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bioitza jungle reserve

I enrolled at Bio Itza on the basis of zero research but at the end of my first week in San Jose I am totally won over, not only by the quality of the teaching, but by the evident benefits of the project to the community and decide to stay on for a second week.

A group from a US university have come for a two week study excursion.

In a day and age where the prefix 'eco' or 'bio' is attached to pretty much anything, often with very dubious credibility, Bio Itza is pretty convincing.


Paula and Fredi are the school director and administrator, respectively.

For my second week at Bio Itza I opt to take my lesson at the jungle reserve, which is about 25 kilometres by road from the village. A teacher, who will double as my personal chef, accompanies me for the week.

Heading for the jungle. Although transport is provided, I take my bike because I need to return to San Jose on Wednesday for my next rabies shot.

Reginaldo, my teacher and chef for the week,...

... quickly establishes himself as my personal Guatemalan hero: a man who not only can cook (and does so on a day to day basis for his family) but also respects vegetables.

He is a dab hand at whipping up...

...a few tortillas...

...and quickly produces a quality...


Tea, made from the leaves of an indigenous pepper tree, brewing on the fire. This tea is said to help with stomach upsets as well as being quite tasty.

Around classes and eating I devote my spare time to exploring the forest near the camp.


... shapes and...


One of the four waterholes on the reserve. Water in this region, away from the lake, is an extremely valuable resource.

In the middle of the week the university group visits the reserve and I join them for a guided tour of the jungle.

Paths with through the jungle...

... flanked by signs to instruct the uninitiated in the secrets of the jungle.

Don Dani is one of the reserve rangers who, when the university group arrives at the reserve, takes us all for a tour to teach us more about the plants.

Gringo pobre (the poor gringo) is the name of this tree. The bark is used as an antidote to the ill effects of the following two poisonous plants.

Poisonous tree - the sap is caustic and cause skin inflammation.

Another nasty one - this one is bad for the eyes.

Water vine - this liana, when cut, provides a source of potable water.

Another vine used by artisans for its decorative merits.

There are seven plants...

...which in the right combination...

... Don Dani assures us will act as an effective remedy for snake bite. However, we only encounter four of the seven plants in our two hour walk (of which I only manage to document these three). Later in the day, the group separates and the others come across a large jumping viper, an extremely venomous snake, said to be able to leap at least half its body length, and nobody takes any chances.

Snakes and other venomous creatures are, in reality, the least of the dangers in the jungle. We visit an archeological site on the reserve which has been raided by tomb robbers. The grave robbers are referred to as wecheiros, a reference to the local Maya name for armadillos, which similarly leave behind messy excavations in the jungle. Wecheiros travel and work well armed and are not to be messed with lightly.

Aderito has a GPS and is recording the position of the archeological site. Bio-Itza is in the process of accurately mapping the reserve.

Poachers of both animals and timber also prowl the reserve. The first two reserve encampments where burned to the ground by illegal hunters and they still circle the current encampment firing shots into the air to intimidate the unarmed reserve rangers.

One of the original camps that was set alight by poachers.

{ 2 } Comments

  1. sarah H edges | January 15, 2011 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    Hi Anna, Still keeping an eye on your blog when I get the chance – you write well and take excellent photos and it´s a good read! We followed a very similar route to you guys as far as Zacatecas and are continuing to make our way slowly south by small roads…. currently in the Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra Gorda which is very hilly and very beautiful! Thanks for the time and effort you put into telling your story, it´s nice to read of others who share our lifestyle! Sarah

  2. Mark_BC | January 20, 2011 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    I’m envious of your trip now. I so much want to do more ethnobotany tours on my bike!

    I don’t know if you have heard of it but Wade Davis’ “One River” is a good book about the life of Richard Schultes last century who went to school to be a doctor but ended up spending his life exploring Colombia and bringing so much of its medicinal plants to the outside world. He also documented as many plants the different aboriginal groups used as he could, and for what purpose, with the idea of analyzing them in the future if and when the natives lose their traditional culture and knowledge.
    He put it all down in an encyclopeadic book, “The Healing Forest”.

    I managed to get a Banisteriopsis plant (alive) which is the main ingredient in yage or ayahuasca. It’s growing in my mom’s living room…. I spent a few months in Colombia in 2007 and it was funny, I just bumped into it growing in the forest. Hey! I know you!

    And I got a little coca seedling a couple years ago which is doing well, hopefuly I should have enough leaves soon to try a chew.

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