Andre Tardiff - 2010 Program Participant

Kids playing a games with international volunteers in Mexico

Andre’s volunteer experience included a day of activities with local school children, using recyclable materials and trash to create the props and games. The “What time is it Mr. Shark?” game was very popular with the children.

Why did you decide to apply for an international program in Mexico?

A friend of mine who was studying biology with me participated in GVI’s program in Seychelles. She said the experience was magical. I wanted to go on the Seychelles program as well, but the cost of the program and flights were quite a bit higher. I loved scuba diving as much as her and still wanted a diving program. Mexico offered a similar, yet more affordable option, as far as flights and proximity to Canada. It was a pretty amazing experience. I’d still like to do Seychelles sometimes if it’s still in operation in the future.

What set GVI’s marine expedition apart when comparing other programs? What was the most attractive program element?

The daily diving was an attractive element, along with its location in the Mesoamerican barrier reef. Some of the additional qualifications the program offered alongside it were attractive as well. The useful skills learned, such as scientific data collection, along with teamwork, team building, and the environmental conscious themed pursuits intrigued me. And it was great to be with so many like minded people!

Describe a typical day on your expedition.

It was an early 6 a.m. wake up. We’d rake the beach to prevent black fly populations from exploding; raking the beach disrupted any eggs or larvae left by the black flies. One team would have kitchen duties, one team for diving gear setup, one team on cleaning duties. We’d have breakfast, and one crew would go off diving while the other crews continued to clean and do work.

Lunch would come, another crew would dive, some crews were on radio duty, and those with a bit of time were studying and learning. Supper came, more cleanup and chores, along with data entry for some of the diving teams. Finally, by evening people could have an hour or two to relax and have a beer. This wasn’t some vacation, there was always work or studying to be done.

Man sitting in the sand at a beach in Belize

Exhausted and tired after a Belize adventure, Andre relaxed dockside, awaiting his ferry home 

How did you Spanish skills help you on the program?

I took a year of Spanish in university, and while it helped, it wasn’t enough to be proficient. The basecamp was pretty much English and all the participants spoke English, so we weren’t really immersed in the language. My Spanish was most useful when we were off on our own adventuring on the side. Spanish wasn’t really relevant or necessary for any of the GVI portion of the experience.

It would have been nice if free Spanish lessons were part of the program, an hour a day even, by hiring a local to teach at the basecamp maybe. A serious lesson plan would have been beneficial to us.

What was your favorite activity outside of the day-to-day diving and program structure?

Our weekend adventures with everyone on basecamp were amazing! We saw a lot of Mexico and even went on a three-day adventure to the Blue Hole of Belize. It was incredibly ambitious because we had so little time and we couldn’t miss a single ferry or stop to be able to squeeze in the diving. We even had to pay local fisherman to ferry us between islands, in the dark on tiny little boats, just to reach our destination. It was incredibly thrilling and dangerous! Raw and real adventures! Diving cenotes on the weekends off were pretty memorable too, some of the best memories I have.

Scuba diving in Belize

Andre diving with two of his GVI pals in some of the most beautiful and healthy reefs he’d seen after their first dive in the Blue Hole of Belize.  

What was the most memorable part of your experience in Mexico?

The people I met, parties and adventures, and all the diving we were able to do. Around the halfway mark, one day I realized I was incredibly comfortable and confident in my diving abilities. Diving had become second nature and I can’t explain the calming, confident feeling that it left in me. I hit my stride and loved it. I was a diving pro by then; every dive felt like a mission to accomplish.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while abroad?

I went to Cancun and partied a few days before GVI started with another volunteer. We had never met, but just clicked once we were out there. Anyway, I wore myself out and quickly ended up with food poisoning. It made the first week at GVI really hard. I was always tired and ill, couldn’t participate, and missed out on a lot of the bonding experiences happening that first week. It wasn’t the best way to start the adventure. I eventually recovered and fell into my groove though. Word to the wise, come into the program rested and healthy!

What kind of staff support did you receive from GVI throughout your program?

Most of the staff was really cool and chill, and really wanted to see the volunteers learn. There was one who wasn’t as desirable to be around, but that’s part of the experience, learning people skills and dealing with different types.

Volunteers in Mexico dressed in costumes

Basecamp GVI hosted themed events and parties. On “Beach Olympics” day, Andre and the other volunteers developed costumes from some of the beach-clean up materials they had collected. Andre’s team’s costumes were inspired by a “Day of the Dead” tribute in a very loose sense. Another team was the “Geriatrics,” and yet another was the “Baby” team

What advice would you give to others interested in this Mexico marine expedition?

Bring a lot of extra money because the weekend adventures are expensive to take, but so exhilarating. If you’re on a budget, you can just stay on basecamp and relax, but most people go adventuring and those few who stay behind feel a little left out, so budget for some fun! Also, book yourself an extra few weeks to a month after GVI is over to go off backpacking on your own or with others. It’s a great opportunity to branch out. Those who left right after GVI regretted it; those who stayed a few weeks to a month were all glad they did.

What makes Mahahual, Mexico such a great location for marine conservation work?

We were in a remote base camp that’s not in operations anymore, but was really cool. I know Tulum (the new location) quite well from my own traveling though. It’s probably a good location because there’s a lot of convenience, comforts, ruins, and cenotes nearby for volunteers to get out to on their time off. Probably a lot more convenient and cheaper to get to than the remote Mahahual basecamp was. I’m glad we did Mahahual though, because it was further south and exposed us to a part of Mexico away from the tourism. It was also a lot closer to Belize. From Tulum though you have a lot of cool monuments and activities nearby.

Person floating in the water near a beach in Mexico

One of the “Baby” team members, clad in plastic bags to resemble diapers, relaxes and floats in the water in front of basecamp after a day of beach Olympics competing

How has volunteering abroad with GVI impacted your life?

I became a lot more environmentally conscious, confident, and learned a lot about the delicate balance found in ecology. I miss it a lot. I hope I can do another expedition someday. It was a very profound experience for me. I’m glad I did the GVI expedition, and I’ve stayed involved as an ambassador ever since.

What conservation techniques from your experience in Mexico do you still use today?

I live in a city now, so I don’t dive anymore. I do volunteer in a lot of ecologically conscious efforts, such as sustainable urban orchards, community gardens, and recycling. Other than that, I didn’t pursue much related to my expedition afterwards. If I lived by the ocean I’d likely have stayed involved in coral reef cleanups and conservation.