Life In The Monkey Park

Published: November 22nd 2006
Edit Blog Post

Hello all, and apologies for taking so long to post this. I´ll recap a bit, with La Paz, a city beyond the description of words, so i´ll let the pics do the talking. After a day delay, I took a tiny plane to Rurrenebaque, in the Bolivian jungle for a 3 day tour of the pampas. Highlights included crocodile spotting by canoe at night, pirahna fishing, and swimming with pink river dolpins (along with the pirahna and the crocs!). Got to see capybaras in the wild, which was so cool, after seeing them in cages at Amazoonico. Got ravaged by mosquitos and bed bugs!

Onward to Villa Tunari, a completely unispiring spot, home to Inti Wari Yassi, the animal sanctuary i was to be at for a month. Where to begin?? The first hostal i stayed at was nicknamed Vegas. They told me it was "basic", but to me, it was more like a refugee camp, complete with bugs, squalid bathroom down the hall, a mattress made of straw, and writing on the walls, like a prison cell. Needless to say, i bailed for the "nice" place. Highlights of my improved room; fan caked in dust which dangled from a wire and spun lopsided, leaving me to fear it coming unhinged and chopping me to bits during the night, a bathroom with an electric shower hung from the ceiling, sans stall or curtain, so the entire bathroom got all wet everytime you took a shower, a detached toilet seat, sink which wobbled, driping shower which cut off when anyone was showering or washing clothes, and bugs de jour. But my own bathroom and a proper mattress- hooray!

Here are some snippets of my journal to give you a glimspe of life as a volunteer. (i know it´s long, but pretty entertaining i think for those of you living vicariously through my adventures)

11/2 Monkey Park
After the morning in bird quarentine, i was moved to monkey park, as i had hoped. Found out quickly that my job was less about watching monkeys and more about babysitting dumb Bolivian tourists. It´ll be a miracle if i don´t kill one. They are told to empty their pockets but don´t. Today the monkeys stole money, toilet paper, lolly pops, plastic bags, glasses, a magic market, which they proceeded to eat........ It´s such a bad idea to let the monkeys jump on people, because the tourists don´t know how to handle them. So they call them or grab them, monkeys jump on tourists, tourists scream, monkeys bite.

11/7 Get me out of here!
Can i leave yet? Went from wanting to stay a month, to 21 days, to ´get me out of here´! Between the hauling of heavy buckets and my very near death experience 2 nights ago, every muscle in my body is sore. The bridge of death , i know call it, after a semi swerving all over the road almost hit the bridge with me on it. I got scraped all to hell when i dove 15 feet down into the bushes. Got a big bruise on my hip and scabs all down one side of my body. I have to cross the bridge every evening to find food. It has no walkway whatsoever, tons of trucks passing, and is endless (300 steps over the river). When 2 trucks pass together, the whole bridge sways and cars come inches from your face. Ironically, it´s called "Espiritu Sanctu ", translation "holy spirit", i think because you need to pray to the holy spirit to make it over alive. Thank god I was almost over the bridge and was able to dive into the bushes. Besides the bridge, we work from 7:30 am to 6 pm, then i have to wash clothes and find dinner. Exhausting!

11/9 Mischievious Monkeys
Toaday a fat Bolivian tourist asked me if she could buy a monkey, pointing to an infant being carried on it´s mothers back. maddening. Boodee pulled a girl´s hair, some guy wandered in with an open pack of crackers and handed one to Jefe, the alpha male, who decided he wanted the whole pack, crackers spill everywhere, a monkey riot insues, our useless Israeli volunteer slept in for 3 hours, leaving us short handed, and when he finally showed up, got the job of painting a table while the 3 of us girls had to machete a tree. There are some things i have no business doing, and that´s one of them. Later the monkeys stole the machetes and ran up the trees with them, and after that, stole the vet´s bag and proceeded to open up syringes and anitbiotic bottles in the trees. One of the new volunteers got bit by the alpha male at the mirador (another part of the park) and came back with stitiches on his ear and hand. I had a lizard in my room last night. Think i have a toad tonite, but i can´t find it.

11/10 Wildlife
Found the toad today when i put my foot in my hiking shoe and it didn´t fit. Turned it upside down and a big dark blob fell out, but luckily after chasing him around the room, was able to free him. In the kitchen of my hostal, a swarm of ants were eating what used to be a baby lizard. Boode stole a wallet today with 90 Bolivianos, right after the tourist denied having anything in his pocket- HA! Apparently he bit someone today too, near the tourist office

11/11 Stitches
Midway through the morning the new volunteer from the Mirador came running through, hand bleeding. Monkey up there sent volunteer #2 to the hospital with stitches. Today we had a ´let´s cooperate meeting´with the spider monkey volunteers, so i didn´t get out until 7 pm. 12 hours since i left my hostal.

11/12 Exhausted
Today at 6 pm, Vladi (Bolivian in charge of the monkey park) decided we were going to
La PazLa PazLa Paz

Rob, my travel companion in La PAz
paint signs, so we didn´t get out until 7 pm again. Ridiculous. 11 days of this with no day off. Yesterday the cuddly pregant monkey showed up with a newborn on her back. Must have been born the night before because the cord was still attached. Cutest damn thing ever! Tonight i am taking a break from the bridge of death and fixed myself a sandwhich for dinner. In the kitchen, a string of ants was crawling up the wall, carrying a huge piece of food up the wall in a big swarm. i have nightmares about them carrying off my body. Tried to cook some eggs at my hostal. Take my bag of eggs to the kitchen, afraid to put it down for fear of the ants, flip on the light, no light, proceed in the dark, grab pan, go into another room, attempt to crack eggs, egg spills all over floor, back to kitchen, turn on gas, turn on lighter, burn my hand, finally get it lit, cook eggs, half stick to the pan because Bolivia hasn´t discovered non-stick pans, clean up spill, clean pan, come back to room. Sigh. things are difficult here.

11/14 Much Needed
La PazLa PazLa Paz

Witches market
Day off!
Took a day off today!!! Met Quirqui, one of 7 Pumas today. We aren´t allowed to visit the other animals, but he is old and has arthritis so we can see him. Amazing creature! Went out for a really fun going away party dinner for one of the volunteers last night. The israeli guy got his backpack broken into and robbed last night at his hostal.

11/15 Scary
Jefe lunged at me today and nipped at my boots. SCARY. Feel like if i stay for a month, it´s just a matter of time before i get mushed on the bridge or bitten! The bridge has seriously affected my social life. People who stay at Vegas only cross it after work, but to do anything social, i have to cross it late at night, when all the trucks pass. But today my favorite baby, Pelona, when i called her name, came running over to me and jumped on my shoulder. Indescribable!

11/16 More Stitches
Psycho Mirador monkey sent volunteer #3 to the hospital for stitches today. My 2nd roommate is really cool. She´s from South Africa and we get along so well.

11/17 Monkey Moments
La PazLa PazLa Paz

Llama fetuses for sale. supposed to be for luck
got to go visit the Spider monkey park today. Absolutely amazing. held the baby, and a few big ones came to sit on me. they give hugs just like humans. Poured rain all day, and the 4 of us volunteers sat under the shelter, covered in baby monkeys on our laps and under our shirts sheltering from the rain. Completely magical. Xavier, the vet asked me to stay another month because i was such a great worker. sweet. I love the Bolivians who work here. Pelona has taken to spending the day wuzzling me. I´m getting so attached to the babies!!! Speedy loves to clean with the scrub brush, machete and hammer, Fidel is the sweetest thing. It´s been a good day. I even cooked a successful dinner!

11/18 Just Another Day in Monkey Park
Jefe attacked a few of the spider monkeys tonight while we were putting everyone to bed. Speedy raided a pocket today and stole a tube of lip gloss, which he proceed to run up the tree with, take out the dipper and apply it to his tongue, after which he ate the bottle. Roomie and i were sitting quietly and just a minute ago were terrorized by a huge moth.

11/19 Death of My Camera
What a send off. It rained torrentially from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm. We were sitting under the sheleter, covered in monkeys. At one point, i had 2 mamas with babies on their backs on me - 7 monkeys on me in total. But the big monkeys came up and started causing trouble, so we took all the new monkeys on cords into the locked shed, where i got the pleasant job of sitting with them. The babies slept and peed on me repeatedly! When i went to lunch, it was still raining, so i left my backpack in the shed, with the 2 other volunteers. When i came back, they told me they had taken all the monkeys out and closed but forgot to lock the door (nevermind, they know monkeys can open the cage). Monkeys had come in and robbed my backpack. I had a complete freaking meltdown when i realized the one thing missing was my camera! Stormed off, finding Vladi, who ran to help. We searched the bushes for 20 minutes to find Boodee and Speedy 100 ft in the air in a tree with my camera. Vladi climbs up and rattles the monkeys, who drop my camera, a horrid sight. My heart is stopping, realizing i would rather lose ANYthing and everything but my camera, and that ALL the photos i´ve taken during my whole stay and all the way from La Paz, are on that memory chip. Vladi comes down with it, battery compartment in pieces, covered in dirt, BUT the one thing still intact was the memory chip. A miracle as you will see by the pics below what would´ve been lost. But i will have a hell of a time finding a comparable camera here, as the zoom lens on this one was incredible!

That same afternoon, the same 2 volunteers lost all the keys to the padlocks, Vladi came down with the spares, which i promptly lost. Crazy drama getting the babies into the cages, i put my foot through a plank in the cage, the monkeys attack the coatis in our care, and spider monkeys come up to steal our food..... crazy drama. just another day in the monkey park. And so ends my last day....

I did get to visit Tigre, the ocelot in my roommate´s care. Another really cool experience. She has promised to send me some pics from her camera. That night my roomie and I celebrated with a really cool American couple and a much needed rum and coke!

All in all, some wonderful moments, always high drama and everyday a new adventure working with monkeys. Overall tho, i felt quite unsafe, so i headed out a week early, with the tragedy of my camera. I have landed safely in Sucre, and will look for a repair shop. Cross your fingers for me.

ps, this blog took FOREVER to post on a ridiculously slow computer, so i expect a bunch of comments!!!

Additional photos below
Photos: 47, Displayed: 30


Inti Wara YassiInti Wara Yassi
Inti Wara Yassi

squirrel monkey

my favorite baby monkey. looks like a stuffed porcupine!

one of the babies playing in the water
Bridge of DeathBridge of Death
Bridge of Death

this bridge so killed my social life
Bridge scarBridge scar
Bridge scar

scar from my near death experience on the bridge
Pile of babiesPile of babies
Pile of babies

Laura, one of the volunteers with a lapful of mamas and babies , 2 sets

23rd November 2006

Have you any idea how TOTALLY different your life is than mine at this moment!?!?! It almost sounds unbelievable when I read your blogs...but oh, the stories you'll have to tell to your grandchildren and others for the REST OF YOUR LIFE!!! Send me some monkey kisses! Happy Thanksgiving, my traveling friend! xoxo
23rd November 2006

Happy Thanksgiving
hi Tanya, We are getting ready to cook turkey on the grill and all the rest of the feast tomorrow. It is quite warm here, like in the mid-60's so we are lucky. Your monkey photos are wonderful. They are so adorable. I think I'd enjoy cuddling them. Sure am glad your memory card was ok and good luck with the replacement camera!!! Happy Turkey Day! love, holly and john
23rd November 2006

And I thought MY house was insane with all the k-words! Yeah, monkeys, definitely NOT SO MUCH. They're cute, but all while I was reading your stuff I was like "Man, T, that sounds TOO much like you're working at a day-care center full of bratty suburban toddlers--except with TEETH!" R.I.P camera, and I hope you find a new one soon--you know how I feel about your pictures! Glad the mem chip survived, at least... I'll e-mail you soon with an update on my job yet!
23rd November 2006

Feliz Dia del Pavo
As always, having so much fun reading about your adventures. I always read them with Jon Carlo and he really enjoys the pictures. It's cool that you are providing him with an adventure too. Just wanted to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and mucha suerte so you don't encounter more death bridges. Un beso de tu amiga Elena
23rd November 2006

Tan, You are lucky to be alive! What a horrendous experience. I hope the rest of your trip will be more enjoyable. I know you enjoyed the monkeys (until they got your camera), but it seems quite dangerous. Winter has arrived in SC. Happy Thanksgiving! In case you are unaware, that is tomorrow, Thurs, 11/23. Take care. Be careful. Love, Mom
26th November 2006

Happy Thanksgiving
Tana, I am so glad your memory chip survived the monkey theft. Your photos are wonderful, and i am so enjoying the vicarious travel to places I cannot imagine ever seeing in person. I am very grateful for all the effort you invest in keeping us apprised of your experiences. I hope you have had a wonderuful weekend and had meals more interesting than the turkey that so many here think is essential. I admire your resilience, courage and sense of humor so much. I cannot imagine telling my mom I'd been swimming with crocodiles. Jane
27th November 2006

Tana, Jeez, it sounds like you had a momentous couple weeks in the wild! SO glad you didn't get mushed on the front of a big truck. Monkey babies peeing on you? hmmmmm maybe not quite what I thought you'd had in mind...... :-) But, the sleeping baby pic is SO precious! Please take care, Peanut might want his mommy to come back!!! :-) Kwirk
6th December 2006

Tana, your mom came to visit today and brought the beautiful turquoise scarf and the lovely Indian doll. Thank you ever so much. I really appreciate your thinking of me. It was delightful to see her and hear about what has been going on with her, your dad and Scott, as well as you. I look forward to your next entry and hearing the latest about yoru travels. Jane
6th December 2006

OH lord Tana.....What an exhausting month you had. The pictures are truly amazing and what an experience. I can't even imagine the insane chaos that you breifly described. Im happy you got out of there alive though, it sounds like you left just in time! Stay safe, and enjoy every minute of this crazy adventure! (the pictures remind me of Cambodia.....only with a little different flavor!)

Tot: 2.686s; Tpl: 0.031s; cc: 15; qc: 95; dbt: 0.03s; 2; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.5mb