It´s amazing how fast humans can adapt when thrown in a situatuion and given no other option! I know we havn´t even been here a full month yet, but even the foreign-ness of the jungle has become a familiar home. Now that I´ve been here a little longer, I am more capable of describing the routine so you can better understand my typical day. On Mon, Wed, and Fri, we have 2 activities to complete during the day with meals and free time thrown in between. Tuesdays and Thursdays are 3 activity days and we get up around 5 am to get in another activity before breakfast. It sounds awfully early, but I´ve grown to like these days because it´s the only time you can beat the heat. After activities, showers are usually necessary, so I´ve been showering two or three times a day (Quite the opposite from when I´m at home). In between activities we have lots of time to relax and take siestas of course :)
Activities range from feeding all the animals we have at our rehabilitation centre, to macheting trails, to rescue centre mantainence, to building animal enclosures, to bird watching, to going out and picking fruits for the animals from the local farms. And there´s many more activities because there´s always so much that needs to be done. After all this good manual labor, I think I´m going to come back stronger!
Feeding the animals is most volunteers´s favorite activity. Who doesn´t get joy out of a monkey crawling on your head or sharing hellos with a parrot?? The animals are so exotic to me and I could sit with them and watch them forever. However, you have to be really wary of some of the animals. The squirrel monkeys, for example, look like they wouldn´t hurt a fly, but beware! Yessi, a fully trained staff member, went into the cage and they jumped on her face and bit her nose so hard it bled! Or the macaws will say "Hola," but get too close to their sharp beaks, and you might only be able to count to 9 forever more. We have a few types of wild cats here too. Now with those guys, I know to keep my distance. The other day I thought I was literally going to die because Dan gave me permission to feed Bella, the baby jaguar, her breakfast. I went in the cage and set down her dish of raw meat. I think she could sense my fear because she leapt up, hissed, and unveiled her very very sharp fangs (all the better to eat you with my dear). For my own safety, I´ve vowed to let the professionals deal with her from now on. (My Mom will be proud of my decision making)!
Some of the volunteers aren´t huge fans, but Vicki and I LOVE using the machetes. However, we are sheltered gringas, so our soft little palms pay the price (between the two of us we have 8 normal blisters, 2 blood blisters, 10 cuts, and 3 punctures). But regardless, with a machete in our hands we can do anything! We feel cooler than Arnold Schwarzenegger or Al Pacino! Say Hello to my little friend ;)
One day, I hope I can be as talented as Yessi. Yessi is a native Peruvian, sweet as anything, and about 5 feet tall and 100 pounds. But she´s so strong that I bet you she could take down the rainforest faster than a tractor or a weedwacker. She´s our own little John Henry!
Gathering fruits is also great fun! Picking the papayas reminds me of playing some sort of Wii game! The papayas are super high up in some sort of palm tree, and when you see a ripe one, you get a large stick (three to four meters) and you have to poke the papaya off at the stem. You work with a partner, and while one gets to poke, the other plays wide receiver and they must sacrifice everything to not let the papaya touch the ground-- Otherwise it will be smashed to smithereens and will only be good for the flys. I guess a new volunteer was horrified the other day because the papaya fell through her fingers and right onto some unlucky chicken. The force from the fruit broke the chicken´s neck and it started squabbling around in circles with it´s head half on. Quite the site to see apparently. For Harry Potter fans, I have a lame joke: I dubbed the poor chicken, "Nearly Headless Chick". Harharhar.
Bird watching is a nice way to end your day if you´ve been working hard. We have multiple platforms to watch from. One is about 12m and our other one is the ultimate tree house I have always wanted!! It´s 42m high and you look above the whole canopy! It´s quite the empowering experience! As far as acutally identifying the birds though.... I am worthLESS. It´s pathetic. By the time I spot the bird, try to get my binoculars focused on the right spot, and shout to Alejandro (Taricaya´s bird specialist), the bird is long gone. But this is Peru so everyone is very relaxed and it´s all good. Pura Vida. Also, Alejandro gets quite the kick out of smacking me on top of the head with his giant bird book everytime I miss a bird. Maybe I will learn someday....
So far, I´m having the experience of a lifetime! It´s so different and the vibe is just what I need to thrive. Everyone is very friendly and accepting. And it´s like relationships on Roids here because since we work, play, eat, and spend every waking second together, we´ve all grown super close super fast. It´s bittersweet though, because the volunteer group is constantly changing. Today, two of the core volunteers are returning to Denmark. It´s terrible when people leave! But we just got seven new volunteers this weekend (from France, England, Belgium, Austrailia) and I think two more to come! It will be interesting to see how the vibe changes depending on the personalities we have here.
Anyways, check out Vicki´s blog for a more comprehensive description. She´s way more coherent and you might get a better sense of what we´re going through if you read hers. It´s Victoriamonreal.blogspot.com. I apologize for my random thoughts and giant holes in communication! I hope that my lack of consistency isn´t too unbearable!