Matthew Barber left Louisville, Kentucky, for an 8 week volunteer opportunity at IPBIO. Below are his first impressions. Enjoy!
It is the Friday of my fourth week at the Betary Reserve and I am now at the halfway point of my time here. I wanted to offer some insight into my experience at the reserve for anyone who might be thinking of coming to join the IPBio community. Should you choose to make the journey, I assure you that you will find a welcoming environment, warm people, and a reserve which is engaging in some very interesting work.
At the beginning I had a few reservations about making the trip to the reserve. I would be traveling independently and I didn’t speak any Portuguese beyond the most basic of phrases. Luckily I was provided with clear and accurate instructions about bus companies, running times, places to stay, etc. Although the trip had its fair share of miscommunications and confusions, people were helpful and patient. I made it to the reserve without any problems and am now thoroughly enjoying my time here.
The most enjoyable part of this experience for me has undoubtedly been the natural beauty and diversity. The reserve is home to dozens of bird species, hundreds of plants, and all sorts of amphibian, insects, and fungi. My working area has birds flying through, sounds of monkeys in the distance, and is framed by the picturesque rolling hills of the Ribeira Valley. The Atlantic Forest is without question the most stunning example of biodiversity I’ve ever seen. It’s a beautiful ecosystem with all sorts of pleasant surprises. I’m even getting over my fear of spiders. Sort of.
People here are also very friendly. The people who work full-time at the reserve are inviting and eager to share their love of nature with others. Every day I learn something new about the forest from them. I’ve also had the pleasure of getting to know many of them outside of work through dinners, dances, celebrations, and simply hanging out in town. Last week I even accompanied two residents of the town to a quilombo for a religious celebration! By coming here, you’re becoming part of a welcoming community which is excited to get to know and share with new people.
Finally, the work itself has been rewarding so far. My role has been to assist Imran, the Volunteer Coordinator, with communications. I also help Rafael, the gardener, with different weekly tasks on the reserve. There are currently plans to open a new reserve in the Amazon, and I’ve been looking into the tourism industry in the area. We’ve been gathering and processing data on other tourism services, visitors, and infrastructure, and we will use this information to create a business plan to present to a bank. On the reserve I have helped with maintaining our organic garden (which provides plenty of things to be used in cooking), maintaining the greenhouses, weeding, catching fish, and other kinds of general maintenance. I’m also taking twice-weekly Portuguese lessons which are proving very effective.
To date I’ve found my time on the reserve to be very enjoyable. Daily life during the week can get a little slow, so I’d recommend bringing some books and/or things to watch. Weekends offer more enjoyable activities in town and in the area, which is a treasure trove of natural beauty. Just this weekend we got to go visit Casa de Pedra, the largest cave opening in the world. Not only was the hike there beautiful, we also had a chance to cross through the cave itself! It was a very otherworldly experience. There are lots of things to be done on the reserve, and plenty of research opportunities in the forest. If you’re interested in learning more about the reserve, how daily life looks, or what our mission is and how you can be a part of it, contact Imran at email@example.com.