|LaPaz: Mountains Above, City Below||Lagos Chalalan||On the fungal trail|
I met Larry at the Telluride Shroomfest and was impressed with the work he was doing in South America, documenting a little of the diversity of fungi in Parque de Madidi in Bolivia. He was looking for some help. I was interested. About six months later we were eating a lunch of fresh food from street vendors on the roof of the Milton Hotel in LaPaz. Together with Daniel Winkler of Mushroaming.com, they put together an eco-tour to support the Madidi project. Larry makes a living teaching about mushrooms and selling them [bio] and is one of the more free spirits from Montana (black belt beside the point) and Daniel a great guy from Seattle originally from Munich with much higher order needs. Interesting. The rest of the group included George, a contractor from upstate New York went with them to Ecuador last year and earns the moniker "George of the Jungle." Nicole practices law in New England and is an avid hiker. Cassy and Garret, in GIS and forest ecology, joined as as part of their honeymoon. Last in the line is Jerry from Seattle. Jane and Barbie from St Louis are a yoga instructor and a former computer rep and they have traveled together before.
Not pictured is Pat from St. Johns-Newfoundland.
At right are Colden and Brendan a couple of knowledgable, twenty-something dudes on walkabout in SA, and Daniel and Jerry. We had various levels of enjoyment adjusting to the altitude, checking out the many vendors (a calle for most everything), touring museums, and eating good food.
We had planned to drive to Coroico and then a hard ten hours to Rurrenbaque in the relative lowlands on the Beni river and our put-in point for Madidi; but with the wet season approaching, we saved some time by flying to Rurre first. This is a tourist town with a dusting of Europeans and North American looking for a simpler and perhaps a warmer way of life. The Santa Ana (reads like Santana!) was a good place to stay (Some English spoken, reasonable, clean, OK to leave goods there) and Larry knew Juliano, a French chef with a bistro there.
The second day we boated upriver with another, local Daniel to a rustic eco-lodge at Wizard Mountain. The mushrooms were great, a good walk, lunch by the creek and a swim at the waterfall. Some hiked quite a way up to a lookout.
Then for the main event. We boated upriver three hours to Chalalan, an indigenous peoples' eco-lodge and a site Larry has collected at for seven years for the Bolivian Herbarium. The guides were great, lodgings as nice as norte americanos needed but similar to local buildings, and lots of trails through the fungal jungle. Also many birds, spider and capuchin monkeys, and the gamut of native reptiles, amphibians, plants and arthropods. Some enjoyed swimming in the warm lake during the day; boating to see the gavials at night, or night walks in the jungle. Due to a miscommunciation about 110V power being available, I ran out of rechargeable batteries for my camera fairly early, so am looking to get some of others' pictures.
We collected well over a hundred types of fungi, many of which this group hadn't seen before. The weather had been locally dry (with rain in areas near that hadn't seen rain for many, many years) so the number of mushrooms was reduced, but still a great diversity. I had the opportunity to help prepare the collections for drying and ultimate transfer to the Herbarium at the University in LaPaz. Great Fun. A system that would better organize the specimens and dry and protect them is needed. The generator only runs for less than an hour a day, so solar and another heat source for drying is needed. Many specimens unavoidably rot or get smashed or lost in the current process. I have some ideas.....
Birding was prolific but frustrating. Many more were heard than seen. Being from elsewhere, the songs and sounds were not helpful. Oft seen were groove billed ani, black winged swallow, sand colored night hawk, brown hooded gull, tern sp., great and snowy egret, (GBH look-alike) heron, cormorant sp., red and green macaw, heard and fleetingly seen parrots, and black vulture. Spider and capuchin monkeys were plentiful at Chalalan in addition to several small snakes, black gavial, and several frogs, and many butterflies.
After many great walks in the four days we were there, we headed downriver back to Rurre for a night, and then flew back to LaPaz airport and fortunately a ride direct to Coroico, a colonial period city in the mountains. If LaPaz was crowded, cold, and busy and Chalalan was remote, hot and quiet, Coroico may be 'just right' on those scales. I enjoyed cool breezes watching birds soar from the balcony of the Hotel Esmaralda high on the hillside above the city. We took the new road to there, but were able to sightsee back on the "Death Road" that formerly was the main road to Coroico with many sharp turns with big drops just at the side of the road. This road is now used mostly by bicyclists. Many wonderful waterfalls and some remaining Jungas, a type of high jungle that is fast being replaced with coca fields. The group found several new fungi here, also. Another local crop is wonderful cocoa butter.
I chose to return home, but the rest of the group took an overnight bus ride to the Uyuni area to see the salt flats. Normally there are many flamingos and other birds, and xerophytic plants; this year they had rain and many tours are not possible. Waiting to hear how they did.
Thanks to Larry and Daniel for putting this trip together. The trip was a good value. Seldom are group tours as flexible and responsive. I learned a lot and enjoyed attempting to talk to the people. Hope that I can return.