Ah, Galápagos, shall I count the ways I love thee?
Well, it’s not the big things. I’ll miss the little stuff too. Here’s a selection.
Helados, helados, De uno a dos, un dollarito, un dollarito…
Yep, it’s the man outside the ice cream shop in town. Every day, sat outside with his karaoke microphone and boom box beckoning all and sundry to enjoy a discount whippy at lunchtime. 3 flavours, $1, what’s not to like? You get loads of it too. Sometimes I pass by and I’m sad because he has already retired for siesta time and the roller shutter is closed. Other times I leap with joy because he’s opened late. Either way, if it’s after lunchtime and he is open I will ALWAYS buy one as I pass…
…Not so for the roving ice cream men who come around the residential district on their bikes. Ever since one ripped me off for a $.50 surcharge on a Magnum I never buy from them. Sometimes I hear the hooting and ringing of their bells and pretend to look excited, before giving them a Paddington Bear stare and returning to the house. They have to pay for their ripoff crimes.
Ice cream shop man also goes out and about at the weekends in his pickup truck. He’s manning the karaoke microphone and driving, while his sad-looking teenage son is in the back with a chest freezer. “Quattro helados, cinco dolares, vainilla, coco, mora…” Always the same patter. Like an Ecuadorian national anthem.
Woof, beep, beep, bark, beeeeeeeeeeeep whistle
To be fair, this one probably should be entitled “Things I won’t forget about Galapagos but which drive me up the wall”. Yep, constant noise. Having spent a few weeks in Quito I know it’s 10 times worse there, but even here noise is a constant part of life. Beeping in cars is like echo location, you make sure everyone knows you’re coming, and also you greet everyone you know with your horn. I wish to be honest there could be a public meeting where everyone just sits down and says “Look, this place is tiny. Admit it, you know everyone. Can we just all agree to not have to beep at each other to acknowledge this fact?”.
It’ll never happen. But yeah, the noise is a big thing. We live next to a small enterprise selling ice and soya milk. Every visitor, every single one, has to beep prior to arrival. The water delivery truck bipbipbipbips its way around the streets, and quadruple bips for next door. Horns, flipping horns. All the time. And my bedroom’s at the front of the house so I get it in glorious stereo. Nay, Dolby 5.1.
But, if it’s not the horns, it’s the whistling. Need to attract your neighbour’s attention? Don’t be all obvious and knock on the door, just stand outside making a random variety of whistles to attract their attention. Or better than that, just do it as you walk down the street to annoy the neighbourhood dogs.
A ve! Aaaaaaaa veeeee! VECINA! VECINA! Well, it’s the next step. Rather than knocking boringly on the door, just stand outside yelling and eventually your victim might emerge from their house… I actually fell victim to a completely crazy woman one morning who wanted information about courses and simply wouldn’t stop knocking, rattling the gate and shouting over our fence. Pretty damn early too. She genuinely wouldn’t have stopped. I had to extract myself from bed and tell her what was what.
Chinese Water Torture. I think there’s a condition called misophonia and I think I have it. Basically repetitive small noise burrows into my skull and I can’t focus on anything but the noise. Some days, living here is painful.
A local bus up to Bellavista in the highlands. Delicious food and coffee. Teacher friends. Chewing the fat with the locals. And, most recently the amazingly beautiful daughter of the family restaurant we go to. I’ve waxed lyrical about Bellavista Sundays more than enough to avoid repeating them here. But last Sunday was a highlight, since I went on my own and decided to watch the volleyball games on the village court. I happened upon the most hilariously competitive ‘friendly’ match ever with three incredibly argumentative fat men on one team. Every single missed shot, their teammates would get it in the ear. At half time one of the fat men dry humped the opposition team as a gesture of disdain. The local crowd loved it, as did I.
Getting too old, a massive geek or both. Either way, it’s time for me to come out of the closet: I LOVE gardening. So when I turned up at the house here and found a blank patch of earth it was a dream come true. Our initial approach was to simply throw every fruit and vegetable seed we had left over onto the front garden and to see what came up. This was a reasonable success as, even after elimination of the several thousand hierbas malas (weeds), ably assisted by our neighbour, we ended up with some little pepper plants. Our co-ordinator donated 2 sticks from an old yucca plant, which I will admit to being intensely skeptical about but, after months stuck in the ground at a jaunty angle have actually grown into new trees. So, here’s how we started:
You’ll see the vine in the background which upon arriving here had been hacked down to a stump since it was “taking over”. With the addition of a few wires to guide the vine, a LOT of weeding and also a metric fucktonne of water every day here’s the garden now:
I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out. Despite skepticism from all corners about my pile of rocks in the middle everyone agrees that it looks pretty nice, and the resident lava lizards love basking on them. Slowly the grapevine is growing, as planned, over the front fence to block out the increasing number of annoyingly persistent visitors who can’t accept that the school is sometimes closed.
In the front you’ll see pepper plants, lemongrass, spearmint, oregano and some other little plants that we’re still trying to identify. In the far left corner you can see a maracuya plant starting to climb the grapevine, and in the top right you can see our yucca plants. In the middle is a beautiful flowering tree which, despite being hacked back to nothing by the neighbours (and subsequently rescued by me), it’s starting to put out flowers again.
The circles of life
A LOT of the fruit and veg on Santa Cruz comes on a boat from the mainland. Some is produced here, like bananas, squashes and some leaves, but given the limited land available for farming (Only 3% of the landmass on the islands is authorised for habitation/farming) a lot needs to be brought in.
Despite this, it’s not the monoseasonal free-for-all that you see in UK supermarkets. Stuff has a season. The best barometer of this is at the big Saturday market. You’ll see a few vegetables appearing, for instance the delicious green leaves, then more and more of them. Your dollar bundles will get bigger. Then gradually as the season wanes you’ll see less and less of them, and the amount you get for your money steadily diminishes.
At the moment it’s the waning of the maracuya season. These delicious, sweet fruits started getting really numerous not long after I arrived here, big bags of 15-20 fruits going for a dollar. But now, there are hardly any around. My last outing to market produced nothing other than a small bag of pulp, mainly juice, for said dollar. I kind of like this, it mirrors my time on the island having come to an end- for now at least- and besides, something’s not special if you can have it all the time, right?
There are more than you’d think. National Day this, Lobster Festival that… Between Ecuador general and Galapagos specific events there’s generally something afoot on the main street. Most often a complete surprise. Within the last week we also were treated to hordes of tanned, fit people descending on the town to take place in the Galapagos Triathlon, an event with numerous facets from a full Olympic length triathlon to shorter sprint races.
I only stumbled upon it after leaving the main path towards Las Grietas, wondering where the track went. Well, it lead to a beautiful house overlooking Finch Bay, with its own private dock. An Italian Consulate in the nicest corner of the Galápagos Islands. Why does no other country need a diplomatic presence here?
It’s clearly a brilliant and massive blag by the staff. “Yes, I feel it important we represent Italian interests on these islands. No, don’t worry, i have found a suitable building. Yes, I will run it. Don’t worry sir, I have it in hand” .
Either I’ve missed something, or this is blagging of the greatest and noblest magnitude yet witnessed on this earth. I salute them!
Developing into a better teacher
My first job teaching English as a Second Language has been a massive learning curve. Now, I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of some aspects… But every day really is a school day, whether it be some new way to explain a grammar point that even I don’t really understand, or indeed how best to get a small class of adults who don’t like each other to practice some sentences.
This is fun. Over time I’ve actually built up a pretty full schedule too, which will help with my travelling budget:
0845-0945 1-1 class with a local solicitor/aspiring politician who’s visiting the UK for a conference in a few weeks. My greatest achievement with her so far is noticing her completely innocent use of a terrible racial slur, and gently guiding her not to use it. Saving a student from a lynching in London…Priceless.
1000-1100 1-1 class with a talented local jeweller who wants to improve her English overall.
1600-1700 Group class with 9-10 feral children. Not my highlight of the day!
1700-1730 Private class with 3 local conservation NGO scientists, super advanced and always testing my knowledge of grammar.
1730-1900 Teenagers class. Generally a good laugh, and generally not TOO grumpy.
1930-2100 Adult’s class. This is a difficult one. Really difficult since half the class hates the other half. Sometimes works…
I love my one on one classes. Both Carolina and Ariana are lovely to teach, but it does strike home to me how little my students in the other classes must understand of what I say… Ariana is pretty advanced but frequently looks at me blankly- I need to revisit my CELTA lessons on Language Grading (Basically dumbing down instructions etc to be more understandable).
But yeah, every class makes me a better ESL teacher. Now, my ratio of lessons whereby I think “I completely nailed that” to lessons where I cringe and retreat from the confusion is pretty high. Hey, I’ve worked at Ecuador’s #1 University for the past 6 months. Sort of. Boom!
Galapagan spatial awareness
Or lack of it… This is something which is definitely on the love/hate list. It only really happens when cycling, mainly down the big cycle path on the main street.
Suicidal Galapagans! They just don’t seem to regard bikes as something to avoid, nor as something which still hurts if it crashes into you. It’s genuinely staggering, I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere in the world. People will look right at you then step out, walk across the bike path at 45 degrees right in front of you, genuinely bizarre, but kind of hazardous if you’re moving a bit.
My higher level students confirmed this, that whilst competing in the recent triathlon here they had several near disasters whilst on the finishing stages from random stepper-outers.
It’s something that annoys and amuses me in equal measures. Mainly the latter, unless it causes me to fall off.
Having just completed my second night there with some teacher friends, it’s confirmed my love for this special place. It’s fairly restricted and not many tourists seem to have got their heads around it too, which is a distinct bonus. I’d looked forward to a solid night of sleep again however sadly this wasn’t to be since the Gods of Garrapatero were against me. A couple of unauthorised campers turning up in the dead of the night, waking me up with flickering torches and scaring the life out of me, then again a couple of hours later a sudden and startling wake up call in the form of a large branch falling onto my tent and hitting my foot with a good deal of force. That was kind of scary.
And lastly, probably the biggie…
Undoubtedly the best bang for buck I’ve ever received from gainful employment
I will quite possibly look back at this time of my life as being incredibly easy going. And quite probably kick myself for leaving. Really, I live on an amazingly beautiful marine reserve, teach anywhere between 4 and 6hrs a day and have 10 weeks holiday a year. Oh, and not only get completely free accommodation but also a wage/income from private classes decent enough to have made 2 substantial wire transfers home during my 6 months. Still, I am getting proper island fever after 4 months. The same people, the same sights, the same routines. Nothing changes! To do this longer term I’d need to pencil in some mainland time on my weeks off. My discussions with friends this weekend have been mainly about the first mainland treat we’ll partake in after getting off this rock.
But yeah, this kicks ass. I was on the verge of having to return home, definitely into the last month of my savings when I got this job back in April. Now I’ve spent 6 months longer out in the wild in a brilliant place and have almost exclusively funded my next 6 weeks travelling up through Colombia, Cuba and Florida. As well as my return ticket to London. Extending my trip by 7 months? For free? I’ll take that.
More than anything else, I’ve worked out that I can do this. I’m a qualified ESL teacher who can teach any sort of class you throw at me. I can live in a foreign country for an extended period of time and, should I choose to, I can move pretty much wherever I fancy in the world. That grand on the CELTA course is one of the best investments I’ve ever made.
The fact that I made enquiries about returning to my old job in a different role over 3 months ago and that they still haven’t really got back to me with any sort of committal answer about whether it’s going to be possible could be a sign. Watch this space folks, since I wouldn’t be surprised to be lining myself up with a return flight after Christmas…
Stay tuned for my final update from the islands before D-Day (departure day) in a week’s time. Eeek!