One thing that we really wanted to do whilst in South America was volunteer with native animals and thanks to Merazonia, we were able to spend a month doing so. Merazonia is a rescue and rehabilitation centre for trafficked and/or abused Amazonian animals located just 15 minutes from the tiny town of Mera. Mera, which you have probably never ever heard of as it minuscule is situated in an area where the Andes meets the Amazon and as you can imagine when mountains and jungle collide you get stunning mountainous jungle.
It was slightly stressful choosing where we would volunteer as there are many options with a limited number of those looking reputable. We had heard/read cases of centres with no plan at all to rehabilitate and release and solely used the animals as a source of tourism and revenue – yuk! Places that cuddled monkeys all day and housed animals in tiny enclosures whilst treating volunteers poorly – not fun. So by the time we had stumbled upon Merazonia we had done a lot and I mean a lot of research on animal centres and had our wits about us. We had a lot of questions, all of which were answered in a first email back highlighting what volunteering would entail. Long days, community living, no electricity, compost toilets and a ‘hands off approach’ to the animals in their care. We were sold – strongly due to the last part and set our arrival date and off we headed to the jungle.
Merazonia at first, seemed like a bit of a mission to get to. From Mindo we headed back on a 2 hour bus to Quito and then a 6 hour bus to the touristy ‘adventure oasis’ town of Banos. After spending a couple of days in Banos (Quad biking through the Andes, jumping off bridges etc) we followed instructions to board ‘any bus heading to the jungle and get off in the town square of Mera’. Having no freaking idea where Mera was located and a little too focused on not throwing up as our bus driver rallied around the mountain side (I get very dizzy if I am not in the front seat of a car) I wasn’t exactly looking out the window. Hence why we were a bit shocked as suddenly the bus driver shouts repeatedly from the front ‘MERA MERA MERA!!!!’ Shit – this is us! I look out the window and see what must be Meras famous town square disappear as we drive past. As we run to the front of the bus to jump off I notice our backpacks have already been hauled from the undercarriage and onto the road, meanwhile the bus didn’t even stop as we jumped off. Picking all our belongings up from the gravel we re-group and quote our next instruction ‘get a transmera (aka jungle cab) to Merazonia – they are white pick ups with green stripes’. As we look around the secluded bus stop on the main road 20 long minutes go past and all we see are buses heading back to Banos. Deciding we should walk back into town and by the looks and smiles the locals were use to the constant flux of Gringos – we find a Transmera and 15 bumpy minutes later arrive.
The next month we worked 6 consecutive days for four weeks, from 7.30am – 5pm. For two of those we lived in the volunteer house with 11 others. It was damp, dark and smelly but the beds were comfy and thats all that mattered. We struck gold at the end of our first two weeks when capacity was maxed and we were given the opportunity to move to Frank and Louisa’s (founder/vet) to the downstairs of their brand new cabin! Incredibly beautiful and we more then appreciated the privacy, I already miss the chorus of frogs at night. After our first week of introductory rounds – learning to feed and clean the cages of Capuchin and Woolly Monkeys, Parrots and various Macaws, we wanted to do more. We had noticed that the Capuchin enclosures needed a lot of love.The enclosures had turned into mudslides and mudpits and over our time were slowly transformed and filled with steps, retaining walls, rocks and many, many bags of sand. Whilst myself and other vollies assisted, Trent did much of the work on his own and I am incredibly proud. All construction materials were (painstakingly) sourced from the river, sides of the mountain and fallen down trees. We spent a lot of time up at the Capuchins and we fell in love with these incredible creatures as we were able to observe them out of their hyperactive feeding times. I’m going to miss them the most and primates are truly incredible mini humans. Meeting and interacting with the non-animal part of the refuge was also a joy and the communal dinners by candlelight were definitely a highlight. I also had the opportunity to teach two early morning yoga classes in the new long term volunteer cabin which was an incredibly memorable experience.
I learnt a lot from our month in the jungle and if I were to write everything down this post would be ridiculously long. But most importantly to summarise:
•Woolly monkey poo smells like human poo and 2 hours of picking it up in torrential rain, by hand, with a holey glove is real character building.
•We consume an unecessary amount of electricity as humans and I can easily (and romantically) live with candle light. And come to think of it, I wasn’t at all phased being so called ‘disconnected’ from social media.
*Re-introducing yourself to new volunteers can be exhausting and we often thought about making up new life stories – mainly that Trent was a woman.
*Water, lime and rum can be mixed to make a delicious and hydrating cocktail at the end of the day.
*Cooking for 17 people, without electricity and a fridge isn’t as difficult as it sounds.
*A Merazonia experience isn’t complete without March fly bites on the ass and doing a jungle poop.
*Riding in the back of a ute, wasted, through the jungle will always be amazing.
Thanks to Merazonia for letting us be apart of your project, maybe someday in the future we will return to see what you are up to. Please check out http://www.merazonia.org to read and learn more!
The photo you will see of a monkey on my shoulder is Ollie the Tamarin (not being pat) currently there is no way to trap him whilst cleaning his enclosure so he jumps on you as a tree – this is one of the treats of doing the solo animals. Also the other baby monkey (Seamus the Howler) is currently undergoing quarantine and received daily sunlight on the back of a long term volunteer or Louisa/Frank. Louisa and Frank are very passionate about the correct rehabilitation and release of the animals in their care: for example many of the Macaws are imprinted and have had their wings clipped – meaning their odds of survival in the wild would be low – so the refuge focuses on creating and maintaining a natural and comfortable enclosure. The similar rule applies for releasing monkeys in the areas, packs must be bonded in order to survive life in the jungle – a process that is long and often difficult. We admire all the work that has been put into the refuge and are proud to have spent a short time contributing. Currently the refuge was caring for a troop of Capuchin and Woolly monkeys, two Tamarin monkeys, 2 Howler monkeys, a variety of parrots and Macaws, a Guatin (adorable rodent type thing), a group of Kinkajus that were being soft released and a Puma.