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Volunteering South America

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I am staying on Isabela Island. At 60 miles long it is by far the largest island in the Galápagos and also one of the most volcanically active places on earth. Understandably, I didn’t share that bit of info with my family before I set off on my trip. My home is in the only town, Puerto Villamil, which has a population of 2000. I have to say that these are the friendliest, happiest 2000 people on the planet. I ride around the town on a bike and it is impossible to go more than 10m without someone shouting ‘Hola, Buenos Dias!’ Whilst in England road users have to stop at traffic lights, here you might have to stop to allow a family of iguanas to traverse the sandy streets. The people here live simple lives with one room houses made of concrete blocks and very few possessions, but they…

I have many things on my bucket list but camping on the side of an active volcano isn’t one. However when the opportunity for such a trip arose I knew that I couldn’t say no. One of the group volunteers in the Galápagos National Park office and he had managed to get clearance for the trip, which had never been done before. When I was told I had to submit my passport number so they would know who was missing if the volcano erupted, I thought it was a joke. Sadly it wasn’t. The Sierra Negra volcano erupts usually in October every 2-3 years, and it hadn’t erupted for 3 years. On Friday afternoon our random gang piled into pick-up trucks and headed off into the lush countryside. After a steady climb for an hour the trucks stopped and on the side of the road were 4 horses and 2…

My journey from Ecuador to the Galápagos Islands was far from straightforward. Firstly, I had to catch a plane to the tiny island of Baltra, which is only the length of the runway and the airport terminal. So if a pilot gets it wrong his plane ends up in the Pacific. I was on a big plane so, needless to say, it was a heavy landing following by a deafening screech of brakes and screams from nervous passengers. Once through the tiny terminal, I caught a bus to the edge of the island where a small boat ferried passengers 200m across the sea to the island of Santa Cruz. This should have been a pleasant little crossing, but the majority of the passengers were short, plump Ecuadorian ladies with massive suitcases and even bigger behinds. I had a suffocating 5 minutes squashed between such two senoras and 4 suitcases, on…

After my unplanned, but most enjoyable week, in the city of Cuenca I started the three day journey to the Galápagos Islands. My first worry was finding a driver I could actually trust to take me on the 125 mile journey to the airport in Guayaquil, my second was how to avoid being robbed en route and my third was the notorious mountain pass I had to cross in the El Cajas National Park. The hotel recommended a ‘safe’ driver who turned up at the correct time, which was promising, and I told him I was going to the Holiday Inn at Guayaquil Airport. He looked at my blankly then said with a with a huge smile ‘Si! Si! Holida Yin!’ Relieved he knew where we were going, I settled down for the trip, momentarily. I have actually no idea how the hotel could describe old Carlos as a ‘safe’…

Cuenca school

After I made the tough decision to leave the turtle project in Las Tunas the next problem was where to go for a week before I flew to the Galápagos Islands. Ecuador is a dangerous country to travel around, even by car, as drug cartels are known to set up road blocks to stop and randomly rob motorists. There were even five muggings on the Interstate bus that week, which left me with a real dilemma. In the end I hired a taxi company I found on TripAdvisor and made a very stressful 7 hour journey across country to the beautiful historic city of Cuenca.

Ecuador volunteering Well here I am in Ecuador, in a remote fishing village called Las Tunas, 6 hours drive from the cosmopolitan city of Guayaquil. However my 2 day trip to get here certainly had its moments…

I arrived at Cusco airport in Peru 4 hours prior to my internal flight to Lima as instructed, although I thought this was excessive. It wasn’t. In the entrance hall I watched as some poor travellers had their hand luggage raided by security guards and the contents strewn across the floor. ‘How awful’ I thought to myself. Sadly I was next.