*this post was somehow deleted so is being reposted*
We initially needed some time to just be shown the ways of camp living. Over dinner of our first evening, Jenny explained to us how everything worked to basically keep everything in camp ticking over. Each volunteer had their own plastic mug which they wrote their name onto with a sharpie and once that was done it was yours to use and take care of. Then there are various camp duties that needed to be done every day and we were divided into pairs to do them. These included doing the dishes at lunch and dinner, raking the beach every morning to dislodge sandfly eggs, sweeping and wiping down the surfaces in the classroom and, everyone’s favourite, cleaning the toilets and showers and emptying the toilet paper bins (because of course you can’t flush the toilet paper here).
We also learned about dive protocol. Whenever we went for a dive there needed to be a boat marshal and a shore marshal. The boat marshal was in charge of noting down, on a very nice and organised slate, who had what dive equipment (every piece was numbered), how much air they had going in, how much air they had coming out, the purpose of the dive, the dive site they’re going to. Then they just need to help get all of the heavy dive equipment onto and off of the boat, help people kit up before the dive and help haul the BCDs out the water after they surfaced. While the dive was actually happening sometimes the boat captain wouldn’t mind if you went in for a swim or a snorkel around the boat for half an hour or so, but most of the time you were just at the surface chatting with them. Then the shore marshals had to sit in the classroom, where the walkie talkies and phones are kept, in case something went wrong on the boat requiring emergency assistance. In actual fact it’s a very peaceful job, because everyone else is out on a dive and you just have to sit in the classroom quietly getting on with something. I opted for learning all of the different fish species that we survey in the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve. I had already learnt all of the coral types and so was in need of more information to fish-nerd up on.
All meals are cooked by our lovely chef, apart from on the day off where the volunteers take over the cooking (always a risky business). I looked forward to the first time I’d be cooking for twenty people in a dive camp in the middle of nowhere.
Getting set up in our cabanas was also an interesting experience as we all had to put up sandfly nets. Theoretically a simple enough job, but all of the nets were rolled up in a big box when we got to picking them so once they were removed it was quite the challenge figuring out which bit was which in each of them. We spent quite a hilarious twenty minutes entangled in nets, shouting to each other from inside our gauzy cocoons. Inside the posts of the bunk beds there were rusty nails to hang the little loops in the net so that it stayed up. In camp pretty much all storage relies on rusty nails. It sounds worse than it is, they’re actually very useful. It’s just a shame that everything here rusts.
So how does a typical day look at camp? There’s a 6:30am dive, followed by breakfast, a 9:30am dive and an 11:30am dive. We don’t dive in the afternoons in case of emergencies, because that gives us enough time to get to San Pedro (the nearest town) without the risk of it getting dark. Usually everyone goes out on one or two dives a day, depending on the schedule. You’ll probably end up being a boat/shore marshal for another one or filling up dive tanks. When we first arrived it was super windy so all of our dives had to be inside the reef, meaning we were a bit limited about what we could get done on the dives. None of the surveying sites are inside the reef so we couldn’t start those, but luckily we didn’t really need to. We needed to do check out dives (just basically a recap of the key diving skills), a couple of fish and coral point outs (where we get quizzed on the different types of fish/corals we’ve learnt depending on which group we’ve been assigned) and we did a few fun dives as well.
After the 11:30am dive it’s lunch time and then siesta time (very sacred at camp – we always get some chill out time after lunch). After that there will be some activities that vary day to day. We’ve had some beach clean ups and data entries, but some really fun ones too like volleyball and coconut boules. At 5 o’clock we clear away all of the dive kit that’s hanging out to dry and put it back into the dive store, then the rest of the day is yours to do with as you please until dinner at about 7:30pm. This usually involves lying in hammocks reading, playing football or listening to music and chatting. Luckily there are little nooks all over camp to hide away in if things all get a bit overwhelming and you just need to get away from everyone.
So we were soon settled into camp life and it didn’t take long to feel at home piled into our weird wooden house on a beach in the middle of nowhere.