Galapagos 6, Ecuador
When the English classes finished it was actually quite a sad moment. Even those students who didn’t seem to have paid any attention seemed sad, and one student who is normally painfully shy in my adult class practically threw herself at me thanking me profusely for my patience – quite a shock! My 8 seater mini-plane left for the island of Isabela at the ungodly hour of 7am. At 6.30am I attempted to wake Jason up to say Goodbye…. I got a grunt and not much else! Rachel and I were very pleased to see that we would be flying with 5 nuns. Rachel thought that God couldn’t possibly strike down such a “holy” plane. Every local I had spoken to before catching this plane had told me the same story about how one crashed not long ago…great. Surprisingly this flight was very smooth and nothing like that terror-inducing flight in New Zealand, however the scenery was nothing compared to New Zealand either! Apart from the infamous Galàpagos “garua”, a heavy mist which often covers the islands in the cold season, Isabela was exactly as I had remembered it. It still amazes me how few tourists come here considering what it has to offer. Where else can you find flamingo filled lagoons metres away from long white beaches, penguins swimming around with sea lions, dozens of marine iguanas clambering all over each other, mangrove forests and tropical palms and 5 spectacular volcanoes. Along with this the tiny town of Puerto Villamil is like travelling back in time and the pace of life is so laid back that having nothing to do appears to be the only thing to do! At the moment only one light airplane and one small boat arrive here each day. However, sadly, as of August this year there will be flights from mainland Ecuador. The locals seem quite excited about this, but to me it seems only too likely that some of the beauty of this island will be destroyed by tourism. While Rachel whizzed around doing all the tourist stuff I had already done I was extremely content to sit on my deckchair on what seemed like my own beach, right in front of our “beach bungalow”, which we ended up getting for a bargain price (always pays to mention being a volunteer!) The most action the beach saw was the odd solitary marine iguana crawling out of the waves, waddling along for a bit, and then swimming off to his rock to sit for a few hours of sun bathing and staring at nothing. Nights were equally chilled, usually spent eating one of the usual “set dinners” and then sitting in the beach bar listening to the sea. The owner, Bato, is quite crazy and seriously believes he is Ecuador´s best DJ. He busies himself “mixing and spinning” in a tiny, tranquil bar which never has more than 3 people in it. Our friend from Cristòbal, Julie, arrived. She will be here for 5 weeks making a promotion video for the tourism authority, 5 weeks will be a long time here I think! Everything was going well until the last day when I came down with some hideous food poisoning bug. Our trip back to Cristóbal was via the tourist-hub of Santa Cruz which meant catching an extremely small boat. The boat had 2 outboard engines and literally flew over the massive waves and then crashed back down every few seconds. Already being ill it was more than my stomach could handle and I spent the entire 2 hours throwing up (being watched and pitied by all the other passengers, as usual), most definitely the worst boat trip of my life! On Santa Cruz, I managed to drag myself to see the giant tortoises in the wild, which had been the main reason to stop off there. This was something really special, even on the drive up to the highlands we stopped just short of a huge tortoise sitting in the middle of the track. Seeing these creatures in captivity is amazing, but coming across them in the wild is just as unforgettable. To think that scientists believe their closest relatives from the mainland somehow floated across 1000km of ocean to arrive is quite something, given that some of species they have evolved into now can weigh up to 250kg and live for 150 years. 14 Different sub-species with different shaped shells evolved on all of the islands, 3 are now extinct. However, before man arrived there were an estimated 200,000 of them, now, after slaughter by whalers and sealers in the 18th century, there are only about 20,000 of them, and many of these are threatened by the introduced species. After another 2 hour boat-flying episode, I was extremely glad to be back on San Cristòbal and in my own bed. For the next 5 days I didn’t see much else except the inside of my room. Thankfully my fantastic landlady/host-mother, Nelly, is a pharmacist and is used to caring for sick gringos! She plied me with medicines, homemade soups and special herbal brews. After 2 different sets of antibiotics I wasn’t much better and was dreading the inevitable visit to the local (very small) “hospital”. A friend had been volunteering as a nurse there for 3 months and I had heard one too many scary stories about it. Fortunately a friend of a friend advised me to call the only French educated, English speaking Doctor in the Galapagos, on Santa Cruz. She has been living on Santa Cruz for a year and told me more scary stories about medical care here. I did so, and his over-the-phone diagnosis (salmonella) and prescription were a god-send – with new antibiotics I was on the mend by the next day. It had been probably the worst 8 days of the whole trip so far. So now I have reached the last few days in this paradise. My stomach churns when I think of leaving. If you have been reading this since we arrived you will know that, for me (and for Jason too I think), this has been one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. We leave knowing that at least we have made some impact on the community, however small, whilst living alongside some of the most unique creatures on the planet. Some of the memories I will treasure most are: · The wide-eyed faces of the children when we first taught them to skip, and their excitement at toasting marshmallows whilst camping · My class of teenagers` surprise when I showed them “Blu-tac” for the first time and demonstrated that it sticks to walls! (They thought it must be chewing gum..) · The adult class singing their hearts out to “Penny Lane” · Creeping home along the pitch black beach pathway each night and almost treading on sea lions who choose to sleep right on the path · Diving with inquisitive sea lions all around me · Spending hours sitting on the beach counting the heads of turtles popping up for air, watching pelicans swoop down to catch fish and blue-footed-bobbies dive bomb into the water · Walking along the street everyday and bumping into so many people I know that it takes me an extra 15 mins to get where I am going · Being half an hour late for everything and still being the first one there.. · Little Ivan’s (from our house) huge sad eyes when he asked me when “Professor Jason” was coming back and I said “never”. Of course there are things that I would rather forget… · The carbohydrate overload and awful meat · The flies and dirt at the “butchers” and the rancid smell of the meat as they cut it. (The butchers is nothing more than 2 freezers and an electric cutting machine plonked in an alley between 2 buildings!) · Being in a place without reliable medical care · Being forced to go on miniscule boats in very rough seas! It’s also going to be very strange having to lookout for my belongings again after 3 months in a place with next to no crime. There is supposedly only one thief here on Cristóbal, and he only has one arm! (Cue many bad jokes about the `armless thief etc..) Along with the sadness though, I am slightly excited about meeting up with civilisation again: shops that sell more than Galápagos T shirts and plastic tortoises, readily available newspapers and magazines, International food etc… and of course Jason! Thanks for reading if you made it this far!