There are concerned people in Bolivia, however many are under threats from the local wildlife trappers and are afraid to raise serious objections to the practices the see going on around them.
- Local conservationists have received death and bomb threats.
- Cocaine was planted on the premises of another and the DEA informed. Fortunately he spotted the perpetrators and was able to dispose of the drugs before the police arrived. (The consequences could have been a long term in jail.) .
- The wife of another was kidnapped, beaten up and raped. She has since left Bolivia. .
- Shortly before we visited one, the forest around his house was deliberately burnt down, the house barely escaping. .
- Some local conservationists keep firearms in the house in case of attack. .
- The famous naturalist, Noel Kempff was murdered, officially by drug traffickers. Locals however say animal trappers were responsible. .
Remember when you buy a wild caught bird, this is the kind of people you are supporting.
TRAVELLING TO AND ABOUT BOLIVIA.
Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America. Once you get there you will be rich,well able to hobnob it with the wealthy and the beautiful. There are two international airports La Paz and Santa Cruz, the latter being best for parroty Eco-tourists. It will cost between £600 and £700 to fly there from the UK. (We got our tickets from Journey Latin America and flew with "Aerolineas Argentinas" and excellent they were too.)
You can live in Bolivia for £50 a week, for £100 you can enjoy some degree of comfort. £200 buys luxury, at least where it's available. Many Bolivians live on £2 a week. You will definitely need your "Lonely Planet" Bolivia book.
You can fly to most towns. You can go anywhere by bus, or truck where the roads are bad. On some a 4x4 is necessary.You can travel long distances by taxi cheaply. (Taxi drivers are open to any kind of deal.) Bear in mind that most of the minor roads and some major ones can close due to heavy rain. Flooding, avalanche and mud take their toll. The wet season in Eastern Bolivia is usually from November to April.
Avoid foriegn operated tour companies, they are vastly more expensive than the locals and offer no better service. I like to make sure my money stays in Bolivia, the people there have more need for it!
The bus service to Trinidad is by night and takes about twelve hours, (£6). "COPACABANA" is the most comfortable (insofar as the word can apply!) See "Lonely Planet" book for details. The road is mostly dirt but good by local standards.
There are plenty of hotels, the one we stayed at was the "Monte Verde" on Avenida 6 de Agosto No 76. (English is spoken by the manager who is also very helpful.) The rooms here are clean, bright and of reasonable size. Breakfast is available. Also there are several glass and chrome cafes on the Plaza which are open for breakfast.
A few yards from the Hotel on the same side (No. 138) is "Paraiso Travel" with Lyliam Gonzales who will fix it for you to see the Blue Throated Macaws. In fact they can fix just about anything for you, including airtickets. (Once again English is spoken.)
There are many and varied National Parks in Bolivia, all have something to offer. Some are easy to visit, some are almost impossible. (We failed on this occasion to get into the best known of all, the remote Parc Nacional Noel Kempff Mercado.)
The total cost of our trip this year for five weeks in Bolivia including air fares was £1200 per person, half of this being air fare. We could easily have cut £200 from this figure. The research is done, there is no reason not to go!
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THE "MACHETERO" CULT OF BENI.
Readers may remember my investigation into the devil dancers of Panama and their macaw head-dresses a few years ago. I had heard that a similar thing was going on in Bolivia, centred on the town of San Ignacio de Moxos, 60Km to the West of Trinidad. We made a journey out there in order to investigate. This included living on a packet of "Pringles" between the two of us for two days (tasty and nourishing when you're sufficiently hungry!) We travelled to San Ignacio by
camíon (truck) (picture, 33K)from Trinidad. The dirt road has three river crossings by ferry, there are no buses.
Short note about camíons. (2K)
I can now tell you that macaw feather head-dresses are used in processions that take place not only in San Ignacio but in Trinidad and other towns. There are two aspects to this, one is by male-only ethnic
Indians (picture 24K) in a pagan cult that has somehow infiltrated the local churches. The other is as a
commercial/tourist fiesta (picture, 56K) that includes women and non-Indians.
There is a flourishing industry, shooting macaws and manufacturing head-dresses and other items of which we were only able to locate the tip. Bolivia is a signatory to CITES but it seems that this is being totally ignored. We discovered a grisly little
shop (picture, 16K) in Trinidad where macaw
parts (picture,33K) were for sale. For example you could buy the wing of a green wing macaw for £2. The skull (picture, 37K) costs about £0.50. The
head-dresses (picture, 57K) were there as well.
Local voluntary bird conservation organisation.
Calle Mexico, 110
Alan Hesseand Lois Jammes (Members) Tel. 591-3-443264
Website of "Armonia"
Paraiso Travel, ,
Will take you on safaris in Beni, (including Ara Glaucogularis).
Also air tickets etc. English is spoken. ,
Av. 6 de Agosto, 138, ,
Grisly little shop.
Calle Sucre 843,
BOLIVIA, BROTHER ANDRÉS AND THE BURRO MACAWS.
An altogether tougher one this with the possiblity of a little hardship and frustration!
Pampagrande/Samaipata map, (8K)
In my previous story, I recounted our adventures in search of the blue throated macaw. On our return to Santa Cruz we took up the next part of our odyssey, the Red Fronted Macaw (picture, 28K) (RFM), known locally as "Loro Burro" (donkey parrot, too stupid to talk!). All I had been able to discover was that the RFM inhabited an area in the foothills of the Andes 200 Km to the West of Santa Cruz. In Santa Cruz members of "Armonia" gave me the name of Hermano (Brother) Andrés, a Dominican friar who is from East Germany but has resided in the village of Pampagrande (the heart of Ara Rubrogenys territory) for thirty years. I was assured that Hermano Andrés was an expert in all aspects of the local fauna and flora. They gave me his telephone number but I was unable to contact him.
Pampagrande lies some 200Km to the West of Santa Cruz well into the foothills of the Andes and is not normally visited by tourists of any description. We had absolutely no information at all except it's position on the map. We decided initially to go to Samaipata, halfway there and make further enquiries.
We travelled in some style to Samaipata, the weekend destination of the well heeled Cruceño due to it's much cooler climate. Consequently there is no shortage of hotels (both basic and more up-market) and restaurants and there is a door to door taxi service. (100Km for £10!) The journey is spectacular, especially as one draws close to one of the worlds mightiest mountain ranges. Dotted about are the mini palaces of the mega rich like some latter-day eagle's nests.
There is a German community in Samaipata who are always in touch and soon I met Olaf Liebhart (guide and tour operator of German origin, speaks good English) who eventually was able to get in touch with Hermano Andrés. Meanwhile we visited local Inca ruins and had a few short tours to see the local scenery which is breathtaking. Worth a special mention is the Laguna Volcan a
sparkling lake in the crater of a volcano.
Hermano Andrés turned up quite suddenly, at two minutes notice we bundled our possessions in the back of his truck and set off for Pampagrande. Hermano Andrés speaks no English so we had to get by on my pigeon German. He has a Toyota 4x4 pickup fitted with a Mercedes engine, a formidable combination well suited to our journeys of the next few days.
Most of the population of Pampagrande live in the most awful poverty and squalor. Hermano Andrés has supervised the construction of numerous churches and public works financed by the German Dominican order. There is one eating house in Pampagrande and no hotels. Hermano Andrés however runs a primitive
bunk house (picture, 22K) with cooking facilities which was where we stayed. We ate at the local eating house and with the good brother's parishioners. All in all we fared reasonably well. There is a range of tiny shops selling the basics of life. However it's not even possible to buy a bar of chocolate in
Pampagrande. (picture, 14K) Hermano Andrés has intimate knowledge of the local eco-systems, the main limitation being my poor German and worse Spanish.
On the first night we had heavy rain, the temperature plummeted. We arose to a heavy overcast skies, drizzle and a biting wind. The local river thundered by, heavy with silt and flotsam. Amazingly however we observed flocks of RFM (picture, 19K) barrelling through the rain just below the cloud base, the only macaw I have seen that will fly in such atrocious conditions. They flew in pairs, shrieking raucously to one another. Almost every morning, regardless of conditions they streamed over in small groups.
The next day was Saturday, I became the official photographer at an Indian wedding, (picture, 34K) the real photographer in true Bolivian tradition, having failed to materialise. The wedding party (picture, 32K) arrived by truck, at least fifty of them, the bride and groom riding up front. There was no organ or piano. At the service, as is normal worldwide, most of the congregation didn't know the hymns. Many seemed not able to read either. Hermano Andrés however made up for all of them, being a magnificent singer, filling the large church with his baritone. They were a solomn bunch, I saw not a single smile. The bridegroom looked satisfied afterwards. (We also went to the
party (short description) afterwards where beer was handed out by the bucketful and wild dancing went on into the night. It was the best party I've been to for years. But still no-one smiled.)
On Sunday we wandered the town which is desperately poor. Mains water was only just being installed. Interestingly the pipes had been laid in the trenches, connected and then left. I think the locals hoped that the trenches would spontaneously disappear. It did seem to be working. Telephones and electricity had only arrived in the last few years. There is only about 50 yards of paved road in Pampagrande. The land around is medium altitude (3000ft) semi-desert, (picture, 38K) the natural vegetation being thorny scrub and trees interspersed with cactus, giant and small. (Picture, 23K) Rain, when it comes, arrives in intense storms. The soils is very poor, light and sandy. Nevertheless the locals cultivate it, maize, ground nuts and melons being popular.
On Monday we accompanied Hermano on a long jaunt (picture, 28K) with the 4x4 into the mountains, along precipitous dirt roads in order to visit the tiny pueblo of Santa Rosa (map, 8K) At one point we climbed to almost six thousand feet although the mighty peaks still towered about us. We covered a wide range of altitudes and habitats and saw many parakeets, conures and severe macaws in the wooded lower slopes of the mountains. There were many stops along the way as Hermano Andrés chatted to his flock. (picture, 37K) They were for the most part desperately poor farmers living in tiny adobe houses with earth floors.
At Santa Rosa .(picture, 24K) we were fed and watered by the brother's parishioners. There are no services here of any description. None of the streets are paved and we saw more donkeys than trucks. No car could make it to Santa Rosa I think. Communication with the outside world is by means of one solar powered radio.
Many of the locals keep parrots, Ara Severa and Amazona Festiva being the most popular as they are very common. The wings are generally clipped and they are left to wander about outside in the bushes. Most are taught a few words of Spanish.
Hermano Andrés had put out the word and a couple of days later we were able to visit a site where the RFM (picture 43K) had been seen feeding. This was only a few miles from Pampagrande, and we observed a flock of seventeen noisily feeding on the fruit of the "Tatco" tree (Jacaranda Mimosifolia). They are quite hard to spot due to the predominantly green colour, only being given away by the racket! It didn't take them long to spy us and when they did they were off, surprisingly colourful as the underside of their wings is a bright orange/yellow pattern.
SOME RED FRONTED MACAW FACTS.
(a)Once again no-one knows for sure how many Ara Rubrogenys there are left in the wild but certainly less than two thousand. Many were trapped in the past and exported mainly to North America. This has probably ceased now. The locals don't care for them as pets as they won't talk. Local ornithologist Robin Clark conducted the last scientific survey of them eight years ago. His recommendations to ensure their survival were totally ignored and the situation has since worsened considerably.
(b)The natural habitat of this species is being cleared for agriculture. This leads to them turning their attentions to the farmers maize and ground nuts which in turn can lead to them being shot. Hermano Andrés is trying to educate the local population in this respect. He has suggested that farmers could be compensated for the damage if there was money. (Now there's a project for someone!)
(c)The RFM nests in holes in cliffs. Many of the nesting places used in the past are now abandoned. The holes are usually too high to reach, so the method of capture was to spread monofilm nets over bait. Landing macaws got their feet tangled in the nets.
(d)The RFM have a daily migration pattern which varies with time of year and their food source.
DIY TRAVEL TO SEE THE RED FRONTED MACAW.
There's no doubt that this is a tougher one as this is an area not frequented by tourists and except for Olav of "Roadrunner" no-one speaks English. Some knowledge of Spanish and/or German is needed. This one is beyond the "Lonely Planet" book and for the more experienced traveller. (There is information in the "Lonely Planet" book only as far as Samaipata.
Update. The report I sent to LP means Pampagrande is now in the book, I hope brings a little wealth to them!)
Hermano Andrés is quite willing to cater for visitors, he makes no charge. However he has plenty of good causes for you to donate to! He makes his expedition to Santa Rosa at the end of each month. This is an outstanding experience, a bit like visiting Albert Schweitzer.
There are buses from Santa Cruz bus station every evening to Pampagrande, returning the next morning. Taxis travel from close to the Santa Cruz market to Samaipata and I feel quite sure could be persuaded to go to Pampagrande for more money. Olaf Liebhart in Samaipata can put you in touch with Hermano Andrés. There are therefore several options but it's quite DIY.
HANDY CONTACTS IN BOLIVIA
(Will take you anywhere in Bolivia, very helpful in all matters/advice.) Claudio Holzmann, speaks English.
René Moreno, 552
Pepe Rojas, Naturalist/Guide, Very concerned about Ara Glaucogularis.
Speaks good English.
Email Pepe Rojas
(Guide and Travel Agent, runs local tours.)
Will fix anything for you. German, speaks good English.
Will put you in touch with Hermano Andrés if necessary.
Barrio La Glorieta II,
(This place is hard to miss on the main road in Samaipata.)
Email Olaf Liebhart
Emails take a while to reply to, Olaf picks them up in Santa Cruz when he goes there.
Taxi firm. Will take you from Santa Cruz to Samaipata & return.
(£10 approx. Each way)
Av. Omar Chávez#111 Esq. Soliz de Olguin,
Santa Cruz 335067
Samaipata 6129, 6133, 6016
HERMANO ANDRES LANGER,
Your Key to Ara Rubrogenys.
Parroquia de Pampagrande,
Casilla 3615 ,
Santa Cruz de la Sierra, ,
Officina de Iglesia,
Tel. 0911-3155 (At Pampagrande, only Spanish and German spoken.)
Tel. 0994-6011 (Central Church Office next to the church at Samaipata, only Spanish spoken.) Also see "Roadrunner" above.
Local voluntary wildlife conservation organisation.
Calle Mexico, 110
Alan Hesse/Lois Jammes (Members) Tel. 591-3-443264
English speaking guide and ornithologist.
Tel. 0932 2054
BUENA VISTA AND THE AMBORO NATIONAL PARK
Having a few days to spare we decided to visit the Amboro National Park, a few hours run from by taxi for Santa Cruz. We had been informed about the "Hotel Flora Y Fauna" run by one Robin Clark, well known British ornithologist. This place is quite well appointed and hence expensive by local standards. (Still cheap by first world standards).
If you are a twitcher this is the place to visit, you will find yourself in like minded company. Bird watching walks are virtually compulsary.
The Amboro National Park is a controversial topic in Bolivia. This once pristine wilderness park is now in the process of being burnt down by campesinos (peasant farmers), but then so is the rest of Bolivia. Many campesinos were displaced from the Yungas and Chaperra areas due to the recent crackdown on coca growing. It seemed wise to view what remained before it disappears.
The day before our intended journey we carefully investigated the whereabouts of the taxi service to Buena Vista (Calle Isoso near to the bus station). This turned out to be a totally unneccesary precaution because as we stepped from the hotel a taxi screeched to a halt and within thirty seconds we were ensconced. The city taxi drivers normally never leave Santa Cruz however it turned out that the driver had family in Buena Vista and was not averse to a trip out there at our expense. After a sub tour to conferr with his mates as to the price and a long consultation over the map, we finally arrived at a price of 130 Bs. (£13)
Buena vista is on the new road to Cochabamba and tolls have to be paid. The road is good.
Our taxi driver was clearly in high spirits at the prospect of a break from his routine, especially when I included him in our refreshment stop. He became imbued with a desire to find out just how fast his taxi could go, fortunately no more than 100Km/hr. It had almost 300,000Km on the clock. (He was mad as are all Bolivian taxi drivers.)
It was a Toyota Corolla estate, second hand from Japan. This meant of course that it had been right hand drive. This had been locally remedied by moving the steering column and the pedals to the left. However all the instruments and switches remained on the right, together with the big hole where the steering column once was. Nearly all the taxis in Santa Cruz have this setup.
During the latter part of the dry season the campesinos tradtionally burn down their forests and grassland. This results in the worst smoke pollution I have seen anywhere. Anyone with asthma or other pulmonary problems is well advised not to visit Eastern Bolivia during August/September/October.
On this day conditions were particularly bad, visibility being reduced to fifty yards on occasion. The driver refered to this as "neblina" which I took to mean fog from my knowledge of German, "Nebel", he was amazed when I suggested it was "fumar" (smoke). At night the atmospheric inversion lowers, bringing down all this pollution and we sometimes found it hard to sleep, conditions were so bad in this area.
We rolled up at the "Hotel Flora Y Fauna" in the late afternoon. It is set in it's own patch of rain forest and run by one Robin Clark. Ornithologist and long time resident in Bolivia. It's a very nice place to stay but the catering arrangements are chaotic to say the least. One often has to forage in the kitchen or issue instructions to the kitchen staff in order to eat, our Robin being more concerned about bird watching. There is however a refrigerator always full of free beer! Bird watching walks in the local forest are practically obligatory. There are towers set up here and there for this purpose. Amongst lots of other birds we saw severe and yellow collared macaws, as well as several unidentified conures. We also saw trees with macaw nest holes.
Several years ago Robin carried out a survey of the Ara Rubrogenys and probably knows more about them than any one else. This was with the object of preserving them and their habitat, however as usual in Boivia, nothing whatever has been done. The situation has deteriorated considerably since then.
HOTEL FLORA & FAUNA
This was our last port of call in Bolivia. The total cost of our holiday was £1200 per person (four weeks, including airfares, local tour costs and donation to Hermano Andres). Travel about was no problem. No-one hassled us. We met lots of nice people some of whom put themselves out considerably for us.
On our last day in Santa Cruz it was the founding day of the city. This was an excellent excuse for celebration in the Plaza. The President of Bolivia was there. The army was there and there were numerous folk dancers. The Presidential party was esconced on a diaz. Local dignitaries reclined on armchairs in the shade of the trees. The army sweated it out in the heat of the sun. There were speeches, the army stood at ease for civilians and at attention for military officers.
Interesting for Brits, the army sang the National Anthem and various martial airs. They also paraded past the President goose stepping. The Bolivian style is kicking very high, many of the particpants seemed about ready to collapse afterwards.
When the bash was over, the dignitaries circulated amonst the crowd. Even a passing gringo could have buttonholed any member of the government/armed forces supposing his Spanish had been good enough.
RESPONSE FROM BOLIVIA
Since this page has been published I have received Emails from all over the world. Some have come from Bolivia, I include them
here as an interesting insight as to Bolivian views on this matter. A little tedious, so beware!
Some useful links to Bolivia.
Bolivian Music on the net.
Go to "Wild Macaws", our homepage.
Email "Wild Macaws"