We’re back in Santa Cruz and a great deal has happened since my last blog post. I completed my diving course back in San Cristobal and I’m now a fully qualified PADI Open Water diver, woohoo! Although I must admit, it wasn’t without complications and my confidence as a diver isn’t quite at the level it should be. The course itself turned out to be very interesting indeed! The instructor ended up being a bit of a cowboy and didn’t teach me all of the skills I should have learned. Out of those I did learn, most were only repeated once and I never got chance to practice and really get a grip with those skills I struggled with. Another unfortunate event happened after the last dive of the course when the instructor decided to make an advance on me whilst we were waiting for the taxi to pick us up. Of course the first person I told was Alex and he made sure I was never alone with him again. I suspect it was pretty obvious to my instructor the reason Alex was sat right next to me during my theory lessons the next day. Overall it was quite amusing really, if a bit awkward, but I learnt a lot in the end. The Galapagos Islands really are an amazing place to dive and I got to see some amazing wildlife including sting rays, golden rays, green turtles, sand eels, moray eels, giant puffer fish and at one point I had a sea lion pup playing with my fins – pretty amazing! Also, later on in Santa Cruz we bumped into some friends of ours. Apolline (the French girl I mentioned in some of my previous posts) and Marc (who is the captain of a boat called Pilas, who Christian [the Italian guy who came with us through the canal] was on). Incidentally, due to various office politics, Apolline and Christian switched boats so now she is with Marc on Pilas and Christian moved to the French boat. Aaaanyway…. Apolline is also a diving instructor so she took me for a dive at the anchorage so I could practice some of the skills I felt less confident with – it helped a great deal. There is also a random boat out there somewhere in the world with pictures of flowers, fish, stars and Apollines phone number sketched into the growth on their hull. Before we left for Santa Cruz we spent some time being proper tourists in San Cristobal and took a taxi to see some of the sites. El Junco
A trek near Playa Mann
The sail back to Santa Cruz
Back in Santa Cruz we spent a lot of time with Apolline, Marc and the rest of their crew, as well as making some local friends. As Marc and his crew can all speak Spanish it was easy for them to make friends here and therefore, easy for us to poach them 🙂 Although now they have left the Galapagos Islands, communication with the locals is a little harder. Pilas set sail for the Marquesas Islands a few days ago and although we are heading for Pitcairn and the Gambia Islands before Marquesas, Marc is keen to take his time so I hope we’ll see them again in a few months.
The trials of being 32 years old are taking their toll on Alex already and a few weeks ago he badly injured his neck simply by turning over in bed and he could barely move for two days. In an effort to compensate for the reduced movement in his neck, he overused the muscles in his back and sure enough a week later he was paralysed once again. On the plus side – I’ve become very strong over the past few weeks as it’s been my job to do all the rowing in the dinghy, most of the manual labour on the boat, carrying bags and lifting all the heavy things which Alex would normally do. I’ve even become a seasoned mechanic and did a lot of work on the main engine whilst Alex was incapacitated, which seems to have more-or-less fixed the leak problem. I say ‘more-or-less’ because it still leaks a little, but the leak has now reduced from a continuous dribble of liquid leaking about a pint of oil every 6 hours to just 1 or 2 drops per minute. We also have a spare attachment so if the leak gets worse again we have something else we can replace it with. In fact, the entire engine has had a bit of an overhaul recently with an oil change, new throttle cable, new belt and a serviced fuel filter so it should (hopefully) now be much happier. Unfortunately, the mechanic supplies in the Galapagos are very limited and we’ve had to come up with some innovative solutions to get what we need. This is less than ideal because jobs are taking much more time than they normally would, cost more money and in some cases, not fully fixing the problem. Still, we’ve done all we can and hopefully the engine will run smoothly from now on. Alex’s back and neck now seem to be 95% better, largely thanks to the skills of a Thai masseuse whose services were expensive, but were worth every penny given that Alex is no longer paralyzed! The timing has worked out well because I’ll soon be starting some volunteering with the Charles Darwin Research Station and Alex can occupy himself once again with boat work, although he’s banned from doing anything too strenuous for a while! I met Gustavo, a scientist at the research station, to discuss how I might be able to help them. He coordinates a really interesting project doing population monitoring of three native or endemic bird species (Galapagos penguin, flightless cormorant and waved albatross), and the project has many parallels to ones I’ve been involved with in the past. He uses capture-mark-recapture techniques where he marks the species with PIT tags (similar to the tags used in your pet cats and dogs) to individually identify them. He also takes measurements such as weight, sex, breeding condition, heart rate, body measurements and takes blood samples for genetic testing and parasite monitoring. He is mainly looking to see how the population changes over time and also between different islands where some are pristine with little human influence and others are affected by the introduction of pest species. This should give some really useful information on how pest species are affecting the local wildlife, and over time, the effects of climate change. This in turn can be used to advise on intervention measures which will best enable the native wildlife to thrive. He has some surplus data from his project where he has collected records of all the vertebrate species encountered on the surveys. It is this data that he wants me to have a look at and do some statistical analysis on. If it all goes well, he is keen to share more data with me so we can analyse the effects of other variables. This is a really good project for me because I’m one of those strange people who really enjoys statistics. I find the project incredibly interesting, I think it’s nice to do something which I’m actually good at and also be part of a worthwhile cause. I can do the work from anywhere so I can continue to volunteer even after I leave Galapagos. Also, Gustavo is happy to list me as one of the authors of the papers he publishes as a result of the work – which is very very cool! I hope I get chance to do some field work with them before I leave as well, but if not, I’ve got a foot through the door and maybe it will lead to more opportunities in the future. One final thing to note, unfortunately my beautiful hot pink IPhone is no more. It went in the water during a dubious dinghy ride to shore a few weeks ago when a wave caught us by surprise and flipped us over. Apologies if anyone has tried to contact me via WhatsApp as I won’t have received those messages. If anyone wants to get in touch please email me or send a Facebook message and I’ll pick it up when I’m next online. I think that covers just about everything… other than crabs (in the kitchen sink), an octopus in the toilet and a collision with a dive boat…