... Galapagos is synonymous with nature conservation, environmental protection, bio-diversity, sustainability, ecotourism with a quite unstable balance. The islands are located far away in the Pacific, about 1,000 km off the coast of South America and pretty much on the equator.
Upon landing on San Cristóbal, I paid the USD 100 entrance fee to the National Park and was picked up at the airport. The volunteer project is a farm with about 20 cows (Simmentaler breed!) and 50 hectares of land, with a small coffee plantation for study purposes and a weather station.
Two employees are part of the team - the calm and hard-working Alfredo, who mainly looks after the livestock and keeps the normal operation going, and Pepe, who takes care of the volunteer work. A young and genuine nature boy, who works from morning to evening with a smiling face and always a spell on his lips with full dedication every day. He does everything with much joy and fun. Be it with the machete, in the garden or the kitchen, while cleaning ... he can do everything! Two run-in four-legged friends are in the party: Pirata, the little dog, island hybrid, who, despite his short legs, is everywhere, and Nugget, the cat; both always ready to be cuddled.
With the support of volunteers the tasks of the project are mastered. These include the eradication of invasive plants (the worst of which are blackberries and guava) and afforestation with indigenous trees, as well as community support and operations on the surrounding farms. In addition, a Hippo therapy is offered to help disabled children. An additional part of the work is to sporadically rid the beaches of waste.
The only concerns I had with my reservation were immediately upon my arrival: instead of sharing space with others in the dorm, I had a single room for me, and almost everyone spoke English! In addition, there was a large kitchen, where everyone could cook for themself to his own taste. In the evening, we often compensated the lack of internet access with a trip to the small town, where we also did our shopping.
When I arrived, three young Brazilians, Arthur, Roberto and Xixa, and a Dane volunteered at the project. I was immediately well received and was part of the game. Work began in the morning around eight o'clock. On my first day we were all assigned to community work to paint in El Progreso, the nearest town, the curbs of the sidewalks. With a crooked back, we were redeemed at half past twelve and spent the siesta in the hammocks.
During the second mission in Progreso, the police came by - not with blue light, but with sandwiches and sparkling water for us! Right at the beginning the vegetable garden was assigned to me. The whole garden was rebuilt after a destruction. The next morning, I went to work in the garden while the boys moved on to the field to get rid of the invasive plants. The afternoon shift was always short and then the boys usually went to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno for shopping, which was only about 10 km away and accessible by taxi. I usually joined them. Everyone logged in somewhere to the internet, got the supply of food and together we drove back by taxi and cooked our dinner.
The first few days went by very fast and Pepe instructed us in the cleaning shifts. In the evening there was pizza for everyone! A new facet of my work was picking coffee beans. At the top of the hill, with a magnificent view of the coast, was a small coffee plantation that served as both a natural pest control project and a source of coffee. While I was doing my work, Alberto swung the machete with the boys again to stop the wilderness.
The big moment came on Friday with the arrival of a group of volunteers - nine young ladies and three grown-up boys, most of them from the UK. The moments of calm were over ... but I was offered interesting insights into the study of group behavior. Already the first weekend was just around the corner and I drove with the boys to Puerto to take a closer look at the town. Travel agencies, souvenir shops, a few hotels and restaurants located in front of the main street were fully oriented towards tourism. Before that there was the pier and waterfront and the view of a whole sea lion colony, which lolled on the sand strip and the lava rocks and crawling iguanas. Even seabirds were everwhere around, while the red cliff crabs were playing their game on the rocks. The animals were always relaxed, but I was stressed for a moment when I almost stumbled over an iguana ... ohhhh!
Sunday morning we all left the project together for a day trip. Pepe had made sure that the bus made an extra run. We first went to the town and then to the other side of the island. San Cristobal has just one road that leads across the island from Puerto Baquerizo to Puerto Chino, from where the beach is within walking distance. We all visited the breeding station of the giant tortoises. Then we moved to the beach, which is located in a small bay. The vegetation is very dry, mixed with cactus and the whole beach without shade. The sun burned unrestrained and my taste was still spoiled by the dream beaches of Seychelles. I had no desire to sun burn and soon made my way back on foot. There was a restaurant on the road about four miles ahead ... just before my destination the boys passed by in taxi and picked me up. We went to the restaurant, ate tons of empanadas and relaxed. Soon, the girls were on the way back, most like baked crabs, as it turned out in the evening.
Also in the second week, I was again assigned to do garden work, like sowing, watering and weeding, while the group devoted themselves to invasive plants in the field. On Tuesday it was again community work; this time we helped Pepes father, who runs a charcoal burning with the guava wood next to his small farm. We collected the charcoal and filled it into bags. On Wednesday another action was planned; this consisted in cleaning a beach, which was only accessible via a walk through the national park. Past the largest coffee plantation producing for Starbucks, the path with sharp-edged lava drifts. I was always accompanied by one of the guys at my adjusted pace while the others went off and then collected an incredible amount of rubbish in sacks. Thanks to Pepes preparations, there was a merry lunch break with pizza afterwards. Another facet of the project’s mission is the Hippo Therapy. Alberto made the two horses ready and in the nearby sports field the disabled children were given Equine Therapy sessions. This time, the therapists brought only two children. So, I returned to the garden for watering. On Friday there was another group work: on top of the hill, under the direction of Alberto plastic bags had to be filled with soil. These are used for the cultivation of native citrus trees, which are later used for reforestation of the cleared fields. Seven hundred of sacks were ready when we sat down to have lunch together, which Pepe had cooked for all of us.
In the evening, I prepared a farewell dinner for the Brazilian guys with 3 pounds of tuna from the market, and a pot of potatoes. Afterwards, the whole gang went off to Puerto to celebrate and did not return until the early morning hours. The ferry to Santa Cruz left at seven o'clock on Saturday morning, and half the group wanted to escort the boys to Santa Cruz. When I had not heard a note just before six o'clock, I knocked at the boy’s door ... ! Despite the chaos, everyone got on time to the ferry and the farm had a quiet weekend ahead. I drove to the pier for the last big goodbye, then did some final shopping, strolled along the waterfront and compared the offers for day trips. I really wanted to see the blue-footed boobies, but all trips were too long or too far. So I started on Sunday from Puerto for a walk to a nearby bay. No sign of the boobies, but dark clouds in the sky. I was just getting to the first cafeteria for cake and coffee when the thunderstorm broke loose, but soon calmed down. Back on the promenade I saw on the lava rock a booby bird with the penetrating blue feet not two meters in front of me!
We all missed the happy Brazilians, even Pepe was calmer and I was already in the starting blocks for packing. There was still time for a round in the garden and cleaning, then my stay with the last working day came to an end. The time had gone so fast and the work was really fun. Now I was ready for the next part of the trip. I said goodbye to everyone, left my blue metallized rubber boots and flew back to the mainland to Guayaquil.