My Life in the Amazon: Out with the Old, In with the New

Out with the Old, In with the New

From 21 June 2009

I give so much credit to veterinarians.  This past week, two of the sick and injured animals in the infirmary didn’t pull through.  And let me tell you, I spent the rest of the day moping on both accounts.  Vets help a lot of animals, but they also see a lot die.  That really pulls at my heart strings.  We had a tortoise with a bacterial fungus under the shell that didn’t make it.  I also found one of the released   tamarins on a feeding table with a six centimeter long wound in her arm that was down to the muscle.  Your average tamarin, tail not included, sits about fifteen centimeters.  She had surgery on her broken and dislocated arm, but she had already lost a lot of blood. Two days later, I came to work in the morning and asked how the little chichico was doing only to find out she had died late in the evening the night before.

I must have some curse (or blessing?) with encountering injured animals because today I noticed a squirrel monkey wasn’t using his back leg.  We’re keeping an eye on the animal.  The other day while cleaning the guardería, I noticed Tomás, one of nine ex-pet kinkajous, dragging his right hand.  I got a close up look and mumbled a “Holy Moses!” before running to get the vet.  Tomás had a nasty week old wound on his hand that had gotten worse.  Now one of his fingers was clearly not wanting to stay connected.  It was amputated the next morning.  Tomás’s recovery is going splendidly, but the icing on the cake to this story is yet to come.  I emptied the trash in the vet room and nearly passed out from all the bloody gauze, but I noticed a small red thing on the ground that had missed its intended trash bucket.  Naturally, curiosity kicked in and I proceeded to poke the small red thing with a stick.  About fifteen seconds later, I almost threw up.  Did I mention there’s no “Biohazard Waste” or “No Longer Attached Body Part Disposal” places in this part of Ecuador?  The small red thing was Tomás’s finger.  It is buried now, but the image of it is not.
Amu stole the hose the other day. I was cleaning the toucans’ cage and saw a green thing zoom by.  A closer look revealed the mischievous monkey proudly portraying her stolen serpent in the grasp of her tail.  No worries.  We got the hose back.

The baby anteater has graduated to eating from a spoon instead of a syringe.  This is very exciting news seeing as it is so difficult to keep a baby anteater alive.  Ane (from Denmark) and I continue to sing “you will survive” to the little creature.  We also sing the song in the bodéga (where we store and cut fruit).  One day we belted out the words while dancing with broomsticks.  I don’t think you need a video recording to picture this moment.  We’re one crazy duo.

Dinner is shared over candlelight after a long, tiring work day. With horses’ appetites, we still go to bed hungry. I’m learning firsthand what it means to eat in moderation, mostly by necessity rather than choice.

I must say, I am becoming quite the cook.  All of the volunteers here take turns cooking and it’s largely from scratch, the best kind of cooking! I have decided the sign of a good cook is someone who tastes what they’re making.  I can make a mean fruit juice, salad dressing, jam or bread all from scratch.  For dinner a few nights back, Mike (a fellow American) and I cooked stuffed baked potatoes that turned out to be more delicious than I anticipated.

I have now had to say goodbye to Susanna (Austria), Jule (Germany), Meret and Gisela (Switzerland), Carolina (Ecuador) and Eve (South Africa).  It is truly a come-and-go place around here with the volunteers, but I think that makes the experience all the more interesting.  I am meeting people from all over the world and therefore learning about many more cultures than the Ecuadorian way of life.  My Swiss friend Sybille (with whom I hitchhiked to Tena this weekend) pointed out that Americans have a tendency to respond to “Thank you” with “Mmmhmm” instead of “You’re welcome.”  It was an interesting difference I would not have picked up on otherwise.

Today, Sybille (Switzerland) and I are bringing a tortoise back to the rescue center.  This is how the hand-off was described to me: “A tall, thin French man will meet you at the bus stop at 2:15.  He drives a Mazda.  He will have a box.  In the box will be a tortoise.  Put the tortoise in the cage and if anyone asks you questions, show them the piece of paper that authorizes you to transport the animal.”

Luckily, this is the end of a load of frutas the Quechua tribe brought over in a canoe across the Arajuano River. While lugging 50 kilos of carrots and yucca up more than 100 steps, I have to constantly remind myself the labor will result in “nice butt, nice thighs.”

We’re also getting two new volunteers (a couple) from London today!  We need more volunteers and another man wouldn’t be so bad either.  (Then us ladies can pawn the heavy loads of frutas off on them.)

Earlier in the week, I decided to practice my guitar playing skills by the river, so I sat on a log and dangled my feet while strumming to the only two Beatles songs I have mastered.  (I use the term “mastered” loosely.)  This created a very serene moment.  A couple days later after work, I propped my leg up on the ledge of the caiman’s pond and leaned up against a post.  I just sat for about twenty minutes and took it all in, every sound, every movement, all the brilliant colors.  It was so unreal, and yet there I was seeing, smelling (the Venzel girls have a keen sense of smell), and hearing the rainforest.  In case you were wondering, the Amazon does indeed have a distinct smell and when I return from Tena every week, I almost feel like I’m home.  I say “almost” because I still have an intense fear of tarantulas and they are EVERYWHERE in the rainforest.  When I no longer have to worry about these hairy beasts, then I’ll know I’m home.

A group of us volunteers heads to a cliff to swing off a rope into the river. The added bonus to our classy bathing suit and rubber boots look is its practicality.  And yes, that’s a monkey following us.

Four of us walked 0.2 km to a tree on the river that has a rope.  We swung from the cliff and then let the river’s current carry us back. Then we showered in the waterfall that, though cold, was more enjoyable than a showerhead.

I was feeding the capybaras the other day when, upon closing the gate, I noticed an addition to the three chubby animals.  Beata the spider monkey had climbed into the cage.  (There’s only a fence around the outside.  Capybaras are fat and slow.  They aren’t going anywhere.)  I removed Beata and went to wash the food buckets.  On my way to feed Martin and Herman, two of the woolly monkeys, I snuck a peek back at the capybaras.  In addition to Beata, Huahuasupay was also munching on corn husks sitting next to Daddy capybara.  I shooed them both out.  I’m telling you, the monkeys that are not in cages are far more sneaky than the ones in cages.

Thanks for tuning in this week.  Once again, I am thoroughly delighted to be sharing this experience with you.

Until next week,



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