News - October 10, 2013

‘Time seemed to stand still there’

Who? Annemiek Leuvenink, Applied Communication Science
What? Final research project at ATN (Associaçâo Transumância e Natureza)
Where? Portugal

‘The Association for Transhumanism and Nature (ATN) is the only Portuguese NGO with its own nature area, the Faia Brava reserve. This reserve is a pilot area for Rewilding Europe, an initiative that aims to return a million hectares of land in Europe to a state of wilderness by 2020. ATN is inspired by successful nature tourism projects in Africa in which the local population shares the benefits of nature conservation through tourism. But most of the locals in this remote region live off their farms and not all of them see the use of nature conservation. They wonder why ATN does not just use the land to grow crops, as happened in the olden days.

My aim was to increase the involvement of the local people through workshops in which ideas about the future of the reserve could be developed together. I lived in a little house 10 minutes’ walk from our office, together with two other interns. Try to picture a place where time seems to have stood still. In the streets you saw little old men wending their way to their farms with their donkeys. We had no internet in our house and public transport was limited to two buses per day. And those only on weekdays. In the first week I was afraid I would get bored there, but that wasn’t the case at all. I did a lot of walking in the beautiful countryside and my housemates and I did some sport and went for walks and trips.

Portugal has a culture of hospitality. I once went home with a Portuguese housemate. Her parents were very warm people, who gave you a hug. At the end of our visit they plied us with all sorts of stuff from their vegetable garden. Life is a bit more spontaneous there.  If someone suggests going for a drink after work, everyone goes along, because you don’t have any plans. When I got back to Holland a friend proposed going out for a meal in a couple of days’ time. And I thought, hey, let’s see when the time comes. I had really got used to the Portuguese way of taking one day at a time.’