Our second week with Archelon sees us becoming more at home with camping in 40° heat and having a permanent dusting of sand over everything. The heat is tiring and the sand is irritating, but we're having a good time nonetheless.
Friday 4th August
Nikki had another morning survey and saw her first hatchling make it to the sea and hoped it would be the 1 in a 1000 that make it to adulthood.
We have no notes for anything interesting happening during the day on Friday so I can only assume we spent it napping or on the beach or both. Either way it was probably good.
Nikki had her second 'IT Camp' shift in the evening, so she was sat at the information table at the campsite for three hours but had a few more interested passers by than her first time and was chatting with (another) Nicola in between which made the time pass a bit faster.
I ended the day with my first night survey, which involves walking up and down a designated stretch of beach continuously through the night, from 10pm to 5am. The aim is to spot female adult turtles coming up to the beach to nest. We were on the beach at the same time as the 'boxing' shift which involves placing wooden boxes with no bottom over the nest to contain any hatchlings that surface. This sounds cruel but this is done on areas of the beach where there is light pollution at the back of the beach which would cause many of the hatchlings to crawl toward the road instead of the beach (just like on Planet Earth II) – not cool. So, we contain them and check each box hourly throughout the night to pick them out and transfer them to a darker area of the beach to release them.
This is what I spent most of my night survey doing as we didn't see any adult turtles! We did see lots of hatchlings though, which we released and watched them make it to the sea all the while being very careful not to step on them in the dark, which is worryingly difficult in the dim red light we have to use so we don't disorientate and stress the hatchlings.
We release the hatchlings in areas without light at the back of the beach because they are photo-tactic and will crawl toward the brightest light. This would naturally be the sea, reflecting the moon and stars but can sometimes be street lights or lights from buildings. While we waited at the release zone I watched the sea and it was reflecting the light of the moon, the front of each wave shimmered before breaking on the beach.
A short but stressful chunk of the night was spent talking to a group of Greek teenagers who, not for the first time, had lit a fire on the beach right near lots of protected nests. Another volunteer, Kira, and I approached them in the dark despite neither of us speaking a word of Greek. Luckily between them they spoke English and understood what we were saying, even if they weren't entirely happy about it. Some were saying they'd been asked to move further down the beach by us before and some were saying they didn't know anything, which was proven false when we heard "Archelon" from one guy on the phone amongst a string of Greek. We walked off from our first encounter on the basis that they would let the fire burn out and leave, which was ignored as soon as we walked far enough away that they couldn't see us and they chucked more bamboo onto the fire! We rang one of the leaders to explain what was happening and she asked us to approach them again, which I was less than keen on doing as I doubted they would take any more notice a second time. Before we could make any progress toward them I noticed a group of three guys walking toward us, 'great' I thought, not keen on how this looked. As it turned out though, after quite some back and forth, they acquiesced and agreed to put out the fire!
We released about fifty hatchlings that night and returned home at around 6am, tired and aching – walking on sand for six hours is pretty draining.
Saturday 5th August
Saturday started how Friday ended, with me getting to bed at 6am and getting three hours of sleep before being woken by the intense heat and ambling to the beach to relax in the water and rest on the not yet burning hot sand.
Nikki went off to another morning survey during my short sleep and came to the conclusion she doesn't like doing morning surveys on 'O' beach, a section of beach near Kalo Nero, about 15Km from our campsite which is littered with beach furniture and is very rocky; which all makes spotting tracks, and nests, very difficult.
I tried to conserve as much energy as I could throughout the day before another driving shift, where once again I had to pick up and drop of people at locations I was only vaguely familiar with or wasn't at all – and in the dark. Made worse by some of my new fares (you begin to feel rather like a taxi) supposed to be picked up from somewhere I found them not to be. This resulted in me driving around to multiple locations and accidentally finding the project leader, who I'd never met before, who made some phone calls and said to go to Elea, a nearby village, to see if they were there or otherwise to just go back to camp. I drove through Elea and then returned to camp and got someone else to ring them and ask what they were doing. They now said they were walking home, so my searching efforts were wasted. It was less than ten minutes before the phone rang again and they asked if, actually, they could have a lift!
Sunday 6th August
It was my turn to do a survey on O beach, having heard bad things from Nikki. In the end the actual O beach team only covered about a quarter of our allotted section, with a neighbouring team, A, doing most of our beach as well as their own. This is because we found so much at the start of our section of beach that they had finished their survey before we'd even really begun. In only a few hundred metres we had; two predated nests (dogs dig up the eggs), one new nest, lots of hatching tracks to record and several adult tracks to measure and record.
Nikki had her first driving shift in the morning and drove a car full of passengers for the first time and drove both cars, the Skoda and the Peugeot, that Archelon owns for this project. They both drive very differently, with the Peugeot being very old, very vague and a very weird idea of what qualifies as a clutch pedal.
We both had the afternoon free before our evening shifts so we walked into the nearest village, Giannitsochori. Which I've now learnt is not pronounced even vaguely as it's spelt. Hence why the woman behind the bus ticket counter was so confused when I asked for a ticket to "Gi-anit-sotch-or-y" when the correct pronunciation is "Y-an-it-sor-whorey"! Anyway, in the now correctly pronounced village we bought a couple of baklava ice creams (I didn't get a photo so will have to get some more) and a big bottle of Fanta for less than the tiny glass bottles available at the campsite.
We sat near what we assumed was a village/town hall and drank some more Fanta and rested in the heat before wandering back to camp. As we made our way out of the village a man with a carrier bag got out of a truck and gestured subtly in our direction, we both stopped and assessed the guy as he reached into his bag and produced a handful of figs! Which he gave us, silently, before deciding that wasn't enough and getting a second handful.
Somewhere in the back of my brain I was working out the con, ready to hand them back if asked for money and already regretting holding my hand out but, I thought, we were far away from tourist traps and the related tricks. The guy smiled and left us with our newly gifted figs, confused but happy that a stranger had chosen to give us something of his with no pretence. The next question was did either of us actually like figs! Neither of us had eaten fresh fig before and Nikki was a little dubious.
Despite our misgivings they were delicious, tasty slightly like plums, and we'd definitely have them again. Thanks, kind stranger!
My evening consisted of another driving shift while Nikki went off to watch a next excavation training demo, which she assured me was quite grim. Essentially we will excavate certain nests to check why they haven't hatched and will check for diseases and deformities and have to lay all the eggs out, after popping them, to try to categorise the causes.
My evening was less nauseating but started on quite a scary note. I started the engine in the Peugeot only to find myself careering across the small parking area in the dark! I reached out for the handbrake, which was on the 'wrong' side of the car for my instincts and yanked it hard. Someone had left it in gear and without the handbrake on! Normally the car will just stall in place but I've never known someone to not put the handbrake on and rely on leaving it in gear. The few seconds I spent bucking across the car park in the dark, getting very close to the cars in front, were scarier than any activity I did in the Alps!
From there the evening thankfully got a lot less stressful with a few simple pick ups from locations I was mostly familiar with, but another volunteer, Thibaut, stayed in the car with me after I'd done his pick up to make sure I found the next one which was really nice as he was still yet to have his dinner which was waiting back at camp for him.
Monday 7th August
Neither of us had any real shifts, only some training, so much of the day was spent on the beach, with us returning more than once including just before sunset for a nice sunset swim and for a game of volleyball. Volleyball got a bit more serious than intended when another group got to the pitch just before we did and we asked to join. It turned out they were much better than our group and watched some of our attempts with pity but grateful for the entertainment.
I also saw a wild tortoise walking around camp earlier in the day and got a few nice images.
Tuesday 8th August
An alarm set for 08.30am gave a nice balance between waking for morning surveys at 04.30am and waking up at 09.30am because it's too hot. Though the temperature soon rose to a now standard 37°. I started the day with a 'basecamp' shift, which meant cleaning and tidying and remaining on camp, just to ensure there was always at least one person at camp.
I cleaned and I tidied, but with around forty other people on camp it didn't stay clean for very long! Giannis, one of the camp leaders, was measuring something in the kitchen so I asked what he was doing and he was looking to fit a "new" oven in. Which meant we had to move stuff around. I helped him to remove the current bench the stove rests on and figure out how to arrange the kitchen with the new oven. It wasn't that complicated but with only recycled materials to use it took a little bit of extra thought. I put my skills as the son of a builder to good use to remove a particularly stubborn screw – thanks Dad (Phillips bit, Posi screw and very rounded out)!
It's been a long time since I've done anything practical, owing partly to working at a desk and living in a one bed flat with no garden so I then looked around for other things to fix/make. I started by fixing a very drunk looking bench that I'm amazed was still able to safely hold up its users. Then I got sidetracked into making a box to hold some screws because I kept losing them in the holes in the workbench (a pallet on legs). Box made and screws safely contained I set about studying the bench and with a few cross braces it was nicely squared out and solid.
My next shift was meant to be a kiosk shift in the nearby town of Kalo Nero but it was cancelled so I was left the afternoon free to sort through photos and start writing this blog post. I sat in the tent to wait for some photos to backup but when I saw drops of sweat start falling onto the laptop I figured it was time to move elsewhere!
A thunderstorm had rumbled in the distance for most of the day, teasing a release from the heat, but when it finally made it to us it rained lightly for a few minutes and then carried on, finally making it to the sea and putting on a lightening show.
Wednesday 9th August
My driving shift started at 5.30am, we had an alarm set for 5am. I got out of bed at 5.25am and hoovered down some cereal in just enough time to be ready to leave when the survey team were collecting their kit and began walking out of camp.
Nikki had a morning survey but was in a different team and was the driver for her own team. Later on in the morning we both got call from other teams wanting picking up but had to swap cars because Nikki didn't know where her passengers wanted picking up from.
As has become routine we spent a couple of hours at the beach before dinner. After dinner I had boxing shift, which thanks to recent changes now ran from 8.15pm to 5.30am! We were late leaving as the car we needed was elsewhere but at around 8.45am we set off ready for a long night. First we had to walk the 1.5km of beach to put all the wooden boxes over the nests, then we had to continuously check them throughout the night. Thankfully Hattie joined us at about 11pm with a car that we could use during the shift to ferry people between the start and end points. We split up into two teams of two, taking it in turns to do the checks on the beach. By 5am we had managed seven checks between us, removed the boxes from the nests and drove back to camp.
We arrived back just as the morning survey groups were getting ready to start their day.
Thursday 10th August
The heat let me sleep until 10am, which was much needed after being up all night for the boxing shift. After breakfast I went straight to the beach, just a two minute walk away. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and eating ice cream at the taverna on the campsite.
Nikki generously took my cooking shift from me as I was so tired which meant I could rest a little more before heading to Kalo Nero to do a public excavation of a nest. The public part being that we're doing it at a social time of day and the excavation part being digging up a nest that has been given sufficient time to hatch. We excavate certain nests to collect data on why any remaining eggs haven't hatched. This can be for a variety of reasons including; disease, deformities, not being fertilised and the nest simply being too hot.
The excavation involves removing all the remaining eggs, sorting them into hatched and unhatched before carefully popping all the unhatched eggs to look inside and try to determine why it hasn't hatched. This is as unpleasant as it sounds, with a foul smell and a matching visual. I won't burden you with images from the egg popping stage but here's one just giving a overview of the process.
We weren't expecting to have many, if any, members of the public joining us on this particular excavation due to our nearby kiosk being closed and unable to inform people about it and the fact that we were on a relatively quiet stretch of beach. That said people are curious when they see a group of people doing something and many recognise the Archelon t-shirts so soon we had a small group of onlookers. Amazingly they all watched with interest as Freya starting popping the eggs and came closer when she held it closer so they could look inside. We found a couple of live hatchlings during the excavation which we released once the temperature had cooled slightly and our spectators watched with delight as the small creatures made their way to the ocean.
When the last one was nearly into the sea another family walked up to find out what was happening. They were very excited to find out we had live hatchlings nearby and explained they had come to this area because of the turtles. The father was clearly excited and explained very animatedly that his daughter was waiting to volunteer with Archelon and that yes, they would definitely join a team on a night shift to see more hatchlings. It was really nice to see his evident enthusiasm and it really hit me that we were doing something good and that getting people excited about the turtles here is vital to their continued survival here.
We returned to camp having finished up the excavation and wished our spectators farewell to find there was a party in full swing. I went to our tent to get changed and planned rest for five minutes before heading back out to join the party.
Friday 11th August
I woke up the next morning, having fallen asleep and never making it to the party – whoops.
Nikki had gone off for another morning survey while I'd been asleep and returned several hours later having seen live hatchlings and doing three excavations. One of which contained an unusual cause of an egg not hatching; tree roots had surrounded an egg and drained it!
When Nikki returned we once again went to get another ice cream and import new photos from my excavation the day before. After ice creams Thibaut, another volunteer who was due to leave soon, showed Nikki how to do some paperwork as she'd be taking this over when he left.
Some members of our team were due to head out for a multi day tour to visit nearby hotels and had some last minute prep to do so I got roped into making a stand for our turtle necklaces which necessitated making 15mm hole in a block of wood with a 3mm drill bit to wedge a small branch into to hold the necklaces. I had to get creative with the drill and made a series of smaller holes before removing the remaining wood not with the tool one would expect; a hammer and screw. A chisel would have been easier but resources are limited so I had to get creative!
An evening walk on the beach after dinner sounds like a nice prospect doesn't it? But when the walk starts at 11pm and ends at 3am and consists of the other volunteer you're with talking to people on the beach in Greek the while time things get a lot less interesting. I was very happy to reach the car again and drive home to get some sleep.