From San Pedro, we took a 15 hour bus journey to Flores (really quite comfortable and lots of stunning views). Flores is further north in Guatemala and is a town on an islet in the middle of a lake. Across the water, in the jungle, is a wildlife sanctuary called ARCAS where all kinds of creatures are rescued from illegal trade and hopefully rehabilitated back into the wild, or if this is not possible, given a better home at the sanctuary. We’ve just spent a few days volunteering there
We were keen to volunteer while travelling together, partly because of our mutual love of animals and also because it seems good to give something back. This volunteering was seriously tough work though.
The day started at 6.30am, where before breakfast we fed and cleaned the animals. On one day, I was assigned an otter, some sick parrots and toucans and a spoonbill. Everyone got fed individually and lots of poo was swept and scrubbed from the floors. The toucans were smart and I think gave me several looks that suggested they knew more than all of us and are probably plotting to take over the world (just to warn you).
At 8am all the volunteers have breakfast together. I’m not going to lie, it’s mostly eggs and beans and is fairly grim, but by this point your starving and will eat anything. Clever volunteers buy snacks and extra food in town before going into the jungle. We weren’t those people.
9am is chores, which for us involved mucking out some friendly sheep (there is a lot of bonding with varieties of poo involved in this experience!!). Then 11am is more feeding and poo cleaning. It’s worth the effort to see how happy the animals are munching and the knowledge that they may one day get out of this place.
Lunch is at 1pm and we hoped for anything other than eggs and more beans (mostly hopes were dashed). Then another feed and poo sweep at 2pm means the day finishes at 3pm when you can spend some time releasing your own poo after all those beans (We talked about poo a lot there, it’s hard to sensor it now I’m back in the real world!).
It’s really tiring and the afternoons were spent swimming in the lake and snoozing in a hammock to the sounds of the jungle. I was in bed by 8.30pm most evenings.
Living in the jungle is an incredible experience though. 2 families of howler monkeys lived just by the volunteer house and every afternoon, around 4pm they started arguing, which essentially involves them howling at each other as they don’t physically fight. Howler monkeys are really quite small and cute but their roar was used to create the sound effect for the t-rex in Jurassic Park, so you can just imagine the noise. One howler monkey that lives there thinks she is a deer and has been known to take deer babies into the trees to protect them from danger only to drop them accidentally… :-/ Here she is having lunch with the deers.
Living there is also spider monkeys, a tarantula that lives in a hole, brightly coloured butterflies, scorpions, deadly snakes and many crazy large moths. I was pretty scared.
Despite some moaning, I’d recommend the volunteering and still plan to do more down the line of my trip. It’s not a holiday though and is quite hard to see beautiful wild animals in any form of captivity even if this is preferable to their previous location. So, it’s key to look for a place that is rehabilitating animals if possible rather than just keeping them there. The rehabilitation work means not talking to the animals at all as this changes their relationship with humans, which is bad for them in many ways. This is really hard too, especially for me as I’m the type of person who enjoyed many conversations with my pet hedgehog before coming away (which I swear he enjoyed and engaged in). So it’s definitely not lighthearted or easy, but well worth the effort if you have the time and energy.
Anyway, we’ve realised that we’ve actually worked pretty hard over the last 3 weeks so the next part of our plan is focused on some major chilling and mooching about in pretty locations 🙂