|Thursday September 12 and Friday 13
Upon learning that the trip to Riberalta would not take place before September 14 the NASA team in Santa Cruz spent the next 2 days at Robin Clarks Flora and Fauna Hotel in Buena Vista (a 90 minute drive from Santa Cruz on the edge of Madidi National Park). This bird watching retreat is an internationally famous site. Robin Clark, the proprietor and an accomplished ornithologist and general naturalist, provided the NASA team with an excellent introduction to the Bolivian landscape as well as the flora and fauna likely to be encountered on the expedition.
Meanwhile, the advance team of PeterW and PeterH would explore Riberalta, an outpost city at the edge of the Amazon in northern Bolivia. Riberalta (GPS: 11 South and 66.1 West) is located at the confluence of the Rio Beni and the Rio Madre de Dios where the 2 rivers form the Rio Madeira which is the only main feeder to the grand Amazon river coming out of Bolivia. These rivers are the main arteries for commerce and supply because the roadways of Bolivia are, for the most part, unpaved and in varying degrees of smoothness. The riverbanks are crowded with numerous wooden hulled riverboats that traverse the rivers upstream to bring bananas and other foodstuffs to Riberalta. This cornucopia of food and produce is available in great quantity from roadside stands. The main shopping venue in Riberalta is a catacomb of interconnected buildings where every conceivable household item and service can be purchased including having your shoes repaired or a new pair made by one of the open air cobblers. At one of the stores, Chris negotiated for the purchase of plastic containers to insure that the bug population did not share our nourishment once we left Riberalta and entered the rainforest.
Interesting non-native visitors are commonplace. For example Carola Emkow, a linguist and citizen of Germany presently working on her thesis in Melbourne, Australia at Latrobe University, surprised us with her insider knowledge about the ebb and flow of life in the Araona village. We would learn that not much has changed with the Araona since 1998. The social gathering place in Riberalta is a square at the center of town lined by internet cafes and outdoor restaurants. Here Chris, Carola and Aurelino (who is a volunteer for the indigenous organization CIRABO) enjoy a discussion about first hand experiences with the Araona over morning coffee.