Ariana Akhavan - Galapagos Island Conservation in Ecuador
Meeting my host family
I was collected from San Cristobal airport on a sunny Tuesday afternoon by a Projects Abroad staff member. To say I was apprehensive would be an understatement, but I was initially made to feel at ease surrounded by friendly faces and big smiles.
I was taken straight to my host family and introduced to everyone – my new mom, dad, a brother and sister, plus an auntie and cousin. It was nice to be part of a family so similar to my own with extended family just around the corner! Another volunteer from Germany also lived in the house and had been there for 4 weeks already!
I was instantly struck by the helpfulness of each member of the family to carry my bags, get me a drink, and offer their seat to me. I was still apprehensive but it was slowly fading! After a tour of the town, seemingly a sea-lion's playground, and an introduction at the office, I was returned to my host family and spent the afternoon getting to know them and playing the first of countless card games with the children! They quickly became of the best things I brought with me!
At the Care project
The following day I was taken to my Care Project and introduced to the teacher - a wonderful lady called Gina and her class of beautiful three and four year olds. I had been a secondary school teacher in the UK working with teenagers so a room full of energetic - and rapidly-Spanish speaking toddlers - was a shock to the system!
I spent some time with them, learning names and the routine of the day. Gina (a teacher) was so friendly and so appreciative of my help and really made me feel welcome. I attended every day for 4 weeks thereafter and loved every minute!
Every morning I was greeted with a kiss and hug from Gina, and over the course of my time there, the children were more responsive. We played games, learnt numbers - in Spanish (Gina) and English (me); read stories, planted seeds, made bread, completed puzzles to the extent that when the day ended I was disappointed and already looked forward to the next morning. Gina would again kiss and hug me goodbye and thank me profusely. She really did all the hard work but I was glad I could help in some way!
Travelling on the weekends
There was so much to do on San Cristobal Island that I was rarely bored from a beautiful beach at Puerto Chino to the sea-lion covered Playa Mann to diving at Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido). I took advantage of all of it! I was also able to visit three other Islands during my time in the Galápagos - Isabela, Santa Cruz and Floreana - all of which were unique and interesting in their own way!
Using the weekends to explore was something I was keen to do before I arrived and would definitely recommend. Isabela is a stunning island with beautiful beaches and amazing scenery. Santa Cruz felt touristy but equally had some incredible places to visit, such as Tortuga Bay! Floreana is interesting purely for the islands’ intriguing history! But there's lots of wildlife to see as well! Nothing is too far away and with the option of flights or boats, it's also not too difficult to get anywhere! The staff at the Projects Abroad office was helpful and friendly so can help with recommendations if you're stuck!
My impressions of The Galápagos
The people on all the islands were also incredibly friendly and welcoming and so I always enjoyed my walk to and from my placement or simple wandering around the town!
I also had a few hours of Spanish lessons, but still had to listen carefully when people spoke! Food was a big part of my stay in the Galápagos Islands as my host mum was an excellent cook from empanadas to amazing soups to ceviche!
My host family also only ever seemed to eat with a spoon which was alien to me but something I soon adopted! As well as my Care Project I was also able to take part in some community work. For example Projects Abroad organised "Dirty Day" where we cleaned a neighbourhood of all the rubbish. I have never done before and although it was hard work, it was very rewarding!
The most lasting impression I will have of the Galápagos is the abundance of wildlife! On my first afternoon I saw a sea lion lounging in the street and was, of course, amazed but I almost became normal as they were everywhere! I spotted countless species of birds, including the famous blue-footed boobies. When diving I saw more sea lions, sting rays and sharks! When swimming in Isabela, I saw penguins and pelicans! I was surrounded and loved it!
My final thoughts
I have many memories from my time in the Galápagos Islands from my wonderful host family and how they completely welcomed me into their home; spending time in a different education system which always interests me as a former teacher; travelling in one of the most incredible parts of the world - the whole experience was beyond my expectations!
I decided to volunteer as an addition to a longer trip I had already planned in South America and I'm glad I added the Galápagos on! I feel very privileged to have been able to not only travel but fully immerse myself in the culture of these stunning islands and spend time with their people. It was a unique experience to the way I had travelled before and definitely something I would love to do again! I already miss the sea lions!