First stop South America (then NZ, Oz & South East Asia) travel blog



















I decided long ago that i wanted to do some voluntary work at Inti Wara Yassi so was really happy to get here. And despite the humidity, huge bugs and horrendous living conditions I still am happy to be here. This place is an animal sanctuary that offers refuge to a number of tropical animals and birds that have been illegally kept or mistreated by humans. If you commit do stay at least 4 weeks you can work with one of the big cats or with the monkeys. Ideally I wanted to do both but I had to choose one so I went with the big cats. I was assigned to Roy who is a 7 year old puma. Here´s a link to his page on the website:

Bolivian law (for some reason) states that a big cat that has been held in captivity can never be released back into the wild. So the aim is to give Roy as good a life as possible. At night he lives in a cage, and during the day he is walked through the jungle by volunteers. That was my job. It was really hard work. The jungle trail is up and down over rocky, boggy and slippy terrain, through streams and over fallen trees. The humidity in rain forest is like nothing I have ever experienced. on top of this Roy is full of energy and likes to run certain parts of the trail. We walk him for approximately 20km per day and Roy is always looking for opportunities to bite you. I am told this is just a game and to stay calm when he jumps up, but this is easier said than done. On day 4 Roy was being grumpy and the more experienced volunteer (by 10 days) who was training me told me to be alert to his jumps as they are done less out of playfulness when he is grumpy. As we were walking down a steep and slippy embankment Roy jumped on this volunteer. My job was to take hold of the rope and walk Roy away. I did this but Roy was being pretty nasty and was jumping at me too. On one of his jumps I lost my footing as it was so slippy. I was an easy target and Roy gripped his 2 huge front paws around the back of my knee and bit onto my leg. He had done this before, but never so aggressively. And i´ll be honest, I was pretty scared. We followed protocol, I took hold of his paws and released them from my leg whilst the other volunteer took hold of the rope and pulled Roy off me. After a few more swipes of his ridiculously sharp claws the incident was over. My legs are covered in bruises and deep scratches and I needed 2 stitches on my shin where one of his teeth had pierced quite deep. Now i´m aware that if Roy had really meant business and wanted to kill me that I probably wouldn´t be writing this now. But the incident brought it home to me that Roy is a wild animal and tomorrow he may decide that he´s bored of walks on a rope through the jungle and of the chicken he´s fed. I didn't want to be the first person he see´s if this happens so I said my goodbyes to him (from a distance!) and have now switched to the relative safety of the monkey enclosure.

Well after getting savaged by Roy the puma (or more accurately after he play bit me and I got scared) I decided to work with the monkeys. I was assigned to the monkey mirador which is where the older capuchin monkeys go in preparation for being released back into the wild. There´s 23 monkeys in the mirador and they live in cages at night and during the day we attach them to runners. There´s also approximately 20 wild monkeys who spend all their time at the mirador, I guess because they like the company and because we feed them. On a typical day I would prepare the monkeys food at 7.45am and then carry this food along the mile long trail through the jungle to the mirador. Then we give each monkey breakfast and take them all out of their cages. Then we clean out each cage and after this we take the monkeys for walks into the jungle to familiarise them with the area. And by walk I mean that I walk through the jungle while the monkey sits on my head. We then give them lunch and walk the mile long trail back to get our own lunch. In the afternoon we take the monkeys into the jungle again and then we prepare their main meal of the day before putting them back into their cages for the night. The day usually finishes at 6pm and we only get a day off if we are ill. At the end of the day I was always covered in monkey poo and wee, sweat, dirt, rotten fruit etc etc. Although the hours were long and the work was not glamorous, the interaction with the monkeys was really rewarding. They are so human like and they all have their own personalities, which I began to learn in my short time with them. Some were very timid and didn´t want much contact with humans, whilst others loved laying on me, or sitting on my shoulders and grooming my hair, or just generally playing around with me. There was one (Eddie) who would jump on me and give me the tightest hug whenever I went near him. They really are cool animals and it was sad to say goodbye to them. All in all I had great time at Inti Wara Yassi. I worked up close with animals I would only be able to see in a zoo back home, and I met some great people. It was thanks giving day on my last day at the park and about 40 of us had a huge thanks giving feast in the evening. It was my first ever thanks giving celebration and was a perfect way to leave the park. It was sad saying goodbye to the friends i´d made too, but that's what happens when you´re travelling. You meet great people and do cool stuff together before moving to a different destination and eventually going back to your homes on different sides of the world. At midnight myself and 3 other volunteers set about trying to get a bus out of Villa Tunari. There was no way of booking a seat on a bus so we had to stand in the road and flag down any bus that passed. At 1am we finally managed to get a bus to stop and paid the driver for the 5 hour night journey ahead. Only when we got on did we realise that there was not enough seats, so I spent the journey in a generally uncomfortable position either standing, sitting on the floor or occasionally lying on the floor in the aisle because I was so tired. I tried to block out of my mind that there were bare sweaty feet just inches from my face. This ranks as my worst bus journey so far, and i´ll be surprised and absolutely mortified if I have a worse one!

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