I did feel proud to have reached the destination. And I was happy to finally return.
On our way back I realized it was really special and courageous how those people could have built this water supply road, thanks to the help of many volunteers in many different periods. I realized that the work of Yanapuma really was worthwhile!
Michel and I, Yanapuma Group Leaders
As we got hungry again after so much walking, Tupac picked some fruits in the forest for us. It was nice to be all into this nature-things.
Once back in the house, I noticed that Tupac did have an iPod. And I felt quite disappointed. Maybe in the end, we people are all the same, and this Tarzan-people are also quite developed already?
As exciting as the afternoon was, as more boring the evening got. We were hungry and the food didn’t seem to get ready. The hours seemed days, and Alfonso was again nowhere to be found. We even started to question ourselves things like: “Who has written the Bible?” and other weird things out of pure desperation.
Just when we decided to go to bed, he showed up and very late we had to hold our meeting about the program and volunteer schedule for our groups. As my group would arrive in May, there was not even real clarity about what they would be doing. Alfonso just promised me there would always be plenty of work in Chilcapamba. And to keep us motivated, a wise Indian quote:
“Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”
Late at night, we got to sleep, and woke up early to have breakfast and make the trip HOME again. Yes, dear friends, after one month in Ecuador, Quito is really starting to feel like HOME. ❤
After a great weekend in Pululahua (see former blog post), I received an urgent message from Yanapuma. I got the start signal to go and visit the projects where I will be traveling to the next 10 weeks. And so I packed my bag quickly to take the first bus in the morning heading to Santo Domingo to visit the Tsáchila community, where I would arrive in about one week with my volunteer group.
I left home at 9 o’clock in the morning, had to take two buses to get to the main terminal in Quito, where I took a bus to Santo Domingo around 10h30. After 3 hours I reached Santo Domingo, a dangerous and very uninspiring town, but the only transport hub for Tsáchila. I travelled about 150 kilometers and changed an altitude of 2850 meters in Quito to 625 meters in 3 hours, resulting in hearing blockage. I had this kind of ear plugs that made me feel deaf.
As it was about lunch time, I decided to check out some food because that would probably help to get rid of this annoying ear problem. But on my way to the bakery I realized this town was not safe to walk around with a backpack. I headed quickly to the bus stop to catch my ‘ranchero’ towards the community of Búa where the Tsáchilas live. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the right bus or bus stop and I was told by a local vendor that I should take another bus to another terminal to catch another bus in order to get to that place. I already felt lost and demotivated as the sweat ran from my body. Santo Domingo is not only more than 2000 meters lower then Quito, it is also 20°C warmer. Hot and humid, to be more specific.
When I arrived to the other terminal, there was no bus or ranchero to find which was heading to Bua. I felt desperate and unsafe, being the only white person in the middle of a crazy and hectic bus station. Out of pure desperation, I decided to become friends with some local stranger. I found it was important to attach myself to at least one person who would be aware of my existence and safety here. This new ‘friend’ told me that the bus to Bua just left, and there would only come another one in 2 hours. Right!
When the bus was finally there, it took another hour of bumpy roads through banana fields and forest before I finally arrived to the place I had to be. My feeling changed quickly on the bus, as I noticed everybody on this bus was from the same community and they all knew each other. Of course, they also knew the man I was going to meet in Bua, and they notified me when to get off the bus. Some children offered me some strange typical fruit, which I had never seen or ate before. I felt welcomed…
Once of the bus, my direction sheet said: ‘walk right from the house, take another right and after the 200 meters you will reach the community.’ The paper didn’t say that I had to walk all the way on my own through a forest with absolutely nothing to orientate you, and that it wasn’t right-right but right-left. I felt unsafe and lost, decided to return to the house, ask the people for better directions and after all reached the community.
There was nobody. I was all alone in the jungle, it was starting to rain and the only thing I could do was waiting. Fortunately, the man I was supposed to meet arrived soon. But I can tell you; these fifteen minutes of being alone in an area where nobody else is and you being surrounded by rainforest are frightening… And in such moments of desperation and tiredness, one minute lasts hours.
The next hours with Alfonso, the leader of the community of the Tsáchilas, changed my state of mind abruptly. This man was so special, friendly, open minded and making me feel comfortable. In an hour I changed from feeling a weakling to feeling somehow at home here. I guess the best explanation to give is that Alfonso is an old soul and has the ability to understand a person by just taking time to talk with him. There was this kind of immediate trust I felt for this man, as if he could be my father. I just knew I was safe with him around, and maybe that’s the reason why he – and only he – can be the leader of this community.
As it was raining all night, there was nothing else to do then to enjoying a dinner with fresh fish from the river, rice and bananas, and listen to his wisdom and life story. I also met Richard there, a French sociologist who is living in seclusion there in order to write a book about the Tsáchila and Alfonso’s life, with the support of the Yanapuma Foundation. He was also a very inspiring person.
Well… What can I tell you briefly about the Tsáchila tribe? The name Tsáchila means “true people”, but the Spanish referred to them as “Colorados” which means “red”, a name chosen because the men of the tribe shave their hair off at the sides with the remaining hair sculpted with the use of a mixture of grease and red achiote seeds into a pointed peak cap-like shape.
It is believed that the Tsáchila numbered around 20.000 in the late 18th century, but only an estimated 2.000 Tsáchila remained in 8 small reservations. Primarly, they were an agricultural community, and currently they work hard on retaining their unique culture and heritage in a fast changing world.
The next morning I woke up from the sun lightening my ‘room’ around 6AM. As my ‘room’ had no doors, no windows and only a ‘natural floor and ceiling’, I could hear how nature woke up. Unfortunately, there were not only birds flying around but also mosquitos (and yes, of course I got bitten). When taking some stuff out of my bag, I discovered a cockroach. As nature was the upper power here, I decided to let it and wait until it would walk away again itself.
After a strange but delicious breakfast (fish + banana in a bowl), I met Alfonso again and talked another few hours with him, this time we focused on the work we would do with the volunteers the coming weeks, and we tried to make a daily schedule. Of course, this would depend on a lot of things: weather, culture and the everlasting ‘mañana’ mentality which can make vast plans change in one second.
As the rain stopped (it usually rains in the afternoons or at night in the jungle), Alfonso showed me the surrounding areas, including the river where we would wash ourselves during two weeks. For this time, as it was only one night, I decided to skip this part and return home without a “shower”.
Funny note… In the Bua community, there is only an ecological toilet where you have two holes in the floor: one for the pipi and one for the poopoo. So I better learn how to point it in the right hole, and don’t forget to cover it (just like a cat!). I can tell, it’s a different experience!
At 11 o’clock I decided to head back to Quito, as I wanted to arrive before dark there and I didn’t want to take any risks with the traffic problems of yesterday. Saying goodbye to Alfonso was more an ‘until we meet again’ and despite of the basic living conditions, I felt somehow happy to be there again soon. I had just been here one night, but I could feel it was a special place promising a change in my life if I would have gotten more time to be there, work, develop, compare and overthink life.
Around 6PM I arrived back home, later than expected because apparently there had been an landslide (seismic shift) on the road between Santo Domingo and Quito. Therefore, I had to travel longer than expected via other roads leading to another terminal in Quito. I guess this is normal here. Welcome to Ecuador!
And oh, what did it feel good to be home again, with a comfortable bed, shower and proper food…
P.S.: When I unpacked my bag, I discovered the cockroach did not walked out of my bag and had traveled the whole day on the bus with me. Thankfully, my host father eliminated the animal and after all, I could smile about it. I better get used to it!