So, it’s all over, our six weeks went by in a flash of racing animal.
Over the six weeks we have seen many new animals (some of which we didn’t even know existed!), we have worked with parrots, emus, spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys, tejons, deer, tapir, pumas and seen ocelots and jaguars. We also managed to shed some light on a very unknown species, habitual only to Bolivia but with a population that is now rapidly spreading across the globe – the IWY volunteer.
Our final two weeks were spent in Parque Machia.
Machia was the first park where Inti Wara Yassi set up home and is steeped in lots of history. It is based mid way between Cochabamba and Santa Cruz near a small town called Villa Tunari in the centre of Bolivia on the edge of the Bolivian Amazon. The park itself is only a 38 hectare rented plot of land that IWY maintain on behalf of the local council, but at the front of the park they have two buildings, one of which was the original casa, but is now made up of toolshed, kitchen, second hand clothes, office, foodstore and a couple of rooms for the really hardcore volunteers; and the other is the clinic/cafe (where we got our daily sustinence of pancakes or egg sandwiches for breakfast and a ‘tour de force’ of carbohydrates for lunch!). Covering these two buildings, every inch, of nearly all wall space, (and ceiling space where possible) are hand prints. The tags that have been left from many previous volunteers from over the years with their little messages, ranging from the super hippy ‘Because giving is actually receiving’, to the slightly less politically correct ‘Free the monkeys, cage the Israeli’s!’, to the many Quest groups that have helped over the years.
At first it was strange for us to arrive here, after making so many friends in Ambue Ari it was hard for us to settle at first and break into another large volunteer group, but we soon found that the other volunteers were really quite interested in the other parks and the work that we were doing and we were able to seem like ‘experienced heads’ amazing how quickly we went from wet behind the ear timid volunteers, to being a font of information, all in less than one calendar month!
We were both placed to work with monkeys (a mix of capuchins and spider monkeys), which whilst not being our main reason for wanting to do the trip, rapidly became a love affair. Coral with her favourite ‘Romeo’ and Alice with ‘Fidelia’. It is very easy to see why capuchin monkeys become pets, they are cute adorable little balls of fur that play with you a lot and are amazing to watch in the trees. At times volunteers have to remind themselves that the best place for these animals in in their natural habitat, the jungle. It is important to remind ourselves however, that many of the capuchins came from family homes, and that they could not be contained, biting and breaking stuff are also favourite past-times! Some of the monkeys in the park have worse histories, some come from street entertainers, some were being sold ilegally in black markets and some come from zoo’s where they have been kept in small cages and taunted.
Whichever monkey you fall in love with and whatever history they may have, one thing that you can almost always guarrantee is that after working two weeks with these beautiful creatures, saying goodbye will be a very emotional experience.
The two weeks went very quickly (as did the six) and was helped along the way by lots of feeding, cleaning, walking and cleaning. Did we mention cleaning?
However, despite the hard work, we also had a big party to look forward to. Now it is not uncommon for the volunteers of Machia to organise a fund raising party to get money for certain projects or certain areas, and whilst we were there we had an ‘Olympic’ themed party, a delicious Israeli banquet and even an English style Pub Quiz (which Matt will be very keen to point out, his team destroyed the competition to beat their nearest rival by a clear 50%. Matt wanted to go on talking about the Quiz and giving a question by question account of the night, but we have prevented him from doing so. You all owe us a beer!), but the main highlight, not only of our two weeks, but also of the Villa Tunari social calendar.
Ladies and Gentleman, the Villa Tunari annual Fish Festival!…..Tada…….
However, not only was the fish festival happening, it also coincided with a very special day for a certain Alice. On the first day of the fish festival, Alice could finally sample the sweet taste of beer (!) as she turned 18.
The day started well, the sun was shining and the monkeys behaved themselves, but later it started to turn slightly more sinister, when the rains came in and soaked everyone. However spirits were still high and everyone met at the cafe at 6.30 for birthday beer, cake and a good old fashioned ‘egging’! (NB ‘Egging’ is an IWY tradition where by upon a volunteers birthday they have an egg cracked on their head and then some flower poured on top, base idea of making a cake in their hair. It is very effective, especially if the hair is slightly wet from the rain! Unfortunately, it had been a while since the previous ‘egging’ and so there was quite a lot of excitement amongst the Bolivians when they heard of the secretly hatched plans by Matt. And after the first ‘egging’ by Matt himself, it was rapidly followed by Ximena (a long term Bolivian volunteer) giving her contribution and slightly later Vlady (our monkey expert) dumping the majority of a bag of flower all over poor Alice’s head!!! Fortunately she saw the funny side, but unfortunately, Coral was too ‘kind’ to take pictures of her at her most covered!
However, as with the other occasions of us trying to leave a park, something had to come up, and leaving Machia was to be no different. During the festivities of the ‘egging’, there was a notable absentee. One of the volunteers who works with an ocelot had not returned (they normally return at 4.30) and when Matt tried to contact her on the radio, there was no response. Caution raised, a pair was sent out to the cage to see where she was, they arrived at the cage to find her backpack including her warm clothes, her flashlight, her map and most vitally, her walkie talkie! At this point it was dark so a full blown search was out of the question, and so was a party really, so Alice’s big night was put on hold, for now…
After an early morning search the next day, the volunteer was found, hurrah! Story goes, that when the rain started in the middle of the afternoon, the ocelot that she had been working with went a little crazy and started taking her on trails that she wasn’t familiar, and with the heavy rain storm she had got disorientated and not sure of which way home was and had subsequently started heading in the wrong direction. After a night in the jungle, the volunteer seemed in very good spirits, and was fortunately able to take some stick!
So, all was good, but we were still missing an 18th birthday party and a night of fun at the fish festival. We were due to leave that same day, but with Matt functioning on very little sleep and becoming slightly delirious, and all still keen for a good party, we decided to stay an extra night and miss out on a visit to Lake Titicaca.
And what a night, lots of silly dressing up, LOTS of rain (the rain had continued throughout and was not relenting for the festival) and lots of crazy dancing. The festival itself is simply a field outlined by lots of different shacks serving fish with a cemented dance floor in the middle and a stage at the front where bands play lots of live music. The main attraction however, wasn’t the music, the fish, or even the alcohol – it was a large area of mud that was between the cemented dance floor and the performance stage!
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what ensued! A massive mud fight, started with the kicking of puddles, followed by a few mud-balls, then some Klinsmann style mud diving, concluded with a full on mud ‘Wrestlemania’! With everyone suitably soaked and covered head to toe in a rather unsightly concoction of ‘mud’, most went home to shower, whilst only a few reamined to dance the night away.
A great way to finish our time in Villa Tunari. We finished off by taking an amazing bus to La Paz, complete with panoramic view. Some intense souvenir shopping in the local markets, a massage and a delicious swanky final dinner.
So our 6 weeks concluded with a 4.30 wake up call and a taxi to the freezing cold airport of El Alto where it had all begun a short six weeks beforehand. We are both already planning our return next summer, and Matt, well Matt can never escape!
Thank you for everything Inti Wara Yassi and thank you for everything Quest. A fantastic trip that will live in our memories and our hearts forever.
Ambue Ari Summer 09 – ‘Small in size; Big in drama!’