For a continent that enjoys moving at a leisurely pace, things sure have been moving quickly! It’s been over 2 months since I ventured out of my north New Jerseyan hole and into the vastness of South America. It’s been a great ride, but that’s expected when you stop working and don’t stop visiting new places and meeting new people for any length of time. Unfortunately, the result of this is that I’ve been enjoying everything so much that I haven’t been posting very much about it! So I’m catching up here with Ecuador and all of the amazing animals and people that I’ve met.
Ecuador started with some pangs of homesickness. I had just recently surpassed my longest trek away from home of 2 weeks and was leaving the people that I had met in Peru for this new country. But I had lots to look forward to! And I would soon figure that out. I arrived in Quito, the capital on a Sunday afternoon and was picked up by the kind women running the homestay for volunteers in the Galapagos. I was given lunch and immediately invited to go out with their family as they were taking their grandmother to some shops. It seemed like a normal enough thing to do with people I just met, so I tagged along. I got a nice taste of the holidays that I was missing with some Christmas trees and plenty of holiday shoppers.
I couldn’t have asked for kinder hosts in my very short stay in Quito. The next morning, in my comfort of their beds, I nearly overslept my flight! I arrived at the airport not more than 1 1/2 hours before my flight would take off but thankfully it was a light day in the capital’s airport and I made it very easily. Before I knew it, I was touching down in the Galapagos Islands. This archipelago was previously named the Enchanted Isles and I find that name very fitting. There is a surprising history behind these islands, including authoritarian communities that have repeatedly come and gone, pirates, and of course an inspiration to the magnificent Charles Darwin. These all go without yet mentioning the incredible wildlife that calls these islands home, many of which are found nowhere else on earth. But enough with the history lesson.
I arrived at the airport and was picked up by a kind islander man who drove me to the nature reserve where I would be volunteering for the next 3 weeks. I was both excited as well as nervous. I would be living, working, and spending free time with these people and had no idea who they were. I had plenty of thoughts running through my head as the trees and people and sights raced past the window of the pickup truck that carried me. Thankfully, I had no reason to be worried and the kindness of these people was quickly evident. I wasted no time getting to work as I started pulling together old barbed wire to recycle and reuse later within the first hour of being there.
Life in this nature reserve included basic beds with mosquito nets (but private rooms!), simple bathrooms, and lots and lots of tuna. Food was all included as part of the deal and many meals included tuna with pasta or rice and other delicious food. Those meals were everything for me. Working outdoors from 8-12 in the morning then 2-5 in the afternoon meant that food wasn’t just something to do 3 times a day, it was sustenance to make it through each leg of the day. It might sound a bit silly, but it was enjoyable to really feel like I needed the food I was eating. And it made the food taste even better to be so hungry. Anyway, I’m getting a bit carried away with simple food talk so I’ll digress from this little episode.
You might be curious as to what type of work I was doing for three weeks in the jungle of the Galapagos. Most of the work was repeated at different points in my stay and included planting different vegetables in the organic garden, maintaining the trails surrounding the volunteer camp, building a new fence to keep pesky cows out of the property (and from eating the plants there), and most notoriously, cutting down blackberry bushes. More affectionately known by the Spanish name, mora, cutting those blackberry bushes was no easy task. This work usually meant getting plenty of mosquito bites, getting scratched by the thorny branches, and sweating…a lot. But I loved it. Mainly because I got to use a machete but also because I just loved the feeling of working outdoors. It’s been a welcome change to being in cold offices for long hours the past 4 years.
Since this post is getting a bit long, I’m going to cut myself off but check in for the second half of the Galapagos in the next post. There’s a twist there you don’t want to miss!