Ariane and I spent a day looking round the markets in La Paz. There was a small local fiesta happening with lots of music, just randomly in a busy street.
We found a lovely little colonial street – the only pretty street in the city! A bride and groom were having their pictures taken there, and asked us to take pictures of them so their photographer could capture that as part of his scene!
We also planned to visit La Senda Verde the next day – an animal sanctuary near Coroico, about 3 hours from La Paz at low altitude. To get there we followed the same valley as ‘the world’s most dangerous road’ but on a newer road, and in a car not on a bike – much less adrenaline, which is how I like it!
We were upgraded to a split-level cabaña for no extra charge and within minutes of being told to keep the door locked (doh) we had a cheeky monkey visitor! Think this was chocolate, a spider monkey, who wouldn’t keep still for pictures despite posing!
The sanctuary is the only government approved centre in Bolivia to care for exotic animals, and they’re not allowed to turn any animal away or they could be closed down…but there is no government funding. It’s a small but brilliant place, where mostly it’s the people who are in cages, with macaws saying ‘Hola’, animals mixing together and being comfortable with human contact after being often terribly (illegally) mistreated: Parakeets thrown out with the rubbish, capuchin monkeys trained to pickpocket or ‘dance’ by associating music with standing on a hot plate and so on. The punishment for this cruelty though is often just a slap on the wrist. Some animals here are in cages or restricted on runners for their own protection – they couldn’t survive in the wild and could be attacked by the monkeys – for example, the small caiman is in a cage because the curious monkeys were hassling her! (Plus they could get eaten…) It has vets on the staff but also relies heavily on volunteers (preferably with initiative, not just wanting to ‘hug a monkey’!) and donations, and if I had more time I’d have stayed to help. I felt like wanting to put some effort into the project; even though I was so so glad to have gone to Rurrenabaque, it was here that I started to finally feel the black cloud lifting and feel like myself again! 🙂
There’s a surrogate mother program for baby monkeys who are found after their mother has been shot, often with bullet wounds themselves. The surrogate has to spend almost 24hours a day with the baby for minimum 2 months, often only having a break to eat.
Paddington! – One of the residents is a rare Andean Spectacled Bear, who we saw eating porridge, and honey sandwiches! He has a vast enclosure to himself, and a smaller shy female next door who didn’t know how to eat when she was rescued because she was just given the bowl to lick after the dogs had finished. The wild habitat of these bears is shrinking rapidly.
Next morning we had a tour of the site, and met Mr Bean, an under-developed parrot who arrived here with extreme over-grooming due to stress.
La Senda Verde works symbiotically with El Corazón del Bosque, a French project trying to re-establish biodiversity in local agriculture instead of an over-reliance on coca farming, which starves the soil of nutrients after just 5 years of production but is strongly supported by Evo Morales…a former coca farmer himself. It’s a big challenge! They only started here last year but have projects in Madagascar and Guatemala as well. The day was unbearably hot and I was nearly fainting all morning! An aloe vera drink didn’t help (consistency of egg-white, yuck!) but still we managed to each plant a tree – two lemon trees and a mango tree from our little group.
Before we left we had a chance to see the monkeys eating, the alpha male red howler monkey doing his howling, and the clever little capuchins whom we hadn’t seen before.
We couldn’t get a taxi to the nearest village to get back to La Paz because it was the Coroico festival that weekend and apparently all the drivers were drunk! Instead luckily we could join a group, who had cycled down the ‘death road’, in their more reliable bus all the way back to La Paz, slowly and with lots of beer but only for the passengers, with the exception of me and Ariane!