Amazonìa Boliviana (Part 1)
The cool misty air kissed my face as we stepped downward into the dugout canoe. The sweltering and sticky temperatures felt in the days before were absent under the early morning sky. We shuffled around the canoe until it felt balanced and began our three-hour journey upriver into Parque Nacional Madidi in the heart of the Bolivian Amazon.
Thick clouds of morning fog engulfed the mountains that towered above us. My eyes watered as we picked up speed and the fog parted occasionally allowing for glimpses of the thickly forested hills. We listened intently to the echoing sounds of the jungle waking up all around us.
Three hours later we landed on the rust colored banks of the river. One by one we disembarked from the canoe making it wobble in all directions. Norman, our guide, grabbed his machete and signaled for us to follow.
Jungle born and bred, Norman exuded a sense of confidence and a deep connection with the land we walked upon. We felt privileged as he shared a wealth of knowledge of local medicinal plants, wildlife, and indigenous culture. As we continued to follow his path we were amazed by the wisdom he shared with us. Parque Nacional Madidi is one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet, and home to 11% of the world’s bird species.
Monkeys howled and swung from tree to tree above us. The mighty leaf cutter ants marched in neat lines most impressively to their nests, florescent leaves upon their backs. The warm sun could not penetrate the heavy canopy above us. The trees glowed emerald green as the sun’s rays shone through.
Several hours had passed and I was still in total disbelief. I thought back to the books and magazines I had read as a child, frantically flipping through the pages and staring attentively at the glossy photographs of the wild animals of the Amazon, a place that I never could have dreamed I would some day visit. I looked around me at the vibrant life of the jungle. So complex, so diverse, so intrinsically unique. Each creature, plant, and organism -be it microscopic or colossal in size – held a true and significant purpose in this complex ecosystem, a connection so important, so vital, and so deeply rooted beneath the rich soils that hug the roots of the 1,000 year- old trees dotting the sky of this rainforest.
As we began to loop back in the direction of the boat Norman told us about the threats Madidi faced. He criticized the shameful behaviors of locals acting as poachers and traffickers of wild animals. He cursed the government for its role in allowing the tapping into of the park’s petroleum reserves, “un lugar protegido” he expressed with disdain – a protected place.
My heart sank as he continued to speak. He spoke passionately and angrily about the animals, the environment, the people who would all slip through the cracks. But then he turned to me and explained that he hadn’t lost hope. He would continue to work hard and promote a culture of sustainable eco-tourism. He was committed to teaching his children to respect, conserve, and live cohesively with his precious rainforest. I promised him that I would do all that I could to experience his connection.
Lost in my thoughts with a vague feeling of discontent, I soon came to as Norman signaled for us to start walking faster. We began to double our pace trailing closely behind him. He would stop abruptly with his machete out to the side listening and scanning the land before us. We continued faster now, almost at a light jog. Finally we understood that Norman was tracking a storm that was close behind us. We could now hear the sheets of rain falling just behind us that he was able to detect long before. Not a minute after we arrived at the Eco Lodge the heavy Amazon rainfall descended on the jungle. The rain pounded a beautiful rhythm on the thatched roof that kept us dry. We sat in silence and listened as the Amazon Rainforest received a kiss from the skies above.