Sunday, June 24, 2007

Buena Vista

It feels as though I’ve lived through a lot of hours this weekend, as though Friday morning was ages away. I certainly packed a lot of experience into a few days.

This morning I woke up at the (for me) ungodly hour of 6:30 to take a bird and a monkey-searching walk into the jungle with a local guide. Shortly after I’d arisen and thrown on my clothes, Robin stopped by.

“It’s cold and windy, and will probably rain. I don’t think you’ll see much. It’s probably not worth going.”

Given his expertise, I trusted him and went back to bed. But then I reconsidered. I wanted the opportunity to talk to a local, to not get all of my local information from an Englishman who is not on very good terms with the community. In any case, I wanted a bit of exercise, so I might as well take advantage of a morning walk.

Roberto lives down the road from Robin and owns 48 hectares. He’s a farmer, who grows rice, yucca, plantains and vegetable for his own consumption and local sale. He also has some chickens and a cow. He and his son work the land, growing on one portion while allowing other areas to rest for 4-5 years.

Robin has to walk across his land to do his beetle work, and to take tourists on walks. So it seems they have an arrangement. On the rare opportunities when tourists come, they are expected to take a walk with Roberto, at a cost of $10. I thought this was fair.

True to prediction, we didn’t see too much. But we went much further into the damp, thick greenness. We crossed a small stream, scampered up and down bank, and walked amidst a mist of butterflies. Besides the sloth, the butterflies are my favorite animal in Bolivia, flapping around in a brilliant array of reds, yellows, whites, blacks, blues, and oranges.

We could hear monkeys, and at one point, looked up to see a capuchin monkey almost directly over us. We took a short break at a simple thatched hut. Underneath the roof was a pile of hay, some dried corn, oranges, and a few dishes. Roberto offered me an orange, saying this was where his son worked. We then slid down a steep slope and approached the clear sound of monkeys. We could hear their calls, we could see the tree branches shake, we could hear the fruit falling from the boughs, banging against the ground.

When we stood still for a while, we began to see them crossing. First one, then another, later another. I had the realization that I was standing in the middle of the South American jungle watching monkeys and I appreciated the moment. Not a bad way to spend a weekend. Despite my fuchsia windbreaker, they didn’t seem to pay any attention to us. We were silent witnesses to their gathering and feeding off the bobosi tree, a fruit popular among several local mammals.

Coming back, we had a nice close-up view of a hummingbird, which seemed to freeze momentarily in mid-air. Around us, we heard the calls of many different birds, including toucans.

Last night I stayed up until midnight skimming through a draft manuscript Robin has written about his experiences in Bolivia. It left me with a sad feeling after reading of constant tension, conflict, and inability to create alliances – the result of a man with a singular drive and passion who has difficulty bringing others to his cause. After reading about the opposition in the town and the government towards founding the National Park, I asked Roberto what he thought about it. Had the town benefited from it’s creation?

“For us, who live a bit further away, not so much,” he said. “But those who live closer to the boundary and in town have had more opportunities to earn money from it.”

Did he support its creation?

“Sure,” he said. “It was only the people who lived in and near the park who were against it. For everyone else it was OK. I think it’s a good thing that we have this area saved. So that something is left for my children and their areas. So that if they use up everything outside the park, something will still be left for them. The problem is that many people have a hard time looking into the future. They only think of what they can get today.”

So for him, a toothless middle-aged farmer, the benefit was not so much the preservation of species as making sure some resources remain for his family in the future. His perspective was understandable.

He did have a good quality pair of binoculars, one of the 18 Robin say exist in the village, and seemed to enjoy identifying birds, though not with the same passion as Robin. I learned more about the wildlife from Robin, who was able to bring it to life for me through descriptions in my own language about the vegetation, birds and animals. From Roberto, I learned more about the local life.

He told me only a few people are employed in Buena Vista. “Much of the work is only short term, for a day or a week. There is not much stable employment. So many live off the land, growing what the can. And the young are heading for the city, where they can earn a bit with more stability.”

In the afternoon, I met several work friends for lunch on the plaza, followed by a tour to the local coffee producing factory, and a stop at the river Surutu, a river that one can walk across to enter the Amboro National Park. Even though the river wasn’t too high, and a busload of locals were on the other side, cooking lunch over a campfire, I wouldn’t want to wade across. It was wide, moving at a good pace, and hard to tell exactly how deep it was. I read that each year, several people die walking across the rivers in that area. A run-down, sad-looking, but evidently formerly colorful bus was on the beach, part of it’s occupants across the river, the rest sitting in the bus to escape the cold wind. “Comfortable, elegant, service” was written across the top of the bus.

I’ve got a couple of days to focus on working and on packing up, then begins a pretty hectic month of travel.

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