Back in 2008 – when I was still living in Brazil – I had a crisis that probably most of us have in the middle of University: is that what I really want to do for the rest of my life?! What about this boring internship? Who never? Oh well, that was my case. On the other hand, I have always been connected with nature and wanted to do something useful for this Planet, instead of making Power Point presentations all day.
I needed a getaway, but not for vacation. I was hoping to find a place far from home, where I could help others somehow; and I had to go alone, face whatever I had to face by myself. So I quit my internship after finding the Jatun Sacha Foundation on Internet; and decided to take part on their volunteer work program in San Cristóbal, one of the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.
Of course my mom freaked out about it and thought I wouldn’t come back home alive! Soon I bought the tickets and embarked in the most amazing experience I ever had in my life. After 12 hours at São Paulo’s airport and 8 more at Lima’s, I arrived in Quito with a backpack, a lot of courage and no hostel reservation in the middle of the night.
Before embarking to the islands I had a briefing meeting at Jatun Sacha Foundation’s office, learned a lot about the work I would to do in the next 3 weeks and met amazing people, some were already coming from other reserves, others freshly arrived as me.
Arriving at San Cristóbal’s airport I knew there was no going back, there was, but not for me, I had to do this! Later on when I arrived at the reserve, located on the top of the rocky and volcanic mountain, I was introduced to my room, which I was going to share with some cool people and some ugly spiders! Wait, spiders? No one told me about that!
Seeing my face of fear they said not to worry, they are friendly and eat the mosquitoes! And I thought to myself: screw the mosquitoes! I’m going to sleep with the creature I am most afraid of in this life for 3 weeks! It didn’t take long for me to get to know the carmelitos – these mosquitos are little monsters – and thanked God spiders exist!
The reserve was in the middle of the tropical forest, green everywhere and that amazing smell of rain in the morning. Volunteers built the entire place, which was divided into 2 big houses made to accommodate new volunteers, each with 4 to 6 rooms for a minimum of 4 people, terraces with hammocks and separated showers and toilets just outside the houses. Additionally, there was the main house, where the kitchen was located and where we had our meetings.
Focusing on the work now, everyday we would have a briefing on what to do and the tasks were always divided into groups of people. We had many activities to do, from collaborating in the kitchen to cleaning the coastal area around the National Park. However, our biggest project was to protect the native plantings, by eliminating intruded plants, collecting seeds from the native plants and planting them. Of course we did a lot lot more, and here you can find all the work done at the reserve.
I didn’t mind the hard work; it made me see how this Planet needs us in so many ways. It was also great to plant and eat later; most of what we ate came from the trees the volunteers have planted along the years – lemons, oranges, coffee, etc – this fact was very rewarding.
After a long day of work, we all gathered at the main house, where we normally had our meetings and meals. Our coordinator would play the guitar and sing a Spanish song, and I would play with sweet “Linda” and “Nego”, the dogs. Then we would all head to the only bar nearby and have some fun all together, dancing and singing.
On the weekends everyone would go to the city – which was down at the beach, far from us at the top – and enjoy what it had to offer: cafes, bars, restaurants, and of course, more nature. Snorkeling, diving, camping, hiking, all there for us to make the most out of it. Some would enjoy the time to get a diving certificate, others would just go to the beach and get tanned, and I decided to travel around other islands, but this will come soon in another post!
When I left the Galapagos, I knew I was going to miss everything about it: the friends, the work, the hammock, the bar, the old man who owned the bar, the beach, the Pacific Ocean, the turtles, sharks and sea lions, even the spiders! But thinking again, I wouldn’t miss the carmelitos – they almost ate my back! And I knew I was leaving something behind: my heart.
So I proved my mother wrong – just kidding mom! – and came back alive, more alive than I left home! I got to know a part of me I didn’t know of, I will never forget that.
For all future volunteers:
Jatun Sacha Foundation is an amazing organization, their work is highly valuable in Ecuador. Apart from the San Cristobal Biological Reserve, they also offer other locations in many other places in the country. At the end of your volunteer work you receive a recommendation letter!
I could give you thousands of tips, but apart from telling you to bring something called “after bite”, the only advice I am giving you is the only one you will really need: go because you want it and with an open heart.
I would like to thank and dedicate this post to all the special people that made part of this unforgettable experience together with me (you know who you are) and the Jatun Sacha Foundation for the incredible work you do, taking care of the most special place I have ever been in this World.