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The Puma Years

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In this rapturous memoir, writer and activist Laura Coleman shares the story of her liberating journey in the Amazon jungle, where she fell in love with a magnificent cat who changed her life. Laura was in her early twenties and directionless when she quit her job to backpack in Bolivia. Fate landed her at a wildlife sanctuary on the edge of the Amazon jungle where she was assigned to a beautiful and complex puma named Wayra. Wide-eyed, inexperienced, and comically terrified, Laura made the scrappy, make-do camp her home. And in Wayra, she made a friend for life. They weren’t alone, not with over a hundred quirky animals to care for, each lost and hurt in their own a pair of suicidal, bra-stealing monkeys, a frustrated parrot desperate to fly, and a pig with a wicked sense of humor. The humans, too, were cause for laughter and tears. There were animal whisperers, committed staff, wildly devoted volunteers, handsome heartbreakers, and a machete-wielding prom queen who carried Laura through. Most of all, there was the jungle—lyrical and alive—and there was Wayra, who would ultimately teach Laura so much about love, healing, and the person she was capable of becoming. Set against a turbulent and poignant backdrop of deforestation, the illegal pet trade, and forest fires, The Puma Years explores what happens when two desperate creatures in need of rescue find one another.

321 pages, Kindle Edition

First published June 1, 2021

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About the author

Laura Coleman

1 book201 followers
I'm a writer, activist and artist. My pronouns are she/her.

My first book, THE PUMA YEARS, will be published 1st June 2021 by Little A. Proceeds from this book are going to support Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY) in Bolivia: https://www.intiwarayassi.org

In 2007 I went to Bolivia, and started volunteering with CIWY, an NGO that manages three wildlife sanctuaries and gives homes to animals rescued from illegal wildlife trafficking. It was this work, the communities and the stories that I found there, that, in 2012, inspired me to start the UK-based charity ONCA: https://onca.org.uk Panthera onca means jaguar. Bridging social and environmental justice issues with creativity, ONCA promotes positive change by facilitating inclusive spaces for creative learning, artist support, story-sharing and community solidarity.

In 2018, I moved to the Isle of Eigg in Scotland with my friend and companion, a dog called Nelo. It was here that I decided to write about my experiences in Bolivia, namely about how a small, desperate puma named Wayra changed my life. This became THE PUMA YEARS.

I live and write by the sea, and I am represented by Rocking Chair Books: http://www.rockingchairbooks.com

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,379 reviews
Profile Image for Desney King.
Author 2 books20 followers
May 9, 2021
I am almost 70 years old and I have never read a book like this before: a novel-length love poem for and about the Earth (Pachamama), all her creatures, and the vastness of the universe.
Laura Coleman is a beautiful writer with a heart so big it makes romantic love look flimsy; almost inconsequential.
The Puma Years immerses us in realms of sensory, emotional and psychological overload; shares with us relationships of so many kinds that at times I felt as though I was spinning, very close to the edge of being out of control.
Flowing through and beneath it all is the pain of environmental devastation, global inaction on climate change, extinction of species and ecosystems - as well as a fierce thread of hope carried by those with the courage and vision and determination to keep on fighting for a viable, healthy, balanced future; people refusing to accept that the forces of destruction could win.
Every human we meet in this book is irrevocably changed by their time in the Bolivian Amazon jungle.
Reading it has healed and changed something deep within my soul.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,008 reviews36k followers
January 29, 2023
Audiobook….read by Laura Coleman
….12 hours and 17 minutes.

Meet a Puma — the wide-eyed Wayra — in the Amazon jungle — but before you do —
Listen (or read)… descriptions, upon descriptions about leaves, trees, insects, bugs, mosquitoes, rain, mud, and lots - lots - lots of descriptions of other plant and animal life.
Lovely descriptions….just lots and lots of them.
Should I say ‘lots’
again? Ha!

Laura’s memoir is about the time she volunteered to take care of rescued animals in Bolivia — the why, the what, the scary, the how……
The lessons learned…

I appreciate what this book was…. an Illuminating - semi- wild - adventurous life-altering experience.
I think the author herself is an absolutely lovely human being,
but her explanatory annotative styling was ‘A LOT’ …..(ha, ha, ha)….to sit through.
It’s a little bit like fitness for me —
I find moving more fun than listening to a lecture on its benefits.

So …. liked it - lovely for what it is - admire our author - kudos to her —
I was also ready for it to end. (even with my pool as my audio-support-companion).

Profile Image for Joy D.
1,895 reviews218 followers
September 21, 2021
Moving memoir about the author’s transformative experience volunteering at a wildlife sanctuary in the jungles of Bolivia. In her twenties, and at loose ends, she was traveling in South America, when she read a flyer that led her to the refuge. She was assigned to Wayra, the puma that changed her life.

“Rescued animals are like onions. You work so hard to peel off one layer of anxiety, only to expose another, and then another that you had absolutely no idea was hiding underneath. And because all of us really are no different from any of the animals here, because we’re all messed up and broken in our own individual ways, we’re like onions too.”

This book describes the difficulties involved in caring for wild creatures that have been treated poorly, resulting in fear and confusion. The author does not shy away from the challenges – habitat destruction, forest fires, illegal animal trafficking, an increasing number of animals needing care, and a decreasing number of volunteers. The scenes portray the many physical obstacles of living in the jungle – mosquitos, snakes, parasites, the rainy season that floods the area. It contains vivid descriptions of the land, people, and wildlife.

“Wayra would wait a few minutes, just to show she didn’t care, before strutting over, swishing her tail. Then she’d rest her white chin on one of our boots and curl her limbs underneath herself into a tiny, perfect ball. She’d go from being the picture of cool to the most vulnerable thing, in one strange, precious moment.”

It is written with humor and compassion. When she first arrives, she finds an rebellious monkey and a pig that steals bras.

“The jungle is everywhere and, as I turn and see a monkey sitting on a signpost, I leap back with a yelp. He’s the size of a small child, hunched, with thick ginger fur. The signpost clearly says NO MONKEYS ON THE ROAD! in bright-red letters. He just stares at me. Yeah, so. What are you going to do about it? I’m not going to do anything. It’s about to get dark and I’m on my own in the jungle.”

“I let it fall onto the top of the list, along with “walked a puma” and “shared my shower with a tarantula the size of a dinner plate.”

I particularly enjoyed the photos that appear at the end of the e-book. Laura finds her passion in life while working with these traumatized animals. From the Afterword:

“Wild animals are not pets. They should live in their own habitat with their own species. Maybe there is a future where no animal is kept in a cage and books like this won’t need to be written. But for now, proceeds from this book are going to support CIWY’s work fighting the illegal wildlife trade and providing homes to those who need them. If you would like to help, either by volunteering or making a donation, please visit CIWY’s website: www. intiwarayassi. org ”

For those sensitive to animal suffering, it should be noted that this book does not contain descriptions of animal cruelty. These volunteers are trying their best to help animals that have been abused in the past. It is an emotional story of love and hope.

Profile Image for Jo_Scho_Reads.
605 reviews35 followers
June 3, 2021
A wonderful & exceptionally moving memoir about Laura Coleman’s time at a wildlife sanctuary in Bolivia, focusing especially on the relationship she had with an originally much neglected and mistreated magnificent puma called Wayra,

Like Wayra, Laura is also a little bit shy and scared when she arrives at the sanctuary. She may as well have gone to Mars as this crazy place feels like a million miles from home. But the jungle can do strange things to a girl and as days, weeks, months & even seasons pass, Laura starts to change; the layers she’s built like a protective shell around her are thrown aside & she grows and becomes more confident. And she feels a lot of it is down to Wayra. The bond she has with this magnificent cat is like nothing else; ad a reader it will enchant you, warm your heart & also breaks it a little, because no matter how strong the pull of the jungle is, nothing lasts forever.

There’s also important issues within this book relating to conservation & climate change. As deforestation continues, where will these wild animals go as their habitat is lost forever? There are lots of lessons to be learned from this book but it’s so much more than that. It’s a beautifully uplifting story of love and loss. As an animal lover this was a truly wonderful read. I was never brave enough to travel to a place like Bolivia in my youth, but Laura’s evocative & immersive writing made me feel like I was there. My heart raced with fear on a few occasions, I smiled with delight on others and I wiped away many a tear at the friendships between humans and animals.

An outstanding book, I could go on more but you need to see it for yourself! Thanks to Random Things Tours & Little A for my ARC. All views my own.
Profile Image for Anne.
506 reviews1 follower
October 14, 2021
Really more like 2.5 stars; I have intensely mixed feelings about this book. Coleman's euphoric account of her time tending to rescued animals in the Bolivian jungle was absorbing and, often, deftly portrayed.

But as the daughter of an animal behavior researcher, I had trouble moving past the rampant anthropomorphization (animals are not oddly-shaped humans!), and the fact that, at times, the animals seemed like nothing so much as props in the self-actualization narratives of their human minders. I also questioned why Coleman et. al. felt comfortable marshaling a massive outlay of human resources- at significant physical and mental cost- to serve few individual animals, when those resources might have accomplished much more if deployed strategically.

Finally, I recognized, from my years working in high-poverty US schools, a tendency to not only endure hardship, but to glorify it, revel in it, as a badge of belonging and pride. It's a very human tendency, one I've definitely succumbed to, but it's something I wish Coleman had recognized and interrogated. This book edged close to hardship porn, and although it was an interesting read, it left a funny taste in my mouth.
Profile Image for Greta Samuelson.
404 reviews58 followers
June 26, 2022
Laura Coleman says in her acknowledgments that this book is a love letter to Wayra the puma. I can’t think of a better way to sum it up.

This book is a memoir of her extensive time spent in the rainforest of Bolivia volunteering at a wildlife rescue with little resources. Wayra is a puma that was rescued when she was very young. She lost her mother as a kitten tragically.

Laura didn’t know who she was before coming here, her story shows her growth as a person as well as the relationship she developed with Wayra. She doesn’t hold back in her writing and she will tell you exactly how hard it is, but she loved every minute of it.

Much of the proceeds from this book go toward the organization, check them out here.
Profile Image for Regan.
698 reviews4 followers
May 5, 2021

This is an incredible story of a woman who had drifted from one job to another and decided to backpack through Bolivia. While there, she saw a flier to volunteer at a wild animal rescue. She only planned on staying a few weeks. She gets assigned a cat - a puma named Wayra. She is taught how to walk her.
The jungle is not a forgiving place. Alternatively so rainy that you have to wade through swamp and so dry that the whole mountains burn, filled with bugs, monkeys, wild pigs, Jaguars and even a misplaced lion, the volunteers barely survive, and many left with PTSD.
Laura Coleman goes home only to return again and again. While she is home, she uses her talents to raise money and awareness to the Amazon that is shrinking daily due to global warming, deforestation, an uncaring government, and a thriving animal trade.
This book is gut wrenching and it will make you cry, it will make you angry, and hopefully make you think. I would recommend this book to everyone.
1 review
February 10, 2021
I've spent time at the same CIWY animal sanctuary in Bolivia, it's always been hard to explain to friends back home the impact this place and experience can have on you. This book does it perfectly, brought back so many fond memories. Her descriptions of the settings and emotions experienced puts you right in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. Great read.
Profile Image for Andrea.
769 reviews30 followers
February 16, 2023

I haven't read anything like this for a while, and I was surprised at the feeling of nostalgia it invoked in me - for a place I've never been and an experience I've never had. I suppose it says a lot for her writing, that Coleman could take me with her on that journey. I was absorbed in her tale while turning the pages, and thinking about it constantly while doing other things. Only a few chapters in, I'd already pressed the book into the hands of a friend who I knew would appreciate it as much as me. Like Coleman, I fell in love with Wayra the puma, and many of the other animals taking refuge at the remote Bolivian sanctuary.

As an aimless young British art history graduate in the late noughties, Coleman was taking some time out to travel around South America when she heard about the opportunity to volunteer with an animal sanctuary in a remote part of Bolivia. Upon arrival, the conditions at the parque (it's not named until the Epilogue) were such that she wasn't sure whether she would last the first night, let alone the couple of weeks she'd planned. But when offered the chance to work with a big cat in exchange for a 1-month commitment, she couldn't say no. Then followed the first meeting with Wayra and initial weeks of what seems to have become her life's most significant relationship. It's not always easy being best friends with an emotionally damaged big cat, and Coleman takes us through the highs and lows - the joys, the terror, the anxiety, the triumphs and hopelessness. It's easy to empathise and hard not to feel a tiny bit jealous.

Apart from the animals, we learn about the deforestation of South America and the effects of climate change on both the wildlife and the environment. Over 10+ years, the parque changes significantly. The book is up to date as at 2019, and I can't help but wonder what has become of the parque during the pandemic.

Almost a flawless read, I found the slim Part 3 to be a little distant in comparison with the first two parts, so that's where the half-star fell off my rating.

Recommended to anyone with an interest in wildlife, travel, cats and/or South America.
Profile Image for Jamie.
653 reviews4 followers
May 14, 2022
The book, a memoir of the author’s time working at a wildlife rescue sanctuary in Bolivia, is divided into three parts. Part One describes her early time at the Sanctuary. I found it to be a bit boring, all over the place in writing style, and hard to find something that resonated. Honestly, I struggled so hard to get through this section - there was endless detail where it wasn’t needed and then few details where it would have been helpful. Also, there were SO MANY characters - both human and animal, and I completely lost track of who was who. Part Two describes some of her return trips in the subsequent years. It was far more engaging as she moved more quickly through time, and seemed to only describe the real highlights. Part Three was more a present day section and, to me, this was the most interesting part: how many of the volunteers have found ways to continue the fight for the animals and the environment - this section, for me, easily resonated, as I am very passionate about the environment and wildlife.

However, I think much of the work this author describes is “hardship porn” that can come with in-the-trenches non-profit work: we had no resources, limited electricity, rotting food, cold running water (if any water at all), endless bugs, disease, biting animals, and still we think we made an impact! Yay Us!! It’s like, how bad does it have to get before you say, “I can’t do this anymore?! We cannot make any meaningful impact with so few resources.” At some point, I, as the reader, was like: enough. I skimmed some sections in Parts One and Two to avoid reading even more about rats in the dorms, lice, burrowing worms, etc.
1 review1 follower
May 21, 2021
Longer than it needed to be

Her story is very cool but, her use of 10 metaphors per page got really old after the first chapter. For me, the metaphors and similes added nothing but length to the book.
Profile Image for Heather.
403 reviews29 followers
March 19, 2022
Five Heartfelt Stars *****
Favorite book of 2022 (so far)

Outstanding and moving memoir by the author, Laura Coleman! Laura decided on a whim to volunteer at an animal sanctuary in Bolivia at the tail-end of a back-packing ramble around South America. When Laura shows up, the sanctuary Communidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY) is just scraping by. It is a last resort for animals donated by zoos, injured by the illegal pet trade, etc. There are monkeys, pias, a coati, wild boar, tropical birds and sixteen wild cats when Laura arrives. Most of these animals have been abused throughout their lives, but that is just background here. The story focuses on what Laura and the many volunteers and staff do as they try to provide a better, stable, life filled with love and respect for the animals.

Laura is shell-shocked by the living conditions. Multiple people share bunk houses and beds with monkeys, insects and other animals, the dirt and mud and mosquitos and other biting insects are constants. Some days there is water for cold showers. The animals are difficult and the whole situation is very physical and frightening to Laura. She is volunteered to work with a cat, a Puma named Wayra. She spends time with her every day, getting to know her, walking her and feeding her. This is the beginning of Laura's discovery of who she truly is deep inside.

This memoir focuses on the everyday living in the jungle, the animals and people who populate the sanctuary, the relationship between Laura and the animals, particularly Wayra, and between Laura and the other volunteers, herself and even the country of Bolivia. It also focuses on how we grow and change when we find something that we are passionate about.

Unexpectedly, this book is about so much more, however. It is about watching the deforestation that is taking place in the Amazon, up close and personal. Seeing the effects of habitat loss immediately on the animals, the earth, the sanctuary and the people of Bolivia. The logging of thousands of trees per day, the fires, the floods, the impact of climate change as humans continue to remove century old trees to create farmland and raise mono-crops like soy, palm-oil, caco. All of this is written through Laura's experience, not in a scientific way, which makes the impact of what she is writing about even more impactful in my opinion.

Having spent time in the Peruvian Amazon, myself, studying NeoTropical Forest Ecology in a dorm situation similar to what Laura describes, I could perfectly picture this sanctuary, animals and volunteers. I enjoyed Laura's flowery descriptions of the plants, animals, insects, odors, colors and sounds that surround you in the jungle. It's a lot, and truly defies description and she accurately portrays the beauty and overwhelm of the jungle and the situation.

Highly deserving of the Goodreads Choice Award for Memoir & Autobiography (2021)! Recommended for those who care about animals, wild animals, human growth, and the impact of humans on the climate. This will be a life-changing book, I suspect, for many who read it.
Profile Image for Jeanne.
959 reviews67 followers
May 3, 2022
Laura Coleman arrived in South America a mass of fears and self-doubts, merely surviving, and that through avoidance and numbing. She was an unlikely person to choose to stay in a wildlife reserve, rehabilitating a puma and other wildlife that had been snatched from the wild to be raised under conditions that ill-suited them until they were no longer cute. In this moving memoir, Coleman described how she found her calling and was saved herself.

I’ve been wearing a numb rubber suit for so long I’d forgotten that I was wearing it, and now it’s come off, I can move. Actually move my limbs. I can feel things I couldn’t before. I can breathe. It’s like being on a tightrope that could at any moment snap. It’s a gift. Mila has given me this gift, and Wayra. Wayra most of all. (p. 74).

Wayra and Coleman, Photo by Robert Heazlewood

Coleman's work was challenging: walking Wayra, an anxious and traumatized puma; carrying rocks to build more animal shelters; fighting wildfires blazing near their jungle reserve. It was psychologically stressful: hard work, sometimes unpredictable animals, watching animals be kidnapped or killed. It was also physically challenging, as the volunteers were (surprisingly) not getting enough sun and vitamins, covered in mosquitos, and occasionally bit by the animals they cared for. Coleman got scabies, parasites, worms, ticks, head lice, fungal infections, etc. And, yet, she loved it. "Over and over, [Wayra]’s taught me that maybe it does hurt to get close to someone. But also, maybe, it’s worth it. A million times, it’s worth it" (p. 207).

We aren't taking good care of our world, but there are people who are making a difference – cutting down on their meat consumption, watching their use of plastics and gasoline, planting trees, limiting their flights, making donations. I'm a member of this group, but there are also people who do more. If you can donate – or can volunteer at one of Communidad Inti Wara Yassi's three reserves – visit CIWY’s website: https://www.intiwarayassi.org/

Addendum: Wayra died in July of 2021. She was 18.
Profile Image for Vidhi.
152 reviews16 followers
June 1, 2022
The Puma Years by Laura Coleman is a memoir following her time in a Bolivian animal sanctuary and is filled with incredible stories and emotions. This was an amazing read with the authors emotions and passion bleeding through in every sentence. You can really feel the love and need she had for this place and the residents of it, especially Wayra. There were moments of joy, heartbreak and some pretty gross stories as well but it was all raw and real. I would highly recommend this book to everyone no matter what you usually read.

5/5 stars
Profile Image for Mary.
1,327 reviews14 followers
May 7, 2021
Unmoored, the author arrives at a Bolivian animal sanctuary for a month long stint in helping the animals. She first works with the pias who peck at her and remove almost all buttons from her clothes. Aghast at the filth of the camp and the human inhabitants she wonders if she will make it a month. She is tasked with caring for a puma and her world turns upside down.

This memoir is outstandingly joyous, depressing and heartbreaking.

You must read it if you care about the earth.
Profile Image for Sportyrod.
432 reviews13 followers
November 10, 2022
This memoir was mostly about looking after a puma in a Bolivian wildlife sanctuary. Unfortunately many animals end up there, due to illegal trafficking. The baby animals are sold as pets but as soon as they get older and more capable of defending themselves, they get surrendered.

Coleman volunteers at the sanctuary for a month, but falls in love with the puma she is assigned to look after. The job takes a huge toll on the staff, many get PTSD from all the sadness involved, so she takes time off but can’t help but keep coming back over many many years.

I enjoyed the gesture of the book. It was nice hearing about the inner workings of the sanctuary and the feelings about it all. I think the story was longer than it needed to be as it lent into a repetitive theme too much: do you like me, am I helping you, do I make you happy??? Whilst I would have felt the same, after a while I just wanted more action. There was more routine than action, which is fine, but again, if so, it could have been a lot shorter. I loved the photos and artwork at the end. Coleman should be commended for her sacrifice and hard work. If there were more people like her, the world would be a better place for animals.
Profile Image for Sharleen.
26 reviews4 followers
July 20, 2021
“A love letter to Wyra, the jungle, and to the place and the people that changed my life.”

I wanted a book to escape into - and this was exactly that. The descriptions of the animals, and the Bolivian jungle, in all its different seasons and states, were transporting.
Laura describes the jungle as being in a constant state of “creation and decay” and I think her writing really captures that well.

I did this as an audio book but I recommend getting your hands on a physical copy because it includes photographs and a map of the park, and more importantly proceeds from the book go towards funding the work they do at the park!
Profile Image for Alice Jackman.
196 reviews3 followers
July 17, 2021
If you’ve ever traveled to another country and fallen in love with its people and culture then this book is for you.

If you’ve ever loved an animal more than you loved most humans then this book is for you.

If you’ve ever fought against societal expectations of how you should live a ‘normal’ life then this book is for you.

If you’re concerned about the impact we have on the natural world and how that world is changing then this book is for you.

Profile Image for David Parker.
348 reviews8 followers
May 13, 2022
Peeling the Onion

We are all broken and need love and healing. It’s the unknown and fear that separates us. It’s greed that is killing us.
April 1, 2022
This book just took me away with Laura as she decides to go to the Bolivian Wildlife Sanctuary to help protect many animals that are in danger. I just felt like I was there, as the book is so descriptive of the conditions she must adjust to, the bugs, the discomfort, but also the beauty of the animals, trees, smells, wildlife. It was incredible.

Laura is assigned to look after Wayru, a Puma that she at first is just scared of. It becomes clear that being with a wild animal involves forming a relationship. Wayru picks up on Laura’s feelings, too so it is a slow movement towards trusting each other. When it happens, wow, you just feel the impact. Laura has also started to put her anxieties aside and knows she has a group she is working with and trusts their advice, too. The entire combination allows Laura to put her heart and soul into helping. Still, it is like any relationship and she finally just knows how she feels about Wu. She tells her She Loves Her. At this point, Laura’s life has been transformed and with all the support she can just give her heart freely to Wu. That was so, so sweet. Laura is such a hard worker, intelligent, but was searching for something. Now she knows she is complete. She has found her purpose. The love she gives Wu, the other animals, and all the workers is just easy and pure.

I loved seeing pictures at the end. They are stunning. Wayru is beautiful with those eyes and her gorgeous coat. Love seeing the other animals: pigs, Howler Monkeys, Jaguars, Ocelot, Macaws, and Toucans were just a few of the diverse group of animals in the ecosystem.

I highly recommend this book. It does tell how difficult the work at the Sanctuary is. There is much burnout and the conditions are hard to live with. The environment is being destroyed and this is affecting how Wild Animals survive in the Amazon. Laura is incredible with her dedication and deserves credit for changing the conditions at the Sanctuary. Beautiful Story, definitely the best Memoir have read in a very long time. Worth the Goodreads Winner.
Profile Image for MiM Metwally.
450 reviews46 followers
April 28, 2023
She was 24 and still feeling lost, her life compass still rotating every way, when she gave it a try to volunteer in a wildlife sanctuary for abused animals, although at first it was a miserable experience, this turned out the place where, after many trials, she found her way and her heart...
I liked how in the first part the use of words conveyed to me the misery and suffering of living in a jungle with not even the basic modern amenities we take for granted, and in the second and third parts, it subtly shifts to bearing, then acceptance as Laura comes to fall in love with Wayra the puma, that changed her life.
Laura presents in her story, after being torn between staying and going back, a balanced model between the 'normal' life, having a steady job, accumulating and paying bills, and the life her heart desires of living in the parque with Wayra.
This is a balanced approach that is logical, reasonable and actually doable, find what in life that gives you fulfilment, and makes your heart content, but you shouldn't leave everything behind to do it, plan your life around it, make time for it, get the best you can of both worlds, find the balance that leaves you always looking forward for the next break, that keeps your passion alight for the rest of your days..

Profile Image for Cherise Wolas.
Author 3 books238 followers
July 4, 2021
A memoir that is lyrical, sometimes funny, often heartbreaking, and perpetually atmospheric. I enjoyed vicariously being in the Bolivian jungle, getting to know Laura, the leaders of the animal sanctuary, the other volunteers, and the animals themselves. An uplifting book. With a lot of mosquito bites.
Profile Image for Susan Wright.
485 reviews6 followers
January 11, 2021
This is a great, eye-opening read ... about a 24-year-old girl who in 2007 spent a year as a volunteer taking care & protecting wildlife at a Bolivian animal sanctuary, which rescues animals that have been illegally trafficked. The whole jungle experience from the dedicated staff & friends she makes & lives with ... to the majestic, beautiful wild animals they look after -- and one puma in particular -- would come to transform her life.
If you're an animal person & want to support wildlife in the Amazon, you'll want to check this memoir out. It's touching, moving, heartbreaking & inspiring. The author's story recounts her arrival at the jungle sanctuary at first as a scared, guarded kid and tells of her days there as she is assigned to look after a wild pissed-off puma (named Wayra) that has trust issues of her own. With a lot of work, the two eventually form a bond & trust ... that's enough to melt the heart ... The author comes to learn quite a bit from the experience and little by little it opens a window on her life. I liked how the story brings to life the committed wildlife staff & other volunteers she becomes friends with, and their everyday thrills, hardships, and threats they face in their work with the wild pumas and jaguars and in living in the Amazon ... from bugs, parasites, floods, deforestation, and forest fires. There's much to be done to protect it, and this moving story makes clear we need to support -- by volunteering or donating -- to these Bolivian sanctuaries ASAP.
Profile Image for Merry.
638 reviews11 followers
June 1, 2021
One of my favorite books of all times! The Puma Years is a memoir written by a young British woman who found herself at loose ends as she drifted from job to job, not knowing what she wanted to do with her life. She decided to spend a few months in Bolivia (not sure why Bolivia, but what the heck) to try to figure it out. A couple of weeks before she was to return home, she became a volunteer at a wildlife refuge for animals that had been rescued from dire circumstances (people who had owned them as exotic pets, unreputable zoos, etc). On one of her first calls home, she tells her mother "I met someone" - that someone is Wayra, a puma who was very broken and whom Laura couldn't bear to leave. Hence, her two weeks as a volunteer turned into years.

It is worth reading the book just for Laura's vivid descriptions of the sights, sounds, people, emotions, you get my drift. Her writing is entrancing, quite often humorous. As an example, when Laura first arrived at the camp, she writes: "Then I hear something else over the jungle hum. It's a terrible rumbling, and a huge black pig suddenly catapults out of the undergrowth. She raises her head - a red bra clasped between her teeth - and locks eyes with me."

Yep, definitely a new favorite for me. I highly recommend it!
Profile Image for K..
3,674 reviews1,007 followers
December 11, 2021
Trigger warnings: mentions of animal cruelty, fire, animal death, mental health, environmental destruction, descriptions of skin infections etc.

This is kind of an Eat, Pray, Love for the millennial generation where a young woman uncertain where to go in life finds herself volunteering at an animal sanctuary in Bolivia where she forms a deep attachment to a puma that she's working with.

This wasn't always an easy read - Coleman at times struggles with her mental health, and the chapters set during a bushfire are particularly harrowing. But the connection between Coleman and her fellow volunteers, the connection between Coleman and the animals, the connection between Coleman and Wayra the puma are all wonderful and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, even when it slapped me right in the feelings.
128 reviews
May 4, 2021
I got this book free from Amazon First Reads. I chose this book as I liked the idea of reading something completely different. I found it an amazing read. I loved reading the author's story - how she came to be working as a volunteer and all the stories about the animals, particularly "her cat" Wayra the Puma. The writing was so descriptive and didn't pull any punches. It was lovely to read how the author grew and developed and what she is doing now. I liked the way the book not only developed the story of the animals and volunteers, but also the environmental impact and the importance of organisations that protect the environment along with the people and animals who live there.
Profile Image for Misti.
309 reviews4 followers
September 17, 2021
Wow, what can I say about this book? It is probably my favorite read this year. I spent just a handful of days at Parque Machía in 2008 with some friends who went to give their veterinary services and donations to IWY and I fell in love with the place. In another life I would have returned for longer stints and the time I spent at the parque haunted me for months after. I will never forget hanging out with the capuchins and spider monkeys as well as being loved on by Gato the puma. I've always wondered what happened to Gato and Laura's intimate depiction of her relationship with Wayra had me in tears many times.

If you ever have the chance to visit Bolivia and IWY, go!
Profile Image for Jess.
290 reviews50 followers
January 3, 2023
I had to take almost an 8-month pause from reading this book because it was so intense, but it made a pulp of my heart in the very best way. This is the book for anyone who's loved wild places, wild things, or formed life-altering relationships with people who are not recognized as persons, legally or otherwise, by the human world.
Profile Image for Lake.
339 reviews31 followers
October 11, 2022
This was an interesting read, but so frustrating because Laura is entitled, and a little clueless, and despite all her personal growth she stays entitled and clueless at the end. She says towards the end 'I am very privileged' but it doesn't seem like she understands what that really is.

It's amazing she spent 13 years doing this and still doesn't see the problem with relying on wealthy white voluntourists from first world countries to run a conservation effort in the Amazon. Laura, are you joking.

She started an art gallery (how? with what money?) and a charity inspired by the parque, but none of that money goes to the parque. She says over and over that there's no money to hire any locals, so they need (rich, white) volunteers to come save Bolivia from the ignorant cruel environment-hating locals. Laura, where's all the money from your charity going? Is it a scam? Is it money laundering?

We need local staff, but local staff are hard to find. The pay is low, the conditions difficult.

So fucking pay them Laura!!! 😭

Even one of her many many flight tickets to and fro (or Sammie or Harry or Charlie or Dolf or whoever keeps coming and going from the UK, USA, NZ, Australia, and wherever) could have paid the yearly salary of a Bolivian vet and left a lower carbon footprint. But then she would no longer be the glamourous long suffering conservationist hero of the story. There is no glory in staying in Britain and facilitating local indigenous conservationists in Bolivia, or even in doing conservation work in Britain itself, which sorely needs it. No, if you aren't insisting on dropping your clumsy untrained self into exotic locales to save the day with your big heart, do you even care about the environment?

It stuck out to me like a sore thumb that all the foreign volunteers she described were uniformly white, and from wealthy first world countries. Where are all the Africans, Asians, and other South Americans? Did they give up at the first step after getting rejected for a visa after a lengthy and expensive application process? (Laura notably overstays her visa without fear, because this is a thing white Brits can do.) Do they stay away for fear of racism and discrimination? Can they simply not afford to quit their jobs, rely on their parents, fly across the world, and pay to volunteer at a badly run wild life shelter? Probably all of the above.

Oh well, the white saviour voluntourism industry is a sore spot for me. I wouldn't have picked this book myself if it wasn't part of Amazon's world book day editor's choice. Ironic but totally unsurprisingly that this is what they chose for Bolivia.

One last silly thought. What do they do about periods in the parque? Everyone can't be on oral contraceptives all the time. It's funny she went into so much detail about shit, pus, maggots, tics, and more shit, but not menstruation which seems a lot more basic and something they'd have to deal with more often.
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