Tuesday, August 6th: Our first day volunteering
at the animal refuge, Parque Machia Cumunidad Inti Wara Yassi. CIWY is an animal
refuge park, whose aim is to provide the best possible home and care for "wild"
animals (other than domestic cats and dogs) who were formerly abused, used to perform for
the financial benefit of their owners, or whose owners have found them too much trouble to
care for anymore. It was founded by a man named Juan Carlos (who up until that time worked
with disadvantaged children) many years ago after he witnessed the devastation of the
animal population in his district after a big fire. Not knowing anything about animals he
decided to start an organization to protect those animals that have been injured,
neglected and/or mistreated. A close friend of his, Nena, joined him in this cause and now
manages the park full time, while Juan Carlos travels the country to rescue more animals.
Currently in the park there are several different species of monkeys, birds, turtles,
deer, big cats (like pumas, jaguar, osolots, and pampas cat), a tyra (like an otter),
snakes, and sloth (like a monkey whos smoked too much marijuana). Im sure
Im leaving out others. Besides a vet on staff, all of these animals are cared for by
a group of 30 or so very dedicated volunteers from all over the world, including some
Bolivian volunteers who have been there for years. Some people hear about the park from
other travellers, see a flyer in a hostal or read about it in their guidebooks. A few
travel to Bolivia specifically for the purpose of spending a few months volunteering and
then return home, while others (like us) trip upon it while traveling and end up staying a
few weeks. The park is entirely funded by the money the volunteers help to raise (usually
amongst themselves) and by a few private donations. Living conditions are basic to say the
least, but the volunteers take this in stride. There is much that could be done to improve
the park but fundraising in Bolivia (and South America for that matter) is very difficult.
There are so many other causes in need of funding that giving to an animal refuge is low,
unfortunately, on most peoples priority list. So, our plug for the park
is that if anyone reading this would like to donate some money or time to the park we can
vouch for the fact that it would be put to great use! Just contact us or their website for
more details or questions.
Our first day we started after lunch because we had a big night out the evening before
with the other volunteers (getting to bed well after 3am) and also helping John flag down
a truck (then loading his bike into it) to transport him to La Paz. We were assigned to
the Monkey Park. Two long-time volunteers who work in the Monkey Park, Mili from Israel
and Leshana from the States, introduced us to our new friends, cappuccino monkeys Bilbo
and Cheyenne. Chris took charge of Bilbo, a sick but recovering older monkey who has a bad
reputation for biting women. Cheyenne befriended me, a charming, very clever monkey who
has a bad reputation for biting men, children and breaking into the bird cages in the
Avery House. Both of them were on leads, which means they are not free to roam around the
park. Not to worry though as about 200 other monkeys are free, some returning just for the
feeding times. Some of the monkeys on leads are either recovering from illness, are new
arrivals being slowing introduced to their surroundings (both of these categories to be
eventually let free), or problem children who get into trouble. The last category
describes our two charges.
Far from a typical day in our motorcycle traveling lives, we found ourselves rising
from bed every day at sunrise to be at the park by 7:30am to retrieve our
"leaded" monkeys from their sleeping quarters and have breakfast for them. Once
they would catch sight of us in the morning they would squeal with delight. For me,
breakfast with Cheyenne consisted of him peeling the banana, feeding me bits, I would half
chew it, and then he would open my mouth to retrieve it and eat it in its softer form.
Talk about a bonding experience! Throughout the day, Cheyenne would try to feed me all
sorts of things like various leaves, dirt, sticks, and caterpillars. He would keep the
spiders for himself however. After breakfast he would groom my hair and make sure I was
free from little critters. I would groom him in return. Then we would take a relaxing walk
on the beach (the park is situated next to a big river) where Cheyenne would spend an hour
or more turning over every rock to find insects or catch tiny fish swimming too close to
shore. I said my monkey was very clever! By the way, he also knows how to untie knots,
open combination locks, and can steal everything you have from your pockets (which he did
When Chris first got Bilbo, he was very sluggish, his eyes were sunken, and he
didnt want to do anything but sit on Chris lap. After awhile however, Chris
was able to get him to eat the fruit, vegetables and milk at the feedings and soon Bilbo
was up and foraging around the bushes and combing the beach like all the rest of the
monkeys. A favorite pastime for them was singing to each other in a very high voice. Bilbo
would put his hands on Chris face and sing back to him. It was all very crazy!
One day a big thunderstorm rolled through and we all (including all the monkeys) took
refuge under cover from the pouring rain. Chris, Leshana and I hung out in a small hut
where Chris had strung our hammock. Swinging in the hammock Chris had 3 monkeys on his lap
and they were all taking cover under a blanket, peaking out from time to time to see if
Chris was still there. Leshana and I thought this was pretty funny, like they thought
Chris would have disappeared beneath them somehow. Uncharacteristic of Cheyenne, he
crawled under my shirt, I suppose for warmth and comfort from the loud clashes of thunder.
Lucky for us we got the monkeys undercover before they got wet. Leshana told us it was
very typical to have 4 or 5 wet monkeys huddling under your shirt on a rainy day, all
trying to get warm. Great!
Now, you might think that our day was all fun and games with the monkeys, which is true
to some extent. But there were lots of chores to do, like cleaning the monkeys
sleeping quarters (with lots of wet blankets covered in pee and poop), cleaning up the
food scraps after the feedings and washing down the feeding tables. Also some of the
monkeys had to be closely watched because they would either attack other monkeys, other
monkeys would attack them, or we had to take care to keep them away from the tourists
(like Bilbo and Cheyenne).
All of the volunteers had to participate in the daily chores (i.e. preparing the 3
daily meals for the animals, helping to clean cages, washing the monkey clothes (which the
monkeys slept with), cleaning "The Casa" (the main volunteer house/meeting
place), washing up after big group dinners, etc. Each day we were assigned to a different
chore besides our normal duties. It was a long day (7:30am to 6pm) with an hour and a half
lunch break, the entire day spent outdoors in the heat and humidity. Also by the end of
the day we would all find ourselves sweaty and dirty with monkey pee and poop smudged on
our clothing, dirt and sand in our hair. But that didnt matter much because we were
all in the same condition.
At the end of the day the volunteers would gather outside The Casa, eat empanadas (made
by the lady in the house next door) and chat about our day with our animals. After a
shower and donning fresh clothes we would meet in The Casa for a group dinner prepared by
one of the volunteers, and then maybe go out for a beer or two before falling quickly to
sleep by 11pm. Some nights the guys would get together around 10pm for a game of
basketball or soccer (football) until 1am. I dont know where they found the energy.
From time to time a volunteer gets injured or sick (infection) from animal bites,
scratches, twisted ankles, etc. Its par for the course when you are working with wild
animals in the jungle. While we were there one of the volunteers, Caryn from South Africa,
was bitten by Bilbo while trying to make friends with him. The bite was on her left cheek
and pretty deep. She was very calm about it all. Chris took her on the motorbike to the
hospital for stitches in a nearby village, about 30kms away. Thankfully all of the animals
that come to the park are vaccinated against rabies and other nasty diseases.
One of the other animals in the park is Gato, an eight year old Puma that was rescued
(stolen) from a circus. Gato was forced jump through flaming hoops, and when
he didn't respond, they whipped him. Once, he was whipped so hard they broke his
legs! This, combined with being fed a diet of bread and milk while living in a tiny
cage, has stunted Gato's growth to a mere 40 kilos (88 pounds). There is another
Puma in the park, who is only 2 years old, and is already 70 kilos! Gato's
care-giver Mark was looking for help walking Gato, and Chris signed up for a day -- little
did he know he would spend the day hiking 15kms behind Gato, over some of the steepest and
roughest terrain in the park. Chris returned exhausted, dehydrated, and with
blisters on both feet. He said spending the day with a big cat was OK, but preferred
the interaction with the monkeys.
Our last night was also the last night for several other volunteers. There was a big
night out at the local pub/lunch place for drinks. Those of us who were leaving were
presented with lovely goodbye cards stylized by Roy from Samoa, one of the volunteers
working with the Pumas. The cards were signed by all and included email addresses for us
to keep in touch. Besides learning a lot about our monkeys, their behavior, etc., during
our time there we also met a lot of great people from around the world. Countries
represented there were: Holland, Germany, Belgium, France, England, Scotland, Ireland,
Israel, Samoa, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, United States, Bolivia, South Africa, and
Canada. My apologies to any volunteer whose country I left off!
Sometimes the best experiences are the ones that are not planned for and just pop
up----just like this! Thanks to Chris, our Belgian motorcycle friend who took us there and
introduced us to everyone. Well miss Demussey (aka Waterworks), Baba, Baby, Speedy,
Anita, Rafi, Pinky, Max, Tin-Tin, Victoria (Elvis), and Martin (Dracula) to name just a
few, but especially Bilbo and Cheyenne!