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Visiting Rurrenabaque

Written on: Thursday December 20th, 2007

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Rurrenabaque, Bolivia 

Author: Julie 


We spent yesterday and today looking into tour agencies in town. We stopped at a couple of basic ones but we wanted a something a little more than going from place to place for a cheap price. There are a couple of eco-lodges in Madidi National Park which is located across the river from Rurrenabaque in the community of San Bonaventura. They were started a few years ago by NGOs (non-governmental organizations), which educated the indigenous population on how to run a lodging business as well how to become nature biologists. We looked at their scheduled program but we weren?t really interested in spending most of our time learning indigenous ways, we were more interested spending our time seeing wildlife. The last travel agency we checked and the one that really gave us a good feeling was called Madidi Travel and is run by a woman named Rosa Maria Ruiz, an internationally recognized environmental activist. She?s an amazing person and we?ve been very lucky to meet her. In the 1990s she?s the person who spearheaded (along with the help of another biologist) the creation of Madidi National Park and had proposed it to be twice the size it is now but the government reduced it to half the size because it would interfere with its logging and mining projects. They had at first completely refused to create the park but someone in the United Nations heard about her proposal and they contacted the government for more information. Not wanting to face international embarrassment, they finally approved the park. Covering 4.7 million acres?a bit smaller than New Jersey?Madidi encompasses 19,000-foot glaciers in the west, rain forest in the east, pampas in the north, and huge expanses of cloud forest and temperate forest in between. These varied habitats and their intersections nurture distinct flora and fauna, making the park one of the richest in the diversity of plant and animal life in South America. The continental United States and Canada hold about 700 species of birds; Madidi, with one-tenth of one percent as much area, contains an estimated 1,000 species. In 2000, National Geographic sent a team to document the wildlife in the park. She was the person who found all the best sites where photos could be taken, built all the viewing towers and organized the two month expedition. You can see the NG article here, the behind the scenes article here and the photogapher´s diary here. 

Unfortunately, illegal logging and mining continued within the Park and she fought the government to shut it down. Obviously local and regional governments were against it because these were the same men who were lining their pockets with the profits. They tried to shut down her non-profit conservation organization by revoking her license and finally chased her out and burned down the beautiful lodges she had built to bring tourism to the new park. This was the same area where she had grown up her whole life so you can imagine how devastating this was to her. With the money she made from international lectures and her family?s fortune, she managed to buy 25 million hectares of virgin rainforest land two hours down river from Rurrenabaque and has rebuilt a lodge and cabanas. She now owns the land and the government can?t interfere with her anymore. The four of us went to book with her only to find out that she had just given her workers the Christmas period off since she didn?t have any advanced bookings. Unlike most businesses in Bolivia, she pays her employees year round for their services and not just when she needs them. This would make getting someone to agree to come back to work now a little difficult. She told us to come back tomorrow and she would let us know if we could go or not. If you would like to read more about Rosa Maria and her struggle with the government, please read the article linked here.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon walking around town, trying to find the trailhead to the cross at the top of one of the mountains overlooking Rurre. We walked down one dirt road after another, being chased by dogs or ending in dead ends in someone?s yard. We finally abandoned our plans to find the trail when we started to feel light-headed from the heat. We headed for the river?s edge hoping to find a breeze and cool off a bit. We walked by incomplete hotels and little homes with chickens and dogs. At the boat launch, we boarded a taxi boat and ventured across to the community of San Bonaventura. We drove along the shoreline of Rurre then fighting across the current we floated to the other side exactly to the spot of the other boat launch. It was amazing how accurate the driver was in the strong flow. 

We disembarked and walked around the main street that followed the shoreline. There wasn?t much to the town except for a few houses and a couple of wooden shacks selling water, juice and candy. We walked around for a while but quickly re-boarded the taxi boat back to Rurre. We spent the remainder of the evening eating at our regular restaurant then headed over to the Mosquito Bar to cool off with a few cold beers.