This post is an absolute monster. It covers our last ten days at Archelon. It did also originally contain our time in Athens but that was just too long so we separated it out.
I came back from the beach to find Nikki laying by the hammocks, having thrown up while on morning survey! Instead of stopping at that point she did another excavation before coming off the beach and getting back to camp to sleep – just like her mum.
On the plus side Nikki being ill meant that the boxing shift we were supposed to be on together was changed into a shading shift which meant I wouldn't have to stay up all night checking boxes for hatchlings. We were due to swap from boxing the beach at Kalo Nero to shading the nests the next day anyway so the leaders just brought it forward. Despite having half a boot full of shades we ran out and had to shade some of the nests in the dark, which wasn't ideal as it requires banging bamboo stakes into the sand with a mallet and I was the only one of four to have a head torch!
Saturday was our last hatchling walk (part of the boxing shift) of the season. Every night during hatchling season we've been boxing the nests on 'O' beach and inviting tourists & locals to join us for our 10pm check to show them any hatchlings we find and explain our work. They've been very popular but as the hatchling numbers (and remaining volunteers) were dropping off this was our last one. Some people I gave a presentation to at a nearby hotel turned up to join us and it was nice to have been the reason they decided to come. Unfortunately though we didn't find any hatchlings!
I returned to camp to find a plate with my name on it (it wasn't special treatment; we have to plate up food for anyone on shift when dinner is served) but this was different. A volunteer from a few years ago who has since moved to Greece had prepared dinner for us all and it was amazing. She'd made so many different things, I wish I'd taken a photo. I couldn't finish my whole plate, which was a shame because it was so good! We had leftovers for days. Thanks Judy!
We both went to the beach for a couple of hours in the morning and had the whole thing to ourselves. We came back for lunch and had some of Judy's leftovers – thanks again Judy!
In the evening Nikki had a PA shift on camp with Harriet and I had kiosk in Kalo Nero with Nikola. Nikola continued to try to teach me German and Nikki gossiped with Harriet on her information table shift.
After everyone's shifts had ended we all went to Kyparissia for what was sold to us as a festival. After walking round the whole thing I can safely say it was not a festival but a market, just in the evening. There was a small concession to what you might call a festival with about five attractions like a ghost train ride and those horse race things you roll balls into a hole on.
Among the fake designer clothes, shoes and handbags was quite a worrying combination of army surplus gear, kitchen knives, un-protected axes and power tools.
Once we'd decided that no one in our group wanted any of the above items, despite the amazing prices, we headed to the main square and got a drink at a bar. Note for future; not all White Russians are created equal.
Both of us started our days with morning surveys, Nikki was solo on 'Ds/E' and I was with Camille on 'B'. Nikki played music through her phone to keep herself motivated while doing excavations and walking the 6km back to camp from her drop off point!
We've had a group working with us most of the season called GVI. GVI is a company providing volunteering experiences in various places around the word and here they work alongside Archelon to help monitor the beaches. Their project finished this week and so they gave all their left over food to us. Nikki was on cook shift and they gave us a lot of eggs so her and Suzi made egg fried rice and french toast for dessert – yum.
After dinner Nikki went on an un-rota'd clean up shift with Harriet on 'A' to help remove extra shades and grids from the beach. We were coming to the end of the season and were starting to pack away both the beaches and camp.
I had another kiosk shift with Nikola, which for most of the time was quite uneventful as most of the tourists had gone home. Once it was dark though we heard dogs growling just behind us, near to a nest. We both thought the same thing 'oh shit, I hope that nest isn't hatching right now'. I went down to check, grateful that I'd brought a head torch with me, and shooed the dogs away. I heard the rustling of hatchlings in undergrowth and shouted up to Nikola to throw a cardboard box down to me (normally we use a bucket, but I had to improvise). After searching the beach and the bank behind it I eventually found 48 hatchlings. They had all gone to the back of the beach because of the lights from the hotels and bars. Some tracks went 100m diagonally across to a nearby restaurant, I found two hatchlings at the end of the tracks butted up against a wall coming down onto the beach. Once I was sure I'd found all the hatchlings Nikola and I closed the kiosk down and walked to the release point to release our boxful of hatchlings. An hour and a half after we were supposed to finish our kiosk shift we finally got into the car and left our impromptu boxing shift.
Tuesday 19th – One week left!
Thanks to GVI's leftover food Nikki's shopping shift was cancelled so she went sunbathing instead. Once she'd got sufficiently hot and sandy she came back to do database work; inputting morning survey data into an Excel spreadsheet.
While Nikki was doing work I went to the beach with Anna and Nikola and had fun trying out some acrobatics and generally messing around.
In the evening we both went to a beach further along the bay we call 'North Kyp' to do excavations. This beach isn't done regularly so nobody really knows it well and Michalis wasn't entirely sure he'd dropped the other team, or us, off in the right place! He had though and we soon found our excavations.
Nikki made me the leader of our two man team so I made her do all the work. She did the excavations while I wrote down what she dug up. We didn't get off to an encouraging start; in the first nest we found 60 dead hatchlings. This is likely due to the nest being inundated for a prolonged period; there was seaweed around the nest sticks and the sand was still very wet. The eggs and hatchlings need air and if the nest is waterlogged or the sand too compact they suffocate. On beaches that we survey every morning we make sure to aerate any nests that have been inundated during the night. This can sometimes feel pointless, but having excavated some of these nests and now this one on North Kyp it's clear to see its worth doing.
Once again I woke to the sound of dogs barking and running around the campsite. Seven weeks of dogs barking throughout the night with only two layers of tent material to block it out really gets annoying. What makes it even worse is that the dogs are owned by the campsite owners, who let them run around all night barking at nothing.
I was awake before my alarm, thanks dogs, and got ready for my morning survey. We both had solo morning surveys, Nikki on 'C/Ds' and me on 'O'. Nikki had a long and frustrating survey because she couldn't find many of the nests she was meant to excavate. I got to my start point only to realise I'd forgotten to bring the phone (we have a phone for each beach section) so I had no idea what the time was. To make it worse I was also the driver for the morning and had to pick up the other survey teams once I was finished. I made sure to finish the beach quickly so I was at the pick up point before the other teams had finished.
Once we were all back (phew) I did my paperwork and then went to the beach with Nikki and Nikola. On the way we saw a couple who'd found a baby tortoise, it was very cute. I didn't have my camera but I will go back at some point to try to find it. (I never did find the baby tortoise, but instead have these photos of other small/cute things)
I'm happy that I wasn't at camp on Thursday morning, as the sound of Nikki screaming because of the mouse she found in the food cupboard probably woke everyone up! I was on another morning survey on O beach at the time, but Nikki made sure to tell me when I got back.
The day was relatively uneventful after that, with Nikki and Charly preparing dinner. They prepared fajitas and Nikki made a Gousto recipe among other fillings. Meals on camp are getting better as there are fewer people to cook for and meals have the leeway to be a bit more creative.
After dinner the leaders set up the projector and screen ready for another movie night. This time it was Fantastic Beasts. Neither Nikki or I have seen it so were both looking forward to seeing it. I got just under halfway through before I had to leave to pick up the kiosk team, I might have left a couple of minutes late; the film is very good and I didn't want to leave!
Nikki had a great start to her day with four excavations on O beach, one of which was completely unhatched. Cue popping about 100 eggs to find out why. On the other hand I actually did have a good start to my day as my morning drive shift was effectively cancelled as my only passenger didn't want a lift! So I got an extra three hours of sleep.
Nikki's morning only got worse as she was hassled by the stray dogs on O; about 4-5 any given morning. And a car that pulled up and the couple inside proceeded to have sex.
I'd like to say that her day improved from there; but it didn't. She had a PA shift at a nearby hotel which from the moment she left wasn't going well; she couldn't find all the things she needed. Eventually she left and wasn't due back until past 10pm, so when she came back to the tent at around 9pm I knew she was going to tell me what was wrong and I knew I would sit and listen…
They'd eventually made it up the steep hill to the Natura hotel, to find the car park oddly full and unable to find a space. Nikki nosed the car into a small gap and and asked the other volunteer to check around the car to see if they were okay. The assessment was no and so Nikki decided to move. The engine however had other ideas.
We have two vehicles at the Kyparissia project, one nice new Skoda and one poor ageing Peugeot which has been slowly getting worse over the Summer. So when Nikki tried to start it nothing happened, nothing at all. Great.
So she rang Harriet, who rang Yiannis. In the meantime Nikki kept trying and eventually got it to start, moved it to a better spot and got out ready to do the presentation.
Would you like to hazard a guess as to how her day got more frustrating from there? Yep, the hotel was seemingly deserted. There was no one to give a presentation to. Nikki searched around for signs of life and she found none so again she rang Harriet. Who said if there was really no one there they could come back to camp. So an hour after they left they were home again.
We both had morning surveys, but decided to swap beaches so I went on O and Nikki went on A with Suzy; there aren't any stray dogs on A.
Morning surveys are depressingly easier since a small storm several days prior washed away many of the nests across the whole bay. At the same time nests have been hatching and naturally coming to an end. So there are fewer and fewer nests on the beaches.
Kim, a project leader, asked Nikki and I to do a little photoshoot in some 'Life' t-shirts; technically there are two separate projects in the area we monitor. The main Archelon Kyparissa Bay and a project funded by another organisation and Kim was keen to show that the funding was being used. So off we went in some borrowed t-shirts to take some photos of Nikki doing an excavation and some shading.
Nikki followed her modelling session by stacking the metal grids we use to protect nests into what is affectionately known as 'the grid monster' a tower of tangled, spiky metal grids.
Building the grid monster is sweaty and hazardous work, nobody has escaped the grids unscathed.
I had kiosk with Camille in the evening and we both settled in for a boring shift. Three hours of standing around wasn't so bad when there were plenty of people around but now there are few tourists and the few locals who pass by don't stop to chat.
We had no one approach us until 9:35pm, 25 minutes before we we due to close. They said goodbye at 10:15pm, 15 minutes after we were due to finish. I stood with a vacant expression the whole time as they were French and spoke to Camille about, seemingly, turtles and everything else under the sun.
I had another morning survey with Linnea and together we managed five excavations before picking up the other teams. I say 'together' but Linnea did them all, thanks Linnea!
On her basecamp shift Nikki found her favourite new animal again; mice. A whole family this time. Nikki screamed, Kim looked on with vague bemusement and Harriet, as ever, wanted to keep them.
Nikki and Camille cooked. Courgette and feta balls, onion rings and pasta salad; mmmmmmm.
After dinner Nikki had her last kiosk shift and said a tearful goodbye to the ol' wooden box.
I slept while Nikki headed out for her morning survey. On one of her excavations she dug for 20 minutes but found no eggs, which was unexpected as the nest was a tagged nest. This means the mother turtle was observed laying the nest and there were definitely eggs there. It is likely that the egg chamber was inundated and lost to sea while the protection remained in place and subsequent waves settled the sand back as if nothing was amiss.
In the afternoon we both ventured to North Kyp to do some more excavations. I say ventured and not simply 'went' because the journey and the landscape were both quite unusual.
Yiannis drove us increasingly off the beaten track and into smaller and smaller villages. As we neared our two drop off points he explained the landscape ahead; the government had drained a large lagoon area to provide land for farming. He explained that there would be a narrow off road section and then a long, flat and very straight road. It wasn't until we turned the corner that I could really see the expansive flat area ahead of us that I began to understand what he meant.
A huge, flat area laid out before us as we drove down a steep hill and bumped across the disused train tracks, off the tarmac and onto a gravel road. We drove for a while and Yiannis hesitated at an unlabelled turning in the undergrowth before continuing. We managed another 100m so before he decided that yes, that was the turning we were looking for and doing a careful three (or four, or five) point turn. We found the turning again and rumbled slowly over the stones as they popped and pinged under the tyre. Nikki, Nikola and I looked around uneasily, wondering who was going to be dropped off here. We continued on the track for about 50m before the trees cleared and the flat, straight tarmac appeared before us. We crawled forward, bumped up to the tarmac and then sped along on the best road we'd seen for weeks.
We drove for a kilometre or so, past farm workers and small, deteriorating, huts or houses. We pulled up to the beach and Yiannis announced this was drop off number one. It was not with too much confidence that Nikki and Nikola exited the car and walked to the beach to start their excavations.
We drove back along the smooth tarmac, bounced back onto the track, bumped back over the train track and up the hill to find the second drop off point. We drove for another fifteen minutes or so through a similar bizarre mix of roads and Yiannis dropped off Oliver and me to start our excavations.
Armed with our GPS and a list of coordinates we searched for our six nests in succession. In the end we found and excavated three out of six, the rest apparently lost to sea, before meeting back up with the others.
We drove back toward the clouds and evident rain that had set over camp. By the time we got back though it had thankfully stopped. We ate our dinner, cold, having been out on shift when it was served. Today's dinner had been a topic of dicussion among the German volunteers for several days, but neither Nikki nor I could quite work out what we were eating in the darkness. It was similar to macaroni cheese in texture and was called Spätzle. Whatever it contained, it was nice.
Our last full day at Archelon came around quicker than expected. Everyone on camp went out in the morning to clear the beaches of grids and nest protection. I was on An with Camille and Nikki was on C with Charly and Nikola. Camille and I did our last five excavations and cleared off the thirty remaining grids. I resorted to dragging the grids along the beach with a piece of rope I found in the morning survey bag, they're so bloody awkward to carry!
After cleaning the beaches we made a last visit to the beach with Anna and Nikola, I opted not to go for a swim based on the reactions of the three girls; it looked bloody cold!
Dinner was homemade pizza and brownies and as a sort-of-surprise we all drove down to a nearby lake to eat. We turned off the main road and off toward the lake, passing what appeared to be an abandoned hotel but it was in fact open. We continued down past actually abandoned buildings that looked like a mental asylum and could easily be the set of a scary movie.
We found some benches and sat down to eat. In an ill-advised move Harriet and Yiannis went straight on the trampoline after eating, but luckily without any negative effects. They played like children, bouncing each other around while the rest of us looked on and laughed.
They finally got off and I took my turn, jumping around, occasionally going off axis and as Nikki's dad would say it, having a 'butt clenching moment' as I headed for certain death only to find I was nowhere near falling off.
Back on solid ground I joined some others who were heading off to explore the area. Once we were suitably convinced it was creepy as a rude word (Hi Marta's kids) we went back to where we'd eaten and chatted for a while before driving back to camp.
Once back at camp we packed our stuff and went to sleep, trying to get used to the idea of leaving both Archelon and Europe.
Our next stop is Athens, where we're staying for a few days before continuing on to Bangkok. We'll have another post up soon about our short time in Athens.