Six weeks all crammed into a few lines, prepare yourselves…
The private bus journey from La Paz to Rurrenebaque consisted of 18 hours of extreme Bolivian Boy Racing around cliff edges. ´Sit on the left´ is the advice is you want to stare death in the face. Suprisingly only one Questy member hurled, whether this was due to fright, distinct lack of bus suspension or a lunch of sweaty cheese and warm yogurt , remains a mystery. A night in Rurrenebaque, followed by a nicely stable canoe across the river and an hour in the back of a pick up truck; 13 questies, 13 big rucksacks and daysacks, a fair few Bolivians, topped off with wire cables and cement bags, comfort went out the window.
We got thrown ´head first´ into the deep end; no electric, no running water, interesting toliet, and the much loved “shack”. “The shack” as referred to, was to be our home for the following 3 weeks, in which many a memory was shared. The shack however was not just our home, o no, it was also home to huge spiders, a family of bats (that particularly enjoyed playing “who can crap on your head”) and Gordon (the resident cockroach).
Then it was time to find out where shower time took place. This is not the well loved warm shower we were all accustomed to, rather a freezing cold stream 100 metres away from the shack. This developed into the game of “who will dunk first”. Bombadil usually taking first prize.
At JC the Questies seemed to take over camp, outnumbering the long term volunteers by a large percentage. Evenings were a good time for group bondage to take placeat the beginning of our time together after a long and hard days work. Typical bonding time happened whilst playing classic Questy games, listening to the guitar by the camp fire (amazing however Matt’s repertoire consists of only one song; Tears in Heaven).
At JC we were treated to good food, consisting of a range of veg (usually in some sort of batter), a lot of rice, and meat or soy. All cooked in very tasty and interesting ways with a big hit being pancakes and brocolli fritters.. For the coffee drinkers of the group, the coffee was THE BOMB, with multiple cups consumed at various times of the day.
Our long days of hard work involved carrying bags of rocks and sand or rolls of wire up a 20 minute trek into the jungle. This required sheer determination and alot of motivation from Pete to get us up that hill. Unfortunately whilst working our toned little buts off at JC on Simba;s cage, the weather in South America took a turn for the worst (making global news) and consequently resulting in team moral to take a hit. Heavy rain and freezing cold weather which none of us were well equipped for led to a wave of depresion hovering over camp and construction falling behind. Due to this hit, the 5 days of carrying materials up the hill developed into 8, but as the sun came out, the end of the rainbow was closer and work on site could begin. Work now consisted of digging trenches, edging trenches to perfection, pulling fence and ratcheting tight usually resulting in the snagmeister coming into play, and to finish, cementing bolivian styly.
6ft plus giants are in high demand on construction – “Hell to the yeah.” Only giants are capable of achieving the “snag meister” status, as a snagfeast can be defeated by height more so than sticks or life treatening balancing acts on ladders. This opened a whole new bag of problems with the old wire wounds to the arm, cement burn to the hands, general aches and pains, the odd bruise and everyone being totally knackered.
After a couple of “all nighters” having been completed stitching the fences together, the cage was finally finished. With a group of slightly broken Questies the pot of gold was reached and elation hit home. The finishing touch being one final cement mix into which we all placed our hands to create our plack of handprints to remain forever there as the builders of said cage. JC was a beautiful place to be and the trips up were always made more enjoyable if you got to spot a quick glance at the beutiful puma, Lishou. Sure to put a smile on anyones face, however a distinct lack of animal activity in the area with only a few snakes to be seen.. Different to what we were informed by Simon, if only we could see the world through his eyes.
JC TO AMBUE ARI
This trip was a nightmare. An experience none the less but still a nightmare. The journey consisted of 3 buses, a truck and a taxi finally arriving 22 hours later once leaving Rurrenabaque.
After sleeping at a bus stop in a heap of 13 people we crammed into a very small minibus to start the journey of buses. This was then completed only to be informed that at 4am we then had to wait til 8 for the next bus, so the heap was resumed and sleep continued. We make it to the final bus in which there are only 11 seats left and we cram with the local bolivians and chickens, because in the words of Pete, “it’s not too long a bus jounrey”. This however was not the case as 2 hours in, the bus breaks down. 2 hours later and eventually fixed the bus travels on with the front door wide open. Not a problem you feel unless your sat in the front seats next to it with a chilly breeze across the back and the fear of death that you will fall out.
A Miracle however 13 questies and 13 bags arrive at Ambue Ari for the second part of the Bolivian adventure to take place.
After the basics of JC, Ambue can only be described as “luxury.” The water ran forcefully from every tap and didn´t make you chronically ill without sterilisation. “Don Pablo”, the “Chocolate Pudding Palace” and the “Silver Shit Hole” were the three toliets, daily cleaning and an endless supply of bog roll, made the whole process delightful. We were all very excited to see something that looked on the outset like a bed, infact it was again a straw Mattress, but balanced on wood rather than concrete…what a novelty!
The atmosphere at Ambue was very different to JC. With around 50 other volunteers at the park, Ambue has more of a community feel than JC. Questies no longer ruled the roost and happily mingled into the Ambue family. Daily and weekly tasks were inflicted onto the Questies. Examples include “Pios,” this required a minimum of three volunteers, one to carry the feed, the other two to defend against the “Angry Pio” using a weapon of choice, normally spades. Still worse jobs were assigned including “Banos” (a personal favourite) and “Breakfast Comedor” or more correctly termed “Washing up slave”.
Questies were less isolated at Ambue. Chaotic Friday and Saturday nights out in Santa Maria (15min hitch down the road) were guarenteed. Grab the Pacena, mix up the Potable and crank up “chocheman” on the juke box. The odd trip to G-Town (45mins) for Internet, supplies or naughty evenings was permited. Getting to these places was always interesting. An array of transport was used, the game “how many can we ram into a taxi” was always a favourite. The key is not to forget the hot spots; boot or roof, the record during our visit stood at 14 in a 6 seater. Hitching was a possiblilty, the blondes were regularly frog-marched out onto the road to act as bait. However it turns out the Bolivian truck drivers prefered the rather stunning 6ft 6 Bombadillo – the “Hitch Magnet.” Still, surfing the back of lorries or ramming into the back of pick ups was uncomfy but entertaining.
So, working with the animals. Yes, animals Simon! Being the cat park, most of us worked with one of the 25 cats at the park, either an ocelot, puma or jaguar. The cats were assigned based on temperament and personality, example, “Lazy Cat” was just spot on for “Meatball.” Work with the cats normally involved spending a full day “walking” the cats. The word “walk” is debatable as the activity of the cats varied. Some volunteers chillaxed, spooning a puma all day, topping up the tan and powering their way through books (the “Book Theif” being highly sorted, although the owner being highly selfish and an astonishingly slow reader – average speed 5 pages a night). However other volunteers found themselves wrapped round trees and dragged through bogs. Various bruises and cuts were shown off around camp, and exciting stories of the days “dirty” shenanagins were shared during the evenings banter sessions. The cats keep you on your toes, everyone was convinved theirs was the best (but “Lazy is da Bomb” and “Elsa is sexy as”. It´s impossible not to love the work you do with the animals, they´ve had hard lives and to help ease their previous suffering is very rewarding. Construction ploughs on. We have a happy workers in camp if people volunteer on construction. Any spare time, jam out in construction, help always required and appreciated.
So we come to the end of the three weeks at Ambue. The necklesses are given out, the bags are packed (just) and the dorm is clean (ish)… and then disaster struck. Matteo, the “tag along” questie, Pete´s boyfriend and general life and sole of the Quest team announces he will not be joining us in Santa Cruz. We powered on, although it wasn´t the same without him, we spent much of the night comforting each other and reminicing about good Matteo times. Santa Cruz proved good for the much need Bolivian tack souvenirs.
And so the story ends.
Questies final goodbye – emotional.