I was sad to leave so many new friends, both human and animal, when I had to leave the wildlife sanctuary in Ecuador. I met some amazing locals and the sanctuary was an overall amazing experience. The other volunteers at the sanctuary had a similar outlook on life; they also wanted to improve the welfare of animals. As I independently hiked through the rainforest from the sanctuary to the nearby town, I felt a sense of relief. Yes, I couldn’t help every animal, but I was gaining perspective of international animal welfare. The United States was fortunate enough to have an abundance of animal shelters, along with a society that cares for those that cannot speak for themselves. I missed the United States, but I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me in order to gain a better understanding of animal welfare abroad.
I caught a bus from the small Ecuadorian rainforest town to Quito. My next destination was Colombia and I was beyond excited. I previously heard that the welfare of animals was quite good in Colombia and the country itself was beautiful (a great deal of Colombia is unexplored due to many years of rebel warfare and a lack of mass tourism). Yes, I knew the country had a reputation, but it had changed dramatically in the last couple of years. I heard that the culture and people within its borders were amazing, so I immediately caught a bus to the Ecuadorian/Colombian border and off I went.
The bus ride was pretty quiet on the way to the Colombian border. I was able to catch-up on my writing and map out my budget and itinerary for the next leg of my trip. When I finally arrived at the border, I hopped off the bus and headed straight to the customs stations of both Ecuador and Colombia. As I was standing in line, I met an American backpacker who was entering Colombia in order to volunteer as well. He was just as delighted as I was to speak our native tongue, and we chatted about current news back in the States. We patiently waited in line at the customs stations to receive our entry stamps, and later caught an overnight bus to Cali.
The bus ride was more “interesting” than my previous ride throughout the Ecuadorian rainforest though. My bus driver honestly wanted to shave off a couple hours by speeding through the rugged, steep mountains the fastest he could possibly go. He was driving so fast that a Colombian woman said a prayer aloud and asked him to “Slow down!” After the bus finally slowed down, I quickly fell asleep for a couple of hours, but I was startled in the middle of the night by a Colombian soldier tapping on my right shoulder. It turns out that I was at a routine Colombian police road block in order to check the bus for narcotics traffickers. It was a routine check though, so everyone got off the bus and patiently waited for military police to OK the bus. After an hour or so of inspections, the bus was eventually cleared and we were back on track to Cali.
The next morning I woke up in the salsa city known as Cali. My new American friend and I chatted a bit prior to heading off the bus, and it turns out that he was teaching English to children throughout South America. He recently returned from teaching in Eastern Africa, and had heard the same things I had previously heard about Colombia. The salsa music was phenomenal and the city was just as lively as we had both imagined. The people were some of the friendliest people I have ever met in my entire life. The Colombian community was thankful that the country was evolving, and they seemed to appreciate life to the fullest.
As soon as I hopped off the bus, I flipped through my guidebook and found a wonderful hostel with a great reputation. The reputation of the hostel must have been well known because by the time I arrived, it was packed to the gills with backpackers from around the globe. The hostel had a great vibe being that a wonderful family ran it (the wife of the family and I quickly formed a friendship and made coffee outings a daily routine), and the family made their guests feel right at home. The family who ran the hostel also lived there with their mastiff named Rufus. He was a gentle giant and he loved having a hostel full of people to play with. I learned that Rufus had a birthday party every year, and it was “the event” to attend. When I say they celebrated his birthday, I mean celebrated (he even had his own cake)!
As I traveled through the cities of Colombia, I saw a trend. Colombians appeared to worship their pets, but like many developing countries, the welfare of animals differed in the poorer sections of the country (the countryside appeared to still suffer economically).
While eating at a restaurant in a tiny southern Colombian town, I spoke about my desire to see Colombian coffee crops. The conversation was ironically overheard by a nearby Colombian family, and they said they happened to have a farm with coffee crops in the countryside outside of town. The pleasant family offered an invitation for my new backpacker friends (I met fellow backpackers along the way) and me to visit the farm. We thankfully took up the offer and headed off to the farm with the family.
While visiting the farm, I saw the welfare of animals in the countryside differed greatly from the larger cities of Bogota, Medellin and Cali. The farm was also in an area that was a bit dangerous (due to rebel activity still being prevalent in the nearby area). The family told us that some of the dogs on the farm were recently poisoned by an unkind neighbor, so the canine population had been recently decreased. When the family was previously away from the farm, the neighbor baited meat with poison due to the “constant barking” from the mass of farm dogs (poison is sadly commonly used in parts of the world to control pet overpopulation and the “annoyance” of barking dogs), and some of the dogs didn’t survive.
When I got to the farm, I met the dogs that were fortunate enough to not eat the poison, and like many animals around the globe, they were unaltered and ready to reproduce. I spent the day on the farm playing with the dogs and later spoke about the importance of spaying and neutering the animals along with proper animal care. The family was receptive to my advice, but to this day, I wonder if there was more I could have done.
I stayed in Colombia longer than initially planned, but from what I observed, it was a progressive culture that truly cared about the welfare of animals. I spent time traveling through many parts of Colombia while visiting both wildlife and domestic animal safe havens, and I must say I enjoyed the culture and the picturesque scenery. Though, like many parts of the world (along with the U.S.) not everyone was “on board” when it came to the importance of spaying and neutering companion pets.
Colombia was a country full of life, but it was time to move on to Venezuela to experience what animal welfare was like there. I heard it was much different from Colombia, but I would have never imagined what it would be like…until I saw it firsthand.
To be continued…
Adopt-a-Shelter Dog Month
HSCAZ has a special announcement! Due to October being Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog month, we are having an adoption special for our canine friends. If you are interested in adopting a canine companion, come on in and select your new friend for a reduced adoption fee. The adoption fee special is only during this month, so please come on in and help us celebrate this amazing event! The shelter is located at 812 S. McLane Road, open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily (excluding holidays). For more information, visit www.humanesocietycentralaz.org or call us at (928) 474-5590.
Maui is a 2-year-old male Shepherd mix whose previous owner lost his home and had to relocate. Maui is a handsome man and a total lover.
Cayson is a 1-year-old male German shepherd mix who was found as a stray. He loves to sing and is great with kids.
Holly is a 6-month-old female terrier mix. She was found a stray, but this little wiggly girl loves people and anything to do with human affection.
Carmen is a 2-year-old female Rottweiler mix.
Duke is a 5-year-old shepherd mix who loves people, treats and PEOPLE. Such a great dog! He is affectionate and walks well on a leash.
Tank is a 1-year-old male Corgi mix. Tank, Tank, Tank...what a character. He thinks he is about 90 pounds, but little does he know that he just a tiny little man. He is hilarious and quite the active little chap.