Monkey Magic

Trip Start May 07, 2003
Trip End Sep 05, 2005

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Monday, January 12, 2004

After a few more days in the lovely city of Cuzco and visiting some more magnificent Inca ruins, I made it into Bolivia and to Lago Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world.

Visited some spooky floating islands made of reeds. Infact everything was made of reeds, their houses, boats, furniture. Then to equally eerie Isla del Sol, the birthplace of the Inca gods and believed to be the cradle of civilisation itself, starkly beautiful and still very untouched and barren. Bolivia reads like a Guiness book of world records, the highest lake, highest capital city, the most dangerous road, the biggest salt flat, in the world. It holds the largest indigenous population in Latin America, they don't even speak Spanish as a first language as like in Guatemala, the indigenous traditions and languages are still so alive. It holds the mysteries of so much in the Inca empire and even in modern times, the myths of Che Guevara and Butch Cassidy & the Sundance kid end here. It's an enigma, a terrain of extremes and a land of legend. I love it. Ever since I left the last time 3 years ago, my return has been imminent. Only in Bolivia would you get to work so closely with those wild animals above, mountain bike down the worlds most dangerous road or quite freely buy dynamite to let off as you please!

Right now I have theee most impressive display of vicious insect bites you have ever seen, I haven't been able to wear dry clothes or boots for over a week, I've been sleeping on a stinkin' cheesy straw sack, I've dodged a Killer Bee attack and multiple collapsing bridges, one of which killed nearly 150 people 2km up the hill on New Years eve as 3 buses as numerous cars unknowingly drove off the edge into the swollen river at night. The other, which we crossed every day, the army was frantically rebuilding before the main structure collapsed. We sat with a beer contemplating it's demise and how we were going to get home each night! Despite all this, I've quite possibly had one of the most different and unforgettable weeks yet. I found this magical place on the edge of Amazonia in the infamous Chapare coca growing region of Bolivia. It's called Inti Wara Yassi and was set up to look after abused, unwanted or illegal animals and to help deprived Bolivians turn their lives around by working with these animals. As I walked down into the monkey enclosure I suddenly noticed there were squeaking balls of fur everywhere, "squeak squeak" (hi), the monkey said directly into my ear just after he had landed on my shoulder from the tree above. He reached down into my pockets and opened the zip on my bag "squeak squeak" (thanks for the chocolate you stupid human) and off he leaped, springing from tree to tree. By the time I made it to the bottom of the enclosure I had a monkey clinging to each leg and one on each shoulder, they had emptied my pockets and were currently working out how to undo the combination on my rucksack. These little things are cuter than the cutest babies, but far more intelligent, you can't help but fall in love. I got to know some of them by name, they are so close to us genetically, you get real social interaction with them. They kissed and preened me, checked me for bugs, ran to me for protection, I'm sure they were trying to talk to me, they even offered me food! I HAD to stay and volunteer - the flights were changed.
On my first day I discovered I had been posted to work on the Jaguar run! This is a full grown, wild Jaguar, the 3rd biggest cat in the world, and it wasn't even in a cage!

Now, I know I like cats but... Slashing thru swathes of thick virgin jungle with a machete is something I've always fancied, so I actually took on this task with great gusto. We had to clear the way for a new 80m cable run for 'Sami' the Jaguar. He currently had a 70m run, attached to it by a collar and leash round his neck, he was "almost free". Anyway so we're working away, and I'm getting closer and closer, thrashing away wi ma machete, I notice I am being stalked! He was pacing up and down, trying to find a way to get free and eat me! He was rearing up and growling, struggling and straining to get free on the cable, grabbing onto trees, and thrusting his feet into the ground like an angry bull. I only hoped that the Bolivian engineering was going to hold up to this powerful animal! He was a stunning looking beast though and it was unreal that I was able to get so close to him for so long. By the end, incredibly, he was licking my hand thru his night-time cage! I still wouldn't trust him off the leash though! My next job was to look after 'Weasy', a really big Mongoose/Weasel type creature which no-one seemed to actually know the species of. As the guy showed me the ropes, he said "Weasy's the only animal here you can be really sure of - you can be really sure he's gonna bite you!" Oh well, the first day I did indeed get bitten to sh1t, he was just seeing how tasty I was! Weasy is the funniest, most wreckless and fearless animal I have ever come across. He would zip along the trail, up a tree and leap wildly into nowhere in-particular, grabbing anything on the way down with his teeth, feet, tail, often nothing as he thudded into the forest floor, he would immediately jump up, unhurt, come bite me or the Puma, then run off as the Puma tried to pounce on him, mainly unsuccessfully. Weasy had the unlikely friendship with 'Gato' the Puma,
another impressive beast, who would walk with us on a leash 10k's every day thru the hot jungle. Named appropriately but unimmaginatively, because this Puma was as tame as a pussy cat. Or so I thought until he pounced on me one day! No harm done though and he was only playing, as most of the animals are when they do sh1t like that. Anyway by the end of the week Weasy, slept on my lap for nearly an hour, which was larvely!

My Hogmanay was a wild tequila affair in Cochabamba, not a night that I remember and a morning (or day later) where I woke up surprised to find I had all my clothes and both shoes accounted for, wasn't in the jail and hadn't been in a fight (I don't think!) Anyway folks I hope you too had a cracking Christmas and a quality New Year. May 2004 bring you great trips round the world, many new friends and shed loads o fun fun fun. A lottery win might come in handy too eh?

Tomorrow, I'm off doon the silver mines in Potosi (the highest city in the world!) to buy said dynamite. I'm thinking maybe I should save some for fun and games on my flight to the US next fortnight!! He he!

All the very very best fir 2004.
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