This is a guest post by RFC Ambassador Hayley Stuart
After a year of planning, November 14th 2018 marks our team’s return to Bolivia, and the second chapter of our production of the “Still River, Silent Jungle” documentary. In June 2018, our group of kayakers, laden with rafts, cameras, and whitewater equipment, flew to Bolivia from the United States and Chile, with the goal of filming the infamous Tuichi River and sharing the captivating story beyond its threatened jungled shores. Together, an unlikely mix of kayakers, park guards from Madidi National Park, representatives from Tacana, and Uchupiamona communities, and local ecotourism professionals successfully descended the Tuichi River from the high dry forests to the deep lush jungles, and through the treacherous Puerta del Sol rapids in Madidi National Park. Throughout the journey we encountered crashing rapids, flash floods, gold miners, and Amazonian nomads, and with every bend in the winding river, we learned from each other’s unique backgrounds.
The Tuichi River is a tributary to the Beni River, which is one of the main headwaters of the mighty Amazon River, and represents the most important sediment channels for Bolivia’s tropical lowlands. The Madidi Park guards had long dreamed of a raft that they could use to patrol rivers that are unnavigable by motor boat for illegal miners, loggers, poachers, and smugglers. Now, thanks to NRS’s raft donation, to kayaker Lorenzo Astorga’s rafting background, and to the patronage of our project’s sponsors River for Change, MEC, and Recover, they could begin to realize that dream. The six day descent focused on training the park guards in whitewater skills; a descent that they one day hoped to make a regular part of their routine.
We also had the great fortune to be accompanied by Ruth, an Uchupiamona woman who actively defends the regions’ rivers against more overarching threats, currently the two mega-dam proposals called Chepete-Bala. She had grown up on the shores of the Lower Tuichi, and so the opportunity to descend the river from top to bottom, and pass through the legendary canyon, was a long-awaited and powerful experience for her.
After descending the Tuichi, we went with Ruth by motor boat up the Quiquibey river, another threatened tributary of the Beni, to visit the indigenous communities who declared themselves in opposition to the dams. The further upstream we traveled, the less developed each village appeared- with fewer amenities from the modern world, and fewer people occupying each spot. Each family shared their thoughts, concerns, and hopes for their communities with us, and explained the frequent challenges of riparian jungle life, from chasing off jaguars, to rebuilding homes swept away by floods, to finding medical aid for a sick or injured child. Now, imagine adding the pressure of impeding a $10 billion dollar project that would leave them without homes or land. This is the unfortunate reality of the region.
Now with our return to Bolivia, we will be able to finish production for the short film that will raise awareness about the situation and encourage conservation of Madidi National Park. Instead of descending the Tuichi, we will follow up with the the national park guards with a Swift Water Rescue Course, in order to bring them one step closer to raft independence. Instead of going up the Quiquibey River to visit the indigenous communities, each village will descend by boat and gather at the proposed dam site on November 22nd for the second year anniversary of the “vigilia”, a twelve day standoff by the communities that blocked the dam companies from accessing the dam sites. Here they will stand once again in renewed solidarity to demonstrate their continued resistance. While this trip down will be the final chapter for our short film, I have a feeling our collaboration with the people of the Beni River Basin will endure for many years to come.
Follow us on Instagram and Facebook as we continue this journey @hayleymstuart, or at www.madidifilm.com