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jueves, 16 de enero de 2014

One Year in Paraguay

In January 2013 I packed my bags and headed to Edinburgh Airport, ready to embark on one of the biggest adventures of my life. I was moving to Paraguay – a country I knew almost nothing about, where everyone spoke two languages I didn’t know – to start my new job as the Primate Project Leader for Para La Tierra. Looking back at the last year, wondering how the time could have passed so fast, I am finding it hard to choose my highlights. One moment I will never forget is the first time I ever saw the monkeys. Walking down the road in the Atlantic Forest and realizing that there were two capuchins sitting in the trees at the side watching us. As we ran into the trails I tried to jump a fallen tree, covered in vines. I failed – miserably. My feet got caught in the vines and I instinctively grabbed my camera, meaning that I flew head first into a bush. Thankfully I am far more surefooted in the forest these days! One of the most challenging parts of my job is finding the monkeys. As we have not yet fitted any individuals with GPS collars we search the forest each morning hoping to come across the group. One of the best parts of my job, and something that has not changed at all over the course of the year, is the feeling of awe and excitement that I feel when we finally find the monkeys. To watch these incredibly intelligent creatures, free in a small island of their natural habitat makes me feel so privileged. This feeling was completely overwhelming the day we discovered the Black and Gold Howler monkeys. After walking through the forest in the cold and the rain for two hours and looking into the trees and seeing a species that everybody told me had not been seen in the reserve for years was one of the most breathtaking moments of my life. I burst into tears and had to lean against a tree to be able to stand – if the volunteers hadn’t thought I was crazy before this definitely confirmed it!! Two more moments that stand out for me was the day that we discovered that the forest has far more monkeys than we originally suspected. I had been told that there was a group of around 8 individuals and 2 extra group males. This was all I had observed until one day in the North Atlantic Forest with Anna. The forest exploded with capuchins. As we ran down separate trails, all thoughts of wasps and spider webs abandoned, we shouted breathlessly down the phones the numbers we could see. I had 9 in my sight, Anna had 11. This included mothers carrying infants. The second day was the day we discovered that there is two separate groups in the reserve and at the same time confirmed that the howlers were still present. It is not just the work that has made the last year so special. I have made friends that I know I will have forever. With experiences ranging from all floating the lake because it is too hot to even sit out of the water to huddling together round a fire under piles of blankets trying desperately to warm up, from driving an hour in the middle of the night to pick up and deliver a coffin to learning how to drive a motorbike for the first time wearing flip flops and shorts with Jorge sitting on the back holding three machetes every moment – good or bad, easy or hard – has been incredible. I have learned new skills, the biggest being that I can now speak Spanish, something I never thought I would be able to do. I have been fortunate enough to have been able to witness and embrace an entirely new culture that I could never have even imagined and still don’t know how to explain to those who have never visited rural Paraguay. As 2014 began with watching fireworks on the beach before dancing barefoot in the red dirt until 5 30am with a group of the best people I have ever met, I thought about how much has changed over the last year. I am bubbling with excitement thinking about what this year holds for the Primate Project. Take the risk, try something new and come down to Paraguay and share this amazing place with us. Happy New Year everyone! Until next time, Becca

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