Q & A with Erik Taylor, Executive Director, Sustainable Bolivia and Pisatahua, Riberalta, Beni, Bolivia.
Sustainable Bolivia was created in 2007 in the US and has been working in Bolivia since then. In 2017 we relocated our offices to the city of Riberalta which is located in northeastern Bolivia with a population of about 100k residents. Bolivia established the Aquicuana Lake Reserve in 2016, it encompasses about 20k hectares of rainforest including Lake San Jose and the small communities of San Jose and Warnes. While our own projects are in support of the protection of this natural paradise, we continue to partner with local community organizations for selected health and education projects.
Riberalta is only about 20 km away from the Reserve, so about a 15-minute ride by car or motorbike. The road distance between La Paz and Riberalta is more than 900 km. By bus it can take you 20-30 hours! We recommend that you take a 2-hour domestic flight instead. Riberalta has a local airport.
IS THE AQUICUANA RESERVE PART OF THE AMAZON RIVER SYSTEM?
Northern Bolivia is part of the Amazon Rainforest Basin which covers Brazil and Peru, but the Amazon River itself doesn't go through Bolivia. Riberalta is situated at the point where the Madres de Dios River joins the Beni River.
Your readers can click here - www.pisatahua.org/birds - to see a full list of some 300 local bird species. We are in the process of cataloging the biodiversity of the Reserve in order to better know it and preserve it. To this end, we are working with a local biologist and with international biology students. You might like to know that the Reserve is home to a bird that only exists in Riberalta and is endangered. It is called the masked antpitta or tororoi riberalteño. The Reserve is also home to monkeys, sloths, wild hogs, jaguars, caiman yacare, snakes, lizards, frogs and butterflies.
HOW DO THE VILLAGERS IN THE RESERVE COMMUNITIES EARN A LIVING?
Mostly by subsistance farming. They cultivate bananas, papayas, potatoes, beans, tomatoes, peppers.
At the moment we have a fundraising campaign going with the goal of building a restaurant/tourist information point for one of the communities in the Reserve. We are making promotional outreach through online social media, such as our Facebook page as well as direct communication with interested tourists and other organizations.
PISATAHUA, YOUR "SISTER" ORGANIZATION, IS A PLANT-BASED MEDICINE AND WELLNESS RETREAT. WHAT TREATMENTS DO GUESTS RECEIVE THERE?
Our guests receive holistic health treatments including, but not limited to, healthy vegetarian meals (which are locally and sustainably sourced), medicinal drinks and salves made from local rainforest plants, ayahuasca ceremonies, daily yoga classes, guided meditation instruction, integration support and health-workshops.
We are just at the very beginning in the development of an ecotourism project. In promoting the Reserve, we also promote the city of Riberalta which is less frequented by tourists than other cities in Bolivia. We have to take into account that Riberalta can be difficult to reach and is more expensive than other destinations in Bolivia like Rurrenabaque. Government authorities are only now starting to think about developing strategies for local tourism. So in the short term we do not expect much change.
Our future plans include developing an ecological club at the local school in the Reserve to raise awareness about environmental conservation and ecological thinking. We also plan to create a technical training for potential ecotourism guides within the school. Meanwhile, we have created a charter for future tourists to sign stating the basic principles to follow while visiting the Reserve. We believe these measures will serve as a shield against development that is destructive and does little to improve the welfare of the local communities.
I would say that Bolivia is more stable than it has ever been (in modern history). While still one of the poorest countries in the Americas, Bolivia has undergone many years of successful poverty reduction. It is one of the safest countries in the Americas for tourists.
IF I WAS CURRENTLY A COLLEGE STUDENT STUDYING WILDLIFE CONSERVATION, ECOTOURISM, OR LATIN AMERICAN CULTURE, WOULD I BE ABLE TO SPEND TIME WITH YOUR ORGANIZATION AS A VOLUNTEER?
Yes, we receive many interns and volunteers. Most of the opportunities are based in the city of Riberalta, with the chance to visit the Reserve regularly. Some positions have to do with communications or fundraising, some involve biodiversity research, and others are with local partners in education or health sectors. Sometimes there are also volunteer opportunities at the Pisatahua Medicinal Retreat. All available positions are described on our website.
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