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Chalalan eco-lodge, Madidi national park

Written on: Sunday January 24th, 2010

A journal entry from: South America

January 14th - 16th

We were picked up early in the morning by our guide, Rigo, who took us to the motorised canoe we would travel up the river on. Here we met the others on our tour - an Icelandic couple called Villa and Yngvi along with two Australians called Lorna and Denise. We all boarded the canoe and set off for the five hour trip. Along the way we spotted lots of birds and a few animals such as a capyvara (the largest rodent in the world) and a tapir swimming across the river. He got a bit scared when he saw us, went underwater for a bit and then jumped on to the bank and ran into the bushes.

Once we reached our desitnation we all got out of the canoe and after half an hours walk through the jungle we reached the eco-lodge. Chalalan is in the middle of the Madidi national park which has the highest biodiversity of plants in the world and is home to over 1,000 tropical bird species. It is owned and run by the San Josť de Uchupiamonas community, who are Quechue-Tacana people. Everybody who works in the lodge is from this community and they rotate the people who work there. Everything is made of local materials, locally produced food is served and solar powered energy is used to try and make a sustainable eco-tourism experience that benefits the local indigenous people.

In the evening after dinner we went on a nightwalk on some of the trails around the lodge. It was great and we saw lots of different nocturnal animals such as frogs, toads, tarantula, banana leaf spider, rodents, birds, snake and weird insects. The next day we went on a long jungle walk and learnt about the different plants and trees in the jungle and how the people use them for medicines and food. Our guide Rigo grew up in the community in the jungle and so had first hand knowlegde of this. He also told us about how he used to go on week long hunts with his father in the jungle. We also spotted a few different birds and animals.†

While we were resting in our cabin Rigo came to tell us that a large group of monkeys was travelling through the area. We saw hundreds of squirrel monkeys and brown faced cappuchins swinging and jumping through the jungle next to the camp. It was a great sight! In the afternoon we went on a hour long paddle around the lake next to the lodge observing more monkeys and birds.†

For dinner that evening we were going to have a local delicacy - catfish from the river cooked with herbs from the jungle. The people from the lodge caught a huge catfish in the afternoon and prepared it in the traditional way. After that we went for a night paddle in the lake. It was very atmospheric and we saw a boa-constrictor and got very close to a beautiful black caiman (small crocodile).

Back in the lodge they had prepared a special drink called "baby puma milk" which we used in a ceremony together with coca leaves for Pachamama or Mother Earth. After that we got to drink the "baby puma milk" and chew coca leaves, which was a special experience since the cheek goes numb after a while.... We danced to the traditional instruments, such as pan flutes and we did our best to copy the dancing that we were shown, but maybe we needed a bit more practice!†

It was a quicker boat trip downstream the next morning back to Rurre. The weather was better than on the way up and so we got to see more of the mountains. Overall it was an extraordinary experience and definitely worth the struggle to get there. We learned a lot of new things and saw lots of great wildlife. We were also very lucky that the people on our tour were so nice. We even got an invite to stay in Iceland to visit Yngvi and Villa!

Fortunatley as the weather was better than when we arrived we caught a flight back to La Paz which only took 45 minutes - a bit quicker than the bus!