Hey, my name is Tim. I am a biology undergraduate from Cardiff, Wales, in the U.K. I study at the University of Bristol and have just finished my second year. I noticed a lot of friends were doing exciting projects abroad, and I wanted to do something productive with my summer, which would mix my love of science and nature, with opportunity for leisure, making new friends, and exploring this beautiful part of the world. It is the first time I have volunteered in any form, and my first time this far away from home, and so I thought a one-month stay would be a safe time to book for my first adventure. With one week remaining, I begin to wonder if one month was too short a stay... it has flown by. My answer to this, and thus my advice for first-timers would be to seriously consider at least a 2 month stay. A month sounds long, especially if it’s your first time volunteering, but once you have settled in, been trained in your work activities, and are comfortable with life at the reserve, all of a sudden it is time to go home. It’s worth noting that big excursions are only possible on the weekends, and in a month, that leaves only 8 days to properly explore. It’s not enough. It’s also worth noting that it’s only a small reserve which may have only a few volunteers upon your arrival, many of whom may be long term volunteers who have already seen the sights you would like to see and wouldn’t want go again (as they cost money) and so a longer stay will allow you to come into contact with more volunteers who haven’t yet been where you want to go. Another piece of advice is if you want to visit Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, or any other far-away places, consider visiting on your way in or out of the country, as they are not near or easy to visit on a weekend.
Logistics aside, my stay at both ipBIO and Rio de Janeiro has been so exciting, character-forming, and eye opening. I don’t mean to sound cliché, but you will realise looking back on you experience here you have been put in a very privileged position to visit such an awesome environment. I worked here on several projects, and if you’re not sure what you want to do here but know you just want to help, this is a good position as you get a taster of all the work going on at the reserve. I looked at food preference using camera footage to analyse the behaviour of our Lepidodactylus flavopictus frog. I carried out maintenance tasks at the reserve; feeding the fish, turtles, testing the water quality of the tanks etc. I then studied the progression of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, the causative agent of chytridiomycosis in amphibians, in an isolated population of tadpoles. This is a long term study being done for a professor at a local university, and so it was good to know I was solely responsible for data collection that has real scientific significance. It also allowed me to be exposed to real science... repetition, repetition, repetition, which allowed me to realise what a career in research will really be like.
I have made great friends here, and certainly had memories which will stay with me for the rest of my life. Cananeia is definitely worth visiting (but preferably when it is good weather). It is absolutely beautiful, see as many of the islands as you can! And enjoy the boat rides. The caves here are awesome, and the hikes through the state park are unlike any organised trials you’ll ever see… prepare to get wet and have a lot of laughs! The town is very cute and there is everything you need here for a great stay. Prepare for slow internet at the reserve, but at the same time don’t rely on it... come prepared with any videos, software, literature etc. that you think you will need as downloads will take a long time. Look at it as something to look forward to - I am glad I had limited exposure to the internet as I was able to experience Brazil with my eyes rather than through a social media app, and focus on what I was doing here and the fun I was having rather than what other people who I don’t really care about were having for dinner on the other side of the globe. One thing I will definitely take away with me, and is a lesson to be learned for the Western world, is that collectivist culture is awesome. For example, the town is 5 km down the road, and a nice walk, however if someone drives past there’s a good chance they will offer you a free lift. If you need a lift back from the town after a night out, plan ahead as Taxi’s stop at 11, but when we got into this problem we asked around the bars and someone was kind enough to drop us home free of charge. Everyone is friendly here, and is so interested in you as a foreigner or ‘gringro’ as they call it, so prepare to feel welcomed. Personally, I think you will get more from your volunteer experience here if you come with a set project or research question in mind that you can fully focus on and also (preferably finish) so you have a product to come away with knowing you made an impact. You’ll make an impact regardless, but it’s nice to be around to see through the culmination of your project. You will indisputably get more from your experience if you come knowing at least the basics of Portuguese so you can get around by yourself, and converse with the locals. I came knowing zilch and wish I knew more… it’s an element of any trip that you cannot pay for to experience. The staff at ipBIO are really helpful, friendly, and well organised, and any questions before or during your stay at ipBIO, Imran has the answer!!!! Come with an open mind and heart, and embrace Brazil! Finally, if you like your stay, which I know you will, tell your friends! Some of the most powerful recommendations can from word-of-mouth, and ipBIO is expanding both here in Iporanga, and in the amazon with a new reserve, so there is space for your friends too! Good luck and I wish you fantastic experience here at ipBIO.