A rustic slice of paradise
Leave the city behind and head for the wilds of Parque Nacional Amboró
Visiting Parque Nacional Amboró is an un-missable experience if you enjoy both trekking and wildlife. My day started at 09:00 in Samaipata where I was informed by my taxi driver that The Refugio Volcán (the place where I was to be lodging) was a two hour hike from the taxi drop off. This for me conjured up images from Alex Garland’s “The Beach”. Obviously the journey was not going to be as difficult at that recorded in the book but locals kept referring to The Refugio Volcán as a paradise whose existence remains rather low key.
Stone-hopping amongst the shallows
Our guide greeted us with a horse ready to carry our essential items. We set off uphill past a couple of houses, the setting reminding me of scenes of Vietnam I had seen in films, with lush palm trees and an assortment of other green vegetation set against a dark copper-red earth, a real contrast to the dry dustiness of La Paz. We soon arrived at a shallow winding river which our guide informed us we would cross 14 times, so sandals are a must. I had not realised this and spent most of the two hour trek stone-hopping in my trainers much to the amusement of our guide. There are three other essential items for Amboró Park: sun cream, a hat and insect repellent, the reasons why are obvious. I doused myself in insect repellent and much to my annoyance still found myself infested with tics when I left. They do not actually cause any real harm, they just like the taste of blood and cling on like leeches when you try and peel them off.
An idyllic refuge
We left the river and several rather un-inquisitive cows sunbathing behind us as we walked upwards onto a flat grassy plane to seek out our lodging for the night. There, just a few kilometres away, was our lush paradise complete with a white picket gate surrounded by volcanic hills. Our new home consisted of a couple of wooden houses containing a kitchen, dining area, showers and toilets; several horses were busy grazing nearby, a couple of pigs loafed around and a few chickens darted about hoping not to be the dish of the day. The highlight had to be the two hammocks waiting to take the weight off our weary feet – heaven.
For lunch a thick vegetable soup was placed on the table with bread, quickly followed by french fries, eggs and a side salad. The meals throughout the stay varied slightly and my only grumble was that the fries were always cold (perhaps they don’t realise we eat them hot!). After some more rest and relaxation (it’s a hard life) we trekked up a nearby mountain in pursuit of birds and were pleasantly surprised when two bright green parrots greeted us noisily. Later, we saw toucans, macaws, a condor and many more winged creatures.
A vertical challenge
The next morning I woke early to have breakfast and start my return journey via a different route. This took us away from the river and up over the mountains making it a harder, but more rewarding exit. After admiring and climbing over a ‘mara’ fence (mara is a type of wood which turns red when it comes into contact with the elements and is as strong as steel) we started the vertical climb which took almost two hours. As we rested at the top and admired the view, the guide turned to me and said “There is nothing more that I need”. I was surprised by the potency of his statement since he has very little. He then got to his feet and we pushed on through the thick undergrowth where we saw birds and butterflies of varying shapes and colours, a bees’ nest and a family of cockroaches before coming to a crater-lake ‘Laguna Volcán’ which is beautifully preserved and home to many more species of wildlife. Unfortunately, a hotel is now being built on the side of the laguna, intruding on the idyllic landscape, and from here on it was just a downhill path along the recently made road - a rather disappointing end to my taste of paradise.
An on-going project
The Refugio Volcán community project was set up 35 years ago with the help of a Non-Governmental Organisation. There were two main objectives for this project; the first was to educate the local people who inhabited Amboró Park on how to cultivate and tend their surroundings and the second was to create alternative income for the local people, who initially survived on horticulture alone. The Refugio Volcán currently employs seven people: four guides, two cooks and a chambermaid. The short-term objective for the locals is to become self-sufficient through tourism alone, which will take a substantial amount of time because the initial profit was ploughed back into buying materials such as chairs, tables and hammocks as well as livestock, rice etc. They also have to contend with the elements since tourism hits a major slump in the rainy season from November until March.
The Refugio Volcán can accommodate up to twelve people at a time and you can stay there longer than I did and venture further into the park on day treks with a guide. If you would prefer to just visit Amboró Park with a guide without staying at the Refugio Volcán it is easily accessible from both Buena Vista and Samaipata which is roughly 150km west of Santa Cruz.
Amboró Park spans 430,000 hectares stretching across three distinct ecosystems: the foothills of the Andes, the northern Chaco and the Amazon Basin. Because of this, both highland and lowland species can be found. Most of Amboró Park, however, is still waiting to be discovered, though currently lack of time and money plays a crucial part in restricting the tourist and subsequently most tours do not stay for longer than a week. Nonetheless in terms of the wildlife, the views, the variety of the landscapes and the sheer remoteness, it is ripe for exploration.
Callé Bolívar, Santa Cruz, Tel. 03 - 333 27 25