Iván is known amongst us other EVS-ers as “Birdman” for his incessant admiration of birds, an admiration that took a more professional form during his EVS in S.P.E.A. (Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves). But the truth is that our Spanish volunteer does more in S.P.E.A. than just frolic around with flying creatures. In fact, a great variety of animals, from the deep sea to up in the clouds of Portugal go under Iván’s scrutiny. Here he is now, talking not only about why everyone hates seagulls but also about life in Lisboa, the ins and outs of a volunteer’s life and false friends between Spanish and Portuguese. Y vámonos, amigos!
Iván: Hello! I am a Spanish boy of 26, here in Portugal to do my EVS project – an environmental project in S.P.E.A. I’m very happy with how it is going, I think it’s a great opportunity for me and I hope to live it up at its fullest.
And you’ve been a volunteer here for how long now?
My project is for six months and I’ve been doing it for about a month and a half now and time is going by very very fast.
Ok, so S.P.E.A., now we know what “S.P.E.A.” stands for. Would you share with us more about what you do there?
S.P.E.A. is an NGO that organizes different projects towards the conservation of bird species and their natural habitat here in continental Portugal, as well as in the two autonomous Portuguese islands' groups, Açores and Madeira. As such, it has many different areas dedicated to the study of animals - more precisely, the study of birds - and I take part in the department focused on seabirds.
What I will be doing there, to be more specific, is contributing to one of their ongoing projects focused on birds in the islands of Berlengas. While there, we not only pay attention to the birds but also to their predators, namely in this case the rats and mice and some types of plants which invade the birds’ habitat.
We’re also interested in the effects of tourism upon the birds, especially in summertime when tourism flourishes and it disturbs the birds’ environment. A lot of people ignore the designated paths for hiking and camping and by doing so, they may ruin nests of seabirds or simply disrupt their fragile ecological balance. This does not occur too often, however it is important to establish the touristic capacity of the islands in relation to the birds’ wellbeing.
Do you also have a studies background in this field or previous experience?
Not at all. My studies in Spain were indeed in the field of Biology, but it is a very vast domain and I had nothing to do with the marine side of it. Only here in Portugal I got to come in contact with the marine fauna (particularly with the birds), the different ecosystems it contains, so it is quite the learning experience as well as a work one.
Would you like to tell us one interesting thing you’ve learned from your project so far, about birds or anything else?
Well, it’s always an interesting experience when I think I’ve found a bird’s nest and then I look inside only to find a rat or a rabbit squatting in there. That’s truly a problem: when these rodents invade the seabirds’ nests, the birds cannot use them anymore and so their eggs are ruined and they have to move away.
What about some nice birds specific to Portugal that you think people should know about?
For one, I think the majority of people aren’t familiar with seabirds and so they only associate “seabirds” with seagulls. However, if you will spend a bit of time on a beach or any rocky place near the sea, you will have the chance to observe a lot of birds, marine and terrestrial alike. One species that I particularly like and consider quite nice is the Sandwich Tern orGarajau-comum in Portuguese. It’s a beautiful bird which can be often observed “fishing” in the sea, close to the beaches and rocks, but it somehow passes unobserved by the majority of people here in Portugal.
Now I’d like to talk with you a bit about seagulls, as they are the most hated-on species of birds from my own experience. Are you more tolerant towards them than the average person?
Yes, for sure I think most people don’t like seagulls too much. Especially tourists, who have to fight them off their food on the terraces during summer. Now the seagulls have evolved to eat almost anything, from the garbage bins to restaurant food and as such, their population has increased exponentially. It’s a problem and it’s particularly visible in the case of the Yellow-Footed Gull, which is the most commonly seen version.
Personally, I love seagulls and not just the common one, as there are many pretty species of seagulls who are also more well-behaved.
It’s obvious that you dominate the Portuguese language already. How different is it really from Spanish? Did it take you a long time to learn?
I think my Portuguese is decent, yes. I’d been in Portugal some months ago too and that allowed me to establish a basis for learning the language. A lot of people do think that Spanish and Portuguese are the same thing but they couldn’t be further from the truth. Although there are many similar words, there are also enough discrepancies and the pronunciation differs significantly. Or better yet is when a word is pronounced exactly the same in both language, but it means a completely different thing which gives way to many funny situations (see for this words like borracha, polvo, pelado).
Are there any words or sounds in Portuguese that you struggled with?
I think Portuguese has a wider diversity of particular sounds, which may be difficult to Spanish people learning Portuguese. For instance, to me the sound of “lh” as in “Julho” (the month of July) is still troubling.
On the other hand, it’s the same for Portuguese folks learning to speak Spanish. The word “rojo” (red), for example, is a very difficult one to utter for the Portuguese, because of the strong “r” and the “j” which requires a pronunciation unknown to them.
What’s the most common reaction people have upon learning that you are from Spain?
They often make references to the climate there, such as “oh, Spain is all beaches and sunny weather!”, when in fact that’s only the South of Spain. There’s also nice areas up the North that are not only sunshine and sangria, with more varied forms of nature and weather.
What are some of your favorite places to go to in Lisbon?
Here it’s really hard to choose just one. Maybe The Carmo Convent (O Convento do Carmo) is a good recommendation, also the viewpoint (Miradouro) from Saint George Castle (O Castelo de São Jorge) offers, I think, one of the best views in Portugal.
For showing people around Lisbon, I always go for the neighborhoods of Graça and Alfama. I consider them magical places that managed to preserve intact the streets and charm of old Portugal. I especially like Alfama, with its restaurants and traditional bars (tascas), so I take any opportunity to show friends around there.
Ok, we’ve reached the end of the interview and I will just ask you to send a message from you now to Iván at the end of his EVS.
I hope by now you’ve exploited your time in Portugal very well, that you’ve visited a lot and that you got to know more about the culture here, as well as other cultures through meeting new people. And please, get involved in any activity that presents itself to you!