During my time at the Galapagos Islands, I had the privilege of going to the biological research station that Lead Adventures volunteers work at. I was excited because I knew that it would give me a different perspective of islands. Instead of rushing through in a tour, I would be provided with an in-depth look at the islands’ plant life and see what it was like to live among so much vegetation. Luckily, the site didn’t disappoint.
The main goal of the research station is to eliminate invasive species and plant those that are endemic to the island, such as “poison apple.” But every day, the volunteers participate in different activities. One day they could be seen with machetes chopping down unwanted plants and the next they could be found removing weeds in the gardens. To work, the volunteers are provided with rubber boots and head nets. It was a bit muddy because it rained the previous night, but the boots did an excellent job of keeping out any moisture.
Besides helping out with the research station’s goals, volunteers were also required to help cook. Each person was assigned to help out at different meals and everyone was responsible for washing their own dishes. I was especially impressed with the food. From just looking at the rustic kitchen, you would never guess that such an abundance of delicious rice, meat, and vegetables would come out of it. It was also fun to eat with the station’s cat and two dogs running around at our feet. Besides these traditional domestic pets, the station also has quite a few chickens and horses running around. Even though the work there is based on plants, you definitely won’t be able to get animals off your mind.
The accommodations are quite basic but don’t lack any necessities. Although there was no Wifi at the station, there are lights in the kitchen, bathroom, and rooms. Volunteers only need to wear headlamps or carry flashlights to walk in between buildings at night. I was especially grateful for the good mosquito nets that cover each bed, easing my fears of waking up covered in bites. I heard rumor of the occasional huntsman spider, but they are said to be completely harmless.
Surprisingly, there are also normal toilets and showers, although you should definitely remember to bring shower shoes. Because the reserve integrates quite well into its natural surroundings, I thought that the volunteers would have to duck between trees whenever nature called. However, there is no hot water, so it might be smart to shower during the hottest part of the day. But if you’re looking for a different way to cool down, there is a beautiful waterfall only a short downhill walk away. On humid days, the volunteers sometime go down there to swim.
After the volunteers completed their work, everyone had a chance to relax, read, or take a nap. No one seemed to miss having Internet, and I found myself forgetting about the importance of watching endless streams of Youtube videos. Instead, I took the chance to read a new book and swing in one of the many available hammocks. The reserve also has a bookshelf right outside of the bedrooms and plenty of them are written in English.
However, for those of you who are looking to practice your Spanish skills don’t worry. The coordinator at the time only spoke Spanish and a little bit of English-luckily one of the volunteers was bilingual and acted as our translator. But we had a lot of fun learning new words and laughing at people’s use of large hand gestures. The slight language barrier certainly didn’t stop anyone from having fun. At night, we piled up some wood and make some good old American s’mores, substituting the graham crackers for shortbread cookies. The volunteers usually spend the weekends in city, which is where they picked up the snacks.
Sometimes they head over to the house of a nearby resident at night. There, the owner has a small makeshift bar set up for the volunteers where they can purchase cheap drinks. No alcohol is allowed at the station though, so they aren’t allowed to bring any of it back with them.
Although I only spent a short time at the station, I could definitely tell that the volunteers had become close friends. There were a little less than ten volunteers when I went, but I was told that during the high season (usually around the summer) there are usually about 15 to 20 people. Whether it was from the lack of Internet or just the natural bond that comes from sharing a common travel experience, the atmosphere that the volunteers had created was a good one. I was grateful for the chance to work with plants, learn new things, and have a fun time. Volunteering at the station was a way of seeing the island in a new light.