November 28, 2013

A Week Volunteering With Amazon CARES - Part 1/3

For two weeks this past October, Liz volunteered in Peru during one of our volunteer veterinary trips. In this special three part blog series, Liz describes her first week volunteering for Amazon CARES. To learn about upcoming volunteer veterinary trips, visit our website at

I was lucky enough to volunteer for Amazon CARES this October.   I had an absolutely amazing time and could literally talk about it for days!   To avoid boring everyone too much I have focused on the first part of our trip – arriving in Iquitos and the trip to Caballococha.

My trip started with a blind date!   Shannon, Director of Operations, had let us know there were two of us coincidentally on the same flight out of the UK all the way to Iquitos, Peru.  So, ridiculously early on a freezing cold Saturday morning at Heathrow Terminal 3 I got a text – "I'm outside WH Smith."   There I was profiling all the people outside the shop and trying to guess which girl was also heading half way around the world to spend her holidays neutering animals!  Luckily it was Hen and we managed relatively unscathed to negotiate 40 hours of flights, breaks (including a Texan beer), and relatively little sleep to arrive at Iquitos airport at 7 am on a Sunday.

We had to immediately dispose of our winter coats and jumpers, as even early in the morning the temperature was a huge shock to our sun starved systems.  We were soon in our first experience of being slightly squashed on a mototaxi as Sergio took us to Cabo Lopez.   One of the major culture shocks of that first journey was the lack of rules of the road – the motocars speed round each other and literally challenge huge buses for space at an alarming rate, yet never seem to collide! 

CARES' volunteer quarters & no-kill dog shelter.
Cabo Lopez – where the Amazon CARES dog shelter is, is a town on the outskirts of the city right on the edge of river that goes directly to the city center.   The area itself is fairly quiet (aside from the dogs) and very green and fresh.   Not sure what I was expecting, but the lodge is very comfortable with 3 volunteer rooms, 3 bathrooms, a kitchen, and lounge complete with water and electricity (99% of the time weather permitting).  Given the two kennel sections it is also very peaceful!

From left to right: Jason, Desiree,
Liz, Hen, & Shannon
Having met the other volunteers (Shannon, Desiree and Jason), Hen and I decided to make the most of a free day and venture into town.  Although very proudly we managed to explain to an amused moto driver in very limited Spanish where we wanted to go, we did realize once we got there we had absolutely no clue how to get back!  The town itself is laid out around several busy plazas and next to the Amazon River.   We successfully relaxed with a beer on the promenade.  The town is very busy and whenever we were there there were street performers or festivals going on – everything from military to cartoon parades.  Looking clique tourists complete with our backpacks, Lonely Planet Guide, and a phrasebook, we had a good look around and wandered from the center to Belen Market and even found a driver who knew how to get us back to the volunteer quarters (not that we would have known if he had gone the wrong way).

Liz monitoring a patient while Desiree performs a spay.

The first proper day of neutering was done at the clinic and we went with the Peruvian team (Harri, Julio and Veronica) to a market to catch street animals.   They are clearly expert at doing this as well as negotiating with people approaching them to question what they are doing.  We wedged three tables for surgery into the front room of the clinic alongside the desks, computers and other stored items.  It was confusing at first – who was doing what and which vials were needed, etc.,  but we soon had a system worked out – although this was a relatively calm day with only 9 neuters.
That evening we were all staying in the city as early next morning we were leaving Iquitos to go to Caballococha.  Each campaign has an outreach  program where the team go somewhere outside of Iquitos.   Ours involved a trip 8 hours up the Amazon towards the Columbian /Brazilian border.  The amount of organizing that Bruno and the clinic team must have done to get ready for this is incredible including sending down all the equipment we would need in advance on a cargo ship!

Read Part 2 of Liz's experience volunteering with Amazon CARES or skip to Part 3.

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