BACK FROM PARADISE - Part 2
A volunteer writes about her Cousin experience
Sally Fisher spent a month volunteering on Cousin Island in April 2013. We continue with part two of this three part blog post where she shares about work, wildlife and island life...
Arrival of the Tourists
We head back to base. It’s coming up to 9.30am, when my job is to welcome tourists to the island. The experience for tourists starts at sea, as catamarans, speed boats and sailing boats gather off the shore of Cousin.
The Wardens are lounging around in hammocks, texting girlfriends and chattering amongst themselves waiting for the morning’s work to begin. They head to the beach.
The boats are high up shore, safe from the ocean during the night. Ryan, Dan, Jason, Alex and Marcus lift the boat while Dailus puts an inflatable tube under the front of the boat. Then they move to the back to push; rolling the boat along the beach atop the three inflatable tubes. When they reach the sea, Marcus positions himself next to the engine. With perfect timing they catch a wave and Marcus jumps aboard at just the right moment to lower the engine and start it up. Marcus heads out to the first tourist boat, loads his cargo of people and heads back to the island, turning the boat to deposit them on dry sand, where they casually disembark. Marcus then returns for more visitors.
I watch this fascinating daily ritual as I wait to welcome visitors at the shelter. Today’s visitors are mainly French and German. My school language classes seem a long time ago now as I struggle with the basics. Thankfully, most of them understand a little English. One of my responsibilities is to ensure that everyone is coated in a good layer of mosquito repellent. A French lady doesn’t understand what I am saying so I show her my leg. She gasps and beckons her friend. A small group gather around to study the nasty red bites and no further instruction is required. They plaster on the repellent.
After a brief introduction to the island by Alex, the tourists are led off in groups by the Wardens who impart their knowledge and show off the wildlife to eager eyes and snapping cameras.
As I wander through the lush woodland I noticesomething from the corner of my eye; an egg falls gently onto the leaves which litter the forest floor. I look up to see where it came from, but there is no obvious source. I decide it could be a noddy egg. Noddies nest right in the tree tops and there is no way I could return the egg to its owners. I console myself that this beautiful egg will make a nice meal for a skink. Glancing at my arm, I see a mosquito gorging itself. I waste no time, reach round to splat it. I quickly forget the egg as I study the mosquito limbs smeared across my arm amongst an impressive amount of blood.
Giant tortoises are bathing in the swamp. The tortoises’ nostrils poke out so they can breathe but the rest of their heads are buried in the mud. They look content, not bothered by the plague of mosquitoes that swarm around them. Looking down, I see my legs are covered in mosquitoes. More arrive to buzz around my face. This is mosquito territory; time to move on quickly.
Further down the track I see a tortoise snoozing in the shade. It is number 20, better known as Uncle George. A tiny skink is sitting on George’s leg and jumps onto his face. George doesn’t flinch, but the skink doesn’t appreciate me being here and slinks off into the leaf litter. Cousin Island is home to the highest density of skinks anywhere in the world. They dart under my feet and scurry off into the forest. With each step I risk squishing a skink or crushing a crab, so I walk slowly allowing time for the footpath residents to choose their direction. I’m not going to complain about the slow pace in this heat.
I return to the Research House. 002 creaks past the kitchen door, slowly but surely, heading towards the sea. 002 is the largest tortoise on the island. He reaches the sand, where he encounters an old pipe, which he begins to step over. This is all a bit too much effort, so with three limbs over, he plonks himself down on the pipe for a bit of a break. It doesn’t look comfortable. He’s in no rush, but before too long he gets up, drags the lazy leg over the pipe and wanders onto the beach.
Moving surprisingly fast, he walks three metres before resting his staggering weight once more. Creaking and squeaking within his massive shell, he makes himself comfortable. As I approach, he lifts his head. A deep snort acknowledges my presence. His slippery eye looks green and gungey like a stagnant lake infested with algae. Considering his 120 years living in sweltering tropical conditions, I decide a bit of eye gloop is ok. When I walk away, he gets up to follow me. I am reminded of a ship as he gracefully manoeuvres his unwieldy mass,slowly turning in the tightest circle he can manage.
To be continued...
Photo of Warden pushing boats by Dave Rogers