My Life in the Amazon: Money vs Time

Money vs Time

From 2 July 2009

People come and go so quickly here.  It seems as soon as a new volunteer arrives, two more are leaving.  We are struggling this week because three more volunteers left today and we only had one new volunteer arrive.  Fingers crossed, a few more are set to arrive between this week and the next.  Konny arrived Sunday from Germany.  Melu (Switzerland) and Liz and Mike (USA) have departed. Today, I gave three tours in Spanish as well as cut fruit, cleaned animal cages and fed the animals in world record timing (assuming there is such a world record book).

I got peed on by a monkey today.  During one of my morning Spanish tours, I was attempting the talk-and-walk-backward ordeal when an outburst of incomprehensible Spanish sounds interrupted my informational spiel.  I realized a bit too late that these shouts were warning cries, for my overenthusiastic gesturing resulted in my hand being doused in Amu’s urine.  We all had a hearty laugh about that.  I guess I was bound to get peed on at some point.

Amu and Flora, one-year-old orphaned woolly monkeys, are still too young to be released away from AmaZOOnico. Once they no longer rely on milk, we can evaluate them for the next step of the release process.

All the way away in Ecuador we received news of Michael Jackson’s death.  Isabel (Ecuador/Chile) came running into the kitchen and said in Spanish, “I have news from the States! Michael Jackson is dead!”  To commemorate his death, we hooked up a battery-powered stereo to an Ipod and played all Michael Jackson songs while cooking and singing in the kitchen.  Then when Ane and I walked up to the office to feed the baby anteater, we created a new version of “Beat It”: “Eat it. Just eat it.”  Because sometimes the little lady just doesn’t want to eat her termites and goop.  I don’t know why.  Sounds like a five-star meal to me.

In addition to the new turtle Sybille and I brought back on the bus a week-and-a-half ago, a family brought two birds to the rescue center.  They no longer want their Australian cockatoos as pets so we are looking into what we can do with these birds.  I don’t see them being able to be released since they are domesticated.

I have sad news.  Tomás, the kinkajou whose finger I accidentally discovered in the trash, was anesthetized at the beginning of the week.  He had starting biting himself until he eventually was ripping his skin down to the muscle, effectively destroying his entire arm, torso and leg, literally eating himself.  I have not heard back yet if the autopsy showed an infection in his brain.  The volunteers were really mellow the rest of the evening.

Beata is so beautiful and clever, she plays her cards right as a seductive trickster.  We can’t pet her, but every once in awhile, she gets caught in a momentary face-off with the people she depends on for survival.

We have had two animals escape since I have been here.  When animals are not deemed able to survive on their own and numerous attempts to release them have proved ineffective, they are kept in cages.  Ping (yes, there is another named Pong), got out of the guardería one night.  All the more power to him if he can make it on his own.  But sure enough, two nights later, he showed up on the bridge between the two volunteer huts no doubt hungry and wanting food from a place he knew he could get it.  That’s the way it goes with a lot of the animals that we try to release.  After a few days of not being able to find food or after getting into a fight with another animal, they come back to the humans they know can help them.  While in the real wild they wouldn’t get help from us, it isn’t fair to ignore these needs.  They never had the chance to live independently seeing as they were kept as pets from a young age.  It is cruel to drop into the vast greenery of the Amazon jungle an animal that has always been served its food and for the majority of its life, has only had social interactions with humans.

This is why it was so important to get Ilucu, the Great Potoo night bird, back into his cage when he escaped.  You see, no one knew Ilucu could fly because nightly attempts by volunteers to teach him had seemed futile.  It therefore didn’t seem like a big deal to leave the cage door open during feeding time, but that has certainly changed now.  One day Ilucu surprised us all by lifting his wings and flying out onto the second highest branch of a nearby tree.  One of the Quechua men, César, climbed the tree to catch the bird with a net (and Beata followed close behind), but Ilucu flew away to another tree just before we could all breathe a sigh of relief.  Luckily, César was able to watch where Ilucu flew to.  All the volunteers panned out around Amazoonico keeping an eye in that direction in case Ilucu flew away again.  This time when César climbed the tree (and Beata followed), it was successful.  Ilucu was too exhausted to fly elsewhere.  He doesn’t know how to hunt either.  We are working on either getting a volunteer to specifically work with Ilucu to teach him at night to hunt and improve his flight endurance or to send him to another rescue center with a larger cage where he would have more space to teach himself to fly.  We shall see.

Ane, Fergus (England) and I took a trek through the rainforest led by Miguel.  We were prepared for a thirty-minute round trip on more or less level ground.  After a hard day of work, I think I could handle a sight-seeing adventure.  We highly underestimated the walk. This was no time for sight-seeing because Miguel was on a mission to get to our destination and back at what I can only believe to be some steroid-enhanced speed.  One-way, the hike normally lasts forty minutes.  It took us a half hour one way because Miguel was running.  And the so-called path we followed?  Up and down, up and down, roots and rivers and rocks.  Miguel was showing us the walking route to the road so that if we missed the canoe or didn’t want to pay for the ride, we could still catch the bus to Tena.  Well I say forget Tena if I have to be drenched head to toe in sweat and then sit on a body odor infested, humid bus for two hours.  The whole point of a trip to Tena is to relax.

They say everything is bigger in the Amazon, and I’ve found that holds true. On a hike through the jungle, Ane and I made creative use of the strong vines on massive trees.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love hiking and actually quite like being muddy.  But my daily appearance exceeds the measly description of only “muddy.”  I am filthy.  So it’s nice to pretend like I’m not so dirty when I present myself to civilization once a week.

Regardless, I plan on hiking part of the trail again because it was simply magnificent.  We drank natural spring water.  We heard a wild toucan and saw pacca, agouti and peccary tracks.  The fungi we encountered were meticulously shaped and in such vibrant colors.  And the tap root tree.  Oh lordy, the tap root tree.  I cannot even put into words how awe-inspiring are the features of this massive tree.  Its roots are above ground and taller than me.  The trunk has a diameter of about five people.  And this was only the small tree. There’s another path that leads to the “Big Tree” as to which it is so humbly referred.  The pure and tranquil beauty of nature should be reason enough to urge people to protect the rainforest.  If only it was.

I have had a number of people tell me, “you’re so lucky” to be having this experience.  But I have to say, people, you can make anything happen if you put in the time and effort.  A tourist here told me, “Money comes back. Time doesn’t.”  Words well said.  I am understanding now more than ever how very true that is.  I realize no one is asking for my advice but if I had to give any, at the moment it would be this: Seek your dream and save up to make it happen.  Don’t ever think you’re too old or too young to dream or to do that thing you always wanted to do.  And know that there’s so much more to the world than the USA.  Dream a little, live a little more.

Until next week,



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