Editors Note: I had the distinct pleasure of visiting La Senda Verde after an exhausting trip through the Amazonian Basin. It truly is a sanctuary. Not just for the over four hundred animals that live there, but for the visitor as well. The following post offered by fellow traveller, Benedict Noel, describes what you might expect to find there. Whether you go as a volunteer or as a guest, the place is truly remarkable…. And as always…Buen Viaje!
FROM BIKING THE DEATH ROAD TO HANGING WITH THE NATIVE ANIMALS
A back-packer standard when visiting La Paz is a mountain bike trip down “the world’s most dangerous road”. It’s is an amazing experience, but this article is not about that – it’s about what to do at the end of that trip.
La Senda Verde (roughly “the green path”) is an animal refuge near the small tourist town of Coroico. It’s about 3 hours drive from La Paz, if you don’t want to take cycle.
You can do a tour of the place for a couple of hours, stay there as a guest or (the most rewarding option) you can volunteer.
The refuge houses animals rescued from animal trafficking, or given up by owners when they can’t look after them any more. It’s against the law in Bolivia to keep native animals as pets, but enforcement is almost non-existent. La Senda Verde works cooperatively with Government agencies, but it does not receive any public funding. Most of the money to run the refuge comes from volunteer fees and fund-raising from ex-volunteers, as well as a small amount from guests.
There are more than 400 hundred animals at the refuge, the monkeys and macaws being the most conspicuous.
There are about 15 spider monkeys that tend to roam around the guest quarters as well as a troupe of howlers that also like to visit the guest area. The capuchins number about 45, and they have taken over the area near the swimming pool (which means the pool is now empty, unfortunately) – you can only see them on a tour or as a volunteer. The squirrel monkeys have their own island and are pretty much left to themselves with food couriered across on a pulley – although one character, Elvis, keeps escaping back to the guest area.
The other animals that all guests can see are: macaws flying free (although many of them were raised in cages that are too small and have not developed their muscles to fly, so they just waddle and climb); lots of parrots waiting for a new aviary (lots of them speak Spanish); 2 spectacled bears in large, natural enclosure (apart from the not-so-natural electric fences); a cayman; lots of tortoises and small turtles; and a coati (like a red-anteater) that steals the bird food.
In the restricted areas volunteers will also feed and care for: an ocelot and a margay (wild cats); 2 tayras (like large, curious weasels); a painted jotchi which is nocturnal and needs to be walked at night; a few nocturnal monkeys; a boa constrictor… and the rats that are kept as food for the cats and the reptiles.
Accommodation includes volunteer dorms, an eco-tree house, small cabins, or rustic double-story apartments with private bathroom. As a volunteer you might stay in a cabin if the dorms are full, and you can choose to pay a premium to stay in guest quarters (much less than the standard fee, and probably worth the luxury – remember, the money goes to the animals, so just look at it as an extra donation).
If you’re staying in the guest area make sure you lock your doors securely as the spider monkeys can work the door knobs and slide bolts and are always on the look-out for any door left unlocked. They will steal money, play in bathrooms or chew through make-up and toothpaste (and more worryingly cigarettes).
Prices and information are listed on the website: http://www.sendaverde.com/volunteer_program.html
Volunteers are supplied with uniform shirts (which the monkeys seem to recognize and respond to) but need to bring a couple of pairs of long pants (and wellington boots are a good idea if it’s approaching rainy season). The biggest danger is sandflies and you can’t wear DEET as it’s dangerous for the animals so bring citronella or a non-DEET insect repellant (rumor has it that baby oil also repels sand flies). Don’t volunteer unless you’re comfortable getting dirty!
In 2013 volunteering started at $175/ week and gets cheaper the longer you stay. Basic entry to the refuge was 69 Bs (about $10) and another 69 Bs for the monkey or bear tour. Accommodation starts from 130 Bs per person in a cabin.
If you want to combine your La Senda Verde experience with the Death Road trip you have a few different options: Gravity ends its bike trips at the refuge, for lunch and a tour option. Barracuda (which is apparently owned by Gravity) ends its tour at a different cafe about 200m along the road and can include a tour of the refuge if you ask. Other companies all finish somewhere in the region of Coroico and might drop you at the refuge if you ask, or will leave you in Coroico at the taxi stand (or you can catch a collectivo if you have the patience to wait). Make sure you check with the bike company that there will be room for your luggage!