Our volunteer program attracts many interesting and enthusiastic participants, but at the end of February, everyone got lucky when Pierce and Ann Mond Johnson, from Chicago, returned to lend a hand for the second year in a row. Pierce ran a French culinary school for years; Ann and Pierce put their skills to use cooking up delicious meals for everyone after hard days of work. We chatted with them as they packed up to continue their travels.
CP: What made you interested in joining us here at the future Patagonia National Park?
PJ: We first heard about Conservacion Patagonica from a one-page profile in a Patagonia clothing company catalogue. We thought, what a wild thing to take part in creating a new national park in Chile. We wanted to be down in Chile, doing volunteer work that fit in with our love of hiking and spending time outdoors. We’ve been here for two years, working for two weeks each year, and it’s been a great experience.
CP: Rumor has it that you are great cooks.
AMJ: Pierce won Iron Chief, Patagonia edition, two years in a row!
PJ: Cooking here is an interesting challenge. You’re feeding 15- 20 people, with an assortment of ingredients that’s pretty different from what you’d find in a grocery store in the US. The goal is to put something edible together cooking out in the field. We enjoy it and it’s a great group of people.
AMJ: And it’s fun because it’s a way of bringing people together. There’s nothing like sitting around the table and having a good dinner together.
CP: Can you describe the volunteer group a little more?
PJ: This year, the group was half Chilean, half North American. Th is blend is interesting because both the Chileans and the gringos get to learn about each other’s culture, slang, interests. The program’s a rich cultural experience, too.
CP: Have you seen any changes in the program since last year?
PJ: Substantial improvements—much more organized—
AMJ: I think it’s a couple factors. Now the program is structured so that volunteers arrive and leave on Fridays, so that new waves of people come in at the same time. Second, the program now has a Volunteer Team Leader. We had the pleasure of working with Susan for the past two weeks, who is awesome. That’s really an improvement. The third is the reorganization of the volunteer base camp, especially the addition of a big communal tent where people can get together, have a coffee or tea, so that’s been very nice as well.
PJ: Communication as well has improved, between the white board inside the tent, which records plans for the upcoming weeks, the orientation meeting, and presentations for volunteers about the project, which really gives the overall picture of what we’re doing here to help form this park.
CP: What brought you back to the program for a second year?
AMJ: We really believe that helping to create a new national park is a once in a lifetime opportunity; that was a huge incentive for us to participate and to return.
CP: Thanks so much for your time, and safe travels!