Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What does the community say?

At Hacienda we take pride in our focus on both the environmental and social issues of the Galapagos. As one of the only organizations that addresses the problems of the people we want to be sure that the work we do is seen as an important contribution to the community. To better understand the community’s perspective on our projects we interviews two important community members. President of the community La Soledad, Nelson Francisco Sim Baño Ballesteros, said:
            “Personally, the Hacienda helps me through the exchange of ideas between the community and the volunteers. During the volunteer’s free time they interact with the community through dancing, soccer, and a little volleyball. These social interactions help us to learn English and how to socialize with people from outside our community. Our community has benefitted greatly from the Hacienda and the volunteers and we value their work.” 
President of the school in La Soledad, Angel Pallo, said:
“The Hacienda is the only form of help the farmers receive, and without the help of the volunteers the work that is being done would not be possible.”

We are very happy to know that our work is valued by the residents of La Soledad and are forever thankful to all of our volunteers for their dedication to bettering the community!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Outstanding Volunteer Project Award!

Wonderful news, Hacienda Tranquila won the WYSE Volunteer & Travel 2012 Outstanding Volunteer Project Award! Thank you so much to all of the volunteers from the past, present, and future. Without all of their hard work, dedication and enthusiasm we would not be able to make as big of an impact in the community as we have! We are honored and overjoyed to be recognized for our work with the environment and community and are so thankful for all of the support! Read more about the award at:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Life at Hacienda Tranquila

One of the most important sources of information to understand what life is like at Hacienda Tranquila comes straight from the volunteers who've been there. We have a few quotes to share from our past volunteers for individuals interested in contributing to the ecological and social systems during their stay in the Galápagos Islands:

"What an amazing two weeks it was at the Hacienda, and I am so said to be leaving. San Cristóbal and all of the Galápagos have been such an amazing home during my time here, and there really is no place quite like Hacienda Tranquila." --Adeline

"Volunteering at the Hacienda has surpassed my expectations. I came knowing little of the project and had no idea I would meet so many amazing friends in the short month I was here. I loved exploring San Cristóbal, being involved in a wide variety of projects intended to better the lives of all native and endemic living things on this special island, learning to bake in the oven, play card games into the night, and collecting and eating the many fruits and veggies grown within a few minutes walk! I have learned a lot and I am really sad to leave." -- Anya A.

"They say life is about the journey and not the destination. Thanks to all who made my last four weeks memorable while enhancing my journey. Wielding a machete and battling mora was so much more enjoyable with friends to laugh and dance with and sing aloud with each and every day. I have learned so much from the insight you all possess and have been inspired by your own desires to change the world and make it a better place." --Lindsay C.

Committing to work at Hacienda Tranquila will certainly push you into a new and exciting experience like you've never encountered before. It will be challenging, and it will test your strength and resiliency. But in the end, the work you do and the relationships you build will leave a lasting impression on your life. We can't wait to guide you through this unique journey!

Hacienda Tranquila

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Calling All Past Volunteers!

Before our volunteers leave, we have a book where they can write a note to future volunteers telling about their experience working and living at Hacienda Tranquila. Whether about working on our projects, enjoying life in the community, or cooking meals in our new oven, the stories reveal what life will be like in the Galápagos Islands. Those notes are always so valuable, and we appreciate the thoughtful words our volunteers contribute. I can remember each time I have looked through that book and thought about how exciting everyone's adventure must have been! 

Just another day in the life of a volunteer: making pizza for lunch.

Since the number of people coming to view this blog seems to be growing, we've decided to try out a fun, new project. It's special because we want to involve all of our past volunteers out there who have a knack for storytelling or writing, and want to have their words put up here on our blog! 

So, here's how it will work. Send us a funny, interesting, or exciting story about your experience at Hacienda Tranquila and any pictures that might go along with it. These stories don't have be long, so go ahead and start typing! Please send them to us at by April 13, 2012. 

After we have all of the submissions, we'll pick a few to put up on our blog. Your words will be here for everyone to see and share in your experience! Plus, imagine how helpful your insight can be to those out there that are interested in volunteering at the Hacienda! We know our friends across the globe have some great stories to tell.

Loved lounging on those hammocks? Tell us about it!

To help you understand what we're looking for, here's a story about my experience working at the Hacienda:

Let me start by saying I would not consider myself "outdoorsy". Ask me to go camping? I might say yes. Ask me to hike the Inca trail to Machu Picchu? I will take the train, thank you very much. But as a city girl living in the Galápagos and interning at Hacienda Tranquila, I was far from my familiar surroundings. I was smack-dab in the middle of the highlands of San Cristóbal.

I had limited outdoor experience, so when Geovanny asked me to help another staff member repair a fence one of my first days, I gave him a look of absolute terror. I really wanted to impress my new boss though, so with a machete in one hand and a bucket of water in the other, I set off trailing Carlos with the determination to try something new.

We needed to cut some branches down for the posts, so Carlos showed me a good one to work on and I started hacking away. Needless to say, in the time it took me to cut down one, Carlos managed to cut four! I tried as hard as I could though, and had a lot of fun in the process. That was only the beginning of my experience at the Hacienda, and before long, was doing things I never thought I could possibly do. Now, I can easily identify the endemic species we are growing here and wield a machete like the best of them! Those unique and powerful experiences would develop a passion deep within my soul for the plants and people of the tiny island of San Cristóbal and the Galápagos archipelago.

My other favorite memory? I helped plan a spontaneous wedding at the Hacienda! But that story is for another day...

So friends of Hacienda Tranquila, that's not too hard, right? What story do you have to tell?!

We can't wait to hear from you!

Hacienda Tranquila

Friday, March 2, 2012

The CO2 Sequestration Garden

With its crystal blue waters and exotic species, the Galápagos Islands are a unique destination to visit for any travel enthusiast. Yet, because of an increase in tourism over the past thirty years, noticeable long-term impacts on the fauna and flora have taken place, as well as a vast amount of harmful carbon dioxide gas released into the atmosphere with the travel to and from the mainland. Although tourism brings economic benefits to the island and serves as a driver for sustainable development, the inclusion of environmental return is necessary to ensure the sustainability of the Galápagos' ecosystems. 

Playa Mann, a popular beach for tourists on San Cristóbal.

Carbon sequestration can be understood as the process of capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by plants, trees, and crops through photosynthesis, which is then stored as carbon in tree trunks, branches, and the soil. Research has shown that sequestration activities offer cost-effective emission reduction opportunities, as well as generating environmental co-benefits. Hacienda Tranquila has already begun giving back to the island by planting 750 Manzanillo and Matazarno trees that capture a large amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 250 of these are Manzanillo, which capture 750 kilograms per year, and 500 are Matazarno, which capture 148 kilograms per year. All of these combined, we make a significant impact on the sequestration of carbon by capturing 191 tons from the atmosphere per year.

One of the Manzanillo trees we have planted at the Hacienda

To further address the issue of tourism and its effect on San Cristóbal, our staff and volunteers are helping to develop the largest carbon sequestration garden in the Galápagos Islands. The garden itself will feature both Manzanillo and Matazarno trees, both of which are endemic species to the island. Our garden will be placed within a 15,000 square meter area on the Hacienda's grounds. 

A wide view of the area where we plan to develop the garden.

We began this project in March of 2011, and have cleared close to 10,000 square meters in the area so far. After we successfully clear all of the invasive species, we will increase the number of endemic species by planting 7,000 Manzanillo and Matazarno trees to create the garden. We believe the garden itself will serve as an example for all who visit the island on how communities can positively impact the environment. Our goal is to work on the garden over the next three years, reaching completion in 2015.

Matazarno trees ready for planting on the Hancienda.

Volunteers are hard at work helping us to clear the area we have set aside for the garden. We'll be keeping all of our supports updated on this project, so check back for updates in the future!

Hacienda Tranquila

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Endemic Species Restoration at the Hacienda

For those who have lived and worked at the Hacienda, climbing up the steep Sendero al Mirador brings you to an indescribable view of the ocean and Leon Dormido. If you’ve been there recently, you most likely have seen the new 6000 square meter area that has been cleared of invasive species by our hardworking volunteers. In it, you will find several endemic species to the Galapagos, as well as other species that are critical to the unique structure of the islands. Volunteers continue to help maintain the area and plant new species when needed. With this effort, the Hacienda and those that work for our cause help to restore the delicate ecosystem to its original condition.

This week's post includes a few of the species that can be found in various places around the Hacienda. Many of these species are considered endangered because of the threat of invasive species on the island. What we focus on, however, is restoring these plants and then carefully cultivating their growth. Our efforts have significantly increased their survival by limiting the threat of invasive species.

Here's a brief explanation of some of the species:

I am a flowering plant endemic to the Galapagos that can reach up to 15 meters high with a grayish bark, shiny green leaves, and small green or greenish-yellow fruit, similar in appearance to an apple. Many refer to me as the “poison apple tree” because my parts contain strong toxins and the fruit can be fatal if eaten. Yet, I am unique because I capture a vast amount of carbon dioxide, with one plant capturing 470 kilograms per year.


I am a flowering plant endemic to San Cristobal and Santa Cruz islands. I am a shrub or small tree that can grow to 15 meters and have white to pink or purple flowers. My extremely hard inner wood is used for constructing houses and boats in the archipelago. I capture a large amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, specifically 148 kilograms per year.

Lecocarpus Darwinii
I am one of seven angiosperm genera restricted solely to the Galapagos Islands. Yet, I am the least likely to be seen by tourists because I am not present at the popular visitor sites. I am considered to be an endangered species, and my restoration to the island is vital. I can grow to 1.5 meters tall and have numerous branches with a single stem at the base. My leaves are opposite at 3-10 cm in length, contain yellow flowers near my branch tips, and have fruit with one or more curved spines of variable length.

I grow as a shrub or tree that contains soft wood and gummy sap, and my young branches are usually hairy. My leaves are usually crowded near the branch tips, and dried remnants of the previous year’s growth persist beneath. I am not as well represented on San Cristobal or Santiago as I have in the past. It appears to be the result of damage caused by goats and pigs that were allowed to freely roam, and demonstrates the danger of introducing alien species to the archipelago.

For those interested in exotic plant species from around the world, Hacienda Tranquila is the perfect environment to experience species found in the Galapagos Islands. So come and learn in a special and unique place. We hope to see you soon!

Hacienda Tranquila

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Expanding our Volunteer Outreach

Each term the Universidad de San Francisco Quito sends a group of international students to live and learn in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno for one semester. Within this group, several students participate in various service projects during their stay in the Galapagos. The Hacienda is one of the chosen organizations to receive an intern each semester who serves as a program assistant and volunteer coordinator, and functions in both administrative and operative work. I myself am the current out-going intern at the Hacienda, and we should receive a new individual sometime in February.

Me playing with the INFA children at the Hacienda.

This post will include some of the activities GAIAS students have participated in around the Hacienda, and feature information of how we plan to connect with the university in the future. First, we had students help in early October with cleaning the local school in La Soledad in preparation for a festival. Of course, no cleaning can be done without first having pizza, and the students brought some amazing skills to cook their lunch. Afterwards, the students picked up trash around the school and road to the Mirador, painted some of the school building and basketball court, and made a few other needed repairs. The school looked great and was definitely ready for the festival.

One of the USFQ students helping to paint at the La Soledad school.

We also frequently had volunteers come in the afternoon to help around the garden and with the hippo-therapy program as needed. These students had a great time and were really helpful when only a few volunteers were living in the Hacienda.

A group of students that helped at the Hacienda.

Several professors at USFQ have also connected with the Hacienda to arrange visits for students to learn about the environment and development initiatives conducted by our program. One morning, twenty students came to the Hacienda to work in the Miconia area to control the invasive species. These students were taking a course on the plants of the Galapagos, so working and learning through physical work provided a unique experience for the students. This also took place when we had a large group from Denmark, which meant we had forty volunteers in total -- wow, what an impact!

The perfect opportunity for the outdoor classroom experience.

The international students always bring an interesting perspective to the service work they perform, and their insight and expertise have been helpful in a variety of functions. A community garden that links the international students, local residents, and the Hacienda in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is currently in development. More information regarding this project will hopefully be available soon!

We are grateful for the volunteers USFQ provides us, and we look forward to new and exciting activities in the future!

Hacienda Tranquila

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Our Impact in the La Soledad Community

As you know, Hacienda Tranquila focuses on environment, social, and community issues by approaching them as one. This means that our work looks to problems affecting the surrounding community. One of our main focus areas is working with children in the community through a wide variety of initiatives and programs.

Volunteers playing with children from a local preschool.

One of our most successful initiatives with children of San Cristobal is through the hippo therapy program held every Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Hippo therapy, or equine movement therapy, is a type of physical therapy that uses a house to address functional limitations, impairments, and disabilities in individuals with neuromusculoskeletal dysfunctions. The therapy helps individuals develop balance, body awareness, and muscle tone through the interaction with the horse's movement. Our therapy program works with disabled children through a variety of activities: leading the horses while the children are riding in various positions to stimulate development, teaching self-sufficiency skills, and interacting with children and their family members through games and play. All of the parents have stressed how significant of an impact this program has on the development of their children.

One of our clients in the hippo therapy program.

Hacienda Tranquila itself is located next to the La Soledad community school, and we have a history of positive engagement with the students and professors. Recently, four of the local students had the opportunity to visit the Galapagos Science Center located at the University of San Francisco Quito in town. With the assistance of the Hacienda, the students were given a tour of the facilities and equipment, and were able to use some of the tools for a brief activity. The students themselves were a bit shy, but with a little encouragement, talked with the guide and asked some good questions. Just having that exposure I'm sure will give the students the idea that they too can be scientists and use cool equipment!

Some of the students at the Galapagos Science Center.

In fact, a recent donation to the school included a brand-new microscope, tools for obtaining samples, and a hand-held microscope that the students can use outside. The Hacienda helped the school understand how to use the equipment, so I'm sure some neat experiments and unique learning will be taking place in the future.

The new science equipment.

The professor and students at the community school.

We have also helped around the school through painting buildings when needed, cleaning up trash and other debris around the grounds, and offering English tutoring for the students. The work we have done in and around the community has allowed the volunteers to establish a meaningful connection that will certainly impact the future success of the students.

Hacienda Tranquila

Friday, January 20, 2012

Coffee Talk at the Hacienda

This week we will be discussing the coffee production process at Hacienda Tranquila and the steps volunteers go through from picking the beans to brewing the coffee. Anyone who has experienced a fresh cup of coffee at the Hacienda can certainly agree with the fact that the hard work brings a great reward. Your dirty fingernails from peeling the fruit and sore muscles from grinding the beans melt away with that first sip of 100% organic coffee. Volunteers always look forward to days that involve one of the steps in the coffee production because it means we have a fresh supply of coffee beans ready to go at a moment's notice!

Here’s the whole process from start to finish:

Step One: Collecting the Cherries
In the Hacienda’s coffee plantation, volunteers will harvest the coffee beans periodically when the trees are filled with coffee cherries. They are ready for picking when they appear bright red, glossy, and firm. Under-ripe cherries are hard and green, and over-ripe cherries have a dark and shriveled appearance. 

One of our volunteers picking the coffee cherries.

Step Two: Peeling the Fruit
Once the fruit is collected, volunteers will peel the thick outer layer of skin and remove the coffee beans. Under the fruit layer is the parchment, which is covered by a thin, slippery layer called mucilage. After removing the parchment, there are two translucent bluish-green coffee beans, which are coated within a thin layer called the silver skin.

The outer layer is removed to get the coffee beans.

Step Three: Drying the Beans
In the drying process, ripe cherries are dried in the sun and generally take about two weeks to completely dry. Throughout the drying, cherries must be raked frequently while drying to avoid mildew. 

Spreading the beans out in the sun will allow them to completely dry.

Step Four: Grinding the Beans
When the beans are fully dried, the last layer of dry skin and remaining fruit residue is removed through the grinding of a simple millstone in a process called hulling. 

Volunteers grind the beans to remove the dried skin.

Step Five: Roasting the Beans
This step in the process produces the characteristic flavor of coffee by forcing the green coffee beans to expand and change in color, taste, and smell. Roasting at the Hacienda is done in a pan over a fire, and the beans will darken the longer they heat. 

Roasting the beans over the fire.

Step Six: Grinding Fresh Coffee 
Prior to brewing, volunteers will grind the roasted coffee beans using the simple millstone. The process is then complete, and fresh ground coffee is ready to be enjoyed! 

Delicious, organic coffee ready for brewing.

Unlike traditional coffee production, our process involves zero carbon dioxide emissions because everything is done by hand including the transport of coffee cherries and the grinding of the beans. We rely solely on the hard work of our dedicated volunteers to produce the coffee. In the future, we plan on expanding the size of our coffee plantation to create a larger supply for use within the local community.

We can't wait to share a fresh cup of Hacienda Tranquila's 100% organic coffee with you!

Hacienda Tranquila

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Starting Fresh

Hello to all of our friends across the globe and welcome to Hacienda Tranquila’s new and improved blog! We’ll be keeping everyone updated on the exciting events happening around the Hacienda and hopefully make some new friends along the way. Every few weeks or so, you can expect an update regarding our various projects and interesting stories from our staff and volunteers. To get things started, we'll take a look at what our project is all about.

Welcome to Hacienda Tranquila!

We’re a small organization located on San Cristobal Island, Galápagos, focused on strengthening both the environment and community. Since our beginnings in 2007, local works and international volunteers have achieved countless conservation projects to improve sustainable development in the island's fragile environment. We accomplish our outreach and environmental activities on the island by restoring endemic forests and protecting farmers from invasive species, and providing the community with improved access to water, therapy, and education. 

Volunteers work on both environmental and social projects.

How it all works is that volunteers come from around the world for one to twelve weeks to live, work, and grow in a 50 hectare area dedicated to preserving the ecological and social systems of the Galápagos. The work can vary: volunteers one day could be battling Mora (invasive blackberry) with a machete, and that same afternoon do English tutoring with children from the local school.

To give you a better idea as to what you can expect when volunteering at the Hacienda, here are the five areas we focus on:

1. Reforestation
Volunteers have planted more than 3,000 trees in five different areas of the island to protect endangered species. Additionally, we developed a nursery with plants to be transplanted and distributed to schools and farmers in the community. 

Volunteers working in the Scalesia area of the Hacienda.

2. Agriculture
Hacienda Tranquila is currently assisting 20 families across the island to recover their abandoned farms. Staff and volunteers help cultivate their farms so they can supply the community with organic products and increase local production. Local production prevents excessive importation of fresh fruit and vegetables and reduce the introduction of invasive species that endanger the endemic ecosystems.

Some days are spent working with farmers throughout the island.

3. Community Water Access
Our staff and volunteers worked for over one year to bury fifteen kilometers of pipe along rough terrains to supply water for the community. Our work provided access to a suitable water source for 200 people.

Volunteers burying the water pipe.

4. Carbon Sequestration
The project has planted 750 trees, specifically two types of species which capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere: Manzanillo and Matarzarno. Of this quantity, 250 are Manzanillo, each tree capturing 470 kilograms per year, and 500 are Martazarno, each tree capturing 148 kilograms per year helping to capture 191 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year.

Matazarno, one of the most important carbon sequestration species.

5. Children
We have created a program of hippo-therapy that uses activities on a horse which has a significant positive impact on children in San Cristobal. Over the last four years, 180 disadvantaged and disabled children have been served from numerous organizations, including a local preschool and summer camps, with sometimes as many as 80 children at once. We have also helped furnish the school in the community and materials for English language learning.

The hippo-therapy program is very rewarding for both the children and volunteers.

The staff and volunteers of Hacienda Tranquila represent over eighteen countries worldwide and in the past year alone, have recovered the Manual G. Covos historical site (the first hacienda of El Progreso), spent nine months constructing a home for a local family, cleared close to 6000 square meters in Sendero al Mirador and planted over 250 endemic species, and expanded our organic agriculture initiatives. These are just a few of the amazing accomplishments our staff and volunteers have achieved!

Hopefully that gave you an informative look at Hacienda Tranquila and the transformation we have initiated over the past four years of operation. Check back soon for our next story!

Hacienda Tranquila