A stay in the Bolivian jungle
Deals to discover the Amazon basin abound in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia. For our stay in the jungle, we chose to put the price (€ 150 per person for three days and two nights) and rely on the team of Madidi Travel in order to discover the Serere reserve.
A three hour ride in a sixteen meter dugout canoe with an outboard motor on the Beni river is needed to reach the Serere reserve from the town of Rurrenabaque. This river, the widest of Bolivia, ends a few hundreds of kilometres above the Amazon where it joins the Madera river.
In this dry season of the year, after having landed on the river bank, you walk about forty feet on the cracked silt to approach the edge of the woods. Very quickly, the atmosphere becomes hotter and heavier. The cries of birds resonate more and more. The trees stretch skyward and light seeps between the leaves and branches of these giants, and on the trunks and vines that appear to assault them.
Serere reserve welcomes a limited number of tourists and nature lovers who want to discover or rediscover the “jungle”. You are accompanied by Bolivian guides and staff who are very eager to preserve this threatened environment. Here, we are far from the sensational “las pampas tours” and “tours to the jungle” that promise to get you a picture with an anaconda wrapped around your neck. In the course of those tours organized and proposed by dozens of agencies in Rurrenabaque, little do they care that the insecticide carefully spread through your skin is one of the causes of the disappearance of the much-feared animal, nor do they care that the beast had been imprisoned in a woven bag for several hours so the next group can have the “possibility” of discovering an anaconda “by chance”.
At Madidi Travel, which manages the Serere reserve, they have chosen to adapt human presence to this environment and not vice versa. In Serere, groups of tourists are limited to six people, the eco-lodges that house them are cleverly built and have no electricity. The cabins have two environments and are enclosed in mosquito netting in the guise of walls so the “jungle” environment is guaranteed.
The Bolivian owner of the reservation, Rosa María lives here year-round. She does not mind telling you about the time that, while bathing in the lake in front of the main lodge, she was attacked by a four meter caiman. Rene, like the other guides who work here, is a member of an indigenous community that borders the river. For twenty years, he spent most of his time living in the forest. His senses, sharp by years of practice, allow him to find the smallest of animals. And his grandfather, the village shaman, taught him to recognize and use medicinal plants.
A NOT-SO-VIRGIN FOREST
In the jungle, there are numerous groups of monkeys such as the squirrel monkeys, recognizable by their creamy yellow fur, which, in groups of twenty or more, devour the clusters of fruits suspended tens of meters above the ground. Their cries, the murmur of leaves and the rustling of the branches indicate their position quickly. With a little attention, birds, particularly the fabulous Serere, which gives its name to the reserve, are easily visible. Other animals such as jaguar and puma are almost impossible to perceive as they mainly hunt at night and stay at safe a distance from humans. On the other hand, as soon as the sun sets, the forest becomes the favourite terrain of the insects. Their songs invade the atmosphere. Spiders come out of their hiding places to install themselves on their webs to patiently wait for their prey. On the edge of the lakes, very still, the caiman calmly wait for their prey.
The décor of this animal theatre is the plant world. Trees are sometimes fighting to death to be the first to reach the sunny canopy and deploy their foliage. Vines climb up the sides of trees onto their branches until their weight breaks their host in a deafening noise. Nothing is lost. Minor rays of sun provide energy to dozens of species at the same time, thus supplying material to the colonies of ants and other insects which in turn feed small mammals, which are then the prey of birds and the most ferocious carnivores.
For those who know how to recognize their value, plant species that inhabit the forest are remedies to an impressive number of diseases. Fevers, rheumatism, digestive ailments, congestion, wounds… Preparations are made based on mate: infusions in hot water with the bark of the vines and properly selected trees that release their benefits. In the end, with a cure of several weeks or even months, we could cure everything.
“Some years ago, a woman treated her daughter of a judged incurable cancer by doctors. Unfortunately this woman died without having transmitted the knowledge of the species that she used to treat her daughter! “, explains our guide.
Once, during a stay in the Brazilian Amazon, René caught malaria. After two weeks of fever, a doctor diagnosed him with an incurable form of the disease. Seeing the end come, René wanted to go where his family was to spend his last days. When he arrived home in very bad shape, his grandfather went to the forest in search of a tree bark to cure him. For several months, René drank many daily infusions of quinine, the famous tree used by the pharmaceutical industry to develop anti-malaria drugs. After some time the fevers disappeared, and, ten years later, René treks through the forest as if nothing had happened.
The forest also contains a large number of hallucinogenic substances. Some species have the power to kill a man in less time than a rooster crows. Curare is possibly the most dangerous tree from Amazon. Under its crust there is a liquid that is spread through the tips of arrows used for the blowpipes of indigenous peoples to hunt and kill. Few leave unscathed by the torment of the Devil’s tree. This tree is colonized by very aggressive red ants have strong, burning bites. Formerly, as a punishment, people were tied to this tree for many hours or many days, sometimes to death.
The human being is the greatest danger for the forest: hunting, deforestation and contamination all reduce the surface and number of species of the Amazon forest each year. Only a few kilometres from the Serere reserve, the mining is poisoning lands that were recently virgin, and the remains of these industries and the polluted water from the cities are poisoning the waters. All of this is done with the support of local policies.
Text and pictures : Caroline Pothier & Grégory Salomonovitch (If you want to see more pictures and videos, please visit their web: http://reperages.info/2014/07/10/reserve-serere/)