Being a volunteer in Bialowieza National park is different to the other projects we have done before. This time we don’t have the luxury that somebody cooks for us and getting the work organised appears sometimes chaotic, which might be mainly due to the communication difficulties. The first of our planned four weeks is already over. I’m not sure we achieved as much as we were hoping to, but this might get better in the next few weeks. After the great variations in living conditions during our first two volunteer projects you might be interested to hear what’s happening here, in Stare Masiewo (Alt Masiewo), the village, which is so close to the border to Belarus, that it’s actually a bit scary from time to time.
We have a volunteer house with two bedrooms, kitchen and two bathrooms. Doesn’t sound too bad? Well, it’s 9 of us in here. So it’s very chaotic and this makes (mainly) the “feeding” times rather stressful. I’m not even discussing the bathroom situation.
Luckily we have the small bedroom (sleeps 3) to ourselves. There are not a lot of people you can have a conversation with, due to the language barrier. And just face it, we are not the typical volunteer.
The others are all students. Frankly, they could be our kids. This makes the dynamic in the house a bit strange. Good job Felix and I get on ok 😉
After-work activities in the village are also rather limited, since the village has not even a shop. So all we can do is stroll around in the forest or cycle through the forest in search of animals. This is obviously a rather weather-dependant option, and in my case the willingness to cycle strongly depends on the amount of cycling I’ve done the day before. It looks like I have a rather delicate backside 😉
The volunteer work is also all forest bound, so sometimes you are just forested out.
But the forest can not only surprise you with the occasional animal sighting, but also with a visit by the boarder guards. They drive through the forest and can stop you whenever they feel like it, even if you are not in close proximity to the boarder (OK, 500 something meters might count as closeish). Fingers crossed, we have not yet been stopped, but we still have a few weeks to go.
So whenever you leave the house, there are two things you should never forget: your passport and some insect repellent. Never have I seen anything like it, and don’t forget, we just have been to Borneo in the forest. The amount of mosquitos here is unbelievable, the size they grow to is impressive. As long as you are cycling fast enough, you are ok, but as soon as you slow down, they come and try to eat you alive. Even clothes are not stopping them. On the positive side, they don’t transmit any nasty diseases, so the bites are just annoying and less worrisome as they were in Indonesia. Since our work in the forest requires us to go off the path, we can not move fast enough, to keep the mossies away. So a lot of insect repellent is needed. And guess what, ticks are plentiful too. From time to time you have to brush them off your trousers and check later that none of them managed to get under your clothes.
Putting these two nuisances aside, being in the middle of this wild forest is just wonderful. Stumbling across a bison in the forest is unfortunately not very common, but it did happen to us once while working in a remote area.