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Diary of a cat walker - Pt 2

Day 27
The drama was in full swing at Ambue Ari this morning. After walking Wayra, we were in the comedor having breakfast when someone shouted out that Wara had been spotted near the Pios (big emu like birds). Apparently, Wara had jumped into the pios’ cage and three out of the four pios jumped out and escaped into the jungle. People came very close to catching Wara and were only inches away from her, but she got away again, and the Wara hunt continues.

After breakfast we went off searching for the escaped pios. Along the way, I got to meet a very handsome male puma called Tupac and got to see his amazing lagoon. Talk about 5 star accommodation. We didn’t find any of the pios but one of them was tracked down by another volunteer and returned to its cage. The two other escaped Pios are still wandering around the jungle, hope it not high for them surviving.

Day 31:
Had the best day ever with Katie today! I was tired and still recovering from a big weekend and she was hot and had a sore paw. We have discovered recently that she loves water poured on her and usually falls asleep when we do this. Today as I was pouring water on her and she was resting, she let me get very physically close to her and I was able to pat her for ages. At one point I was almost resting my head against her. I felt in complete love with her today and can’t believe how close we have been getting in this last week. Ever since I had the confidence to put my fist in her jaw, I feel like I have gained more respect from her and have lost a lot of fear. I no longer flinch when she jumps or plays with me and I think this has helped us to bond.

The sad thing is that, due to an increase in volunteer numbers, Katie is now going onto full days and, since I am still looking after Leo and Wayra, I will be coming off her. I am happy for her but sad to be leaving. I wonder how much closer we would get if we stayed together for another month. She is definitely a cat worth coming back for and I look forward to seeing her again down the track. I might even sneak in a few visits over the rest of my time here if I can.

Katie and I on that special day

Katie and I on that special day

Day 33:
Went swimming for the first time in Wayra’s lagoon today. It was a stinking hot day and at 7am in the morning we were already sweating. It was only my second swim in any form of water since I was in Brazil (almost 6 months ago). Despite my initial fear of being bitten by a cayman or a snake, the swim was fantastic. We couldn’t entice Wayra to come in though, despite her being known to love swimming. She did decide she wanted to leave the minute I came out, however, which meant for some very quick drying off and dressing.

Had my last day with Katie today. She was beautiful as always and it was heart breaking to leave her.

Chris, my lovely partner, finished up his time here and is on his way back to London. I am very sad not to be working with him anymore.

Didn’t walk Leo today so had the afternoon to chill, which was much needed after several long, extremely hot days and wild nights.

Wara is still not back. The overnight camping by her cage continues.

Day 41:
Extended my stay for another rmonth. Just loving it here too much to leave yet.

Wara the missing puma is still not back. She has been spotted a few times but hasn’t yet been caught. Everyone is still hopeful that she will return but she has broken the record for the amount of time a cat has been missing, with 18 days and coutning.

I am not walking Katie anymore but the her volunteers tell me that things are a little strange with her at the moment. Apparently she is on heat and has a wild male jaguar (who people have nicknamed Edward) visiting her. They were spotted walking together along one side of her cage, separated only by the cage wall itself. This has meant that she hasn’t been interested in the volunteers and doesn’t want to walk at all.

Leo is doing well and is as beautiful as ever to work with but we did have an incident yesterday. He is well known for his postential to become aggressive at times when you go to rope him or unrope him in his double doors. However, this had never happended to me before… until yesterday. I headed into his double doors to attach his rope (a small 1 metre x 1 metre space) and as I leant down to put his carabina on he went to bite me. After my second attempt he turned around and jumped me with his jaw open ready to bite, with an expression that suggested he wasn’t just wanting to play. After mastering it with Katie, my instinct was to put my fist in his jaw. Scary as it was it worked and though he didn’t give up straight away, there was nothing he could do. He tried a few more times but each time was blocked by my hand. Meanwhile, I was completely stuck in the small cage, as we couldn’t open the door for us to come out unless he was attached to the rope. Eventually my partner opened the door to his big cage and he went in. I was quite shaken up and full of adrenaline afterwards, but felt happy that I hadn’t been injured and that I had managed to deal with the event so well.

It’s hard to know what could have triggered the incident for Leo, whether it was Chris leaving, the presence of two females (he does seem to love males), the change in volunteers in general, the weather, or something else.

Funnily enough, the worst injuries I have incurred in the park so far have come from the dancefloor. Last Friday, another volunteer and I organized a Vegas party in the usual Santa Maria haunt. Everyone dressed up Vegas style and looked great. I went as a bride and my co-organiser went as my groom. We had blackjack, poker and roulette and gave homemade chips to everyone to play with. (My co-organiser made the roulette wheel out of an old bike wheel!)

The following day was a Saturday and in the afternoon we headed down to the river in Santa Maria for a swim. Surrounded by lots of local children, I enjoyed swimming off my Vegas hangover and playing games with them. A wee trip up the river in a Bolivian man’s boat that a few of us borrowed, made it, all in all, a splendid weekend.

Vegas night

Vegas night

The happy couple

The happy couple

By the river in Santa Maria

By the river in Santa Maria

Day 42:
Wara the escaped puma came back yesterday. She was spotted a few times in the morning trying to hunt the pigs and pios, and eventually walked into a trap that they had set for her. Everyone felt instantly relieved. Amazingly, she arrived back just one hour before her volunteer, Monica, who’d spent every night over the past 3 weeks sleeping outside her cage, left the park to head home.

Wayra, my female puma, is going great guns. She is still as funny and complex as ever to work with but now she meows hello to me in the mornings, which we repeat back and forth to each other for a few seconds before her meowing turns into hissing and growling about going on a walk. But lately once she is out on her trails, she has been very happy and chilled out and quite a delight to work with. My goal at the moment is to try and get her swimming with me in her lagoon. This is something that she apparently loves and something that I would love to experience. She didn’t come in today but I will keep trying.

This morning when I headed back to camp I saw a tortoise wondering outside the dining room. It was beautiful. I got to pat its skin and shell, and feed it a banana. There are also some baby parrots that were brought to the park by locals and who now sit perched on a branch in the main part of the camp. They are constantly chirping and head bobbing in unison and are very cute to watch. It is such a reminder of what an incredible place this is and why there is no doubt in my mind that I will be back here one day.

Wayra resting after a walk

Wayra resting after a walk

Day 48:
Wow, time is passing fast! It is such an insulated microcosm of a place here that my perception of time is all over the place. A day can feel like a week, but a week can pass by in the blink of an eye.Yesterday, at the internet café in Guarayas, I saw some photos that an ex-volunteer posted up on facebook. It made me remember just how much fun I have had here.

The last week I have been going through a bit of a down patch though unfortunately. Things with Leo have changed a lot. We tried just having two girl volunteers working with him, but he was acting out too much. I got attacked again in the double doors and this time couldn’t get my fist in his jaw in time. He was much quicker this time clenching his teeth around my forearm while jumping me with his claws out. Again, due to the double doors, I had no opportunity to back away or get him off. I wasn’t badly injured, but I did get a range of scratches and a few tiny bite marks. I don’t think he was wanting to badly hurt me, he was just letting me know that he wasn’t happy and wasn’t feeling secure.
As a result we have brought on a new male and there are now three of us working with him until I leave in a week. It is a very different dynamic and Leo has continued to act out again every other day. We put it down to a rapid change of volunteers and think he will settle down again soon, but three people feels like a crowd with one puma. It ‘s hard to maintain as close attachment with him as I used to have, because we now have to, for want of a better word, share him a lot more. Unfortunately, I have gone from having my walks with him as being my favourite part of the day, to not looking forward to them much at all. I miss Chris who I worked with for one month with Leo and I now realize how magical our time together was.

But despite these changes, I also realise how fortunate I am to have had that time and to have had the opportunity to work with such amazing cats. Not everyone gets that chance here, so I have been truly blessed in that respect.

I am definitely starting to feel ready to move on from the park now. I pushed my leaving date early by half a week and am now heading off mid next week. The idea of travelling and having some solo time again feels very appealing so in some ways the timing could not be more perfect.

Day 68:
Well it’s been a long time since I wrote in this diary. Just as I was about to leave two weeks ago I ended up extending my stay another two weeks. I just wasn’t quite ready to leave and we are planning a big Halloween party for some of the guys’ birthdays, which I didn’t want to miss. So here I am, still enjoying my time here but also feeling ready to move on in a week.

Wayra is still going well. I have been on full days with her for a while now and enjoying them. She has continued to be very relaxed most of the time on her walks, sniffing and exploring her surroundings. She now has both morning and afternoons out of her cage and it has made a big difference to her mood. I still haven’t caught a glimpse of the Wayra who used to be one of the most dangerous cats in the park. She must be a changed cat. Sometimes she jumps me when I am running ahead of her and she catches up with me, but they are the softest, cutest little jumps. I secretly wish she would do them more often.

Lately she has also been giving me more love, which is nice (although it always depends on her mood). She even licked my face one day. And sometimes when she is asleep and really relaxed, I can sit cross legged behind her and stroke her in between pulling out her ticks - it’s amazing how accumstomed I have become to that! Other days when she is not in the mood, like today, she can hiss at me if I go to pat her. It all depends on her and the weather, which is why she is known as “the princess” of the park.

Speaking of weather, the rainy season has started here. We are getting a lot more rain which means a lot more mud and insects as well. There has been a migration of enormous bull ants that cover the ground like a blanket at night. The mosquitioes haven’t hit full force yet but are on their way. I am glad to be leaving before it really hits. From what I hear it gets pretty crazy here during the peak of the wet season. People can’t ever stay dry, they wade in knee deep water when walking their cats, have constant fungus, and need to wear rubber gloves due to the amount of mossies.

Around camp there has been a few changes. There are now 2 birds that are allowed out of their cages during the day. Lorenzo is a friendly but mishevous macaw who likes to swoop volunteers’ heads, eat buttons off shirts and try to get indoors. The second bird, Gordon, is the complete opposite. He is adorable and sweet. He can’t fly so he is very happy just to chill in one spot. He loves to laugh and chat and spead his wings to get people’s reactions. They and the two little baby parrots have created a great atmosphere around camp. Of course as well as Lucas, who makes regular visits (and who we are a bit concerned might try and eat the baby parrots), and the old tortoise who regularly escapes from quarantine.

I hear from the others that Leo is still a bit unsettled and is still jumping and biting on a regularly basis. It makes me sad to think he is not yet back to his relaxed, happy self yet. I miss him a lot, especially his beautiful purrs and affectionate ways. It is something you have to work very hard for with Wayra.

We have continued to have great parties in Santa Maria on the weekends, to the point where I will definitely be needing some serious respite when I leave. But a lot of the great friends I made here have moved on and there are so many new people arriving everyday that it doesn’t quite feel the same, and I haven’t got the energy to keep investing in getting to know each of them that well. It definitely feels like the right time to move on but I also have mixed feelings about doing so. I have been living so communally here for what feels like a long time, that to head off solo again is going to be strange and take some adjusting to. But I am also in desperate need of some solitude and a more balanced lifestyle… so I am sure it will be fine.

Day 80 (5 days after leaving camp):
Well I finally made the break and headed off 5 days ago with a few other volunteers that were also leaving on the same day. I found it very emotional to leave. It hit me when I started packing my bags the day before and the tears just started flowing. I realised how attached I had become to the place and knew I was going to miss everything about it. Particularly hard was saying goodbye to the Bolivian friends I had made there, especially my gorgeous little 4 year old pal, Gabby, who I had grown to love. Luckily, I am going to meet up with some of the close friends I made there in Colombia, which made saying those goodbyes much easier.

My little pal, Gabby and I

My little pal, Gabby and I

Saying goodbye to Wayra was sad but not as hard it was to say goodbye to Leo and Katie before. She was extra hissy on my last day, which only made me laugh. I will actually miss her angry moods, which over time I grew quite fond of.

I never did get Wayra swimming in the lagoon, despite my numerous attempts, and was jealous to hear that she went in immediately with her recently returned long-term volunteer.

One of the tiny parrots died a week before I left. No one really knows how but it may have been attacked by another animal or just fallen out of the tree. Everytime I walked past the cage afterwards I felt so sad to hear the squeaks of just one little lonely bird.

Gordon continued to be an absolute delight around camp. He even started coming into the dining room for meals and entertaining everyone with his giggles and wing spreads.

Halloween was a blast. I got very involved in organising it and making decorations for it. I spent the whole day painting a massive Halloween poster (well, when I say I painted it what I really mean is that I supervised a very talented young Bolivian female artist called Monica paint it – though I take credit for the creative concept). We cut out ghosts and pumpkins and stuck them around the pub and my ripped up mosquitoe nets looked incredible as spider webs. We had pumpkin carving and apple bobbing competitions, which were both great, and everyone went all out with their costumes.

It has now been five days since I left the park. I spent 2 nights in Santa Cruz with some other volunteers just relaxing by the pool, eating good food and catching up on sleep, and one night in La Paz with them as well.

Today is my second day of solo travel and I am sitting in a rustic café overlooking Lago Titicaca (“a lake with lots of titties and cacas”, as one guys described it on wikipedia before the entry got edited). Seeing water again is great and feeling like I am on vacation again is blissful. I met an Argentine girl last night who I have hooked up with again today. She is nice and interesting and best of all we speak completely in Spanish. After not using my Spanish very much for the last 3 months, it is wonderful to be speaking it again and reassuring to know it is not lost.

I have been in total detox mode since leaving the park and almost feel back to my normal self, which feels amazing and overdue. Even though the park was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, it was also extremely intense. Not having one day off for 10 weeks and not having a real moment of solitude or personal space, plus the rather large amount of partying we did, became incredibly exhausting and by the end I felt pretty burnt out.

But despite this, when I think back to the beautiful moments that I shared with the three incredible cats that I worked with, it feels completely worth it. Not ever really having been an animal person before, I feel like the park got me in touch with a side of myself that I had never really known, and now love. Also living in the jungle, amoung all the beautiful plants and wildlife, was such a different and amazing experience, that I think has also changed me in some way. It brings me back to a realisation that I've had before on this trip, that the things you least expect from your travels are often the most rewarding and life changing. And though I don’t know when I will return to Ambue Ari, I am certain that I will return at some point in the future, and that for a part of me, working with those amazing cats again will feel like coming home!

Dedicated to Katie, Leoncio and Wayra. May they continue to have happy, healthy and safe lives at the Ambue Ari Park, with much continued love and care from Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi and current and future volunteers.

Monica working her magic

Monica working her magic



Halloween II - Note the effective spider web decorations in the background

Halloween II - Note the effective spider web decorations in the background

Posted by Tracy Chap 18:52 Archived in Bolivia

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