Cindy Martin - Galapagos Island Conservation in Ecuador
I never thought I would bring my family to the Galapagos. I first found out about Projects Abroad online and found that they were a highly recommended organisation. This project was for me, my husband and our three children (a thirteen-year-old boy and twin eleven-year-old girls). After speaking to a Projects Abroad representative on the phone, who answered all my questions, we started the process of getting dates set, arranging visas, finding out what living arrangements we would need and also having Projects Abroad arrange our flights.
I have to admit that I had no idea what I was doing for this or where we needed to fly into and how to get from the United States to the Galapagos. That is one of the many ways that Projects Abroad was wonderful. Katrina, with Projects Abroad, arranged for all of our flights and got us all of the information would need when we got to the Galapagos, who our contact was, who would meet us at the airport and his phone number.
Projects Abroad was in contact with us many times before the trip making sure all of the details were done and answering any of our questions. We could also sign into the website and see all of our information, from our flights to information about our host family, which was very helpful.
Arriving in San Cristobal
We showed up tired, but ready to work. A wonderful and very helpful Project Abroad representative met us along with the other volunteers at the airport. He dropped us off at our host family’s house and introduced our family to the host family. He then told us to relax and that he would be back in the morning to pick us up for work. After getting settled in our rooms, our host father showed us around the area. He only spoke Spanish and I only spoke a little Spanish, but we were still able to communicate fairly well.
We went down to the beach and I was sitting there amazed that the people and sea lions were both on the beach and swimming! All the people were very respectful to the animals. They did not bother them at all and the sea lions were very tolerant of the people. Only the bulls would sometimes get mad and charge at a person, but really just to get them to move. We were also able to see some marine iguanas and crabs along the rocks. They all were very easy going and had a tolerant relationship with each other.
Our Conservation project in Ecuador
That first day was great and very informative. We took a truck over the mountain on the island to the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre to begin our volunteer work. Before arriving at the Breeding Centre the Projects Abroad representatives had us pick up large plant stalks of food that they cut and we loaded them on the back of the truck. The tortoises like their greens! Then we drove to the centre to bring them the food. They had us put the food down and then we just left these awesome giants alone in their natural habitat.
Later we cleaned out the tortoises’ water area by scrubbing and rubbing it down with brooms. After cleaning time we were given a tour of the breeding and incubation areas and saw tortoises at different stages, from those still in the egg, to young month old tortoises, to adolescent, up until full grown.
After this we went to the agricultural centre across the road. This is the facility where they are trying to re-grow native plants for the island. I loved how everything Projects Abroad does is to help the island, its animals and the people who live there.
Volunteering in the Galapagos
We came back to town each working day about noon and our host family had a meal ready for us. The father is a fisherman and seafood is their main fare. By the second day we had already had tuna, lobster and baccala, all delicious! They were a great family and willing to help us any way they could.
Our afternoons were spent how we wanted, which was usually at the beach swimming with the sea lions. However, one time the sea lion decided instead of swimming with the people she wanted to sunbathe on my daughter’s towel. I very delicately tried to get her off which didn’t work, but then my husband was able to finally shoo her away. I guess even animals want someplace soft to rest on at times!
By the following day we had gotten into a normal routine of getting up at 6am, having a breakfast ready for us made by the family, then we would walk about a half mile to the Projects Abroad office. Once all the volunteers were there we all took taxis to our work site, which this day, was planting banana trees on some farmland. Very hard work and dirty, but rewarding when you can see your results of all the plants in the ground.
The next day was fun; we counted sea lions on certain beach areas and picked up trash, not so fun, but needed. The Galapagos really wants to make sure that the sea lion population is remaining stable and not adversely affected by the people or boats around. Projects Abroad is a key part in being able to provide this information to the government in order to maintain the stability of the islands and its environment.
Our last Friday was a day off and our host family’s father took us to Playa Loborio to snorkel and see the marine iguanas. The kids were able to snorkel see more sea lions, lots of cool fish and even touch sea turtles in the water in the cove area!
The last day was very sad. We had had such a good time and Projects Abroad was a wonderful organisation to do a volunteer project with. I always felt comfortable with what we were doing and we knew that the goal of it was to help the island.