La Senda Verde is an amazing place. Both the animals and the people were awesome to get to know and work with. A gigantic shout-out to all the volunteers and staff there, we already miss you.
So yeah, back in October we decided that we would structure our trip around volunteering at La Senda Verde, an animal sanctuary/refuge located in the Bolivian rainforest just outside the city of Coroico in the Yungas region. The location of the place is where all of the death road cyclists complete their journey before driving back to La Paz. In fact the La Senda Verde was created so that bikers at the end of their tour could take a hot shower, eat a meal and grab some cold beverages. A year or so after it’s opening is when they received their first animals – a capuchin monkey named Cuerulo and two parrots. That was in 2004. They now have almost 400 animals.
Volunteer Life at La Senda Verde
While the pictures and the video might suggest otherwise, volunteering at La Senda Verde (LSV) is not a walk in the park. For two weeks straight, no days off, we had to be at the morning meeting by 7:15am and our days didn’t end until 5:30pm. We were fed three meals – a small breakfast with tea and coffee, lunch and dinner were always fairly substantial with salad, bread and a main course. The vast majority of the meals were excellent, but every once in a while the kitchen would throw us a curve ball such as their dehydrated bean bake for dinner one night. I like to think that I can figure out how food is prepared, but that dish honestly had me scratching my head. A couple times a week the the whole volunteer group (about 12 people total) would head to Coroico for dinner and drinks to get a little break.
I might have been the only person in the history of volunteers to gain weight at this place and I can confidently blame it entirely on a frozen treat called Cono Black. You see, the first few days we were there the ice cream freezer was running low until finally, on the fourth day, it was clean out. I had been endulging in a mint chocolate ice cream bar each night after dinner, which wasn’t a terrible thing. The ice cream chest didn’t get refilled until maybe day 6 or 7, and by that time I had developed a craving. To my delight we had a coulpe of new kinds of ice cream cones including one called a Cono Black which is basically a Bolivian version of a drumstick. This creation was entirely chocolate, hence the black in the name. Chocolate cone, chocolate ice cream, chocolate fudge in the center and chocolate coating on the outside. To put it mildly these things were so dang delicious. For the remaining 6 days or so I ate, not kidding, between 4 and 5 of these per day. God they were good…
The most dramatic change for us was the fact that we didn’t have any access to the outside world. No internet and no cell service here. We were completely disconnected from the outside world. At first this was difficult to get used to. We have been so accustomed to killing time by browsing the internet, checking Facebook or keeping up news that we weren’t sure what do with ourselves. But we came prepared – with books! I read more books (4) in the two weeks I was at LSV than I had in the past year. Lindsay read two books – but there were a ton of pages in the one. Here is what we read:
The World Without Us – Jeff
Agent Zig Zag – Jeff
Galveston – Jeff
A Short History of Nearly Everything – Lindsay
The One & Only – Lindsay
Lindsay and I had different jobs, but we both started off taking care of the birds in their aviary. This is is the easiest job and thus all new volunteers must cut their teeth in the aviary. There are 20 or so cages of varying size that need to be cleaned twice a day. And birds are gross. This was not a fun job. Clean the cages, change the water and feed the birds – parrots & parakeets, twice a day. There were five volunteers (including us) starting on the day we arrived so the first few days were pretty easy with that much help. But it didn’t last.
There was a shortage of male volunteers while we were there – never more than three – and this was a bit of a problem because only males are allowed to work with the capuchin monkeys because they do not, in general, care for women. In order to work and live on the grounds you required to take a series of de-working pills for the first three days. After you are “clean” you can, if you’re a guy, start working with the monkeys. And that is what I would do for the last 10 days.
The capuchin monkeys are perhaps the most demanding of the jobs that two-week volunteers can perform. (Longer term volunteers have other options such as working with the two andean bears on the property) The monkeys are fed breakfast at 7:30am, a snack at 10:30am, lunch at 12:30pm and dinner at 4:30pm. Each session requires you to change the water in each of the cages (3 cages), all the tethered monkeys living quarters (15) and of course take care of the water and food for the remainder of the complete free monkeys which totaled 40 monkeys.
There is one full-time paid employee responsible for these monkey’s well-being and he is given volunteers to help. It is quite the task. Especially considered these monkeys are constantly – and I cannot stress the word constantly enough – scheming to steal anything in your pockets, all your tools (water bucket, brush, food containers, etc..) and just wait for you to leave behind something of value – such as a padlock or key. And these adorable assholes are super smart. At one point they broke into our “base” where everything we needed was kept. They could have taken countless items – shovels, screwdrivers, gloves, – anything, but what did they walk out with? The two sets of keys needed to get into the cages. Arguably the most valuable things in the entire enclosure, because they knew…those were high value items.
We had an unbelievable time. We sincerely miss the people we worked with and all of the time we spent with the animals. After three months are not really doing much other than cross things off our bucket list it felt really good to contribute to LSV. We’d like to get setup back home volunteering on a regular basis.