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BOLIVIA | Tuesday, 1 July 2008 | Views [6050]

Mine and a monkeys hand at´La Senda Verde´ animal sanctuary

Mine and a monkeys hand at´La Senda Verde´ animal sanctuary



Hooray!! I´m just outside Coroico!! I can breathe again... I can live again!!! The drive here, even though it was getting dark, was fantastic! Marcelo and Vicky run the organisation ´La Senda Verde´, which is a sanctuary for rescued animals that have been harmed, or who´s parents have been killed by hunters.  

During the 2 ½ hour drive out of the mountains, down towards the jungle, with a newly rescued monkey sitting in the back seat of the car (soon to be named Agapito), Marcelo fills my head with so much interesting information about animals and the environment. Like ´´Diego´´ he mentions the coca plantations, and how legally the amount planted should only be about 12, 000 hectares, but there is about 28, 000- 30, 000 hectares growing in Bolivia. I reconfirmed with Marcelo that that the Bolivian President is the head of all the coca plantations… perhaps a little corrupt if you ask me!?!

Marcelo also talks about someone who used to be a very good friend, and who he used to sent larger animals to, because his friend´s sanctuary was bigger and better for those animals. So he thought anyway… his so called ´´friend´´ was in fact re-selling the animals for money! Marcelo was so hurt and furious, and is obviously not friends with this greedy man any longer. I could straight away see how Marcelo really cares for the animals. I could tell by the way he was speaking and the things he said, that he truly wants to help make a positive difference to all animal´s lives for the long term.

When we arrived, I walked across a wooden bridge hanging over a rock filled river. Whilst noticing the raised temperature of the weather, I admired the silhouettes of dense, forest covered mountains. I made my way to the kitchen and briefly met a group of nice volunteers, while I was served a much needed, tasty hamburger and chips.

Marcelo was roaming around with a Spider monkey [the one that sleeps with a nappy on, in his and Vicky´s bed (Wara)] tucked under his shirt, half asleep.  When I saw Wara´s face, I nearly died she was that cute! Wara is 18 months old, and only sleeps in Marcelo and Vicky´s bed because baby Spider monkeys usually stay with their parents until they are 2 years old. But Wara needed to be rescued, and doesn´t have a mother anymore.  

I was then taken to a wooden cabin that was filled with a comfortable double bed, a clean toilet, a hot water shower, lamps, and a stairway to where a bunk-bed was. I totally never expect to have such comfortable accommodation. This was just an added bonus to the spectacular feeling of being smack-bang in the middle of nature! I felt so lucky, listening to the river flow, the crickets chirp harmoniously, and the surrounding chatter of birds and monkeys. I wanted that moment to last forever… I was so happy right then!

Irene, a local Bolivan worker at the sanctuary, helped me to get settled into my room. My Spanish interpretation of what she was trying to say was atrocious, and the majority of time I just looked at her blankly. She didn´t seem to mind at all though… we had a bit of a laugh.


I woke up, and walked outside to see the volunteers preparing to feed the animals. Within the sanctuary there are four types of monkeys (Spider, Squirrel, Capuchin and Howler), ducks, rabbits, loads of birds, dogs, cats, a donkey, an ocelot, a snake, coatis (Look part ant eater, part raccoon), turtles, guinea pigs, pigs, and a snake.

There were four international volunteers looking after the animals at the sanctuary. Birger and Sophie (a couple in their mid 20´s from Belgium), and Lorena and Sara who from Switzerland and were also in their youth.  Anna, a qualified veterinary nurse from New Zealand, has been volunteering at the sanctuary for almost a month.

 When I asked the volunteers what their experience had been like so far, and if they liked it at La Senda Verde, they said they really felt like they were helping here, and it was great to be in nature… in paradise, and so relaxed. They also told me how they had built such fantastic relationships with many of the animals. For example, one of the monkeys Luna, who was so shy at first, now jumps all over the volunteers.    

Feeding times for the animals are at 8am, 12pm and 5pm. The volunteers always take the dogs for a walk in the morning, and sometimes in the afternoon, which they love, because the scenery is so lovely. From about 3-5pm, Gravity cyclists come to eat at the restaurant and admire the animals. The volunteers inform the bikers of the rules, including no touching or feeding the animals, and taking photos without a flash. Apart from the volunteers and regular staff, no one is allowed to touch any of the animals without permission and/ or supervision.  All of the money that tourists spend in the restaurant and for accommodation goes directly to the cost of caring for the animals.


There is one monkey, Luna, who is only about 5 years old, but seems a little crazy. She darts her eyes all over the place and jumps side to side in an uncontrollable fashion. Poor Luna must have been treated so badly before she was rescued, as I was told this was psychological behavior.

One of the other monkeys, Martin, is always so friendly towards people, and jumped up to hug me whenever I passed by. He unfortunately had his teeth pulled by his previous owners, so that he wouldn´t bite them. Another smaller, fluffier, male monkey named Kimbo was really cute, but when he climbed onto the back of my neck, he sometimes really dug his nails into my skin! Seresa, a motherly female monkey, was constantly either trying to undo my fly, or steal keys or lip balm out of my pockets. One pair of pants I own, has 6 pockets… and she searched every single one of them!


It was so funny to watch all of the animals play together. The Spider monkeys tips and antagonizes the dogs and coatis, the dog playfully attacks the coatis and Spider monkeys, and the Capuchin monkeys throw stones or anything else they can find at the dogs! The birds and monkeys also attack one another, as do the cats and the dogs. I saw one poor cat getting humped by the two squirrel monkeys!

At times all was silent, but then suddenly, all of the animals would go crazy and loud all at the same time! They would all start squawking, barking, squealing, and making random noises together, whilst jumping and running about!

The volunteers were all leaving soon, and I wasn´t quite sure whether to go, or stay another few days until the new volunteers arrived. I had sand-fly bites, and still do two weeks later, covering my entire body! My arms, back, and legs were devastatingly itchy, and I thought at the time why things couldn´t just remain perfect… why there always has to be something downing a great experience. I hardly slept I was scratching, or trying not to scratch all night! I was also moved to a smaller cabin without the finer luxuries such as a bathroom, but it was still pretty nice, so I was more than happy with this arrangement.

I had helped Edgar (a local worker at the sanctuary, who is training to become a vet) during the morning make fresh pasta, as is done each and every day in a separate section across from the restaurant. Edgar tells me how there used to be no room for the pasta making, which was extremely hard, as the animals would always steal the dough! They still try to now, but it is no where near as hard keeping them away now with a screened area.


All of the volunteers had left by the afternoon, leaving me to feed all of the animals alone! The birds were the hardest to feed because the cheeky Spider monkeys kept stealing all the food that I would leave out on the bird´s perches.

I later hung out with the monkeys again, as I usually did in my spare time. It was insane to watch two of the monkeys Martin and Kimbo (a 6 month old who looks like Gismo from the movie ´Gremlins´), as they lay in my arms, talking to each other. It was obviously monkey chit-chat, but nevertheless, I found it bizarrely human like.

I later went into the restaurant with David (a local worker at the sanctuary), and we gave each other Spanish and English lessons. Then all of the kitchen staff, Vicky, Marcelo, David and a few others including children, all sat down together to eat a meal, cooked by a new Hungarian staff member. It was a little spicy, and tasted great!


Today, I took care of nearly all the animals by myself. I fed the birds, rabbits, turtles, dogs, and most of the monkeys… it was a long day. I had a little help from David with feeding the scary and sometimes quite dangerous monkeys. In the afternoon, I had to ask for David´s and Edgar´s help, as I unleashed one of the monkeys Mirka (who only has one eye), to untangle her rope, and managed to let her run away. It was a day of accidents for me, as somehow I had also managed to block the sink that morning with food scraps. Luckily David was there too to lend a hand.       

By this stage, I had had three dogs living by my side constantly… two golden retrievers, Boris and Limon, and a skinny similar coloured dog named Flaca (meaning skinny in Spanish). They also decided to take up residency in my room for the afternoons that I would let them crash on the floor.

Once again in the evening, I had Spanish and English lessons with David, which was great as usual.

During the night, the three dogs persisted out the front of my door. They scratched and yelped, and wouldn´t let me sleep!


At a ridiculous hour of the morning, I ended up having to change rooms into the area where the volunteers were previously sleeping in. When I got up the next day after a series of nightmares, which seemed to be a common occurrence for me during the first part of my stay, I fed the animals. I was so tired, that when I went to feed Mirka (the one eyed monkey), and continue trying to put her back on her leash, she bit my pinky finger really hard and broke through the skin.

During breakfast in the restaurant, with the dogs still following my every footstep, Margarita (a coati), tried to steal my food. By this stage I was so fed up and tired, that I embarrassingly enough burst out crying in front of the kitchen staff!! I´m certain now though that a major factor contributing to this outburst was my raging hormone levels!  I then took the dogs for a nice calming walk so that I could chill out a bit.

My day got much better. I interviewed Edgar about his experiences working at the sanctuary, and later went to Coroico for the first time (which was lovely) with Vicky, her daughter Carolina, her son Rodriguo, and her son´s girlfriend Lorietta. Strangely enough, I found out that I know Lorietta´s friend´s sister from Sydney! And another thing!! The day before… I had met with two women at the sanctuary who I had also briefly met in Para Los Niños in La Paz! Bizarre!

It was San Juan night in Bolivia, which means that everyone starts fires because it is supposedly the coldest night of the year. Everyone also eats hot dogs… so that was what was on the menu for dinner. I had a great time standing around a fire with everyone in a dry river bed, drinking Tiger milk, even though I still felt a bit like the dog lady. I never got 30 seconds to myself with the herd of dogs following me absolutely everywhere!

Carolina (Vicky´s daughter), told me a bit about one of the human rights situations. Eight babies a day are thrown into the bin!! This is possibly… probably, because abortion is illegal in Bolivia. It is only considered legal to abort a child if the baby was conceived from a family member, due to a rape, or to save a mother´s life. The only other way is to get a judge to overrule this law, but this is almost impossible as the judge would then be breaking a law… so this is quite contradictory.


I had a cold and so spent most of the day roaming in and out of bed. Lunch was hilarious… a Howler monkey named Chica, snuck inside the restaurant and stole a handful of pasta from a cyclist´s plate! Apart from that, I found it a pretty quiet day, and spent the rest of my time cuddling the monkeys and walking the dogs.

Chris and Lisa, a young couple from England arrived in the evening, and had come to begin volunteering. They had never done anything quite like this before, and seemed quite excited.


When I asked Chris and Lisa for their first impressions of volunteering at ´La Senda Verde´, they both had quite similar responses. They both said that although there was a lot to first take in, it was great learning with a monkey sitting on your head or shoulder, and being well away from some boring old office environment. Both Chris and Lisa seemed to immediately connect very well with all of the animals. Even the very shy animals that can take a few days to approach a stranger, crawled all over them on the very first day!     

 Before, when they were in England, Lisa was doing admin work in a university and Chris was working for a telecommunications company. They constantly mentioned how glad they were that they had decided to travel. Now I´m sure they feel the same way about coming to volunteer at ´La Senda Verde´.


According to my schedule, I was supposed to have left by today. Unfortunately, I was once again kept up the whole night by a series of violent vomiting from all areas of my body! I spent about 96% of my day in bed, and left really only to visit the much needed bathroom. It felt like a marathon, just getting up to eat a tiny bit of potato at the restaurant, but luckily I did, because I got to meet Camillo.

Camillo is a newly rescued monkey, who is only a few months old. Although he was skinny and a little nervous, he was definitely the most adorable monkey I have ever laid eyes on! He was rescued from the forest after his mother was hunted for food. It´s a shame I couldn´t spend too much time with him, as my legs were almost certainly going to buckle they felt so weak.

Thank goodness Anna had swapped her book with me! I had finished mine, which was about a woman who lived unwillingly under the Taliban regime, and then at least I could have something to do between unbearable stomach cramps.

Apart from the sickness, as I seemed to constantly be getting throughout Bolivia, the ´La Senda Verde´ experience was an incredibly positive experience that I can honestly say has changed my life for the better. What place couldn´t that cares so deeply for misfortunate animals, and with such pure intent, puts their needs first.

If you would like to volunteer at, or support ´La Senda Verde´, email Vicky at vossiop@gmail.com or go to the website http://www.lasendaverde.com/

Also, feel free to join the La Senda Verde Facebook group.




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