Back to the heart of the Bolivian Amazon

by Philippe Kobel

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On both sides of the straight reddish dirt road crossing the Bolivian Amazon of Pando, the forest was becoming ever denser, when it opened suddenly. The majestic river Madre de Dios was facing us, the heart of the Bolivian Amazon.

In front of this breath-taking view, my memory was flying to the past, two years ago, when we came here together with Prof. Manuel de la Torre for a pilot expedition to several schools of the region. We used to cross the river with a small boat before pursuing the road in motorbike (with our telescopes in hand!). But now we were accompanied by a large team, Sandra, Mayte, Jorge, Felipe and Fernanda, so our only way was to use the “pontón”, the Bolivian version of a ferry, namely a large platform of metal and wood that could float and carry people and a few vehicles until the other side.

The water way to El Sena is almost hidden, invisible from far away. There the river Madre de Dios branches into a smaller rivers, leading to the entrance of El Sena, where several boats typical of the Amazon are parked with their hamacs and some with two floors without walls.

We arrived at the school during the student breakfast, all the students were running all over, searching for their ice-creams or “majadito”. A few minutes later we were all gathered in the central basketball field, all the students in front of us. The music teacher sang with his guitar the song “El Sena” while all students were clapping the beat with their hands. A few seconds of magic.

After two days at their school we already had the chance to perform several of our activities with the students: orienting the telescope, classifying galaxies, modeling the expansion of the Universe, in addition to a two-afternoon teacher workshop.  All of this was done under an extreme heat, except for the night, thankfully, during which we could see both the Milky Way and storming clouds at the horizon!

In our last afternoon there we ad a very special moment. The music teacher arrived with his guitar at the teacher workshop and we spent our last hours at the school playing music and dancing all together.  A cosmic music that was still keeping us company in our minds when we left this unique place, floating in the river Madre de Dios.

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