The volunteering ‘system’ at La Senda Verde works on a rotational basis – the idea is that everybody gets to spend some time volunteering on each of the different sections. The sections are ‘bears and cats’, ‘birds’, ‘monkeys’, ‘specials’, and ‘tours and food prep’. More about what happens in each section later…
A standard program is a 2 week rotation, so 3-4 days on each section – further complicated by the fact that females can’t volunteer in the monkey section (for safety reasons, more about that later…). Also, as you can volunteer for a longer period of time, some people are there for an uneven number of weeks. There are a few overseas ‘programs’ that also send volunteers, and also some volunteers are doing a placement as part of their studies in animal care or something similar.
All this adds up to a very fluid volunteer situation, where there can be any number of volunteers at once, and sometimes too many volunteers for what is really required or useful. But because volunteers pay to be there, and their money is the main source of iincome for food for the animals, there is no limit on the numbers…..?!
While we were there, the numbers were not too bad, it fluctuated from around 10 – 14 volunteers including us, so it never felt too overcrowded.
When we arrived, the volunteer schedule was in chaos – to cut a long story short, the guy in charge of the schedule was totally incompetent, and was unable to produce a schedule without putting the same person down twice, missing people off, keeping people on the same section for days etc etc. There was a morning meeting every morning before breakfast at 7.15am – where in theory we would be told about any changes to the schedule etc. – but this meeting was done by a different person to the one who wrote the schedule (who turned up at around 9.30am/10am) and so if the schedule was messed up there was nobody to sort it out….
Additionally, around 50% of the volunteers never made it to the meeting on time, so it ended up being totally pointless…. It turned out that the guy running the meeting used to also do the schedule, but got sick of people badgering him to change sections and moaning and complaining (more about this later…) – and so he stopped doing it. He then also gave up on the meetings, as people weren’t turning up.
It all came to a head one morning when we arrived at breakfast and had to hunt down the schedule from inside a desk drawer. On inspection, we found that it was missing two sections, my name wasn’t on it, a couple of people were on it twice, and it included someone who had left a few days ago….. YES, WELL…. we all complained to the keepers and the following day the situation was resolved. The solution was that the schedule became the responsibility again of the guy who used to do it (competently), but any requests or changes or complaints had to be directly taken to Vicki the owner.
The schedule was put on a whiteboard, and therefore morning meetings were not needed. This all worked well for the rest of the time that we were there.
So… why had it become such a hassle in the first place? Well, this sort of place attracts a certain type of person – we could call them ‘animal huggers’ 🙂 Basically, some people are desperate to touch, hug, and cuddle the animals – especially the ‘cute’ animals. Some people also would prefer to not really do any work – they are there to play with the animals…. The ‘animal huggers’ hate being on the birds section or the food prep section, and so are prone to ‘switching’ sections, or to moaning about their section etc. (these two sections don’t have cute animals and are quite hard work…) ‘Animal huggers’ are usually girls between 18 – 21 (but not always). There were a few ‘animal huggers’ during our time there – one of them kept switching to cats and bears when it wasn’t their section… CC was not a fan of the ‘animal huggers’, as they tended to shirk their workload and stand there staring at the animals…
Most volunteers are actually young girls it seems – apparently sometimes there are no male volunteers at all. During our time there though, we ended up with a reasonable balance – there was always another couple there, and two or three other males. There was also a good mix of nationalities, with the USA, Canada, Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia, Switzerland, UK, Netherlands, Poland, and Australia all represented. We were the oldest volunteers there until another couple from Australia turned up who were EVEN OLDER THAN US?!
The centre of the action was the ‘volunteer area’ – pretty much just a big long table where all meals were taken, and where you sat if you were on a break.
There wasn’t really a lot of space to hang around – if you wanted to hang out on your break outdoors, then this was generally done in the area just outside the entrance to the dining area.
Each section had a keeper who was in charge of that section, and you were with them for the whole day, doing whatever feeding, cleaning etc was required. The keepers were all very different in their approach – some were better than others at what you might call ‘people skills’. Generally they didn’t have very good English, which caused some problems when only non-Spanish speakers were scheduled on their section….
Each section had its own schedule, some which were adhered to, and some which were not at all…. breakfast was at 7.30am and work started directly afterwards. Lunch was at 1.30pm, and dinner at 7.30pm. The working day finished between 5pm and 6pm depending on your section.
Regarding the food – in our view it was totally EXCELLENT! 🙂 Lots of variety, lots of vegetables, lots of spicy llajua sauce with every meal, PLUS REAL coffee!! 🙂 🙂 🙂
Lots of people were not that keen on the food for some reason – probably because they had come straight from their home countries, and so hadn’t experienced the food in the rest of Bolivia!! 🙂 🙂 And also it was probably a little bit ‘vegetable heavy’ for some people – there was a lamenting of the lack of pizzas, burgers, and chips…..
The work itself was reasonably hard work – lots of scrubbing, cleaning etc. It did vary a lot between the sections, and also varied according to how hard you felt like working! But the days were quite long even with breaks, and on the standard two week program you don’t actually get a day off! So, it’s 13 days of work in a row… yes – but to be honest it seemed that the younger you were, the more tired you were?! 🙂 (Maybe the youngsters didn’t go to bed early enough 😉 )