Galapagos Part 1:
We saw many new faces at the Hacienda Tranquila. The first person we saw, the one who picked us up from the airport, was Geovanny. Geovanny was the lead organizer of activities at the Hacienda. He was from the Galapagos and, he and I quickly found out, we both had lived in the same town for five years while he was attending graduate school (at the school my mom is a professor) at Indiana University. He had a wife from Witchita and two sons, whom we met at the Dia de Muertos celebration. He was big, goofy, and prone to giggles.
Pepe worked for Geovanny at the Hacienda. He was also from the Galapagos, and was the youngest of eleven siblings. He was our main day-to-day guide while Geovanny was out doing errands. Traveling with us, he always seemed to be waving at passers by; he about knew everyone on San Cristobal Island. He, like Geovanny, was prone to laughter — in Pepe’s case hand-clapping, foot-stomping outbursts, often while he was winning at table games.
Alfredo was another assistant, and another Galapagos resident. He was small, quiet, polite, and wore workman’s clothes. He specialized in animals and seemed to be the only person to have full command of Chocolate: the horse we used with the kids.
Sophie was a another volunteer. She was nineteen and Danish. She had been at the Hacienda for a month before us, and would stay there a month after we left. Probably from inhaling the same fumes which seeped out of some fissure near the Hacienda, she was, like Pepe and Geovanny, prone to chest-heaving laughter and found many mundane things to be hilarious.
Fredericka, another Dane, was twenty-six years old. Helena was also twenty-six and from Germany. They and Sophie most often stuck together. They had also been at the Hacienda for a month before we arrived.
Jake arrived days after us. He was nineteen years old, exceedingly tall, had curly red hair, and was from Germany. He was quiet, polite, and a good cook.
Kale arrived a week after Jake. He was eighteen years old, from Colorado, and was an experienced outdoorsman. He, Fritz, Kenny and Marnie all played Monopoly, and their shouts continued late into the night while I was trying to sleep.
(The Hancienda’s front exterior on a rare sunny day)
Life at the Hacienda was relaxed and fun. Work began each day at 8 to 8:30, after we had eaten our own breakfasts. For me, an early riser, breakfasts took a half an hour to make and often were made of cubed potatoes, yellow and red peppers, mushrooms, and onions all sautéed together then topped with fried eggs. Lilly, also an early riser, would often use leftover rice, milk (from the cows at the Hacienda) sugar and cinnamon to make rice porridge. The Danes (which I include Helena in, even though she’s German) had the best variety, incorporating fruit, oatmeal, pancakes, vegetables, herbs, eggs and toast into their breakfasts. Jake cooked for himself, making meals I cannot remember except for that I was always asking for bites. Fritz and Marnie usually shuffled in later, content with cereal, peanut butter sandwiches, eggs, or leftovers. Kenny slept through breakfast.
Preparing our own food turned out to be its own adventure, and we made many culinary blunders. Lilly and Marnie, conspiring to make a pot of rice for us three, thought two cups of uncooked rice per person would make a good-sized dinner — luckily the heap of unfinished rice was used for several days to make crunchy rice porridge (the real mistake was only using one cup of water per cup of uncooked rice, which made it like eating pebbles).
Fritz’s first attempt at red-sauce Spaghetti was also afflicted by misjudgments of proportion. He decided on three boxes of Spaghetti to go with a single frying pan of tomato sauce. In addition, the three boxes of Spaghetti, which looked identical, turned out to be three different types of noodles. So clumps (not enough oil was added to the water, nor was it stirred enough) of spaghetti fought with clumps angle hair pasta fought with clumps of Tallarin for the scant amount of sauce. We called it the Ménage à Trois.
I committed perhaps the most most monstrous cooking sin while making box Mac and Cheese. I combined in a separate pan, as the box instructed (I believe I read the Spanish properly) the powdered cheese formula with a cup of milk. This combination was too soupy for my liking, so I (lacking any other cheese) supplemented the sauce with flour to give it some viscosity. I added too much however, and was left with a heinous, violently orange blob the consistency of cement. It sat like a scoop of ice cream on top of my bowl of noodles.
Morning work during the first week was agricultural maintenance. The first morning of work we had to uproot Yuca vines which had spread outside the boundaries of their plot. While doing this we would occasionally uproot large bulbs of Yuca, and it became a competition to see who could unearth the largest.
A different day we weeded between several rows of vegetables, taking with us as a reward as much carrots, celery, and chard from the farm as we could carry.
Other days we hacked away at invasive blackberry bushes with machetes, which was fun and cathartic. There were orange trees all around where we were working, and we began throwing the oranges to each other to slice them out of the air.
Later into our stay we would help kids ride horses in the morning. Chocolaté cooperated most of the time, but those who strayed too close to his hindquarters (Lilly, me, and one of the teachers) were given a kick. Luckily neither this nor the bite he gave my hand left a mark.
The first class of kids we assisted were mentally disabled. One student we all remember in particular was Cristopher, who was the eldest of the class, large, at times resistant, but who was indiscriminately affectionate and gave us all hugs. Working with the kids, our job was to lead the horse around the coral, while making sure no kid fell off or was hurt.
I enjoyed most the work we did in the afternoon. One day we fed the two giant tortoises that the Hacienda took care of — if we had left the two alone, the bigger of the two would try and eat both portions of leaves.
Another afternoon we helped with milking. I was rotten at this; I had poor technique and was afraid of exerting too much pressure on the udders, so I could only coax out the tiniest of squirts. Marnie, who sat across the cow from we, working a different point on the same udder, seemed marginally better at this than I was. Watching Pepe do it, though, looked like magic.
The work was never exhausting, and we were able to excuse ourselves from it to explore Geovanny knew we were there for a very limited time and was very generous in allotting us free time