The Andes/Lowlands Divide and Indigeneity in Amboró National Park

Our excursion to Amboró National Park and Santa Cruz was a unique opportunity to see more of Bolivia beyond La Paz and the Altiplano as a class. While in Santa Cruz, we learned about the Andes and Lowlands divide, one I was aware of but had not previously seen demonstrated by my family. But it was especially Amboró that left me with many questions.

Once back at my family’s home in Santa Cruz, my family had a lot of questions about my experience and perception of La Paz and paceños. My family informed me that most paceños aren’t friendly, good people. But I told them that my experience and perception of paceños was completely different; I thought the people of La Paz were especially polite and friendly. Paceños seem so friendly and polite that during my first week, I seriously questioned whether cruceños were (slightly) rude by comparison. (Day 1 of La Paz: Judith asked if I knew how to get off a minibus. I said, “yeah, pare.” I quickly learned that pare works in Santa Cruz micros, but I’ve never heard a soul yell “pare!” in La Paz. This led me to question whether or not yelling pare! would be a little rude in La Paz.) Of course, I wouldn’t dream of telling my family that- they would be downright offended to hear that I think Santa Cruz is second to La Paz in some ways.

Another thing that stood out to me was the layout and globalized city of Santa Cruz compared to La Paz. I spent time with my family last year and before the program began this year in Santa Cruz, and never really noticed (in-depth) how “Western” Santa Cruz looks with all its restaurants and shopping choices. I think I hadn’t noticed because my family are new Santa Cruz arrivals that live in the 8th ring of Santa Cruz in the neighborhood Alas de Paz which is unpaved and undeveloped in comparison to the rich central areas of Santa Cruz. I also did notice that along with expensive and fancy shopping choices, there was a much higher concentration of white people in the central areas of Santa Cruz. But in Alas de Paz, I’ve seen one white American missionary living in the area, but beyond that, most everyone in Alas de Paz looks like my family (of Indigenous descent). Realizing just how globalized Santa Cruz really is, especially in the Equipetrol area of the hotel, I did feel disappointed that Santa Cruz can be easily mistaken for another city in another country. Although there are things that you will only see in Santa Cruz and ensures that you know you are in the Lowlands, Santa Cruz didn’t seem as unique as La Paz in respects to geography and city planning and design. It seems terrible to me that someone can be in Santa Cruz and forget they are in Bolivia, but La Paz strikes me as more “hardcore” Bolivia.  However, I am still one hundred percent in favor of the Indigenous street arts of Santa Cruz, fluffy cuñapes, and our family’s new and ever-changing life in Alas de Paz.

Finally, on to Amboró. If I remember correctly, the guides and people living in the Villa de Amboró were migrants from other parts of the country. None were Indigenous to the area or to Amboró. This made me wonder- where were the Indigenous Peoples of the Amboró area? Surely a park area this large wouldn’t have been completely uninhabited by people ever in history. So what happened? From my memory, there were incentives to take land in this part of the country, that parcels (cheap or free?) were ready and waiting for the taking, more or less. And that leads to more questions about Indigenous knowledge and guiding in the park. If the guides were not Indigenous to the area, how did they come to learn what they knew about the flora and fauna of Amboró? Just by observation or were there training classes or manuals? Even with formal training, there are things someone cannot come know about a place without having been there for generations. And with that, those who live in the park that identify as Indigenous but from other areas- how does culture translate, change, adapt, or suffer when transplanted to a different place, a different context? Not just moving from the campo to city, but from one ecosystem to another, completely different from one’s own region? Where are the interactions between Indigenous Peoples and cultures and what and how is Indigenous knowledge shared or endangered by the increasing migrations of people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike?

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One thought on “The Andes/Lowlands Divide and Indigeneity in Amboró National Park

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  1. I like the honesty in this post. Particularly how you acknowledge some of the differences in how La Paz and Santa Cruz are perceived within your own family. Both La Paz and Santa Cruz have pockets of wealth, and many areas of lower income neighborhoods. Still, you seem to have noticed that the two cities are “globalized” in somewhat different ways. Why is that? Is it just geography or culture? Or are other forces reshaping both cities?

    The observation about Amboro is also very interesting. You’re pointing out that the “real” (if we can use that term) “natives” of the place are not directly connected to the tourism industry, but rather “outsiders”. How is that different from white middle class park rangers walking you through formerly American Indian lands? How does that work? What paradoxes or challenges does that kind of reality pose? What does this say about the different ways in which “expertise” or “qualifications” are measured?

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