5 Tips for Volunteering at Inti Wara Yassi in Bolivia
Jodie Gauld will never forget her time volunteering at Inti Wara Yassi’s parque Jacj Cuisi in Bolivia, South America. She planned to stay a month during August 2014 (the minimum time to work with big cats) but couldn’t tear herself away from the place and ended up spending 3 months there and stayed until October.
Here Jodie shares her amazing experience and helpful advice if you are planning to also be a volunteer in Bolivia.
1. Before You Go
Definitely do your research on where you want to go and search the internet in advance to work out your route and where to stay. I had also made contact with Inti Wara Yassi to arrange the best points to meet and when and timed my travel accordingly. A basic knowledge of the language and or a phrase book is a must to navigate your way round.
I travelled most of the way with a girl I befriended who spoke barely any English. Using my basic phrase book we learnt all about each others families and interests - this to me highlighted the friendliness to experience in Bolivia.
2. Be Prepared
Throughout the week, whilst in the park, there is no internet, electricity (except a generator to power the fridge that holds that cat’s food) and no use for money. This is so refreshing from modern society and I found it awakening for my mind. It became exciting when we went into the local town, Rurrenabaque, once a week, where we’d use money, catch up with home via the WIFI and update social media.
As well as Inti Wara Yassi’s essential “what to bring” list, I’d suggest the following:
- A good book - the park has a small library of books you can borrow or donate to
- Some awesome music - we would pick a motivational song for our early alarms and to enjoy whilst we carried out tasks around the park
- Snacks and favourite foods
- Swimwear - to bathe in the river in the park or the pools when visiting Rurrenabae
- Ladies, sports bras for the win - I never wore a normal bra out there
- A fun game / cards / harddrive of movies - Some evenings when we weren’t too exhausted, we’d make popcorn and watch a movie on someone’s laptop, play games or do something like yoga
3. Remember What You Came For
I remember being restless with excitement to meet my first puma. It was love at first sight when I met Simba. He reminded me of my own cat, just much bigger.
Over my stay, walking Simba every day (with another person too) we explored the beautiful jungle and the wildlife within it. During my time, I saw all manor of creatures from snakes, wild boar, humming birds and even, once, a giant anteater!
Regular changing of companions for the cats can upset them, hence the minimum stay of 1 month. I was lucky enough to work with all of the cats in the park at the time, this was due to a quiet period of volunteers and my long term stay. Working with the different cats was such an experience to understand each of their personalities and characteristics.
For example, Sonko enjoyed the luxury of a slumber in a sunlit patch of the jungle which was often a great spot for butterflies and to watch monkies over head.
You will be walking for hours, either with one cat (Sonko with his naps could take all day) or sometimes walking one cat in the morning and then going back out to walk another. With this in mind, it is worth coming with a level of fitness, you’ll be hiking up and down through the jungle, wearing wellies.
Also, for safety you walk the cats with a partner. For instance if something should happen to one of you or the cat, the other can be on hand to deal with the situation. In the case that the cat gets too excited, or ill-tempered (bad weather affecting the cat’s hearing or the threat of other animals nearby can cause this) there is a method you’ll be taught with the ropes that can keep the puma at a certain distance and prevent harm. For this too you’ll have to be prepared to have a certain strength.
4. Teamwork Makes Dreamwork
Each morning we would start the day with our assigned tasks to keep camp in order and then sit down to a leisurely breakfast, prepared by one or two of the team, often including bread that we had baked ourselves, porridge and local fruit.
After attending our roles of either with the cats or in construction. We’d take turns to cook dinner or sometime prepare dinner as a team. Occasionally we’d have a themed night like pizza baked in the puma oven. Whilst I was there we celebrated thanksgiving with a full on veggie roast.
I should point out here that the meals whilst in the park were pretty much vegan, with the occasional time that we’d buy local cheese for a themed pizza night (could obviously still be made without cheese). Another note on this is that it is really easy to be vegetarian in the local town and even to be vegan, there was an amazing Israel restaurant that did the best hummus.
5. Enjoy the Unexpected Bonuses
The days were beautiful (even in the torrential rain). Sometimes we’d walk to our next door neighbour (about a mile down the road) and pick endless amounts of oranges, pineapples and avocados!
At one point there were just 3 of us and we collected 64 avocados! We were in avocado heaven for days.
There was a strong relationship with some of the businesses in Rurrenabaque. Through this we were able to discover secrets nearby. One day we trekked up to a waterfall and spent half the day using the natural water slides. Another day we went swimming in a lake. We often just chilled and used the wifi to touch base with friends and family at home.
The whole experience was life changing and I’d love to go back. Inti Wara Yassi are a charity to be trusted, all of the funds go towards helping the animals and the rates to volunteer are really reasonable - covering your stay etc. While I was there, you could really see that they put the animals first and the volunteers I came across had a similar attitude.
By Jodie Gauld