Friday, September 30, 2005

Dr edlittle

Having a gift for getting on with all creatures great and small I thought it was high time to explain some of the zen healing philosophies I have been implementing during my stay here at Inti Yara Wasi. Actually it seems most of the 40 or so volunteers are more concerned about saving their own lives than that of the animals. I for one know that the highlight of each day is shutting that cage door. So what´s it all about this working with dangerous animals thing?
Aside from accumulating breathtaking dinner party anecdotes, it´s about getting to know animals you could probably only throw a banana at in the zoo. Most of the animals here have been maltreated in some way or another. Leoncio the puma I´m working with was kept in a house as a baby and as he got to be about 6 months old and started jumping his owners they decided to break both his legs. His cries were heard by neighbours who called the police and they called our animal refuge. That was about 15 months ago and Leoncio is now walking and in fact he´s the best swimmer out of all the pumas. The other day he swam with me for 40 minutes. He will probably develop arthritis one day but now he has a reasonable life for a caged animal. It´s a lot better than the zoo but not quite the wild. If he was released he wouldn´t survive despite the fact that he thinks he´s a great hunter of baby chicks...He caught another two today. There are 7 pumas here, 4 ocelots ( Kate is working with one called Rico), one jaguar called Sama who is very dangerous but very beautiful, about 25 spider monkeys, 230 capuchin monkeys, 2 boa constrictors, 2 honey bears, 3 funny looking pigs, 2 howler monkeys, a couple of sloths, 5 toucans, 3 birds of prey and wide variety of loud and mostly flightless birds and a stream of western volunteers who breeze in and out. There is also a puma and ocelot out there who escaped.... mmm hope I don´t run into them on one of the trails.
The park is getting more animals all the time and the main problem now is getting enough volunteers to work with the animals and pay for their upkeep. For the tourists it´s an unprecedented opportunity to work with no expereince with an exotic animal. The minimun time to volunteer is 2 weeks and if you want to work with a cat you need to be able to commit 4 weeks at least. There are always 2 volunteers working with the pumas which makes it a lot safer...when they attack you the other person can pull him off. So far I havent heard of anything really dangerous happenning here. Apparently a few years ago one guy had a puma at his throat but he managed to get it off. Other than that there has been lots of minor bites, scratches with those sharp claws and bruises. Often it´s the muddy trails which pose the greatest danger. So now we only have one more week to go and though I face each day with a little bit of dread, I do love my cat and I hope he knows I am here to help him... and get some good photos of course. He´s only jumped me three times out of 14 days so far and only once badly.... but not too badly that he didn´t come for a pat afterwards.
And of course working with monkeys can be just as dangerous.... last month a Bolivian tourist came into the park with 3000 US dollars, which quickly became 1200 US dollars after the monkeys got to it... Apparently he looked like the cocaine drug dealer type so it wasnt such a problem. Speaking of coaine drug dealing types, the DEA are flying overhead most days looking for coca plantations, nosy americans that they like to be. Was extremely funny when I was emptying the monkey cage of hay into the river from a huge sack....They circled me aout 8 times wondering what tehe hell I was doing.... so like all good backpackers I gave them finger. When in Bolivia

Attack eyes

When you´re doing your little thing on the catwalk, especially the puma walk, one of the most unboring things to happen is the famous attack eyes. There you are walking along thinking you´re way too sexy for your cat when suddenly he stops and looks at you. It´s enough to send shivers down your spine.... Most of the time he hardly seems to notice you, he looks at sounds in the jungle, he looks at trees to climb but he never looks you in the eyes.... It´s almost as though he turns into Mr Hyde. You are no longer the guy walking him.... you are a big tasty piece of chicken and he is a puma possesed. His eyes turn a deep shade of pale green, he stoops lower and bang. He jumps up on you to try and get hold on your stomach with his teeth. Then 2 seconds later it´s over and maybe a small singing bird has caught his attention and he´s back to Dr Jeckyll...and he´ll be rubbing up against you in no time..... cats are evil creatures

Thursday, September 22, 2005

How to walk a Puma

Being an expert puma walker I can now impart my great wisdom on you ignoramuses out there in blog land (should there actually be any readers that is). The scary thing is that in 5 days time my partner in puma walking leaves, making me the boss. In fact the whole animal training thing here leaves a lot to be desired. It´s basically a big game of chinese whispers where each volunteer passes on the knowledge they have learnt from the previous volunteer. The scary thing is all it takes is one stupid American volunteer to break the chain and tell you that tieing up your puma near the chicken sheds is quite ok. So should I get horrifically mauled in the next few weeks can someone pass on this information to the next volunteers. 9.30: Grab your packed lunch from the cafe and take a short walk up to Leoncio´s cage shouting Mar every few paces (this is puma language) to let him know your coming. Try not to sound too stupid or he might not take you seriously.
9.37 arrive at the cage and put your fingers thru it so he can rub against them and pray to hell that he doesn´t want to bite them off
9.39 step into the cage and try to hook a carabina around a ring on his neck without attracting attention to the fact that is what you´re doing. This can take betwen 3 and 30 minutes depending on luck, courage and his particular mood.
9.45 Once the carabina with rope is attached get ready to run like hell as you open the cage door and he bolts 40 yards in human record time.
9.46 step on the breaks really fast as he stops behind a bush and weaits to attack the second person after they have closed the cage. Usually he waits til they round the corner and then pounces. Most of the time he doesn´t attack too savagely and you won´t come away with any scratches or marks.
9.48 walk along the trail being careful not to tread on his tail and yell out to Bolivian tourists that you have an extremely dangerous puma that you can´t control and if they don´t get off the trail faster than you can say vamos there is extremely strong likelihood you will set him loose on them. If this fails then remind them that his previous Bolivian owner broke both his legs and he´s looking to seek revenge for past injustices.
10.20 try to move him off the tourist trail as he has decided to sit down and stare down the workman in the orange raincoat.
10.45 keep trying to distract him from the workman in the orange raincoat
11.00 try to hold him down as he suddenly bolts down the wet, muddy track to the beach yelling out slow down in your best puma accent
11.10 try to keep as close as you can thru the bushes on the beach as he likes to hide in them and jump out and attack you
11.15 keep your response muted when he finds a nest of baby chicks and proceeds to gobble them whole
11.20 tie him to a rope and go off and have a break with the spider monkeys, you and your nerves deserve it
12.15 wake him up, he´s been sleeping under a little bush, but not too loudly, he doesn´t really like to be woken up and try to convince him that it´s mad dogs and pumas that like walking in the midday sun
12.45 arrive at the river rapids and try and coax him into the water with your bare flesh. To him it looks like chicken
12.55 try and hold the rope tight as he swims in the rapids... we don´t want a puma in Brazil
1.15 lead your wet and hopefully tired puma to the end of the beach where he will sleep and give you time to eat your lunch
3.00 wake your puma up again and tell him it´s time to start the walk home. Stop him from chasing spider monkeys, snakes, rodents and humans, all of which he will resent you for and probably take out on you around the next corner
5.00 arrive back at his area and show him an egg which will hopefully lead him back to the cage. Break the egg, unhook his carabina and take his food into the cage and hope to hell he doesn´t attack you there. Shout out nice day Leoncio and make sure he doesn´t hear you curse cat people on the way out
5.15 return to the cafe and congratulate yourself on another day without being attacked or display your new scratch marks to your friends.

Cheeky Monkeys

After straining my ligaments in my ankle I was despatched the monkey park for a little bit of monkeying around. There are 3 types of monkeys here at Parque Marchia. 1) Capuchins 2) Spider monkeys 3) Squirrel Monkeys

Capuchins: These guys are thieves and not to be trusted with anything. In the 2 days I was there the little buggers, stole 2 bottles of coke, 1 pair of reading glasses, 2 pairs of sunglasses, a sandwich, a digital camera, a packet of alka seltzer tablets that were swiftly gobbled up and the latest John Grisham. They are not afraid to give you a little nip shoud you decide to eat too many of their peanuts and they were also responsible for ripping off half a guys ear (see previous blogs). There have been a total of 250 of these monkeys released into the park in the last 8 years, most of them end up going off in their own groups, free again to live happy lives, others remain petty thieves and are the bane of our experience.

Spider monkeys: These lovely little critters are my favorite animal of the park and have also provided me with my new girlfriend Tomasita. Tomasita is the matriarch of the spider monkeys and she hates girls... she usually bites them and loves men (I guess that makes her a boy girl). These monkeys only have 4 fingers, but 5 toes and although they are not as bad at thieving as the capuchins, one of them did manage to steal my Paul Auster novel, climb a tree and begin ripping out random pages and then eating them.
In the end I lost 60 pages so I guess I just make up my own story now. But back to my new true love Tomasita, every day now when I walk Leoncio the Puma, she comes down and lies all over me for a least an hour. She grabs my hand and makes me groom her and we go on walks togethor to find spiders. It´s true romance.

Squirrel monkeys: (the monkey on the left, not in the middle)These guys are tiny little things, they are wild and just come down to steal food during feeding. Cute little fellas though. It was great to have a couple of rest days after walking the Alpha male puma and basically my job entailed cuddling monkeys and feeding them fruit and making sure tourists didn´t get their cameras stolen.

I even got to spend an afternoon in the monkey mirador which is basically the psychological ward for monkeys. this is where all monkeys unfit for public consumption end up, the thief´s thief, the wanking monkeys and the ones who like to rip ears off.... actually it was quite pleasent up there, felt I´d finally found somewhere I fit in... crazy monkey I am

Thursday, September 15, 2005

I fought the puma and the puma won

Yes it´s true....I have been defeated by a cat.... being a dog person I´m not too happy about the fact but credit where credit is due. Roy the puma is in fact lighter on his feet, stronger, more aggressive and better suited to sprinting down wet jungle trails than I am. So on my fourth day of minding the refuge´s alpha male puma he has managed to lead me on a run where I twisted my ligaments in my ankle and now have to retire from walking the puma. At first I was secretly glad, as all my clothes are muddy, my feet are covered in blisters, the skin on my hands has been torn apart by grabbing inopportune and rather spikey jungle branches and my nerves are a little jittery knowing that my puma may turn on me at any moment.
Actually I have been rather lucky, I hadn´t been attacked since my initiation, whereas the American guy I have been working with has been attacked twice a day, sometimes rather savagely( but then again I have always had a way with pumas). So now I am limping around the refuge awaiting to be assigned the next animal to work with. Today I spent the afternoon getting to know a couple of toucans who enjoyed pecking my feet, and then I spent the afternoon in the Monkey mirador where most of the slightly mad monkeys live. Of course I made a couple of friends and also managed to steer clear of the leader male who bit off half my American friends ear last week.( He really has had a terrible time here). So all in all the big loser is Roy...who I actually miss now the big tough sweetheart he is...because he will be missing out on walking as there arent enough volunteers at the moment.... and he was crying all day today becuase of it... so sad.... well Roy you´ll have to learn to stop attacking your volunteer friends and leading them down the jungle path so quickly. But I aint out of the jungle yet.... still 25 days to go here and looks like I´ll be assigned another puma.... albeit not as fast as Roy... but one who still likes to attack... his name is leonzio.... I can´t wait

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Initiation to a Puma

Sunday morning: the toughest day of my life. It´s a big call, everyone has one toughest day of their life..... first day in a new job, break up, there are many tough days but my one, beyond any measure of doubt was last sunday.
Currently volunteering at an animal refuge in the jungle of Bolivia (This was Kate´s idea I might add) and I have been assigned to walk the most dangerous puma in the park. His name is Roy.
So off I walk on sunday morning, with Richard , a tough english lad from Birmingham and Cameron, a young american guy who had half his ear chewed off by a homicidal monkey last week. As we clamour thru the mud up to Roy´s cage, they inform me that every new volunteer must undertake an initiation test with Roy the Puma. "You will get attacked and probably quite badly but everyone has to do it... It´s Roys way of getting used to you"
Great I´m thinking to myself. "Whatever you do don´t run, don´t turn your back and don´t show any fear. He likes to test out the new volunteers and if you show any fear it will only make it worse for you later on" remarked a chirpy Richard.
So we let roy out of his cage tied to a rope which he could roam around on close to his cage. Then I was informed I had to move into his area, between 2 rocks, so that he could attack me. So there I am standing there as human bait and sure enough along comes Roy. He jumps up and basically digs his teeth into my chest and I pick him up by the collar saying "No Roy no". then he comes again, this time getting my leg... again, No Roy, no.... but what I am I thinking, this puma don´t speak English man..... he just wants to dig his big teeth he´d been sharpening on that log a few minutes ago into my chest which he does a third and 4th time, on the 5th time he has completely ripped the side of my new army strength shirt and made another rip in the middle. Finally after 8 attacks and about 3 minutes he gets bored and wanders off and I have survived a Roy attack. " He got you good, he must really like you " announced chirpy Richard. I lift up my shirt to reveal about 5 bite marks across my chest and stomach.... At least I know what to expect when he attacks when we go walking in the jungle, which I have been assured will never be as bad as the initiation.... I just hope so.
After my initiation we put Roy on a lead and headed into the jungle for his 10 km walk(run) thru the wet muddy jungle. Sprinting down wet steep pathways with only sharp spikey branches to grab hold of as the puma you´re holding sprints off aint walking a dog on Bondi Beach. At any moment he can attack you... if you fall over he will turn around and instinctively attack you, if you hold him up, step on his tail or look him in the eye too long he will attack you. I was trying to clamour over a very steep rock holding the reins of Roy and slipped and the next thing I see is Roy flying thru the air in my direction towards my head. Lucky he was slightly off target and I threw him off the hill. The three words Good boy Roy and No Roy No are now amongst the most used in the English language.
After sprinting about 12 kms thru the wet trails we finshed our day and got Roy back to his cage. I have never been so utterly physically, emotionally and mentally challenged in my entire life .... and the cheery fact was that was day 1 of 30 .... oh but it was all worth it when Roy offered up his cute little face for a pat at the end..... followed by a growl of course

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Just a walking the Puma

¨We need a male volunteer for the Puma called Roy. He´s very strong, aggressive and difficult and you have to be very strong and fit to look after him¨ . Remarked the fairly eccentric French lady to me and 2 guys next to me.
So far it was a choice between the psychological ward for monkeys, where there is a wanking monkey and the only guy I met who worked there had half his ear bitten off. So as the lesser of what seems to be two evils I put up my hand up and am now the proud walker of a Puma called Roy. First day tomorrow and must admit I am very apprehensive. 1) the trails are thru the jungle and extremely arduous 2) Apparently Roy has a habit of attacking his new minders, there is footage of him stalking and lunging at the last guy silly enough to look after him. I have been assured he does this without his claws out 3) I`ve always been a pussycat with the household kitten, so a fully grown male puma will be interesting 4) what kind of a country allows you near wild animals with no training anyway....
The answer is Bolivia and we´re at Inti Wara Yassi where we are volunteering to help rehabilitate animals. They are all ex pets, circus animals, roadkills etc and need help adjusting back to life in the jungle which is where eddy and kate come along. Speaking of Kate, she has her very own ocelot to look after. Just her, the ocelot, the jungle and a walky talky in case anything happens.... At least with my puma there is three of us looking after him.... aparently he needs three people as he´s such a handful. So it´s early to bed tonight as I will be running a mile thru the jungle with a wild animal on a leash.... God I love Bolivia

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

World´s most dangerous road

"The next section is where most of the accidents with mountin bikers occur" remarked our guide.
" When you say accidents, you mean people falling off their bikes, cutting their legs, maybe breaking an ankle, right?" I asked hopefully
"No these I not consider accidents, accidents are deaths" was his reply.
It was then I really seriously began to question the sanity of riding the so called death road from La Paz to Coroico in Bolivia.

The road is 63 km long starting at 4700 metres above sea level and descending to 1100 metres in Coroico. It is considered to be the worlds longest downhill stretch and also goes by the grisly title of world´s most dangerous road. With much of the road just being 3.2 metres wide and bordered by cliffs more than a km high, the moniker is well deserved. An average of 26 vehicles per year dissapear over the edge. Not to mention the fact that 8 mountain bikers have died in the last 2 years, which brings me to the question what the hell was I thinking trying to mountain bike down the thing?
As with most stupid adventures it was a combination of ignorance, machismo, peer group pressure and stupidity which of course ended up in it being a whole load of fun. All over La Paz are agencies offering the trip and it seems to be the thing to do here. I was completely unaware tourists had been killed doing it. It was this fact I found out half way down

We started riding down in very cold weather a 4700 metres at about 8.00 in the morning and the first section was on an ashphalt paved road. Before we knew it we were screaming down at 67 km an hour for the ride of our lives. Luckily I had left Kate in La Paz. After that we hit section 2 which was a dirt road bordered by screaming 1000 meter abysses. All along the road are crosses suggesting that the entire road was unsafe not just parts of it. In the end I only came off once and have a small graze as a souvenir of my adrenalin fuelled adventure. We completed the ride in 4 hours and it´s something I definitely won´t be doing again. The unfortunate thing about the whole ride was that afterwards we had to drive back to La Paz on the same road... that was even scarier.

Of course prize for most craziest goes to the Bolivian truck drivers who every year organise a race to see who really is the world´s best driver. It starts at the bottom in Coroico with all the drivers downing about 8 pints of lager and then getting in their vehichles for a little bit of first to to the top. Needless to say this is the day where most deaths occur every year

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Anyone for Llama Foetus?

And for the prize for South America´s craziest city goes to.... La Paz of course. The Peace, where we are now sits at 3600 metres and assumes the title of world´s highest capital city. But llama foetuses.... what are they thinking? Well actually these Bolivianos are a superstitious lot and Llama foetuses are designed to bring you good luck in the Business arena. Apparrently 98% of the buildings in La Paz have a llama foetus buried in it´s foundations in order to protect the house and bring the inhabitants good luck. Other forward thinking superstitions include stuffing a cigarette in the mouth of a dried up frog which will bring you good fortune of course.
So if you´re down on your luck in la Paz.... the witches market where all these can be purchased is the place to go. Considering I´m about to mountain bike the world´s most dangerous road tomorrow I´ll be taking the bald furry one thanks

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Bolivian Navy

Most countries without a coast would have given up on the idea of having a Navy years ago, not so Bolivia. The Bolivian Navy has 6800 personnel including 2000 marines(many of them trained in the top academies of Europe and America and ¨the fleet ¨ includes dozens of boats. (These intrepid seamen only have one ocean going vessel and this is docked in Argentina and apparently has never even been near Bolivia). Bolivia also has a national holiday called the Day of the Sea and it is still possible to reach the rank of Admiral. Every year Bolivia selects a Miss Coastline in a nationally televised beauty contest. Now if all this information isn´t proof that altitude affects your mental faculties than I don´t know what is. Navy headquarters is located on Lake Titicaca where we are now, which also happens to be the world´s highest Navigable lake (3900 metres). The Bolivians lost their access to the sea in 1884 and have been attempting to regain it everynow and then thru a series of ill concieved military campaigns, no surprise really if they plan on any naval manouveres.

Getting high in Bolivia

We´re at the copa, copacabana..... and we´re extremely high.... chewing coca every day. Well one has too when you´re at 4000 metres above the sea. Yep it´s the world´s highest beach resort, and that in itself is enough to send you running for the beanie and extra jumper. The nose is bleeding, we´re completely breathless and snuggled up in 3 layers, but they still have the tacky paddleboats ready for us.... Welcome to Bolivia. Copacabana was actually the inspiration for the name of it´s more famous cousin in Rio. Apparently there was some miracle sighting of a virgin here, and with all the hippies hanging about I don´t believe thats going to happen again for a while. The scenery is quite spectacular.... the lake a deep eerie blue, surrounded by the beloved south American desert we have come to love so much. If only Barry Mannilow had done a pan fluted version about this place. It was also a place for ritual it´s the gringos who do the bloodletting, think I paid twice as much for the tour as everyone else

Before crossing the border we spent a morning at the famous floating Islands on the Peruvian side of the lake. Although quite touristy it was quite remarkable. The Islands are built on these tortura reeds( which are actually very tasty) and about 2000 people float their lives away here with visits from hundreds of tourists every day. The original idea was to escape from those damn imperialistic Incas and the Islanders have been living here ever since, building silly boats and getting sunburnt. Tomorrow we head to La Paz, Bolivia´s capital and we plan on staying high there for at least a few days