Finding all that the Galapagos has to offer on San Cristobal Island
By Louise Gonsalvez
My mind a kingdom is such volunteer inferno vortexes within. Pestering mozzies, mud-slicked trails, volcanic boulders to traverse and this is my volunteer holiday on the Galapagos at Jatun Sachas’s San Cristobal reserve. What was I thinking? Here I was machetteeing invasive species, cultivating gardens and planting endemic trees in the highlands while meanwhile sea lions lazed on the beaches, turtles paddled about the bays and marine iguanas basked on volcanic rocks. Was there something wrong with this picture? Even the giant pelicans, blue footed boobies, and red pouched pterodactyl-looking frigates were out frolicking on coastline thermals at our station’s nearby cliffs. Yet, the station’s beauty grew on me, I cultivated a new outlook on things and I will attest that this Galapagos Island has far more to offer than a boating stopover.
Locals say the island’s highlands were mosquito free fifteen years ago and they suspect the pesky little buggars had a free ride on a banana boat. Considering the number and quantities of invasive plants such as guava, lantana and mora plants on the reserve, it is obvious how rapidly invasive species can take over. Thus, the San Cristobal station has a mandate to eliminate invasive species and restore endemic species. The endemic species are more economically sustainable and provide habitat for the natural wildlife. The station also has established vast gardens to keep the station self-sufficient. Perhaps one day, the highlands of the Galapagos could supply all produce to the islands thus reducing the threat of hitchhiking pests from the mainland. The Galapagos National Park, as a regulatory body, would have to determine if such measures were necessary.
Although I didn’t visit Santa Cruz Island’s Darwin Station and it’s famous Lonesome Charlie resident, who is the last remaining turtle of his kind, I felt I saw most of what the Galapagos has to offer on this one island. Laze about as marine iguanas bask on nearby black volcanic shorelines, tan on white sand beaches, snorkel in cobalt-blue like lagoons, frolic with the sea lions and giant turtles, visit the La Galapaguera’s giant tortoises, boat to nearby Kicker Rock, snorkel with teams of fish, scuba dive with nurse sharks, hike the highlands or scale seacliffs to watch bird habitats because all can be had on this one island. There is even a fabulous architecturally modern and informative Interpretive Center. Better yet, the center grants you marvelous views of the harbour, a series of hiking trails viewpoints and awesome access to a series of cozy bays. Port Baquerizo Moreno offered sanctuary for the volunteers on the weekends. For twenty American dollars we could enjoy a quaint hotel, a few meals, a shared return taxi to the reserve, laundry service for our foul-smelling clothes and time to explore the beaches, shops and the local marina. Some cerveza, ceviche, salsa dancing and we were good to go for the next week!
I even loved the tranquility of our highland station one weekend. Just hanging out laundry to sun dry, collecting fruit and veggies for organic meals, swinging in a hammock enjoying the views of Isabella Island.
My repeated hike to the cliffs became my favourite event at the station. Consider this! Three major currents effect the island’s climate: the cold Humbolt Current, the Panama Current and the Cromwell Current. This creates a telescopic effect on the vegetation. Thus, within a thousand feet of elevation you experience sandy beaches, volcanic rock sea cliffs, cactus desert, dry forest, wet forest and cloud forest like terrain. At the sea cliffs one can be entertained by the aerial acrobatics of blue footed boobies, masked boobies, tropicbirds, frigates and giant pelicans. As waves crash into the cliffs creating cocktail-like froth seals and turtles paddle about in the milder surf. Interestingly, there is a mainly fresh water lagoon located in a small bay adjacent to the cliffs. Frigate birds dive into the lagoon to cleanse their wings of salt. Now that’s one friggin birdbath! Rebecca, Mark and I scaled the cliffs and spent an afternoon bathing there.
So, back to volunteering on the Galapagos. No electricity, sweat dripping clothes at the end of the day, challenging terrain, wet and overcast, spiders and mozzies, and even a defunct road where you had to haul your luggage in for a kilometer or so. Kitchen duty, kneading bread for an army, juicing tendentious and very muddy boots strewn about the main house and this is my holiday? You’re damn right! Too often, we need a good kick in the pants, to recharge our engines like those days when Ma and Pa sent us off to camp knowing it was ‘good’ for us. Thanks to Leah and Eduardo who led an amazing troop of volunteers. When I return home, my youngest has graduated and I may have an empty nest, but the Galapagos gave me wings to embrace new challenges. On San Cristobal, do all that the Galapagos has to offer!