Beans and Rice Volunteers: Havin’ Fun, Helpin’ Out
By Melissa Vitti
We’re all much too familiar with those heartbreaking images that come across our television screen reminding us we can make a difference in third world countries. For a few cents a day, we can change the lives of the less fortunate for the better (as well we should).
But, maybe these images also trigger a goal you set for yourself some time ago to actually visit these deprived regions and volunteer your time. Many of our “To-Do” lists have the best intentions, but are often put on the back burner. This isn’t for lack of will or effort, as anyone who has looked into this possibility can attest; most often it is the substantial amount of money required.
You’d think that volunteering your time wouldn’t be so costly. For Brad Rickard and John Deer, a couple of guys from Australia, when they sought to do just that, they were understandably surprised when they found it to be so expensive to work for free.
Their persistence to make volunteering more accessible resulted in an organization focused on cheaper alternatives for volunteer work. And so, Beans and Rice was born along with their mantra, “Havin’ Fun and Helpin’ Out.”
Beans and Rice is working in partnership with South American non-government organization’s (NGO’s) to produce a documovie about the work that is accomplished by volunteer.
In the summer of 2006, a couple of friends were discussing over a few beers their plans to travel and volunteer around the South American continent. A passing comment inspired them to capture this experience on film. Rickard and Deer’s unique plan quickly took shape as they found others had the same desire, as they explain on their site.
A Valuable Resource
“After countless encounters with people all echoing the same frustration of not being able to find low-cost volunteer work, we thought that by doing this we might provide a valuable resource for anyone else interested in traveling and genuinely volunteering throughout South America.”
The objective is to bring attention to chosen volunteer and non-government organizations and work side by side with them to reach their goals. The 13-month expedition started in March of 2007 and will be documented on film.
The project will include at least 200 days of volunteer work as Rickard and Deer lend their efforts to diverse eco-systems as well as underprivileged families living in some of the poorest conditions in the world. Along the way, the team plans to visit some of the most legendary tourism areas.
The experiences documented will later be produced into a documentary that will explore alternative ways of travel and hopefully inspire others to get involved in both locally- and globally-based environmental, ecological and humanitarian projects.
The first leg of the trip begins in Ecuador, known as the best country in South America to learn Spanish. The team will take part in a three-week intensive language course in Ecuador’s capital Quito.
I spoke with Brad before the team headed into the jungle to Merazonia. There they will be helping out with an animal refuge that is still in its early stages of construction. When I asked Brad if everything was going according to plan he did have one interesting obstacle to talk about.
“Well we’ve already had one of our cameras stolen. Luckily it wasn’t our camcorder and it was just a camera to take photos with, but none the less a bit of a hassle to go into town to buy another.”
Only a month into their trip and they’ve already hit some bumps, but when speaking with Rickard I got the impression that it was all in a day’s work. I could tell they were excited about the trip and had nothing but enthusiasm for their upcoming adventures.
They’ll experience what it’s really like to live in the jungle village of Mera between mountains, rainforest and rivers. To keep it interesting the Beans and Rice crew will embark on a two-week canoe trip and cargo boat journey down the Rio Napo to the Amazon River in Iquitos, Peru.
After the team arrives in Peru, they plan to explore the famous attractions as well as favorite local pastimes. Making their way south to Ica where locals like to sand board down the giant sand dunes. The next stop is Nazca, to check out the remarkable aerial view of the Nazca Lines before reaching Machu Picchu.
It’s safe to say any trip to Peru would not be complete without visiting the ancient Inca ruins. This famous ancient lost city was not discovered until 1911, but today is the best-known archaeological site on the continent. To reach the lost city travelers must trek the famous Inca trail where crowds reach up to 1000 people during peak season. Because the Beans and Rice crew likes to keep things challenging, they’ll trade the usual guide for a donkey and opt not to use the regular beaten path.
By the month of June, the gang will head into Bolivia arriving at the western side of Lake Titicaca. Bolivia’s natural beauty masks its economic troubles. Volunteers are important for this country, which is the poorest in all of Latin American.
The objective while in Bolivia will be focused on Inti Wara Yassi, an animal refuge tucked away in the rainforest of Bolivia at Villa Tunari. This sanctuary provides protection for dozens of birds, tortoises, monkeys, coatis and wild cats that have been illegally poached andkept in private homes, hotels and circuses.
The dedication of the work done through Inti Wara Yassi was what first inspired Beans and Rice to focus on the volunteer aspect of the trip. The praise and testimonials of visitors who have been touched by the animals and their cause inspired the crew to dedicate six weeks of their time working in the area. As they make their exit, they will travel south to Uyini to visit the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat that covers a vast 12,000 square kilometers (about three million acres).
As if tackling one foreign language wasn’t enough, the team will have to learn Portugese to navigate their way through Brazil. Their first destination of Pantanal is home to the world’s largest wetlands covering an astonishing 230,000 square kilometers (about 57 million acres). For a quick detour the team will ride horseback from Bolivia to Paraguay to observe an ecological paradise rich with exotic wildlife that can’t be found anywhere else in South America.
As they return to Brazil, they’ll visit Rio de Janeiro a city famous for its beauty. About 80 kilomters (50 miles) north of Rio is Reserva Ecologica de Guapi Assu (R.E.G.U.A.). This non-governmental association is responsible for the much needed protection of the last strands of tropical rainforest left in the severely depleted Atlantic Rainforest of Brazil.
Their contribution to the organization will include accompanying the rangers on forest walks, observing and recording species encountered, maintaining and opening new trails, helping with habitat restoration and species reintroduction work, collecting seeds and working in the nursery. Following the beaches to reach the impressive Amazon River for the second time, the crew will stop at just a few of Brazil’s 350 National Parks.
The team will revisit the powerful Amazon River again, only this time they will have to travel upstream. The five-day excursion from Belem to Manaus will be done aboard a riverboat, so they’ll be able to take their time enjoying the scenery before they embark on the last leg of their trip.
It’s time for the home stretch once they reach land — Venezuela. Given the descriptions on their site, it is apparent they anticipate a relaxing end to a chaotic journey.
“Twelve months of sleeping in tents and hostels, 20-hour bus rides, flea ridden animals, mammoth mosquitoes, living in close proximity with each other and putting up with each others bad smells. This is the final leg of our journey.”
There is little volunteer work available in Venezuela, making it the perfect place to reflect on the last year, unwind and sight see. They’ll travel from south to north into the Gran Sabana where up until 1973 there wasn’t even a paved road to reach the region. The landscape is home to a series of gigantic table mountains the most prominent being in Roraima. Here, visitors can embark on a five-day hike and camp out on the mountain.
To keep up with the tradition of visiting some of the world’s greatest wonders, it would be out of character for the team to pass up a visit to Canaima. They’ll travel via airplane to see the extraordinary Salto Angel (Angel Falls). At one kilometer high (3,280 feet), the falls are the highest on earth and understandably a must-see.
To get that last adrenaline rush, they’ll head east to Merida. Merida’s is known as the adventure capital of the continent, and offers a plethora of adventure sports such as paragliding and horseback riding to name a few.
A Beer or Two
Last but not least, they’ll make their final stop in the capital Caracas to end the journey as they began, with a beer or two before making their final journal entry from South America.
Although the project isn’t expected to wrap up until April 2008, given their ambitious itinerary it’s safe to assume they will gain many insights and new perspectives from their experiences. In the meantime, we look forward to their much-anticipated documentary which will share their philosphy: It’s all about “Havin’ Fun and Helpin’ Out.”
The website for Beans and Rice provides a guide for people interested in similar volunteer adventures. The site highlights organizations with volunteer/travel options in South America and Australia.
Melissa Vitti is a former intern at GoNOMAD.com. Now she lives in LA and works in publishing.
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