This is my first blog post, so I'm sorry if it doesn't read very well…
If I'm honest I can't quite believe we're finally in Greece saving turtles, I've had this in the back of my mind since we saw a protected nest on holiday in Zakynthos. But I'll start from the beginning, at the airport.
Friday 28th July
We arrived at Lyon airport with plenty of time to spare, but on our departure Erica had mentioned how big our bag was… I hadn't even thought of that! So due to my tendency to worry, I spent the whole time before check in opened worrying that our check in bag was too big.
As Josh had bought the tickets, I voted that he should do all the talking at check in (I'm honestly a big wuss!). As we rolled our trolley of luggage over to the check in desk, Josh presented his phone with the check in information on it. We were greeted with a confused lady as we put our check in bag on the scale – she couldn't find our luggage booking! Thankfully, after a worrying few minutes the luggage was confirmed and was 0.4kg underweight so we were allowed to proceed even though the size was too big (thankfully they didn't seem to check it).
Our first flight, on the smallest and loudest plane we'd both been on, left Lyon twenty minutes late and arrived in Madrid two hours later. We spent a few hours in the architecturally beautiful Madrid airport, eating McDonalds chips as it was the cheapest thing we could find and using the nicest smelling toilets. At 11pm we then boarded our flight to Athens on a thankfully slightly bigger plane.
Saturday 29th July
When we got to Athens at 4am we had our first encounter with a Greek person, asking us if we knew the BBC and if we could get him an interview there… Weird.
Our second encounter with a Greek person was at the bus stop, he was asking us if our tent bag had a bomb or body in it&ellip; It's fair to say that we were slightly on edge with these random encounters so early in the morning with no sleep.
After we got our ticket we boarded a bus into the Athens bus station. At the bus station Josh managed to get us a ticket to a village 4 hours away called Giannitsochori, despite not knowing a word of Greek. The bus station was the first hectic place we visited – buses and taxis everywhere, people everywhere. We didn't know what bus to look for or where to get it from, but by some kind of miracle we ended up on the right bus.
It stopped halfway there so the driver could take a break – this was an unexpected break so we were very confused and thought we might end up being conned with the bus driving away with our bags!
When we got to the village (with all of our bags) a nice lady sitting next to us told us that this was in fact our stop, we got off and the driver got our bag off. We walked 1.5km with our heavy bags and finally arrived at Archelon camp.
At the camp we were greeted by so many people who offered to help us set up our tent, took our Caxton card and our PIN to get us money, cooked us dinner and were generally lovely people. It was all very appreciated after no sleep and over 24 hours travelling, if a little overwhelming. We spent the rest of the afternoon asleep on the beach and dipping into the water.
Sunday 30th July
As we had arrived a couple of days early at camp we were given the day to chill. We started off by washing our clothes from the Alps in a bucket of cold water, had a lunch of chips (there's a theme starting here!) at the Taverna as there was no menu we could find and ordered new hard drives as Josh's had died.
We finished the day by going to the beach to watch our first sunset. As we arrived we were shouted at by another group of Archelon volunteers, so we chilled with them as we watched the sunset. When we got back to camp we checked the rota to see we had our first morning survey on Monday and decided to get to bed early.
Monday 31st July
Our alarms woke us up at 4.30, we had no idea what to expect! We put our trainers, volunteer t–shirts and shorts on and were perfectly warm. After a quick breakfast the driver volunteer took us to our separate beaches (Josh and I had been put on different beaches to learn how to do a morning survey).
Once on the survey, we learnt very quickly. We had to use tracking of turtle tracks to locate nests that had been laid during the night. It was always exciting to dig at the suspected nest site, you didn't know exactly when or where the first egg would be found! Josh was lucky enough to find the first egg in his first nest, unfortunately I wasn't so lucky.
Once the first egg was found each team conducted a series of measurements to collect data that would later be sent to the main Archelon team so they can compile a database to improve the conservation of the Loggerhead turtles. Sometimes the tracking led to nothing or an abandoned egg chamber, it was great fun to try and workout what had happened to the turtle and imagine it all happening. As a Biology teacher, I spent the whole time in awe and trying to take it all in for stories to tell once back in the classroom teaching ecology (I can finally now see why it's so important!).
Our other jobs included checking the other protected nests for predation by other animals, vandalism and hatchling tracks. It was thrilling to see the hatchling tracks that had made it to sea because you knew that you were witnessing where new life had been!
We both finished our shifts at about 10.30am and we went back to camp to start our next volunteering shift. Our second shift of the day involved DIY, Josh was asked to build a toothbrush holder and I was asked to fix boxes that are used to shade the turtle nests from light pollution during the night. Both jobs were quite fiddly but we made the best out of them.
The evening ended with an 80s party at the camp where we chatted with the other volunteers, sang along and danced to songs all whilst having our faces decorated with glitter. During the party I spoke to Harriet (a camp leader) to warn her that it was Josh's Birthday the next day, in the hope that she would be able to get him a cake in the communal shopping trip.
Tuesday 1st August
Today was Josh's Birthday! We woke up at about 9am from the overwhelming heat in the tent. The heat is indescribable… anything metal or black gets super hot to the point of burning your skin as well as all liquids thinning (including the ink in the pen that we use to write blog post notes).
During the day we were separated due to our shifts; I had 2 database shifts which meant transferring morning survey data to the computer and Josh had a cooking shift. Josh cooked curried rice for the whole camp (about forty people) with two other volunteers, it was the best meal we'd had since we arrived (I'd love to say it was because of Josh but it was definitely down to Hattie). At the end of the meal the camp leaders started the Happy Birthday song and Harriet presented Josh with a baklava birthday cake with candles in it. This was perfect for Josh – as he blooming loves Baklava!
After Josh had offered the cake around, and we'd both had a good quantity we went to the beach for a swim and then sat on the beach to watch the sun set. Not a bad way to end a Birthday!
Wednesday 2nd August
I woke up slightly apprehensive, the only shift I had today was a driving test. Giannis (another camp leader) collected Josh and I after breakfast and took us to the Skoda. He was really helpful in his instructions and calmed me down a lot, in the end it was a lot easier than I expected and I now felt slightly more confident that I would be able to drive volunteers to their shifts. I asked if I could have one more test drive in the other vehicle owned by Archelon before having a driving shift, and Giannis said this would be fine.
Whilst Josh went on his first kiosk (public awareness) shift I spent the afternoon talking to other English volunteers which I hadn't spoken to before, writing this blog post with an ice cream at the taverna and practising my swimming in the ocean.
Thursday 3rd August
We had another early start for another morning survey. This time we were only doing half the beach that Josh had originally surveyed, so we thought we might not find very much. How wrong we were! Our first major find was a nest that was too close to the sea and was therefore in risk of water inundation which would kill the eggs, so we had to excavate the eggs and relocate them further up the beach. It was fascinating to see the 73 newly laid eggs.
Our second major find was the most exciting – a hatchling! We had seen plenty of nests that morning which had hatchling tracks – meaning that the hatchlings had successfully got to sea.
However, the last nest we got to had a hatchling lying beside it on its back. The poor thing was overheated and had no energy left. Our morning survey leader scooped up the hatchling and took it closer to the water, we tapped the sand in front of it to try and encourage it to move as well as shading it to cool it down (hatchling movements are triggered by vibrations). However, try as we might it just would not move. Our survey leader decided it would be best to rebury the hatchling so that it could cool down over the day and regain energy to try again that evening. Fingers crossed the little warrior makes it to sea on its second attempt!
Whilst on the morning survey, Josh spotted something falling in the sky which was bright and trailing light. As we watched it, it split into two. Everyone in our team was watching intently, unsure of what we were seeing. When Josh did some research later he decided that the best explanation was a meteor – pretty damn cool!
Later that day we tried to relax in the tent, but unfortunately we are camped on what appears to be an ants nest so our nap was cut short by itchy ants trying to crawl over us. Instead, we went to the taverna on camp to get ice cream, cold drinks and to use the wifi to book the next stage of our adventure. Thankfully the wifi was working properly and we managed to book a flight to Thailand for the end of September for half the price we were expecting.
After our break I had a shift on the kiosk which was more fun than I thought it would be – talking to another volunteer and interested tourists about the turtles and getting donations. This was then followed by another public awareness shift at the camp, but as most of the people camping left that morning it was a very dull shift! Josh had his first driving shift that night which he said was really weird, carrying around a car full of people in a foreign country, made worse by leaving late (not his fault) and not knowing where he was going!
We've thoroughly enjoyed our first week here and I'm looking forward to seeing more hatchlings on our shifts. The only shame is that we probably won't get to see an adult turtle now as it's too late in the season!