Most of the work at Jatun Sacha, in the highlands of San Cristóbal, consists of chopping down plants and trees that are invasive and replacing them with other plants that control the growth of the invasive ones.
The job on my first day was to gather what had been cut down the previous day into piles so that they could be burned. During our morning meeting, when we learned what we would be doing, I was relieved to know that that was my activity because I wasn’t ready to face the machete yet. However, when we got down there (every day we had about a 10 minute hike up or down to where we would work) it shocked me to see just how much of this invasive debris needed to be gathered. It’s everywhere. Even with 20-40 volunteers working for hours at a time it’s still hard to see imagine it ever being fully depleted. We had to use sticks to gather the chopped mora (blackberry vines) and push it into the piles. After 2 hours, each pile was over my head. That wasn’t my favorite activity because it was one which felt like a lot of work with few results because there was still so much to be done. I was ready to try the machete the next day.
Chopping down the mora was much more satisfying than gathering it. Once I got the machete (and was taught how to use it without chopping off a hand) I started chopping through the thick forest of invasive plants. We were working in a different area this time where you could only get through after chopping down the mora because there was so much of it and it grew to way above our heads. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, we also had do deal with their thorns and the swarm of mosquitos that flew around us the entire time. The head mosquito nets were helpful until one of those little bastards managed to get underneath it when I needed a drink of water. (My level of hatred towards these insects has definitely increased after this trip.) However, after about a half an hour of chopping my way through, I looked back to see the gap I had created and that pushed me to keep going. This week we had to cut down lantana which were more like small trees than vines, and then Fernán Sánchez, which actually were trees. We had to use heavier machetes for those and try to dodge the trees as they were being cut down. Now, I am a master at the machete and I feel like I can chop down anything. Not to mention, my arms are getting a great workout.
Ready to machete!
The owl hiding in the trees we were cutting:
Our ride to the Galapaguera, where we worked two times a week.
Another day, we went back to an area that had been cleared to plant coffee. Coffee is neither native nor invasive. It is an introduced species that when planted will eventually grow tall enough and create shade to control the growth of mora around it. The coffee doesn’t put any of the flora at risk and it helps to keep the invasive plants from doing more harm. In addition to that, the coffee that is produced is used to export and help uphold the economy of the Galápagos. These results usually start to happen about 5 years after the coffee has been planted, so it is important to continue to maintain the mora around the coffee until then.
In the morning we work from 8-12 and then we stop for lunch. The afternoon shift is only 2 hours long, so we are usually doing work at the station during that time. We’ve cleaned one of the houses, gathered fruit for juice, dug a giant hole for a new septic tank and collected wood for a fire.
The past two weeks have been a lot of hard work (with lots of mosquitos and cold out-door showers), but at least we had a nearby bar to hike to to drink off the week’s work. It was a great 2 weeks and I’m glad I decided to participate in this program.