Monkeying Around in Bolivia

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sasha B. Bard of Richmond is the latest contributor to our Your Vacation in Lights feature, in which we invite Travel section readers to share the dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. Your hot tip can be the next guy's day-maker; your rip-off restaurant, the next family's near miss. To file your own trip report -- and become eligible to win a digital camera -- see the fine print below.

THE TRIP: Volunteering at the Parque Machia wild animal refuge in Bolivia. The park houses and rehabilitates animals that were illegally poached and sold on the black market to private owners, hotels and circuses. I worked with monkeys, ocelots and pumas.

WHO WENT? Me and my younger sister, Tessa, whom I was finally able to persuade to join me on one of my crazy adventures abroad.

WHERE? Villa Tunari, Chapare, Bolivia

WHEN? September-November 2006

WHY? Who wouldn't want to play with monkeys all day?

GETTING THERE WAS . . . an adventure. We were coming from Peru and had to spend an unplanned four days in La Paz due to a nationwide transportation strike.

IT MADE IT ALL WORTH IT WHEN . . . I took two spider monkeys -- Guarayos, a baby, and Ramona, an adult female -- to sleep in the big cage for the first time. The two were being introduced into an established group of 28 monkeys, and both had trouble being accepted. The alpha females especially would harass and bully them. It was my job to help them integrate into the group. When they spent that first night in the big cage with the rest of the monkeys, well, mission accomplished!

BEST THING ABOUT OUR LODGING: We had a ceiling fan.

WORST THING ABOUT OUR LODGING: Not being able to flush toilet paper.

COOLEST JOB: Night watch. You get to camp out in a treehouse inside the park to scare off poachers. Waking up in the treetops of the rain forest with monkeys cuddled in your sleeping bag is priceless.

THING I COULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT: Cleaning cages. Not the nicest-smelling job, but part of the volunteer experience nonetheless.

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