Galapagos Volunteering – Part One

Map of Galapagos Islands (Ecuador, South America)

Map of Galapagos Islands (Ecuador, South America). We are on San Cristobal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is a long time since I blogged and I have missed it! Mo has been hogging the computer with her excellent Amazon Diary but I have plenty of posts planned so I won’t be as quiet.

We spent a few weeks in Quito learning Spanish, the success of which we will soon find out as we are in at the deep end with a month volunteering in the Galapagos. Apart from our one way flights to Rio the ‘volunteering’ was the only thing we booked well in advance. My preference was to try and find projects while in country but Mo was insistent we book something, perhaps she thought this was the only way to ensure we did give something back and not just spend our time on idyllic beaches drinking cocktails between swims and massages?!?

I am sure we will blog about Quito but it was definitely a pleasant return to civilisation after our Amazon exploits and yet again we landed on our feet with an excellent guest house and then apartment. We have a lot to thank Trip Advisor and for or more specifically their reviewers, it really encourages and rewards owners who go the extra mile like Sandra, our Quito apartment owner, who as only one example saw it was raining one morning and rang offering to call us a taxi!

Our pre project dealings with Kaya the UK based organisation who organised the trip were helpful and Mo spent a lot of time on email discussing with Alex the possibilities for a family with 3 young kids. I am not sure why we ended up in the Galapagos but it sounded interesting and different, a quick look online reveals that most tourists just do cruises and spend little time on the islands. Kaya’s paperwork is thorough with lots of questions on what our skills, medical history, outcomes etc. are as well as the obligatory CYA ones. We also receive a pretty PDF (The Clark family Galapagos adventure) and safety information that tells us that we should wash fruit, drink bottled water etc. plus disclaimers to say we are fully responsible for looking after the children. I am glad our superhuman powers of parental supervision can pass through walls and sign them.

Part of the package was a couple of nights in a hostal, an induction from the local rep and city tour/orientation. Cleverly we never used the accommodation and had our induction at the end of our several weeks in Quito?! But it was good to meet Kate, our local contact from Explore Ecuador, a Quito based agent to find out more. She is on the ball but in 3 years she has not worked with families volunteering before so is keen to see how it goes and get our feedback. I quite like this as treading new ground is usually more interesting than a well trodden path, I just hope this family of guinea pigs don’t end up on a local barbeque spit as many seem to:

Roasted Guniea Pig on a Spit

What they do to guinea pigs in Ecuador

The next person in the chain is Willy who runs the New Era Foundation in the Galapagos who will meet us at the airport in San Cristobal, he has organised for Ben, Zoe and Lara to go to school and Mo and I to teach at the same school assisting with a class and teaching about computers all in Spanglish, scary!

Our 7.45 flight meant another 5.00AM start but amazingly we made it out of the apartment without too much fuss. It is nice to see some teamwork:

Ben helps Lara with her rucksack

Ben lends a hand with Lara’s rucksack

Our ‘rico gringo’ (rich foreigner) status means that we have to pay more for the flights, a special $10 Galapagos flight tax at the airport and $100/each for park entry (Only $50 for the kids but just $6 for a local!). There’s no way we can avoid this unfortunately and it happens a lot, cheeky taxis even tried to charge us $5 for a $1 fare in Quito. The trick is to get in the cab but leave the door open and then ask how much, so they can’t drive off while you bargain/wear them down to a sensible price! We have a budget DIY breakfast at the airport:

Mo making breakfast

Mo improvises in the spreading department

We arrive and it takes an hour and a half to queue through arrivals while everyone pays and hands in their two extensive entry forms. We admit to being in contact with animals recently, bringing in camping equipment and food but either they miss this or it is not important?!

Lara at San Cristobal Airport

We have arrived at San Cristobal

Willy meets us and is lovely, everyone knows him as ‘Teacher Willy’ and in the afternoons after school his Foundation teaches English to about 100 kids and adults as well as placing people on conservation projects.

Ben Zoe and Lara in the back of a pickup truck

Our airport pick up. You are allowed to ride in the back apart from on public holidays?!

There are quite a few volunteers already working in the afternoon including Ric, a science teacher who lives just a few miles from us in Brighton! Everyone is very friendly and we quickly pick their brains for where to eat, visit and shop.

Our 2 bed apartment looks great but we soon discover that the kitchen is probably not used much and the food that has been ‘helpfully’ left in the cupboard has attracted cockroaches, yuk. The dead ones stink and there is cockroach poo on most of the shelves and work surfaces. Unsurprisingly, we don’t eat in on the first evening!

Dead cockroach in cupboard

Dead cockroaches stink!

Cockroach poo on a plate

Not coffee granules but cockroach poo over all the plates and shelves!

The apartment’s other short comings are quickly apparent, we don’t even have a table to eat at, enough plates or cutlery or a mirror in the bathroom?! Would you want to cook in this saucepan?

Rusted saucepan


We soon have a lengthy shopping list and quickly acquire a mop, frying pan, plenty of bleach and scrubbing gear. We draw up a list to ask the owners for and suggest for future tenants but in the meantime make do.

We have been truly spoiled in previous apartments and work out that we need to buy quite a lot of kit as it is not a lot of fun peeling potatoes with a knife etc. even one of the  sharp knives with already have with us as no rental place ever has sharp ones. Great, more stuff to carry!

We wander down to the beach for an expensive meal in the Miconia Hotel as it is the only place open on Sunday mid afternoon and spot some sea lions (the brochures don’t mention they smell) on the beach and on the promenade. Crabs and sea iguanas are also plentiful but I suspect we will see far more when we start touring around.

Sealion on the pavement

At home you trip over tramps, here it is sealions

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. katebil
    Nov 11, 2012 @ 18:49:20

    Love the idea of wildlife in the street but not in the apartment!


  2. Chris lambah
    Nov 12, 2012 @ 07:56:28

    Seals eat fish, don’t brush their teeth and gargle seawater. They might smell a little Martin! 🙂
    Having been party to one of your IT lessons, god help them, let alone in Spanish!!
    Only joking: They will be hacking the world banking system in no time.
    Any return date yet?


  3. Trackback: Galapagos Volunteering – Part Four. Five go to school! « The Clark Family's Amazing Adventures

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