Galapagos 4, Ecuador
A very exciting thing happened to the residents of San Cristobal this week. It was San Cristobal´s first (and last perhaps..) “Dive festival” organised by some of the Dive shops. Really it turned into a kind of all-round-everything-festival as far as I could see. Nueva Era´s “Environment Club” staged a whole morning of children’s activities in the main square of the town which involved kids flying round all over the place painting everything in sight. Jason’s role appeared to be amusing the bored kids with hours of that Kiwi fave game “Keepie Uppie” though he´s not quite sure the children understood the point of the game. I had thought that this would be the height of the fun, but I was wrong. Much to my surprise that evening the town square was choka block with people – more people than I realised actually live here and the atmosphere was electric. 2 bands from “the mainland” had arrived and were giving a concert, the excitement was reaching breaking point by the time the “headliners” came on stage. I must admit that with the lack of any sort of entertainment here even I was very excited by the thought of one of Ecuador’s most famous groups. You can imagine our dissapointment then when 4 teenagers hopped onto the stage and began rapping in Spanish. Not that there´s anything wrong with rap music itself but only one of them actually did anything but gyrate around the stage and the “songs” had catchy lyrics such as “put your hand up if you’re a slob” (repeated 5000 times). The boys were wearing baggy shell-suit tracksuit bottoms and the girls white velour tracksuit bottoms and clingy white t-shirts – they all looked as if they had escaped from a scouse council estate! (Oh dear I think I am showing my age….) For some reason last weekend we and 4 other volunteers decided to take the kids who come to Nueva Era´s Environment Club camping to a beach nearby. Ecuadorian children look extremely cute on first impressions, but sometimes beneath those huge brown eyes they are not so cute… as we found out. Persuading the kids to do anything was a challenge, if they didn’t want to play a beach game or do the treasure hunt that some volunteers had spent all morning setting up, then they wouldn’t and no one could tell them otherwise. After serious amounts of persuasion the treasure hunt pretty much bombed since they didn’t get the concept of one clue leading to another… but we did eventually teach them some games after shouting for a full hour at them to stand still and listen to the rules! We thought after all this they would be tired by the evening, but no. At 10pm they were still careering around the beach knocking each other over like there was no tomorrow. Only the promise of toasting marshmallows enticed them back to the campfire. As we only had one marshmallow per child there was a near riot as Jason found himself almost trampled on by kids shouting “I haven’t had one yet” (in Spanish) even though they clearly had a burnt stick in their hands. When Jason said he had just seen them eating one they still carried on trying to lie, which was very amusing. Two Mothers from New Zealand and their children also joined us camping. They are here as part of their 4 year round the world trip on a sailing boat. Their children mixed in quite well with the locals despite not being able to communicate, but I think even they could see how different these kids were to themselves. Ecuadorian children are incredibly loud, energetic and touchy-feely and will constantly be hugging or clinging onto you. Shy children just do not seem to exist here. The eldest Kiwi girl seemed quite shocked by the way the other little girls threw themselves at her. “Mummy why are these kids still so hyper and crazy at 10pm, and why won’t they let me sleep in peace”, she wailed. The Kiwi kids were so well behaved in comparison to the local kids. I have to say though that despite being little terrors, many of them are so cute. The little boys were desperatly trying to learn some English words to talk to the Kiwi boys, they stood around the fire shouting “Be Carfu” after asking me to translate “be careful” from Spanish. After finally getting them to bed in their mostly makeshift tents (made out of sheets and towels draped from branches), Jason and I crept off home as we had no tent! Early the next morning we took them on a hike to a snorkelling spot. I showed my prowess as a responsible adult by getting lost on the hike and being shown the way by some stray kids from our group! Jason had fun giving the cutest little girl a ride on his back through the water as she couldn’t swim. Meanwhile I was nearly drowned by a not-so-small little girl whilst attempting to teach her how to snorkel for the first time. The next day we walked into town and had a shock: the promenade was packed with tourists, shops were full of goods and restaurants had popped up where they hadn’t been before. Every single shop had tables outside pretending to be a cafe! Normally you will see the odd group of tourists a few times a week, what was going on? Apparently the airport on Santa Cruz , the main island where cruises depart from, has closed for 2 months so flights have been diverted here. It’s taken some getting used to having all these people here: although it’s given the town a new burst of life (the Disco has gone from once a week to every night opening!) and it’s great for the economy, it’s been a lesson to us in how tourism is damaging the wildlife’s habitat. Before all this sea lions would always come up from their beach into the main square to laze, now with the noise from live music (the stage from the dive festival has stayed) and so many more tourists they stay on their beach, many have even moved to different beaches out of town. Even the “Bachelor” colony near our house has changed, there are less of them and they don’t sleep anywhere near the path now as it’s near a previously little used hotel. Every hotel is bursting here now. It’s so strange as before if you saw a white face walking towards you it was invariably someone you knew; now it’s invariably a tourist. After 6 weeks we are just about getting used to life here and how things work. You can never rely on anything here, if people agree to a meeting odds are they won’t show up, if a shop should be open odds are it won’t be. We tend to eat what the locals eat as much as possible now to save money. At a “restaurant” $2 can get us a 3 course “set menu” lunch and drink – not great food but pretty damn cheap! My cravings for European food get less as I get used to the carbohydrate-overload that is the Ecuadorian diet. They rarely cook with any veg just meat or fish and mountains of white rice with half a bag of salt added! The simplicity of life here was strange at first but now the dirt-floor restaurants with plastic tables and chairs and the pot-holed pavements seem just normal. How will we adjust to life with eclectic kettles, toasters, microwaves and supermarkets I wonder??