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Diary extract Ollie Oakenfold on Punta Gruea Jan-March 2011

Diary extract Ollie Oakenfold on Punta Gruea Jan-March 2011

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Published by GVI
GVI Volunteer Diary Extract

Name: Ollie Oakenfold Age: 38 Gender: Male Country of Residence: United Kingdom Start Date: 18 January 2011 Volunteer Program: Punta Gruesa, Mexico Marine Expedition

Having returned from Belize the first of my conservation projects was imminent – just one day in civilisation to complete the last-minute shop for sheets, blankets, boat shoes, treats, secret stash of rum and most importantly, gallons of mosquito repellent. With the shopping complete and a 5am start loo
GVI Volunteer Diary Extract

Name: Ollie Oakenfold Age: 38 Gender: Male Country of Residence: United Kingdom Start Date: 18 January 2011 Volunteer Program: Punta Gruesa, Mexico Marine Expedition

Having returned from Belize the first of my conservation projects was imminent – just one day in civilisation to complete the last-minute shop for sheets, blankets, boat shoes, treats, secret stash of rum and most importantly, gallons of mosquito repellent. With the shopping complete and a 5am start loo

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Published by: GVI on Apr 11, 2011
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GVI Volunteer Diary Extract
Name: Ollie OakenfoldAge: 38Gender: MaleCountry of Residence: United KingdomStart Date:18 January 2011Volunteer Program: Punta Gruesa, Mexico Marine ExpeditionHaving returned from Belize the first of my conservation projects was imminent –just one day in civilisation to complete the last-minute shop for sheets, blankets,boat shoes, treats, secret stash of rum and most importantly, gallons of mosquitorepellent. With the shopping complete and a 5am start looming, the sensiblething would have been to grab an early night. However, with over half thevolunteers already in town we slowly coalesced as a group around one of the 5
th
Avenida bars and proceeded to get a bit carried away with the ice breaking. Itwas definitely a great way to make introductions – the booze a perfect excuse forno-one being able to remember each other’s names for most of the night. By thetime we started laying into the weirdnesss of fermented cactus cream that isMezcal, nobody really cared any more and before we knew it, father time wasknocking at the door and the few of us dirty stopouts left decided to call it anight.Early the next morning we gathered at the pick-up point and filled out ourpaperwork in a moaning, seething mass of hangover before being bundled intominibuses for the 5 hour ride south and east into the middle of nowhere.Leaving the last town (Mahahual) behind we carried on over progressivelyworsening roads, where it finally sunk in that we really were going to be quiteisolated. When we finally pulled in to the little beachfront strip that is to be ourhome for the next few months, any lingering doubts were immediately dispelled– this place is beautiful.Nestled between miles and miles of mangrove and a shallow beach of white sandand seagrass, Punta Gruesa is basically a beach commune serving as aconservation & research base. Originally built for cruise ship visitors then usedas a place for seasonal fisherman to base themselves for weeks at a time, GVI(the conservation organisation) took it over a couple of years ago and has beenslowly improving and adding to it since. There are two proper concrete buildingswhich house the ‘dive shop’ (for secure storage of our gear) and an office, eachof which sleep staff upstairs. There is a large, circular wooden shelter with a
 
thatched roof called a ‘Palapa’ which we use as our communal area, school room,dining room, cinema and dance floor on party nights. Then there are 4bamboo/wooden huts thatched with palm leaves providing bunk accommodationfor 6-8 of us in each, as well as shelter for the dogs, mice, scorpions and – as wediscovered last night – a baby boa constrictor in the roof. And that’s pretty muchit - between the buildings is just white sand, palm trees with a few well placedhammocks, a makeshift bar and the odd washing line. The view is fantastic:calm, shallow waters off the beach with gardens of sea grass teaming with lifeduring the day, and sparkling with phosphorescence at night. A little further out –about a half hour swim – is the start of the reef, comprised of big ‘bombies’ of coral with phenomenal numbers and types of fish, and further out still(accessible only by boat) is the reef proper, where depths drop from a fewmetres to around 30m, the sea life goes ballistic and where the bulk of ourresearch and surveying will be taking place.Our first dive was a suitably epic introduction to the marine world here. It wasjust a simple check dive to brush up on basic skills and go for a little swimaround. As we surfaced and passed our kit onto the boat, enthusing about thewonderful fish we had seen, the captain looked up suddenly and shouted‘dolphins!’. We all grabbed our snorkels and stuck our heads under and sureenough, after a few minutes of hearing their underwater clicks and calls wefound ourselves at the centre of a huge pod of 12 spotted and bottlenosedolphins, including two calves. They were playful, very inquisitive and totallyunafraid, bombing in repeatedly from all directions in pairs, trios and biggergroups – clearly loving it as much as we were to the point that they were overtlyshowing off with co-ordinated swims, surface jumps, paired crossovers, barrelrolls and tail flicks. They were very interested in us gawky creatures bedeckedwith fins and bubbling appendages on our heads, and would come up to within afoot or so of us, one of them slowing down and looking at me squarely in the eyeto check me out for a few moments before bolting off into the distance with aflourish, leaving the next pair or group to come up for a closer look. Eyeballing a10ft long wild bottlenose from less than a metre away is an awesome experienceand anyone who doubts their intelligence needs only to do this once to know.This all went on for a good 25 minutes or so before sadly, the sun started to setand we had to get back on board the boats to head back. They followed us allthe way back to the shallows, racing the boat, criss-crossing the bow and leapingout of the water alongside in perfect synchronisation. We were all absolutelygobsmacked – it was totally out of the blue but without doubt one of the mostprofoundly affecting things I have ever experienced. I know you can get close todolphins in marinas & theme parks, but spending half an hour up close &personal with them in their own environment, so clearly enjoying themselves andmessing around with us simply because they wanted to….. well, it wassomething that goes well beyond words.As for life on base, we are now all pretty much settled but the first week wasquite a shock to the system. The day starts with alarms going off at 5:30, andduties start at 6am sharp. For the first few days we cycled through the differentbase duties getting to know them: cleaning the dive shop, prepping the boats &
 
emergency medical gear, raking the sand to disturb the sandfly eggs, communalarea cleaning, toilets, vehicle checks, beach clean-ups, tropical bird surveys,working the compressor to fill the dive tanks, radio operations and the dreadedkitchen duty – providing 30 people with 3 meals a day out of a kitchen with noelectricity or running water. After morning duties we basically spend the daystudying both out of and in the water. Dive training is interspersed with biology,oceanography and conservation lectures, and whatever spare time we have hasto be spent learning and memorising the myriad tropical fish and corals that wewill eventually be surveying. Tests, exams, presentations, spot dives, emergencyfirst aid training & scenarios and base improvements take up the late afternoonand dinner is served at 6:30pm. By the time we have finished eating andconsumed our maximum allocation of 3 very warm beers, most people arecompletely k.o’d and in bed by 8 o’clock. It’s a heavy day but now we are usedto the routine it’s actually really nice to be mildly institutionalised – no decisionmaking is required, you just get up and do what you are directed to do andbefore you know it you’ve had a long and rewarding day.Also, now we are used to base life we are managing to squeeze in a bit moreleisure time. Snorkelling over the sea grass, volleyball, beach cricket, capture theflag and musical hammocks are the activities of choice. At night we play cards,watch the occasional movie on someone’s laptop or spend the eveningstargazing and playing with the frankly mindblowing phosphorescence on thesand at low tide. Standing still, once your eyes have accustomed to the dark youcan see the entire beach flashing in a constant display of little green sparklesfiring off around you every few seconds. As you walk across the sand you leaveglowing footprints behind you and dragging a stick through it leaves bright greentraces on the floor. In the pools of seawater little colonies of god-knows-whatbunch up and streak through the water in bright blue glowing blobs beforemorphing into jellyfish-like shapes, pulsing neon blue then dispersing slowly intodarkness. Standing on the beach in the middle of this, with the surf catching themoonlight and so many stars visible that they blot out most of the sky, you justhave to stop talking and suck up the beauty of it all.On the counterside, it’s not all earthly paradise. Pre-dawn starts have never beenlegal in my book, and climbing into a sandy bed every night that remainsconstantly damp and clammy from the humidity is definitely not going to bemissed. Never really being clean is an irritation as well – due to the lack of running water we get a 2 minute cold shower (fed from our well) once every fourdays – for the rest of the time it is a case of rinsing off in the sea (this goes downwell in our mixed huts as you can imagine). Worst of all though is the insectArmageddon that descends upon us every night at dusk. Surrounded bymangroves, our little outpost is clearly the well advertised and much-frequentedfeeding ground for every mosquito, sand-fly and horse-fly for miles around. Weare actually starting to suspect that the insect community organises packagetours and day trips from surrounding regions to come and feast on the bounty of human flesh at Punta Gruesa. They laugh uproariously in the face of insectrepellent and obviously wean their young on pure deet. They can bite youthrough several layers of Kevlar and have all been extensively trained in the arts

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