Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Roy Story II

(Mike and Roy)

Roy Story I in case you missed it


“Hey man, why are you still here? Shouldn’t you be with the Spiders?”
“Nah, I got moved to the cats! I’m working with Roy!”
“Oh, you serious?! Good luck, man”

I had just learned that I was working with Roy today. A puma! I was excited, but also a little nervous. And it wasn’t helping that almost every conversation I had possessed a similar theme.

You’re working with Roy?!”
“You’re working with Roy!?”
YOU’RE working with ROY!?!?”
“You’re fucked, man”

I brushed it off and maintained a nonchalant ambience (my cover for being tired and anti social) but inside the nerves were beginning to kick. I was asking myself ‘Who is this mythical cat, whose reputation has apparently already beaten me before I’ve even seen him?’

Dave arrived at around 8am. It was his last day. He was actually working with another cat but was filling in for Mike, Roy’s regular volunteer, who was suffering from severe food poisoning. I learned that I was replacing Roy’s other volunteer, who had quit after having to deal with some scary ‘jumps’. Another volunteer from Israel, Oren, was also helping out, though he worked with another cat and had never worked with Roy either. After stocking up with 6L of water for the morning (an extra six was required for the afternoon), the three of us set out with a collective 3 days of Roy experience between us.

Just the trek to Roy’s cage left me sweating and breathing heavy. I had a blister the size of a 50c piece on the ball of my right foot from playing soccer a few days prior, and it hurt every step I took. I started to hear the whispers of the earlier warnings people had told me, but these were muted out by Roy calling out from somewhere ahead of us. It sounded like a loud, raspy cat meow laced with excitement and irritation at the same time.

“Hola Roy!” Dave yelled as we passed under a fallen tree trunk.
“Reeoow!!” came another call from ahead.

Dave explained this was Roy’s area and we should all call out to let him know we have arrived. Oren and I complied, and a few moments later we saw Roy’s cage with a big, beautiful cat pacing around inside. He had golden brown fur, he was strong and lean and as he paced back and forth you could see the ripples of tensed muscles. His eyes had an intensity about them, yet also possessed a calm confidence. We placed our hands through the gaps in the cage so he could get a scent of us, like we were shaking hands for the first time. He coolly passed his nose within range of my hands but I started to detect more irritation from him then excitement. As I got to know him over the next few weeks I understood his annoyance.

The cage itself was fairly ugly looking but the light jungle surrounds were picturesque. A long, rope runner extended from the cage for about 25m to which we attached his leash. The leash was about 5m. He had a decent area to stretch and warm up in while we cleaned his cage and prepared for the walk. Dave also fed him some long grass to help with his digestion. While connected to the runner he could reach most places in his area except for the rest area where volunteers could relax under a tarpaulin for lunch and the water hole to the other side. These two areas were separated by a small passageway behind the cage. Anyone who walked inside Roy’s runner area while he was there was fair game.

When we were ready Dave wrapped a thick leash around his waist and went down to attach it to Roy. We embarked on our journey after a briefing from Dave. He explained what a ‘jump’ is and how to deal with one. Apparently when the puma wants to, whether he is annoyed or in a playful mood or just gets a good chance to, he will attack the leash holder and the others have to come and pull him away. Simple enough. So with me carrying 4L of water and Oren carrying 2L and a heavy back-up leash we followed Dave.

“Chau Sonko! Megalong-Short!” Dave yelled.
“Chau Roy” replied a distant voice. Sonko was a neighbouring puma whose runs were structured around Roy’s to avoid any chance of the two meeting. Megalong-Short was the run we were doing this morning. A Megalong was a 70-90 minute trail and a Short took around 40 minutes.

After about 20 seconds of walking Roy bolted up a very steep hill and then continued to power on. “Roy is a creature of habit,” Dave told us, “He sprints up that hill every time.” We climbed steep, winding inclines and then descended the other sides, sometimes 1.5m drops at a time all at the cruisy pace of a puma. We walked through dried up creek beds of slippery rocks and then actual creeks with daring jumps that left my boots soaked with water. By now I had forgotten that there was a pain in my blistered foot. I actually tried to focus on it to distract my mind from the pain in my thighs and chest.

As we reached a flat stretch of the trail Dave explained how Roy ended up at the park. His mother was killed by hunters when he was young and he was taken and sold to someone who then gave him to a friend as a present. The park then inherited him and has raised him, trying to provide a life as similar to a natural one as possible. I drank close to a litre of water as he talked. My body had recovered slightly from the trek so far but then we came up to the Hills. This was easily the toughest part of the trail. Eight climbs one after the other at a frenetic pace, my legs were struggling under the weight of myself and the backpack. We then continued on through some more difficult areas before reaching a resting point in a creek. Roy sat himself down in the cool shallow waters while we all drank looking a little worse for wear.

“So that’s the Megalong done,” Dave announced. The next forty minutes of the ‘Short’ was filled with excruciating pain and exhaustion. I dug to some deep unknown regions of will power to keep going til the end. The morning session was over.


The rest of that first day is like a blur now. In the lunch break I sat alone amongst the other volunteers trying to convince my body to do it again. In the afternoon session I almost collapsed at the top of the Hills, basically crawling the last few steps to the summit. I was forever grateful when Dave decided to only do a Megalong without the short. I limped home in sweat stained clothes. I showered and changed. There was a big party that was planned for the night. I spent the whole time sitting hunched on a fold out chair, only drinking a few drinks before crashing.

The next day I caught a lucky break. Dave had left and Oren went back to his cat. Mike was still too sick so my day was just sitting with Roy as he paced back and forth on his runner. I don’t think this pleased Roy ay all. He would walk up as close as he could get and growl in annoyance. He just wanted was to walk (or jump me) while I sat in a hammock listening to TV on the Radio.

Before this, though, I was needed to help with some construction, which turned out to be a chance for the Spider monkeys to give me a final farewell. While cementing a cage with Neil, an Irish guy working with Sonko, I left my backpack unattended. We finished the cementing job and as we started heading back I saw a spider monkey looking through my bag.

Oh! How cute! She is so curious and so smart and-Wait…what’s that in her hands?

She looked at me startled, eyes wide open and a look of guilt on her face. I walked over curiously and saw something very official-looking fall from her hands. My mind started racing. Although I had arrived over a week earlier, I still hadn’t taken my passport out of my backpack. I looked down and saw my little blue book of stamps. I picked it up and examined the damage. Bite marks on some important stamps and two pages with sections about the size of a spider monkey mouth torn out. Goddamn monkey cost me $250 when the Brazilians wouldn’t accept such a damaged document. Although it was fun using broken Spanish to explain to the embassy that a monkey ate my passport.


Two days later and I was about to face another test. I had met Mike and he had started to teach me the finer details of working with Roy, including some commands like ‘Muy bien, Roy’ ‘Vamos, Chico’ and ‘No mas!’ The idea was to remain strong and in charge with the commands. But really all I was trying to learn was how to avoid being jumped. Mike was a really cool guy. He was an English guy, 25 years old and had been with Roy for around three weeks at this stage and it showed. The constant exercise with Roy combined with the food poisoning had left him very thin, though he was still the fittest in the park (aside from Roy).

“You ready to take Roy out today?” Mike asked as we walked up to the cage. That afternoon I was going to take the reigns for the first time. I was going to change from being the back up guy who saves the other guy when he is jumped, to…well, the other guy. I was excited and nervous at the same time, but I had more pressing matters at hand.

“Chau Sonko! Megalong-Short!” It was another gruelling trek but I was slowly becoming accustomed to the pain. My body had accepted that this was its fate: to heed to the demands of my mind, which had accepted its fate: to heed to the demands of Roy. I had worked out a good system of focusing on the pain and trying to share the load between all parts of my body. If my thighs were burning, I would be grateful that my lungs were still strong. And if my lungs were struggling to maintain the oxygen levels I would focus on my wobbly legs. This and a growing knowledge of the trail helped me work past each landmark and conserve energy on the easier sections in preparation for the aching climbs and knee crunching descents.

The day was a hot one. We easily polished off our regulation 2L water bottles by the time we finished the trek. It was about 12:30 and as Roy sunbathed in his runner area, Mike went down to the café for lunch. Because of the heat I was soaked in my own sweat to the point where it looked like I had just showered in those clothes. I took off my shirt and pants, as well as my shoes and socks. I hung my clothes to dry on the rope that held up the tarp and put on my thongs. I decided that I would go cool off in the water hole on the other side.

I figured the only way to get to the water hole was either to pass in front of Roy’s cage, directly through his area, or to squeeze behind it. Behind was only a small gap that Roy couldn’t reach due to the length of his leash; however he could cover both sides for about 3m if he wanted. I saw him resting on a patch of grass looking very chill, so I dropped down off a ledge and scooted across and behind the cage. It was tight and I had to shuffle sideways to the other side and I scooted once more to safety. Roy was unfazed and uninterested when I looked at him so I went on to have a dip in the water. It was extremely refreshing and I felt great as I cooled down.

Confident from my first crossing, and feeling good from the exercise and the little swim, I again checked on Roy to make sure he wasn’t interested in my exploits. He was motionless as he lay in the dirt just out front of his cage. I set off to get behind the cage again, but my thongs made my steps a little awkward and I was slowed down by a fallen branch. It seemed like instinct, or maybe my subconscious telling me something, Wasn't he on the grass bef- I turned my head to see the awesome figure of Roy rounding the front corner of his cage. In two graceful leaps he covered some 5m, his eyes now looked like Indiana Jones’ reaching out for the Holy Grail, locked on my fleshy white thigh. He slammed me against the wall. He was holding my chicken leg like a drumstick as his teeth gnashed into the bare flesh.

“No mas, Roy! NO MAS!” I said, trying to maintain a calm, authoritative voice. Not surprisingly he continued his game. It really is all a game to him, just reacting on his instincts, but I was alone and it seemed like it was going to be all fun and games until someone has their leg eaten by a puma. I still have the vivid image in my head of his teeth scraping along my leg, almost raising the bruise as they passed.

In what seemed like an eternal struggle, I edged to the safety of the passage behind the cage. There was no anger or malice in his eyes. He was going easy on me, which is probably why he didn’t fully break the skin. I finally succeeded in escaping his grasp and after a short stare down with him I started my sideways shuffle to the other side. Roy was on top of that though; he quickly ran around the other side of the cage and stared at me again with those unnerving eyes. He patrolled both exits waiting to see if I was keen for round 2, as I stood squashed behind his cage in my undies, starting to shake a little as the adrenalin wore off and the pain in my leg became a reality.

“Roy! You OK?” It was Neil coming over from Sonko’s area.
“Yeah man, just got…ah stuck in his area for a bit.” I replied trying again to remain nonchalant (this time I was sure I couldn’t disguise my true emotion). I can only imagine how funny the image must have looked for him to see a puma stalking some guy in his underpants trapped behind a cage. Roy eventually lost interest and I quickly ran out to safety. Neil had a good laugh at my story, as did everyone I told it to. The swelling stayed for about a week or so and the scars since faded some months later.

When Mike came back from lunch I told him what happened and he loved it. By this point he was in love with Roy and anything that brought Roy joy brought Mike joy as well. I started to feel it myself from that point as well. I took Roy out that afternoon, no longer worried about getting jumped (at least this time I would have pants), and the whole afternoon was great. It seemed like Roy respected me for facing up to him like that, whether intentional or otherwise, and we had a new understanding of each other. He had such a tough guy persona that it was very rewarding when I finally started to bond with him. We were becoming brothers.


It had now been 5 or 6 days working with Roy the drill sergeant. He had marched through the jungle trails like he was on a mission to push his volunteers to the extremes of pain. And when someone screwed up, instead of yelling ‘Drop and give me twenty!’ he would say ‘Drop and give me twenty bites of your leg!’. He would only stop to scent, to jump or to shit. The funny thing about his shits was that they seemed to scare him, or at least the smell did, because every time he did one he would sprint away from it as fast as possible. This was always a thrilling experience for the person attached to him and a hilarious one for the second guy who got to watch. The first time Roy shat with me leading he sprinted up a hill and onto his favourite trail, confusing us all as the Megalong suddenly turned into a Short. The second time was even better.

Ed, a vet from Australia, had just started getting trained for Roy. They had decided to train an extra person for when Mike left to avoid the possibility of being short on fit volunteers for Roy. Ed was a funny guy. He was already ultra fit and loved the challenge of keeping up with Roy. Everything to Ed was a challenge, and I think I learnt from his positivity. The way he attacked the once fearsome Hills helped me to get through them easier every time.

So with me leading, Mike behind chatting to Ed who had his camera out filming and taking some photos, we reached the long runner. This was a very steep, muddy hill. We would detach Roy from our waist and hook his leash onto a runner so that he doesn’t pull anyone down at injury inducing speeds. The mud was a little wet so it was very slippery, but nothing unusual. Then Roy decides to spice things up. He stops and starts inspecting the ground just at the top of the hill.

“Vamos Chico,” I said when he had lingered for a while, unaware of his intentions.
“I think he’s gonna shit, man” Mike said with a smile of disbelief, realising that Roy was going to bolt full speed down the fastest part of the trail.
“Fuck off” I said dumbfounded at the prospect.
“Get the camera Ed! Film it!”

I stood shaking my head while Ed filmed and Mike laughed. Roy knew how to draw out the suspense as well. He slowly prepared his spot and after what seemed like an age, took a nice big shit. Mike attached him to the runner just in time for Roy to bolt. The leash flew out of my hands and we took off down the hill after him. I fell on my ass at least 37 times in the ten second descent, and judging by the video so did Mike and Ed. I reached the end of the runner and saw Roy hiding to the right in the bushes. His eyes still meant business, only betraying a fraction of the excitement he must have felt seeing me stumble down the hill like a blind rabbit unaware of its predator’s gaze. I actually overran his position so his first movement left him stationed at my head level. I was farther down the hill. He had all the advantage. We both acted simultaneously. He jumped and I ducked. He didn’t expect it and went over my head and the tangle of his leash caused him to be awkwardly on his back now below me. I had gained the advantage and held him down while he struggled to regain his feet. Just as he did, ready to continue our game, Mike arrived and pulled him away.

I reattached his leash around my waist and we continued on to a creek where Roy decided to have a rest. We all laughed about what happened and rewatched the video, which showed a flash disappear followed by Mike and I both falling over and then the camera went all over the place as Ed also fell over. Roy was enjoying himself. He looked around pensively, his business-like eyes showing some satisfaction with the way the day had gone so far. It was always tough to stare him down without losing your nerve. There was a look he gave that said 'I’m going to get you' whenever there were new volunteers. I got it that second day when he was stuck on his runner watching me lounge around in a hammock. But he never gave this look to anyone more than he did to Ed. Ed saw everything as a challenge and I think Roy saw Ed as a challenge as well. He and Ed had some good battles over the next few weeks.


The days kept ticking over and the bond between Roy and I grew. A good acid test for his appreciation of a volunteer was the head butts. There was a point on the trail where he would give you the chance to bump or brush your head against his. Similar to how a house cat brushes against your leg. However, if you did it wrong then he would forget the head butt and just jump you. I was getting frequent head butts and Roy was starting to really enjoy having consistent volunteers working with him. He appreciated the familiar faces of us three as opposed to my first day, when it was three strangers and no Mike. Each day we would finish the trails soaked in sweat, knees aching and exhausted. Roy would eat his chicken and we would leave him with a “Chau Roy!”

I was loving it. This all happened in my first week with Roy and I had another two to go. This was easily the most amazing experience of my life.

- Eden (while listening to Return to Cookie Mountain by TV on the Radio)

Roy Story III


  1. Love it man... miss those times. Will sort you some pics asap!

  2. haha cheers dude. You could undoubtedly write the best Roy Story out there. Hope you don't mind me using your face up there with Roy. When I tried to get that close I just wound up with a couple scars on my leg.

  3. Don't apologise for the length man, it's a great story. Really looking forward to the next part.

  4. What an amazing story, I can't believe you did that! Enjoyed the writing as well, good use of imagery. The part where Roy took you down the hill was so intense to read as well lol.

    How many Roy Stories will there be??

  5. The best things in life are three. Next month you will see the epic conclusion!!!!