Sunbathing with sea lions, Swimming with sharks

Monday 13 April 2015

A four week trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands has broadened the horizons of Shuttleworth College student Elliott Barnes.

The 17-year-old, of St Neots has realised his career options stretch far beyond the UK. He is now sharing his story and photographs to inspire fellow students.

The internationally recognised Shuttleworth College, Old Warden, Beds opens up a world of choices for Elliott and his friends. First step for Elliott is completing his Level 3 in Animal Sciences – as part of which he will be working with exotic creatures similar to some he encountered in the wild.

Here is his travel diary:

It started when I was a Ernulf Academy in St Neots and we were told about a trip – but we had to raise more than £4,000 each. I had to decide if I wanted to save for a car or save for this. So I worked and helped organise fund-raising events such as car cleaning. My mum and dad helped a lot of course.

On the day of the trip seven of us met up with another large group from Cornwall at the airport and we flew off to Madrid and on to South America.

Day One: The Cloud Forest community where we stayed was very basic living accommodation – but everyone was very welcoming and there was football pitch. Community spirit was really high and football is their life.

We did conservation work carrying materials up a cliff so they could create a giant basis for fresh water for the village.

As time went by you could see it all coming together. It felt very rewarding and we all had a great sense of achievement.

Next up was long coach trip to Camp Maqui and on to the Amazon.  Here was more community work, this time to build a fish pond in the town of Rio Blanco so locals could farm tand sell them. They all share the work and the profits

We were soaked in a tropical rain storm for 36 hours and then the heat and humidity rose to 36 degrees. 

Two more days in Rio Blanco and I was able to do some some community work with local children and share with them stuff I had been given by Shuttleworth College. They especially loved the blow up globes of the world.

Next was 2,500 ft above sea level Camp Curicuhi where it was bitterly cold but the views of the mountains were a fantastic thing to wake up to. The job here was to make a “sauna” for making local herbal medicines to combat the conditions caused by the high altitude and we learned about people’s beliefs.

By plane to the Galapagos Islands next – we are all very excited.

My mum had been taping all the David Attenborough programmes but nothing prepares you for the real thing. It was just amazing. We were snorkelling with sea lions and Manta Rays and the tropical fish were everywhere.

On to a tortoise breeding location. It was really cool to have these creatures right in front of you that exist nowhere else in the world.

Onwards and upwards, to the crater of an extinct volcano with fresh water and which was obscured when the cloud cover came down.

The beach next was surreal with sea lions lying around sunbathing. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes you wouldn’t believe it. More snorkelling and more sea lions coming up to look at you. Wondering what you are, I guess.

The next day to the shark feeding ground of Kicker Rock where we swan through an archway of rocks and the water was so deep you could see star fish sinking away into the depths with the White Tip and Hammer Heads alongside them.

The sea cave was next with the sea lions sitting around on the rocks and beyond that a beach with sand like fine white flour covered with crabs.

Our last night was in the Cactus Hostel with bike journeys and more, then eventually to Santa Cruz and the Darwin Centre – a museum and breeding centre for iguanas. We walked to the beach where giant waves were breaking and there were the marine iguanas in the wild, in the water. On the other side of the bay the water was calm and crystal blue.

After a long, long journey home to the UK I was glad to be home (have a hot shower) but I will never forget this trip.

It was incredible.

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