What The Heck I am Doing Here

Trip Start Sep 17, 2009
Trip End May 28, 2010

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Where I stayed
La Senda Verde

Flag of Bolivia  ,
Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ok, the first part of this trip has been a bit jumbled for you all and for that I apologize. Jessy and I did about three weeks of traveling before she headed home, which means that I have been at the animal sanctuary for a bit more than a month now. In that time I have done a great deal of work, have befriended and said goodbye to numerous wonderful people and have begun to develop a real relationship with the people and animals who I will spending the next seven months with.

So, first things first. I am at La Senda Verde, a wild animal refuge located outside of Coroico, about two hours from La Paz. The refuge is owned and operated by Vicky and Marcello, two Bolivians who have become good friends of mine and whose passion inspires me daily. We house a number of different animals here: there are five species of monkey, with capuchins and spider monkeys being the main players, over a dozen species of parrots and other types of birds, boa constrictors, rabbits, guinea pigs, turtles, tortoises, rescued cats and dogs, a small wildcat called a margay, and perhaps most impressive, a highly endangered spectacled bear.

All of these animals were rescued from the illegal pet trade in Bolivia. Some animals were used in circuses, others were pets and some simply were confiscated while they were waiting to be sold in the market. Most were orphaned, as the easiest way to trap a wild animal is simply to shoot its mother and take the helpless baby. We try to serve as surrogates as best we can.

It costs a lot of money to feed and care for all of these animals. In order to raise these funds La Senda functions as a sort of eco-resort as well. We have four large and four small cabins which we rent out to tourists. Volunteers also pay a small fee, which covers housing and food. In addition we have a partnership with Gravity, an adventure company which takes tourists down the "Worldīs Most Dangerous Road" daily. They stop by La Senda for lunch, a shower and a chance to interact with the animals. Many of our guests and volunteers come to us via Gravity.

It is quite the operation. Caring for all of the animals and controlling all of the tourists is no small task. There are several full-time employees on site who help things move along. Pablo is in charge of the kitchen, along with Elena. Dehlia, the sister of Elena, cleans the cabins and bathrooms. Justina and Tomas are a married couple who live there with their fourteen-year-old daughter. Tomas handles any kind of handyman type tasks, while Justina works with the animals. Edgar commutes from Coroico everyday and works in the kitchen and makes all of our pasta by hand. And then there is Attila and his family. They are from Hungary (which officially makes him Attila the Hun :) and they somehow ended up in Coroico about a year and a half ago. The Kimberger family consists of Attila, his wife Tunda, his nineteen-year-old son Adam, and two young daughters named Amurika and Briggete, aged four and three respectively. They live in a house close to La Senda and arrive everyday to do construction work.

Of all the employees the only ones I have grown close to are Attila and his family. Despite his limited Spanish we manage to communicate and I always am learning something from him, particularly about construction. He is clearly an educated man, something rare to find here, and takes tremendous pride in his work, another rarity. His story is quite interesting, as this is pretty much the last place you would expect to find a Hungarian family, but the life suits them well and I reckon it was a good move for them. In the future I will write more about the Kimbergers, but I have plenty to fill this post with already.

Unfortunately I am not on great terms with the rest of the employees. I will devote much more time to the Aymara culture in future writings, but for know I will just make it clear that I am not a fan. The people here are hugely envious, lazy and selfish. Never in all of my travels have I come across a people, who seemingly as a whole, put me off the way the way the Aymara do. In fact, I have never come across another culture that I didnīt enjoy and respect. I had similar issues last time in Bolivia and things seem only to have gotten worse now that Evo is in power. I will end up writing some stories you won't believe. The things that go on here are often beyond any sort of sense or logic. The way the Aymara treat foreigners is despicable, but even worse is the way they treat each other. Again, I am not getting into it now but will write much more later.

And of course there are Vicky and Marcello. They are Bolivian but they are Mestizo (mixed Spanish, basically white) which makes them very much not Aymara, as they grew up in a culture that is more influenced by the Europeans. They are the opposite of everything I wrote above, being generous, caring and hard working people. They have invested their hearts and all of their savings into the refuge and will continue to do so until the day they leave this earth.

Beyond that we have had a slew of volunteers come through the place. My first week and a half back from traveling with Jessy was spent by myself, which meant I had to do the feeding and cleaning for every animal. This amounts to 12-14 hour days in the hot jungle. Brutal. Luckily, Cesar, the Venezuelan I met in Peru and an Aussie veterinarian named Kate showed up and made life bearable. They each stayed about three weeks and it was a brilliant time. Kate is one of the hardest workers I have ever met, and being a vet she obviously had tremendously valuable skills for a place like La Senda. During this time we also had Mel, an Aussie girl, for a few weeks, Ali, a Californian for a stint, and Sarah for a bit as well. Sarah had actually been at the refuge with her fiance Rob when I first arrived in Bolivia and had worked with Jessy for a few weeks. After Rob left she came back and proved to be a great worker whose company we all really enjoyed. I miss all you guys!

Because of the number of volunteers we had I was free to pursue other projects rather than simply feed and clean everyday. My main focus has been building new turtle and tortoise enclosures. This has involved hauling tons (and when I say tons I mean literally thousands upon thousands of pounds) of rocks from the river up to the sanctuary and then mixing up cement and fashioning them into a wall. This has been brutal work but it has had the benefit of getting me fit, something which the last two years in Chicago failed to do.

I have been sort of named the de facto head of volunteers and I decided to do some organizing. We now have a job board on which we check off the jobs we have completed and every night we discuss the different tasks and the welfare of the animals. I have numerous other little projects going on, such as setting us up as a legal charity and getting us partnered with some European volunteer agencies in order to bring in some wealthier volunteers and not just broke backpackers like me. I had new donation boxes constructed, bought a ton of new tools and supplies and have gotten us put onto numerous hotel booking websites to hopefully bring in new clients. In the time I have been here I have had one real day off and one day during which I went to La Paz to buy supplies. Other than that I have been working hard all day, every day.

We have had some fun here too. On October 20th Coroico began its annual festival, and we all made it to town for a few hours of boozing. When I came to town three days later there were still several men passed out on the sidewalk. Most nights we simply have a few beers down at the sanctuary. Getting to town involves a 30 minute taxi ride each way, and the only thing I need from town regularly is internet access, so I am finding myself only coming here once or twice a week.

On a different note, I received several sympathetic emails after my last post and I want to thank you all for them but also to let you know they werenīt really necessary. As usual I was a bit over dramatic and I am by no means depressed. While I certainly miss Jessy I know it was the right decision and it has actually been nice to be single again after two years in a relationship. I havenīt been crying myself to sleep every night, believe me.

I also havenīt been able to stop thinking about a comment I made in my last post, about not knowing if my relationship issues stem from arrogance or stubbornness. At the risk of sounding too sappy, I am going to throw a third possibility into the mix; maybe I am just really damn romantic and believe so strongly that someone is out there who wonīt make me wonder if I am settling that I canīt help but keep trying. Itīs funny because I really have no idea. I am leaning towards arrogance, but the book hasnīt finished writing itself yet. I have traveled much of the world now, and I am constantly fascinated by discovering new places and learning new ideas. But strangely enough, and maybe this is why arrogance is leading by a nose, what I am most fascinated by is what is actually going on inside my own head. I really never know what I am going to do in the future or how I am going to think or feel. I seem to have a few solid morals which remain constant, but beyond that everything I feel is constantly influx. It can be tiring and frustrating, but at least I am never bored. ADHD is certainly a strange affliction. I have grown more or less used to it, but it drives the people in my life crazy, particularly my father. I really would like to be able to tell him what it is I plan to do in the future and hopefully make him proud, but that is hard to do when my brain sends me different messages every month.

Ok folks, thatīs all for now. My brain hurts, along with every muscle in my body. Take care and keep in touch.

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