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Volunteering in the jungle Part 1

sunny 27 °C

After quite a bit of research I came across this volunteer/eco tourism agency. Normally I would never want anything to do with any agency as they just rip people and volunteer organizations off. However, the price for this volunteer place was just 225 dollars per month, which was way lower than any other place. After some emails I really got a good feeling about the place as they were really aware of the issues with many animal centers being run like zoos and how animals were treated etc. In this place the animals were all free to run around as they want and it was run by Ecuadorian, something that is very unusual (all other animal centers are run by Dutch or Germans).
Anyway, we still had to wait for Laura to get a response from her volunteer places with children. We had nearly given up, when finally Laura got a positive response from a foundation in Guayaquil. As there was a girl being picked up in Puyo we decided to move very quickly. After running around like crazy for two hours, I had payed the organization, sorted out other things like buying food for a week (was surprised how difficult it was to buy food…I mean all food, breakfast, lunch dinner etc, you need for a whole week).
It was hard saying goodbye to Laura after having to travelled together 24 hours a day for nearly 6 month. Disaster did not wait though. 30 min after we had separated, I realized that I had Laura´s bag and she had mine. It was not too bad for me, but she did not have any money, no passport, nada. Took a taxi back and run around like crazy asking people if they seen a little Spanish looking girl. Finally found her and gave her stuff back.
I was picked up by the owner of the animal center, a very excentric 50something year old Ecuadorian man named Meduardo. Really crazy this guys, singing load the whole journey, stopping occationaly to scream “animal prison” whenever passing another animal center (there are loads in the region, and he hates them all for putting animals in cages). The center was way over expectations, there was electricity in the house we stayed in, I even got my own room. In addition, to me and the Irish girl that I had come with, there were two Ecuadorian biology students, volunteering there. They warned us that in the night, an strange animal might come in the house….scary.
Late in the evening, something scraped on the window, and in came a sort of half monkey, half squirrel type of animal. It was anything but scary looking, but I suppose that I am glad that they warned me, as if it would have crawled into my bed late I night it would have scared the hell out of me. I later learned that this is called a Kinkajuo. It came around almost every night and hanged around in the house until we threw it out before going to bed. They had named it Maria Cielo (sky in English). One evening it curled up on my stomach and played with my fingers for hours, super cute. Its like you keep thinking it’s a cat, until it all the suddenly stands up on it back legs or climb upside down.
I slept like a baby in the center, super comfy beds, together with some crazy jungle noise. Actually in the morning about 5ish it’s a bit weird as the parrots and budgies wake up and scream like little children. Took some time to get use to that sound. The first morning the Irish girl came down and told me that there was a spider in the bathroom. I thought, I could catch it easily, but it was a bloody tarantula moving super quick., I was way out of my head here and we had to wait for the Ecuadorian to wake up. Luis, had no trouble scooping it up with a paper and putting it under a glass, crazy man. Later learned that it had been in their beds earlier and that it was piousness…nice.
Later Meduardos wife took us around the center, explaining the feeding schedule, some background about the animals and stuff. She is supernice and you can see that she really loves animals. Almost all animals are running free, except the ones that need to be in cages due to illnesses. It’s amazing to get so close to almost wild animals. We were actually hand feeding all the monkeys that jumped down from the trees as we walked in the jungle. Amazing!
The afternoon chore we not so glamorous. It basically was just carrying back bags of dirt for the reforestation project. We would do something hard and often quite pointless work every day, like making paths. Unfortunately this part of the work was very disorganized and it seemed like they would just invent things to keep us occupied rather than something that was actually needed. Anyways, it was always fun chopping some stuff with machete and you feel great after a hard days physical labor.
The owners are not really much in contact with the volunteers, we lived separately and they were doing their own thing, which mainly was searching for their beloved tapir Bambi that they were playing this hide and seek game with. It would run away for a few days and then finally when they found it in the jungle they would bring it back to the center where it stayed for half a day, only to run back into the jungle again. They were very happy that it was free, but also concerned that it could get killed by hunters in the area.
On the second day we got to see the big woolly monkeys, that come down every 4th day or so to eat. It’s a family of 5, with one big fat Alfa male that looks like a small gorilla, two females, and two kids. Actually this is one of the few centers that successfully have managed to reproduce woolly monkeys. One of the females with her child on the back, sat in my lap eating for 20 minutes. Was probably the most amazing animal experience I have had in my life. The mom even allowed me to pet the child and everything.
The Irish girl, Ylona, did not speak any Spanish and the Ecuadorian guys almost no English, so I ended up translating all the time. Never spoken this much Spanish in my life. Was improving so much in the center. Anyway, we were having a great time together. The two guys had relaxed a bit now and were so funny, singing, dancing around, joking etc.
After a few days, I was invited to come look for Bambi with Meduadro. Fun I thought at first. However, it turns out that Meduardo is even more crazy than I though and he’s not really a people person. He just loves being out in nature and does not really give a damn about anything else, the volunteers included. He would not have waited or cared if I lost my arm along the way. Also I found out in the middle of the jungle that he´s got no sense of directions and we got seriously lost. In the end he started to ask for my opinion on how to walk. After 4 hours hiking in horrible heat through bushes, and I do mean through bushes, no paths, we came back. We never spotted Bambi the tapir.
When we got back everyone was shouting. It turns out that the Irish girl Ylona had gotten bitten really badly by the Alfa male woolly monkey. She had a 2-3 cm deep wound in her arm, with flesh and fat hanging out of it. Must be one of the worst wounds I have seen in my life. They had managed to hitch a ride to some type of medical center and gotten three stitches to keep things together. She was doing really well considering what had happened to her. Actually though she was more in a chock stage and was worried that she would freak out later. I didn´t really want to leave her, especially as the others did not speak English, but Meduardo was insisting that we had to look for Bambi the tapir again (shows his view of animal vs people priority eay).
We left again for the jungle in the afternoon. This time we drove a car to a nearby village and would walk back to the center from there through the jungle. Again Meduardo got us really lost from the start. You still sort of rely on him that he knows what he is doing, but when it started to get late and we still had not reached a place where he had been before, I was starting to get nervous. Finally we recognized a path that we had taken in the morning. It did not take long though before it got too dark to follow the paths and in the end we had to resort to climb into the river and walk back. We walked waist high in river for nearly two hours. It was so difficult walking in the river at night and we kept falling over. I thought it would never end, but finally we came back. We were met by the others that had decided to try and go look for us with torches. What an adventure, but I would definitely bring my headlamp with me the next time.
The owners son, David was also living in the center. He is a real jungle kid, never lived in a village in his life, he was not afraid of anything. If he saw a spider he would run up to it and grab it and give it a kiss. He was only seven, but knew 10 times more than me about how to survive in the jungle. He joined us on a search for Bambi one day. Sometimes he would disappear from the path straight into the jungle and his dad would say, “don´t worry he will come out somewhere later” which he obviously did somehow. I was thinking if there was anything that could scare or hurt this kid, when suddenly he started to scream and cry a lot. Apparently some giant ants were biting him. We all (except his dad) ran up to him, trying to figure out where they were, when he screamed “aaahh mis huevos”, which basically mean, aaahhh my balls. Got his trousers off and was pouring cold water between his legs until he calmed down. Later I got bitten by one of these ants and it was seriously like a bee sting. This was on my back, I can´t imagine how it would have felt being bitten on the more sensitive parts.
Actually David did one more classic that I have to write down. They were selling some sovounires in the house, some tacky Ecuador t-shirts and stuff for tourists. One day David´s mom was in the house explaining something to us, when David feeling that he did not get enough attention, put on one of the Ecuador t-shirts and screamed “mirra mama soy un gringito” (basically means, look mom I am a little gringo).
We had the weekends off, and I decided to come back late Sunday evening by myself. I had been told that it was a 6 km hike from the bigger road to the center. On the local bus, I started to realize that this was a bit too crazy. I didn’t really even know where I should get off. In the end the bus driver dropped me off in the middle of nowhere and there I stood lost in the dark. I had managed to ask the driver if this was Km 28 (where I had been told to get off) just before he closed the door he managed to shout “no km 28 was a few km back from where we came from”. Great I though, now I´m lost and alone. Luckily a guy came walking by in the dark and although he was not sure, he knew that there was an animal center an hour and half away. He was walking almost the same way so we set off together into the jungle. The problem was that he was carrying almost nothing, while I had 15kg of food in plastic bags. I was simply that I had to suck up the pain in my arms as I really did not want to be left alone in the jungle. After we had separated I kept walking for another 40 minutes or so. Somehow I had this calm feeling that worse case I could just sleep in the wild, I had food and everything. It really looked like this was the most likely scenario when I suddenly stumbled across the center. It was so dark, that I was close to walking past it even though it was just a few meters away. I have to say that deciding to walk back by myself in the jungle was pretty stupid, but it really gave me one of the first real adrenalin/adventure feelings I have had on this trip.
The only thing missing at the center was to see the tapir Bambi, who I started to think only existed in the crazy mind of Meduadro. Finally news spread on the camp that Bambi was back in the center. I finally got to see the 250kg half elephant, half horse. Really great to see a tapir up close.
One of the evenings a bat had managed to get into the house. It was flying around like crazy, with David and Luis trying to catch it with their t-shirts. They joked that they would eat it, something that I could easily believe after Luis had told me that the locals eat some giant ants that we had found in the ground.
There was three new people that came to the came, one German girl Anja, and two guys both named Chris. Having been there when Ylona got bitten by the alfa woolly monkey, they didn’t really know that they had to be very careful around them. I started to warn Chris when the monkeys were all around him trying to get food, but he did not react in time and all the suddenly the Alfa male jumped down from the tree, walked over and bit him in the foot. It was not nearly as bad as Ylonas wound, but still they left the center to go to a hospital to check it out. In one way it really sucked that one more got bitten, but in one way it good to see that these animals have become almost completely wild again.
All in all, the center was a great jungle experience. It was amazing to be able to get so close to the animals, to even touch them. I also really liked the two Ecuadorian guys, and my Spanish was improving a lot. Still I decided that I would try to work in one more animal center as it still did not feel like we were really rehabilitating the animals. I said adios to the people and left.

Tarantella cought in the bathroom by our brave Ecuadorian friend Luis

Tarantella cought in the bathroom by our brave Ecuadorian friend Luis

Our nightly visitor, Maria Cielo dropping by for a banana

Our nightly visitor, Maria Cielo dropping by for a banana

Henrik and the daily feeding routine

Henrik and the daily feeding routine

So photogenic these clown monkeys, they just freeze and stare at the camera

So photogenic these clown monkeys, they just freeze and stare at the camera

Clown monkeys posing up for a photo

Clown monkeys posing up for a photo

One of the clown monkeys showing me the tongue

One of the clown monkeys showing me the tongue

Hanging out at the river after taking the weasle Anastasia for the daily walk

Hanging out at the river after taking the weasle Anastasia for the daily walk

Jungle boy David aka Mowgly just back from school...the other kids go with clothes

Jungle boy David aka Mowgly just back from school...the other kids go with clothes

The jungle crew...Anja, Chris and Chriss, and mi pannas, Eduardo y Luis

The jungle crew...Anja, Chris and Chriss, and mi pannas, Eduardo y Luis

Me and the newly found 250kg jungle babe Bambi

Me and the newly found 250kg jungle babe Bambi

Miss Bambi showing her best side

Miss Bambi showing her best side

Going in for the kiss closure, but Bambi pulled away last second

Going in for the kiss closure, but Bambi pulled away last second

Polly did not want a cracker, she preferred bananas

Polly did not want a cracker, she preferred bananas

Ylonas wound

Ylonas wound

The house was full of 7 cm cockroaches

The house was full of 7 cm cockroaches

The big wolley monkey alfa male showing who´s the boss in this part of the jungle

The big wolley monkey alfa male showing who´s the boss in this part of the jungle

Posted by hmontonen 09:58 Archived in Ecuador

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Comments

Hi!
I really enjoy reading your blog and looka t your photos. I am going to South America for 6 months in January, and I have emailed Merazonia and thinking about volunteering there for 2 weeks or so. Can u please tell me the web address to the other animal centre you volunteered? "Volunteering in the jungle part 1"? Regards, Hege

by hege85

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