The flight to La Paz was late but otherwise uneventful and I was picked up at the airport by Jesus and we journeyed to La Senda Verde via the new road that replaced Death Road. The scenery went from bleak mountains to lush jungle with many twists and turns and commentary from Jesus.
Arriving at La Senda Verde was not very organised - Vicky the owner - gave me a brief introduction, I was shown to my room near quarantine and left to myself for the next few hours before I managed to meet up with people at dinner. There were another 15 volunteers at the place including Amber and Eduardo who were long term volunteers and left to organise the day to day life of the volunteers.
I also started my 3 day course of worming tablets which I had to take before I could touch the monkeys - no one seemed to have told them that though. Work started the next day with my introduction to the birds section - toucans, Amazonian parrots, parakeets and macaws. This was not to be my favourite section - birds (except birds of prey) are not my favourites and it didn't help that one of the toucans (originally named Tucy) was a psycho and would attack you while trying to feed or clean his cage.
Next day I was rotated onto bears - looking after the two spectacled bears Tipnis and Aruma, feeding the dogs and feeding and cleaning up after the tortoises and terrapins. Definitely better than birds but less work so had much more free time to enjoy the humidity and the sand flies and get annoyed by the 20 minute round trip to my room. The first week continued with me alternating between birds and bears with the number of volunteers dropping until by Sunday there was only 5 of us, a sick Amber and Eduardo left.
However things also improved for me as I had moved onto take over Specials. This included Capy the capybara, Bigote the paca, Kinka the Kinkagu, marguays, squirrel monkeys, owl monkeys and Beni Titis. The work would take place first thing and then from 4 allowing me plenty of time in the day - helping the others often due to the lack of hands. The thing that spoilled specials was the fact Mila the Owl monkey had turned into a lunatic - biting females for a couple of day. This calmed down for a while until my last day when I was savaged by her - I still have the scars!
The rest of my days were spent looking for monkeys to cuddle. Balu the howler monkey took a fancy to me and stuck his tongue down my throat without even buying me a drink. The most special relationship was between me and Maruka the oldest spider monkey. Our first encounter was when I was sitting with one of the cats on my lap and she decided that was her place and sat there instead. People walking past kept saying "That's Maruka - she doesn't sit on people!" For whatever reason she had decided I was her person to make an exception and we shared many times together while she continued to avoid others - perhaps she felt we shared the problem of being the oldest!
The climate at the project did not suit me - hot and humid just left me damp and sweaty and you had to stay covered up and covered in insect repellent to avoid the evil sand flies. Moving up to the main site did improve matters as I was able sleep better, dry clothes in less than two days and not have a long walk to get home past a psychotic dog.
After my two weeks I was ready to leave but miss the animals - particularly Semilla the grey dog, Maruka and the squirrel monkeys (even if they did like rubbing their penises in my face!) I caught the local bus back to La Paz ready for the shock of altitude, height and lots of people!