Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Roy Story

I guess this story all started in Bogota, the capital of Colombia. I was in a hostel talking to a German guy called Peter, who had come up through South America and was nearing the end of his trip. I myself had only just recently entered the continent and was about to set off further south. I mentioned to Peter that I was going to Bolivia.
“How long will you be there?” he asked with some added enthusiasm in his voice.
“Uhh, not sure, anything between a week and two months I guess. I haven’t planned anything after the Inca Trail,” I replied.
“Perfect!” he exclaimed. “You have to go to this animal refuge near Cochabamba.”
“Yeah?” I asked with only mild interest. At this point I had never heard of Cochabamba and I had other countries lined up before Bolivia anyway, which were dominating my thoughts.
“Yeah man, I was there for a month and I got to walk a puma!” he said without a hint of sarcasm.
“Wait, what?!” I asked, thinking I misheard him as the words slowly sank in.
“At this animal refuge I got to walk a puma!” he continued, “It was the most amazing experience of my life”. I was clearly not the first person he told this strange and amazing tale to, but just the chance to reminisce on his experience one more time seemed to light him up and give a charge of energy like he had only just arrived a week ago on the amazing continent.
“Like on a leash?” I continued in bewilderment.
“Look I’ll show you,” he left the room and returned a few moments later with his camera. “This is Roy,” he explained as he showed me a series of photos. He was a beautiful cat, with golden fur. In some photos he was standing and looking into the distance, sometimes rolling in long grass and in others he was sitting in a pond with a pensive look in his eyes. Peter also had a video of him connected to the animal by a rope or leash of some sort. They were walking for a short time before the cat started to run, giving Peter no choice but to chase, dodging obstacles as he ran. He narrated softly to his slideshow, with a nostalgic smile of admiration constantly on his face. Looking back I was playing the part of the listener perfectly. The expression on my own face could be a mirror image of the faces of the countless others who I told my own story to after leaving Bolivia.
It was clear now that he wasn’t joking, so right before I left to see the north coast of Colombia he gave me some details for the park and reinforced his recommendation that I had to go. Coincidentally, in Santa Marta, I met another traveller who gave me a recount of his own experience at the same park with the same cat, with the same passion and admiration. At this point I couldn’t remember the name of the puma they worked with, but I felt compelled to go to this park, and when I did, it lived up to its reputation.


I eventually arrived at Villa Tunari, the small town adjacent to the park that the refuge rented to run its organisation, a little over a month later. It was a humid place that offered almost opposite conditions to the altitudes of La Paz, the city situated 3500m above sea level, from which I had just come. In Villa Tunari the weather was either scorching hot tropical heat, or torrential rain. The organisation itself is called Inti Wara Yassi. Generally it is a refuge for mistreated or disadvantaged animals. The majority of these are monkeys, with many birds, small animals and of course the cats. There were about eight pumas and two ocelots. It is run by a small group of dedicated Bolivians and a steady flow of volunteering tourists from all over the world. While I was there I met people from Israel, Australia, USA, England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Holland, Colombia, Brasil, Mexico and Germany.
I knew when I arrived that fitness would be a great asset if I was going to work with a puma, and my preparations and efforts on the Inca Trail were meant to help me here. However, the three weeks or so between the Trail and the park were laden with coke and rum and coke, as well as some generous tours that served ample amounts of food and a poor diet of fried chicken, rice and chips. Needless to say, I had put on some extra kilos of travel fat, and the few times I exercised (lugging my backpack to the next bus station or hostel) wasn’t going to burn those extra calories.
It was because of this that I wasn’t too peeved to learn that I would be working with the colony of Spider Monkeys that resided in the park. I had learned after some months of travel that any disappointment or forced change in plans was much easier to deal with by simply accepting the reality of it all and moving on. Much better than dwelling in my own self pity.
The volunteers stayed in one of three hostels on the edge of the town. Sticking to my budget I chose the cheap option. To say that hygiene was a problem in this place was an understatement. There were around 25 people in that hostel, all working long hard days at the park, in blaring heat or heavy rain. We had two bathrooms to share which needed about five minutes between each flush if it was going to successfully send the contents into the sewerage system. Combine this with the fact that at some point we were all drinking some of the tap water (not recommended!), meaning that it was common place to have diarrhoea. The showers weren’t much better. Usually rations of two minutes of hot water per person meant the cold shower practice I had undertaken before going on this trip, had started to pay dividends.
My first night I made a few friends with the volunteers while watching a game of poker that started before I finished unpacking. I went to bed relatively early, tired from the 15hr bus trip the night before, and slept on a very thin mattress, constantly aware of the wooden frame of the bed pushing into my hip bone.


My first day with Los Negros (the nickname of the Spider monkeys) was tough because I hadn’t worked for over three months. Basically, along with three other volunteers, I fed, babysat and cleaned the shit of about thirty spiders three times a day. The most interesting part would have to have been the chance to watch the community that they had formed. It was complete with an alpha male, alpha female and a line of respect that left the smallest and most injured monkey at the bottom. His name was Ignacio or as I liked to call him Iggy Stardust. Iggy was my favourite.
After a few days of fitting in, the group started to accept me (I think I had officially become one of them when Iggy pissed on my face as I looked up to the branch he was sitting on). Tomasita (in photo), the alpha female (and leader since the alpha male had been attacked by big, wild neighbouring spider monkeys and was in the clinic recovering), had taken a special fondness to me. She loved to be in the company of male volunteers. And more than anything she loved a good grooming. She would often walk over and push away the other monkeys who were sitting with me, then place her outstretched hand on my shoulder, scratch her arm to make sure I hadn’t forgotten how to do it, and put her head down waiting for me to begin grooming her.
This was probably my favourite part. At around 2pm each day I would lie down and fall asleep with one or two monkeys resting on my chest or at my feet. I really did care for the monkeys and appreciated the bonds we had formed, but they were starting to drive me crazy. I was starting to see spider monkeys everywhere. Any shadow in the corner of my eye I would think was one of the Negros about to steal my iPod. My hygiene had reached new lows. I had lowered my standards to that of my new friends. Instead of buying more shampoo when I ran out I just let the monkeys to groom me. I sometimes ate the fruit they had for lunch out of their food bowls while they were eating. And to top it off I started pooing in my hand and throwing it at people.
On that topic, cleaning up the monkey poo is about as glamorous as it sounds, and even more fun when that poo is on my shirt. The cuteness factor had worn thin by now and been replaced by annoyance. Like a small child playing an innocent game of Uno and laughing, who then suddenly throws a tantrum and demands we play another game, caring for the monkeys had become more work than pleasure (obviously I’m not ready for kids).
On top of all this was the fact that Ramona, one of the anti social females, had sexually molested me. The first time it happened I was alone with the monkeys. I was watching one of them playing on some ropes when I felt small but strong little hands wrap around my leg (luckily I was wearing Wellington boots). I looked down to see Ramona looking up at me doing the ‘sexy face’, a look she often gave me from afar with pouted lips followed by baring her teeth. I tried to pull away but she screamed and held on tight threatening to bite me. When I stopped struggling she held eye contact with me while slowly moving her lower body towards my leg. She began to rub herself against me, with a rhythmic and sensual sincerity that no horny dog could ever match. After the initial shock, I tried to release myself again but she persisted and renewed her threats to bite me. I looked around for help, and continued trying to edge away as her wildest fantasies came true. The strange inter species dance continued for about five traumatising minutes before I eventually freed myself. She screamed at me and ran off to hide in a tree watching me and biding her time. I felt dirty, and part of me wanted to go cry in the shower ala Tobias F√ľnke.
OK, maybe that’s a bit far, but then when I was half asleep one day and woke to find Ramona humping the bare skin of my stomach, it was starting to get a bit much. I had decided to stay for 25 days all up and by day 6 I had realised that in 20 more days I was going to be fairly crazy and very filthy. I always intended to honour my commitment (especially since I had paid in advance); I was just in the process of adapting to a new state of mind – mild insanity. Besides, the parties and people at the park made it more than worth it.


It was on day 7 at the park where this all took a huge change. It was 7am and I was eating breakfast in a zombie like state. Beni, the volunteer coordinator came up to me.
“Hey Eden, how would you feel about working with one of the cats?” he asked. I could read a little concern in his tone, like he feared I may say no, but he was offering a Whopper value meal to a starving Somalian kid at this point.
“Yeah!” I replied with all the enthusiasm I could muster. Unbeknownst to this Somalian kid, that value meal was supersized and had to be eaten all at once.
“Great! You will be working with Roy today,” there was a mild emphasis on the name ‘Roy’ as he said it, and he left a small pause worried at my possible reaction to the statement.
I had no knowledge of the reputations of any of the cats at this stage so I simply replied, “Sweet, Thanks man!”
Beni let a weight lift off his shoulders as he exhaled and smiled, “OK, just see Dave when he gets here at eight. Thanks for doing this.”
“No worries.”
I was going to meet Roy that day. I had no idea what I was in for.

- Eden

Roy Story II


  1. Haha! Man this story is great, I can't hwait for the next part.

  2. I still dream of going back to that place.

  3. yeah me too. I miss Roy...and the parties

  4. Wow, this is epic and awesome. I can't wait for the next parts. I lolled a bunch of times. You're a great writer too man

  5. ahhh you've left me in suspense, more more more!

  6. Ha,ha,ha!!! I've been laughing all the time like a hyena!! Love your writing style!
    I'm going to Machia next February so I'm gonna keep reading your blog to see what other "dirty happenings" are waiting for me!