Welcome to the GAIAS blog!

This blog was created in December 2011 to help future students get an "inside look" into what it's like to study in this unique place.

On the Home Page you'll find all the blog posts in the order they were saved. Scroll around to see what previous students had to say about their experiences here! Some posts were written specifically for this blog while others are pulled from blogs that students had already been keeping. You can also see posts on specific topics by viewing the labels on the left hand columns.

Also check out the different tabs for more information on studying here!


Friday, January 6, 2012

Life at the Hacienda

As Geovanny always jokingly noted when we arrived at the Hacienda in the morning, “welcome
to your second home.” I’ve had the chance to do some pretty cool things at Hacienda Tranquila,
and really feel as though I have made a significant impact while living and working in San
Cristóbal. To start, Hacienda Tranquila is an ecotourism organization that began in 2007, within
the tiny, fifteen family farming community of La Soledad. The organization is unique in that it
is the only program in the Galápagos that works with community, environment, and social issues
by approaching them as one.

How it all works is that volunteers (up to 20 at a time) come from around the world for one to
twelve weeks to live, work, and grow in a 50 hectare area dedicated to preserving the ecological
and social systems of the Galápagos. The work can vary: volunteers one day could be battling
Mora (invasive blackberry) with a machete in the Maconia area, and that same afternoon do
English tutoring with children from the local school.

To sum it all up, here are the five areas volunteers work in at the Hacienda:

1. Reforestation: Volunteers have planted more than 3,000 trees in five different areas of the
islands to protect endangered species.

2. Agriculture: Hacienda Tranquila is currently assisting 20 families across the island to recover
their abandoned farms. Staff and volunteers help cultivate their farms so they can supply the
community with organic products and increase local production.

3. Community water access: Staff and volunteers worked for over one year to bury fifteen
kilometers of pipe along rough terrains to supply water for the community, which enabled 200
people to have access to a suitable water source.

4. Carbon sequestration: The project has planted 750 trees, specifically two types of species,

5. Children: We have created a program of hippo-therapy that uses activities on a horse that is
meaningful for children, and have served over 180 disadvantaged and disabled children over the
last four years. Additionally, we have helped furnish the school in the community and materials
for English language learning.

My work, however, has been a bit different. In the position description, I am considered to
be a program assistant and volunteer coordinator, which has come with a wide variety of
responsibilities. For example, I have had numerous administrative tasks including creating a
monthly newsletter, updating website material, managing social media content, and composing
a grant proposal. When I would come to the Hacienda to do work, you could almost guarantee
that I would be sitting outside at the table typing on my computer at least one point of the day.

Little did I know, this position would also include some operative work as well . . .

Let me start by saying I would definitely consider myself a city girl. Ask me to go camping? I
might say yes. Ask me to hike the Inca trail to Machu Picchu? I will take the train, thank you
very much. My experience working outside is little to none, so when Geovanny asked me to go
help one of the staff members, Carlos, build a fence one day, I gave him a look of absolute terror.
I really wanted to impress my new boss, though, so with a machete in one hand and a bucket of
water in the other, I set off trailing Carlos with the determination to try something new.

We needed to cut some branches down for the posts, so Carlos showed me a good one to work
on, and I started hacking away. Needless to say, in the time it took me to cut down one, Carlos
managed to cut four! I tried as hard as I could though, and I had a lot of fun in the process.
Another day I was doing one of my usual jobs, taking pictures of the volunteers, when the other
staff member Paúl told me he could take a picture of me working with the machete. So, he
handed me his machete and I started attacking the mora and other invasive species. (Secretly, I
think he wanted to take a break because he took two pictures and was playing with my camera
for a while after that.) It was pretty fun and I would never have guessed I’d be doing something
like that in a million years.

These, as well as other exciting experiences pushed me into unknown territories. Other days I
helped with the hippo-therapy program, played with the local INFA children, helped herd the
cows, and worked on the coffee plantation picking coffee cherries.

Although it has certainly been rewarding, it goes without saying that any service work you
perform isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. More often than not, you have a few glitches along
the way which will cause you to stumble. For example, not having adequate Spanish speaking
skills has led to some very confusing interactions with community members and made a few
situations difficult to proceed without the assistance of others.

In the end, however, I sincerely believe that my time spent at Hacienda Tranquila will leave a
lasting impression upon my life. My administrative work has allowed me to practice the skills
I have learned thus far through my master’s program, and given me the opportunity to develop
my capacity to manage and lead in a multicultural environment. My interactions with the
international volunteers and the laughs I shared with the guys, Geovanny, Carlos, and Paúl, will
stay with me forever. Moreover, the physical work I performed outside provided the chance for
me to grow in ways I never thought possible: I can easily identify many of the endemic species
we are growing here at the Hacienda and wield a machete like the best of them!