Argentina

La Cumbre, Argentina – In The Presence of Greatness

La Cumbre, Argentina – In The Presence of Greatness

IMG_7321You’d think after the overwhelming experience of Antarctica, things couldn’t be topped. Well, think again. The Love Revolution continues to amaze and inspire us.

We arrived back to Buenos Aires by plane from Ushuaia, and were invited that evening to a night of music in one of the oldest theaters in Argentina. An evening complete with orchestra, and from what I could gather,  four famous tenors of Argentina. What a night! Front row seats. I sat that so thrilled that my sons were once again having another experience of a lifetime, thanks to our friend, Kirk Boswell.

IMG_7203Directly after the show, because we are the guys on the go, we headed straight to the bus station at midnight, for our overnight coach to Cordoba and then our connecting bus to the little town of La Cumbre, in the Argentinian Sierras. We arrived the next morning, quite haggard, and took a taxi up the mountain to our next volunteer location, The Refugio de Monos (also known as Proyecto Caraya)… and the beginning of another mind-blowing adventure.

IMG_7628I have to preface this story by saying that we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We knew we wanted to work with at least one animal organization in South America and we found these folk’s website by chance. It described long hours of work and basic accommodation…. No electricity or hot water. Yikes. But working with the rehabilitation of Howler Monkeys sounded too good to pass up.

IMG_7361We arrived on the property, to a field of llamas, wild horses, dogs barking and few people. I have to admit we were a bit nervous. Pia and Juan, the volunteer coordinator, and manager of the property, instantly welcomed us. Little did we know that, over the next three weeks, these two people would become our dear friends.

IMG_8149After dropping off our bags in our room, (it was true… rustic, basic housing), we were introduced to the baby Howler Monkeys. What a blast. They jumped all over us…. pulling at our hair, wrapping around our necks, and even grooming my goatee. The boys and I knew at that very moment, that this was going to be an experience of a lifetime.

IMG_7462Then the real magic began. A teal-green truck pulled up, and out walked a spitfire of a women, who I knew instantly would be a life-long friend… Alejandra Juarez, the inspiration for and owner of The Refugio de Monos. Sometimes you just get hit with that instant connection of friendship… a sort of “past life” thing. Whatever it was, it was instanteous.

She walked over and hugged all three of us, and there and then, began a great journey of three weeks that would change all of our lives forever.

Alejandra came from simple means, with an undeniable love for animals. She received a lot of recognition for her work at the Cordoba Zoo, caring for Tigers, her first love. She’s fearless in the animal department. We saw some footage of her on the local news, rolling around with tigers in a cage that was just stunning. Truly Fearless! And animals love this woman.

But she would outgrow the zoo environment and long for a less confining experience for the animals she loved. A great believer in the Laws of Attraction, she began to visualize creating an oasis for animals to live in freedom. That’s where her work began with the Howler Monkeys.

The Howler Monkey has a rich history in Argentina and the unfortunate part is that it includes being domesticated. These monkey are made to be household pets because they are so adorable, but as they mature, their instincts kick in and they become more aggressive with the host families. The families give them alcohol to mellow them out, but as you might guess, that sometimes makes them even more aggressive. Then these families abandon them.

In steps Alejandra – her goal, to rescue domesticated Howler Monkey. Also she rescues monkeys abandoned in their natural environment rejected by their mothers, and/or from zoos. Then she works to rehabilitate them back into living in their natural environment. This is not an easy task. Much time is spent grouping monkeys together to see if they can co-inhabitate, forming an alpha male and alpha female in a group environment. Groups can vary from 3 to 20 monkeys. The monkeys begin in cages and are let out slowly and then set up into groups. The goal is to have the monkey lose interest in human contact and once again adjust to living in the forests on the property of The Refugio. Currently there are 13 groups set up for monkeys. Those that are successfully living in groups are delivered leaves, fruit, food, and water each day to make sure they are getting ample nutrition, but have little or no human contact – Alejandra’s ultimate goal.

Another interesting note is that they are the loudest mammals on earth. They go through a daily ritual of howling very loudly to establish their home territories and to let other howler monkey groups know not to invade their domain. It’s really fascinating to experience. So freakin’ loud.

Volunteering at the Refugio is not for lightweights. It’s hard work, most of the time between 8 to 10 hours a day of preparing food, cutting leaves, getting water, delivering food and water to each group throughout the forest, helping with the baby monkeys, etc. And the refugio is not exclusive to monkeys. Alejandra’s love for animals includes many other rescues. On the property, they have both Howler Monkeys and Cappuccino Monkeys, llamas, pumas, wild horses, donkeys, cows, geese, dogs, and cats. In addition to all these animals, indigenous to the area, there are “rat rabbits”, foxes, bats and a huge array of exotic birds…an animal lovers paradise! The dog rescue program at the refugio is huge, saving all the dogs that are due to be killed at the local pound. Alejandra just doesn’t allow animals to be killed. They have dozens of dogs and are the leaders in dog adoption in the La Cumbre area.

Jackson has never worked so hard. Up at 8:30am, he gathered leaves, food, and a bucket of water and hauled it over a mile to the furthest groups of monkeys in the forest. After that, he helped build dog enclosures, watched the baby monkeys, observed behavior of the groups of monkeys in the forest, stood guard so that two groups in the forest didn’t invade each other’s areas, herded llamas and brought water to the pumas. Needless to say he was exhausted by day’s end.

Buck was given a bit of an easier task, as the youngest volunteer ever at the refugio. He was in charge of the newborn kittens, caring for the baby monkeys and herding the llamas. It was amazing to see all the baby monkeys jumping all over him, Buck calling each of them by name. I mean how many kids get to make friends with baby monkeys, know them all by name, and swing them around by their tails all day? Or herd llamas? Two lucky kids.

And yes, they put me to work as well. I delivered food and water to monkeys, observed a number of groups in the forest, painted the volunteer quarters and the kitchen, cleaned the “banos”, and even cleaned the monkey houses. Phew…

I fell in love with a few monkeys. One was a “special needs” monkey named Lennon. He was born with a physical challenge, was rejected by his mother, and had a hard time walking. As some of you know, Yoko Ono sent us a note encouraging us on our journey and so to come across Lennon (named after John), we had an instant connection. What an adorable animal. Unfortunately, while we were there, he had a bit of a stroke. I was elected to carry him around in my sweatshirt all day and keep him warm. The bad news, Lennon past away a few days before we left. I was devastated. A great lesson in the circle of life thing. Broke my heart. Another monkey crush was Cookie. She took an instant liking to me and everywhere I went in the forest she followed me. The goal in the wild, is limited human connect, so it was hard for me to keep putting her down when she would want to jump on me and cuddle.

 

Pia and Juan run a tight ship at the refugio, keeping all the volunteers on their toes. Most of the volunteers were from Germany, Norway, Denmark and Australia. A huge shout out to Eja, Sandra, Anna, Joshua and Morton, some of our favorites.

The greatest part of our time there was spent watching Alejandra at work. I had the good fortune of spending a lot of time with her. She is truly an extraordinary woman doing great things in the world of animal rescue and rehabilitation. She is also the director of the Argentinian division of Projecto Gap, an organization working with primates all over the world. Alejandra is a woman with a point of view. She’s a tough cookie and knows what she wants to do and gets it done, all while raising two amazing daughters, Marlen, 15, and Mayu, 17. She is a woman of vision and an inspiration to be around. But her sense of humor was the best of all. We spent the days laughing our heads off communicating in broken English and Spanish, building a bond that I know will last a life-time.

The boys and I will always remember the great family meals we had together. And, of course, the Mate! The tea they drink in South America that is so awesome and I think majorly addicting. I’m returning home with my own Mate cup in my baggage.

 

 

 

 

 

You can check out their website at: http://www.proyectocaraya.com.ar
This is a project going places. They are going to be expanding their project in the northern region of Argentina in Chaco (which is the more natural environment for Howler Monkey) and also including chimpanzee to the mixed of animals at the refugio. Alejandra has dedicated her life to helping abused and displaced animals live freely. She also does her work quietly without looking for praises or accolades.

If you want to help The Refugio de Monos go to their website and donate or you can also volunteer. Do yourself the favor – Volunteer! It will change your life! When’s the last time you got to visit Argentina and work with Howler Monkeys?… Monkeys you can hold, feed, play with, and love. It’s a life-changing experience. And you’ll get to meet the one and only, Alejandra Juarez! And the coolest, Juan Pablo and Pia! So if you are interested in a visit to the Refugio, let me know and I’ll hook you up!

Thanks to Pia, Juan, Alejandra’s Mom and Tia, Mayu, Malen and, most importantly, Alejandra – you are an inspiration, and now, part of the Lewis Family!

So with tears, we leave the Refugio and have just arrived, after a 2 day bus ride – Arghhh! – in Uyuni, Bolivia for a visit to the famous Salt Flats and a few days off (definitely needed), then on to La Paz and Lake Titicaca, enroute to Cusco, Peru to the Casa De Milagros, our next volunteer location.

More pictures of The Salt Flats and Lake Titicaca to follow.

As always, thanks for your continued support. We love and appreciate you all.
And the Love Revolution continues… getting so much closer to home all the time.

Posted by JD in Argentina, 10 comments

What’s New – Buenos Aires!!!


IMG_5633We have been in Buenos Aires for the last two weeks, working with L.I.F.E. (Luchemos por una Infancia Feliz y con Esperanza – roughly translated means, Fighting for Children’s Happiness and Hope).   LIFE arranges after-school programs, birthday parties and other activities for kids in the less fortunate suburbs of Buenos Aires.  They also have programs in homeless shelters within the city. Jackson, Buck and I have been splitting our time between the suburbs and homeless shelters.  


IMG_5647Our work certainly gives us a greater appreciation for all that we have.  Our first day on the job, we worked at a birthday party.  LIFE holds birthday parties once a month in a specific location for all kids with birthdays in that particular month.  Each child with a birthday in that month is given a present and shares in the birthday cake.  It’s really a sweet program and the kids have the time of their lives, with games and activities.   

We have also been working with the after-school program, doing art project, worksheets and activities.  The kids really like the one on one attention and our spanish is getting better with each passing day.   I have to say, that love and attention breaks all bounds of language and culture.  We have yet to walk away frustrated by not being able to communicate fully.  By the way, the sign below translated reads – “When there is a will, there are a thousand resources.  When there is no will, there are a thousand excuses.” 

I think the most meaningful work has been at the homeless shelter.  The families live in a large shelter separated by cubicles.  They get 3 meals a day and have shower and bathroom facilities.  LIFE offers different fun activities for the kids… Jewelry making, art projects, school materials, and sports equipment.   Buck has taken to playing Futbol (soccer with the younger kids) and Jackson has become the guy that they all love to tackle.  It’s amazing.  When we arrive, they all run up to us, so excited that we are there to play.  The appreciation is so sweet and makes the work so incredible. There is one little boys who has stolen our heart, Brian!  

He has adopted Jackson and Buck as his big brothers.  There are just some kids that you know will grow up to do great things in the world, despite their circumstance.  I know that to be the case with Brian.  Smart as a whip, greatest smile on earth, and a pure heart of gold.   All the coordinators have said that Brian has really come “into his own” since Jackson and Buck have taken him under their wings.  Now he’s super feisty, funny beyond belief…but the coolest thing is watching Brian look after his little sister who is 2.  Whenever snacks or art supplies are handed out, he always makes sure his little sister gets her fair share. When we left yesterday, he gave us hugs and then found his sister, took her hand and walk her back into the building.  Now that is a sign of a guy going places.  Brian, you are a class act!

And more luck for the Lewis boys.  I found out my friend (and old neighbor), Mark Lennon, from the band, Venice, was in Buenos Aires touring with Roger Waters of Pink Floyd and the show, The Wall! I sent him an email, had lunch an hour later and then the boys and I got invited to see The Wall at The River Plate Stadium.  It gets better, we got band seats – 18th row center and got to go backstage and hang out with the band.  Picture to the right is of Buck center stage sporting his new mohawk in front of 60,000 fans.   How lucky are the Lewis Boys… Jackson and Buck even got drum sticks from the drummer and Buck got a Roger Waters guitar pick, his new prized possession.  The Wall is one of the most incredible shows I think I have ever seen.  If you get the chance to see it, go for it… They are touring around the world.  Thanks, Marky for my kids’ first Rock ‘N Roll stadium show.  Will be hard to beat. 

We are off this afternoon to do our after-school program and then tomorrow, back to the shelter to see Brian and the others again.  Buck has arranged for his sponsor, Lego, to ship Lego to LIFE  to distribute to the kids.   Very exciting.   

We leave Saturday to return to Ushuaia for our ship to Antarctica.  Holy cow!  

Then we will return to Buenos Aires to catch a bus to Cordoba to the mountains to work at a wild life sanctuary for Howler Monkeys… but that’s another adventure.     More to come… and thanks, as always for all of your support and encouragement.  

 

 

Posted by JD in Argentina, 9 comments
Argentina!  En unión y libertad!!!

Argentina! En unión y libertad!!!

We have arrived in South America!  We just spent a week in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. The views are surreal… painted with jagged snow-capped mountain ranges and rugged windswept seas.  It brings up thoughts of how the early explorer must have feasted their eyes.

We met up with Osvaldo Estevez who is the owner of Ushuaia Extremo, a great shop for all things Extreme Sports… bicycles, skis, snowboards, trekking equipment.  But more importantly, he is doing great humanitarian work in the south of Argentina.  He has a program for recycling older bicycles and distributing them to the less fortunate kids in Ushuaia.

Though the city is a tourist destination, Osvaldo gave us a tour of the struggling neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city.  These people live far below the poverty level in houses with no plumbing or heating.  And even in the summer, it’s a cold place.  Osvaldo is committed to making a difference in his community and I have great admiration for the man.  Twelve in Twelve is partnering with him, to help bring relief efforts to this community.

We stayed at Antarctica Hostel, which was a total blast.  For those of you that have traveled on the cheap, you know hostel living.  Shared rooms and bathrooms and usually a communal area where everyone hangs out.

We met the coolest people.  Was really like a family.  Big shout out to Ellie, Charlotte, Biscuit (Oriol), Elvis, Gabriel and all the others.  We will miss you guys.  It was great to get to know people from Spain, Belgium, South Africa, Holland, Canada, Australia, Germany and even New Jersey!  Buck and Jack had the time of their lives.  If you get to Antarctica, stay at Antarctica Hostel… it’s the best.

 

Also I want to thank Alicia Petiet from Antarctica Travel (http://www.antarcticatravels.com) who took us under her wing and did everything for us while we were there.  Such an incredible woman.  She has a daughter that lives in Charlotte, so we get to see her again in the states in August.  She sorted out our Antarctica travel where we will be speaking about our trip on a ship starting March 25th.  We were originally going to go to the South Georgia Islands, but that was a tough one to work out.  We thought that we would have to miss doing all seven continents until our guardian angel Alicia arrived on the scene.  It’s the last ship of the season and we managed to get on it. Amazing, eh? We will be traveling for 10 days to Antarctica working with the ship captain (a friend of Alicia’s) and hopefully with some of the scientists onboard.

 

But we have a lot to do before that happens.  We are on a plane right now to Buenos Aires where we will be working with the organization, L.I.F.E.  We will be volunteering there for two weeks before we return south to Ushuaia to work with UE (Ushuaia Extremo) giving out recycled bicycles in the community, which we feel honored to be a part of, and to catch the boat to the ends of the earth… Stay tuned.

 

 

 

One last note… thanks to so many people that continue to support our efforts.  Just want to name a few (in no particular order)…. Murphy (God Love You!), Robert Shapiro, Kristina Haddad, Bo Henderson, Ed Springs, Ed Smith, the incredible Bert Woodard!, Wheelock Whitney, R.A. Buck (Uncle Buck), Tony Lydgate, my mentor Sue Sanford!, LuAnne Bernier, The Klug-Price Family, Andrea Cooper, Peter Cipkowski,  my agent Steve Ross, The Branca Family, The Grey Family, the always patient Rachel Woodhouse, Robert Kanter, Larry Toppman, Lisa McLeish, Kathy Abernathy, Scott Pacitti,  Jennifer Taylor (happy birthing!!), Dolores Scozzesi, Meredith Jones, Patrick Elliot, Barry Alpert, Les Satinover, Jackie Burch, Michael Lightweaver, Steve Bearden, John Kurc, Nick Corley, Cher Ferreyra, The Dyer Family, Linda Britt, The Aceti Family, Jodi B. Wise, Linda Guth, Kenneth Wyse, Andrew Beachum, Meera Gandhi, Heather Gilliland, Renee Moore, Nina Giovannitti,  Sara Giovanitti, Gary Peters, Heidi Dove, Mary and Mike Gutowski, Laura Diaz, Lindsey Moser, Juan Carlos Piedrhitas, Anna Shaw, Paige Hauff, Patty Strader, Kent Smith, Elise Duquette, Barnet Sherman, Roberto Elinan, Chris Totty, Ben Kubie, Allison Flanagan, Valerie Bobo, Scott Galliher, Norbert Weisser, Francine Popkin, Andrew Martin, Susan McMullen, Theoden Janes, Ray Cline, Todd Plocharczyk, Jessica Milligan, Jon Davis, Monk Duke (Losang Tenpa), NoDa Yoga!!!, Doug Nydick, The Roush Family, Jay Everett and The Wachovia-Wells Fargo Foundation, Marcella Detroit, Lance Aston, Kellin Watson, Xan Spencer, Esther Benjamin, John Kennedy, Rickie Lee Jones, Yoko Ono, TedXCharlotte, the late Dr. Barry Bowe (who we miss terribly), and of course, my sisters, Laurie Wilson and Linda Frazure.  And all the others who I will thank in the next email… I’m on a plane and it’s late… so forgive me if I’ve forgotten.

Everyone’s support has meant the world to us. You have no idea.  My kids and I have been changed for life from this opportunity.  I feel confident that our efforts will continue to make a difference as the organization, Twelve In Twelve, builds momentum.  We are committed to continue our efforts back in the states to support the organizations we have had the good fortune of working with on this journey.  We are also committed to support others in their efforts to do humanitarian work abroad.   There’s so much more to do!

More adventures to follow.  Love you all!

 

 

Posted by JD in Argentina, 4 comments