Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Andes to the Amazon

Andean Epics truck at 4800 meters in the Cordillera Real, Mount Llampu in the background 
Next stop, the Bolivian Amazon. Madidi National Park in the Western Amazon, just over the Cordillera Real range of the Andes has a rich history of indigenous cultures such as the Tacana, Mosete, Tsimane peoples as well as having one of the most biologically diverse expanses ranging more than two million hectares. Theres peaks inhabited by condors, pampas wetlands with thriving caimans, and deep rainforest with the stalking jaguar.

Over the last week, I and three other travelers from Sweden/Australia, Israel and Ireland ventured from the high Andean peaks which we ascended to by truck from the Altiplano, and then mountain biked down more than 4000 meters into the Yungas. We then, for three days, took a large motorized ¨canoe¨to the town of Rurrenabaque, the most populous town in the vicinity of Madidi National Park.

Getting ready to ride into the valley, more than 100km to go by bike, and only clouds covering the territory ahead.

With the skilled, Mauricio Jordan, the downhill mountain biking champion of Bolivia (who´s first descent of the World Most Dangerous Road by bike was at age 9), the trip was incredibly fun and challenging. We descended from what seemed to be the top of the world, with only clouds covering the vast expanse of territory, and so many changes to the landscape that it seemed as if the only common principle of nature was gravity.

Mauricio doing a wheelie for as long as he wants with more than a 500 meter drop to the left and loose gravel below.
Flat tires  from plant needles as big as fingers and wipeouts onto thick Andean rock made the descent into the Amazon basin the stuff of legend. Into the streamy Yungas forest, the effects of remote gold mining was evident to multiple levels in the community. Approaching the Mipiri River, loads of sediments were simply dumped into the otherwise pristine flow, leaving local communities to deal with the consequences in health and sustenance. Twice we had to build the road before us where mines had simply created landslides and had done nothing about it. 

Argentinian Alejandro Lazzeri and I after shoveling out a path for our bikes and truck accross the landslide.

A massive ¨canoe¨ led us down the Mapiri River and unto the Beni for more than 200km as we passed through the Madidi National Forest and swam in pristine waterfalls inhabited by the more than thousand species of butterlies.

Our canoe along the Mapiri River, just down stream from the town of Guanay.

Peta, our boat driver essentially named turtle in the native language, had an incredibly deep knowledge of the river, its dangers and its life. His quick movements and fast points to wildlife and friends along the river trip made it evident how well someone can know their local water way, the bloodline for the people in this region. Alejandro, an experienced rainforest guide with previous work in the Serere Reserve along the Beni River, had a wide knowledge of native lore as well as traditional uses of plants and wildlife.

Peta relaxing by the riverside.
Modern changes to an ancient style of dugout canoe.
The canoe style itself, which is the major form of boat used now by the communities of the Western Amazon is a modern design and material built literally on top of ancient practices. Something I will delve into more this week, the helmet, or central bottom piece is a solid piece dug from the Siliman tree, a large tree found in the rainforest. Two sets of plants are then added on top using a tar and nailing system which is then given a motor and and a roof.

The Suliman tree, taken in the Madidi National Park.

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