Monkey lovin’ in Bolivia

¨The vets will stitch you up really well when you get bitten.  And if you need to go to the hospital, there’s one not too far up the road.¨ Advice from the volunteer coordinator, 30 seconds into our orientation at the Parque Machia Animal Sanctuary.

The park´s cafe & meet-up spot offers snacks, beers, and one of the highlights of our stay: delicious vegetarian lunches!

Shortly after our reassuring orientation, we learn our assignments: Aggie will work with small animals, consisting primarily of coatis, and Jeff is assigned to the Vet Clinic and Quarantine, which consists largely of Capuchin Monkeys.  We head to one of  three houses  set  aside for exclusive use by volunteers.  Depending on whom you ask, the accomodations are described as ¨basic¨ (park website FAQs) or “malísimo” (everyone else).   But, no matter – we just want a good night´s sleep so we can be at our best for those furry critters!

Our 0-star accommodations

The kitchen at one of the houses inspires little confidence

Day 1:  We discover that the 10-hour workdays are comprised of 1/10th feedings (fun) and 9/10ths cage cleaning (lots of poop). A cage cleaner must nimbly sweep, scoop, and bleach each cage while avoiding the poop-covered claws of animals that try to scale your leg and up your back to cuddle and/or nibble.  That night,  Aggie discovers “wildlife” also resides in the house as she accidentally walks in on a brown cockroach chilling on the bathroom toilet. It is an awkward moment for both of them.  Future trips to the bathroom are punctuated by foot-stomping and flashing of bathroom lights to announce Aggie’s arrival so everyone else has time to clear out.

Day 2:  Jeff befriends two monkeys named, not coincidentally, “Martin” and “Isa”.   Martin and Isa like to pick invisible(?) mites out of Jeff’s hair and bite-lick his whiskers to help keep him well-groomed.  It seems that they are aware of  the conditions at the house, and are trying to assist with hygiene upkeep any way they can.

Jeff gets a shave from Martin

Day 3  Starts with a thunderstorm and a string of accidents.  A volunteer gets pinned to the ground by the large bear he takes for daily walks.   Another volunteer gets bitten in the face by a monkey.  (As promised, the vets work their suture magic.).  Getting peed on 3 times by a monkey that is afraid of lightning doesn’t seem like such a big deal to Jeff, in comparison.

Aggie pets her favorite coati, the adorable one-eyed Moises

Day 4:  Sensing weakness in security, wild monkeys steal fruit from the animals under our care. Aggie throws rocks and sticks to ward off the monkey-pirates, which proves to be futile.  (Anyone who’s had to duck and cover while playing darts with Aggie will know why.) The monkeys also have a secret weapon: ‘Speedy’, a crazy half-tailed Capuchin, whose ambushes on unsuspecting volunteers are so legendary as to instill fear in the hearts of many. Whenever she thinks she sees a monkey with a half-tail, Aggie hides. 

Day 5:  Jeff develops what we shall euphemistically called a “sore stomach”.  Turns out, several volunteers have “sore stomachs”.  We learn that the precautions utilized when cleaning food for the animals, such as soaking fruits in iodized water,  are not applied to human fruit and vegetable preparation.  Huh.

Day 6:  We lose shower water at our house.  Although the shower doesn’t work, we still have brownish water coming out of a lower tap, so we bathe by filling tupperware containers with cold water and dumping them over our bodies to rinse off the day’s animal poop.  Good enough.

The aptly named, Cuchi-Cuchi. Sticking her tongue out for the camera!

Day 7:  The ENTIRE village loses ALL water for the entire day.  No showers.  No flushing toilets.  Even washing hands becomes an issue. We have hand-sanitizer, but we wonder what the people handling our food are using. A few of the volunteers decide to bathe in the river.  We pass on this “opportunity” as we recall that someone spotted a cow’s head floating down the river a few days earlier. 

"Death Bridge": The only bridge into town. Note the lack of sidewalk or lights to aid pedestrians when crossing.

Several weeks after our volunteering stint has ended, we still recall this leg of our trip with great vividness and , more recently, lots of laughter.  Potential volunteers considering a visit to the park should do their own research, but we’d like to offer a few words of advice: try to stay off ‘Death Bridge’ after dark, don’t eat the chicken at ‘Red’s’, and take all the stories you hear about half-tailed monkeys seriously.

If you’d like to view more photos of Bolivia, check out our Photos page for new pictures.  We’ve also created a page titled Map Mania to detail where we’ve travelled within South America!


7 responses to “Monkey lovin’ in Bolivia

  • cathy rongey

    Wow – what an adventure! I love it. And the photos are amazing. Thanks for sharing!!!!! Miss you!

  • adam Rongey

    This reminds me of our RTW travels and really makes me want to go back out and venture some more. Incredible writing and great pics. It’s great to be able to understand what you two are going through. Looking forwad to more!! Enjoy your journey!!

  • caroline murgatroyd

    I was laughing so loud at this latest update… keep up the adventuring!

    • aggierm

      Thanks for the comments! Our post isn’t even the half of it! The rest of the animal sanctuary story we’ll have to share over drinks once we’re back in the US!

  • Phyllis Lorman

    Cyndy sent this to me. Oh what I have been missing! And I thought I had had a number of “interesting experiences— cold showers, mud etc, but i have mostly missed cleaning up after monkeys and other animals. meemaw

  • Janine

    I just googled cuchi cuchi because I wanted more info on what sort of monkey it was etc and came across your blog. I remember working with Aggie for a few days before you guys left and I got bit by a coati not long after you left, it was so painful and then got a nice infection from all the poop cleaning. But I did get to work with the puma Gato for a month afterwards.

    • aggierm

      What a small world! We met up with your former partner, Dave,about a month later and he told us about your bite (due to a coati that was overly possessive of the trash bucket, if I remember correctly.) Ouch! Hope you’re doing well!

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