Thursday, October 24, 2019
It’s my second full day at Iracambi! I rolled out of bed at 8:30 and got dressed. After thorough bug spray and sunscreen, I put on my hiking boots and trekked down to the restaurant/dining area for breakfast.
I ate breakfast alone, as everyone else had already eaten or was still sleeping. I had a slice of bread with [sp?: refiçião] (sweet cream cheese, with a texture like butter), a cinnamon pastry, and an apple. Hummingbirds and songbirds flew around me as I ate.
9 am – 11:30 am
Another volunteer and I headed to the ingá trees near the entrance gate. Today we were in charge of collecting as many ingá seeds as possible, because the ingá season was coming to an end and the seed pods would likely be rotten in a few more days. We split up; the other volunteer stayed by a tree close to the dining area, and I followed a trail (carved by ants walking at night – how crazy is that?) to a babbling stream with a wooden bridge across it. Across the bridge I found another ingá tree, so I gathered bunches of seed pods and sat on the bridge with my feet dangling above the water.
It took some work to remove the seeds from their pods. When you crack the pod open, it’s fuzzy and white inside. I thought it was mold at first. But you can actually eat the fuzzy stuff – it’s sweet! Inside the white fuzz is the green seed, which is what we will eventually plant.
After a while, the other volunteer joined me with dozens of pods. Another volunteer stopped by for a bit to help. He had just set up four camera traps on a trail to hopefully capture photos of ocelots wandering around at night. So far he’s only caught a possum.
11:30 am – 1 pm
At 11:30, we decided to take a break. We put the seeds and their fuzz into a large bowl of water to soak for a few hours, and I went to the cabin to wash my hands and refresh my bug spray. I brought my laptop to the Centro and did a bit of work from home responding to emails.
1 pm – 1:30 pm
Just after 1 pm, Larissa, the restaurant cook, banged on her pans to announce that lunch is ready. We had rice, beans, lentils, and cashew juice.
1:30 pm – 2:30 pm
Lunch technically lasts until 2:30, so I took some time to relax and do more work.
2:30 pm – 4:30 pm
We set to work removing the fuzzy outsides of the seeds. Many of the white parts had slid off the seeds thanks to soaking, but many seeds were still trapped inside and we had to remove them by hand. After two hours we still hadn’t finished, and it was time for another break.
4:30 pm – 6 pm
Near one of the cabins is a limão (lemon) tree, where we gathered a lemon and several leaves. Back at the Centro, we made a small pot of tea by boiling water and adding the shredded leaves, lemon juice, and some Earl Grey tea bags. We drink it with rapadura (brown sugar in a taffy-like form) that was made by a local entrepreneur and farmer. I bought it from him the day before for R$4.
6 pm – 7 pm
Dinner time! Same as lunch, except with delicious pork too.
7 pm – 8 pm
Even though we didn’t need to, we tried to finish up with the seeds before the end of the day. We made pretty good progress. Then I took a shower back in the cabin. I was impressed by the water temperature and pressure. It was a super pleasant shower.
8 pm – 10 pm
I needed to make a video call at 8 pm with my work from back home, so I hung out in the cabin and made the call, then did a bit of work.
Saturday, October 26
8:30 – 9 am
Got ready for the day and had breakfast. Though we had no work to do today, Robin had scheduled a tour of Iracambi’s property at 9 am. He gives this tour to all the new volunteers.
9 am – 1 pm
Robin arrived in his old blue Land Rover just after 9 am. Three other volunteers piled into the open back, and I sat in the front with Robin. We had only driven a few minutes when we spotted Thor frolicking in a field alongside the road. Thor, Robin and Binka’s boxer, wears a muzzle to prevent him from biting cows; he looks a bit like Bane from Batman when he’s wearing it. Robin ushered Thor into the Rover and he joined us on the tour.
During the tour, Robin taught us about coffee plantations, the eucalyptus trees that Robin grows as a crop, harvesting the juçara palm tree, the challenge of forest fragments, and bauxite, a prevalent mineral in the area that is mined to make aluminum. He showed us all these things (and more) as we drove around. Robin is a wealth of knowledge, and it was fabulous to learn about the area from him. There were also some pretty incredible views.
1 – 2 pm
We arrived home just in time for a wonderful lunch, as always, from Larissa.
2 – 6 pm
I spent these four hours in the hammock in the Centro. It is the weekend, after all! I worked on my blog, read my book, and took a nap. The volunteers had discussed going to the waterfall at 4 pm, but 4 pm came and went. I think we all fell asleep.
6:30 – 7:30 pm
Dinner! Tonight it’s rice, beans, and pasta with red sauce.
I filled up my water bottle at the restaurant and then Ronja and I headed back to the cabin. Our third cabin mate had traveled to Rio de Janeiro for the weekend, so it was just us two. We watched Tangled in our bunk – in Brazilian Portuguese! Then we headed to bed.
Monday, October 28
8:30 – 9 am
Woke up, got ready for the day, and ate breakfast. I filled a ziplock bag with some cookies for a midmorning snack, and then I moved my drying laundry from a clothesline outside to the clothesline inside our cabin, in case a storm rolled in later.
9:15 am – 1 pm
Two volunteers and I hiked the High Trail to retrieve the camera traps that one of the volunteers had set last Thursday. Thor came along too. The hike ascended about 350 meters, though it felt like more than that to my out-of-shape body. It was a hot and sunny morning, and sweat seeped through my clothes in minutes. But the pain of the steep climb was worth it – at the top, we had a great view of the mountains in the distance. Even more neat was the feeling of standing in the middle of the rainforest. The forest enveloped us on all sides.
1 – 3 pm
We had a big lunch and then I retreated to the cabin to relax for a bit. Thunder rumbled, but no rain.
As I left my cabin to go find some work to do, I bumped into a new volunteer from England, freshly arrived from Rio. I brought her up to the cabin. She put her stuff in the room next to mine, and then we headed to the nursery together to do some weeding.
3:30 – 5 pm
Not more than 10 minutes after we got to the nursery, the sky broke and rain came pouring down. Thunder and lightning, and buckets and buckets of rain. But we had just got there, and we felt up to the task. The two of us put on our rain jackets, hunched over the tables covered in saplings (each in its own black bag of soil), and continued removing weeds from the bases of the baby trees. We finished right before it stopped raining (of course), and we headed up to the cabins to dry off.
6:30 – 7:30 pm
Dinner time! We had chicken legs, yams, a variety of vegetables, and, of course, rice and beans.
7:30 – 9 pm
The two British volunteers knew a bunch of card games, so they taught me some. We played several rounds and I lost almost all of them. But I have two new card games in my repertoire.
9 – 10 pm
I headed up to the cabin and showered. I was still sweaty and covered in sunscreen from the hike that morning, so it felt good to get clean. I wrote some notes about my day and read a chapter of my book in bed.
Time to sleep!
Thursday, October 31
8:30 – 9 am
Got ready for the day and ate breakfast.
9:30 – 10 am
At 9:30, four of the volunteers and I trekked the three kilometers down the road to Robin and Binka’s house. We met Robin and Thor at the gate in front of their house around 10. We all piled into the Rover and Robin drove us to the top of a nearby hill.
10 – 11:30 am
This morning’s task: Robin had requested that we count the living saplings on the hill. He had planted trees there a few years ago, and he wasn’t sure how many of them had survived. The hill was split into four plots, and we each took a plot to count, with two volunteers in the first plot. The hill face was steep, and the plots were fairly large. My strategy was to walk horizontally back and forth across the hill, gradually moving my way down. Many baby trees had died and looked like skinny sticks jutting out of the soil. But many more were alive – some only a few inches high, and others taller than me.
It was hard work, especially under the hot sun. But after an hour and a half, we had counted over 1,000 young trees on the hill.
11:30 am – 12 pm
We finished just in time to take the school bus to Rosário da Limeira. A small bus stop sits next to the white gate at the bottom of the hill, and the school bus picks up kids there around 11:30 am every day. A few young kids waited for the bus with us. When it finally arrived and we boarded, Thor followed us on to the bus, hopped up on a seat, and stuck his head out the window happily. We caused quite the scene: a bunch of foreigners struggling to remove Bane the Boxer from the school bus. Eventually we got Thor off the bus, and we made our way to Rosário da Limeira.
12 – 3 pm
We spent a few hours exploring the small town. First stop: a grocery store to buy a green pumpkin, candies, and snacks for our Halloween party that night. (The Americans – me and two others – had suggested the celebration, and everyone was excited about the idea.) Then we had lunch at a restaurant with a buffet. We shared a pitcher of incredible fresh-squeezed orange juice. Halfway through the meal, it started to pour. It rained for at least half an hour, until a small river ran down the streets. Gusts of wind knocked over signs in the street. It ended as suddenly as it began.
3:30 – 5:30 pm
We made it back to Iracambi. I spent some time relaxing and working on my blog. A new volunteer from Switzerland arrived – just in time for our Halloween party!
5:30 – 6:30 pm
The carving of the green pumpkin commenced. The design: the Iracambi hummingbird. Virgílio brought some specialty coffee to the Centro and we all had a taste.
6:30 – 7:30 pm
Dinner time. Tonight’s meal was sauteed chicken with onions, rice and beans, and several unknown vegetables that were quite tasty.
7:30 – 8 pm
After dinner, we began working on our costumes. It was fun being creative with the limited materials at our disposal. One volunteer dressed up as “erosion”: we rubbed clay on her arms and face. Another dressed as a leaf-nosed bat by taping a leaf to her nose. My costume was a play on words: I wore a flowery outfit, and another volunteer kissed my cheeks with red lipstick. I was a beija-flor, which directly translates to kiss-flower but means “hummingbird.”
8 pm – 12 am
Party time! The volunteers started a bonfire after a lot of work with the damp wood. Virgílio and Rogéria made caipirinhas. We played music, ate lots of candy, and had quite the spooky fun time until it was time for bed.
Wednesday, November 6th
8:30 – 9 am
Up and at ‘em. After breakfast, I decided to do some laundry in the Centro. There’s a simple washing machine that spins. You have to manually fill the machine with water, add detergent, and then set it for about 20 minutes. Once the load is done, you have to empty the water, add more water, and set it to spin again. Finally, you empty the water again, rinse as necessary, remove the clothes, wring them, and hang on the line. On sunny days, they can dry in an afternoon. In more rainy weeks, It can take days for them to dry!
9:30 am – 12:30 pm
This morning we worked on seed identification and removal in the lab. Like the ingá seeds, most seeds are stored in some sort of pod or fruit, and they have to be removed and separated to plant them. Each seed presents its own challenges for removal. Some seeds are tiny; others have hard shells; some, like the ingá, have finicky casings. We worked on extricating a few different types of seeds and also identifying them. To identify, we use reference books that contain hundreds of trees. Deivid, the nursery coordinator, gives us a rough idea of what the seed may be, and then we narrow it down based on the pictures of the seed and seed pod in the books.
While working on removing the seeds, we discussed our lesson plan for teaching English that afternoon in a nearby school. The previous week, some of the volunteers had attended a town meeting with Robin and Binka in Belisário. At the meeting, the residents discussed the future for their town, first by sharing what they love about where they live and then by brainstorming what they want to improve. We met an energetic 12-year-old girl named Claudiane, who spoke eloquently at the meeting. She invited us to come to her school to teach English (“And we can teach you Portuguese!” she added excitedly.) It had been set up, and now we were heading to Belisário that day.
12:30 – 1:30 pm
An early lunch today because of the lesson in the afternoon. Carla, a medicinal plant expert who lives near Robin and Binka, joined us for lunch. We planned a medicinal plants workshop for Friday.
1:30 – 6 pm
School trip! Two other volunteers and I taught English to one class of about 20 students. We went over the alphabet, body parts, and colors. We sang the alphabet song and “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” (in both English and Portuguese), and then we played Simon Says. There was an art class sandwiched between the two English classes, and the teacher let me sit in the class and watch. The kids had a million questions for me. Did I have pets? What type of music did I like? Are there churches in the United States? I could only understand bits and pieces of what they were saying to me. Claudiane helped by repeating what the other kids said, still in Portuguese but slightly slower. They found humor in my confusion! At the very least, there was a lot of giggling. And some learning too, I hope. I definitely learned a lot from them.
6:30 – 7:30 pm
Dinner, blogging, relaxing.
Early to bed! We planned to hike the High Trail to catch the sunrise, which meant leaving at 3:30 in the morning. It’s hard to believe that I only have two days left here!