The Awakening of the bolivian Amazon
In the mystical depths of the Bolivian Amazon, a fascinating land opened up to me in the year 2000. I began my quest, guided by Terra Andina Bolivia. Twenty-three years had passed, the world had changed, but the wild soul of the Bolivian Amazon remained intact. I soon realised that tourism, despite the growing shadows of global warming, could be a beacon of light in these wild lands.
Accompanied by my seventeen-year-old son, we embarked on an unforgettable journey into the heart of Amazonia. Our journey began in Rurrenabaque, a small town nestling to the north of La Paz, the gateway to this mysterious world. The town had evolved since my last visit, with new taverns and welcoming restaurants popping up in the streets. However, the most striking change was the tarmac road that now linked Rurrenabaque to Santa Rosa, considerably shortening our journey to the port.
Our real adventure began when a pirogue took us upstream on the Yacuma River, towards our ecolodge nestling in the heart of the pampas. The three-hour trip was a feast for wildlife lovers, presenting us with a mosaic of birds, monkeys, capybaras and, above all, caimans. Despite the dry season and low water level, we were blessed by the sight of these majestic reptiles soaking up the sun. Most were 'anteojos' caimans, measuring around two metres, but occasionally a colossal black caiman would emerge from the waves, reaching five or six metres in length.
As we meandered along, a sinister smoke appeared on either side of the pampas. Our guide explained the situation to us: the pampas was in the grip of flames, the victim of an ancestral ritual called "chaqueo", the burning of the land to fertilise it. But this year, due to the drought and global fires, the flames had spread mercilessly, reducing wildlife habitats to ashes. The soldiers tried to contain the blaze by drawing water from the river, but their resources were limited. It was now imperative to raise the awareness of local communities and guide them towards practices that were more respectful of nature, alternatives to this devastating ritual.
Just when I thought this tragedy would be the high point of our journey, the second part of our adventure took on new colours. After two days in the pampas, we boarded a pirogue again, this time at night, to reach the small port of Santa Rosa. Darkness enveloped us as we set off at five in the morning, with only our guide's torch piercing the night. Listening to the murmurs of the night and navigating among the caimans we had already encountered was an experience as exhilarating as it was intrepid. At six o'clock in the morning, the light of day revealed one of the most dazzling treasures of our adventure: a majestic jaguar drinking peacefully by the river. Seeing such a creature was a rare feat, but thanks to our guide's sharp eye, we were able to capture it on film. The emotion washed over us like a raging wave.
Back in Rurrenabaque, our destiny led us to explore the jungle, in particular the Madidi Parc. Our river journey began on the Rio Beni, before heading upstream on one of its tributaries, the Rio Tuichi. Several ecolodges stood along this branch of the river, offering a haven for our adventurous souls. The days went by, filled with wildlife spotting, catfish fishing, rafting and encounters with the local communities.
During a conversation with Alex, one of the guardians of these magical places, I was touched by an illumination. Alex, rooted in this land, was playing a vital role in preserving the Bolivian Amazon. He carried the voice of indigenous communities to the four corners of the globe, from Geneva to New York, warning of the perils facing Madidi and the entire Bolivian Amazon. The Bolivian government has turned its attention away from tourism and towards mining and hydrocarbons, thereby polluting the river's sacred waters.
According to Alex, the tourism boom had the potential to persuade local and national authorities of the importance of this industry for local communities, while ensuring the preservation of nature. Unlike many over-visited tourist destinations, where it is necessary to limit the influx of visitors in order to protect the ecosystems, a controlled increase in the number of travellers to the Bolivian Amazon would bear positive fruit.
By staying longer in these sacred places, travellers would have meaningful experiences with the local communities, helping to protect this exceptional natural treasure. This adventure taught me that responsible tourism could play a crucial role in safeguarding the Bolivian Amazon, a beaming hope for abetter future in this extraordinary region.
If you understand spanish, here is a great film about this topic in the Amazon.