I have arrived – I being me, Imran Viroomal, the new communications coordinator – to Iracambi where the sun is shining, the birds are chattering and the streams are flowing. I decided to take the long way to Iracambi which involved an 11 hour bus journey from Sao Paulo and I did not regret it for one minute. The bus was very comfortable but what made this journey worth it was the scenery. From the densely urbanized and fossil fuel polluted city of Sao Paulo to the pristine rivers and tasty air of Iracambi was almost like a journey back through time. However, I do not want to romanticize the rural landscape too much as the stench of a massacre still loomed in the air as the bus curved through the hills of the countryside. The whiff of pesticides as well as the perfect 90 degree angles that demarcates the boundary between the forest and pasture land are scars of an ongoing war between one species and the planet they inhabit. But you said tasty air, didn’t you? Yes, as you drive into Iracambi there is a change and that change is the product of the hard work of both the Iracambi staff and the local community which have dedicated themselves to replanting forest seedling that once dominated this landscape. As I drove through the front gates of Iracambi and saw the lovely wooden bungalow’s, the dense forest cover around the center and inhaled the wonderful smell of Carminha’s (the local restaurant owner) black beans on the stove, I thought to myself – “Can I stay here forever?.”
No really, Robin and Binka, I am actually asking – can I stay here forever?
Gui, the resident Brazilian Iracambi staff member, helped me settle in and then we were off for a hike. The hike was indescribably beautiful but here goes my attempt. Gui took me through a dense forest trail where we ended up next to a stream with various waterfalls (where you can swim). We sat there and talked about everything from politics to religion to agriculture to Iracambi itself. As we were leaving this spot Gui turned around to me and said something which really hit hard. “This area used to be flat, was all pasture land and there was no stream going through here.. this is what Iracambi does”. I was flabbergasted. This was reforestation in action. Just as humanity has the capacity to destroy the environment, we also have the incredible potential to help build it back up.
The next morning I went with Gui to meet some of his local friends. These guys were local farmers, Franciscan priests and environmental activists all packaged up into a group of lovely individuals. I helped them to plant organic tomatoes while we chatted away about our personal life stories. At night we all had dinner together (rice, beans, cheese bread and a variety of different vegetable side dishes) and debated issues concerning how the local community could organize more efficiently against the bauxite (used to produce aluminum) mining company which has been a major concern for the local community for over a decade. There was wine, beer and lively conversation over dinner. I thank them all for such a wonderful time!
Gui and I headed back to the Center of Iracambi on his little, yet surprisingly powerful, motorbike at 11pm. I cannot explain the feeling of riding with the wind in your face through the Atlantic Forest with the majestically star-freckled sky above (as well as planets, dark matter etc). Across the sky was a purple/red cloudy glow like a brush mark over the canvas of blackness and stars which I soon realized was the Milky Way. I could not get rid of this enormous grin the whole half-an-hour ride back. PLEASE LET ME STAY FOREVER!!!!!!!!
Over the next week we are expecting an influx of volunteers and the arrival of Binka Le Brenton, the NGO President, who I am looking forward to working alongside. By my next post I will be more knowledgeable about Iracambi so I shall delve into the details of the environmental issues that Iracambi is facing as well as talk about the school trip to Serra do Brigadeiro State Park we went on this weekend so stay tuned!