The Agrarian Reform in Bolivia, which lasted from 1952-58, sought to redistribute the land amongst the campesinos (farmers) because up until that point, the people had been living under a kind of feudal system in which the Quechuan patrónes (in the case of Toro Toro) oppressed the native Ayamaran farmers into serfdom and made them work the land with very little pay or compensation. While the revolution worked in the cities and towns, it was more difficult for it to take effect in the surrounding countryside, so between ‘52 and ‘58, there were three main rebellions led by the campesinos in Toro Toro. There was so much death during this time that the dead could not be buried, and the animals from the surrounding countryside would come into town and eat the corpses of the fallen. It was such a dangerous time to live in Toro Toro that everyone fled the area and the pueblo in the center of the soon-to-be-park became a ghost town. Nobody lived there for about four years. Then, slowly but surely, the people started to return when they felt that the area was safe again.
Our Guide Don Mario:
When he was a boy, Don Mario loved exploring the mountains surrounding his home. He knew pretty much every cave, canyon and hillside, and came to know a lot about the surrounding area, even though he was just a boy. When the revolution happened, Don Mario and his family left Toro Toro to escape the danger and strife. However, they were one of the first families to return. There were only five families to start, and in the beginning they were so scared of each other that when they saw another person on the street, they would duck inside because they didn´t know who was friend and who was foe. Because there were so few people who had returned, people randomly took up positions of power, and the ‘mayor’ of the town assigned Don Mario as ‘guide’ because out of everyone left, he was the most knowledgeable person concerning the area. Coincidentally, a Yugoslavian paleontologist was passing through the area, and he asked Don Mario to show him around. On that tour, the paleontologist discovered dinosaur tracks in the mountains, and published a research paper that became internationally famous and put Toro Toro on the map. This encouraged more people to return and boosted the tourism industry.
In the beginning of his touring days, Don Mario would not charge money because money was basically useless in the area due to the wars. Instead, if any of the tourists had any meat, he would ask that they give that to him because in those days, the people of Toro Toro only ate meat 2-3 times a year, and the nutrition was relatively poor. So in that way, Don Mario was able to survive and prosper by guiding tourists through the mountains and stoney labyrinths within Toro Toro.
Making a National Park:
Our guide Don Mario was one of the first instigators in the movement to make Toro Toro a national park. His goal was to protect the people living inside and also to preserve the area for future generations. He said that he didn’t understand much of the bureaucracy in making Toro Toro a national park, but he encouraged the movement all the same, and by 1988, Toro Toro was officially made into a national park. He is very proud of this because it was the people who made this happen, and it wasn’t just dictated by the government.
Gratuity and Reflections:
We were very honored to have Don Mario as our guide, and we saw many places that are usually closed off to tourists because he was our guide. We had no idea that he was one of the instigators in making Toro Toro a national park, so it was incredibly eye-opening to hear about his personal connection to the park and his subsequent involvement. We feel very grateful to have had such a wise person as our guide, and we wish him and his daughter Lina (who was our secondary guide and in her second year of university) buenas suerte for the future.