Sunday, October 11, 2009
There is a song by a Colombian hip-hop group, ChocQuibTown, that sings the praises of being from the Pacific coast of Colombia. The chorus of their hit single "Somos Pacífico" says "We are of the Pacific. We are united. The region unites us. The color, the race, and the gift of flavor."
This tune became the theme song for the 9th grade week-long class trip to Isla Gorgona this past week. Unfortunately, compared to the trip two years ago with the class of 2011, this group wasn't as unified as the song would hope them to be. Not to say the trip was a bust by any means. Most of the kids, I think, had a great time. However, an unusual and disproportionate number of students found many things to complain about, sucking the fun out of their own trip. One group of girls approached me after only three days on the island and told me they thought the trip was too long and we should go home. Compare this to two years ago when girls were crying as we got on the boats to leave the island after a week.
Every class has it's dynamic and this one's reputation as being non-unified, apathetic, and leaderless didn't fail us in Gorgona. Despite the mediocre attitudes of some of the students, it was still a great trip! These are some of my personal highlights:
No hablo inglés.
I was the only gringo on the trip this year. The Dean of Students is from Canada and has been in Colombia for around 18 years so he doesn't really count. And while a couple of the other chaperones are effectively bilingual, the language of function this trip was Spanish. This might be the first group of students to think I'm a lot more capable in the language than I really am.
Watch your step!
The name "Gorgona" is in reference to the Gorgon Women of Greek mythology. In other words, there are a lot of snakes on Isla Gorgona! Last time I was there we had a couple boa sightings. This time, there were the requisite boas, a tiny coral snake and two encounters with the most venomous snake on the island, Bothrops atrox. Known on the island as "talla equis," this pit viper species can be identified by the X shaped markings along it's back. We found one sitting in the middle of the trail one day and our guide successfully navigated us around it, marking it's location afterward by sticking a forked branch in the ground and inserting another stick in the forked area as a sort of arrow to indicate to other guides the snakes one time location. Another less excited encounter came when one of the 9th graders stepped on a tiny baby one that then scurried into the jungle.
Three of the days on the island I accompanied a third of the students on a hike to Playa Blanca to carry out their Biology Lab for the trip. All three of those days I was treated to fresh coconut and coconut milk courtesy of the guide. Delicious way to spend a late morning!
The other schools
Marine Biology is not my forté but I do enjoy poking my head below the surface and seeing the incredible diversity of life that exists there. The couple times I got to snorkel on this trip were incredible! I can't remember seeing that many fish of all shapes and sizes in one place. I'd look down and see a pair of parrot fish poking around some brain coral while a school of tiny black and grey fish with florescent green dots by their dorsal fins darted past only to glance above the surface for a moment and have it all replaced by an enormous school of two foot long iridescent fish sailing past. Unfortunately, I was not with the group that was within meters of a humpback whale and her calf.
Almost every night, a group of biologists stationed on Isla Gorgona head out in search of sea turtles to measure, weigh, and tag for tracking and research purposes. The biologists invited us to watch this process this year. The night I took a group of students the biologists hauled in four turtles! How they catch them with their bare hands in the dark of the night is beyond me but once on land, the turtles are put in separate wooden boxes and then carried over to the measuring/weighing table one at a time. One of the more interesting things about the research was that they snip a tiny piece of skin from the back of the turtle's neck for DNA classification purposes. Another interesting aspect of the whole process was the use of only red lights; white light (no flash photography or flash lights) was allowed near the research station.
The Amazing Race
The last day on the island includes a visit to a beach on the opposite side of the island from where our lodgings are. We spend all afternoon enjoying the black sand, good sized surf, and cool westward ocean breeze. To get there though, there are two options. The tough can come with me and a few other chaperones and guides and hike the four kilometers to the south and then up and over the middle of the island. The weak or lazy can take the boat. As our intrepid group of 21 hard-core 9th graders exited the jungle and began traversing the first of three beaches before crossing the over the middle of the island, the boat carrying the weak came into view. And we ran. All 21 in unison. Probably the most unifying event of the trip (ignoring the fact that it excluded those on the boat).
In the end, I know the trip was worth it. (Really, when is spending a week on an isolated and near-virgin tropical island not?!?) I would like to think that most of the students had a good time and it is my wish that, upon reflection, the majority of them will look back at their memories and pictures and wish they were back on Gorgona, even those girls who wanted to leave paradise after three days.