Friday, July 31, 2009


a puma on heat is a sight to behold. deafeningly loud. lovey dovey. so calm you can pull ticks off her neck and face. slow.... a completely different cat.

A puma coming off heat (in less than a week) is apparently a very different sight to behold. and just when my bruises had recovered.

all my love to you guys. I´ve gotta run....

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ambue Ari. part I

One week at Parque Ambue Ari down. I´ve been assigned to work with a puma named Maggi. She´s one of the most energetic and demanding cats to work with and I´m really excited for the challenge. She´s about two years old, so a teenager by puma years with all the trappings of a teenager: moody, energetic, alternatively grumpy and affectionate.

Maggi requires two volunteers to work with her because of her personality and energy so most of the first week has been only half days with her. I´ve been working with a goofy American guy named Travis from Georgia, among other places. He´s really good with Maggi and when he leaves in the next week, I´m a bit nervous what will come next. So far, a days have looked something like this

630 the whole camp gets a wake up call and we stumble out of bed
700 most of the volunteers (including me) take care of the aviary. feed the parrots, clean up, etc
730 rotating morning chores like sweep the patio or clean the bathrooms
800 breakfast of exactly two plain bread rolls, and instant coffee or something resembling hot chocolate. sometimes butter. rarely powdered milk. no spreads unless you buy them yourself.
900 helping with construction of a new puma´s cage
(945, I´m hungry.... but so it goes)
1230 lunch. only one plateful and no seconds as there never seems to be enough. the cooks cook for 30 regardless of how many volunteers it seems.
200 get ready to go with a bucket of meat, water, key. Also, change into bog pants.
15-20 min walk down the highway
change into wet muckbooks and tie sneakers to my backpack
10-15 min walk through THE BOG. often up to mid thigh deep in water and mud. no chance of keeping the feet dry. beautiful. smells like bog.
change into dry super baggy pants and clean dry sock and running shoes.
300 get Maggi out of her cage. A strong rope goes around my waist and is attached with a heavy duty caribiner (sp?) the rope is maybe 10-15 feet long and I attach it to her colar in a holding pen.

After everything is secured, the door is opened and we take off at a full out puma sprint. I wiped out twice my first day on the rope trying to keep up while being pulled off balance. Maggi is maybe 40 or 50 kg, so I out weigh her but she´s still super strong.

She´s not much for endurance so she soon slows down and both volunteers follow behind as quietly as possible. If we are too loud, breaking twigs or chatting, she turns around and hisses, showing all her teeth. She´s a moody teenager and we are her unfortunate goofy parents who aren´t cool enough to be a silent speedy puma.

Sometimes she prowls. Sometimes she stalks something and then launches forward in another dead out sprint to catch it, me pulled behind. Naturally, I´m too slow and then she´s kinda pissed I let her down.

If I let her, she often dashes into the patuju leaves and settles her self down in the shade. Then, peering out, she eyes me or Travis, trying to catch us off gaurd and then bolts toward us, jumps up, all four feet off the ground and gives a playful attack. The jump can involve a lot of torn clothes and big bruises where she bites, so I don´t like it *so* much... but on the other hand it is pretty cool. Sometimes she gets a little over excited and it takes the second volunteer to get her off and calmed down. Interestingly, she scratches Travis much more and bites me more. The bites don´t usually break the skin like the scratches, but bruise up quite big.

As I learn her moods and how to physically interact more, I´ll get bitten less, I hope. I feel down right beat up at the end of the day, but am loving the experience so far. It´s one of the more challenging relationships to build, compared with some of the other cats here, I´m told. I think that´s good for me. If I got one of the lovey total pussy cat pumas, I think I´d be a bit bored in comparison. At the end of the day, Maggi usually comes over for a pet or to lick my hand. She still wants affection and to love and be loved.... it´s just on her terms and in a physical sort of way.

After walking and napping and stalking and jumping and running, we call it a day a bit after 5... depending on her and when she finishes her trail. She has some of the best -longest, most varied-- trails of any of the cats in the park, so we never have to do laps and rarely retrace our steps.

500 clean the poop out of her cage, clean her water bowl, put out fresh meat. Let Maggi back into her cage.

Change into bog pants and muck boots. THE BOG. the highway, barefoot, as the sun sets and the wild parrots call from the trees.

cold shower. brrr. but good not to smell like bog.

600 Dinner. One plate. no seconds.
700 a bus heads to the tiny town of Santa Maria and most people go, though usually not me.
play cards over candle light, hand out with the few other non-partiers, chill folks.
1000 the bus from town heads back to the park but by the time they get in, I´m usually already asleep.

And so it goes. In the next few days, the majority of the very long term volunteers (i.e. more than 3 months) leave and I´ll pick up some organizing people type responsibility. probably organizing accomidation.

Saturdays, today, are half days and so it isn´t too hard to come in to use the internet in Guarayos (an hour by bus away from the park) but I might not bother next week. or I might. we´ll see.

It´s been slow to make friends with out drinking heavily, but things are slowly getting better and better. I can´t deal with Maggi with a hangover or sleep deprived. I chose to let my bruised body rest. I´m in one of the better dorms, more light and air, less cockroaches.

I´m tired and sleeping well. I´m not antsy to start traveling again. It´s good to be in one place with a project of a grumpy puma.

I miss you all and wish you could see this place.

the adventures continue.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

leaving paradise

I have left paradise, and I am sad to leave somewhere so overwhelmingly beautiful, but am excited to be on my own again. The days open up in an entirely different way when you know no one around you and have no one to look out for and there is no one to take care of you. I have only myself to please or not. This type of transient loneliness between places and friends is something I'm becoming accustomed to. It's when I write.

Despite everyday on the farm in Brazil being filled with the poetry of the landscape and words of a budding romance swimming in my ears, I could hardly write. Here, again, in a small border town, a stranger to the people around me, I can put words to the time there. Here, in Corumba, in what a Brazilian woman named Carmen called the hottest town in Brazil (though I don't believe her), guests speaking European languages and splashing in the almost but not quite warm enough pool, it's easier to fold my thoughts and words around the lingering sunsets and the smell of burnt sugar cane on Fazenda Milhã.

Warm winter days, in a way that I can't believe it's not fall or spring or perhaps an early summer day, and rolling red hills with row after row of swaying sugar cane. Jabuticaba trees blooming snowflake flowers , delicate scent calling all the bees so that standing inside one is to hear nothing else than the industry of busy insects.

Papaya trees in troves. Swaying in the wind, some knocked down in the storm that scattered lightening over the hills and between the clouds. Papaya trees standing awkwardly like a woman with too many breasts and no children to chase them. Waiting for the awkward fruits to grow and ripen.

(perhaps, I'm writing like what I've been reading: Tar Baby by Toni Morrison)

Every day we ate papayas and avocados from the farm. Food was plentiful and rich. Simple in a country sort of way, beans, vegetables, a dish of meat, all seasoned with garlic. always plenty of garlic. Everything, butter, mayonnaise, bread, made from scratch, the result of labor being cheap and culturally appropriate. Salads almost every meal, the greens, tomatoes, carrots, beets all straight from the garden. Lovely Brazilian coffee.....

And the sun would set slowly and the air seemed to turn a little red, whether from the red dust or the smoke from the burning cane or an illusion from the warmth of the land... At night we could see the sugar cane burning it the distance and hear the blaze even miles away. The ash would float through the air like snowflakes before landing and sootying up clothes or houses.

And red mud, again and again, covering feet, cars, dogs. The two little dogs (and one old one too) always bouncing around, getting caught up on each other. Stupid but sweet little things that seemed to defy gravity and have endless bladders for pissing on bushes when we went out walking.

Anthony's grandmother, 91, cute as a button, fluttering about and making sure none of us were cold. Speaking me in Portuguese as if I understood as well as anyone else. How I smiled the night she kissed me goodnight and called me "mi amor" like she did her grand kids. Tiny and thin, with Anthony and his family all encouraging her to eat constantly, "First you tell your kids what to do and then at some point they are always telling you what to do," she explains to me.

Anthony's aunt, a woman who I sincerly respect, running the farm and all sorts of sugar cane/alternative energy associations, I will also miss very much. There is a type of strength and social grace that I have always sought to develop in myself and she has it.

And owls on the fence posts, and the Southern Cross bright and clear at night, clean air, good water, fresh cheese from the local dairy, waking up warm and smiling...

Before leaving, I sat out on the grass, looking out over the reservior and hills, dogs playing on me and rolling around on the grass, just listening to how quiet it was and loving the beauty of the place. *this* I'll remember, I thought to myself, when I'm sad and can't find enough beauty around me. This will be one of those touch stone memories I come back to.

But then there were bus rides and border crossings and train rides and so on, and now here I am, now finishing this post in a hostel in Santa Cruz, Bolivia before heading into a jungle filled with mosquitoes and other bugs, a day away from running with pumas or jaguars, fingers crossed.

the adventures most certainly do continue....

Thursday, July 02, 2009

La Paz

It's been about 6 weeks in Brazil. The time has flown by remarkably fast and though I'll tear myself away on Saturday, it's hard to leave. After Bolivia and La Paz, Brazil has felt a lot like paradise. Not that Bolivia did not have it's own charms, of course...

with the little square buildings climbing up the sides of mountains
and little old lady street venders in bowler's hats and shawls, selling all manner of things
Flowers, fruits, llama fetuses of varying sizes, shapes, and colors
and full of little mini-bus vans that always had one person yelling out the windows or open doors trying to hustle more passenger. Regardless of how full the van was, someone, sometimes school aged, was trying to attract more fares.
La Paz *smells* undeveloped and the nagging sensation in my stomach never seemed far off the entire time I was in Bolivia. And soon I will embark on another holygodlong bus journey back to the jungles of Bolivia...

I wonder how La Paz has changed in the last 10 or 30 years. Compared to Brazil (er, the Sao Paulo to Rio part), which in many ways is a very developed and first world in terms of fancy super markets, paved roads and shiny cars, Bolivia feels 30 years behind. In Brazil, you can even flush toilet paper down the toilet, a rare thing anywhere else in Latin America.

arg... but I must run... the adventures continue. more stories to come