Friday, March 20, 2009

Jungle Fever

Right, some thoughts and stuff. First though, for those interested enough, I forgot to give the park details if you want to check web sites etc. The organisation is called Inti Wara Yassi, and they have 2 working parks and one being set up. The web site is a bit dated (far more animals now, and the info about numbers of volunteers is a bit off - they routinely get 40-50 volunteers in Parque Ambue Ari at peak times of the year, and there were 23 while I was there). I went to Parque Ambue Ari, and I forget the names of the other two.

So, where was I? The park is run by the head vet, Zandro, and he, the other vet and the local women who come in to cook for the volunteers are the only people who get paid. There are a bunch (6 or so) of locals who live at the the park, all quite young, many living there due to being orphans, and Zandro acts as their guardian for school registration etc. They work at the park after school and weekends to earn there keep, and none of them pay to be there. Its a great system, gets them educated, interested in their environment, and safe from harm.

While I was there, there were about 23 other volunteers, but that number changed as people came and went fairly randomly, some staying the minimum 2 weeks (ahem), others several months, or returning for 2nd or 3rd visits. Of the people there, only one was a bit of a tosser, and he was from Australia, so it's only to be expected. The other Australians there redeemed their nation however, so all is not lost. I met some great people there who I hope to see again, either in NZ or else where. My first impression of arriving in the park was of a shabby funeral, with everyone walking about in a variety of hats with black mourning veils and gardening clothes. Or maybe a group of badly dressed bee-keepers. A few moments later as I was crossing the "patio" to my room, Morocha the spider monkey climbed up me and sat on my head. Welcome to Ambue Ari.

And all that leaves to do is jot down some final memories of what the jungle is to me. It's hot. And wet. Very hot (mid-30ÂșC) and wet (80%+ humidity). When it rains, it doesn't mess about and sticks at it for about 4 days non-stop. It's more mosquitos than I've ever seen before, and more bites than I ever want again. It's 2 pairs of trousers and 2 shirts and mosquito net hat all the time, regardless of how hot it is. Did I mention the Mozzies? let me tell you about the mozzies. When you're in the jungle, all you can hear is the whine of mosquitos as they circle your head, searching for a way in. The camp record for "number of mozzies killed with one slap of one hand", achieved at the peak of the season, is 42. My personal best was 12, but then I was there as the season was dwindling. There is nothing more depressing than sitting at the tables in the comedor in the evenings and seeing a mozzie, so full of blood that it can't actually fly any more, plop on to the table in front of you, and then make its way along in 3 inch hops. They make quite a stain if squashed, let me tell you, and an attractive ornament in trapped in molten wax from a candle. It's monkeys in the compound that giggle when you tickle them. It's not being able to sleep at night due the heat and humidity, the rock hard mattress and the stifling, but vital, mosquito net. It's seeing large snakes, hairy tarantulas and monkeys (but no chickens) crossing the road. It's having your jungle path go from thick mud today to thigh deep water tomorrow thanks to a rain shower. And staying that way. It's walking carefully on the paths to avoid getting water in your boots, even though you know you'll be thigh deep round the next bend. It's seeing cappuchin, howler and squirrel monkeys in the trees as you walk about. It's glimpsing a lizard as it scrambles out of your way. Its millions of ants of all sizes, colours and shapes, many of them off to the races to judge by the head gear they are carrying. or maybe they are off windsurfing, sails hoisted to catch the breeze. It's astonishment at how much some of them carry and how neat and tidy their trails are. It's a cacophany of noise from insects, and frogs that sound like the whine of a firework that forgets to explode (luckily for the frogs), or maybe the zoom sound of a passing Formula 1 racing car. It's walking a short rope length behind a large, partly untamed jaguar, and then playing rough and tumble with it. It's being tackled to the ground before your eyes even realise the cat has moved. It's having your arm licked by the jaguar, with a tongue that will draw blood if you don't rotate your arm fast enough. It's walking across the compound and having your hand taken by Morocha as she walks alongside you, and then scales you to sit on your shoulders, resting her head on yours and draping herself around your neck. Its standing in a group below Faustino who is sat on the roof, and wailing his name full volume at him in order to get him howling in return. It's being woken up at the crack of dawn by the most unearthly of sounds: a troop of howlers doing their thing. It's wishing you had a tail so you could climb as well as Morocha. It's regret that I picked the worst time of year for weather and bugs, and hope that I get back there some day. It's The Jungle: not the most comfortable of places, but one of the most unforgettable. Another golden moment, despite (or maybe because of) the difficulties.

Til next time, then.

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