Our highly unreliable map of Bolivia puts the distance from Trinidad to Santa Cruz de la Sierra at roughly 500 km, none of it paved. But after driving through floods and deep mud all the way from the mountains through the Beni lowlands to Trinidad, the hard-packed earth of the road to Santa Cruz was an easy ride. My son, Joseph, his college friend, Benjamin, and I had become used to mere tracks, the accumulated residue of all previous transits modified by the effects of tropical downpours, but now we were driving on what was literally a highway, built up over the swampy plain with upcast from drainage channels dug on either side. The road crews who camped on each tract for weeks on end had not been idle. With nothing to do in their spare time except hunt for the pot, or for the sheer fun of shooting at live targets, they had made a thorough job of that, too. We had seen a vast number of birds, large, medium and small, on our way to Trinidad, but beyond it we saw only a handful of vultures. And instead of an abundance of animals, we saw only big Amazonian lizards, three or four feet long, attempting to cross the highway - and a solitary snake. So it is not true that it takes an asphalt road with all the World Bank trimmings to wipe out the Amazon's exuberant wildlife along its centre route - an unpaved road can do the job, too, if properly constructed.
LRB 31 July 1997 | PDF Download