Maria Schep - Galapagos Island Conservation in Ecuador
Before I got to Ecuador, I was not really sure what to expect. I was opening minded, excited and ready to get stuck in. All I knew was that I was going to be able to help with the conservation efforts in one of the most beautiful wonders of the natural world.
I was nervous because I couldn’t speak a word of Spanish and I wasn’t sure whether my host family would be able to communicate with me. I was looking forward to seeing Sea Lions and maybe go snorkelling, maybe even see a Marine Iguana! I wasn’t expecting what I did end up seeing in the Galapagos Islands.
Arriving in San Cristobal
I arrived at San Cristobal airport and was met by the smiling Projects Abroad team. In the back of a taxi (what in Europe would be called a pick-up truck) I was taken to my host family. My fears were realised when my host Mum didn’t speak a word of English. At first this was a challenge, however as the weeks past, it became my own personal aim to try and communicate with the family. I did this by trying to learn some Spanish and combined this with some imaginative body language to communicate successfully.
Projects Abroad staff showed me where the office was, were I met staff member William, who spent some time talking to me about the project and what to expect. He was clear, helpful and very approachable. I was excited for what was to come.
My schedule looked like this:
Wake up at 6am
Have an elaborate breakfast, prepared by my amazing host Mum at 7am
Walk to the office by 7:30am
A taxi would then pick us up and take us to whatever project was organised that day. Projects included:
- Sea Lion monitoring.
- Marine Iguana counting.
- Beach cleaning.
- Organic farming.
- The reintroduction of native plant species at the nursery.
Between the hours of 12:30- 1:00 pm I would return to my host family for an elaborative lunch made by host Mum.
The afternoons were free for me to do as I please. Some of things I did was go shopping in the little souvenir shops, sunbath on the beach, write postcards, have a nap, play with my host sister (who was nine) or walk over the island taking pictures of all the spectacular wildlife.
In the end, I saw so much wildlife I couldn’t even record it all. Sea lions would lie next to me as I sunbathed on the beaches, the marine iguanas were as stiff as rocks when I approached (meaning I could take some extreme close ups), finches eating crackers out my hands and black volcanic rocks covered in thousands of jittery crabs. It was 1000’s of times better than I could have ever imagined.
In the evenings my host Mum made the best dinners, which used to be served at around 7pm. I would usually go to bed around 10pm. However when I started to get familiar with the area, I went out for some Salsa dancing and socialising with new found friends at the many bars and restaurants.
It was a relaxed lifestyle, but one that meant I could take full advantage of being in such a rare and beautiful part of Earth.
Weekend Get Away
During my stay I had one weekend to try to explore another island. I was advised by William and my host family that if I was going to see any Island before I leave, it should be Isabella.
I went to one of the travel agents on San Cristobel and bought a ticket with the boat. It took about 2 hours to get to Santa Cruz and then I had to wait until I got on another 2 hour boat to Isabella. I was told that some of the other volunteers were staying in the Volcano Hotel.
I tried to look this up and book it before I went, but I couldn’t find any contact details online. Once I arrived to island Isabella I asked the taxi driver to take me there and thankfully there was a room free for me to sleep in.
My first impression of Isabella was that it was so quiet. Although one of the bigger Islands, it’s one of the least populated, which meant that you got a real feel of what the Galapagos would have been like in Darwin’s time. Its volcanic history is evident throughout its landscapes and the rural feel was exaggerated by the fact that there was no bank or ATM anywhere on the Island. This obviously was very inconvenient; however it meant that I had to think innovatively about what I was going to spend my money on.
I already had a look, on Tripadvisor, what the best things I could do on Isabella were. The top two attractions were snorkelling in Los Tunneles and climbing Sierra Negra. I immediately went to book these tours, so that I didn’t waste any of my precious weekend time. I would advise everyone to definitely do the same!
I got to swim with the Sea Lions, Penguins, Sting Rays, Seahorses, Turtles and plenty of fish. I walked on a volcano, took photos of the best views and felt the lava steam come out the ground. I walked with the Iguanas, spotted Tortoises, and saw the Blue Footed Boobies tending to their eggs. The weather was fantastic throughout although I did get awfully sunburnt!
What I want to make obvious with this section is that I would advise anyone to explore the Galapagos fully. Don’t just stay on the one island. The more you put in, the more you will get out of this amazing experience.
My Advice to Future Volunteers
- Be open-minded; be friendly and active in meeting the people around you. The closer you get to the other volunteers the better the experience.
- Take every opportunity that comes along. If some of your friends are going to another island on the weekend, go with them; don’t wait until your last week.
- Stay longer than 2 weeks to really take full advantage of being in the Galapagos. This might be the first and last time you go.
- Bring a big budget, it’s not cheap there. Also bring it in cash as the cash machines are very temperamental and some islands don’t even have ATM’s!