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Volunteering at PAC

With a Face Like This…

Arriving at Phangan Animal Clinic, PAC, to start volunteering I am greeted by dogs of all shapes and sizes. From Chloe the 10yr old, possibly great dane mix, to the cutest little big personality of them all, DWAYNE! With a face like this and a personality to match!
Dwayne

Dwayne is one of the many puppies and kittens on Koh Phangan looking for homes, whether on the island with a local or expat or to be shipped over seas to the UK or US. PAC is there to help treat, neuter/spay, rehome and assist with travel arrangements to anyone interested. Lucky for Dwayne it wasn’t too long of a wait till he found his forever home. But he has forever left his pawprint on me, as one of the cutest I have ever met.

Voluntourism

Voluntourism is a new “it” phrase. It is the chance to give back to a community or animal center. I have participated in a number of voluntourism projects from Ecuador to Tonga. For me I prefer ones that are either free or low cost and at least provide food and or housing. As much as I would love to do some of the projects involving more high profile creatures, I just can not afford some of the fees required for a week or two, especially in developing countries where the cost to support a volunteer is no where near the cost of the program.

A friend of mine, Tony James Slater, who made a name for himself and his antics during his time doing his Divemaster on Koh Phangan a few years back, had also volunteered at the Phangan Animal Clinic. He recommended I look into it and see if they could use my animal nursing skills.

Phangan Animal Clinic

As I mentioned in a previous post, PAC is tiny hardworking animal clinic that offers free rabies vaccines and spay/neuter to strays and at a low cost for those animals with owners. They rely on the skills of long time nurse Por and assistant nurse Lot. Laura, the live in manager, has run animal shelters in Nepal and India and has made PAC her most recent mission. They also depend heavily on volunteers from all walks of life, from vets to nurses to handymen to anyone just wanting to lend a hand. Donations of supplies and cash are always needed and they make a great option if you are looking for a great cause to fundraise for. So please glance over their wish list and see if you can help in any way.

During my time helping out, I assisted with numerous spay and neuters.

Vet from UK and nurse assistant Lot

Vet from UK and nurse assistant Lot

A rather large and disturbing looking lump that turned out to be an enlarged hernia with most of the inside being outside the stomach wall.

Hernia pup

Hernia pup

IMG_6336
visiting vet fixing hernia

visiting vet fixing hernia

Stitching up the bungalow cat from my row of bungalows who had been attacked by a dog and a few other exams and flea treatments. It brought back memories of volunteering in the Amazon or on Tonga and it always amazing me at what you can get done with limited medication, supplies and no ventilators.

It is not only dogs and cats, PAC also helps wildlife that is brought to them, from turtles to monkeys.

Laura, Natasha (UK vet) and Por.

Laura, Natasha (UK vet) and Por.

Appreciation Well Deserved

To Por, Lot and Laura and all the volunteers that passed through PAC while I was there, thank you so much for a great experience and thank you for all you do. I hope to return and help out again next year!!

To read about different stories go to the Cases section of the PAC website
Or you can friend them on Facebook.

 

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Reflections of a Year Abroad…Part 1

2011 was an epic year in so many ways, good and bad. I still can’t believe that I visited 8 countries (9 if I can count Malaysian Borneo separately, I did have to go through immigration) in under 12months.

Ready to Go…

Here are a few flashbacks and memories. The titles are all linked to the first blog entry of that country with a few others scattered around. Hope you enjoy…

Peru

When plans to volunteer in Botswana fell through I felt I needed somewhere else to replace those months before heading to Australia and New Zealand. It’s not like any tickets were bought or anything, it was just something my mind had decided on, there had to be a country or two before. I was at a loss of where until a friend said “don’t you know someone in Peru?”. Why yes I did, a co worker from the Seattle Woodland Park Zoo. Fernando was our imported penguin expert for the new exhibit and all of us summer employees got on really well.

So I contacted him and it was on, Peru was destination 1. I honestly had no idea what to expert, I had never been to South America and the only Spanish I knew was hola. But ever the one to shrug off obvious adversities I booked my ticket the day after my 33rd birthday. Now only 4months and 5 days till I would leave.

Peru was amazing, and I loved every minute of it. Cusco is now one of my favorite cities, although next time I am definitely pre-dosing on the altitude tabs… Man that hit me hard.

Fernando and Me

Machu Picchu was at first unimpressive, just a ruined city in the rain… the the clouds parted and it all became clear why it was so revered as a must see, that and the thought of “what bloody crazy idiot would make his people lug thousands of stones up a mountain side that scares the living daylights out of on the bus ride…and down??”. Seriously, it was breathtaking.

Good Friends: Cathleen and Me at Macchu Picchu

Lake Titicaca, just giggle everytime I say that, was awe inspiring and I would love to go back. However, the port city of Puno was a real dump and I was glad for fellow traveler advice to avoid it as much as possible.

Lake Titicaca Local Kids

The worst thing to come from Peru : The altitude sickness that actually had me bed ridden for a day.

The best thing to come from Peru : A great new friend named Cathleen!

A reason to go back : I haven’t tried roasted guinea pig yet 🙂

Ecuador

I was almost to the point of buying tickets when my mom held out a newspaper article about volunteer travel. It had a 2 sentence blurp about Amazoonico Wildlife Refuge in Ecuador. The part that caught my eye was the minimal cost of $120/month for food and accomodation. Bonus! I dropped them a line and soon had that on the map. Or actually I couldn’t even find the town of Tena on the map, but Ecuador was right about Peru so how hard could it be.

42hours later my bus (with the locked bathroom) pulled into Quito. Have you ever experienced the need to pee so bad that you can’t… Let’s just say when I could finally see through the wall of water in my eyes, I was in love with the loos of Ecuador. At least the one in the daughter’s home of a lady I had met in Spanish class and who was kindly putting me up for a few days.

My two months at the refuge came with high highs and low lows. The first month was tough as I was the only new volunteer, all the others were girls averaging 21 and had Spanish as a common language. By now I think I could almost say my name and ask where the bathroom was. In short it soon became apparent I was back in highschool and … I still wasn’t popular. My amazing volunteer co ordinator, Sarah, took me aside and said “you can leave, or you can stay and it will change your life”. Who am I to argue with authority, I stayed and in that first month got through a good number of books and enjoyed my alone time since group time was in Spanish, which I was picking up quite well.

“Walking” a Monk Saki Monkey

The second month was much better, we had a new cycle of fresh blood, English became the common language, I was a senior volunteer (and ok I admit I love being the one who needs to teach others), and I discovered my gift for making cookies… That pretty much made me popular in high school! It was very hard to leave.

Beata Relaxing at Sunset

At the end of my time in the jungle I went to the ocean and saw blue footed boobies… again another thing that just makes me want to giggle.

The worst thing to come from Ecuador : Struggling with the volunteer dynamics that first month.

The best thing to come from Ecuador : Blue Footed Boobies!! Oh and discovering an inner strength.

A reason to return : Perhaps a chance to see the Galapogos.

Surprise Easter Visit

It turned out cheaper to fly back to the states and then to Australia rather than from Peru to Aus. So I found myself with 8days in the states. I decided to surprise my parents for Easter. Officially the best surprise I have ever pulled off. The first time they were ever speechless.

Australia

Australia and New Zealand were always on my list, part of the reason for this trip was to find a place I might want to live and since they were on the “most likely” list.

My first impression of Australia, especially after 3 months in South America, was “Oh shite!!! I can barely afford a coffee”. I was shocked at the prices and the Aussie dollar was stronger, of course that changed a few weeks after I left… I quickly worked out plans to mooch… I mean visit any friends and family I had, along with sorting work trade with hostels.

Yes my finger is down its throat


Forcefeeding Kookaburra at Currumbin Wildlife Center

Australia ended up being a country of many new experiences:
I attempted work trade at a farm that has now become known as the Looney Farm by all of us who were there.
I saw Koalas, Kangaroos, Platypus and many other strange and wonderful critters.
I saw friends I hadn’t seen in over 10yrs.
I shaved my head for charity.
I swam with manta rays.
I force fed Kookaburras.
I swam in a freezing lake.
It might have been expensive, but I have some amazing memories that are worth every penny.

Carolin and me!!


Carolin and Me on the Day I Shaved my Head for Charity

The worst thing to come from Australia: The cost.

The best thing to come from Australia: Shaving my head for charity.

A reason to come back: Friends and a little town called Coral Bay.

Tonga

I discovered this amazing organisation that spent a month on the island of Tonga every 3months running a vet clinic. I contacted them months before arriving and was super excited. Accommodation was included and there was no fee to volunteer. A great way to experience island life and do something good for the community.

This was a month of extremes, as it turned out there had been a misunderstanding and I went from being a vet nurse to designated pee/poop cleaner and coffee maker. But I had committed to a month and so I pushed through proving my skills on more than one occasion when they needed me to monitor during surgeries when no one else was available. I think one of the biggest problems was that I was there in the middle of a year long trip and to volunteer while reserving my finances, the others were there as a vacation and had money to spend.

My Favorite Puppy

At the same time I met some amazing people, locals and expats (including 4 South Africans, what are the odds) and got the chance to visit one of the outlying islands.

No Matter What, It Sure Was Pretty!

The worst thing to come from Tonga: My treatment by the other volunteers and the organisation.

The best thing to come from Tonga: Fulfilling my commitment and discovering an amazing culture.

A reason to go back: maybe for a vacation and not to volunteer.

I must admit I had a hard time finishing this post for some reason. So many things that go through my mind and writing this entry makes the journey complete. Luckily there are still many more to come.

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2012 in Australia, Germany, RTW, Travel

 

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Introspective Review of South America

South America was an after thought, if that is possible, I wanted a starting point and I knew someone in Peru, so why not. In truth I was petrified of the thought of heading down to countries where I didn’t speak the language, didn’t know the culture and the only thing I knew was that I had to wait for a canoe at some point to volunteer at a wildlife refuge.

You would think after traveling alone in countries like Cambodia, China and Vietnam, this would be a snap. But at the same time, nerves also mean you keep your edge, even if you feel like throwing up most of the time.

After spending 3.5mths in Ecuador and Peru I can truly say, I want to go back. I wish I had had more time to explore and to learn Spanish. Here are just a few things I managed to accomplish while I was there:
– surviving the altitude in Cusco, barely.
– visiting Machu Picchu, and meeting a great friend in the process.
– Exploring lake Titicaca, insert teenage boy giggling here.
– I survived not dying in a car accident while in South America, although I did become religious on more than one occasion.
– I got bitten by a Spider Monkey, then hugged by said monkey.
– Helped with a tail amputation on a wooly monkey.
– Been pooped on by a squirrel monkey.
– Developed biceps.
– Swam in the Amazon.
– Went horse riding for 4hrs through the mountains, and couldn’t sit for the next day.
– got to see blue footed boobies, insert teenage boy giggling again.
– Fell in love…with the beach of Puerto Lopez.
– Tried surfing, need way more lessons.
– got a tan while wearing a bikini.
– Met amazing friends, said goodbye to friends.
– Cried, laughed and danced.
– And most importantly survived with hardly any stomach issues!

All in all it was an amazing trip and it taught me a lot. I have grown a lot physically and emotionally and I have the scars on both to prove it. Thanks to all I met and all who supported me on my journey. Next leg involves Australia, New Zealand, Tonga and Sri Lanka, who knows what I will learn there.

To Cathleen, met in Aguas Calientes, you are like a sister to me, thank you so much for being there when I needed you through a fairly emotional part of the trip. I hope to meet up with you again soon my friend.

To Sarah Hayday, the head volunteer of AmaZOOnico: thank you so much for encouraging me to stay and for giving me the best advice ever – don’t make me coffee, make yourself coffee and surround yourself with people who will share their coffee with you.


At start of trip, nervous and very pale.

End of trip, beautiful vivacious well tanned and not afraid to dance on the beach all night

The scars to prove it

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Another Tragedy for AmaZOOnico

I just found out that Angelika, the co-founder along with her husband, Remiggio, of AmaZOOnico and the heart and soul of the refuge died a few days ago in a car accident. She was traveling with her family for vacation and the car collided with a bus.

Angelika first travelled to Ecuador around 20yrs ago where she met Remiggio, a local guide, they fell in love and she gave up everything in Switzerland to move to his remote village on the edge of the Amazon. Together they built AmaZOOnico and spread the word of wildlife conservation to foreigners and locals alike.

Her indomitable spirit and love of the jungle will surely be missed, and we hope that AmaZOOnico can survive without her vibrant energy. My thoughts and prayers go out to her family and everyone who is/has been involved with her amazing project and legacy.

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Puerto Lopez – Day 86 – 90: The BEACH!

April 2nd to 6th 2011

Mr. Sympathetic
After arriving in the Guayaquil bus station at 2.30am and finding it very difficult to find a bus to my chosen destination of Puerto Lopez, I settled in with a couple from Spain who were heading in the same general direction. Most of the ticket offices were closed, and there must be over 200 of them, but we had been pointed to one office that was meant to open at 4.30am. While we waited there was a rumor that we could take a bus to Salinas and then get another bus further up the coast. Right as we were on the verge to leave with it, a very nice gentleman explained that it was better to wait, as it wasn’t a guarantee we would get a bus and this bus station was larger and had more security. We decided to wait it out and chatted with him, he also spoke some English so was able to help me figure out my ticket too.

As fate would have it he was on our bus heading to Olon (from there I had to catch a local bus to Puerto Lopez) and it was quite fun having all four of us on the bus together. We all promptly fell asleep and at some point into the journey our new friend deboarded. I found out later that he had actually managed to get into the couple’s bag and steal their laptop, mp3 and phone. Makes you lose faith in human nature.

The Beach, I can see the Beach!
After 3.5hrs we reached the town of Olon and had to flag down the local bus, that speeds down the road at beyond top speeds. Finally reaching my destination after another 1.5hr drive at high speed down a very curvy ocean road (I think I am now praying to any God that will listen on these trips). I threw my bag on my shoulder and decided to just hoof it to the hostel, the town wasn’t that big. I found a sign pointing to the right and followed it. I came across a distinctly hostel looking establishment but it had no name. Turns out it was Sol Inn Hostel and so I went about getting myself booked in. This is where things first got confused. I asked for a private room on the first night and then transfer to a dorm, I just needed to sleep. I was quoted $10 and then pointed in the general direction of room 1 as the guy walked off. So lugging my bag up the stairs I went into what was supposed to be a sanctuary in my present state. It was instead littered with leaves and twigs and dirt (caused from the heavy rain the night before). I found the guy (turned out to be the manager, Darwin) and he apologised and promised to have it cleaned immediately. I sat and waited.

Over 10minutes later I went to find him and was told they were all on lunch. I just looked at him and said I need sleep now, I will take anything, a dorm room is fine. He directed me to a different room that was a 3bed dorm with a private bathroom. It looked perfect and I said yes. He mumbled something about “privado” and I assumed he meant there was no one else tonight so it was like a private, because obviously this was a dorm room.

5hrs later I emerged from a dead sleep feeling very refreshed and headed down to the beach, the amazing beautiful beach. As I stepped onto it I immediately fell in love with this tiny town. The beach is long and white (a minor trash issue), the water was warm and clear and the beach was lined with little shack like bars all serving the same stuff and playing the same music.

Eventually I decided to grab a drink and stood in a daze trying to decide which one of the little beach bars to choose. Its kind of like standing at the cheese counter in an upmarket store in the States, just too many to choose from. One seemed to draw me in and I went and found, what was soon dubbed, my hammock. A particularly nice looking bartender brought me a menu and I ordered a chocolate shake. When he brought it to me he also brought a table and said “para mi princessa” (for my princess). I think I am going to like this bar. So sitting in MY hammock watching the ocean listening to Bob Marley and some 80’s remixes it felt about as close to heaven as you could get and well worth the trip.

Enter Boris, a rather skinny weasely looking Ecuadorian who seemed intent on talking to me. Its not as if I felt creeped out or anything but I just really wanted to relax on my own. He chatted a bit about tours and things to do and asked where I was from. I replied and was cordial but eventually, at the end of my shake, I decided I needed dinner so said my farewells. As I left my yummy bartender asked my name and asked if I would come back that evening as it was Saturday night and there were usually more people around then. I said yes.

Saffers are everywhere
During my time in the jungle one of the best tours I did was with a group of South African students. The last group of people I ever would have thought to encounter there. As I was walking down the sidewalk of Puerto Lopez, looking for dinner, I suddenly heard a young man say “I knew it was you”. And low and behold but guess who was there, the group had come to the beach for a couple of days. It was great seeing them and they greeted me like an old friend. I walked with them to meet the rest and I got hugs all around. Apparently the pic they took of me (looking bedragled after severe rain) was all over facebook. It was great seeing them but unfortunately they were heading out of town that day. Its a small world after all.

Dinner and beer in my hammock
After saying cheers I decided to eat where they had and ordered some fish and chips. The thought was to have a quick dinner and then go back to the bar for a beer. It appeared they had to catch my fish as it took over an hour for it to be cooked, and I was 1 of 2 customers. However, I just ran across the street to take some pics as I waited.

Finally finished I headed over and was able to recline in my hammock with my large beer (a whopping $1.25) and watch what remained of the sunset. This was heaven…until Boris showed up again. He chatted away, inviting me to his bar for a free drink etc etc… He even insisted on paying for my drink, I argued on that one just a little bit. But eventually I explained how tired I was and headed back to the hostel. My bartender waved goodbye as I left.

Mitch the Aussie
When I got back to the hostel, I discovered a rather dashing young man playing with himself, pool that is. His name was Mitch from Gold Beach Australia and he was actually trying to learn how to cheat at pool. We ended up playing a couple of games and I came fairly close on one of them, think I needed a second beer as I always play better when I have a slight buzz. By the 3rd game 2 local kids had shown up, about 5 and 7, apparently they are there every night and are child prodige pool sharks. They made it their mission to teach me how to win, and I fear I failed them as a student. There is nothing quite demoralising as having two kids act completely disappointed at your ability to hit a ball right in front of you.

So as I headed to bed, I hung my head in shame and we let them take over the table.

Blue Footed Boobies
Today was my tour to Isla De La Plata and my chance to see Blue Footed Boobies. My trip to South America would now include Lake Titicaca and Blue Footed Boobies, I was content and this section of travel has been worth it.

I met up with my tour and we boarded out little boat out to the island. Heidy was our English speaking guide and was really good. A tiny 5ft petite Ecuadorian girl with lots of knowledge of the area. I made some new friends with a group of Americans and soon we were enjoying the sea air as we jetted across the waves. It would take at least an hour to get there. About half way through we were welcomed by a huge pod of Spotted Dolphins, apparently rather rare at that time of year and never that close, under the boat and all around us. Truly amazing.

When we got to the island we had a bathroom break with little buddies, crabs. Most of the girls came running out screaming, I went running in with my camera. Gives a whole new meaning to “catching crabs in the bathroom”. Finally it was time to search for the Blue Footed Boobies (insert hysterically giggling here). The island was quite desolate and very hot, and we had 201 steps to walk up to get to the top. I hate stairs. But at the top our very first juvenile Boobie was there to greet us, I think he must be on the pay roll. The entire hour and a half walk was incredible. We saw longtailed mockingbirds, candelabra catcus, small lizards, frigate birds and of course numerous boobies. They just sort of stood there and looked at us as if to say “yes I have blue feet, do you have a problem with that?”.

All to soon we ended the loop and headed back to the boat where we were given lunch and moved on to a snorkeling spot. We were lucky enough to see a green turtle on the way and at the spot there were numerous colorful fish all around the boat. A fantastic day all in all. Afterwards some of us headed to grab a drink, my bar (Oscars Bar) was closed so we went to another. One of the guys had agreed to be my boyfriend if Boris showed up, but wouldn’t you know it, it looks like I had been dumped for another couple. Oh well I wasn’t really into the relationship.

Back at the hostel I hung out with my new friends Mitch and Connie (Wales). Heidy also happened to be there so we all hung out till 11pm. Great times, great friends.

Agua Blanca
On Monday Anya, met her the day before on the boat, and I decided to grab a moto (small tuk tuk 3 wheel transport type thing) and head out to Agua Blanca. Famous for the historical significance of the settlement and the sulfur pool, the local community has truly embraced this and made quite a decent living off tourists coming to visit. The ride was great fun and our driver was hysterical.

At the community there was a small museum that we were taken around and had everything explained to us, all in Spanish and I could understand and translate most of it for Anya. Then we took the moto to the sulfur pool and were greeted by the overwhelming smell of rotten eggs. We were given the option to swim if we wanted, but we both declined. We did however put the mud all over our faces. Heading back we stopped at a view point and then went back to town. We grabbed a drink at Oscar’s Bar and just relaxed.

The plan was to meet Anya at the bar at 7.30pm, so I headed back to relax and take a nap. At the appointed time I headed to the bar and waited, and waited and waited. Chatted with one of the local guys, Felix, and Gustavo. When Felix got up to leave Gustavo (the bartender) started asking me about my family and where I was from. Then he asked if I wanted to join him in the morning to go to another beach 15min by bus up the coast. I thought what the heck and said yes. Later I got a free mojito. Some other friends showed up and it turned into a great night.

Private Beach
Just before 9am I headed to the bus station, picked up some rolls and a piece of cake (it was Gustavo’s birthday) and waited. It turns out Ecuadorian time is 25minutes later, but no worries. Soon we were on the bus and heading to the beach. It was spectacular, white sand, black rocks, no trash and littered with interesting shells. We spent the morning collecting shells, sunbathing, swimming and generally hanging out. Since he spoke virtually no English we communicated in Spanish and it turned into a great Spanish lesson. When the sun became too hot we headed back into town.

Gustavo’s Birthday Party
My small group of new friends, Connie – Wales, Mitch – Australia and Heidy – local, headed over towards Oscar’s Bar to celebrate Gustavo’s birthday. When we got there the bar was still closed so we went and had a beer next door. We decided to pick up a couple of bottles of rum as the guys had promised to make us free drinks if we brought the alcohol.

When they finally arrived it turned into a humdinger. Great music, great fun and great friends. The biggest surprise was seeing Michi from AmaZOOnico, he had come to meet a friend who ended up knowing Gustavo and so both came to the party. enter “It’s a small world” theme music. We danced and drank and had a whale of a time. Gustavo being shy ended up spending most of the time making drinks or playing DJ. At one point Oscar, bar owner, grabbed both of us and made us dance salsa along with everyone else. A great night, and one that required ibuprofen, a large bottle of water and sleeping in till 11am. Luckily my medical precautions prevented any serious after affects.

Dinner with Friends
Wednesday was a lazy day. I went to buy my 11hr bus ticket to Quito for the following day and spent most of hte day relaxing at the hostel or on the beach. I had planned to make dinner for everyone, Pasta Italiano, I invited Gustavo when I bumped into him on the beach, but due to a disagreement with the hostel owner he didn’t like to go there. So we agreed to hang out afterwards for a beer.

The dinner was delicious and I managed to feed 5 of us, I will really miss my new friends, hate having to say goodbye. Then I headed to the beach and hung out with Gustavo for the evening.

All in all I think I have fallen in love with this little beach town, and have made amazing friends along the way… perhaps I should come back????

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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IN MEMORY OF TULAN

I recently heard that our sweet and beautiful Tulan, wooly monkey, died from parasites and complications 2 weeks ago. She was raised by humans and could never adjust to living in the wild, no matter how hard we tried. When she took poorly due to a particularly nasty parasite she became our office monkey and a constant companion during our break times.

We will all miss her sweet face and gentle calls and hope to meet her at the Rainbow Bridge with all of our beloved creatures who have passed.

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Baños to Rio Bamba to Guayaquil – Day 85

April 1st 2011

The Transport gods’ April Fools Joke
As much as I loved Baños and as much as Asef tried to convince me to stay, mainly to be his paparazzi on a bungee jump, I headed off on the 11.15am bus to Rio Bamba, a 3 hour drive. The plan was to meet up with Flavio and Iho (Kichwa volunteers from AmaZOOnico) at the bus station, hang out for the afternoon and then take the overnight bus to Guayaquil and onto Puerto Lopez.

The Transport gods apparently have a great sense of humor, for when I got to the station they all said there was no bus at that time and the next one only left at noon. Please note I had double checked the times yesterday. So I bought my ticket, found an internet cafe and sent a message. Then I wondered around watching the candy makers pulling their taffy type candy and picking up a few delicious treats. One guy even gave me a taste of the hot gooey taffy he was pulling.

Finally it was time to board and as the bus pulled away I figured out I had scored and got a row to myself. Even if the guy in front had reclined his seat so far I could almost see his middle parting. Before we got out of the parking lot though, 3 people jumped on and wouldn’t you know it one sat next to me. I must admit that even though the Transport gods seem to be having a blast they did give me a little compensation this time, as my seat mate turned out to be a very handsome young backpacker from Israel. He made me guess his home and was very impressed when I guessed correctly. Then we mulled away the time talking about everything from travel writing and volunteering to the political situation in Israel. You never know who you are going to meet and what interesting conversations the meetings may lead to.

All to soon the bus pulled into Rio Bamba and I was deposited on the sidewalk. I figured waiting inside the bus station was the best option but after an hour of waiting I became concerned. Eventually I saw Flavio walking up. Turns out there are 2 bus stations in Rio Bamba and the initial bus I was supposed to be on went to the other bus station. This day just keeps on getting better and better.

It was great hanging out with Flavio all day, we walked around, went to a small craft market and then met up with his friends in time to see the parade celebrating the city’s anniversary. It was fantastic fun with dancers performing all forms of traditional and modern dancing.

At the end of the parade we went and had pizza and beer and then headed back to the bus station. My bus only left in 3hrs but I didn’t mind waiting and they had some others to meet up with. The ticket lady allowed me to come in the back and I was able to squeeze in a quick nap.

Now this is where the true April Fool’s Joke was performed, courtesy of a deity with a great sense of humor. I had been told by friends that the trip was 15hrs and so, in my great wisdom, I bought 2 seats allowing me to sleep. However, they overstuffed the bus and I wasn’t going to make the little old lady sit on the floor, I also, however, was not going to let her pay for her ticket as I had already bought that seat. She tried to pay me but I said to keep it. Then the trip turned out to be only 6hrs and the driver did it 4hrs, leaving me at the Guayaquil bus station at 2.30am…

Luckily my good karma with the old lady’s seat guided me towards two other foreigners. But again, the sense of humor of the powers that be prevailed, they were from Spain and spoke only Spanish… At least we were able to make ourselves understood and had company.

Some random pics of Baños:

Funny thing was there were nightly buses taking tourists to the top of the volcano in the hope that it would errupt. Maybe we were the sacrifices.

Some Pics from Rio Bamba:

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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AmaZOOnico – its a wrap

Deciding to volunteer in the jungle of Ecuador was more of an afterthought that an actual plan. In fact the entire decision to visit South America was an afterthought when plans to volunteer in Botswana fell through. A friend reminded me of a work mate I knew in Peru, and then my mom found an article about volunteering in Ecuador. Well Ecuador was right above Peru, sounded like a perfect fit.

I spoke no Spanish, had never been to South America, was not a fan of rice and beans and yet here I was merrily buying a ticket for my first leg of a year of travel and heading down south. And I will never regret it for a moment. it has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life and volunteering at AmaZOOnico has made me stronger and (not to sound corny) a wee bit wiser. Here are a few shots from my life there and some of the amazing animals I worked with:

VIDEO: My lodgings – The Volunteer House

VIDEO: Toucans – the one trying to get into the compost bucket is the one who had a vendetta against my boots

Blue and Yellow Macaw with Amazon Parrot - they mate for life



VIDEO: Dobbie showing his intelligence

VIDEO: Enrichment with Tamarin monkeys











 
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Posted by on April 25, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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AmaZOOnico Day 71 – 81 – week 8 In the Jungle

March 18 – 28 2011

Week 8

Canoe gods do not like me
Returning from Tena, Celine made the joke that the canoe would be late as I was with them. She had no idea how right she was. Not only was it late, it never showed up. We even called and asked them to double check if we had been forgotten, and apparently the canoe had just left. We had arrived at 3.30pm and around 5pm we were able to hitch a ride with Remiggio (the head boss) who was passing by. As we were heading towards the refuge we saw the canoe (that had left for us at 3.30pm) speeding past to pick up tourists. It turns out the canoe had left but the driver had decided to stop for a beer and make only one trip to pick us and the tourists up. got to love the thought processes here.

Tilapia!!!!
Tilapia is a very tasty fish originally from Africa but is now found all over South America and Asia. It has a very light white meat and is not fishy at all. One of our Kichwa volunteers, Freddy, was leaving and all he had been dreaming of since he arrived was catching the tilapia in the caimen pond. So for his fairwell our manager, very out of character, agreed to let us catch some and have a good old fireside get together.

Freddy and the cooks had cleaned the fish, stuffed them with palmetto stem and wrapped them in banana leaves. We then roasted them over a roaring fire and when they were all ready sat around with good friends and unfolded this spectacular feast, it went great with beer.

When it rains, it pours and pours
One of our volunteers from Germany, Toki, who is staying for almost a year at the refuge is known for a severe dislike of leading tours. So when she insisted on leading one instead of me we were all surprised. There might have even been a joke about it starting to snow. About 3minutes after she left to start the tour, the sky turned black, thunder rolled and the worst torrential downpour I have ever seen started. It lasted well into the afternoon, and meant we were all soaked through. It also started a week long rainstorm, that had us all scrambling to find some form of dry clothes and dry underwear.

Note to self: never let Toki voluntarily take tours.

Who would have thunk it
Just as I was debating whether or not to change my clothes and risk wasting a pair of perfectly dry underwear, a new group arrived. No one would have believed it, but it was a group of South African students on exchange. It was fantastic talking to them. A great bunch of kids and in true South African fashion we were soon discussing rugby, the recent FIfa world cup and biltong.

They were from a highschool in Kimberly and were a great mix of English, Afrikaans and Zulu speakers. Its funny how comfortable you feel when you are around folks from your home country. Wish I had taken a picture of the group, was just so surprised to have them there.

Our insomniac, narcoleptic kinkajou
We have a group of kinkajous, a type of possum/raccoon family, and for the most part they are nocturnal. Meaning they sleep during the day, which makes cleaning the enclosure much easier for us. However, there is one particular female who is a bit of an insomniac and comes out during the day. She tends to hang on the cage upside down and hiss at us but then fall asleep (hence the narcoleptic). She is too funny but can also be very dangerous. On this particular day I was teaching our new volunteer from Spain, Victor, big tour. When we got to the kinkajou cage all were sleeping, so I had him clean the main feeding area and I went in with the broom, for protection, to clean the ponds. I barely got through one pond when she woke up and started heading straight at me. I moved rapidly out of the way and into the safety of the feeding cage. We decided to clean the pools the next day.

The discovery of Kathy’s Coconut Delights
While doing the major kitchen clean, I had discovered a half bag of coconut and decided to experiment with Sarah’s Jungle Chip Cookie recipe and see if I could make something different. So adding the coconut and some oats, putting the dough in a flat pan vs small balls and dribbling melted chocolate over the top, my new creation was created and assured my name would go down in Jungle Cookie history.
The recipe goes something like this:

Kathy’s Coconut Delights
1 cup butter – beat it
2 eggs – beat it
1 teaspoon vanilla – beat it
1 cup brown sugar – beat it
1 cup white sugar – beat it
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup flour
1 cup oats
1 cup coconut
(continue to add the last 3 until reaching a consistency you are happy with)

Mix all together, spread a think layer in pan and bake at about 200C for about 15min, continue baking until center seems cooked, beware of burning. Dribble melted chocolate over top.

Capuchin monkeys and onion addictions
For some reason Capuchin monkeys love onion peels. They used them to squeeze some of the onion juice out and then rub it all over their bodies, almost like an onion bath. We suspect it might have something to do with it creating a barrier against insects, but then again they just might like the smell.

A tour with Luis
With my last week rapidly zooming to a close, I decided to do a tour with one of the guides who bring tourists. It is always a bit sketchy going with these guys as they seem to spend most of their time trying to convince you to go dancing with them, or do a “private” tour. As it turned out the guide I had hoped to go with, Pedro, was not around to ask and so I ended up going with Luis. He had led a couple of hte others on a tour and they assured me he was a good guy.

Heading off we went up river for almost 30min, love a good canoe ride. Finally pulling in at a small inlet. We hid the fuel and gear box in some bushes and then started climbing up from the bank. About 10minutes into the hike we reached a particularly high, slippery rock that Luis just scampered up. Me on the other hand would have had to be dragged up as there was no way I could figure out how to get up. So Luis decided on an alternate route and we headed back to the canoe. A bit further up river we pulled in again and started hiking, straight up a very muddy bank. Luis kept turning around and asking me “complication?” every time I fell behind. But in the end made it to the top and had a great 3hr hike through the primary forest. He showed me all different plants and told me their properties, we saw a few birds, some very cool insects and near the end he showed me the fruit used for ceremonial face painting. We always laughed at the tourists who arrived with face paint and here I was getting myself decorated with it.

Back in the canoe he picked 2 orchids for me and helped me put them in my hair and then took a couple of pics. After that we headed to a pretty cool swimming spot where 2 rivers converge and there is a great place to sit on the rocks. He stripped down to his undies and jumped in and then commented on why I was still wearing shorts. For some reason wearing shorts just seemed appropriate, and I was right. He tried to get all lovey dovey with me. I kept saying “No LUIS!” and he kept mumbling something in Spanish along the lines of “it doesn’t mean anything”. This was indeed a “complication”. Finally he got the hint and we ended up heading back about 15minutes later (much to his disappointment). I could have kept the tour going longer and seen some other things but I was kind of over it after that, and so paid him the $30, and had him drop me off at Liana Lodge, as I had a date with a much more gentlemanly man, a monk saki monkey. When I got to the lodge Angelika asked if I had survived my tour with Luis, apparently I wasn’t given all the information I should have been…

Walking the monkey
No this is not a euphemism for something, it is in fact what I got to do on my day off. As I had mentioned in the previous blog, Angelika (the owner) was raising a young monk saki monkey and needed a volunteer to take him out for an hour or so to climb the trees and get some sun. Having a day off meant I was a prime candidate to do this.

Heading over to Liana Lodge on a canoe heading that way, I walked to the house and was handed the monkey. She told me to just walk around and make him climb in the trees, but be careful because he sometimes climbs too high and he hasn’t learnt to come down yet. Well that didn’t make me nervous at all, the prospect of losing her pride and joy up a tree. Also if the dog tried to attack him I had to protect him. Yup no pressure there at all.

He huddled on my shoulder making the little chirping noises and every time I tried to put him in a tree he started screaming and then would look so pathetic and reach up to me. Eventually after about 15minutes he felt confident enough to start exploring and then I had a mad dash to get him before he went to high into the tree. I decided to focus on palms as he could climb quite high and when I needed to get him I could bend the palm and collect him. It was super cute but when he sat on my shoulder it felt like I was wearing a fur muffler and it was a scorching day.

My biggest surprise was to realise he was toilet trained, as he would reach for a branch, climb onto it and then pee. He never once pee’d on me. When the hour was up I headed back to the house and have never seen him happier, he bounded inside and up the stairs past the huge cat that gave him the evil eye, making chirping sounds all the way up.

My forest guard
Heading back from Liana Lodge I decided to walk. Luka the lodge dog decided to walk with me and nothing I did would persuade him otherwise. It was kind of neat having him walk with me and when we got back to the house he headed straight upstairs and to my room. I think he likes me…
But in the end I had to get a canoe to come pick him up and take him back. That night there was a crazy storm and he was back at the house waiting for me o let him in to my room where he curled up next to my bed and promptly fell asleep.

Enrichment with Tamarins part 2
Since the raisins in the leaf package was such a hit I decided to try a similar trick hiding them inside the shell of a passion fruit (granadilla). It was hysterical watching them. Mia could smell them but took about 5minutes to figureo ut how to get them out and Kiwi was doing cartwheels and yelling for one. They really are my favorite of the animals.

Just being happy
the male capuchin monkeys are always, how should I put it, “happy to see you” when tours come around. This often leads to nervous laughter and the occasional awkward moment when a child says “look he is waving at us with out hands”. On one particular tour, I had a mixed group of adults from around the world and this amused them to no end. As we ended the tour and we got back to the bar, one American hippie in his 60’s, leant over and whispered “I am happy to see you right now”. I didn’t know whether to be shocked or fall on the ground laughing. Too funny the characters you meet while working in the jungle.

A day from hell
After 4/5 days being solid downpour and not having enough clothes to constantly switch into something dry, I woke up feeling like death warmed up. I could barely talk and had a ghost of a headache forming. We started preparing food and almost as soon as we headed out a German and English tour arrived, taking 2 of the 4 older volunteers and leaving me with 2 brand new kichwa volunteers. I had to finish front tour with Ivan, then head out and do big tour with him. When I realised I had forgotten the keys I went back to get them and found Rene standing there looking very nervous about feeding the capibaras (who were waiting inside the feeding cage). Turns out Nora had to take a tour and the only people left to complete all the feeding were the 2 new kichwas and me. Oh happy days. I told Rene to follow and we completed big tour and most of monkey tour. Then as we were cleaning up I was called to lead a tour. Joelle (manager) had been taking the tour but had been called to a meeting with the big boss, she introduced me as “this is Kathy, please be gentle with her as she is sick”. It turned out to be a great tour and having to put on my tour guide personality let me take the focus off feeling crappy.

After lunch I felt much better, and even found my sense of humor. We were planning to go to Angelika and Remiggio’s house around 6pm, so I made some roasted peanuts to go with the cookies I had made and headed down early to get dinner started for us.

Drinks with the boss
Sarah, head volunteer, had been planning to have all the volunteers visit Angelika and Remiggio at least once a month to create a better bond and experience for all. The pair of them have so much knowledge and stories between them that it was a great opportunity to pick their brains. I had baked some cookies and roasted some peanuts to take over and at 5.30pm we all gathered to get going. At that precise moment, Ivan (kichwa volunteer) sauntered past in a towel heading for the showers. We all groaned and told him to hurry. Got to love Ecuadorian time. Eventually we got going and headed out arriving precisely on time.

Angelika handed us all frosted glasses with white wine and ice. I think we were all more excited about the frosted glasses than anything else, and there were more than one of us holding it to our faces. It was a great evening and we learnt all about how the place got started, the issues and the experiences. When she first moved in with Remiggio and his family they lived in a traditional hut, it took 3weeks to get to Quito (now only 8hrs), they had to take a canoe to get everywhere and they lived on local fair (which is very different to Switzerland). When they were trying to decide what to do someone mentioned the need for a wildlife refuge, almost the instant they decided to do that people started showing up with boatloads of animals. So it was straight into the fire when they got started. But after 18yrs of learn as you go, they have set up this amazing place.

If you are interested in learning more about the foundation or the refuge look at this site: http://www.selvaviva.ec/selvaviva/ . They are always in need of volunteers and financial support. I learnt so much working there and would do it over again if I ever have the opportunity.

At the end of the night Remiggio offered to take us back in his canoe, which made everyone’s night. It was the best canoe ride ever, in complete darkness, speeding down the river. Somehow he knew exactly where to pull in and managed a perfectly landing. I can see why she fell for him.

Tilapia round 2
Michael the manager was in a fantastic frame of mind this week and allowed us a second round of tilapia for dinner. This time we needed to catch quite a few and so lowered the level of the pond, Eddison and Ivan (both Kichwa) did the catching, using circular nets. Considering we knew there were hundreds of fish in the pond, it appears as if they hide very well and it took over 2 hours to catch 65 (half the number we hoped for). But all in all it was a good catch. The fish were cleaned and wrapped in preparation for the big party in honor of Toki’s birthday and a fairwell for a few of us.

This time our Kichwa chef was Ivan, the volunteer who replaced Freddy. He prepared the fire and was super excited to be cooking the fish, which of course was amazing and delicious. Once we had all eaten we gathered for a group photo and then the party games began. For some reason at some point of being manager, Michael created a game where you have to make it all the way around a table without touching the ground. For the select few that posses monkey blood it was no problem at all. For the rest of us it was a good laugh and a bruise or two. At the end of the night when the young’ens decided to blast electronica music most of us old folks headed to bed. It was a great evening and I can never get enough of tilapia wrapped in banana leaves roasted over a wood fire.

Sorting for departure, hammock accidents and cakes
During the day I had made sure all my monkey clothes were washed. This involved hand washing them in the laundry room and then hanging them on the lines outside my room. But at least it meant the others could use them after I left.

2 nights before my departure we were all sitting relaxing in the living room and reminiscing about the table game from the night before. At some point Yvonne (Germany), said she used to be able to spin herself in the hammock. There was a moment silence and then the game was on. This is what happens when you leave volunteers to their own resources. Yvonne managed it with little effort, followed by Nora (Germany), Nicola (Italy), Victor (Spain) and Leo (Switzerland). Then all eyes turned to me as I was trying desperately to meld with the shadows. I am not a fan of heights and even though it does not seem very high, when you are wrapped up inside a hammock facing the floor it can be intimidating. I managed to get myself half way over and then started laughing (and crying) out of nerves and the ridiculousness of the situation. At this point Leo and Nicola decided to lend me a hand, great to know you can depend on your friends. They got me flipped over and facing the floor but we were all laughing so hard that they took a 5sec break on that with me trapped inside the hammock. That was all it needed for the small rip to become a big rip. With a very loud rippppinnnnngggg sound I was deposited unceremoniously on the floor, curled in the fetal position laughing and crying all at the same time.

Everyone was laughing so hard that no one noticed that I wasn’t moving, eventually through their laughter someone said “is she ok?”, I managed to raise my hand and say “I’m ok…owww”. But I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t move, breathe or even have sound come out. After about 5minutes I was eventually able to uncurl and become the butt of numerous jokes, all in good fun. I also had a stunning bruise that lasted for 2 weeks as souvenir. Oh what fun is had with bored volunteers.

On my last night we built a fire, I was asked to bake cookies and my wonderful lead volunteer, Sarah, baked a lemon cake. Nora made pizza, at my request, and we played a game called lobo loco (crazy wolf) until midnight. In the game everyone is giving a card which designates either a citizen, wolf, or someone with a special power. After each round the wolves kill someone and the rest have to guess who it is. Usually I am terrible at the game and am almost always killed in the first round by everyone saying I am a wolf, and I am nearly always a citizen. Reasons given range from:
“She wiggled”
“She isn’t talking enough”
“She is too still”
to “Just because”
But on this round either everyone was giving me a fairwell break, or the new volunteers looked more suspicious. I even managed to win 2 rounds.

Final Farewells
I have always hated farewells for as long as I can remember. They are so depressing and make you want to never travel. But the key downside to travel is that you have to leave. Even with all the ups and downs I had experienced the last few weeks had been great and I was tempted to stay a few more weeks. At the farewell I looked at Sarah and she read my mind and said “you can’t have 2 farewells so don’t even go there or I will throw you in a canoe right now, there is a reason for the saying go while the goings good!” She was right as usual.

As the time drew near I wanted to walk round and take some more pictures but at the same time I didn’t want to say farewell to all the amazing animals I had worked with. At the designated hour, everyone gathered at the canoe landing and with much hugging said farewell. Sarah threatened to throw me in the river if I cried, so I waited till I was in the canoe. She also gave me the secret to the river, and why she never swims in it. Lets just say it has something to do with the location of the quarantine clean up for the sick animals (just up river). Mmmmm oh well, the water is brown anyway.

After a tearful farewell, I rode off into the sunset (well not quite) and never looked back (thats a lie). I will truly miss that place and the fabulous people and animals I worked with. And if my bug bites ever heal there is a good chance I may go back.

Thanks for everything AmaZOOnico, its been fun!

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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AmaZOOnico Day 64 – 70 – Week 7 in the Jungle

March 11 – 17 2011

Week 7

The Making of a Great Lunch
For the longest time the other volunteers have visibly flinched every time I was on the dinner roster and I had been trying to take a back seat on dinner prep. Usually, out in the real world, I am a pretty good cook, but with limited and unfamiliar ingredients I found myself holding back on spicing things up. However, after Nora made the most amazing pizza sauce for dinner last night I decided to make a veggie pasta sauce for everyones lunch and use her left overs as the base. I managed to scrounge up some eggplant, green pepper, onions, lots of garlic, tomatoes and anything else that looked vegetable like, sauteed them and then added them to the sauce. Pour over spaghetti and everyone refused to believe that I had made it. Not only that, but when the folks on dinner failed miserably there was still an excellent backup left over from lunch. Woohoo, there is hope for my jungle cooking skills yet.

Mail Glorious Mail
Nothing brightens your day in the jungle than getting mail from friends, especially mail filled with chocolate. At the Monday morning reunion Angelika, the big boss, handed over a card from Australia (thanks Deb) and a package from Chile (thanks Cathleen). She looked very confused and asked if I really was from South Africa since I was getting packages and letters from all over. When everyone saw what was in the package they didn’t believe that I had only met Cathleen 2mths prior and we had only travelled for a week. You meet great friends while you are exploring and I am forever grateful for that…and the chocolate that was sent.

Canoe Rides
I can honestly say my favorite part of being in the jungle were the canoe rides. There is nothing quite like speeding down the river in a small canoe, with huge trees passing by you and the occasional monkey seen leaping from limb to limb. It’s fantastic and awfully refreshing, kind of jungle air conditioning if you would. On a day off it turned out there were no tours going from Liana Lodge that I was interested in, so I decided to ride the canoes. Leo (Switzerland) was heading to Tena so I caught a ride with him, then back to the lodge. About 30minutes later they needed to take the canoe out again so got to ride it back and forth again. Think I managed a good 3 or 4 times in the canoe, was great fun.

Meeting kitties and an awfully cute monkey
During my canoe forays back and forth I took some time to visit Angelika and meet her cats. She loves all animals but has a special soft spot for cats. The biggest and most beautiful is her pride and joy, by the name of Puma. And that he is with the biggest set of yellow eyes that are pure judgement when they look at you. He is the king and he knows it. Then I got to meet the cutest thing in the world, a 6mth old monk saki monkey. It looks like a 90 year old man and it is all fur. When she passed him to me it headed straight for my shoulder and started making little purring chirping noises and when I chirped back he would respond. Angelika mentioned she hoped to have a volunteer take him for a “walk” now and then and I let her know I am sure we could work something out in the future for people with days off, as we didn’t have enough volunteers to “walk” him on our days on.

Sometimes all you need is a nap
Continuing with my day off, I had planned to spend a couple of hours at the school, but decided to take a quick 30min nap as I was exhausted. 5 hrs later, about 3hrs after school ended, I woke up. It was the kind of sleep where you wake up in the position you lay down in and find that you drooled all over your pillow. Guess I needed a good couple hours sleep, work catches up with you and days off often have us comatose. Just a little bummed I slept through school. Hopefully I will get the chance to visit them before I leave, which is only a week and a half away.

My largest group yet / did you really just say that?
With us down to barely 4 volunteers it means that the work load triples for all of us and it is almost impossible to split up a group if it comes in. So when a group of 25 medical students from Indiana University came I stepped up to take it, mainly as I had the most group handling experience and the loudest voice. Once we had them all paid up the easiest way to get their attention was to stand on a stool and give them the introduction. A pretty cool group in all, a variety of medical fields all doing volunteer work as part of their studies at Indiana. Quite impressive actually.As we walked through and I explained about the animals and the conservation efforts, they asked me numerous questions about the area and the project. Then the real question came up, it went something like this:
“why did you family decide to leave South Africa”.
“My parents didn’t agree with apartheid and wanted us to grow up somewhere where people were more equal”.
“Whats apartheid?”
I just kind of looked at the questioner and sighed saying something like “the american education system”
He replied with “we could make up words to”.
I explained “Apartheid was the political system set in place to keep black and white separated in South Africa”
As the light bulb went off he exclaimed “ahhhhh you mean the movie, Invictus!!”
All his friends moaned, I mumbled something about the education system again and proceeded to the next animal.
It was all rather amusing in the long run, but it does make you concerned when medical students refer to a movie when talking about something like Apartheid.

Enriching the lives of a pair of Saddleback Tamarins
For this weeks enrichment I chose the 2 tamarin monkeys. I hid some raisens in a leaf package and placed it in the enclosure. Mia, the adult, went absolutely crazy for it, and was trying to chew through the leaves to get to them, but I had chosen a nice thick leaf and she had to figure out other ways to get into it. Finally she got hold of one and was blissfully happy for the next 30seconds while she ate it. Kiwi, the immature male (I mean that in the physical sense), spent the whole time jumping up and down and around the feeding platform trying to get a raisin, or rather hoping Mia would give him one (she is a fairly giving tamarin except when it comes to food), the whole time yelling “weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” at the top of his lungs. Finally he figured out how to get one. It was the funniest thing I have ever seen. Guess that would class as enrichment.

Dobbie discovers how to open the gate – in other words “Oh Sh!t”
In most cases when we clean the animal cages we get them out of the feeding section and lock the door so that we can clean and feed in relative safely, this works pretty much all the time. On this particular day every thing went as normal with all the cages on big tour and then we got to our final cage, the capuchin monkeys. The smartest of the capuchins I have dubbed Dobbie, as he is in constant need of attention and will actively position himself in front of anyones camera to make sure that he is in the photo and none of the others. He is the skinniest of the lot and usually sits sucking his thumb. Today he decided to hang out in the feeding cage while we tried to coax them out with food. He just hung out there sucking his thumb and stairing at us. Then he pulled as much of the rope into the feeding cage as he could (we use it to pull the door closed and this meant you have to pull a lot of rope to get it closed giving them more time to get back into the cage). Luckily I was able to yank the rope fast enough to get the door closed before they could get back in, once they are closed one person holds onto the rope with all her weight while the other tries to lock the door. Usually the monkeys are trying to open them. Once the door is locked we can clean in safety.

Today however, Dobbie was in prime form and in the middle of cleaning Celine and I hear a “click”. We both turn around to see a very surprised Dobbie holding the door open. He didn’t realise he could do it either. That split second gave me enough time to leap at the door and pull it closed, just as two others leapt onto it. While they tried to open it and or bite my fingers I yelled at Celine to “get the rope, get the damn rope”. She wanted to lock it at first and then realised that would be useless, this whole time I am rapidly shifting my fingers up and down the door and watching the other door in the hope that Dobbie won’t realise if he can open one then he can open the other.

Finally, with Celine holding the ropes it was safe for me to relock the doors and finish cleaning, keeping her on the ropes. That whole episode certainly got the adrenalin going, and I was wide awake after that. Its scary to think what they might have done had they got into the cage with us, they have had a history of violence and considering they think you are in their territory it could have been ugly.

The fastest hitched ride ever
After 5 days of scorching heat, I was looking forward to a relaxing day off in Tena. Celine (France), Toki (Germany) and I were heading to Tena and hoped to catch a ride in as it was a 2hr wait till the bus. As usual the canoe was late, I have very bad canoe Karma. But as we made it to Puerto Barantilla Celina ran up the bank and managed to flag down a truck. Usually it takes a good hour and a half by bus, an hour by car if you are lucky. We made it in 40min. To say he was going above the speed limit would be an understatement. The American traffic police would match their quota in about 20min if they came down here. Speeds are purely a matter of suggestion.

Stay tuned for my last week of volunteering in this amazing place.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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