Kate's Writing Friends, Wander Woman Blog Series

Wander Woman: Shantel’s Story Part One- Fiji, Ecuador and the Galapogas Islands

My name is Shantel Da Costa. I’m 39, self-employed, married and have three children, two adults and one teenager. I was born in Rotorua and grew up in Aotearoa (New Zealand). I live in Brisbane, and my Australian travels include Darwin, Cairns, Sydney, Melbourne and Port Lincoln. My leisure travel has taken me to Thailand, Mexico, USA, Rarotonga and Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, China, Vanuatu, and Noumea. I have also travelled back to New Zealand for holidays

I’ve always enjoyed volunteering. When I was younger, I worked in a Lifeline store for a couple of days but that was my extent of experience. Then by chance I was watching TV one day and saw something about a charity called Habitats for Humanity, which piqued my interest instantly. I love to build things and help people, and here was an opportunity to be able to do both! Habitats for Humanity had a build available in Fiji at the time I wanted to travel, and I booked it in. I am a last minute kind of gal so this and my other trips were all booked quickly. The trip required some fundraising, so I started that a couple of months before departure. 


It took four hours to travel from Brisbane to Fiji. On the first day we met all the other volunteers, learned about our schedule and had dinner together. It was a relaxing day. The next day we had an adventure with the team. We had lots of fun: we visited a mud bath, the garden of the sleeping giants, and had massages.

Our daily routine started with breakfast, and then the drive to the village. We were building a home for a family who had lost theirs in the cyclones. The days were challenging yet amazing, and watching a home go up from the ground was very inspiring. I celebrated my birthday while there, which was sweet – I enjoyed three cakes in one day, and had happy birthday sung to me each time.

I fell sick while in Fiji and had to spend a day in bed, but the staff at the hotel checked on me which was super sweet. My best memory was after building the house. I stayed on for some free time and got to experience the Mamanuca Islands, and Kuata Island where I swam with sharks. That was a dream ticked off my bucket list. 

Ecuador/Galapogas Islands

I wanted to visit Ecuador for the Galápagos Islands, and as soon as I saw I could volunteer there I booked. There was around four months between booking and getting there; I tried to learn some Spanish before I left, but despite my efforts, it wasn’t quite enough.

Departure day is always my favourite. I’m excited no matter where I am travelling to, but I am yet to experience a departure day where something hasn’t gone how I expected.

Travelling to Ecuador took approximately forty hours, with an eleven- hour layover in the chilly Lima Airport. I had another layover in Chile, and I used the time to venture out and explore the city for eight hours. 

Arriving in Ecuador was busy. Again I was met by staff from the volunteer company and then driven into Quito where I was staying for three days before heading to Galapagos for my volunteer trip.

I asked the staff what was recommended to see in Quito and headed off by myself to explore. I went to the teleférico gondola lift, which runs from the edge of the city centre up the east side of Pichincha Volcano to the Cruz Loma lookout. It is one of the highest aerial lifts in the world. When I arrived back at the starting point, I met a man named Jesus who offered to tour me around for $50. I said yes and jumped in his van. I sent a photo of his business card to my husband back in Australia in case something happened, but I ended up having the most amazing time with Jesus. My time in Ecuador was my favourite memory of the trip.

I fell sick in Ecuador so missed my first day of volunteering in the Galapagos Islands. You cannot drink the water there, and I think maybe the ice I had in my drink was bad. Once I was able to start volunteering, the days started with breakfast at 7 am, and then we headed off to do whatever work we had been assigned that day.

The work varied between snorkelling for rubbish, working at a trash recycling plant, or cleaning up the school grounds. We always finished by lunch time, and then had free time do as we wished. Sometimes we took surfing lessons, sometimes we sun baked, sometimes we hiked to more beaches. Of course there was a lot of nature to watch. We had the weekends free, so we took tours and saw more of the islands. Swimming with sharks was a highlight. I met people who I still chat to. I loved it so much I wanted to move there!

Stay tuned for Part Two of Shantel’s volunteering adventures…

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