The History of the Chalalán
At the beginning of the 1990s the indigenous community of San José de Uchupiamonas came to terms with its lack of development, poverty and the government’s lack of interest in the health, education, basic services and access to our region. In the 1980s 40 families from our community migrated in search of a better standard of living, something which made us realize that we would likely never receive help from the government nor any credit facilities and were forced to face the future on our own. We decided to create our own project whose main aim would be to improve the living conditions of our community, but were well aware of the difficulty there would be in realizing this dream while we had no concrete guarantee to offer the banks.
In the 1990s we started to ask ourselves: How can we make sure that our community does not disappear? How can we find employment opportunities and improve the living conditions of our people? By looking at the legacy that our ancestors had left us – the forests, animals, rivers and lakes – we decided on ECOLOGICAL TOURISM. Our sights were set and the task of saving our culture and land passed into the hands of a generation destined to a long struggle. Our idea was to construct rustic, traditional, Tacana-style cabins by the shores of the magical Chalalán Lagoon.
The CHALALÁN Project began on 28 February 1992, with no money but an incredible amount of faith and hope in our ability to work towards a better future for our children. Along the way we made many Bolivian, Dutch, Norwegian and American friends who joined our cause. Joseph Ginsberg, an Israeli, thanked our community after being rescued in the Tuíchi valley, and, on the 23rd of December, 1992, said “I will never forget or stop thanking you. I was born in Israel but I believe I was reborn on the beaches of Progreso near San José. I feel Bolivian and it would be an honor for me now to be a Josesano ". He began to seek financing to promote the community project and managed to contact the representatives of Conservation International and through them contact the Interamerican Development Bank.
The Project was now up and running along with the search for financing. However we still needed more support. This came from Mr James D. Nations, Conservation International’s Latin America Vice President, who wrote the following about his visit to San José de Uchupiamonas: "In all of my working days I have never seen such a desire to protect the environment. I will never forget seeing such respect and love for life and meeting wonderful people”.
His visit had a very positive effect for our community and his desire to help our cause led to the support of Conservation International Washington for our project and negotiate with the IDB, which ended up with the award of a Non-Refundable Technical Cooperation agreement (ATN/ME-4757-BO) for the “Sustainable Development and Ecotourism in San José de Uchupiamonas Programme”. It was signed in 1995 along with the creation of the Madidi National Park using funding from the Multilateral Investment Fund.
Had we not taken these quick and decisive actions, our community, both its culture and land, would have disappeared forever.
Origin of the name of the magical Chalalan Lagoon
It is said that the name CHALALÁN was given to the Lagoon because of a boating accident that happened to a group of Josesano hunters on the River Tuíchi, very close to the Lagoon, in which an enamel steel plate fell onto the stones in the river and made the sound “CHA-LA-LÁN".
Since then the Lagoon has been called CHALALÁN and because the Ecolodge was built on the shore, the Ecolodge and the company were also given the name Chalalán. The Chalalán Lagoon is a magical place where the visitor is filled with energy from the jungle: a jungle not only home to animals and plants but also the guardians of the forest- the "jichi" who look after the jungle by giving it life and ensuring that it flourishes.
On the other hand other members of the community say that there was a tapir (a large browsing mammal) that, while passing through a temporary camp close to the Lagoon, brushed against some enamel plates which made the sound “CHALALÁN”.