Meeting King Roy

Posted in Bolivia at 3:49 pm by Jackson Lee


“The first step to being crazy is not being aware of your own madness”, I was lucky enough to be thinking while trying on gumboots on day one volunteering… volunteering with a wild puma called Roy in the Bolivian jungle… I’m definitely a lunatic!

Pestered by the famous tropical twins of red-baron trained mosquitoes and burning hot humid air, my sleep had been as successful as getting a tow from Fred Flintsone. Morning arrived with a pillow shaped sledge hammer making direct contact with my nervous system. Without knowing exactly how, I found myself standing amongst the early morning bustle of the animal refuges cafe.

Cafe at Wildlife Center

“Wellys mate, gumboots and unless those trousers ain’t important to ya, I’d recommend getting a cheap pair from the 2nd hand pile”, Doug chimed, mimicking the vocal style of Steve Irwin – Crocodile hunter. Hang on, what exactly happens to trousers?

Gumboot clad, opting to try my luck without changing my trousers, Doug was soon leading us amongst tall trees, chirping birds and the smell of the jungle. Waving goodbye from over breakfast, I had noticed the doubtful, we don’t expect you to come back alive, expressions of my fellow volunteers as we departed. Part of me, the competitive side, craves for this kind of nonverbal challenge and its effect on my desire to succeed.

Moving up a steep trial, I was happy for the distraction of Doug’s voice as he explained what to expect on the upcoming day. Doug, an easy going Australian, had come to the park two weeks earlier to volunteer while on his half year long adventure around South America. The trial, mostly mud due to it being the wet season, weaved over large roots, crossed fallen trees, danced around small streams and required ever limb to climb.

“Is this the usual speed Roy goes”, I managed to whizz between deep breaths.

Enjoying the question both Josh and Doug’s faces took on focused expressions. Their pace increased. My lungs burned to keep up. If only I’d ordered that Chuck Norris’s morning work out video – the free tanning cream would have been helpful too. Looking pleased with themselves, mostly, I guess to the discomfort on my face, they indicating we’d reached the correct pace. Oh shit, out-swimming a Tsunami would be easier than this.

Doug, accompanied by Josh’s well educated British accent, continued to talk about the day ahead. The combination of nervousness and the cardiovascular workout dragged my concentration to other places. Why hadn’t I taken my own advice and spent the night glued to the internet researching the intricacy’s of wrestling large, sharply clawed cats?

“Hola Roy!” Doug called loudly, bringing me back to the present.

“Hola Roy!” Josh followed.

Peering into the thick jungle with focus a toddler at a lolly scramble would be proud off, I quickly realised I couldn’t see a puma starting back – where was he? “Hola Roy” I mimicked unconvincingly. Here goes…

As suddenly as the Indians surrounded Colonel Mustard we were standing in a clearing – light rain falling – tree’s still like cowards – Roys cage looming overhead. Pacing back and forth, the brown/blond shadow of Roy moved through his locked cage. John Williams, award winning composer, would get cold sweats trying to create the music for this moment.

Roy and his casa

Leaning against the cage coolly, James Dean style, Doug and Josh had there hands stretched through the cages bars. Calling me over they indicated I was to do the same. If you’ve seen Flash Gordon and his efforts to save the galaxy then you will understand the thoughts going through my head. I approached the cage.

Moving with wonderful feline grace, blond coat speaking off his proud mountain heritage, face a perfect Derek Zoolander ‘Blue Steal’, locked in his sleeping cage but clearly the boss around here, was Roy.

“How ya going Chico”, Josh spoke to the pacing puma in that we’ve been good mates from way back tone.

“Chico, how did you sleep last night”, Doug followed much like the crocodile hunter would address the worlds most dangerous snake.

The animal kingdom, much like the human kingdom, is organised into the masters and the bait. Unlike the rest of the animal kingdom, large cats are completely unaware that humans have tamed fire, reached space or successfully completed the manhatten project. Our eyes meet, silently the air escaped my body, replaced by small infant baby noises. Puma’s 1 – human kingdom 0.

Moving with the kind of reassured physical confidence Roman armies invade continents to achieve, Roy broke from his restless pacing for my direction. With Steven King’s writing staff grinning over notepads, Roy glided past my outstretched hand – his noise making the fainest contact with my skin – and continued on without a backward glance.

Roy eating his morning grass - getting snug with his large teeth.

First contact – our animistic meeting complete. I looked over to my training team for some reasurance that it had gone well and found they were busy sitting up camp for the morning. Like so many important moments of our lives the immediate period afterwards are spent trying to confirm that they really happened.

Twenty four hours ago I would never have dreamed off meeting a puma in the jungle. Volunteering had been an life choice I looked down at concluding that most people volunteered to feel superficially good about themselves. Joining the others to start the rest of the day I felt a small paradigm shift in my head. Like realising money isnt anyones friend or that people are only as special as you see them – I realised that volunteering was going to be an amazing experience. Great to meet you Roy.