Confessions of a Security Guard in a Monkey Turf War: My first 2 weeks at La Senda Verde

After a few days wandering La Paz it was time to head to the animal refuge La Senda Verde. We both really didn’t know what to expect but I had done my research and had yet to find one bad thing written about this place on a blog or a travel website. We packed up our bags hopped into a taxi and headed to the area of Villa Fatima where the mini-buses to Coroico left. Villa Fatima isn’t a bus stop like the main bus terminal in La Paz, it’s just an area of La Paz where a bunch of vans are parked that will drive people out to areas that the regular buses do not service. Our cab cost 20 BS and the bus to Coroico cost us each 25 BS. I heard you can get buses for as little as 15 BS if you negotiate but I was tired, hot and fooled myself into believing that higher cost equaled safer travels. The trip takes 2.5-3 hours and featured some of the sketchiest roads we had been on since we arrived in South America. If I was to do it all over again I would come in with Gravity Assisted Mountian Biking via the world most dangerous road. There are a lot of companies out there and “Gravity” is one of the more expensive, but they also have the best reputation and safety record.

We asked our driver if he could drop us off in Yolosa, a town close to the refuge whose main source of income is the travelers heading to Corioco. We were offered a ride in a taxi but opted to walk what we thought was maybe a 10-15 minute trip. Turns out the 10-15 minute walk is from Yolosita, which is the old Yolosa on the “Worlds Most Dangerous Road”. Most of the town moved to the new, much safer, highway when it was built. The walk took us about 2 hours and I would recommend paying the extra few bucks for the cab. This walk also marked our first experience with Sandflies. If you ever go to La Senda Verde don’t worry about the malaria carrying mosquitos, but be prepared for the ever annoying, yet relatively disease free, sandflies. Make sure you bring plenty of bug spray that doesn’t contain DEET, citronella based bug sprays work great.

Upon arrival we were greeted by a group of folks who had already heard about “the Canadian couple who were sticking around for a month”. Apparently it’s hard for La Senda to find volunteers for more then 2 weeks and it takes almost that long for the monkeys to get used to you. So if you head to La Senda with the intention of working with monkeys, be prepared to stay for at least a month  They took us up to dining area, where we met a few of the volunteers and I had my first experience with the wildlife, a Amazonian Parrot with more psychological issues then a suburban kid with good health insurance.

Mr. Bean La Senda Verde

I really liked Mr. Bean when I first met him, I imagined a pirates life with him… then I found the shit all over my back…

Since we were a couple, staying for a month and the staff accommodation was full we were lucky enough to be given a private cabana close to the Aruma Room. The Aruma Room was the entertainment spot at La Senda. It housed a bar, pool table and TV with a hard drive full of movies. Although it was primarily meant for the guests, the volunteers were given full reign when their wasn’t any guests, and that proved the case more often then not. This was the spot everyone went to unwind after a long day of work and the short stumble to our beds had me in there for a least one beer a night.

Thanks for reading this far, now for what you all came here for, my time as security during the monkey gang war that had erupted shortly after our arrival (and probably brewing well before that).

I first met Cacao when he came and jumped in my arms with a still bleeding cut on his inner part of his leg. He had been bitten by Canello, the oldest howler monkey and also a safe bet for the new alpha male of the Howlers. Which would have been great if he could be content with just ruling the Howlers, but Canello was raised by spider monkeys and these same spider monkeys had a mischievous leader by default, the before mentioned Cacao. Cacao wasn’t a natural Alpha, having gained his spot after the previous Alpha (a natural Alpha I was told) had to be “put down” after he severally attacked the owner of La Senda. Cacao and his old buddy Chocolate (a spider monkey about one year younger then Cacao who looked like he had the potential for taking the Alpha role once he matured) use to pick on Canello when he was little as most would do to the “little brother” in the group. When Canello was old enough and just starting to Howl he took his chance to assert dominance and attacked Cacao. Chocolate (pronounced cho-co-LA-tay) being an opportunist took his chance and started bullying Cacao as well. This forced Cacao away from the area where the rest of the monkeys lived and down into the cabana area where we and the grandmother spider monkey Maruka were living. I started hanging out with him during my breaks from turtle feeding (one of the first jobs you get at LSV)

Squirrelly with 2 spider monkeys

Cacao and Maruka taking an afternoon nap

I use to play summer Soccer, or football as the rest of the world calls it, and had joined the rest of the male volunteers for a weekend tournament. Now saying I use to play actually means that over 20 years ago I would play in a recreation league for a few months every summer. I never was very good and with age I had forgotten that fact. Combining my lack of skill with the fact that everyone in South America and Europe learn to kick a ball shortly after learning to walk, I was left on the side lines for all but a brief shift during the first game. So I jumped at an opportunity to have a “crucial” job at the refuge while the rest of the guys tried to win us a pig. So when the owner, Vicky, saw me hanging out with my new injured friend she asked if I could do her a favor. I was given a taser (cattle prod style) and a Walkie-Talkie and the following morning at 6 am I started my new role as Spider Monkey Bodyguard.

A lot of my day was spent just trying to keep up with Cacao and finding human accessible routes to his favorite hangouts

A lot of my day was spent just trying to keep up with Cacao and finding human accessible routes to his favorite hangouts

My first morning had me up at 6 am on the hunt for Cacao, after about 30 mins he found me. By the second morning I just slept in until 6:30 and when I woke up Cacao would come join me on my cabana deck and just hang out for a bit. My day consited of following him around and just keeping an eye on him. It was a very easy stress free job 80% of the time, then Canello would come down from the monkey territory and then all hell would break loose. Using everything at our disposal (stones, firecrackers, sticks, the taser, loud noises) we would eventually scare him off and could relax. I became very good at noticing what kind of monkey was coming our way by the movement of the trees moved. Canello had an uncanny ability to know when I had left the taser in my room or when I was eating, it almost felt like his attempted attacks were timed.

We spent so much time together that at times we just couldn;t look at each other.

We spent so much time together that at times we just couldn’t look at each other.

With the help of the rest of folks at LSV we were able to keep the monkey fighting down to a bare minimum but on the 5 day a miscalculation on my part put Canello between me and Cacao. During the showdown I finally “tased” Canello and it didn’t even phase him, he just turned and stared at me with a empty look in his eyes and continued the attack. Cacao was able to get away and hide in one his safe spots. This attack forced us to enclose Cacao for his own protection and as much as I hated to see him caged, I was relieved that his safety was no longer directly in my hands. His enclosure was close to monkey territory so he had more visitors and I was able to continue caring for him, with the help of Melissa, while taking on more responsibilities caring for other monkeys.

Cacao getting cleaned by Semilla, I was surprised these 2 got along so well

Cacao getting cleaned by Semilla, I was surprised these 2 got along so well