Things seldom work out as planned! Our first week of volunteering was full on as you can read in the previous volunteering blogs. I couldn’t say we knew what to expect, although we could only hope it would be the start of an amazing experience – and in many ways it was!
Our first weekend should be a real treat too! We’re excited to explore and armed with a long list of recommendations, it starts well! We spend Saturday in El Progresso in the Highlands enjoying El Ceibo Treehouse and Cafe. Martin has already told the treehouse story. Then a glorious afternoon at La Loberia beach, where the kids play with tiny crabs in the sand with Ben’s friend from school, we chat to a teacher from the high school, watch, listen to and dodge the many sea-lions and newborn pups, see hundreds of iguana trails in the sand.
We try to brave swimming in the cold (yes, even on the equator!) rocky, low tide water to look for turtles but are too wimpish and headed for an early supper!
What should have been a lovely dinner with our first Galápagos lobster, turns into a rather different evening when I decide to run home for jackets but instead trip on the pavement and end up with seven stitches in my knee. Zoe’s ‘why not to run in flip flops’ fills in the gaps on that one! I have to complement the local A&E for their efficiency and care! Imagine arriving, getting seen, stitched and leaving within the hour on a Saturday night back home?! I’m back every day for the next three weeks, and rarely wait more than 20 minutes. Everything is free too!
Sunday is quiet! Though I manage a short hobble around the interpretation centre to learn about the islands’ history and evolution and we meet Pepe – an ancient giant tortoise with a huge dent in his shell where a tree once fell on him! But the rest of our volunteering month worked out quite differently than planned for me!
The week after the accident, I’m keen to get back to school! I go back on Wednesday but by the evening my knee is sore and swollen and I’m ordered to rest. An x-ray confirms there was no bone damage – that’s good! I spend a couple of days researching and helping paint hopscotch and other games in the kinder school yard with Zoe and some other volunteers which is fun!
Meanwhile Martin works away fixing up computers and connections at school but has a couple of days off sick with a nasty stomach bug.
Zoe had some days off too feeling rough and when she goes back is really unhappy at school – it’s too hard to follow classes in Spanish which frustrates her and the noise levels are maddening! We need to explore alternatives and having her take part in the painting on Friday is a welcome change for her! She puts in the best efforts with helping in the English classes at the centre too in the afternoons, whilst Ben is getting quite settled and enjoying making more new friends – he usually arranges his own play dates in the afternoons.
”Oh Mum, I need to back by 3 today, Juan/Samuel/Matteo’s coming over” is the familiar line when we all meet for lunch!
”Mum! My friends coming over in 5 minutes, can I have a $1 for a cab please?”
Lara is quickly settled in her new class at Kinder – she loves it and copes with the Spanish, happily talking to everyone still in English! It helps a lot having Sandra, the volunteer who is helping in the class for a month. Sandra is German but speaks excellent English and Spanish, so it’s reassuring for Lara and they are soon firm friends! She brings home her first ever homework and completes it diligently!
The next weekend, I hobble around with all of us and some of the other volunteers on a visit to Galapaguera, the tortoise breeding centre in the highlands and walk around in the driving rain seeing babies in pens and giant tortoises roaming free, then to the beautiful Puerto Chino beach across the island, where the sun comes out and the kids swim and play whilst brave Galápagos canary birds jump around on us.
Back via El Junto, the volcano crater lake, Martin and a few others climb the muddy volcanic path to peer through a rather cloudy day at the views (the children and I content ourselves seeing Martin’s photos!) then back home for some wonderful lobster prepared by our kind neighbour Lola. Sunday is quiet and my knee is sore – I’m meant to have my stitches out today but no way is it ready!
The next week I think I’ll get back to work, but my knee gets infected, I start a second course of antibiotics and am violently ill! Maybe its a reaction or maybe its a bug, but it wipes me out for a couple of days! I don’t make it back to school but I get to fill in on some English teaching for Anders when he’s sick on the Friday! Taking two of the older classes of just 10 or 12 kids for English is certainly easier and more relaxing than form 4b at school!
Ben and Lara have their turns with stomach bugs too – Ben is even brought home in a cab by his teacher and gets looked after by our neighbour Lola! All the kids enjoy being at Lola’s with its Christmas decor and great selection of tv channels!
Martin does a sterling job playing nurse to us all and meanwhile starts helping with newsletter design and other technical bits and bobs at the Centre, having fixed up all computers, mice, internet connections etc. at school and feeling he’s added all the value he can!
Zoe has another sick day but then starts to help out at the Kinder school, in another class from Lara’s, she must be the youngest classroom assistant ever! She still finds it tough but its a lot better for her than form 4a at Alexandro Alvear, and they really appreciate her help!
Ben has some minor upsets with one or two friends – he understands too much in Spanish so knows what’s being said – but he’s made other friends, goes off to school on his own (often walking to keep is $1 taxi fare for tuck!) and I’m really proud of his resilience and adaptability!
A fairly quiet weekend, resting and recovering. Saturday we’re treated to supper by Kate, the Kaya volunteering coordinator, visiting from Quito and keen to know how the family project is going. Sunday, we walk along to Playa Carolina where the others all swim. A lively sea lion chases them from the water and has Lara in tears with fright and the boys clamber over the rocks by the lighthouse and see loads of marine iguanas. We head back to town in search of shade, water and lunch and have delicious seafood at Descanso Marinara, which has become a favourite seafood haunt!
And before we know it, it’s week four! The kids are all settled in school/kinder, Martin helps finish the newsletter and provides some tech training at the centre. I finally get my stitches out and start trying to walk properly again and to bend my leg. I decide against a return to school as it’s still fragile and needing rest but manage to keep insanely busy with a ton of planning and organising of the next steps of our journey, Martin’s Mum’s arrival next week, cleaning, a birthday party for Lara to organise and getting my tax return submitted and some other home admin things done! I pop into the centre each day and Zoe, Ben and I undertake a project to make giant tell-the-time clocks – one for the centre and one for the kinder school which we have fun with!
We enjoy seeing a spontaneous celebration across town when Guayaquil Barcelona, a hugely popular soccer team wins the league for the first time in 14 years. The town and Malecon comes alive with cars tooting and driving round with tons of supporters waving flags in the back and a big party on the Malecon. We sit up late with Lola and Eduardo celebrating! We also say goodbye to some of the other volunteers who’ve become part of our Galapagos friends and family and we do some Christmas shopping and we’re lucky to have Rick take a Christmas parcel back to the UK for us!
It’s the beginning of December and our final weekend in San Cristobal – we take it easy, enjoy final strolls, fun in the playground and a last mingle with sea-lions and iguanas along the Malecon. Lara and I nearly jump out of our skin when a big iguana sneezes at us! Apparently it wasn’t warning us off , just the salt water makes them exceptional sneezers!
It’s been a great month! Different and a bit tougher than we thought to juggle keeping all the family happy in their different pursuits, settling and living in our home for a month, weathering sickness and accidents etc. and keeping up with everyday living of cleaning washing, shopping… nonetheless truly rewarding to see everyone’s different experiences unfold, making friends, learning Spanish, feeling a real part of the community with memories I think will last a very long time…
Everyone is excited now about our last week in San Cristobal. In some ways we’d like to stay through Christmas and beyond, do more volunteering and really master Spanish but it’s time to say goodbye. Erika (Martin’s Mum) aka Oma (German for Grandma) joins us next week to travel with us for nearly 3 months. It’s time to move on, there’s still a lot of South America and the world to explore!!