Thursday, March 19, 2009

More Than a Match for Me

OK. I'll come clean from the off. I caved. I tried to stay strong, even gave myself options, but when push came to shove, I threw in the towel, after using it to flap about my head to try and keep the bugs at bay.

Here's the scoop. After my last entry (written in Guarayos, mosquito-free haven 50km from the park), I returned to Ambue Ari with renewed hope. Only to find that hope vastly misplaced. I spoke to the volunteer coordinator on the Sunday night and said that if the mozzies didn't quit, I would have to, and that I realised it was letting them down, so I would try to do at least 2 weeks and make a final decision then. If that meant being taken off the jaguar, so be it; the animal's well being came before mine. The decision was then made that I would stay with the jag, and closer to the 2 weeks, if new volunteers had turned up and I still planned to go, a replacement would be trained up then.

The next day, it started to rain in the late afternoon. Just a shower, but it scared the mozzies off a bit. Then, for the rest of the week it bucketed down, almost non-stop, and the previously muddy paths on the 2km trail to Ru's house became thigh-deep-in-water paths. The bug numbers dwindled to almost acceptable levels, the temperature became almost bearable, the humidty plummeted from about 90% to maybe 85%, and things were looking up. OK, so now we were all soaking all day, but with some careful planning there were dry clothes for the evenings, and its not like it ever got cold along with the wet.

But after 4 days, the rain stopped, the sun came out, the humidity went up again, and even though the frogs had arrived and were doing there best to make tadpoles to eat mozzie larvae, and subsequently adult frogs to eat mozzies, unfortunately the bugs were back. Not as bad as before, certainly livable-with, had I been planning to stay a couple of months, but having mucked the management about already, and having a bunch of new blokes arrive, and because it actually gave me more time to do other things, I stuck with the leaving idea, and skipped town this morning. Leaving was actually far harder than I thought it would be, as every day Ru became friendlier and I enjoyed hanging out with him more, so to have to leave that behind was very difficult. I would love to go back some day, preferably at a better time of year, and do a full month, and see how he's doing. In the meantime, its on the road again, and an extended return trip to Cusco, via Arequipa and Nazcar.

But before that (because I'm not there yet), a little more about the park. Its about 600ha of reclaimed jungle, housing 23 cats (5 jaguars, 13 pumas, 4 ocelots and a mini bolivian wild cat), a bunch of monkeys (howlers and a spider), a tapir called Herbie, 2 deers and some parrots and macaws. All the animals have been rescued from illegal collections, peoples' homes or zoos and circuses, and for some it marks the start of a rehabilitation and release programme. Not for the cats, unfortunately, as the governement requires all sorts of licences and red tape which they almost never grant due to the problems associated with releasing large, dangerous cats into the wild, not to mention the shrinking rainforests and habitats etc. But many of the parrots and macaws are released, and if enough monkeys of the same sort are gathered, they can be encouraged to form a troop, allowing them to be released as well. We actually have a small group of Howler monkeys that visit the camp now and again, as they used to live there, which disturbs the resident Howler no end, and gives the resident spider monkey all sorts of fun.

The camp is very basic, with no electricity or mains water supply (they have a gas run generator that pumps water to the header tank in the trees and a gas run freezer for minimal food storage), long drop toilets that got washed out in the big rain, leaving us with the "poop in the woods" option, or the "large, precarious hole dug on the top of a very muddy hill with a tarp roof" option, both of which left the brave soul rudely exposed (quite literally) to the mercy of the mozzies. And they had no mercy, let me tell you! In camp, we have a resident howler monkey called Faustino (10 years old, ex-hotel owned, and apparently ex-smoker and -alcoholic) and a resident spider monkey called Morocha, who is the funniest creature I have ever met. Highly acrobatic (unlike Faustino, who is very slow about the place, and whose only real trick is to howl like a fury at any invading monkeys or volunteers who wail at him first), very chatty, hugely comical, and very ticklish. It is hilarious to watch her wriggle around and laugh when you tickle her, like a wee kid. Always looking for an opportunity to get into rooms or the comedor (the other day she snuck in via the back door and ran out the front waving two captured bread rolls above her head in the classic monkey fashion), chasing the 3 resident peccaries (pigs) and pulling at their legs, lying flat out, trying to be invisible, or generally crashing about in the trees, defying gravity.

Work is from about 7am to 5.30pm-ish, and for me consisted of camp chores (that's chores around the camp, not mincing about with a duster and a pinnie) followed by a 2km, 40 min walk through the flooded jungle to Ru's house, and taking him out round his paths on a long, double rope lead, one for each person. Ru is 5 years old, and came to the park, aged about 8 months, from a private family who had him as a pet, and were convinced by someone from the park that he would have a better life at Ambue Ari. Which he does. He picks his route, and we follow behind, letting him stop, sleep, turn around or whatever he wants. He has access to the river and often goes for a swim, and generally mooches about until 3, when he goes back to his cage for food. He is generally scared of everything in the jungle, be it snapping sticks, lizards that run across the path or sudden loud stamping behind him (hey, its funny to watch him jump in the air and run off, OK?), but did, on one auspicious day, catch a careless agouti (large rodent) and thoroughly enjoyed eating it as the afternoon wore on. He is wary of new folks at first, not showing them much attention other than trying to jump them for a bit of a dry hump (and you know when you've been humped by a 100kg jaguar, let me tell you!), but as he gets used to you, he gets very house-cat like, with head rubbing, hand licking and generally enjoying hanging with the boys. Jaguars are not noisy cats, and can't purr or yowl or roar (unlike pumas that are like max volume house cats with purrs and meowing), but he does sometimes make groaning and grunting noises when he is having a particularly satisfying belly-rub or nap in the sun. He never fully gives up the humping though, and is always trying to out-flank the walkers so he can get them from behind. If that fails, he hooks a huge paw around the back of one of your knees from in front of you and pretty much hauls you to the ground. He is generally slow moving, however, so it is usually easy to spot when he is making his move, and thus relatively easy to avoid, especially with help from the other walker on the other lead (pumas are again opposite, and move very fast and unexpectedly). His other favourite game is a full on pounce, this time at high speed, when no-one is expecting it. He never jumps high, always to the legs or waist, and again, when 100kg of jaguar hits you in the knees, the only place you're going is to the ground! But he never uses claws, and always lets go when he has you down and has made his point. He's just a big kid, playing and making sure you know whose jungle it is.

So, yes, hard to go in the end but overall the best decision, both for my physical comfort and for the greater good of the trip in general. Only about 7 weeks to go until the bikes get packed away, and we still have to get to Colombia! I want to write a bit more about the jungle in general, but that can have an entry to itself. Its another of those "things I want to remember" efforts, so you can take it or leave it when the time comes. It'll be for me, more than you. Sorry 'bout that.

So beaten by mozzies, but still in the fight, know what I mean, 'Arry? Seconds away, round 2 tomorrow.

1 comment:

ed said...

Well, you gotta give it a go right? which you did. And it's way more interesting than spending the summer picking apples! Enjoy the next round 'Arry, and keep the photos and blog coming.