Tour with Madidi Travel to Serere, Bolivia
14.06.2007 - 20.06.2007 -17 °C
Okay so while we were in La Paz we looked into going to Parque Madidi but the agencies we spoke to were either too expensive or just didn’t interest us (they only wanted to sell a tour without knowing what they were selling).
While we were in a cafe we came across a brochure for Madidi Travel SRL. After a quick read we were interested enough to go to their offices and ask questions. Unlike other companies their main focus isn’t tourism its about conservation. The tourism was just means of finance and a chance to open people’s eyes. The company is highly respected in the conservation world. They played a crucial role in the setting up of Madidi National Park, The national geographic society were led by them through the park and were featured in the magazine and on line. They have also been featured on French TV. If I sound like I’m running a sales pitch its because I am, as you read on you’ll see how much I loved the work they did, especially now in Serere and the people are fantastic. Its not often I gush but hey this entry is all about gushing....
(Serere is a protected sanctuary in a flood plain in the north of Bolivia, about 2-3 hours by boat from Rurrenabaque. It is completely owned by Madidi Travel and exclusively run and used by them).
When we got to the office we read a few of the ads outside, we found out that the director had won a prize and recognition for her conservation work in the international world of conservation. Suitably impressed we went inside and were met by a remarkable woman, Rosa Maria, who spoke which such dedication and enthusiasm about the work of the organizations recent protected area Serere that we decided that we had to go there for as long as we could afford. Rosa Maria explained that there were three different packages to allow Serere to be accessible to a wide range of people and budgets. We chose the cheapest option of $40 per day for six days. We’re lucky it’s a promotional year as prices may rise and it would have been a shame to spend any less time there. We found out that our enthusiastic source of information; Rosa was in fact the same director, woman who had won the prize. As luck would have it we would be traveling out on the same flight to Rurrenbaque with Rosa, Martha (another friendly, helpful woman from the agency), and another couple who were going to Serere for 4 days. We met the other couple at the airport, Lee and Anna are from the UK and are on a year world travel trip, and they had only started a few weeks before. While we waited for our flight we found out that this was Rosa’s first trip back to Serere in months as a caiman while swimming one day had attacked her. She was very excited to be going back and her enthusiasm was contagious to the rest of us. Through much informative conservation we were told that when Rosa was young slavery was still legal and that many indigenous tribes were not even recognised by the government. As well as the conservation of the land, animals, etc.... the company is also involved with indigenous tribes and is active land titling and community projects. Much of the work involves human rights. The more stories you hear the more you want to know.
When we got to Rurrenabaque we met the fifth member of our group, Holy from Germany, who was nearing the end of his travels. In the office we also met a volunteer Meghna, she’s a very nice girl who had kind of fallen into the job with her boyfriend, Kit who me met when we got to Serere. They had done a video about the area and were sharing their time by working in the office and being translators in Serere. They’re a cool couple with their heads screwed on, even with loads of alcohol (more about that later).
As we were now in the lowlands there were no more altitude problems. It felt fantastic to be able to breathe again. No more having to stop every two seconds to catch breathes, yeah real energy to explore. Arjan, I, Lee and Anna were sharing one cabin while Holy was sharing with three Dutch people who were leaving the next day. The cabins are great!! There are no walls as such; instead there is netting for bugs and mozzies. To wake up seeing the plants, butterflies, and sometimes birds and monkeys are amazing. Every morning you can hear the howler monkeys greeting the new day with their calls. The main lodge ground floor is were we had most of our main meals prepared by a great local chef. While upstairs you could relax in hammocks or on couches, it’s a great place to watch the animals and the sunset! Or just to play cards, rummy was the game of the trip and with a few misunderstanding on my part (I thought I’d won when I hadn’t), it was a good laugh.
While we were there we had a very informative friendly guide called Jesus. He brought us on various walks and canoe rides. Even showed us how to make rings and necklaces out of nuts and seeds. Though are Spanish was terrible and Jesus has little English we could all understand each other, to the point we were all taking the piss out of each other and seemed to be laughing a lot!! The atmosphere was very relaxing and entertaining. From Holy always wanting to see anacondas, to Lees obsession with the ants (Anna are you prepared to have an ant farm when you get home!), to Arjans obsession with seeing a tarantula (he didn’t see one but I did, one night walking to the lodge I saw one near some logs, I think my surprised scream frightened the spider, whoops, but he was as big as my fist!!). Also Jesus and the other guides can make similar sounds to the animals and called out to them a lot, to hear the guys try to the same as well provided a lot of laughter, especially the caiman calls. Some of them sounded obscene.
In Serere we saw many monkeys, spiders, birds, caimans, fish and various plants & trees. It was amazing; I really can’t stop saying that. On the Friday night the staff were having an offering to Pachamama to thank her for everything that she had done and we were lucky enough to be invited to witness it. It was really interesting to see the plates and offerings which we had read about it museums and seen in markets being actually used. It was quite special to have been able to see something like that for real and not just as a tourist gimmick. We had a good group and it was sad to see the other guys go before us.
On Lee, Anna and Holys last day a new group of five arrived, an Irish couple (Kathleen and Liam), a Dutch couple (I always forget their names, even though we’ve seen them many times since then, whoops), and an Australian girl (Hayley). Overall they were a nice group but the original is always the best? As we were there a little longer then the general groups of 2/3/4 days we got to know some of the staff, they’re so friendly and helpful. Also we got to know Kit a bit better, he’s a very funny guy, with a good sense of humour, and even gives you the heads up on the new people . Through conservations Jesus let slip to Kit that one of the other guides, Oscar, sometimes gave nicknames to people when he couldn’t remember their names. He’d renamed Arjan..................... Antonio Banderas. Hehehe I’ve no problem with that and Arjan thought it was funny, especially as he’d had to sit through Desperado a million times! Poor Oscar didn’t know we’d been told and got a bit embarrassed by it but after realizing there was no offense taken, he relaxed quickly and thus Arjan became Antonio B.
I should probably also tell you a bit about Serere and what you can do there. You never know you may want to visit there soon (and if you don’t, are you mad???). While you’re there you have a choice of many different walks, depending on your time and on the interests of the group. In general everyone is catered towards and if you don’t want to do something then you can sit in a hammock and watch the world go by (even with a nice cold beer ...) In Serere there are four different lakes, one is directly in front of the main lodge while the other three are a short walk from the lodge. Lago Gringo is the nearest of the three to walk to. The other two, Lago Isla and Lago Negro are a little further but the adventurer in you gets to cheer as you cross dodgy logs to get across swampy areas with sticks to keep you from falling. Its loads of fun!! Lago Negro involves a bit more arm muscle for the rowing through the plants but as with all the lakes its great for spotting birds, sometimes monkeys, or course caimans and maybe if you’re lucky anacondas (we didn’t see any but we weren’t as obsessed as someone else). On all the lakes it’s possible to row in the canoes and it’s a great experience. If you haven’t done it, you should, especially if your guide calls to a black caiman you roars his head in reply and dives with a huge splash!! Besides the lakes you can also see the agricultural side to the area by visiting `el Chaco` directly across from the lake near the main cabin. Here you can see the various vegetables and fruits that they grow to be used in the lodge and sometimes by the cheeky animals that pilfer the site. You can also go fishing depending on the season and learn to make natural jewelry!!
All the trips are either half day or full day trips; there are also trips in the morning before breakfast and in the nighttime after dinner that way your opportunities to view the animals and wildlife are increased.
As you can guess this really was once of my favourite places ever!