Saturday, July 14, 2012

Volunteering with Katelios Group: First weeks

A couple of months ago I decided that I wanted to stay in a place for a longer time, at least a month, and do something useful. Researching on the internet I found the Katelios Group that works with Loggerhead Turtles (Caretta caretta) in the island of Kefalonia, Greece.
So here I am, in this beautiful, hot, aromatic island, walking the beaches looking for, snorkeling for and talking about, turtles.

I arrived to a house with around 15 other volunteers. Mostly english, very mostly much younger (between 19 and 23). It took a couple of days to find my feet, or fins in this new environment, but with the help of the passionate Chanel and Ellie (the group leaders), I was talking away about turtles and soon to be measuring a carapace.

They are amazing animals. Have been around for millions of years now, and hopefully will stay here for even more.
A few facts that I typically share:
- Loggerhead females can come up to nest up to 5 times per season and they do so every couple of years.
- Each nest will have approx 100 to 120 ping-pong shaped eggs
- One out of 1000 will make it to adulthood
- Being reptiles, the turtle's gender will depend on the temeperature of the sand (chicks are hot, guys are cool)
- Once they hatch, only some of them will make it to the ocean, mostly guided by the light. Once they are in it they will be guided by waves and electromagnetism and live a mysterious life for 12 to 20 years until they reach 600 times theyr newborn size and return to mate/nest to the beacj they were hatched in.

The tasks mainly relate to walking up and down Mounda Beach, near the town of Ratzakli. During the night, between 10 pm and 5 am, enlightened by only moon and stars (oh so many shooting stars), searching for turtles that come up and nest. During the morning measuring nests that might have been found at night or searching for tracks that could have been missed. During the afternoon talking to the people on the beach, mostly tourists from England and Italy, about the turtles and what they can do to help.
There are also a few other tasks like hosting the "Environmental Center" or going to a beautiful far away beach, Karoni and kayaking to another one to look for tracks.

I had the luck to see one turtle coming up to nest around 4.30 am, when we were already in zombie stage. It was amazing to see her digging in the moonlight and then to touch and get to know here scaled dinosaur body, her carapace full of hidden hieroglyphs. I really liked the camouflage stage, when she goes through this frantic dance throwing sand everywhere to disguise the position of the eggs.

And so  the days go by, with the weirdest sleeping patterns I have ever experienced. Either being awake most of the night, or waking up at 6 am, or at 5 am when the partying folks arrive.
Lots of free time during the day. Mostly used sleeping (escaping the heat), snorkeling, lying on the beach, reading, hitchiking to a close town to get some ice cream.

We also rented a car a couple of days to see other parts of this beautiful island. Greece is an amazingly aromatic land. Everywhere you go you can smell rosemary, thyme, oregano, fennel, jasmine, roses. A nose paradise. And then it is also full of fruits and veggies. The most juicy tomatoes, figs, olives (that are still not ripe), cucumbers.
The island itself is full of amazing corners, beaches out of postcards, mountains with colourful monasteries and vineyards. Ancient caves of crystal clear water.
Here are a few pics.

It's been an interesting challenge to live in a community after such a long time of being alone. Getting to know so many new people at the same time, establishing relationships, finding out and creating roles. Society...

Now a new stage starts. Still with the Katelios group but in a different location. In a camping near the main town of Argostoli. Soon more about that.

For the moment spending a couple of hellish hot days in Athens, which feels somehow so familiar and similar to Santiago.
Just for a couple of days, again with beautiful Linda in a squat. We can't seem to get out of here, it is way too hot.
Luckily we can see the Acropolis from the roof.

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