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Moving Day!

It’s finally here. After weeks, months, and years of feeling like this isn’t the best home, I’m ready to move.

The push over the edge came from Chris, a cat coordinator at Ambue Ari. He mentioned I really needed to have a reactive layout*, so…

rangertrampings.wordpress.com has a new and improved look at www.rangertrampings.com!

Somehow a move from wordpress.com to being self-hosted at wordpress.org is more complicated than one might think. With some assistance from the kind folks at wpbeginner, I believe all my content from this address has successfully moved to its new home. I’ve read through ALL of my previous posts to figure out useful organization, chosen and personalized a theme, and made my eyes tired of looking at wordpress over the last few weeks.

~Old posts still aren’t beautifully formatted because right now I don’t have that kind of time in my life. Apologies that photo placement and spacing of text is still wonky in many posts.~

Yes, while my stinky jungle laundry was being washed in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, I was working on this in my air-conditioned Airbnb.

This will be my final post at this URL. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading my posts here and will make your way to the new site to at least check out the new colors. Yes, there’s some purple. There are also a few new pictures hidden on overview pages.

Sorry that there are no new posts right now, but the move has definitely taken priority. I should get back to finishing up a few posts soon.

Thank you so much for reading about my adventure of a life! Again, don’t look for new content here. Head on over to www.rangertrampings.com

*reactive layout is the term for when a website is smart and changes its layout to fit the size of the user’s screen

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El Parque

Week 6. 20:24 on Tr 13 June 2019. Parque Ambue Ari, Beni province, Bolivia

About 7 hours’ drive north from Santa Cruz de la Sierra and 4.5 hours’ drive east-southeast of Trinidad you’ll find a place referred to as “El Parque.” A number of signs along the road indicate “animales silvestres” in the area. If you were to ask locals what goes on there, you might be told that it’s a place where a bunch of dirty gringos in oversized clothes and muck boots walk around with jugs of water and buckets of meat.

From the outside it’s hard to say exactly what goes on at Ambue Ari. Fortunately I’ve now spent 6 weeks at this almost inexplicable place, so I now feel more qualified to explain what the heck I’ve been doing in this lost sector of Bolivia.

Back on the 2nd of May my bus dropped me off at a seemingly random point on a dirt road. As the dust cleared when the bus continued north, I saw signs across the road for Ambue Ari; I’d arrived at my home of the next 2 months. Already there was someone coming to greet me, and I was thrilled to learn that in addition to being the volunteer coordinator, Amy was a kiwi.


bus departureCIWY signAmbue Ari sign

Ambue Ari is the largest of three wildlife sanctuaries operated by Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi, a Bolivian organization that uses volunteers to care for the rescued wildlife of Bolivia. While much of the work at Ambue Ari is with big cats like jaguars and pumas, the park also contains howler monkeys, night monkeys, ocelots, various parrots, a tapir, and coatis. These wild animals have been rescued from completely inappropriate living situations in family homes, from lives as exotic attractions at restaurants, and from illegal trafficking in Bolivia. Regardless of their stories, these animals need a safe place to live where they can live as natural of lives as possible without posing a problem to humans. They can’t live in the wild because they don’t have the necessary fear of humans and the skills to survive on their own.

The park operates on an “island” of jungle that is actually nearly surrounded by farmland. What was once an almost 1000 acre haven for wildlife is now closer to 800 acres due to encroachment by farmers. Despite this, wild howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, capuchin monkeys, and wild parrots can be seen and heard daily. From camera traps set up near some of the park’s animal enclosures, we know that wild jaguars and pumas often visit our animals. In a region that’s losing wild land, the park’s presence is critical for both captive and wild animals.

CIWY couldn’t operate without the dedication of volunteers from around the world. A small core staff works on contracts of 6-12 months, but most animal care comes from travelers who give 2 plus weeks of their traveling time to volunteer. Work with jaguars, pumas, or ocelots requires at least a month’s stay so that the cats aren’t seeing a constant stream of changing faces. Small animal care tends to fall to those volunteers who can’t stay as long.

The form of work varies from animal to animal. In general, jaguars, pumas, and ocelots are walked on trails through the jungle for a few hours per day. Volunteers are attached to their animals through a rope and carabiner system that allows the cats to walk just like a dog on a leash. Many of the cats at the park have lived with this system for years, and they know how to follow the rope back to the trail if they veer off to check some off-trail smells. A similar system allows night monkeys to climb trees just before dawn and around dusk.

puma Carlos

Carlos takes a break on his walk

geoffroy's cats

Geoffroy’s cats – Beowolf and Boudica

Some cats are more wild and therefore can’t be taken out of their cages, so volunteers walk laps around the outside of their cages to encourage exercise. Each animal is different, and some cats don’t need enrichment from a walk; instead they prefer simply to have volunteers’ presence inside or outside their cage.blue-and-yellow macaw

The parrots and jungle chickens living in the aviary have the least enrichment because they don’t have room to fly. Volunteers bring fresh vegetation from the jungle inside the enclosure to provide the birds with flowers and green leaves to eat. Supposedly constructing a new aviary with live trees and plants inside is on the docket, but CIWY suffers from a lack of funding. (If anyone reading this wants to donate, please do! I worked in the aviary for my first month, and the limited space and constant cutting of forest to provide greenery broke my spirit.)

Volunteers live in the park as a community focused on providing food and enrichment to the animals’ lives. Work with all the animals occurs 6 days a week, and a skeleton crew feeds the small animals on Saturday while the majority of volunteers have the day off. Most choose to come to Ascension de Guarayos, the large town that lies an hour’s bus ride from the park, for internet, better food, and mosquito-free life on Saturdays.


My stay here at the park has been an experience in rustic living. 3 ladies cook lunch and dinner for us, and they seem to know only 10-15 dishes. With the limited budget, I suppose it’s understandable, but we all wish for more produce and fewer carbohydrates in our meals. Camp doesn’t have electricity or hot water, so everyone heads to bed quite early after eating dinner by candlelight. Housing is in dormitory style buildings with half walls; the upper half is fine wire mesh that allows for airflow through the buildings. Each hay mattress bed is surrounded with a mosquito net to help keep the pests away at night, but the discovery of other insects in beds happens pretty frequently.

Here were my thoughts on my first night:

Place looks a bit like a hippie commune. Definitely no frills and in need of some love. Learned doors should always be closed for safety of monkeys that can come through camp.

morning scheduleOur schedule is rather regimented with early morning tasks involving animal food preparation running from 7:00-7:30 and then camp chores like bathroom cleaning and kitchen prep from 7:30-8:00. Breakfast runs from 8:00-9:00, which is just relatively stale bread with optional bananas. Smart people like me buy all the pineapple, papaya, passion fruit, kiwi, mandarins, etc. in Guarayos to have with yogurt and granola or oats for breakfast. 75 cent pineapple? YES! Work with morning animals runs from 9:00-12:30, so camp clears out until lunch at 12:45. We have a break until 14:00, which is when afternoon animal shifts begin. Around 17:30 we all roll back into camp for showers before darkness hits at 18:00, and dinner starts around 18:15. Afterwards people trickle off to dorms to read, watch movies on laptops, or sleep.

comedor

Comedor (eating area)

buildings

Office and shower

dorm

Dorms and laundry

While I came here with a gut hope of working with jaguars, I was initially assigned to work with Wayra, a caged puma, and quarantine, the confusing name for the aviary. After a month I requested time with a second cat, so I now spend my afternoons walking Carlos. After my first 2 weeks I was also given the luxury of skipping morning tasks when I was assigned to walk the gatitos – 3 Geoffroy’s cats that are smaller than typical house cats. My morning begins earlier at 6:30 and also means a shorter breakfast time, but I don’t have to clean the bathrooms any more.

Life here has been rather different from what I’d expected, but I’ve definitely gained some completely different experiences. Moving on in a couple weeks will be quite the change… yet I am SO ready for good food and beer!

Wayra

Wayra with her trademark crossed paws

Week 4. 19:50 on M 27 May 2019. Parque Ambue Ari, Beni province, Bolivia

Attention: it’s something that a lot of people desire. Gaining attention is the motivating factor behind savvy to stupid decisions made by people everywhere. Yet despite the seeming importance of being in the spotlight, attention is something I’ve never wanted.

Obviously I can’t speak for my entire childhood, but I honestly can’t think of big moments in which I wanted the attention on me. In fact, I’ve spent a fair bit of time trying to keep away from anyone’s attention.

While growing up in Walled Lake, Michigan, I played softball in the Interlakes Girls Softball League for 8 years. I never wanted my parents to come watch my games. Once I was at the age when the coaches would give the schedule to us players rather than our parents, I kept my schedule from my parents until they pretty much demanded it.

“Steph, we want to support you!” they’d say.

“I don’t want you there! Support me by not coming!” I’d respond. I wasn’t just being mean to my parents; I truly didn’t want anyone watching my games. Of course, my parents tried to sneak their way into watching by just appearing in the bleachers, but I noticed and deliberately avoided looking their direction. I’m pretty sure I glared at them when they waved.

When my friend Manda got me into running and introduced me to the idea of cross country, I thought it was great. A sport in which athletes run down trails and into the woods, out of sight for most of the race? Brilliant! Did I want to run for track and therefore be seen as I ran in an oval in front of spectators? No thanks.

I even followed my brother’s lead in avoiding the spotlight; I split my time during my years of being a theatre techie between being a spotlight operator and working backstage for productions at my high school. The point of us was to not be noticed.

Tonight was one of the rare exceptions to that predilection for keeping away from attention. With today being Mother’s Day in Bolivia, the request had gone out yesterday for volunteer cooks to prepare today’s meals so that the 2 Bolivian ladies who always cook lunch and dinner for us could have the day off with their families. Being starved of kitchen time in the last 3.5 weeks, I quickly volunteered my services.

I was assigned to lunch rather than dinner duty, so my thoughts of baking bread to go with Antoine’s chili dinner seemed to be disappearing. Then my stubbornness gene that I’ve grown to recognize in recent years said otherwise. We never, ever have fresh bread at here, and the bread we have at breakfast is on the stale side. Talk of bread had been growing in the last week, and I could no longer ignore the talk.

By interrupting the start of the staff meeting, I learned where to find yeast in our extremely sparse kitchen.

“Are you going to make bread??” Gabi asked.

“Maybe? … I don’t know if it’s going to work,” I responded. I was thinking of making my Grandma’s field camp famous refrigerator pan rolls, but I was skeptical of how successful I’d be with limited measuring devices, a drastically different environment, and a completely unknown oven.

“Steph, yes, please make bread!” Dani pleaded.

How could I say no to a room of now hopeful faces? At 13:15 during the lunch hour, I decided to give my bread baking skills another whirl. In theory I wouldn’t end up with anything worse than stale bread, right?

Since I was supposed to be working in quarantine, which is just the name of the area that houses the aviary, starting a little after 14:00, I had to juggle tasks. Combining ingredients for the bread was the first challenge; in such a humid environment, the dough refused to take a “kneadable” shape. No matter how much flour I added, the dough remained a thinner, more sticky substance than I needed to knead. As a result, I’m clueless as to how much flour ended up in the triple batch of rolls I prepared.

“How’s the bread coming?” I was asked as I exited the kitchen at 14:25.

“Ohh, I don’t know. Don’t expect much!” I replied.

I took Elise to quarantine and explained the basic post-lunch clean-up of the area and told her I’d be back after I kneaded the bread.

kneading

Kneading set-up

Kneading was a whole separate task of this bread making process. The kitchen countertop was absolutely not clean enough for kneading dough, so I’d need to knead in the broad-bottomed bowl. Unfortunately the bowl would not stay put on the countertop while I kneaded the still sticky dough. Antoine employed a kitchen trick of twisting a towel to put underneath the bowl, but that didn’t work. I tried sitting on a bench and keeping the bowl between my legs and 2 heavy food buckets, but that didn’t work. Ultimately I put the bowl on a kitchen stool next to the wall and kneaded toward the wall so that the bowl had nowhere to go.

Like I said, it’s a basic kitchen. How on earth could this bread possibly turn out?

Leaving the dough to rise on top of a cabinet in the corner of the kitchen, I headed back to quarantine to see my amazona parrots, other birds at 15:20. Elise and I visited with the birds before heading out to machete some fresh vegetation for their enclosures.

After cutting all the fruits and vegetables for the birds’ dinner, I returned to the bread at 16:40. Although the dough hadn’t doubled in size, I punched it down and prepared two 12”x36” baking pans with over 50 rolls. Back into the corner they went to rise at 17:05, and back out I went to feed the birds dinner.

Elise and I had the birds fed and tucked in for the night by 17:20. More surprisingly, I was showered and in my non-work clothes by 17:45. Usually I don’t even have the time to shower in daylight, which is gone by 18:10! Upon returning to the kitchen I learned the oven had just been lit, so the bread could go in in about 10 minutes.

“Mmmm your bread smells good, Steph!”

“You’re making bread? I’m going to have some anyway and pay for it tomorrow,” the gluten-intolerant Mel (a kiwi!) said.

“Maybe it’ll turn out,” I still responded. The dough was raw, but it had risen in roll form in the pans, so I had some hope. I just didn’t want high expectations to lead to broken hearts.

My final minutes of self-induced torment began when the rolls went into the oven at 18:10. When I looked inside at 18:15, I saw a beautiful sight. The risen tops of the rolls were like the lit beacons of Minas Tirith offering hope. (Okay, maybe I shouldn’t listen to LOTR while writing late at night. Haha) Antoine joined me at the oven to check out the rolls when I removed them from the oven at 18:17.

Beautifully golden brown on top and fluffy insides greeted us as we checked one. “Looks like you did it,” grinned Antoine as he gave me a high five. I breathed a sigh of relief and let the smile slide all the way across my face as I savored my first homemade bread since leaving Antarctica in mid-March. It was sooooo good.

As the first pan of rolls made its way into the kitchen, people began gathering.

“Ohhh, Steph! Those look amazing.”

“How many are there? Can we have one now?” the crowding faces asked.

buns in the oven

Buns in the big propane oven

Before dinner was on the table, Antoine and I received a round of applause. Throughout dinner I heard people call out my name to say thanks. Since there weren’t enough rolls for 2 each, I was asked how we’d deal with doling out the remaining rolls. One person suggested I take them and use them for bribery, but I loved seeing everyone’s happiness too much to do that. Gabi said to cut them into smaller pieces and let people fight for their extras.

“I need to get that recipe from you,” said a few people.

“Can you teach the ladies how to make bread?”

As I finished eating, Gabi sat down next to me and said, “Thank you so much for the bread! People are saying you need to make bread once a week.”

Usually I keep pretty quiet at meals (and all the time) here at Ambue Ari. I let people have conversations around me while I listen. However, tonight it seemed like everyone had a comment for me and was trying to pat me on the back, and I loved it.

At times like these, I don’t mind receiving so much attention at all. I love seeing and hearing people’s satisfaction when they eat what I’ve baked or cooked. I can’t resist bread out of the oven, and yes, I did save 2 rolls for myself to eat in coming days. In general, I bake for everyone else, though. Knowing I’ve fulfilled a desire and done a damn good job of it makes me so proud of what I’ve mostly taught myself about bread baking over the years. My first loaves were dense and unrisen, but tasty; now co-workers ask me to promise that I’ll put my baking to actual use sometime in the future.

Maybe my bread is just good enough to satisfy hard workers who are starved for good bread and will take whatever they can get, but their satisfaction and gratitude make my bread legitimate and make me proud to be recognized as the bread baker.

rolls

photo credit Adam Fox, in Antarctica

**Update from 15 June**

Yes, I have been baking bread weekly. I have a half day off from animal care once a week just so I can bake bread for the people. I’ve maybe never felt so appreciated as I do here. 🙂 This week I made a quadruple batch! That’s quite the amount to knead.

Amazon Delivery

Week 2. 13:15 on Tr 16 May 2019. 10 km W of San Pablo, heading back to Parque Ambue Ari, Bolivia

As we started pulling away from the dirt driveway where we’d stopped, I noticed a young girl in blue jean shorts and a red and white t-shirt running toward us from across the dusty grass yard. We slowed our roll, and then the driver hopped out to retrieve the appropriate package from the back of the van.

In the actual Amazon Basin, this girl’s family narrowly avoided missing their “Amazon” delivery – apart from the fact that the Amazon company was not involved in this package delivery at all.

It’s a Thursday afternoon in mid-May as I find myself in the back row of a rapidito for travel back to Ambue Ari. Rapiditos are shared vans used to transport people distances to, from, and in between towns or cities in Bolivia. rapidito stationI’m learning they’re also used to deliver packages along the route.

Thanks to the Bolivian government, I got another taste of rural life in Bolivia today. I may not be the biggest fan of the U.S. government, but at least it doesn’t grant visitors 90 day visas that require a check-in for a stamp of a 30 day “extension” every 30 days. That’s what Bolivia does. Where the rationality behind that loose policy lies, I have no idea. The 10 minute visit to an immigration office cost me 3/4 of a day and waking up to hail a 03:00 bus to the city of Trinidad.

mototaxi town

pink flowered trees

Toborochi trees

 

On the plus side I got a pre- day off (Saturday is our day off) from the daily life of Ambue Ari. I got to wonder about the Mennonite community that’s present in the villages of this region when a group got off my bus at a dusty town shortly after sunrise. Although I couldn’t ID any of them, I saw at least 20 new species of birds; one had a strikingly white body, bright red neck, and black spoonbill (maybe?) and head. I got to ride on the back of a mototaxi multiple times. By walking down one main road, I found the main market and was able to sit down for empanadas and an admittedly sub-par warm chocolate that was more like coffee but given to me by smiling Bolivian women who asked where I’m from and so I was okay with. I grabbed 5 minutes of wi-fi from outside a building to check for the exciting emails that I never receive. I waited with locals for rapiditos and got to experience my usual embarrassment and frustration at being so incapable of meaningful interaction in Spanish.

Riding in the 2 rapiditos this afternoon has been the best bonus, though.

banana car

The back is full of bananas

We’ve slowed and swerved for cows, horses, dogs, and potholes. When we stopped to let one man out, he crossed the road to join a guy who appeared to be asleep in a station wagon whose back end was packed with bananas.

We passed what looked like an infamous broken down bus. Passengers waited on both sides of the road with their bags. I gathered that they asked if we had room as we slowly drove by, but we were a full van.

Twice we stopped to meet a rapidito heading the opposite direction. The first time we handed off a brown envelope and 10 bolivianos; the second time we were passed a striped purple totebag and 10 bolivianos.

Tooot tooooooot tooooooot went the horn as we approached a gated driveway. Tooooooot toooooot toooot tooooot. Upon seeing no one emerge from the house down the drive, the driver hung the striped purple bag on a fence post and continued down the road. I guess no signature was needed for that package.

As we carry on down the broken road, I recognize the straightaway that tells me I’m almost back to Ambue Ari. It’s now 1537 and just about time for my delivery.

Week 2. 21:10 on Tu 13 May 2019. Parque Ambue Ari, Beni province, Bolivia

For this episode of “How Clueless is Steph When it Comes to Jungle Life,” let me introduce the topic of snakes! I’ll preface this by saying that snakes are far less than my favorite creature because I never see them until I’m about to step on them; their unexpected motion gives me a heart attack and causes my heart to race a mile a minute as I jump like a cartoon character. For obvious reasons, I try to avoid these encounters. Very wise of me to head to the jungle, eh?

We’d wrapped up morning tasks and breakfast with the anuncio (announcement) that there were no anuncios for the day. Wanting to visit the baño before I headed out of camp for the morning, I walked past the dorm buildings and showers to continue down the more narrow dirt path to the brick baño building. Shin height plants grew along both sides of the path.

As I glanced farther down the path I realized that there was a small snake on the trail about ten meters ahead of me. Amazing! I didn’t jump or experience a racing heart! What a treat. Figuring someone else might like to see it and maybe identify it for me, I turned back to the dorms and found Camille, a friendly French Canadian whose response was “oooh.”

We looked at the snake for a couple minutes, and Camille thought maybe it was the type of snake that tries to imitate the dangerous coral snake. viperWe got the attention of another campmate, and he raised the stakes of this snake’s danger when he said it was a viper. A viper! This 30 cm snake blocking my way from the toilet was a venomous, aggressive creature? I never would have guessed it. Until deciding to share the discovery with others, my plan had been to simply take a large step over the snake and continue on to do my duty. Good thing I didn’t, as now I’ve been informed that any time I see a snake I should give it a very wide berth. I’m not in the land of harmless garter snakes any more.

As we looked at the snake, we called others over to get a look. Eventually one of the local Bolivian guys was asked to remove the snake from our area, so we all watched as he harassed the snake by trying to pick it up and carry it with a stick.

Once the danger had been removed, I was able to visit the baño. Hopefully there will be no more such encounters; despite the fun of seeing new wildlife, I don’t really need to meet snakes in the jungle.

viper and bano

“When you gotta go,” sometimes you gotta go wayyyy around first.

Wild animals seen around camp so far:

howler monkeys, spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys, chanchos (wild pigs), a tarantula, and a viper

 

Week 1. 20:10 on Tr 9 May 2019. Parque Ambue Ari, Beni province, Bolivia

How to put my sweat levels in the jungle into perspective? Take this line from last night’s journal entry:

“I’m sweating so much that I can’t write for long. My headlamp is illuminating drops of moisture on my hand, and sweat is moistening this page.”

Apart from my week-long bike trips on PALM (Pedal Across Lower Michigan), this may be the only week of my life when I’ve showered every single day. If you are Kevin or McKenzie, you know what I’m sweating off; if not, don’t worry about it. Here I’ve wanted a cold shower at least twice a day, but that’s not a rational option. Showering mid-day would just be a tease. Recognizing how much I sweat is easy when I wipe it off my face with my sleeve and then find myself wiping again less than a minute later. It’s that bad. The promise of a cold shower in the evening absolutely helps me get through the day; the shower’s very much in the running for best friend status.

My blood was not made for this environment; my blood runs ½ Finnish, ¼ German, 1/16 Native American, some English, and the rest mutt. Apparently these tropical mosquitoes needed some northern blood to round out their diets, because despite the wet (mosquito) season being over, I’ve donated far more blood than is okay. Any day now those buggers can get out of here. Perhaps this is payback for skipping out on Alaskan mosquitoes while enjoying life in the Bering Sea for the past four summers?

At least I’m not alone in my discomfort. All 40 of the people I’ve been with here are covered with red welts of mosquito bites. To save the wildlife from chemical exposure, we’re not allowed to wear mosquito repellent, so we’re sitting ducks. Even though I tell myself not to scratch, it’s a losing battle.

At the moment I’m in – actually, on – the safety of my bed. Two nights ago I finally taped the two big holes in the mosquito netting around my bed. Now any mosquitoes are kept at a distance so I can sleep in peace – except for the fact that it’s always so warm that I can’t wear anything or sleep under anything more than a loose sheet. Usually it’s the middle of the night when I half-wake and realize I want the sheet over me.

Living here is an experience that’s proving my cold tolerance is so much higher than my heat tolerance. Give me beautiful snow and frostnip-inducing cold any day.

Please. As in right now.

Just kidding. Since I’m sweat-free, this evening’s actually rather comfortable.

Into the Jungle

Week 0. 13:02 on 2 May 2019. 32 km NW of San Ramon, heading toward and beyond Ascension de Guarayos, Bolivia

To my untrained eye, the gray clouds of the sky look like they could drop rain through the bus window and onto my laptop at any moment. I am traveling through the rainforest, after all. Maybe the 4-year-old girl who keeps turning around to closely stare at me will close the window if the rain starts.

Gone is my luxurious 8th floor AirBnB in Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Gone are the paved city streets, traffic lights, and staggeringly plentiful micros (vans) and buses. Outside I see green – all the green of vegetation that I’ve really only seen in nature documentaries. I see what appear to be big palm trees, trees with beautiful pink flowers, trees with long, droopy leaves, and all of the other unknown flora.

As we pass through communities, I notice that many homes have some sort of grass or palm roof. Other than the road upon which we’re traveling, the roads are all dirt. Out of the roughly 40 people on the bus, I’m the only person with light-colored hair. Naturally a little girl on a rural bus would be staring at the sole ginger.

Gone are the penguins of Antarctica, the various scenes of Chile and Argentina, and my desert life of the past 3 weeks.

No, it’s time for a break from life on the road; it’s time for a completely different sort of adventure. As much as I love seeing everywhere I possibly can, I need to slow down and stay somewhere for a little while. The rainforest of northeast Bolivia seems like a good place for that.

It feels extremely strange to not be in Homer, Alaska, to prepare for another Bering Sea field season right now. Sometimes life takes a little redirection from God to provide what the spirit needs, though. I’d figured I’d head back to Alaska for the boreal summer, but because of hiring glitches that I won’t get into, I still don’t know when I’ll return north. It’s for the best, though; lately I was feeling a little like I’d fallen into a routine that was lacking new experiences. If I’d returned to AK Maritime, my options would have been St. George or Buldir – two places that I love but also places in which I’ve spent multiple seasons. My heart wanted something different.

That’s what makes it so perfect that I´d only purchased a one-way ticket to South America last November.  With no flight or job calling me back, I’ve been free to make up my plans as I go, which is how I now find myself heading to work in a very different ecosystem.

Before leaving the U.S. I knew that I’d be visiting Bolivia in my post-Antarctic field season travels. I’d heard about how beautiful and cheap it was from talking with fellow Patagonian travelers last year, so it only made sense to go. The only question was whether I needed to get the yellow fever vaccine that was ‘required but not really enforced’ for entry to Bolivia.

What great news, then, that the U.S. was in short supply of the vaccine! Only one place in Alaska had some, and it wasn’t in Fairbanks. Excellent!

Enter my Chilean friend Renato, a guy with whom I hadn’t spent a field season in Antarctica, but who had spent multiple seasons there and could swap stories about Cape Shirreff with no problem. Knowing vaccines could be cheaper in South America, I asked if he thought I could get a yellow fever vaccine in Punta Arenas or Santiago.

While he was looking into that and corresponding with me on WhatsApp, he casually mentioned how I should volunteer for an organization called Comunidad Inti Warra Yassi. A Bolivian NGO that operates three wildlife sanctuaries, volunteers are always needed to work with jaguars, pumas, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, ocelots, spectacled bear, peccaries, tapirs, exotic birds, etc. that have been injured.

Thinking that I couldn’t give the minimum time commitment of 2 weeks, it seemed awesome but unlikely. Well, life happens, and here I am 5 hours into my bus ride from Santa Cruz to Ambue Ari. In another couple hours, I’ll be arriving at Parque Ambue Ari, my rainforest home for the next 2 months. I’d managed to get a yellow fever vaccine at a medical clinic in downtown Houston, Texas, during my 8 hour layover on my trip south back in November, so I was clear to volunteer in the jungle.

I honestly don’t fully know what I’m getting myself into. Volunteers are assigned a primary animal for whom to care, and while my hopes are for a jaguar, I’ve read that monkey caretakers climb trees with their monkeys. Really, any experience here will be brand new and exciting.