On the 1st May, I flew from New Zealand to South America. I landed in Chile after an long 10+ hour flight. After ingesting some really disgusting airplane food, I proceed to lie on my bed in my hotel moaning in agony and wishing I'd brought my own food with me.
The following morning, the 2nd May, I left Santiago, after a run in with an airport employee who asked to take me into town which I promptly refused, after all my mama and papa always taught me to never climb into cars with strangers. He then took me back to the airport, after requesting a decent sized tip. Well that put a nail in my plans. After all, I had only budgeted for my time in Bolivia, not my time in Chile.
With a total of $30 in my bank account, this wasn't enough for him. Um excuse me, this is more than I would get per hour back home and he only assisted me for ten freaking minutes! But then I advised I had forgotten my PIN for my other card. After multiple attempts to connect to the airport wifi, I sadly informed Sebastian that I would be unable to provide him with a tip as I did not have any funds. Sebastian was rather good about it and wished me well on my trip as I vanished into the throngs of gringos and Spaniards. (Chileans?)
After many more hours of flying and one stopover in a tiny town in a desert, called Iquique, I finally arrived in La Paz. After exiting my cramped and fumigated plane, I entered into a world of high altitudes and the ongoing struggle to breathe. Just a few steps through the airport and I was gasping for air like a fish drowning in oxygen.
I was picked up from the airport by a lovely man named Jesús. He had a sign with my name on it, which was quite exciting, I've never been picked up by someone holding a sign before and then we began the four hour journey to La Senda Verde.
La Senda Verde is an animal sanctuary located near a small town called Coroico, near the Death Road, also known as the world's most dangerous road, where on average around two hundred people lose their lives every year.
La Senda Verde is located across a river, on 12-15 hectares of land, owned by Vicki & Marcelo.
After travelling nearly 7,000 miles, I had finally arrived at the sanctuary. I met some great people from all over the world. There were volunteers from the United Kingdom, the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, Australia and of course New Zealand (I was the only Kiwi there). I was then shown to my house which was shaped like an umbrella, right in the middle of monkey territory. There were human cages around the sanctuary, as the animals roamed free.
I met some truly amazing animals, some I had no idea even existed.
We worked a three day rotation system, so three days with birds, three days with bears and tortoises and three days with the specials which included monkeys, a capybara, margays, a kinkajou and a paca.
After just a few days of volunteering, I had a bit of a run-in with a rather aggressive spider monkey named Tinto. I don't blame him, after all, most of these animals did have a terrible start to life, most the result of the illegal pet trade, but in some ways, he was a danger not only to people, but to other monkeys.
So I was feeding an owl monkey when Tinto decided to jump on my head, like literally sat on my head and then he wrapped his tail around my neck and hung his entire body weight off me and let me tell you, those things are not light.
Unable to breathe and getting slightly panicky, I ended up having a panic attack, which he made worse by biting me on the top of my head. The bite did not draw blood and he didn't sink his teeth in, I guess it was more of a nibble than anything
To be honest, I got away lightly. It could have been worse, but the experience shook me and I was unable to continue up in the area for quite some time. It was because of this, I decided not to take on the rare opportunity of heading to the capuchin area. After all, capuchins are notorious for not particularly liking females very much, but I don't regret it. After all, my response to Tinto showed that I would have been very uneasy in the capuchin area and they probably would have picked up on that.
But, I got to work with my beautiful Spectacle Bears, Aruma and Tipnis and that was worth it. They were my favourite part of La Senda Verde.
As new people came in and other people went, there was opportunity to make new friends but it also say goodbye to old ones which was sometimes sad.
I can honestly say I had one of the best experiences of my life here at La Senda Verde. The people I worked with were great, who shared a common interest with me and the animals were simply incredible, some with such sad tales that brought me to tears.
If you are like me, a keen volunteer with a love for all animals, then maybe you might like to visit a place like Bolivia.
And if you are unsure if monkeys are the animals you want to work with then there are other volunteering opportunities around the world, thanks to the Great Projects.
The link for the Great Projects can be found here: www.thegreatprojects.com
Anyway - that's it from me.