All posts by Lauren

Braving the thieving Monkeys

After a monkey stole Mr Ducky in Cambodia and a Hawk tried to eat him in Argentina, the couple were naturally quite scared about meeting the resident animals at Esperanza Verde.

A close shave for Mr Ducky....
A close shave for Mr Ducky….

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With our resident monkeys famed for stealing anything that isn’t tied down, extra caution was required…we didn’t make the same mistake a third time…

Finding a Volunteer Project in South America

Volunteering is something Iain and I spent hours painstakingly researching when we were preparing for our trip to South America. The obvious questions for us were: what type of volunteer project should we choose, where should we volunteer, and how should we begin organising our volunteer trip? It was a daunting task deciding where, not only, to donate our time, but also our money from the thousands of projects out there on offer.

How to choose a type of volunteer project?

For us working at an animal rescue centre, an orphanage/school, a construction project, or teaching English were all considerations. And really we made the final decision by being brutally honest with ourselves. What would we enjoy most and what type of project would we get the most out of? To all the selfless do-gooders out there, this might all sound a bit me me me, but really you need to be enthusiastic about a project to do any good.

The reality for me was: I wasn’t sure I was physically fit enough or skilled enough to be part of a construction project 24/7. Also having never worked with children before I couldn’t promise myself that after a week or so a group of them wouldn’t drive me crazy. I love kids but usually kids that I can look after for a few hours and then give back to their parents. An after our episode with Tannat the stray dog we picked up in Argentina, I’m sure you can appreciate why working with animals became the focus of our efforts. Choose something you love and you and the project will both be happy with your work there.

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Tannat

How to begin organising your volunteer trip? Cutting out the middleman.

When beginning our search online it was easy to be lured in by the glossy websites or middlemen offering “life changing experiences” all over the world. You’ll know ones if you’ve begun by typing “volunteer abroad” into Google. Tempting as the pictures of volunteers holding turtles or the close-up shots of jaguars seemed at first, with prices way over £1000 for 2 weeks these projects were an unrealistic option for us. Despite these companies promising pre-departure support and local orientation on arrival we like many had to question what justified these prices. From a little research and speaking with projects that had once been involved with these companies, usually only a small portion of what the volunteer pays actually goes to the project itself.

True or not, why would you pay £1000 when you can pay a tenth of that for virtually the same experience? We chose a project were we paid a little under £100 for 2 weeks directly into the hands of the project. For that our food and accommodation were included as well as a donation for materials for the project. And to top it off we didn’t have the nagging question in our minds as to what our money was actually paying for. The organisation was upfront about all the costs involved with the project and we could see exactly where our money went.

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Working with the materials, our money helped buy.

How to find the free/cheap volunteer projects?

Having ruled out going through ones of the large companies, we had to search a little harder to find and contact the projects themselves. Unfortunately it’s not as easy as adding “free” or “cheap” to your original query in the search engines. The commercial middle-mans still appear…£1000 is cheap in some peoples definitions apparently?! We luckily stumbled across this website which proved invaluable for our search in South America.

http://www.volunteersouthamerica.net/

Anything but glossy, this basic website offers a list of “grassroots” volunteer projects throughout South and Central America. Simply web-links but it allows you to contact the projects directly yourself.

Not travelling to South America? Don’t worry these websites/lists do exist for your chosen destination; you just have to be a bit more creative with your search. I suggest searching for “lists of free volunteer projects in …” or “volunteering aboard for free blogs”. For most travelling and backpacking, blogs and first hand advice are a vital source of information. Likewise when you’ve narrowed down your choice of project it is worth searching for a few blogs written by people who have actually volunteered there. They might simply have useful advice about getting there or what to pack but they may also help you avoid less authentic, money grabbing organisations.

Which volunteer project should I choose?

As I said before reading blogs on the projects can be really helpful, but here are a few of other tips for choosing the right project.

Read the websites – sounds simple but get as much information out of the website as possible. Read all the information available but don’t be afraid to contact and ask for further info if you cant find what you need. Reading newsletters and updates from the projects can be very reassuring.

Contact multiply projects – I’m not saying email them all, keep to those within your chosen field, but it’s a good idea to contact a few as they may not all have availability for your chosen timeframe. Also a friendly, enthusiastic email response from a real person goes along way to cementing your decision to volunteer. We emailed multiple projects but it was Olivia’s quick, personable response that ensured we were on the next plane to Esperanza Verde.

Talk to other travellers – if like us you were already on the road when you were finalising your decision of where to volunteer, other backpackers can be an excellent source of information. They might for example know of smaller/start-up projects that perhaps don’t have a web presence yet.

Use social media – you will find lots of projects have a Facebook page or perhaps a group set up by ex-volunteers. Most of the projects wont be on review sites, such as Trip-advisor, but it’s always reassuring to reach out to a few ex-volunteers if possible.

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Louie, a young male squirrel monkey rescued from the Black Market

There are thousands of projects out there, offering all sorts of different work as a volunteer. Research your project carefully; ensure you know what will be expected of you as a volunteer and what you will get in return. You don’t need to pay a lot of money to have an amazing and fulfilling time. Nearly all the volunteers I have met, whether they volunteered for 2 weeks or 2 months have come away with an unforgettable experience. Good luck with your search and do contact us if you would like any further help or advice.

Although this blog post was created to help you choose volunteer project in any field, but if like us you have an interest in animals you can read more about our experience at Esperanza Verde here or watch the video below.

Returning to the Jungle…

So after much deliberation and a few skype calls to the family to get their opinion – we decided to return to the jungle. For the next 6 months we plan to take a break from life on the road and once again work with the monkeys and all the other wonderful animals at Esperanza Verde. Having fallen in love with life at the project dedicating a bit more of our time and putting off returning to London and potentially getting a “career” or some such scary prospect seemed to us like a no brainier.

So after our break in Cusco and our 4-Day hike to Machu Picchu we made the journey back to our temporary home. This time the once complicated journey didn’t seem so daunting and instead the familiar faces mapped the way. “Bigote” the ferry driver in Curimana didn’t seem to remember us but by the time we got to Bello Horizonte the unforgettable barks of Yarra, the family dog, announced our arrival.

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As they were functioning with just one volunteer on our arrival I think it’s fair to say the family were pleased to have us back. Before we knew it was back to work and we were pleased to find the monkeys hadn’t forgotten us. As usual Willow greeted us by jumping on us and pulling our hair…we missed you too Willow…

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Mica as ever is gorgeous and inquisitive…

And Jordi is still mischievous and can often be found stealing Yarra’s food when he thinks no one is watching…

In our absence there have even been a few new arrivals…meet Nikita our baby Capuchin who is charming everyone at the project…

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As ever life flies by here with lots of hungry mouths to feed and construction of the new house well underway. Internet access is limited but we hope to keep you regularly updated with tales from jungle. The plan is still to continue our travels next year but for now you’ll have to excuse us if we turn into some of those bloggers that just post endless pictures of cute animals…

Things to do in Cusco other than Machu Picchu

After our six weeks in the jungle, a quick border hop for a new visa and a revisit to the lovely Arequipa, we arrived in Cusco, one of the most visited cities in Peru.

When you arrive in Cusco it will quickly become apparent that everyone is trying to get you to go to Machu Picchu. Why else would you be in Cusco after all? Whilst Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail were definitely a highlight of our trip, you might be wondering how you can occupy the rest of your time in the city. If like us you plan on spending more than a few days in the Cusco, the city has plenty of charms to offer.

Hike between the Inca Sights in the Cusco Hills

Next to the Inca Trail this in our opinion is the next best thing to do in Cusco. If you like hiking and want an easy trail to break you into the altitude then this is definitely a good way to spend a morning. So here are a few directions to help you out.

We started by taking a taxi to Tambomachay, the furthest Inca ruin. Admittedly it is probably the least impressive sight of the day but still worth a look.

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Across the road is Pukapukara. You really can’t miss this Inca ruin if you stand with your back to the Tambomachay car park. Cue a few more touristy poses…

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Now with your back to thePukapukararuins, turn left and walk along the road. You will pass a row of eucalyptus trees and just beyond these is the start of the trail back to Cusco. Looks a bit like this…

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The turning for the trail is just before this lake…

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With the lake on your right hand side, follow the trail and after 15 minutes or so you will reach a field in a little valley. Follow the field to the furthest corner (it slopes downwards slightly) and on the right hand side you will see a little trail alongside a small forest. Within a few minutes of walking along the hillside you’ll see these ruins…

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Either view from above or descend to take a closer look like we did.

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Then simply follow the valley down to the Moon Temple.

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And from here it’s a fairly straightforward walk to Q’enqo. If in any doubt ask a few locals to point you in the right direction. The path is sign posted but can be missed if you, like us, decide to follow the mountain bike track instead. Whoops.

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Once you’ve explored Q’enqo it’s a further short stroll along the road to the impressive Sacsaywaman. By far the highlight of the day.

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All these sights are included in the BoletoTuristico. It’s definitely worth buying this combined ticket if you plan to stay a few days and see all the ruins around Cusco. It should be purchased in advance from the COSITUC office on Avenida Sol 103, in the centre of Cusco just a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas.

Take a Tour of the Sacred Valley

Some choose to take a few days to explore, perhaps spending a night in Ollantaytambo, but we chose to do a day tour of the Sacred Valley. The ruins were busy, as being on a tour we arrived at the same time as every other tour group, but the sights were impressive nonetheless. Our tour visited Ollantaytambo and Pisac, but be sure to check which sites your tour visits as each tour is slightly different.

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And at the end of our tour we were treated to a demonstration of wool dying, spinning and weaving, which despite the expected pressure to buy something this was a nice way to end the day.

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Again the BoletoTuristico is a worthwhile purchase for any of the Sacred Valley tours.

Admire the Architecture and Visit Q’orikancha

Maybe we are just easily pleased but with a few sunny days during our visit to Cusco we were quite happy strolling around the city’s streets and admiring the people and the architecture.

We also stumbled across Q’orikancha. Certainly worth a few hours of your time thisseventeenth century church is impressive andguidebook recommended.

 

Restaurants

With the huge numbers of international tourists that visit Cusco everyday it is not surprising that the city has an equally impressive supply of international cuisine. Glossing over the McDonalds, the Starbucks and the KFH some of our favourites were Jack’s Café, a “gringo” restaurant with fantastic food, and Papachos, a gourmet burger restaurant with 5 or 6 veggie options to keep us happy.

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Unfortunately you wont be able to explore the streets of Cusco long without being offered about a million massages. In fact “Massage, Lady?” pretty much followed me around the streets. Having ignored the offers for the best part of a week and after our 4 day Inca Trail, I couldn’t resist trying one. On the recommendation of a fellow backpacker I treated myself to a massage and pedicure at Andina Spa. I second the recommendation, especially after a hike.

But if all this isn’t enough to convince you to visit Cusco then look out for our next blog on the long awaited Inca Trail. Booked six months in advance we were naturally anxious to see if this experience would live up to the hype…

Monkey Mischief at Esperanza Verde

Life wouldn’t be life at Esperanza Verde without its resident monkeys. And not a day goes by when one of them doesn’t get up to some sort of mischief.

Within a few days of arrival we got used to the feeling of being watched. Whilst the monkeys enjoy the freedom of the jungle their favourite past time is watching us.

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They stare in fascination as you go about your daily activities and watch in wonder through the wire mesh as you work with the animals in cages.

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Every morning we woke up to Nakoya, a baby woolley monkey, hanging above our heads peering through the wire mesh window. She liked to watch us sleep and made little “oh, oh” noises when we’d stir and look up at her…

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Watching us prepare the twice-daily food rounds was the best viewing…

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But even just watching us read in a hammock was worth hanging around for…

Though when our jobs cause us to venture outside the monkeys will often be found “helping”. As we sweat in the midday sun, digging, raking or swinging an axe, Willow particularly likes to be involved. It’s a tough life being a monkey.

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Sorry were you trying to rake here??

A quick task of cleaning the drinking bowl attracts Willow’s help yet again…

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And a simple photography session turns into me gaining a student; Nakoya just couldn’t resist seeing what my fascination was with this strange black box…

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If the monkeys aren’t “helping” then it’s fair to say they probably entertaining us all. Mica wearing a discarded t-shirt and walking on her hind legs was unforgettable. Just like when she stole as many of the oatballs she could get her hands on…cue a bit of face stuffing…

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One evening at dinner the subject of the monkey drinking bowl came up in conversation. After a few minutes it transpired between us we had refilled the bowl an astonishing 15 times in one day. Fearing there may be a leak we kept an eye out the next day and found the culprit…

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Turns out Geordie, one of the capuchin monkeys, had found the sink plug and was proudly showing off his work to Mica.

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But even with the sink plug firmly jammed in, Mica was splashing out the water to empty it…I like to think she was giggling at our stupidity every time…

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So at times the monkeys ran rings around us, but life just wouldn’t be the same without them…even when they steal your shoes and eat them. They’re charming, annoying, adorable all at once and sometimes you’d be convinced they were plotting their next mischief…

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More monkey mischief soon…

If you’d like to volunteer at Esperanza Verde or simply make a donation then get in contact with Olivia at info@esperanzaverdeperu.com or via the website at http://www.esperanzaverdeperu.com/

Esperanza Verde: Volunteering with Animals in South America

In the last few months we had considered many times taking a break from life on the road and volunteering, preferably with animals. Finding ourselves in the South American city of Lima and asking ourselves the question “what shall we do next?” it seemed like the prefect time.

We found Esperanza Verde online, loved the sound of the project and pretty much jumped on the first plane to the jungle. When we arrived we fell in love immediately.

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Esperanza Verde is a Wildlife Protection Centre based in the Amazon Basin. It is currently home to an array of rescued native animals and the numbers are ever increasing. It was started 5 years ago by Olivia and Douwe, and with the help of their 2 children and an army of volunteers over the years, they have created something pretty special in their little patch of jungle.

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Day-to-day life varies and there is never a dull moment. The jobs range from feeding the animals, helping with the construction of new cages, carrying sandbags to assisting with veterinary work. It was rare that 2 days of the week would ever be the same as there is always a new job that crops up to keep you on your toes. Like bathing some baby squirrel monkeys for example…

Squirrel Monkey Bath

But of course a day doesn’t go by at Esperanza Verde without spending a good part of it with all the adorable animals. We hope to introduce you to a few more of the residents over the next few weeks but here’s just a handful that stole our hearts.

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Here is the resident sloth, Elmo. Raised from a baby and free to come and go as he pleases, the lure of a few carrot sticks and sliced sweet potato keeps him hanging around in the nearby trees.

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This is Nakoya the resident baby female Woolley Monkey. Along with Willow and Kamari the two male Woolleys, she enjoys the freedom of the jungle but is always hanging around ready to enjoy her milk three times a day.

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And this is the lovely Rincay, a tapir with rare blue eyes. He used to have the freedom to roam but unfortunately kept roaming as far the local village and eating peoples clothes off the washing line. Fearing for his safety he now shares a large enclosure with Pepito, a tortoise, but still enjoys eating the volunteers t-shirts when they are not paying attention…

The aim is with most of the animals to release them back into their natural environments but for a few this isn’t a reality. Many of the monkeys enjoy the safety of the nearby jungle but never roam far from the feeding table. Whereas some, like the Macaws, whose wings are broken and therefore cant fly, must instead enjoy life in the large aviary. But with ample food they happily shout “Hola” as we go about our daily work.

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When we weren’t doing all of the above you’d often find us on the construction site for Olivia and Douwe’s house. (They have spent 5 years camping in the volunteer house, poor things!) In just six weeks it was amazing to see the house begin to take shape, going from mere foundations to a structure with floors, a few walls, a roof and a working sink! Before we arrived an Ikea wardrobe was about as far as my construction skills went…but now sawing wood, sanding and (badly!) hammering in nails is all part of day-to-day life.

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Life is basic but in our eyes bliss. You’re kept fit and healthy running around after all the animals, the food is local, fresh and plentiful and there’s often a campfire and a few cocktails in the evening. So if you’re thinking of volunteering but not sold on the animals alone, you’ll be sold on the people and the lifestyle.

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We hope to keep you entertained with a few more tales from our time in the jungle soon but in the meantime if you’d like to volunteer or simply make a donation then get in contact with Olivia at info@esperanzaverdeperu.com or via the website at http://www.esperanzaverdeperu.com/

Lima to the Jungle

When we last wrote we had just left the Ballestas Islands and were making our way to Peru’s capital city, Lima. Once arrived and before we knew it we were saying goodbye to all our good friends. Sam, our dearest friend from London was heading home. With a new job to return to, our pleas for him to stay and carry on living the dream were outdone. The last two months together had flown by so quickly and we miss him. “Team Blue” a name coined by this picture is no more…

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At the same time we said goodbye to the rest of the group of friends we had acquired over the last few months. We were all heading off in different directions but we do hope all our paths will cross again in the future.

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So after a few days of fun and a farewells in lovely Miraflores we set out on a completely new adventure, just the two of us…oh and the ducks of course. When we first started planning this trip we had both agreed we would like to volunteer with a project somewhere on our travels and after 5 months of being on the road what better time. Being the disorganised people we are and far too much enjoying planning life a day ahead, we did a few days of research, approached a few organisations and pretty much jumped on the first plane to the jungle.

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Just 1 plane, 1 taxi, 1 mini bus, 2 river crossings, and a 5-seater car with half a village in it, we arrived to our new home for the next 6 weeks. And so begins our story of life at Esperanza Verde, working with all their beautiful animals…

I hope over the next few posts you will see just why we fell in love with this organisation and life living in the jungle. At the very least I defy you not to be charmed by the adorable creatures we had the pleasure of caring for. Look out for more soon.

Paracas and Islas Ballestas: The “Poor Man’s Galapagos”

Known to most as the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” the Ballestas Islands in Peru are famed for their wildlife. With this reputation we had high hopes for our day trip from the little town of Paracas.

Like us, many opt for the combined tour – in the morning a boat trip to the islands and in the afternoon a trip to the National Reserve.

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It’s an early start of 8am when you head out on the boat and with just about as many tourists crammed in as birds flying above, it gets a bit crowded…

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In just under 2 hours we where whizzed round the islands, spotting hundreds of different variations of birds, a few penguins, sea lions lazing on the rocks and dolphins. It’s fair to say on the wildlife front the Ballestas had lived up to their reputation. Although it was a fairly grey and miserable day this somehow intensified the colours and didn’t stop the wildlife from making an appearance…

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However before we knew it we were back on dry land, having luckily escaped without a drop of bird poop. Apparently this is rare.

During our afternoon in the reserve we admired various viewpoints along the coast and some more of the various birds…

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And a man with a motorbike…

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But the reserve seemed to lack the wow factor we’d become accustomed too. The fossils sign posted left everything to imagination and the flamingos though pink were mere specs in the distance. Perhaps the grey weather didn’t help.

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The Cathedral Arch, once a great attraction, had unfortunately collapsed in an earthquake…

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The lunch stop naturally provided some overpriced restaurants in the middle of nowhere, and a free pisco sour the size of a thimble. But it did mean we got hassled by and up close to some of these feathered friends…

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Who artfully backed Sam into a corner…

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However for under £10 for the day we couldn’t really complain. And although the boat trip was brief, it’s worth it just to get a look at some of the wildlife on show.