We met him at the Madidi travel agency in Rurrenabaque, he introduced himself as our guide for the rest of the four day tour we would spend in the jungle. On the boat he said he was from a small village up the Beni River where he had quit school around the age of 9 and begun working. He lost both of his parents and still at his old age he doesn’t know what happened, he said he was too young to understand.
Even though his older brothers took care of him, he had to start working as a fisherman. He was proud to say he has a son and a daughter and they where both studying, his daughter currently was working at the reserve as a house keeper but would then return to the capital to continue her tourism studies.
On our jungle treks he didn’t speak much but would smile every time he did, telling different stories about tourists, about animals and dangers in the jungle. He said that he started to take tourists to the Black Lagoon until he got caught. This lagoon has black water and is full with caimans and anacondas and many other hidden dangers, the story he told us was that two fishermen from a village nearby where rowing their canoe to fish when an anaconda grabbed one of them and pulled him into the water never to be seen again.
His repertory of sounds imitating those of animals in nature where incredible, from tapir to monkeys to birds to wild pigs. As we would walk through the jungle he would suddenly stop and guide us to the animals, his senses are just beyond developed, nothing could pass Don Cevero without being noticed.
Severo in Spanish means severe, appropriate to this jungle man, but because some tourists couldn’t pronounce his name sometimes they called him “cerebro” which means brain, not because of his persistent attempt to conquer the world, but because of his vast knowledge I found it to be more than fitting.
On one of the nights after dinner he told us he was a gold digger, literally, he was working in a mine for a period of two years, in this period he never came back to his wife, because it was a three day trip and very expensive. The first three months he had no income and it was hard but he managed to save enough money to buy a small piece of land in Rurrenabaque. – “Did your wife wait for you all this time?” I asked. – “Of course, I’m the best, she knows that I’m coming back”, he answered with a huge smile in his face.
Another evening after dinner he came to our table looking tired, but he would never admit to it. I asked him if he would like that his son and daughter would also work as a tour guide like him and his face changed, he wouldn’t answer the question. It’s a hard time at the moment, Don Cevero affirmed – tourists are not coming as much as they did before.
Don Cevero made it to the fifth grade, he does know how to read, write and the basics of elementary school, but the knowledge of nature that he possesses is invaluable. With a master’s degree I can say that I have no clue on life, nature or natural way of living, I couldn’t survive a day if I was left on my own and had to search for food, find shelter and clothing; the basic human needs. What can I do then? What did I learn in the many years of study? I can say firmly: Nothing that really matters!