¨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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!