Juan Carlos Navi Yuchina: King of the Jungle

11 Dec, 2019 | Silvia Saccardi

Indigeneity, Culture and Nature

Name: Juan Carlos Navi Yuchina

Community: San José

Job title: Nature guide

Age: 52

Family situation: Married, with three daughters and a son

Years of experience working as a guide: Five

Languages spoken: Spanish, Quechua and a bit of English

Together with his father in the 1980s, Juan Carlos Navi Yuchina happened upon a dishevelled Israeli tourist lost in the jungle. Together, they would go on to instigate the now booming ecotourism industry in Rurrenabaque and the Bolivian Amazon. Having witnessed the rise of ecotourism from its very inception in the Bolivian jungle, Juan Carlos has developed a deep knowledge of Parque Madidi and its myriad flora and fauna. He belongs to one of four indigenous communities that live within the national park: the Comunidad San José. His extensive knowledge about plants with medicinal qualities, poisonous insects, fishing techniques, building rafts, mimicking birdsong and navigating the network of paths through the seemingly impenetrable foliage is enough to astound anyone who meets him. Having worked for a total of four tour groups, he is currently with Berraco del Madidi, which offers sustainable, high-quality tours that venture deep into the jungle, teaching visitors about survival there from the comfort of their ecolodge, which is complete with living area, kitchen, chef, shelter, tent, bathroom and shower. Creepy crawlies are an added and unavoidable bonus.

What made you decide to become a guide?

I was part of the initial process of establishing the ecotourism industry in the Madidi jungle, but when I found out that many skilled workers had decided to move on to other companies, I felt I needed to come back in order to bolster the business.

What is your favourite animal in the jungle?

The king of the forest: the jaguar. I have spotted them on no less than seven occasions in my lifetime.

How do ecotourism companies help indigenous communities?

Companies with a community focus aim to protect the environment, because, coming from indigenous communities ourselves, we are aware of the importance of the forest. The forest is a source of medicine, materials for building houses, and food. Ecotourism was created with the aim of generating sustainable work within the community. So, community-based companies help to provide education and health care to the benefit of all within the community.

What is your favourite part of the work you do?

I love being a guide. I have learnt so much and developed my understanding so that I can pass on my knowledge to guests that come and stay with us.

Which traditions are you keen to pass on to those who visit Madidi and to future generations in the Comunidad San José?

I believe that cultural traditions should be passed on to younger generations so that they do not feel lost. For example, there are certain traditions in my community that other communities do not share and vice versa, such as traditional music and dance. Other than that, we must preserve the artisanal character of the things we make and do. We also have an opportunity to share our customs with tourists who come here, and I believe it is important that visitors discover the differences that exist between our respective cultures.

Do you have a favourite memory from your youth?

I have never been lost in the jungle, but there was one incident when I was 18 years old. Given the little experience I had, I somehow lost track of time. I had been chasing animals and trying to hunt them when I suddenly realised it was too late to get back safely. I thought through my options and decided that the best thing to do would be to climb a tree and wait for dawn. Luckily, my father and great companion came looking for me, and eventually I climbed back down as I could hear him calling me. That was an unforgettable night from my youth. But those are the sorts of things you need to learn to be able to make yourself stronger and survive in the forest.

Is there anything that we have lost from living in the modern world?

There are many things I could mention. On the one hand, the technology revolution has provided many benefits, but on the other hand it has done damage to humankind. You might even say that humans have created their own poison. I remember a time when, in my community, people would grow sugar cane and make honey from it (miel de caña). Nowadays, the modern world has invented a machine to make the entire process easier. People have become used to that and no longer have the desire to work or secure their futures or even prevent illnesses. The modernisation of the world has meant that younger generations have adapted badly; they choose to achieve things quickly and easily, but that comes at a cost.

Finally, why are the forests important?

The forest is important not only to indigenous people but to everyone around the world. It serves us in many ways, from the oxygen we breathe to the water we drink. Not to mention that the forest has the potential to feed us and provide materials to live.


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