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Ben and Ange - On the Road

Parque Ambue Ari - One Month in the Jungle

BOLIVIA | Monday, 9 June 2008 | Views [4044] | Comments [3]

Ange walking Yassi... or Yassi walking Ange?

Ange walking Yassi... or Yassi walking Ange?

FIRST: It is really REALLY hard to do the past month of our travels any real justice! Mostly I think I`ve just succeeded in sounding like a bit of a schmuck! The photos will do a MUCH better job I`m sure... and we`ve finally got them uploaded!! YAY!!

SO - on with the show....

Oh dear lord... where to start?

OK - How about I start a wee list of highlights and see if that doesn´t get the words flowing a little.

So - a few of the highlights... in no particular order:

  • ·Walking with and caring for OB the Ocelot (and Yuma the Puma) for a whole month.
  • ·Feeding Faustino the howler monkey daily... and getting him howling
  • ·Chatting to macaws and the most amazing parrots
  • ·Running and Swimming with Yassi the Puma
  • ·Having my hand in Katie the jaguars mouth.
  • ·Visiting Rupi the 130kg jaguar.
  • ·Ben coming home safely from walking Rupi the 130kg Jaguar.
  • ·Teaching English to the FANTASTIC kids in the local school nearby
  • ·Walking 2 hours every day along the most amazing jungle path complete with weird and wonderful plant life, troupes of wild monkeys, birds, anteaters, Agooties etc etc
  • ·Slip-streaming a tractor on our tipsy 10km cycle back to the park one night.
  • ·Almost winning "Werewolf" against some 20 opponents.
  • ·Melonite yogurt.
  • ·Winning "paper, rock, scissors" against Ben EVERY SINGLE time to decide who does the dishes.

Oh dear. This list is getting a tad comprehensive innit? I´ll try a brief rundown of whats been going on for us lately huh?

We left Santa Cruz (and all its wonderful luxuries - such as ELECTRICITY) behind and made our way by bus to the Amazon Basin and to a Bolivian volunteer run animal refuge called Ambue Ari. The main aim of the park is to rehabilitate and release animals or if thats not possible to make their life a hell of a lot more comfortable than it has been in the past. The animals there are victims of poorly run zoos, black market trade, and various other acts of cruelty and general human irresponsibility.

The park accomodations, equipment etc etc are BASIC at best. Its set up right amongst it all in a patch of jungle surrounded by more jungle that has been bought and preserved specifically for the animals. The nearest town is Santa Maria and is made up of mud and thatch or wooden huts, a wee school and a few bars / stores which are largely open air affairs.

When we first arrived the park accomodations (bunk houses with straw matresses) were full so we were stationed in Santa Maria with a few other newbie volunteers. This suited us pretty well since Santa Maria had the luxury of a few hours of generator power each night! Which of course means lights and a cool beer at the end of the day.

The trip between Santa Maria is about 10km and is usually made by getting a mini-van bus thing that passes by the park on its way on to Trinidad. Of course this being Bolivia... sometimes the bus made it on time, sometimes it made it at all and sometimes it didn`t. In that case we hitched. Which is actually more like public transport over here. The best hitching opportunities were the big old clunker flat-bed trucks that we clambered up onto and rode in the fresh air. Albeit keeping mouth firmly closed to avoid swallowing large amounts of dust or woodchips from the trucks previous load.

Naturally Ben and I had to go one step further and we went and bought ourselves a pair of bikes! This way we could come and go between town and the park as we pleased... and damn ... wasn`t it a fine ride anyway. Especially the ride home at night guided by the most amazing moon-light and trying not to go crashing off into the jungle everytime we stared to long up at the equally amazing stars! The pack of semi-domestic dogs at the farmers hut along the way also grew to love our ride as we made much easier targets than the speeding logging trucks.

A week or so in, some volunteers had moved on from the park so we got to move on out there and the bikes were relegated to night-time jaunts into town kinda duties. Each morning at the park started with our 7am (!!!) chores. This ranged from super easy - feeding Faustino the howler monkey - to not so pleasant grating about 4kg of vegetables for the Piyos (kinda like an emu) and scooping up their poops.

Breakfast was next... and then off we could go to work with our designated animals. Ben was put with a jungle Puma called Yuma. She weighed in at about 50kg was 4yrs old and full of wonderful erratic behaviours and pazazz! (Thats Ben´s word). I was put with an Ocelot called O.B (I came to call her Princess Obelina). She weighed in at about 15kg was really really unpredictable but absoulutely stunning!

Our duties with the cats were pretty simple. Clean their cage, clean and refill their water, observe their health and report any probs etc, keep them company and.... walk them!!!!!! Cooo-wul! I was introduced to O.B by her previous volunteer who had seriously bruised knees and scratched arms because O.B seemed to have a penchant for throwing herself (teeth and claws) at her legs. Hmmm.

On my first couple of days O.B had two half hearted attempts at treating me with the same special deal but we soon came to an understanding and for the rest of my time O.B left my skin in tact but always kept me guessing. Fortunately she had a tendancy to telegraph her intentions... ears back, crouching down, tail switching, rear end wiggling was a bit of a megaphone for I THINK I´M GOING TO LAUNCH MYSELF AT SOMETHING NOW....BET YOU CAN^T TELL HUH?! O.B was a bit "special" if you know what I mean :-)

Walking the cats is a bit of a misnomer. What its more like is attaching yourself to the cat via a lead and then following them and their every whim - in the hope of completing a circuit AND getting back into the cage before you miss lunch or dinner back at camp. Mostly this was a pretty pleasant task. Certainly the mozzies (they bite THROUGH jeans and we`re not allowed repellent) the dense hot jungle air and the 80 whatever percent humidity did sometimes make it a little uncomfortable. OB was a good little walker though. Didn`t stop and sleep too much and only got her lead tangled around trees sometimes! But as her Majestys loyal servant, that was MY problem, not hers!

My walk out to OB`s enclosure was about a half hour walk/clamber/slip and slide through the jungle as lots of the way was in a state of mud or still under water. This was actually one of the best parts of my day. The wonderful things I would see and hear along the way always had me stopping and wondering how I could be so lucky to be doing SUCH amazing things every day? A highlight was certainly having a troupe of Capuchin and Squirrel monkeys clambering around in the trees above me. I was having a great time watching them fling themselves from tree to tree (they really do leap amazing distances) but was encouraged to move on when they started dropping (throwing?) their seed husks at me.

Snakes were another common sight - thankfully I only ever saw the little ones and usually saw them before stepping on them (thank the lord for clumsy and leaking gum boots). Hummingbirds as small as butterflies but making as much noise as a helicopter were a favourite... as were blue butterflies as big as a bird! I gotta stop rambling. Back to it.

After the morning with the cats we`d all head back to camp for lunch, then grab the cats food and head back out for the afternoon with our cats. You guessed it... the jungle trail that I loved so much was repeated no less than 4 times a day! Did I mention just how many amazing things I got to see?

I´ll let Ben tell ya bout his puddy tat: Yuma is a jungle Puma that stands a little over knee height and is the quickest cat in the park, and also has a bit of a "personality". Yay says me when i was first told this. Just what i need, a cat thats quick to change temper and even quicker to show it.

The chap before me had only been working with Yuma for about a week and a half so for the first couple of days i had great pleasure in watching him get jumped by Yuma as she got used to me. So after seeing what i was up for, the day came for me to get into physical contact with Yuma. Along came Noemi (the parks manager/catgirl) to supervise. Yuma was on her runner (30 metre rope tied tree to tree) at his stage and as i entered the fray she payed no attention to me. Great i thought.

So with my body still intact we took her for a walk and although Yuma growled a little through the walk she didn´t jump. At this stage i´m now starting get feel a little bit more confident being around a cat a damn site bigger than what i´ve encountered before. With everyone happy at how things have gone Noemi has decided to leave. She has gone down the path and around the corner with Yuma looking at her leave and as soon as Yuma´s decided she is far enough away she´s looked at me and had a big lunge. You cheeky bitch was my first thought before thinking how the hell do i get this cat off my leg. So we pry her off my leg and the rest of the afternoon and most of the next day is me having to deal with a Puma wanting to taste me.

At this stage i´ve also caught a bit of a cold and a few people have said take the day off. "No" i tell them, that would be letting the cat win. Pride is on the line, as well as my body. So the next couple of days are better with only the occasional jump as she plays on her runner (she actually plays fetch with a soccer ball).

Then comes the time for me to take care of her,,ON MY OWN! So off i treck into the jungle where no one can hear me scream!!! I needn´t have worried though. Yuma became a pleasure to work with once we we´re on our own, something about the apha male i reckon. It´s not to say that i didn´t get jumped at all. It´s just that they became rare and pretty half hearted on her behalf. After a while Yuma came into heat. What was: a 50kg killing machine hell bent on tearing chunks from my left knee became the biggest putty tat. The days consisted of me sitting on a small concrete step with her rolling around at my feet rubbing her belly. Pretty cool :)

So for the last couple of weeks Yuma and i got along great and it was pretty sad to have to say goodbye. Lots of stories i could say of her being pretty cheeky (like scaring off her replacement volunteer) but they´ll have to wait.

There was always lots of other work going on around the joint. One of the Jaguars was having a new cage built. Sounds pretty straight forward huh? But nah-uh. Not when you have to lug hundreds of kgs of fencing, rocks, sand, cement and water along a wee jungle trail for about 20mins before you can even start mixing it - with four people and a big tarp. Really makes you think of how things were done once upon a year! Really REALLY makes you sweat. And probly makes you just slightly hysterical from exhaustion. Fun but.

So as I said at the start... it is proving REALLY difficult to express what we`ve just spent the past month experiencing. I think the stories will filter out over time. Not sure our brains can comprehend, process AND SHARE all thats happened without blowing a fuse along the line. So once the pictures are up... check em out and see what you reckon. What a time we`ve had!




You lucky things, sounds absolutely amazing. Thank you for the butterfly it arrived safely, though Australia Post and Customs did get to try it on before I did, not sure how much of the original envelope was left... Anyhoo.... ah Ben don't forget it's your Nans 80th on June 16th so do your best.
Love you both, take care and looking forward to your next adventure.
Your Sis.

  Fiona Jun 11, 2008 7:24 PM


Wow!!! Am I envious. Sounds absolutely fabulous and must be hard leaving the animals. (Can't you send a couple home & we'll look after them til you get back??) Great that you are back on line, we have really missed reading of your adventures. Can't wait to see your photos.......

Love to you both

  sue & dad Jun 12, 2008 10:25 AM


Snap! I'm envious toooo! Sounds like an amazing time you've had with the animals. Keep on postin, coz I love readin watchya bin doin....bring on them photies! PHOTIES ARE NOW UP! ENJOY :-)

  Dee Jun 12, 2008 11:27 PM

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