Forest Therapy at Wild Otters

Around the beginning of my summer holidays, in May 2017, I received a mail about an internship opportunity at Wild Otters, in Chorao Island in Goa. Since I really wanted to do something for the environment and also travel for my internship, this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

When I tell people that I interned at Goa this summer, they all assume that I went there to party, but honestly, the kind of adventures I had were far from what any of these people were imagining.

 

My internship at Wild Otters was nothing short of a natural retreat with exciting field work at Chorao island, which was an hour away from the city of Goa. The island was extremely beautiful, not very populated, and rich with nature and greenery.

All members of the organization lived at the field base, which was a big and beautiful 150-year-old Portuguese Bungalow, behind which was a deciduous forest one could enter from the backyard.

We all occasionally contributed to the digging of an artificial pond that one of the heads of the organization had started building in the backyard. The same head also initiated various projects for recycling plastic and making small furniture pieces, artwork etc. out of it. A few of us once jumped on a big chunk of plastic remains (bottles, chip packets) which was inside a huge dustbin to compress the plastic. We also set up camera traps in the forest that we went to change daily, and often left our old chicken or prawn bones there as baits to attract animals. Once, we captured wild boars!

 

The main tasks included surveys during which I learnt to trust the earth and get knee deep in mud, walking like that through the mangrove forest. Understanding the importance of identifying the appearance and smell of otter poop which was also like half my job. There were serene observations in our schedule that included staring into the riverine mangroves, looking to spot otters, where I even got lucky enough to see two otters forage (sightings were rare). I even got to interact with the local community when I visited the nearby school for a session on otter awareness.

 

Spending this much time in nature helped me reconnect with my creative and spiritual side, and ground myself. On my first day, along with our project manager, I choreographed a short routine on the Ed Sheeran song “Shape of you”, that we performed for the other members of the house. In my free time, along with reading papers on otters, I would also cover some songs on the guitar that we had at the base. Never having had the opportunity to own a pet myself, our dog Rey was my biggest source of joy. She slept on my bed for 12 nights in a row, and I also had the responsibility to feed her dinner a few nights. Since we had an open kitchen, I often cooked delicacies such as Hakka noodles, chicken egg cheese salami sandwiches and freshly brewed mint lemon iced tea.

 

I didn’t exactly have a bed in my room, but a charpai on which I slept, however, it was really comfortable. We didn’t even have AC’s, and the weather was a natural cooler. In the darkness of the night, I’d often see pretty golden and green fireflies.

 

The food served at the field base, prepared by our pleasant cook Sharmila, was also excellent, and even luxurious for a field base. She could make the simplest of Indian dishes taste like 5-star meals. She also had three cute little daughters who would visit occasionally and take a dip in the pond we’d built, take piggyback rides on our backs and scream at the sight of Rey.

 

On my roommate’s first day at the internship, another intern, she and I went for a walk into the forest, and because I was so curious about various sheds and spots that I found beautiful, we ended up getting lost for a good 45-60 minutes. It was about to get dark and our GPS was not helping us navigate back to the field base. Our dog Rey was also not leading us back, instead, she almost had a confrontation with a wild boar! We reached a cemetery at one point and heard a woman moan from the other side of the forest. Finally, as one of our phones were working, we contacted the field base and 2 senior members came to our rescue by screaming our names and having us scream back words so they could trace us through our voices.

 

Living a Gandhian concept was also an integral part of the internship, which was doing one’s own work, from washing your own dishes to scrubbing the floor one’s floor and dusting one’s room, and living in harmony with all members of the house, who were more than 10 at times.

 

On weekends, I’d visit the city and lived in a few hostels of Goa, namely Prison, apparently the first party hostel of India and Funky Monkey, which was right at Anjuna beach. These experiences were pleasant and adventurous in their own way, as I got to meet a lot of new people from different parts of the world. To get to the city, one had to take 15-minute free ferry to the city capital, Panjim.

 

Finally, the internship helped me think deeply and critically about what it means to be an environmentalist, “conservationist”, whether these are just fancy terms, and if not, what they really entail. Being a political science student, I became more curious, as well as analytical about concepts like growth and development, and started thinking about them in the context of environmental challenges. I would recommend joining Wild Otters to all those who enjoy being in nature, are open to new experiences, interesting people, and want to try a different lifestyle.

 

Edited by Vasudha Malani

Photographs curated by Anupriya Kukreja