11th November-4th December
This is going to be a hard one, I’m not sure Ellory and I will ever be able to fully explain what an amazing experience this was.
On the morning of the 11th, we got a taxi to Villa Fatima where we could get a bus to Coroico, the town near La Senda Verde. It was a bit interesting when we got there! Very chaotic and confusing and it took us a while to find the Totai bus company where we could get our bus. We managed it eventually and booked 2 seats for the 1.30pm bus. The bus ride down was fun, we were all squashed into a little mini bus for 3 hours with our stuff on the roof! There are 2 roads down to Coroico, ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Road’ an old road built through the mountains in the 1930s and the new road, completed in 2006 when the death toll from the old road became too high. We went down the new road and that was bad enough! It was a long way to Coroico and we got stuck at another road block for a while. Once we got
there we grabbed a taxi to the refuge and finally, 5 hours after we left La Paz, we were there, at La Senda Verde.
Ellory and I have debated how to blog this and have decided to give an overview of what we did while we were there, and events of note. Otherwise this blog will be many pages long!!!
La Senda Verde refuge has been in existence for nearly 7 years and they work solely with rescued animals. Among other organisations they work closely with a group called Animales SOS who rescue animals for them from around Bolivia and bring them to LSV for them to look after. At the moment according to Bolivian law it is illegal to release an animal back to the wild once it has been held in captivity. As you are probably aware, Bolivia is quite a poor country and they just do not have the money or resources that are required so all rescued animals stay in refuges such as this one. LSV is a privately funded organisation and has no government funding, so their income comes from volunteers such as Ellory and I who paid to work there, Gravity, a
company who ride bikes down the Death road and end up at LSV everyday for lunch and a beer, guests who stay overnight and of course donations. There are quite a few animals at LSV at the moment, there are approx 40 monkeys, 6 different species (Capuchin, Spider, Lion, Owl, Red Howler and Squirrel), there are also parrots, macaws, a caiman, a bear, a margay and various dogs, cats, guinea pigs, turtles, tortoises, ducks...all sorts!
Volunteering at LSV is a very hands on experience, you are actively involved in feeding, cleaning and enrichment with the animals. Our normal day started with waking up at 7am to get ready for feeding time at 8am. All those animals need feeding! Depending on the number of volunteers at the refuge we split into groups, one group feeding the capuchin monkeys (who get porridge, so amazing and messy to watch!), one feeding the birds and the other group feeding the dogs, cats and squirrel monkeys. Then it was time for us to eat our breakfast. After breakfast, we would split up again to either, clean the monkey enclosure, clean the bird area, feed the turtles and tortoises or to feed and clean
out the bear enclosure. Yes we actually hand fed a bear named Aruma! 2 people distract him by feeding him peanuts while 2 others go in to clean out his feeding area (a tiny part in the largest bear enclosure in S. America). This would normally take a couple of hours and before we’d know it, it was time to prepare lunch for the animals. By the end of our 3 ½ weeks there, we could chop fruit and vegetables like pros! Then it would be time for our lunch and to wait for the Gravity bike tours to arrive. When they arrived we’d pour them a beer and give them a speech about the refuge and the rules (example: don’t scream at the monkeys!), provide a buffet lunch (with homemade pasta, yummy!) and take them up to the pool area where most of the monkeys were. By the time they would leave in the evening it was time to feed the animals their dinner and make sure they were ok before having our own dinner, usually a beer and then passing out in bed!!
So our day to day routine was very similar, it took us a couple
of days before we really got to work with the capuchin monkeys, they are really smart and you have to be introduced to them slowly so they can get used to you. They can bite if they are scared and it bloody well hurts! Yes that is from personal experience! Some of the monkeys are tethered on long ropes, this is because they are not a natural group and some actively hate each other and will fight if free and some were abused by women before they came to the refuge and will hunt down and attack women. There are some very sad stories at LSV and our job is to make their lives as comfortable as possible. Both Ellory and I ended up having our favourites, these being.
Mirka: Female, badly abused by a woman causing her to lose an eye, I couldn’t go near her but she loved Ellory and loved to groom him and wash his hat in porridge!
Leo: 7 month old baby, cute as hell and thought Ellory was his mummy! Would cry when Ellory left the capuchin area.
Martin: Expert pickpocket as his previous owner dressed him in clothes, hates women, but Ellory and
Martin got on very well
Nikita: Female, very shy, I spent ages working on building a relationship with her and it was so rewarding when she responded
Mora: Female teenager, very fat belly and loved to hang on my arm and let me swing her!
Kimbo: Our favourite, had a bigger head and shorter limbs than the other and was a big baby! He would climb on your shoulders and pinch your neck if you tried to walk away, and then would cry! He was extremely affectionate and would climb in my shirt when it rained to keep dry! Sadly on the 27th November, Kimbo died from heat stroke. We still can’t really talk about it, I start to cry when I do. Everyone was absolutely devastated as he was a real favourite with current and ex volunteers. The owners, Vicky and Marcelo were absolutely distraught and as I was the one that broke the news to Vicky, I felt absolutely terrible. Poor little guy.
One of the other capuchin monkeys at the refuge, Ciruelo, is the alpha male of the group and is also tethered. While we were there, he snapped his tether and proceeded to roam the
refuge for 6 days on a reign of terror. He doesn’t attack humans but goes for the dogs so we had to keep them inside for 6 days which was quite hard work! One night we were sitting in the restaurant with the dogs and then suddenly Ciruelo was outside! He had been lured by the dogs, what then followed was a hour of bringing the dogs up to the wire wall of the restaurant as bait (they were not happy about that!) and the rest of us trying to get Ciruelo to get close enough to grab the end of his tether underneath the wall. That was one pissed off monkey, as the alpha male he is incredibly big and muscular, the bite muscles on his skull throb when he eats! The best way I can put it, is that if he was a human he’d have to go through the door sideways! He was throwing himself at the door and baring his teeth, we had to hold the door as it was threatening to burst open he is that strong! Eventually we managed it though and he was returned to the enclosure.
2 new dogs arrived during
our time at LSV, called Linda and Becky who were real characters. Becky is an ex street dog with comedy eyebrows who’s friendly with everyone except when they go near her food, she loved me as I looked after her on her first night. Linda was much more reserved and nervous, but Ellory spent a lot of time with her and she worshipped him!
There were other volunteers at the refuge while we were there and every single one of them were awesome, just sharing an amazing experience together and constantly talking animals. Marisa, Ben, Matt, Claire, Anat, Efrat, Shony, Shahaf, Basha, Eran, Ella, Steve and Hadas, it was fantastic to meet and work with all of you! Monkey charades....funniest game ever!! (a game involving much drinking and pretending to be certain monkeys at the refuge while the others had to guess who you were!)
I think the pictures really explain this experience better than I can. But all I can say was that it was life changing, we loved every single second and we plan to return in the future. LSV, it was freaking AWESOME!
Love Liz xxx
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