If you drew a straight line on a map, Coroico to Charobamba wouldn’t seem too far in distance. Having said that, there are not many straight lines in the Yungas. Our short trip to El Jiri Ecolodge took over an hour in a hired taxi traveling up, down, and around steep mountainsides. Our driver took us past the tiny Afro-Bolivian village of Tocana, around a cliffside dirt road past the even smaller village of Polo Polo, before dropping us in front of the small single-room gradeschool/coca leaf-drying shed in Charobamba. It was here we had arranged to meet Mario, the owner of El Jiri Ecolodge.
Mario met us in front of the school in a small All Terrain Vehicle, a welcome sight considering his property is another 20 minutes uphill, by foot, from the village. He transported our heavy bags up the mountain while Lex and I walked up the path guided by one of his sons who was home for the weekend. At the end of the path—at the border of a national park—we encountered not the barebones refugio we expected but, rather, a beautifully constructed rustic jungle retreat. Mario, as it turns out, is a civil engineer who decided one day that he was tired of living in the city. Over the last 12 years, he has turned his inquisitive nature and problem-solving skills to the pursuit of sustainable agriculture and the quieter satisfaction of do-it-yourself country living. Indeed, over the course of two days, we learned a great deal about organic agriculture and proper stewardship of the land. The coffee we drank, which was grown and processed by Mario, was amongst the best I have ever tasted in my life. Seriously, amazing.
More and more I am becoming convinced that coffee cultivation is a far more elusive and nuanced pursuit than wine. If you ask 10 people, you’ll get 10 different responses as to what the most important point of production is. According to Mario, it’s all about the plant and the care that goes into pruning and harvesting, while also cultivating a plot that is mixed with the right amount of shade cover. We took a few walks through his land and into the wild jungle beyond, taking note of the native vegetation plus the various coffee, citrus, and other plants within the property’s boundaries.
Mario and his wife Ana were amazing hosts and made us feel quite welcome on their land. They shared many stories of their life together and of the surrounding forest. We learned a great deal about Bolivia, both past and present. In particular, we spoke at length about the history of Charobamba, a village carved out of the jungle by a small group of Jewish families from Europe who fled to Bolivia during the Nazi years. I must say, it is kind of surreal to be walking in the middle of the jungle and to have somebody explain that the trail you are walking on is about seventy years old, since it dates back to the “time of the Jews.” An interesting book that Mario recommends on the topic is called Hotel Bolivia . Although most of the Jewish families left Bolivia after the war, a few remained in the region. Mario’s wife Ana was formerly married to one of the descendants of these wartime immigrants, and through a tale that is perhaps too long or too loaded with personal information for the internet, they retain a familial connection today.
The symbol of the wild upper Amazon is the tunqui, cousin to the Quetzal, a bird with an appearance outdone in strangeness only by its extremely bizarre call. The tunqui sounds more like a groaning monkey than a forest bird. Due to the encroachment of agriculture and the construction of roads, they are no longer common in the areas near Coroico in the Nor Yungas. However, one colony remains in a valley beneath El Jiri in the national park. According to Mario, they occasionally visit his property in the morning to snack on fresh citrus.
With this in mind, I woke up at sunrise and headed into the jungle to have a look. No more than 50 paces past El Jiri’s property, I heard the tell-tale bizarre groan-squak of the tunqui. Then, through the narrow gaps in the forest canopy, I saw the underside of a large red-and-black bird flying over head. I cannot be sure, but I believe this was my moment with the tunqui. Although the moment passed too quickly for a photograph, I did manage to set up my trusty audio recorder fast enough to record the bird’s call from higher up the hill where it settled momentarily.
The next time you visit our apartment in New York, please do not be alarmed if you hear something strange playing on the stereo. We haven’t started listening to gregorian chants or Tuvian throat singers . . . it’s just the extended “pah-tee” version of the El Jiri Tunqui Jamz on the radio from today.
We follow in amazement at the sights and experiences you both are discovering. A selfish request is to send along another short “moving picture” of these habitats and jungle environs. Trust in the fact that you will cherish these also, in addition to the stills, after you have returned.
However – one word of caution. None of us may be here to see them since May 21st is “judgement day” apparently, according to some on this planet, or at least here in the US,so enjoy the next few days to the utmost… 🙂
How about we all come down and set up the first “shul” in
Charobamba — and Jack could be the first Bar Mitzvah
co-ordinated by CCI with an authentic jungle theme!!!
The Tunqui will be unique even to the eyes at Bird Jungle.
It is so cool looking (in a strange way).
This is truely an amazing experience — this beautiful
jungle village….send more photos!!
love mom w
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