Feb 1st – 5th, 2011
At the appointed time on the appointed day I headed out to find my bus. Turned out to take me a lot quicker than I had thought and gave me a 40min wait till departure. When the bus arrived I jumped in and was thrilled to see that I could get the seats at the door, what a score, air and I can see where I was going. 5minutes later I noticed two very confused looking Ecuadorians behind me looking at their tickets. What do you know, we have assigned seats! I apologised profusely and made my way near the back to seat 18 aisle. no air and no way of seeing where I was going. Well I waited and sweated a young boy came through selling some kind of frozen popsicle, the best 10cents I ever spent!
Surprisingly the bus left at precisely 2.30pm and we were soon on our way at top speed (which I think is the only speed). I had seen a few people with boxes of chicks getting on the bus and was not surprised by the cheeping sound coming from the family next to me. I did feel sorry for the poor, strange looking black chick that the young boy had a vice like grip on. It was particularly strange that it appeared to have a long tail… I then realised it was not a chick at all but a baby monkey.
The family saw my reaction and let me hold it, for the entire bus ride. He was tiny, barely the size of my palm, it sounded like he was only 15 days old and his eyes were just open. He clung to me and made cheeping sounds looking for safety.
I have since found out that it is a Chichico monkey or Tamarin monkey. They are the 2nd smallest monkies in South America. This was a Saddleback Tamarin. Black with a white moustache. Too cute and so in need of its mother and mothers milk. At one point it made its way up my shoulder and under my hair where it clung to me for dear life.
As the trip progressed I tried to convince the family to let me take the baby to the refuge with me, but through broken Spanish I was able to get from them that it was their sons pet and they couldn’t take it away from him… $30! Number 1 I didnt want to encourage the selling of wildlife and 2 I didnt have $30 on me. So unfortunately at the designated sign of Puerto Rio Barantilla I had to return the poor thing back to the family knowing, full well, that it would unlikely survive. A very sad start to my volunteering. I wish I could have done more.
Moving on to happier topics, I found the very big sign announcing I was at the location, went through the big metal gates and down the bank to the left to find my canoe…not waiting there for me.
Mmmm what to do, sit and wait was all I could think of. It was quite pleasant at the river but after 15min I started getting concerned.
Then low and behold a canoe appeared, woohoo, I grabbed my bag and set off to the waters edge, just as the canoe pulled up, the kids got out and told me they were off duty. Ok then guess thats not my canoe! As they were walking away another canoe appeared coming from the opposite direction and they pointed at that one. Ok then here we go this must be my canoe, I shouted : AmaZoonico: and they stared at me as they motored past… But luckily there seemed to be mutual agreement that the gringo (foreigner) looked quite pathetic and they came and picked me up. This wasnt the tourist canoe but a work canoe and no one jumped out to help me put my bags in. Eventually one realized they might be there forever if they left it up to me and took one of them. Then we were motoring down the river, me balanced precariously on the edge of the boat (it was full of bamboo so nowhere to sit).
When I arrived at the “dock” to AmaZoonico I was met by one of the long term volunteers. Pascal is from Germany and has been here for almost 6mths, he will stay for a year. He showed me to my room and gave me a debriefing in the kitchen. When he handed me the keys he said the short one was for the kitchen the other for the bar/curio shop (it took me over a week to realise the key lengths were the same but very tops of the keys were different lengths). When he gave me my sheets, stating “I think they are clean”, that was the end of the briefing and I left to settle in my room a little bewildered. My roommate is Karyn from Germany and is very quiet but has a lovely personality and is a very hard worker. She will leave in 2 weeks.
I wasn’t feeling so well and by the time dinner arrived I had a splitting headache and had already thrown up once. By the time I went to bed, unable to eat the pizza they had made, I had thrown up twice more. Brought on by dehydration with a touch of stress added into it.
Waking at 6am, feeling much better, I got dressed and wondered what to do. There was some fresh bread for breakfast and someone gave me some jam (we have personal stashes of food that become very important). Then I went upstairs (a total of 75) looking for Celine (France) who had already gone upstairs to start.
Finally finding her she showed me where the Bodega (food prep room) was and had me start cutting up choritos (small bananas) and platanas (plantains). It was all very confusing and there was no set system really. To start off I was following “Big Tour”, what a way to start, you have at least 6 buckets full of food (which is difficult when there is only 2 of you, luckily with me there was 3), and you walk the majority of the loop through the refuge, up and down numerous stairs. My biggest problem (other than the weight of the buckets) was that due to my height the buckets kept hitting the stairs as I walked, needless to say I have an array of interesting bruises.
Big Tour includes:
-Peccaries (wild pigs) that get lots of yucca
-Aves 2 (bird cage with macaws and parrots) that get lots of fruit. One of the macaws tried to redo my hair with its beak.
-Kinkajou cage 1 involves cleaning in the morning, food in the afternoon
-Jaguarundi (a feline that can jump 4m to catch a bird) feed meat and clean cage
-Kinkajou and agouti cage – clean and feed
-Pond – feed tilapia and turtles
-Capucin monkeys – clean and feed while they yell insults at you
-Ocelot cage (felines) – walk to check perimeter and check electric fencing in the morning, lob pieces of meat over fence in the afternoon.
All very exhausting at the end of it and in the heat and humidity even more so.
Our day lasts from 7am till 5pm, there is a lunch at noon, but we have to stay up in the general area in case a tour comes in. This makes for a very long day in sweaty, dirty clothes trying to avoid being bitten by the sand flies. But all in all its great fun.
On big tour again, new people do each tour at least 2 days in a row. Today was also “bebidas”, which means we have to take the empty bottles down to the canoe in preparation for new drinks arriving the next day. This is exhausting work, going up and down stairs with cases of empty bottles. At least I thought so until it was up and down with cases of full bottles.
Today I managed much better and dare say, may even be getting used to the heat a little. It was much like yesterday with chopping of fruit, cleaning of cages and feeding of animals. I did get to meet Beata, a spider monkey that lives at the center. It was quite a memorable introduction as she managed to get into the kitchen and we had to try get her out before she got into the food. She has an injury or deformity and is so used to humans that she will never be released, so she lives with us here. But it is very important that we don’t hand feed her or try and get her to sit with us, in fact we have to discourage her seeking attention as much as possible as it could cause potential problems with tourists.
I have hit a popular note with the volunteers due to my strings and making of bracelets (thank you hippies in Coffee Bay, South Africa, who taught me). I am even making some to donate to the shop to sell for the center. When I pulled them out I immediately had numerous orders and after a week am still trying to catch up on everyones. I even sold a couple of my fancier ones ($5 plus a bar of chocolate) to them.
Day 3 (the dreaded thursday)
On thursdays and mondays we have fruit delivery. This means lugging huge bunches of bananas, platanas, bags of papayas (pawpaws) and a variety of other fruit from the canoes to the Bodega and up the 75 stairs. My first attempt was a bunch of bananas and by the time I reached stair 68 I was seeing stars and battling to breathe. Toki (germany) luckily came along and grabbed it from me. I crumpled into a pile on and found myself shaking and crying. Note to self, start small. I managed another 2 trips with smaller bags of fruit and then focused on tidying the bodega.
It was also the day I started learning a new tour. Front tour is much shorter and has more variety. It includes:
– toucans – clean and feed avoiding the one that likes to bite your rubber boots
– Kinti and Tamien (baby woolly monkeys) need to have their enclosure cleaned and disinfected, all the time avoiding tamien who likes to pee on people
– Tamarin monkey is one of my favorites, she is super cute and does great acrobatics for you when you bring the food.
– Mono Loco (crazy monkey) is a capucin with rather severe mental issues and is kept alone, which doesn’t help his nervous behavior. We hope to neuter him and introduce him to the other capucin cage (we hope this will make him less aggressive)
– Barizo (squirrel monkey) – clean and feed, also super cute.
– Paca – walk up steep hill and throw food in, we are not sure if he is there but something eats it so we feed.
Am very excited as I get to go to Tena today, but first I have to survive another front tour and today is also Comida (human food delivery). Another day of lugging heavy, bulky things up the stairs from the boats up to the kitchen, really wish there was another way.
I was told I could leave at 3.30pm and get ready and the canoe would pick us up at 4.15pm. I got down and the others going said it would be there at 3.45pm….ahhh communication issues. Tossed on clean clothes (no time to shower), grabbed my stuff and went to get the canoe. It came at 4pm (go figure). When we got to the bus stop there was virtually no traffic and no bus coming from the direction we needed so we started walking. After an hour and 3km (didn’t matter missing the shower anymore) we were finally able to hitchhike and squished the bunch of us with another family in the back of a tiny pickup. It sounded like there was road issues a way back and everyone was help up, so we were very lucky to get this guy.
As I have been told hitchhiking is very safe here and the biggest danger is being killed in a car accident. Considering the speed limit is a suggestion, and extra fast is the only way with the cars usually driving in the middle of the road and honking as they come around the bend, I once again became fairly religious. But we made it to Tena about the same time the bus would have got there had it been on time.
Dinner, shower, sleep
There was a major festival going on in Tena with loud party music and fireworks. But Karyn, who had joined me, and I were only concerned with dinner and then shower. Afterwards I skyped the parents and then, both exhausted we went to bed, my bed being hard as a rock and hers being soft as a feather, we both assume the top bunk must have been just right.
the next day we ran errands, picked up supplies, checked emails (I didn’t get a chance to update blogs unfortunatley), and general administrative stuff. Turns out the late night entry into our room was Sara (canada) our head volunteer. She headed back early that morning.
While we were in the store we bumped into Lukas (Holland) who had come to town for the day to pick up supplies. Later on we got our tickets for the bus, picked up our wonderfully clean laundry and hung out till it was time to leave.
Party all night long
When we returned on the bus we got to canoe point and discovered there was no canoe… this seems to be a trend. Victor who lives there and usually takes us back was no where to be found, luckily Lukas had a phone and called in an emergency pick up from Liana Lodge, much to our appreciation as we did not favor hacking through the bush to get to the center.
Tonight was a huge fairwell party for 3 of the volunteers, and the music blared until 3am. I was in bed at midnight. Another exhausting day over and new one starting in a few hours.
Stay tuned for next week!