24.04.2007 - 26.05.2007 35 °C
Here is something I wrote whilst sitting on the jungle floor, the sun trickling through the canopy above, hanging with a jaguar called Sama...
...I´m entering my third day without showering and I haven´t changed my clothes in that time either. It´s been at least a week since I´ve washed my hair and god knows how long since I shaved. My clothes are covered in dirt, the same dirt that seems to have set up permanently under my fingernails. It´s been raining, and the following days are always cool and with only cold water available it seems easier to just not shower. Besides I feel somewhat cleaner after these three days than I do 15 minutes after showering in the heat, that´s about how long it takes for the sweat to begin trickling down my body again. One has a funny relationship with the rain when living in the jungle. When it´s raining, you wish it would stop, for even though you know it will only last a couple of days, it´s a couple of days where you and everything around you will be damp. After the rains, it´s the cool relief you´ve been waiting for and following are lovely, sunny, warm days without the humidity and the mosquitos washed away. After this, the heat, the humidity and the mosquitos grow everyday. You can feel the heat sitting upon your skin, showing itself in the droplets of sweat that cover your body. The build up is excruitiating. Every second thought is, "god, i wish it would rain"!!
My hands and ankles are covered in mosquito bites (although not nearly as bad as most) and I´m always on the look out for ticks and have stopped four in their attemt to burrow into my skin (I had three pulled from me in the end). My stomach is not handling the overload of carbohydrates and root vegetables - everyday it is rice, pasta, potatoes of some description, bread, supplemented with jam, dulce de leche, and oreos! Occasionally we get some sort of fried goodness and you wouldn´t believe how happy it makes us! I´ve been sleeping in a tent for the whole time after an unfortunate incident of a rat in my bed.
I am 16 days into my month long stay at Parque Ambue Ari. And I don´t think I can remember a time where I have felt so relaxed, useful, or happy. I spend my days amongst some of the most awesome people I have ever met, I get regular cuddles from a red howler monkey called Co-Co who also likes to lick my armpits and pull down my top to lick my chest (sounds gross, but you get used to it, he likes the salt!), I have overcome my fear of birds and fallen in love with parrot called Lorenzo and best of all I spend the majority of my day with Sama, a 9 year old jaguar who is in my care for the time I am here.
Parque Ambue Ari is run and owned by Communidad Inti Wara Yassi, a Bolivian non governmental organisation that runs animal refuges, two in Bolivia, the only of their kind in this country. I first heard about the organsiations other park, Parque Machia, from a girl I met in Chile. I had definitly wanted to fit some volunteering work in whilst I was in South America and the Parque sounded amazing. After looking at their website (www.intiwarayassi.org) I discovered they had another park, a newer one that needed more help with not only looking after the animals but in construction for building up the park.
Three months into my trip I found myself on a bus on the road from Santa Cruz to Trinidad, my destination Parque Ambue Ari, Km 348. I was petrified. I didn´t really know what to expect, I had learned from the website that the parque had only basic facilities and I was worried that my very limited spanish was going to be a problem. Frankly I was just suprised I had managed to get the right bus and even more suprised when I actually made it to the parque. As the bus pulled away, I was given my first view of the parque. It looked like some sort of headqaurters for Green Peace, at least, who ever did the signs for Green Peace seems to have done them for the parque also! I was greeted with a "hello", instantly putting me at ease, from an english lad called Andy. He looked like he had seen better days, dirty and wearing ripped clothing, long hair and beard. He lead me to the camp, a ramshackle collection of buildings, lovingly (if not a little sloppily) built, covered in paintings and slogans like "we put down roots here so goodness can grown". Hmm, I was more than a little worried that this place was going to be full of peace loving, group hugging hippies!
Andy handed me over to Frank, a 21yr old American guy in charge of newcomers, who took me into the comedor (dining room) to explain things to me and then showed me around. First stop was Co-Co, who immediately jumped onto me, arms around neck and mouth straight to the armpits! I didn´t think this was such a great move on his part after my 6 hour bus journey in the jungle heat with no air-conditioning! I had noticed a smell when I first entered the camp and as we moved around, the smell seemed to be everywhere, and I was hoping it was not coming from all the volunteers themselves! I later discovered the smell was coming from Panchita, the resident pig, lovingly called "Panchi" as she was chased away from anything she could possibly eat (I saw her wolf down concrete!), roll in (mostly sewrage) or destroy (her favourite was peoples tents - luckily not the one I was staying in, the only one still surviving).
Originally planning on only staying two weeks, I was talked out of this pretty quickly by any volunteer that I came across in those first moments in the camp. You had to stay at least a month to work with a cat and apparently this was something I should definitly want to do! I spent the next three days agonising over whether I had made the right decision. Would I be able to handle living in the jungle for this long - mosquitos, heat, bad food, only cold water, no electricity, and the big one, no alcohol allowed in the camp! I´d also seen plenty of "war wounds" - bites and scratches on the volunteers from their cats that had be more than a little worried. I was being passed around construction projects (not one my strongest skills) whilst waiting for Noemi, the resident cat matching Bolivian volunteer, to assign me a cat. Noemi apparently had a knack for matching up the volunteers with the animals. I wasn´t so sure when she assigned me Lorenzo, a blue and gold macaw, on my second day. I hate birds. Petrified of them. Lorenzo had his flight wings cut so short they would never grow back and Zhandro, the parque vet, had glued on another parrots wings. He needed to be fed away from the other birds who bullied him and also given daily flight practice. Luckily I was assigned him with another volunteer, Hannah, who was equally as petrified, we could give each other moral support when we were sure he was about to peck our eyes out!
Whilst waiting for a cat to be assigned to me, there were rumours that I would be working with a Puma, then an Oceleot and also with Sama, the jaguar. The third turned out to be the correct one. My fourth day in, Noemi assigned him to me and I started working with him the following day with his current carer, Liora. Sama is one of four jaguars at the parque, the only one that can be cared for by a girl because he isn´t walked (and he also prefers girls!). So I felt pretty lucky to have been assigned him.
It didn´t take long to settle into the routine of the parque. Each morning we are woken at 6:30 by the sound of the generator (the generator is used for the sole purpose of pumping water up to the park, there is no other power on the parque). By 7 we are hard at work preparing and feeding the animals that live around the camp. My morning job is always Lorenzo, whereas the other volunteers rotate on a weekly basis. After the feeding we do other morning jobs, like cleaning toilets (you always got this your first day in the camp) or preparing the comedor for breakfast. At 8, it´s breakfast time which is always bread, usually some fruit (I wasn´t much of a fan of papaya before, but can safely say I will never eat it again) and whatever else we have bought to brighten up the meal. By 9, we are on our way to our cats, water bottles in hand. We are back at camp around midday for a two hour lunch break. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day and usually the best. At two, we head back to our cats, this time meat bucket in hand. Working day finishes at 5, cold showers and then an early dinner around 6. Dinner is usually some sort of soup, not always the best, I´ve had a few nights of crackers and jam, it´s been so bad! After dinner, it´s tea or hot chocolate time, lots of cookies and usually a game or two of cards. Or we might be preparing for the mercado that we have been invited to attend, where we plan to have a stall to educate the locals about the parque. We´re lucky if we make it up to 9, then it´s time for bed, a long nights sleep needed for the early morning and long working day ahead. Some nights we head to Santa Maria, the closest town, a term I use loosly, more a collection of shacks, some which serve beer and pass for a pub. After a few beers we will be up on the dance floor, dancing to the only two 80´s music dvd´s they ever seem to play, whilst a group of Bolivian children stand on the outside and stare at us. Great nights but usually ending in frustration as we wait on the road all hours for the 11pm micro (bus) that never seems to arrive...
...That´s where I finished writing on that day 16. Of course there was much more to follow, like finally making it back into a bed only to have another rat keep me company another night, Panchi ransacking our room two nights in a row, Herbie the baby tapir who also liked to lick my chest, walking a puma called Wara, the mercado and the Bolvian children we hope we made an influence on, having fun machetting bamboo and banana trees in the jungle, Lorenzo proving he can actually fly by taking off and then crash landing after waiting for an enternity for him to come back after his little taste of freedom, two new cats arriving the park, Katie the jaguar and Tupac the blind puma, searching for a missing ocelot in the dark in the jungle, narrowily escaping drunken Bolivian mens attempts at kissing me, seeing a dead jaguar paraded around the nearest big town, Guarayos, meeting the very strange Menonites (Armish types) who have taken to slashing and burning the jungle for farming, playing football with the locals (ok, so more watching than playing on my part!) Mimi the pregnant coete and her lover Tromberto, setting off Faustino and Co-Co the house red howler monkeys...
Oh, and there were a few group hugs, but funnily, I didn´t seem to mind in the end.
There´s a seperate blog for Sama, cause he deserves it!
Photos can tell the rest...
All the volunteers on my last day in the parque.
Me and Co-Co
Me and Herbie
Faustina and Co-Co howling
Me and Pana Pana
Mimi and Tromberto
Me and demon monkey
Me and Wara
Vanesso the ocelot
Me and Lorenzo
Lorenzo and his one hand trick
Santa Maria Nights
Tina, Hannah, Frank and Me
The boys after playing the locals in a game of football
In our stall at the mercado
Painting animal tattoos
With the kids at the mercado
Me and Sama