A month in the life of a teacher: Santa Cruz, Galápagos Islands

I am a temporary Galapagueno, and the holder of Ecuadorean residency until next May at least.

A world-renowned tourist destination in it’s own right, Galápagos is also a fully functioning archipelago community. But, particularly on Santa Cruz where there’s a population of 19,000 (Pejoratively dubbed ‘Little Guayaquil’ by other islanders), there’s definitely more than a hint of the mainland. And Ecuador’s a pretty random place.

You cannot truly capture the oddness of Ecuadorian life in posts about spectacular sights, sea life and tourist stuff. No, for that you need a daily blog about the frustrations, daily weird occurrences and the joys of life in this little corner of Ecuador. So, here goes:

I live in a 3 bedroom house next to the school with a Canadian teacher called Lisa. This week we’ve had an American teacher called Keith join us. Thankfully they are both extremely good eggs and provide an excellent sounding board for the daily ‘Is this normal?’ And ‘jeez, the kids are kinda feral this week’ sort of discussions which are a mainstay of expatriate teacher life in a completely different culture.

Our cultural attaché, as it were, is the school coordinator Indira, a local woman who’s absolutely lovely and who provides a welcome filter between us and bewildering local life.

Wednesday 10th August

I’ve been on the neighbouring island of San Cristobal with Lisa since Monday- It’s our week off between teaching modules so a nice opportunity to see some different sights around the islands. And also to meet our new housemate Keith who is currently teaching there but moving over to us this weekend. 

Lisa is leaving to go back to Santa Cruz this afternoon. Both of us are terrified about the prospect of the boat ride back. All inter-island transport is on small 600hp speedboats, but this time of year is renowned for “challenging” sea conditions, and in particular the Santa Cruz-San Cristobal stretch is the most wavey. 

Monday’s crossing was the most genuinely scared I have been in a while, at several points the waves were such that we were barely moving, with 20ft swells and a few points where the angle of the boat wasn’t conducive to continued buoyancy. To compound the situation I was sitting in the semi-open section at the back and through a combination of a torrential tropical storm and the aforementioned 20ft waves breaking over us, I ended the trip completely drenched, but otherwise unscathed. One man nearly fell overboard at several junctures. It was Intense.

So, we’ve agreed on a ‘no spoilers’ policy… However mad or bad the return crossing is, Lisa doesn’t discuss it with me until I’m back on terra firma.

Thursday 11th August

A great final day in San Cristobal, I manage a decent-length hike culminating in an utterly freezing, yet nonetheless spectacular snorkel at Las Tijeretas. Swimming through big shoals of tropical fish makes water cold enough to cause a headache worth it. Back into town and then onto the 3pm speedboat for a surprisingly pancake-flat and full-throttle return to Santa Cruz in a respectable 1hr 40. 

I arrive back in Puerto Ayora to a scene of utter chaos in our house. To be fair, I’d been pre-warned about this via morning messages from Lisa, so I was fully prepared. Sure enough, there are holes in the walls upstairs due to a water leak, the school is in disarray with workers installing a new wall and Keith’s bed has finally arrived, but this needs assembling! Oh, and the school is packed with families finally getting around to registering for next course. Not that we know who’s teaching what, or at what times. #Galapagos.

I also learnt today that cats definitely do eat croissants. Last week, having forgotten my groceries in my bike basket whilst coming in the house, I came back downstairs 30 minutes later to find half of tomorrow’s breakfast gone. This morning I found my bag of croissants on top of the fridge had entirely disappeared from the house. Catburglars.

Friday 12th August

A nice lazy day. Lisa comes downstairs, greeting me with the news that ‘there was a duck on the roof last night’. I take a while to absorb this information. 

Moving on with the day, I find Indira in the school. She is still keen on the idea of us getting a school dog. This is a patently absurd but nonetheless attractive idea. We resolve to seek a good dog.

Keith arrives on the afternoon ferry with a mountain of kit. Suitably settled into the house I treat him to an extravagant island welcome- 3 for 1 cocktails at a favourite spot and then a late evening at Bongo. Bongo is our go-to establishment for late night cavorting. Naturally, being Bongo all of the normal local ‘characters’ are there. Predictable but fun.

The evening takes an odd twist when two guys start trading punches right next to us. Very un-Bongo (Not Um Bongo, completely different…) but since both Keith and I were moderately refreshed by this point and the guys weren’t especially big or scary we ended up grabbing one each and splitting it up, strangely successfully. As I was dragging a complete stranger backwards through a nightclub by their neck it dawned on me that I do kinda miss policing occasionally.

The second fun discovery of the night is that Bongo stocks the excellent Sabai craft beer for a smidgen over the cost of the definitely not excellent Pilsener lager. Including a 10% dark beer. Until you’ve been on a tiny island for the past 3 months drinking crap lager you can’t fully appreciate the joy.

Saturday 13th August

I push on through a hangover of immense proportions. We host a barbecue for some local teacher friends as well as local guy Jimmy, who last weekend announced that he had a new boyfriend on the mainland. Tonight he announced his engagement. Things move fast here, but I can’t help thinking something got lost in translation.

Sunday 14th August

Another lazy day, another moderate hangover. Surfing at Tortuga Bay. Yep, I’m still rubbish at surfing. Particularly on a tiny, technical board. It passes the time. An amazing revelation dawns on me…lunch in Bellavista. This turns out to be an excellent plan.

Corviche… Plantain balls filled with loveliness including fish and octopus

Yucca and cheese cakes

Chilling out beside the Volleyball court avec cake

Bellavista has a reputation of a good place for food on Sundays but I’d never quite realised the range of stuff available. Corviche for $2, with a bit of mayo and salsa picante an amazing lunch. Local coffee $0.50 a pop. Ideal. This might become a bit of a habit.

Film night courtesy of an extremely shonky pirate DVD from San Cristobal. Recent film, Bourne, but you could definitely tell it- A cinema copy complete with coughing, kids running around the cinema and an unintelligible voice track!

Monday 15th August

The first day of classes is always chaos, but this time seemed even more intense than usual since hardly anybody bothered signing up in advance last week, therefore the school was packed with students and parents all morning. Rustling through the boxes full of new textbooks I suffered my first minor meltdown when I discovered that the interactive CD for my new kids’ class hadn’t been ordered. AAAAARGH, THE FEAR of facing a class of feral children sans materials

Having popped to the local restaurant for lunch, I did my utmost to ignore the 2 local guys standing outside the school with a truck. They collared me. It had been decided that 2hrs prior to classes on the first day would be the ideal juncture at which to deliver a ton of stone chippings. Great. “Just leave it there” Indira suggested. Since neither Keith nor I thought it would survive the onslaught of feral children we rolled up our sleeves and resolved to get it spread…

Exactly what you want an hour or so prior to 3 entirely new classes which I haven’t prepared for. EEEEK!

Wednesday 17 August

I’m still not a fan of teaching children, but I am at least getting to terms with my new class. Today they were lovely. An adjective which I haven’t had cause to utter since starting with the younger class in May. Lovely but with a few undoubtedly odd members like the child who is obsessed with Garfield and cutting things out, to the utter detriment of, well, everything else.

Teaching 2 relatively advanced teenage/adult classes is a bit of a shock to the system too, with proper Grammar to explain and everything. Compounded by the fact that their books vaguely mirror each other so I’m never quite sure who I’m talking to…

Thurs 18th August. 

Those who know me, know that I suffer from intense FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). So when I heard my housemates and also our neighbours outside at 7.25am I had to investigate. They were off to an exercise class at the local sports centre, so I thought I’d tag along. From PJs to sports gear and out of the door in 2 mins a personal best.

I love Ecuador. It’s has social and economic problems for sure however there are many benefits of living in a socialist country. Entirely free health care (Including medevac to the mainland) and lots of other good policies. One of which is a country-wide exercise campaign “Ejercite Ecuador!”. So, free Zumba with the little old ladies of Santa Cruz. How hard could it be?

After 1hr and 15 minutes of pain, I had my answer. Great workout, will be back… 

Lunch at El Esquina de Sabor, my local restaurant. There’s a ruthlessly efficient older woman who normally seems to call the shots, but in her apparent absence it’s all gone to rats! 30 minutes waiting for lunch. A disgrace, will not be back, bad review etc…

Friday 19th August.

Phew, the weekend is upon us. The first week of the module’s always a bit more effort than the next 4 as we’re shuffling around students, desks, timetables etc. However today is the first of the new ‘activity Fridays’ we’ve planned for the classes. Part one was a great idea on my part…

It actually seemed to work pretty well, despite this being my most ‘grumpy teenager’ class. Being a new teacher this is all good learning, but it takes a lot of effort to prepare and think how it’ll all play out. They enjoyed it anyway, and the 7.30 adult classes all certainly enjoyed watching “Lost” for our movie night. Good times! 

Friday night, stood up by my Tinder match from earlier in the week, so a quiet one it is! I’ve come to the realisation that American women tend to be a little blunt, or to be more accurate bloody rude, in their dating endeavours!

Saturday 20th August

Ah, relaxation. Well, not a great deal of it. Up early for the weekend Feria when all of the farmers from the highlands bring their produce down to sell. Suitably stocked up on groceries, and then a 9am meeting for the ‘Photo Walk’ with some of our older students. We hadn’t received the memo about this being run on Galápagos time however, so…

9am meeting at the Tortuga Bay entrance turns into 10.30 departure!

Composition advice from a local photographer

We walked to Tortuga Bay enjoying the wildlife en route and then some great, moody light. It was an especially stormy morning, although some of the braver surfers were still out on the waves. Some new wildlife to spot too! I was caught in ‘moody’ poses by my students more times than I can care to mention (Be interested to see when they pop up on Facebook!) so I thought I’d respond in kind!

A reminder of how small the world is came in the form of a Venezuelan woman I got chatting to on the beach (beautiful, but entirely irrelevant to this story). She is a volunteer here at the Charles Darwin centre however is in the middle of a course at Falmouth University in the UK. No more than 200 miles from where I live… 

Evening fell, with a few drinks at a local coffee bar with the teachers from next door watching our German friend play guitar. It takes a while, but it definitely is possible to build up a nice gang of local contacts anywhere you live. Also out with them was an English woman who’d just finished doing her CELTA here. Incidentally a detective who lives no more than 100 miles from me in the UK.

And then, cycling home slightly the worse for wear from the amazing Sabai Negra beer, a local craft brew (10%, and you definitely know about it…) I saw a glowing talisman up a side street…

I figured I’d pop in and see what was afoot. Sure enough the standard ‘elephant’s foot’ was in there, spinning away. I can’t emphasise how exciting it was to see kebabs after so long in the wild. Chatting to the Galapagan owner, he was taking his daughter to the airport tomorrow to visit her mother in… Brighton.

It’s a small world.

Sunday 21st August

No lie-in today either. We were up and determined to get to Garrapatero beach, the other side of the island and a costly taxi ride so, instead, it was a taxi up to Bellavista and then cycling the rest of the way. Well, that was the plan anyway.

Sure enough, five local clunker bikes couldn’t stay in one piece for more than 5km. (3 of them were actually hired bikes, but that basically meant they were new clunker bikes). Lisa’s freewheel disintegrated right in the heart of the lush highlands. She sought help from a nearby farm but fate was again about to intervene in the form of an American woman who’s volunteering here, who happened to ride by on the remote road at the exact same time. Another recent CELTEE… “I’m staying at Highland View 5mins up the road, come up and have a coffee”.

As with all best-laid plans, the joy is in the deviations. Highland View is AMAZING!

Magic swing a la Baños, Ecuador

Goat magic

It costs $5 for the tour, and is well worth it. Stopping first at the ‘petting zoo’ with a range of slightly crazy farm animals (The billygoat being a particular highlight!) and then continuing around the trail… This place is so, so markedly different from anywhere else I’ve seen on the islands with lush, damp greenery and an almost cloud forest atmosphere.

 

Scary lava tunnels to walk/clamber through. Not recommended for arachnophobes!

Welcoming committee at the duck pond

The guy showing us around had been there for many years. Crops pay well, but tourists pay better, so he’s added a dual purpose to the place. It’s also possible to camp there for $10 a night, which is definitely something I’ll be taking up in a few weeks. Moving on from the duck pond, we came to the sugar cane mill. I’ll say something, it’s definitely my first horse-drawn drink! Friendly old Filemon the donkey runs the mill in exchange for ample quantities of mashed sugar cane.

We bonded over bamboo cups of sugar cane juice, and became firm friends.

After a lovely couple of hours at Highland View, we decided to quit whilst we were ahead and return to Bellavista for some food out of the rain. Sure enough, some local coffee and Corviche restored the balance and we rolled back to Puerto Ayora satisfied with the day, and with full bellies to boot.

The day ended on a strange note, when we smelt something really odd and thought the drains were broken. No, upon investigating our patio there was a dead fish there. Is this a sign? Have we been subjected to some sort of mid-Pacific voodoo? Who have we managed to piss off this week?

The mystery fish, on my beautiful assistant’s shovel.

Monday 22nd August

Back to classes. It’s never a chore really, since most of the students are lovely (Although my new intermediate teenager group can be a bit Vicky Pollard at times). Hey, it really can’t be described as hard work but sometimes the effort of getting a class started with a group of recalcitrant teenagers sometimes is a big one. Come onnnnnnnnn… Speaaaaak! The kids classes are getting easier, despite the boy in my group who physically can’t prevent himself from constantly singing, and cutting out worksheets. AAARGH!

Zumba again in the morning… A good way to get out of bed and active. Surprisingly intense exercise! Afterwards, an amazing breakfast from a Kiosco I hadn’t tried before. Encebollado is an Ecuadorian speciality which I had enjoyed in Mindo on the mainland, but until now never sampled on the islands. It’s basically a fish soup, although the best fish soup you’ve ever tried, with local variations wherever you try it. Here it comprised of chunks of tender white fish and big bits of shrimp in a thick, flavourful onion soup. Limes to garnish, croissants and juice for the princely sum of $4.

 

Tuesday 23rd August

Some weeks I don’t get out much, doing errands around town, lazing around the house and being lazy. These are the weeks when I forget that I live in the centre of one of the finest marine national parks on earth, an enormous privilege that won’t come again.

Today was not one of those days. I cycled down to Playa de l’Estacion and decided to enjoy some sun. In the current season, particularly with the effects of El Niño on the delicately balanced ocean currents, the weather’s really changeable. Today was a good day. The tide was low, which made it possible to wade out as far as the offshore reef. Donning my snorkel and mask, I swam through some of the biggest shoals of fish I’d seen to date. Incredible parrot and trumpet fish, all sorts, and a solitary ray. From there I hung around. A heron was fishing, and I was interested to watch. Across the bay, a pelican was diving for his lunch. 

From the far edge of the reef, I caught movement out of the side of my eye. A sealion, top speed, coming straight at me. A sniff, then back off again. They love to play. The Spanish word captures their essence far better: Wolves of the sea. They really are like big, playful dogs which just happen to live in the water.

A good day. Just as we are closing up one of my former students comes by in a state of some refreshment and demands that both me and his current teacher Keith come to drink beer with him at the corner shop. A good night had by all. He’s currently earning a lot of money in peak tourist season as a guide so beer and work come higher up the agenda than English classes. He’s invited me on a trip to Santa Fe island this Saturday. Another one of the archipelago to be ticked off.

Wednesday 24th August

My co-ordinator wants to know how long I’m staying. What a brilliant question, really. I haven’t yet found a particularly compelling reason to return home, but who knows what the future will bring. I’m embroiled in an annoying wait to hear whether my former employer will allow me to return into a completely different, less stressful role in the UK. But until they give me the nod/shake of the head then I’m in limbo.

Today however has seen significant progress towards Christmas at home. WestJet flights from New York to London for £180. An absolute bargain. Spotting return UK-Ecuador flights after Christmas for £500 makes me think return for another stint might not be a bad idea.

The life of a traveller… What’s the next move?

Evening class with the teens. Movie reviews and a chance to show an ace short animated film. Write a review, said I. At least some of them ‘got it’. One of my intermediate students struggled with the question “would you recommend this film?”. Jeez, it’s a yes/no answer. I think he must have got lucky on the entrance exam.

The next student nominated demonstrated a full review including recommendations, plot outline and loads of good adjectives. Sometimes you want to hug them (More productive than throwing chalk at the less engaged ones).

I think the enrolments have stopped for now. I won’t pretend that I was delighted when an entirely random child turned up at my classes two days running… The first simply as an act of ‘babysitting’, the second a new student whom nobody had deigned to inform me of! Through gritted teeth I express to the co-ordinator that it’s nice to know these things in advance. At least 10mins before the carefully prepared class anyway!

High brow cinema to review for my teenagers. Ace film though, a bonus feature on the ‘UP’ DVD…

Thursday 25th August

Zumba again, now the aches from last session have broadly subsided. It’s definitely good exercise.

Coffee and a travel advice clinic with the other UK detective here, who’s going back to work in 2 weeks. Hearing about her work just fills me with unease and vague dread, my decision about going back to that particular speciality has been made. Thinking about returning to that stress and trauma from having such a great life here just seems completely nonsensical.

My first try of a local speciality for lunch… Fresh ceviche, raw tuna and seafood in a sharp lemon sauce, with rice on the side. Every bit as good as I hoped it would be. Fixing some things around the school with the co-ordinator. She loves my practicality, I love feeling useful!

Friday 26th August

We’ve started doing ‘activity Fridays’ with our adult classes… Tonight’s seemed doomed to fail. Teams of mixed ability going out into the town and completing questionnaires with tourists. Surely they’d all be paranoid Germans who would sniff ‘scam’ and tell them to ‘vamos’?

No, actually it was great. Slightly let down by our last minute organisation leading to a bunfight at the end… Which team had come first? Who had won the coveted pizza dinner. Stewards enquiry time… Sadly it had to be my feistiest adult student disputing the result, I’ll never hear the end of this.

It’s all good learning here. I’m building up a stock of activities and techniques in my teaching arsenal for future use. Even ways to entertain feral children! 

Saturday 27th August

Never trust a drunken arrangement. This was the lesson I would come to take from Saturday. Earlier in the week my former student had offered for me to come along on a trip to Santa Fe island, leaving from the pier at 7.40. So, I got my Feria visit in really early, returned from market before 7am and was primed and ready to go…

…Or not. Two hours and many guides/boats having passed me, he hadn’t shown. I cut my losses and went snorkelling at the amazing Las Grietas instead, not a bad alternative day.

 

Las Grietas looking blue and lovely in the sun

I can’t get my head around underwater swimming. I’m coming to the creeping realisation that a scuba diving course would be a really bad idea… It just feels far too close to drowning for comfort.

Sunday 28th August

Finally it was upon us. We’d resolved to actually reach Garrapatero Beach this time, notwithstanding mechanical breakdowns… The weather was looking good, and we were set to go. Cue the inevitable faffing that results from a group of more than 3 people trying to do things collectively. And then our co-ordinatior turning up at an inopportune moment needing roofing sheets hauled up onto the roof. Shit, that’ll be the tall one then. 

The ride to Garrapatero is long but really scenic from Bellavista onwards, through the lush countryside of the Highlands, where it rains far more than the coast. You then reach what seems like the top of the rolling hills at the village of El Cascajo, with a pleasant new square to relax around.

From there to Garrapatero, it’s 7km of sheer downhill. Probably good fun on a bike that you actually trust not to hurl one into the scenery but on my clunker, not so much.

It’s an amazing beach. 500m trail from the car park down to a sublime coral beach and shallow bay.

You first have to register at the National Park hut. It’s also possible to camp here, having chatted with the ranger he explained that you need to register in town and arrive here before 4pm, then the beach is your oyster. There’s a barbecue for cooking the night’s catch too. Ideal… It’s on my to-do list since I still haven’t used the tent my mum brought over.

Trail to the beach

National Park centre of operations!

Garrapatero’s second attraction is its flamingos, who live in a lake behind the beach. Not quite the vast flocks you’d expect, only a pair on the day we visited, but judging by how pink they were, certainly well fed on shrimp. 

A bit of lazing and a perfectly co-ordinated hour’s nap… What else are you expected to do on a cloudy day at such an ace beach? Swimming was out of the question, not because the water was unpleasant at all but because damp cycling is miserable!

I’d noticed a few agricultural trucks in the parking lot and kept my fingers tightly crossed, since none of us really fancied the steep 7km up to La Cascada. To this end I chatted up a Cuencan family walking up from the beach. They graciously offered us the back of their pickup but there were 6 of us plus bikes so it was never going to happen.

However, 6 plus bikes WILL go into a Toyota Hilux and as luck would have it, one was dropping off passengers. I managed to negotiate a lift for $6, pretty good going when the original price was $10 and Ecuadorians NEVER haggle much…

Back to Bellavista for our new ritual of coffee and corviche then the slow roll back to PA… A good weekend.

Monday 29th August

Back to classes. As ever, the fun happens in the mornings, and today I discovered a great new restaurant for a set lunch. Little things mean a lot, when you’re on a little island…

Tuesday 30th August

We have a new fridge! Promised for weeks, delayed by the boat nearly capsizing in Guayaquil, and finally it’s here. Large, shiny and generally far superior to the tiny cool box we had before. Again, little things, but it keeps us happy. Our terrace also looks like the den of a specialist drug lord as Lisa has started drying the oregano from our fantastic little garden.

Wednesday 31st August

Back to ‘utter chaos’ mode in the morning again. 9.00 am there’s a knock on the gate. Oh great, another load of guys with a mystery truck full of stuff. This time it’s desks, tables and all sorts which end up strewn around our yard. Luckily Indira turns up at the exact same time as the men so I silently delegate responsibility and continue with my lesson prep.

A spirited argument about the answer to a reading question with one of my adult students in the evening. I (Comically) resort to pointing out my 37 years of experience in the speaking of English…

Thursday 1st September

A good day. I failed to drag my lazy arse to Zumba in the morning and consequently felt decidedly guilty and under the weather. However, this led to the flash of inspiration behind “The Black Dog on the islands”, and moreover a bit of personal development, so everything happens for a reason…

More shuffling of furniture, despite my best efforts to hide. We appear to have gained 4 large tables and dozens of desk/chair combos, which we simply don’t need. Shoehorning them into/around our house may prove interesting to say the least.

Good evening, despite all being ruined by a long day we went out for pizza with the prize winners from our last competition. Mmmm, pizza. Haven’t had it in months, since it’s somewhat of a premium item on the islands!

Me, Keith and some of our lovely students.

Friday 2nd September

Our job is definitely not hard work, however the end of Week 3 is the part of the course when everything starts to drag a bit. Students getting fatigued and not really up to independent thought, and us trying desperately to think of ways to kick them into enthusiasm.

I don’t blame them for getting run down, our courses are seriously intense with 1.5hr classes Monday-Friday for 5 weeks solid. On top of generally full days at work/school it’s a lot to keep up with.

We finish the week with a fun activity in town, again using the tourist population to provide interview stooges for our budding students. This time, Scattergories! Much fun had by all.

Zumba again this morning. Am I getting stronger, creakier or both? Beats me!

Saturday 3rd September

There’s something lovely about rainy days here, basically it takes away the guilt of living on an incredible marine reserve and not really doing anything for the day. So, DVDs in bed it was, after a morning trip to the Feria to stock up on fruit, veg and a huge slab of tuna destined for a coconut curry later today. 

I’m also striving pretty hard to improve my Spanish at the moment. An hour’s conversation exchange yesterday with one of my best students really helped, and I’m generally trying to talk to locals a bit more, engaging in chit-chat at the market (I find it hard enough to make chit-chat in English, what are you meant to talk about?) and also watching films/reading books in Spanish too. This all seems to be working pretty well.

Another benefit was that when I visit my student Ximena she generally lets me climb up and retrieve the odd coconut, so that’s dinner sorted. 

Sunday 4th September

Another rainy day, another guilt-free low activity morning. More Spanish practice. Sadly the DVD The Martian I bought from San Cristobal is all in Spanish with no subtitles, but it’s a good quality copy and I kind of know the story from the book, so it’s entertainment and a good learning experience…

Sunday rituals kick in again, Corviche and coffee in Bellavista with Lisa and Steph, the teacher from next door. Hilarity ensues as Lisa asks for some of the water from the barrel on the counter. She takes a big slug before realising it’s actually local hooch. Seriously strong local hooch made from sugar cane. I laugh, but resolve to buy some since it’s only $10 a litre. By the state of the old guy who’s just filled his bottle it seems to work well too.

Minty payback time: Getting home I decide it’s time for the spearmint plant which I bought from market for a rather steep $5 to pay us back. Two baby offshoots potted and ready to sell in a couple of weeks. I love a bit of wheeling and dealing. Further potential island income comes in the form of a question on the Lonely Planet forums about tours here. After I speak to a local company they offer me commission if the punters book… Good commission too. The overhead lightbulb springs to life…

Mmmm, minty money

Monday 5th September

Minty payback time is well and truly shelved. The first of Miguel (The mint plant)’s offspring ends up being donated to Indira after she enthusiastically begged for one… Mint’s pretty scarce here at the moment, and besides, over the months she has regularly turned up with bags full of lovely allotment produce so it was more than fair.

The second one was spoken for less than 30 minutes later after our cleaner Olga arrived.

Later in the day I received a real blast from the past… A Facebook message from my post-University girlfriend Ellie. We parted ways nearly 15 years ago and have both been living in Bristol for the duration but never crossed paths. What are the chances?! A nice thing to receive, particularly since it didn’t contain any phrases along the line of “8 months after we split up…” With a picture of a teenager who vaguely resembles me! Good to catch up with faces from the past and with fond memories. 

Wednesday 6th September

Nice relaxed morning. I’m currently suffering from slight man flu which mainly consists of a distinct loss of voice. This gets gradually exacerbated over the working day until I can’t do anything but emit a hoarse whisper in my adult’s class. I hear of a “conversation exchange” being run by another teacher on the island and covertly peek my head into the cafe to see what’s afoot. It looks very much like a class, therefore actual work. I slip away.

Working afternoons always start with slight chaos. There’s now a shop on site which means several things:

  • We have a ready source of temptation/sugar fixes
  • So do the children.
So, good and bad. It also means that the afternoons are even more chaotic as the children turn up for classes, end up consuming vast quantities of sugar and then trying to get them into class turns out to be more like herding amphetamine-addled cats than anything else. Also the shop houses our printer, so trying to juggle laptop around chocolate bananas, shop staff, random children that need to be shooed out of the shop and other obstacles becomes a bit of a challenge. 
 
To my shame I sometimes turn into grumpy Sam at these times. 😦
 
Whilst reviewing the artwork from Lisa’s class we see that the toilet roll butterfly made by possibly her oddest student has stars of David on it, with big eyes in the middle. Neither of us quite know how to process this information.
 
Thursday 7th September

Morning haze turns to rage as, for the third day running, despite gentle reminders, our third housemate hasn’t bothered to replace the 20l bottle of drinking water in the kitchen. We are getting through one a day at the moment since he has his sister, her husband and his boyfriend staying. This is really, really annoying. I’ve got limited tolerance for the whole “I’m so ditzy, sorry” adult child schtick, but when it involves me having to lug 20l up the road it turns to actual rage. Grrrr.
 
I thought everyone was being over-sensitive, as I tend to drink tap water pretty much everywhere, but you really can’t here. It’s awful. It comes from a desalination plant but the “de-sal” bit doesn’t seem to work, so it is essentially sea water.
 
You can really tell that it’s coming towards the end of this module, attendance has dropped off considerably and the students who are coming are just… Dead! My teens class a particular case in point. Really basic language that they learnt years ago and it’s like you’ve just asked them for a synopsis of For Whom The Bell Tolls. Seriously, even yes/no answers. Ah well…
 
Great excitement in the evening. The Presidents of Ecuador, Costa Rica and Colombia are in town for a meeting, plus the screening of a new major wildlife documentary. Town is PACKED, I genuinely didn’t realise quite so many people lived here. Lines of cops and soldiers for a group of around 5 protesters unhappy about water supplies and lack of Government expenditure here…
Friday 8th September

An exciting morning. The signing of a new treaty formalising the maritime territorial boundaries of the region, including a much larger protected region around the Galápagos Islands. Town is again packed, and I head down to see what’s afoot, managing to somehow get into the invited guests section for a great view.
Presidents of Costa Rica, Ecuador and Colombia (L-R)

This is what world leaders should look like- Cool Latin guys in open-necked shirts and a slight hint of Pablo Escobar. During the 2 hours of the meeting I somehow managed to get sunburnt despite being in partial shade on a cloudy day…. It’s easy to forget how fricking strong the sun always is here on the Equator. 

So, after the excitement it’s exam day in school. We have weekly ‘quizzes’ which ensure that the students revise the week’s work in preparation for the mid and end-term exams. Overall the course is pretty important- Good performance means that the students go up a level, and eventually get a certificate of competence from the University, which really helps with future courses and jobs.
 
Sadly the desired effect isn’t always achieved. Despite having reminded the students about the exam and given them a supplementary sheet of words to learn which “MAY BE ON THE EXAM GUYS…” Only around 5 of the class were able to recall any of the 14 words. Meh, you try your best… To be fair, I gather Lisa had similar results from some of her students. After 20 lessons, an oral exam in which they were simply asked their name and where they were from produced completely blank faces. Some people just really struggle, but it seems also like some students just don’t try!
 
A treat after classes as one of my students takes me to her mum’s house to enjoy local lobster caught by her brother, a fisherman. Roughly the colour of my face after today’s stint in the sun, but delicious nonetheless, simply fried with garlic, and with plantain cakes (Patacones) on the side.
 
So, it’s the end of the week, but more importantly, the end of A month in the life of… Stay tuned for more updates from my little patch of lava in the Pacific including camping at a remote beach tomorrow night, last month’s trip to San Cristobal island and possibly a few days to come on the virtually uninhabited Isla Floreana.
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