Finally, I reach San Cristobal; one of
the Galapagos islands, after three days on the road. Joining up with
a conservation project at Hacienda Tranquil.
13. February.We fly over the northern part of San Cristobal, and I try to get some pictures of the coastline, the barren lowlands and the tiny but steep islets like Kicker Rock. Louis stands with a sign with my name on, and we take a taxi to the projects office. Here, Geovanny introduces me shortly to the project and ideas behind the effort. Then Louis shows me the food store, and I buy, what I think I need for the next week or so.
Then we head up the huge hills. Where the coast was sunny and humid after the resent rain, the clouds are covering the higher altitudes. The hacienda is located in real lush surroundings, but before I explore them, I better get unpacked. I'm alone in a real nice house with two cats. The temperature is around 35C, but it drops to 25-30C at night, just perfect for me!
Just when I'm finish unpacking, Kirsten, Katarina and Farina turns up. They bring the rain, and when it stops, it have turned dark. Well, I will have time for some serious exploration around here the coming two months. I boil some rice for myself, while Farina make a delicious chocolate delight.
At half pass eight, the girls invites me into town for a festival, where I can meet the other six volunteers. Just before we should leave, Ben turns up and tell; it is raining down town too. Plan B is having a cosy evening at home. Some coffee picking, then a serious game of Monopoly while the rain is coming down heavily. Ben and Hannah returns from the festival in town, and the house starts to feel alive.
On the way to the bathroom and inside the house, there are several huge hawk moths and large spiders. After I have turned the light off, and trying to figure what is sheet and what is mosquito net, something big moves around in my bed! It is one of the cats: I throw it out of the room.
14. It is weekend, and I having a slow start on the day due to the rain. I take a chance at ten, and walk up the road behind the house. Here are quite a few bromeliads and ferns on the trees, along with a small endemic Peperomia; Peperomia galapagensis. Then I find the native Passiflora foetida, huge butterflies, small millipedes, Small Painted Locust; Schistocerca literosa, Carpenter Bee; Xylocopa darwinii, Sulphur Butterfly; Phoebis sennae marcellina, Paint-billed Crake; Neocrex erythrops, snails, flies, bugs, lice, spiders, hunting spiders and a lot of different plants.
I'm back at the house at twelve, just in time to join the others down to Port. I follow Ben down the the sea. On the lava rocks, numerous Lava Lizards; Tropidurus bivattatus are found. I find the entrance to something called Sendero a Tijeretas. It is probably a reserve, and here are lots of interesting plants and animals.
The first I see is a gecko, not sure which. Then a Medium Ground-Finch; Geospiza fortis gets real close. Several lady birds and other insects, and when I get down t the sea, I see Galapagos Fur Seals; Arctocephalus galapagoensis -or is it sea lions? - and Marine Iguana, Amblyrhynchus cristatus along with some local people.
Here are a nice sand beach, and in some areas, it is mixed with huge numbers of sea ouches spines. Next to a light house, I spot some Brown Pelicans; Pelecanus occidentalis urinator and a Blue-Footed Booboo; Sula nebouxii. They share the rocks with Marine Iguana, Amblyrhynchus cristatus and Galapagos Sea Lions. Over my head, The Magnificent Frigate Bird; Fregata magnificens ridgwayi patrols. Two sun bathing girls insist I take their photo as well.
I follows a path out to a rather new canon and a statue of Charles Darwin, marking the spot where he sat foot for the first time. Caterpillars, spiders, stinking beetles, Opuntias and Jasmincereus; Jasminocereus thouarsii. Here are several birds like the mocking birds, finches and fly catchers.
I find the beach where Ben and Geovanny are surfing on, and have a good chat with Geovanny. While we talk, I see several Green Sea Turtles; Chelonia mydas. On the way back, we walk along the sea promenade, and spots some large devil rays in the water. Here are also Marine Iguanas and sea lions along with many cabs and two species of herons.
We head back to the house after Geovanny have found me some Aloe vera leaves for my hot-red arms and neck. Back at the house, I start processing the 487 photos of the day. A new member of the team; Kit have arrived. We are now a French, a Polish, a Canadian, A Brit, an American and two Danes! I still haven't meet the last three.
It have been an astonishing day, where I have seen half of the animals I have hoped to see the next three months! Once again, there is a cat in my bed, and it does not understand a friendly "thrown out the door" gesture: It just returns over the wall.
15. Geovanny comes at nine, and give a presentation on the project for the new arrivalers. Among others, we are restoring a piece of farmland, and within a year, the project should receive some old tortoises. When areas are restored, they will be given back to the reserve, which will use it as a education area.
Then thee volunteers go on a horseback ride while the rest start reconstruction the pathways around the house. Little job, but it takes a huge effort: The soil is clay-like and extremely sticky. After the path are smoothen out, it get a topping of volcanic gravel. I clean up the area for non natural objects. While we work, I get some photos of a finger sized beetle and a snail. We stops at eleven, and we are covered in mud, soaked by sweat and warn out. Guess the full days are going to be real hard!
Most of us head down to town at twelve. It is a national holyday. I join Kirsten and Hannah to the beach at Loberia, south of town. Fare from as exiting as yesterday, but the girls see some green turtles while swimming, and I see their tracks and nest holes on the beach. A few hermit crabs are just as scared as they use to be.
There are several Marine Iguanas along with the coast, and sea lions in the pools and on the beach. I also find a few new plants and beetles. Farina offered me some Factor 50, but I still feel like I'm being roasted - which I probably am. Joins the girl back to town at two, to do a bit of shopping, and then a taxi home.
Aloe vera on my neck, tea in my cup and photos on the computer. Even though Geovanny have supplied me with some great looking books, I just store the plant photos without names. Either I will have the time later - or it doesn't madder. I have taken 200 photos today, but I know the numbers will drop soon. That is; until I get to another habitats or islands.
Around five, it starts raining, as it usually do in the rainy season. It will only be one more months, but the advances about being here now is the lush green vegetation and the temperature: Warmer. While I sit and try to sort and tag my photos of the day, two more volunteers turns up. It is the Spanish Jorge and Rachel from Australia. We Danes still over numbers!
16. A little pass eight, we start planting seedlings in plastic bags. They was collected by the horse-back riders yesterday, somewhere else on the project's area. In a few months, when they have established a descent root system, they will be returned to another area.
When all seedlings have their own bag, we walk to the hill and start weeding with machetes. The whole area use to be forest. It was cut down by the first settlers, and some tall grass introduced for the cattle. We are now planting the original trees, and try to give them a good start, weeding around them. With a bit luck, they will re-establish the area and give the invasive grass and blackberries competition.
It starts to rain at eleven, and we spent the midday inside till it almost stops. Then we help building a roof over the new porch and cower the ground underneath with lava gravel. Although it have been a cloudy day, the temperature reaches 30C, and it is a sweaty job!
While the others share a taxi with to town, I go for a walk around the area. First, I passes the school and then a viewing point. It offers a great sight over the bay and Kicker Rock. I find a few new plants and get close to a Galapagos Mockingbird; Nesomimus parvulus.
I get home before the rest, and get a well deserved bath. Then Jorge and Rachel turns up with a lot of food, and we peal potatoes, onions and peppers for a typical Spanish cause, Jorge is going to cook. The rest turns up - real blue in their faces due to some festival. They start working on a desert.
Great dinner followed by ten questions from Jorge, which makes at least me think. Which abilities would you like, where would you like to go, what would you like to be...
17. A bit late start on the day due to some showers. Then we walk up the hill to machete-maintain the path and open up an area that are covered in two meter tall grass and blackberries. It is a hard and warm work, but our effort can be seen - at least for a week or two...
The others find a small snake, but it decides to run, just as I catch up. I find a few new plants, and crawl through some dense bushes, cutting black berries with my gardener scissors. Unfortunately, the bushes are Cat's Claw, and they are even more fears then the barbwire-like blackberries!
I look like a mess when we head down at noon - feel that way too. Due to a football mach in Progresso; the village half way to the port, we stop working at noon. The whole week are more or less in the spirit of a festival, and I get a needed slow start.
Wash some cloth - don't seem to dry, and while the others relaxes or go down town, I head up hill. Passes the place we worked - without finding my bottle - and further up. The area is dominated by tall grass and blackberries with scattered bushes. The sun have gained strength, and the temperature exceed 35C.
I reach one of the taller points of the island, and a farmer's grassing land. So much easier to walk through, and I follows it in the believe it might leave to the farm, and then its road to Progresso. The muddy gravel road serpentines through denser and denser forest, and I see some new trees.
I reaches the main road, not that long away from the school. Back at three, and after a very deserved bath, I start processing the photos. So fare, I have been able to put name on half the plant photos, and I would like to give the rest a crack - although it might be invasive plants, I can' t find.
Get rather early to bed, but are woken several times by some big insect sharing my bed. Finally, I catch it, and throw it outside the mosquito net. It felt like a cockroach, but bit hard to tell in the dark!
18. Five of us joins Carlos up near the highest point of the island; Cerro San Joaquin, 896 metres high. We are on horseback, and I have been lucky with my horse: It not only understand what I want it to do; it does it! Galloping up hills, trotting and tattering on flat areas. It even stops when I want to take a photo, although the rest continues.
We head up the farmer's road, I walked down of yesterday, and once again, I enjoy the forest and the view over the bay. Higher up, I spot a few new ferns and Lycopodiums way in on the fields, but find it a bit hard to make good photos from the horse's back.
We stop and park the horses in about 750 meters height, and start collecting seedlings of Miconia robinsoniana. I make cutting of the larger bushes, hoping for a susses. It would be so much better than to remove seedlings from the area. It is faster collecting, but they will need three or four weeks more in the nursery, to form sufficient roots.
Back at the hacienda, the others have found some of the soil I have recommended. It is a loos and fine lava gravel which I think will be much better for both seedlings and cuttings than the dough-like clay which they use to fill the bags with. It might take some watering in the dry days, but the roots will receive so much more air then when they have to grow in the clay. And it will be so much easier to fill in the small bags!
Once again, we get the afternoon off, due to some publish holyday. We are invited down town to Geovanny's house this evening to warm up for the city's big party this night. I spent the afternoon with internet pages, and then some of us share a taxi down to the port.
We buy some beers and rum on the way. Next to the shop, a group of people are gathered around some huge fishes, which are carved up on the sidewalk. A huge marlin, a giant potato grouper, some tunas and other I don't recognises.
We arrival at Geovanny's great house, they are preparing some snacks: Fried slices of plantains (huge bananas) with a piece of cheese goes in the oven, salted and are served with guacamole: Great! Meanwhile, some large jaws of Mojitos are made, and it turns out real cosy. I join a taxi back with some, while the rest stay for the town party.
19. To judge form the look of those who staid in town; I'm glad I returned early! Hannah is leaving, but not surprisingly, her taxi don't turn up. She leaves on foot along with some of the others, wanting to change their flights. I remains to clean the kitchen and prepare some up-loading during the weekend.
It is a strange weather: Ten minutes with real heavy rainfall, then 20 minutes with nice sunshine - on and on again. No wonder there are this lush! It is perfect for replanting small trees on the surrounding hills. They can establish a sufficient rood system before the dry season.
I do some testing on our home grown coffee. It taste just GREAT prepared as Arabic coffee! Unfortunately, it take significantly longer to pick, clean, dry, remove the skin, roast it, grind it and cook it, than it takes to drink it.
At twelve, I decide we have had the last shower for the day, and head up hill and out towards the sea. I find a few new ferns and other plants. Once again, I try to get close to the flycatcher and the Carpenter Bee. More success with a huge caterpillar.
I'm back at the hacienda just as the taxi arrivals to pick us up. We was supposed to do some serious weeding at the school down at the port, but it is closed. Instead, some head for the beach, but I don't feel dressed for it: Wellingtons and dirty working cloth.
Nor are I'm dressed for the internet cafe, but who cares? Unfortunately, I don't seem to get the uploading going: The internet provider have shot down gate 23. Then I go for a stroll around the centre to get acquainted. Find a food store and buy twelve litters of milk; then I won't be running out this week - or month.
Meet the rest of the crew at the port, and with some snorkelling gear and buddy boards for tomorrow, we head home to the hacienda. We swap Hannah with an other American; Gin-Gin who have been away from the project to visit another island for a week.
20. Most of us joins a taxi to do some exploring and relaxation. First we drive down to Progresso, then inland and up to near the highest point. Near bye, one of the Galapagos few islands' lakes are found; El Junco Lagoon. It is a almost perfect round volcanic crater, forming a lake of approximately 150 metres in diameter at 700 meters height.
The vegetation are marked by the grassing cattle, but I find some new herbs and to my delight; a tree fern. It sits alone in the gorge, draining the lake. There ought to be more around in this height, but I haven't seen any other. Frigate birds are coming here to wash of the salt from their feathers, and we see some real close.
Ben and I take a walk around the lake. Between clouds, it offers a great view over most if not all of the island. The coastline with its white waves, the green hills and some white beaches. And that is our next exploration point: Puerto Chino.
A long and newly made path leads down to a perfect beach with waves for body boarding. I carry one board down to the beach, and continues further our along the water. It is a lava dominated landscape, and the vegetation quite similar to what I have seen before. A single tiny Euphorbia catches my eyes, but strangely enough; here are no Marine Iguanas. Maybe there are no seaweed?
While the rest relaxes on the beach, I head back the track to the car park. Here are a new finch who haven't heard they are not supposed to be afraid of humans, and some new bushes. Some large Opuntia megasperma have fears spines until they reach one or two metres. Then they get thin and almost curly.
It is hot on the path; 35C and full sun, but no breath. Never the less, I continues up the black road from the car park. It is real annoying I not aloud to leave the road and tracks, but on the other hand; I'm glad it is protected. I find a few more plants I have seen photos of, and some I haven't.
I return to the beach where the crew are hazarded by horse flies. I have brought swimming pans, but I'm sure the intense sun will burn me to a crisp! We leave at two, and if I have known it, I would have jumped off at Galapaguera, where the tortoises are kept in semi-natural environment. I will have to go there another day.
While some of the others head down to the port after a shower, I remains to sort out photos and do some reading on Galapagos nature in general. Then I sit chatting with Katarina and Farina the rest of the evening.
The true workdays starts, but adventure is never fare away: Part 3