Chalalan Eco-lodge, where we stayed for our "jungle tour", is the top end of Madidi jungle lodge choices. The lodge is 100% owned and run by the indigenous community, San Jose de Uchupiamones, the only village within Madidi park. Chalalan is a beacon of hope in a region under extreme pressure from hunters, poachers and loggers
. Our experience at Chalalan proved that ecotourism can be more than just a catchy euphemism. We were assigned a top flight guide who grew up in the forest, and was an avid bird enthusiast and environmentalist. He and the other guides we met are actively involved in saving the rain forest, and their passion is contagious. Our accommodation was a traditional indigenous cabin with chonta palm walls and a roof of woven jatata leaves. We were extremely comfortable, and were lulled to sleep by a chirping, croaking, screeching jungle symphony. We took guided walks and canoe trips each day and were enchanted by surprises around every bend -- a tree full of squirrel monkeys, a rare giant river otter who followed our canoe for a while before bounding out of the water into the forest, a Rufus kingfisher peacefully asleep on a thin branch over a stream, a caimen baby whose eyes burned red in our flashlight beam, a furry tarantula as big as a hand, a "walking" tree that sprouts roots that act as legs -- these are a few of the wonders we encountered. The Parque National Madidi is no longer patrolled by government workers to stop illegal hunting and poaching, as funds for this were recently cut. Its status as a national park is far from certain. A logging road is now being constructed between Madidi and Beni National Parks, and we were told by our guide that the Moralas regime is opposed to National Parks on principal; in their view, park land would be more productively used for logging and agriculture. The fate of this unique and pristine place is uncertain
. We can only watch and do our part to help ensure the future of Parque National Madidi.
Our next tour was to the pampas, a savannah grassland along the Yacuma River, an area managed by the local community Santa Rosa de la Yacuma. There is no legal authority overseeing the protection of this area and tours to the pampas are not regulated, resulting in wild animals being regularly disturbed and handled by guides, The area is used for grazing cattle and has been heavily deforested. However, the river and its banks are teeming with bird life, reptiles, fish and even pink dolphins.
We stayed with our wonderful Norwegian friends at Caracol Ecolodge in the pampas, and spent days cruising the river with our guide, fishing for piranha and lounging about in hammocks. One activity, a trek through swamplands in search of anaconda, was unsuccessful (much to my relief!).
Next...on to Tihuanacu ruins and Lake Titicaca as we wind up five weeks in this fascinating country.
Madidi National Park, created just 15 years ago, comprises some 4.5 million acres in Bolivia's northwest frontier with Peru. It boasts incredible biological diversity ranging from mountain cloud forests to humid tropical rain forests to savannah and pampas river systems. The diversity of bird life is truly breath taking -- over 1,100 bird species, from flamboyant macaws to tiny neon barbits to the weird prehistoric Hoatzin to magnificent herons and storks; too many wonderful bird species to list here. We saw 150 different species with the help of a local guide. Michael has itemized all of the birds, reptiles, and mammals we saw, and he'll soon upload the list as a separate post.