Mud splatters with each step down the slippery path. I cling to the closest wooden posts, avoiding the barbed wire at my sides. My heavy breathing does not allow me to hear the surroundings. The sign, LA ESPERANZA HACIENDA, grows larger as I approach on the winding path. At the end of an exhausting trek, I finally catch my breath.
My sigh of relief is only short-lived as I am fully aware of the daunting tasks that lie ahead. On the Galapagos Islands, the high school volunteer work tends to be lengthy and physical. Of course, I am not used to the hard labor, but I journeyed here to help the environment, so, I overcome my reluctance and power through the work. My group’s job is to construct a greenhouse from the native bamboo. Wielding a sharp machete, I head toward the bamboo trees, managing to topple a tree after multiple failed attempts. Though my hands ache, I am persistent. Everything here is different. This is a job to help the native ecosystem and also an immersion into a new culture. I am exhausted, yet confident with my decision to travel out of my comfort zone, to work in primitive conditions.
Jose’s uplifting smile, the one he sustains through the toughest work, encourages me to persevere through the pain. The owner of La Esperanza, Jose reconditions the land constantly, hoping to one day create a turtle rehabilitation center. He named the ranch Esperanza, which means hope in Spanish, to express his feelings for the project. Knowing his goal will take years to achieve only drives him to accomplish more every day. I have worked hard, though never as hard as Jose does.
On a particularly sultry day, Jose leads us to the fruit farm he maintains. “Take a bite,” he tells me as he hands me a slice of cantaloupe. Cantaloupe has never been my favorite, but this bite is succulent perfection. I feel a profound joy as I devour the rest of the piece. A piece of fruit, something I consider trivial, has brought me an unusual satisfaction. I feel as though I had been lifted off the Earth and given a taste of divine food. I hug Jose and thank him for his generosity. He doesn’t understand my happiness, so I explain that back home I live a fast-paced lifestyle, not stopping to enjoy the sweetest moments of life.
As the final hour of my volunteer work wanes into the fading sunset, I feel sad. Even though the work is physically demanding, I enjoy it. Before I met Jose, I complained about the slow service in a restaurant, while he unremittingly labored, even for the smallest fruit. Now, I relish my time to relax and reflect. I emerge with an open mind, pausing to take in every moment life gives me
To learn more about how you can make a difference in The Galapagos, click on the link.