An altogether tougher one, this, with the possibility of a little hardship and frustration!
In my previous story, I recounted our adventures in search of the blue throated macaw. On our return to Santa Cruz we took up the next part of our odyssey, the Red Fronted Macaw (RFM) – known locally as “Loro Burro” (donkey parrot, too stupid to talk!). All I had been able to discover was that the RFM inhabited an area in the foothills of the Andes 200 km to the West of Santa Cruz. In Santa Cruz members of “Armonia” gave me the name of Hermano (Brother) Andre, a Dominican friar who is from East Germany but has resided in the village of Pampagrande (the heart of Ara Rubrogenys territory) for thirty years. I was assured that Hermano Andre was an expert in all aspects of the local fauna and flora. They gave me his telephone number but I was unable to contact him.
Pampagrande lies some 200km to the West of Santa Cruz well into the foothills of the Andes and is not normally visited by tourists of any description. We had absolutely no information at all except its position on the map. We decided initially to go to Samaipata, halfway there and make further enquiries.
We travelled in some style to Samaipata, the weekend destination of the well heeled Cruceno due to its much cooler climate. Consequently there is no shortage of hotels (both basic and more up-market) and restaurants and there is a door to door taxi service. (100km for £10!) The journey is spectacular, especially as one draws close to one of the world’s mightiest mountain ranges. Dotted about are the mini palaces of the mega rich like some latter-day eagle’s nests.
There is a German community in Samaipata who are always in touch and soon I met Olaf Liebhart (guide and tour operator of German origin, speaks good English) who eventually was able to get in touch with Hermano Andre. Meanwhile we visited local Inca ruins (“El Fuerte”) and had a few short tours to see the local scenery which is breathtaking. Worth a special mention is the Laguna Volcan, a sparkling lake in the crater of a volcano.
Hermano Andre turned up quite suddenly. At two minutes notice we bundled our possessions in the back of his truck and set off for Pampagrande. Hermano Andre speaks no English so we had to get by on my pigeon German. He has a Toyota 4×4 pickup fitted with a Mercedes engine, a formidable combination well suited to our journeys of the next few days. Most of the population of Pampagrande live in the most awful poverty and squalor.
Hermano Andre has supervised the construction of numerous churches and public works financed by the German Dominican order. There is one eating house in Pampagrande and no hotels. Hermano Andre however runs a primitive bunkhouse with cooking facilities which was where we stayed. We ate at the local eating house and with the good brother’s parishioners. All in all we fared reasonably well. There is a range of tiny shops selling the basics of life. However it’s not even possible to buy a bar of chocolate in Pampagrande.
Hermano Andre has intimate knowledge of the local ecosystems, the main limitation being my poor German and worse Spanish. On the first night we had heavy rain, the temperature plummeted. We arose to heavy, overcast skies, drizzle and a biting wind. The local river thundered by, heavy with silt and flotsam. Amazingly however we observed flocks of Red Fronted Macaws barrelling through the rain just below the cloud base, the only macaw I have seen that will fly in such atrocious conditions. They flew in pairs, shrieking raucously to one another. Almost every morning, regardless of conditions they streamed over in small groups.
The next day was Saturday, I became the official photographer at an Indian wedding the real photographer in true Bolivian tradition, having failed to materialise. The wedding party arrived by truck, at least fifty of them, the bride and groom riding up front. There was no organ or piano. At the service, as is normal worldwide, most of the congregation didn’t know the hymns. Many seemed not able to read either. Hermano Andre however made up for all of them, being a magnificent singer, filling the large church with his baritone. They were a solemn bunch, I saw not a single smile. The bridegroom looked satisfied afterwards. We also went to the party afterwards where chicha beer was handed out by the bucketful and wild dancing went on into the night. It was the best party I’ve been to for years. But still no-one smiled.
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[To be continued later this week here in INDEPENDENCE Daily]