Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Geraldine reports on her volunteer experience in Italy

Leg 75-09, Bosio (AL) Piemonte,

Hosted by Legambiante, Italy

17/08/2009 – 28/08/2009

(in the picture: Geraldine and one of the volunteers during a visit in Genova)

After working temporarily in the environment section of my local council, I decided to volunteer for a conservation project in the Italian mountains. I arrived at Campo Ligure railway station via plane, volabus and replacement bus on Monday 17th August at 6:30pm, our meeting point. I was greeted by Cristina Rossi and Gianni, leaders of the Capanne di Marcarolo Natural Park. Giovanni Vinciguerra was our camp leader and ticked our names off a list as we arrived. Our bags were put into the back of a truck and we were driven by car up a winding mountain road to our accommodation.

(In the picture: the accommodation)

The accommodation comprised of an old water mill, situated at the foot of Mount Tobbio. The building was now being used as a base for mountaineering groups who visited the area. At the accommodation we met the project coordinators, Lara and Massimo and their very young son Paollo. They led us up some outdoor stairs to a choice of three bedrooms. There was also a basic kitchen and a bathroom and an outdoor living area with seating and a camp fire.

On the first evening Lara and Massimo told us that the loft was inhabited with flying animals, they were difficult to describe due to the language barrier. These animals hung from the eaves of the house, upside down. I initially thought they were bats but eventually we discovered they were called dormice. The next morning Lara showed me a dormouse huddled up in a towel, it had fallen down the toilet in the night. I could just see its face, pink nose and big eyes. It was shivering and we hoped that it would survive.

It was extremely hot on our first day of work; we painted picnic benches and wooden fences with varnish. The area was situated in a valley with surrounding mountains, open spaces and blue skies. It was located at the southernmost tip of the province of Alessandria and only a few kilometres from the sea. We arrived and left the working sites in a minibus driven by Gianni; they were usually short drives away from the accommodation and involved driving up or down very narrow mountainous roads. Very often we passed cyclists in training and Italians driving their dogs around in small cars.

After work on the second day, we visited a lake at the foot of the mountains. I had anticipated that it would be deep enough to swim in, although when we arrived it was more like an English stream. It was however very lovely to sit in as it was so hot and the surrounding scenery was amazing. The water was very clear and you could see fish swimming past your legs in the water.

Our most difficult task for the two weeks was to climb Mount Tobbio. It was a very hot day and we stopped on the way up to drink water and eat apples. Occasionally we passed narrow paths with steep drops to the side of our feet, at which point Giovanni would shout ‘Be Careful’. At the top there was a small white church dedicated to “Our Lord of Caraggio”. Walking back down we carefully kicked large rocks out of the way and cut branches blocking paths; we also painted circular symbols onto rocks with bright yellow paint. This helped to clear the pathway for future climbers. Lunch was prepared daily by volunteers and served at 1pm, our afternoons and evenings were free.

(in the picture: cooking by the fire...)

The evenings were filled with guitar playing and singing, listening to Manu Chao, playing games and cooking potatoes, chicken and bread on the camp fire. We also drank grappa and occasionally went to the bar at the top of the hill for ice cream. Jesse, the dog from the bar often came down to visit us, particularly when we were cooking barbequed food. One evening Giovanni led us into the woods to try to hear and see wild animals. We sat in the dark listening for wolves, owls and any other animals that were nearby. We heard some scuffling but unfortunately we didn’t see anything.

(In the picture: volunteers enjoying their evenings together)

On the weekend we visited the local city called Genova, Italy’s largest port. We visited the house of Christopher Columbus and the main square called the Piazza De Ferrari. In contrast to the remote location we were living and working in there were Italian restaurants, tall buildings, washing lines hanging in between apartments, dusty roads, shops, sculptures and an aquarium, the Acquario di Genova.

Our last day of work involved varnishing wooden swing frames, see saws, benches and fences in a children’s playground. This was not the sort of playground you would find in England, as it was nestled amongst the eighty two hundred hectares of mountainous terrain in the Capanne Di Marcarolo Natural Park. Gianni’s family were natives to the area and we visited his museum. On display were photographs of his ancestors and many old tools that had been used over the years for farming and everyday living in the local area.

Gianni visited us on our last evening and played the accordion very well, he also brought alcohol and cakes as thank you gifts. It was a worthwhile experience visiting Italy and experiencing life in the mountains. I met lots of lovely people and would now like to learn more about the nature and culture of different areas of the world by attending more international work projects.

Geraldine, Italy Summer 2009

Read more information on short term projects with Concordia >>

1 comment:

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