Monkeying Around in Villa Tunari

Published: August 19th 2011
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Sucre to Villa Tunari

Capuchin MonkeyCapuchin MonkeyCapuchin Monkey

Clearly having lost something.
We arrived in Villa Tunari following two journeys, the first a particularly bumpy, crappy and cramped bus journey through the night from Sucre to Cochabamba, the second a bumpy, crappy and cramped shared taxi ride for three more hours.

Villa Tunari was not what I had pictured or hoped for, although in retrospect, I had been overly optimistic. In my head I pictured a beautiful secluded little town next to a national park, in my head, Villa Tunari was going to be Bolivia's equivalent to Thailand's Pai - my favourite of the few places I visited there. Instead we were dropped off in a town with little more than 2500 people, next to a major road.

Despite my initial disappointment, the four of us found a nice hostel which had a pool that was most welcome at this considerably lower and hotter location. We spent our afternoon walking around the town until we found the main plaza. This park was oddly large (by Bolivian standards), considering the size of the town and it even had a park and some basic gym equipment. We mucked around on see-saws, swings and monkey bars before being challenged to a pull up competition by a well-formed local. Off course he destroyed our lazy backpacker selves but he was entertained and we had fun as well.

Following the entertainment of the park we walked to the wide river bed and crossed the stones to the river. I was entertaining myself, skimming stones for a while, before I realised that the others had started to bail rapidly. They had begun to get eaten by sand-flies, but fortunately for me, they apparently didn't me taste or perhaps my funking sweaty scent. We spent the remainder of the afternoon swimming, jumping in the pool and playing catch with a hackey sack. A nice relaxing day which was definitely required after the lengthy journey to Villa Tunari.

The followed morning we walked to the entrance of Parque Machia a few minutes from town. This park is a relatively small area on the edge of a much larger national park where a lot of animal rehabilitation is undertaken by international volunteers. Open to the non-volunteering public is a trail through some of the forest, which we queued to enter. The park opened about an hour late, there had been rain and the trails had to be checked out. Whilst we were waiting a large number of eager yellow capuchin monkeys appeared in the trees surrounding the car-park. The hung in the trees, swinging about and playing, waiting for any potential food from a tourist that might provide a morsel of breakfast.

Eventually we went in and were told that not only was it going to cost extra to take a camera into the park, they were at a significant risk of being stolen by rogue spider monkeys. Determined to take some photos I paid the cash and wrapped my camera strap around my hand several times before progressing into the park.

The first wildlife we encountered was a long line of leaf cutting ants. I spent a few minutes attempting to capture their hard work on my camera, but the size of the ants made focusing the lens a tricky task. I was paying full attention to my task when I heard a thud behind me. I quickly turned and panicked at the sight of the large spider monkey that had decided to join me. It jumped and ran ahead of me before climbing a short way up a tree trunk whilst moving it's arm to and fro. We walked closer, our eyes following the line of ants across the trail, towards the tree, up the trunk and straight to where the monkey was collecting and eating them. Nature is amusing.

We reached a viewpoint in the park, overlooking Villa Tunari and the rivers, it is quite beautiful area and I looked out for sometime with the others whilst we were slowly surrounded. We had managed to get ahead of most the people on the trail, but in this bottleneck some caught up and then the monkey came. Maybe nine or ten spider monkeys swung down from the trees and started showing off. This being a park ran by volunteers, the animals are used to human contact and they started climbing over everyone and anyone. A particularly cheeky monkey appeared to enjoy climbing on a pregnant lady's ample chest. It was all good fun until a local person (always a local person, whatever country I am in) pulled some chewing gun out of his pocket. You are not meant to take any food into the park with good, obvious reason. This pleb understood the reason; as he put the packaging back in his pocket, a monkey jumped onto his head. Both looked anxious and some of the other monkeys began to have the same look, as if they were being cheated. Fortunately as more started to panic and jump about anxiously, over and on people, a volunteer arrived to calm them down.

We moved on and continued the trek, spotting more monkeys on the way and eventually crossing a sloppily constructed wooden bridge to a pair of waterfalls. These were wonderfully located, by this time we were all covered in sweat from the humidity and heat of the jungle and dunking my head into the cold water was probably the best feeling of the day.

As we left the park I considered my options, this was a place that I had considered volunteering whilst I was in the UK. In the end I decided that it wasn't the right time and that I should keep travelling for a while and hope for something later in my trip, although it wasn't an easy decision.

We attempted to find somewhere to go out that evening, a pub, club or bar - hell we probably would've taken karaoke, but there was nothing happening so we retired relatively early.

The next morning we discussed our options if we stayed longer in Villa Tunari. There was another park to visit, although it was an expensive taxi drive away and it sounded too similar to where we had been the day before. We checked the possibility of white water rafting, but it was unfortunately out of season. With no decent options for what to do that day we decided to leave and so took a shared taxi back to Cochabamba.


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