Don’t look up!

So, after Mindo I was picked up by Jorge, the father of the volunteer co-ordinator, and delivered to another homestay which was… different from the other one, not necessarily in a good way! I spent a day using the wi-fi and resting some more as I still didn’t feel 100%. I had meals on my own, very different from Carmen’s friendly company at the school’s homestay!
The next morning I was taken to Gaby’s apartment, the volunteer co-ordinator, who had a fantastic apartment with this panoramic Guayasamín view of quito!
I met the other two volunteers coming to the Galapagos, and three others who were off to a different project on the mainland, all of them at uni and some more…companionable…than others! After a quiz about Ecuador and a briefing about what the project would be like ‘blah blah blah… No hot water… Around 20 volunteers in total [phew!]… blah blah blah’! we all set off to Mitad del Mundo, the equator line. After getting lost on the way (!) we saw a real shrunken head, the water going straight down on the line but anticlockwise on the northern side, clockwise in the south (I’m still cynical though!) and the French monument (apparently) that according to GPS is 200m too far south!
Next day, Charlie, Edna and I had an early start to catch the flight to San Cristóbal via Guayaquil… in the company of about 50 school children (cue screams on take-off, turbulence, landing…). Having read the testimonials and details about the project, we had the feeling we were about to get quite a culture shock! Through the tiny airport-with-no-walls, we met Cesar (project director) and Bekki, another volunteer, very lovely girl from Wiltshire 🙂 and took the taxi (= pickup truck) out of the tiny town and up into the rainy, misty highlands, muddier and more remote as we go!
A group of people were cleaning the mud out of the ‘canteen building’ floor, and we each got assigned a bed before sitting outside amongst the yellow Darwin’s Finches for a reality-hits briefing! Everything is really quite expensive to do here, and at the weekends all the volunteers tend to pay extra to go and stay in the town to see the animals and have a hot shower and escape the spiders!! We had wellies to borrow as all the paths between the two accommodation houses and the kitchen are muddy, and had needed to bring a head mosquito net and work gloves. Just like home then!? Cleaned my teeth in an outside basin in the company of cockroaches, and spiders almost the size of my hand, and decided to put off shower and toilet until daylight hours! In my room, I settled under my mosquito net with the uneasy ‘goodnight’ of “Just don’t look up, then you won’t know how many spiders are up there!” Bit overwhelmed. Think this is more than I’d bargained for!
These are full-sized breeze-blocks!!
Next morning it didn’t seem quite so bad, and our first work assignment was to be a drive further into the highlands to the semi-natural tortoise breeding sanctuary, to clear some land of vegetation and broken branches (with a machete) as the animals needed more nesting ground. About 8 of us, including a lovely married couple from California, did a pleasant and satisfying morning’s work clearing a decent area and piling up all the branches, avoiding the poison apple trees (sap can burn your skin!) and endemic [exists only here in the world] species, and surrounded by leaves smelling of a kind of verbena or mint. A lot of the branches were bramble, an invasive introduced species that the islanders are in constant battle with, as birds eat the blackberries and drop seeds each time a load of it is cut back! A sentence I never thought I would utter: ‘Where’s my machete?’ Then we went to see some giant tortoises!
The breeding programme collects eggs from where they’re laid, and incubates them and protects them until they’re past the stage of being vulnerable. The one with a ‘1’ on its back is the first successful result of the programme!
Back to the station, it was fairly warm so I decided to brave an early shower – more accurately described as a cold tap above your head with mud on the concrete floor, breeze block walls and a tin roof. In a way the cold of the water took my mind off the chunky big spider that met my eye as I leaned back to wash my hair!
Then a rest in a hammock, dinner of rice and beans and bed, after chatting to Bekki and trying to learn the names of the various US college students who make up the majority of the group, in addition to Bruce (Chinese, learned English in Glasgow with the accent, calls people ‘lassie’, with a Canadian slant to boot!) and William (attends Winchester College!!)

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Posted in Ecuador, Galápagos, Volunteering
One comment on “Don’t look up!
  1. Rach says:

    I could not have coped with those spiders! You are a very brave lady indeed! x

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