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.