Parque Machia- Animal Refuge of Inti Wara Yassi

Trip Start Oct 16, 2010
Trip End Aug 01, 2011

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Where I stayed
La Querencia

Flag of Bolivia  , Cochabamba,
Thursday, March 10, 2011

Our time volunteering to help rescued animals with Inti Wara Yassi at Parque Machia in Villa Tunari was a very rewarding, albeit tuff, experience. The animals were great, the terra in was jungle and the group of volunteers who we spent our time with had your expected combination of great and interesting characters along with those you just didn't want to have anything to do with. Inti Wara Yassi is unfortunately run like a Bolivian organization rather than a Western institution. The leadership is scarce, resources are lacking, the services they offer to the animals (veterinary, nutrition, etc.) are questionable, and innovation is not very evident. But they do seem to be trying to do some good things for our globe and thus it was a pleasure to be part of the organization.

We were fortunate to arrive during a month that the organization had temporarily leased a relatively nice hotel across the street (compared to some of the insect and mold-ridden options with which we could have been placed). Given that the organization ended their relationship with this property around the time of our departure, those arriving for future volunteer opportunities should expect to be in extremely dingy accommodations – but maybe that is part of the experience anyways.

We booked our travel to Villa Tunari by selecting a Cochabamba Express ticket from Santa Cruz to Cochabamba via the "new" freeway. In the Bolivian tradition, our ticket was switched to another carrier, the bus was a half an hour late leaving, and we stopped for some bad cheese empanadas. But the real trick to this particular travel adventure is getting off in the right city which turned out to be not that difficult if you communicate with the driver in advance. After a few hours the bus dropped us off right in front of Parque Machia where Frank, the new volunteer coordinator, greeted us and instructed us on how we would get orientated.

Given that we had a little time before touring and orientating with Inti Wasa Yari we decided to take a walk across the scary death bridge to the town. (We were so close to death multiple times on this long bridge with no sidewalk; so scary but we made it to tell the tale. ) Villa Tunari is a really nice little city with a large plaza. The main street is the new highway with an ATM, internet cafe and restaurants all serving the same typical Bolivian food (Surubi, Venado, Carne Asada, Pacu). The rest of the town feels like a throwback Bolivian Mayberry with a Funny Farm-like drugstore, a couple of little churches and a host of alojamientos catering to backpackers enjoying all of the surrounding natural beauties. The town is much more developed than most little Bolivian towns of this population due to a decent amount of backpacker draw and a healthy infusion of cocaine money. Well groomed town squares don’t just pop up everywhere.

For our first lunch at some no-name establishment we were fortunate to enjoy the Bolivian tradition of pissing all over the place – there are many such features that make the local people indistinguishable from the street dogs. Some child was actually peeing everywhere along the walkway on which the restaurant tables were set. The family, the wait staff, and everyone else for that matter, paid absolutely no attention to his little stream spinning about the area, even as the kid and others splashed through the urine stream. It was horrible but typical.

After a proper wait at the park cafe we toured the volunteer facilities, discussed our responsibilities, signed the release of liability papers, and got checked into our accommodations. The La Querencia hotel across the street was a beautiful property with an unused pool a nice common area and dingy rooms, but still, a great facility considering the alternatives.

Working at Parque Machia provides a much needed regular schedule for those on the  limitless road for an extended period of time. Early to bed, early to rise; 7:30 a.m. starts after an inexpensive breakfast in the attached café. On our first morning of waking up for work in five months we were selected for our jobs. Raymie was selected to work with the birds and Bee was going to be in small animals. The Aves (birds) area was filled with an assortment of birds such as macaws, toucans, amazonians, cockatiels, eagles, hawks, owls, a turkey and tortoises; while small animals mostly included tejons, tyras and turtles.

Being introduced to the  animals and fellow volunteers while learning about our responsibilities was mostly an enjoyable process. Bee had a little more fun on her first day as she got trapped in a cage for 20 minutes when a wild monkey with half a tail terrorized her and her partner, Sandy. The monkey didn’t want food, only to scare them as he hung on the cage pulling and pushing it back and forth, trying to get in while flashing his teeth. Raymie, on the other hand, spent most of his first day building much needed bird cages for transporting sick/hurt birds to the vet. It was pretty hard work for 11 hours a day but great vegetarian lunches at the café kept us going.

After our first day of exhausting work we tried out the volunteer favorite eatery in town, Jazmin, across the bridge on the main road for some tasty surubi fish. We were soon accompanied by Sandy and Donny from Scotland who graciously filled us in one all the park gossip given their one week seniority.

The next day we still had plenty to learn about being re-acclimated to hard work. After a scuffle, one of the tejons escaped from Bee’s area and they had to call the vet to trap it and bring it back to its cage. She was also fortunate enough to have a wild monkey scare when it jumped on her back unexpectedly while working with the small animals. Tejons scare very easily and she was very fortunate one did not attack her during the incident.

Raymie’s primary second day excitement lied in a couple of macaws that flew off across a neighboring street. It was a pretty big scare because the clipped winged birds could easily get hit by a car. He also built a huge 1000 square foot bird shade to try to control some of the sweat-drenching heat – it was terribly hot and humid about half of our stay.

A dinner at San Sylvestre  (across the main street from Jazmin) was our delight after finishing off our second day of work. The food turned out to be amazing. We were surprised considering all the volunteers explained to us how bad all the food in town was. We later found out that one of the reasons was that volunteers were forbidden by the Inti organization to go there. They told us something about animal skins and hunting but we decided that they can fight their own fights. We deserved good food. (We later checked out the restaurant a second time and found nothing criminal about the joint – it gets the highest recommendation of the little town.)

After dinner we had a couple beers a Cueva del Lagato (the swing bar) with many of the other volunteers. It was a nice event but we were too tired to stay out long. On a later visit we learned that the lasagna at Lagarto is amazing (and watch out for Bee in Connect Four – she’s an animal).

Bee found a dead turtle while cleaning the pond on her third day. It was reported as an accidental death but most of the vet’s analyses seemed suspect to us. Raymie helped the primary builders construct the frame for a huge aviary. Later, we decided that we’d best be social so we had a couple beers with our fellow volunteers at the park café. Afterwards, for dinner we headed out to Pollos Edu for “complete” dinners. Despite others’ recommendations, it was a horribly greasy experience. Go to Pollo Champeon further down the main road on the opposite side for much tastier tender fried chicken.

Our work continued to get grow easier as we became more accustomed to the hard days. The birds got friendlier and there were a couple of baby tejones to play with.

St. Patrick’s Day Eve:
Being a Wednesday, the volunteers put together their weekly party tonight. Of course we convinced them that the theme needed to be St. Patrick’s Day. After work we searched the city for whiskey and baileys to make car bombs but had no luck. We ended up with just enough whiskey to supplement the jungle juice St. Pattys punch that was served at the party. The group of about 30 people played games such as musical chairs, trivia, and dancing games as we kicked back the gasoline-punch. Raymie took over most of the music selection on our laptop and introduced a four foot leprechaun he made from Styrofoam for “Pin the Pipe on the Leprechaun”. It was a smash hit. The evening got quite loose at that point that and half the party ended up swimming in 2 feet of fresh water at the bottom of the hotel pool. This was not the typical Patty’s day camaraderie we are used to but it was a fun celebration nonetheless.

St. Patrick’s Day:
Of course we took this holy day/anniversary off of work so that we could spend some quality time praising our happy greenness. Instead of working we slept in late, did some quality internet time (first time in a week) and had some Suburi fish before setting off for our St. Patty’s festivities.

To celebrate we decided to catch a cab for about a five minute ride to Hotel Tucanes. We rented a beautiful room in a little cabana on the river for about $40. The poolside restaurant was very comfortable so we spent the entire day eating, laying in the shallow wading pool, lounging in the sun, playing ping pong and drinking green lemonade. As the sun set we popped a bottle of champagne on our terrace while the fiery ball dove over the Espiritu Santo River. A little dinner with wine and a comfortable bed put us to sleep but an astonishing storm with thunder shaking the ground and lightening filling the skies woke us several times. It sounded and felt as though grenades were being set off in the river bed next to us. It was wonderful.

Of course our wakeup call did not arrive the following morning – it is Bolivia – but we woke up with enough time to eat breakfast and make it to work less than an hour late (what are they going to do, fire us?). Today, the rainy portion of our time at Parque Machia set in (forget drying the laundry) but it was probably more pleasant than the scorching heat. Unfortunately as the rain fell the trails also turned quite slippery.

The rest of our days volunteering became easier as we grew more accustomed to the work. One tip for Villa Tunari is if everything is closed and there is music banging from behind random doors there is probably something going on in the city. Maybe a festival, religious ceremony or some other random reason for Bolivians to drink but it will be awfully difficult to pry it out of them. Just let it be, and find whatever open door you can.

As far as restaurants, Amazonas was a nice stop for dinner set menu suburi fish dinners. However La Selva was much better. The first of a few times we tried venado (venison). It was surprisingly tender but a little gamey. We really enjoyed the local delicacy enough to order it a couple more times.

By our second Wednesday night with the volunteer group we were not as keen to drink cheap jungle punch made from 'headache in a bottle’ liquor that is actually poured from gasoline-looking bottles. However we did attend the bbq themed weekly party long enough to party with the leprechaun and get pictures of drunkard volunteers swimming in green water at the hotel pool (now full and sitting stagnant without chemicals in the Bolivian jungle for the last week – the next day one of the volunteers was out of commission because his open sore got infected from the water – duhhhh!)

On what was supposed to be our last day at the Park, we took the tourist trail hike to the  park waterfalls. The 1.5km trail was about half an hour trek to the vista point to overlook the city and river, and even in the scorching sun it was worth the hour long waterfall bath we enjoyed.

For some reason no one at the Park will tell you how to get out of the city. They act like they just don’t know or can’t share that type of information. It’s kind of ridiculous since it is something every single volunteer deals with. Many suggest just waiting by the road for a bus to go by (the Bolivian way) but a walk to the 6 de Julio station at the other end of the main street (8 blocks up on the right hand side, next to the gas station) will provide you a van to Cochabamba or Santa Cruz without difficulty, or so we thought. After getting all the necessary directions on how to get out of there and bidding adieu to many of our fellow volunteers and new friends we collected our bags for the hike to the bus station. The real travel adventure will be shared in our next blog. (See Sucre)

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