We just returned yesterday to the Casa, parked in La Paz, from a wonderful 5 day side-trip to the Bolivian rainforest. The impetus for the trip came from the Lonely Planet; in its high-lights of Bolivia, LP says: “Off the beaten track: Stay in a remote community-run ecolodge in Parque National Madidi and marvel at the wildlife”. We looked into it further and liked everything we read.
The lodge, called Chalalan, is owned and run by the indigenous population of San Jose de Uchupiamonas.
It was founded with the help of Yossi Ginsberg, an Israeli who was the only survivor of a party of 4 that were trekking through the rain forest; Yossi was rescued by the village of San Jose, and his way of giving back was to help the village with the ecolodge. (he wrote a book about his experience, which I now have to read: Heart of the Amazon…).
The Madidi National Park is new, established in 1995, and covers 19,000 square kilometers, roughly the size of New Jersey. Madidi is a major bio diversity location, as an example Madidi contains approximately 1,000 species of birds, 85% of all species in Bolivia, and an astonishing 11% of all bird species the world. It is also rich in mammals, reptiles, plants / trees.
We flew from La Paz to Rurrenabaque – a separate post will be coming on the airport in Rurrenabaque – then took a 5 hours boat ride in a sizable dugout canoe, powered by an outboard, followed by a 30 minute stroll through the rain forest to get to the lodge.
The 35 min flight to Rurrenabaque, “Rurre”, is very short, yet the contrasts between La Paz and Rurre are enormous: La Paz is at 3,600m altitude, Rurre is at 200m; La Paz is very dry, Rurre is saturated humidity; La Paz has very few trees, Rurre is true rainforest.
Chalalan provides each group with a private guide for not just the stay at the lodge, but also during the transportation to and from. Our guide was Yadmani – Yad for short – who, just like all the other people employed at Chalalan come from the village of San Jose. Yad was incredibly knowledgeable about birds, plants and trees, and the medicinal properties of each, and was noticeably proud of the environment and how successful the lodge has been.
Each day we took an early morning hike, a nap, a late afternoon hike, and, after dinner, a torch-lit hike. The weather was hot and humid, even my kneecaps were sweating, but no complaints. The mosquitoes were noticeable by their almost total absence during the day, and limited aggressiveness during the evenings / nights.
It’s very cool when you are walking through a National Park and you get to see a species of monkey that only lives in Madidi, and wasn’t discovered until seven years ago: the Golden Palace monkey, named after goldenpalace.com, an online gaming site, which paid $650k for the naming rights (the money raised went to FUNDESNAP – the organization that maintains Madidi National Park).
And Karen got to add thirty (30) new species to her bird page.
We highly recommend the Chalalan lodge, both for the natural beauty of Madidi, as well as a great example of how to create a financially sustainable business for an indigenous population.
And for Calvin Schroeder-Fowler, here are a few extra animal pictures…