At the center of South America, what is now Bolivia was a central player in the complex history of this continent. The Inca Empire was born here by the migration of people from the Altiplano to Cusco. Then, the Spaniards transformed Potosi into the richest and largest city in the Americas. Its silver shipping routes shaped the imperial administration. Alto Peru (High Peru in Spanish) was moved from the jurisdiction of the Peru Viceroyalty to the Plate River one and then became Bolivia in the early 19th century. Roughly twice its actual size, it was divided in five departments. Giant in size, tiny in population. During the next few decades it lost much of its territory and the five departments were divided into the modern nine. Beni was created by splitting Santa Cruz in 1842 and occupies an area known as "Llanos de Moxos" – the Moxo Plains – named after the native culture of the place.
Beni is almost empty; in its roughly 214 thousand square kilometers live just over 400 thousand people, a shocking density of below 2 persons per square kilometer. A third of them live in its capital city: Trinidad, so that its countryside is truly desolated. In this situation, understanding its layout is important since the distances among neighbor settlements are large and the logistics involved are complicated. In the whole department – larger than many countries – there are just two main routes; both of them are largely unpaved and subject to seasonal floods. One runs from south to north, arriving from La Paz through the Death Road and reaching the Guayarmerin border crossing to Brazil. The second runs from west to east, arriving from La Paz, crossing the departmental capital and then continuing to Santa Cruz. The first runs roughly parallel to the Beni River, while the second crosses the Mamore River just before Trinidad. The roads meet at Yucumo on the southwest and next to the Death Road exit point, while the two rivers meet at the border with Brazil, where they form the Madeira River, a major tributary of the Amazon. A popular misunderstanding – presented in the previous entry by the denizen requesting a picture – is the topic of cattle; often it is presented as a traditional occupation of the area. Yet, there was no cattle before the Spaniards arrived, the savanna was an agricultural zone displaying an elaborate fluvial control system. Once the last was destroyed, wild cattle took over the place and shaped modern Beni when settlers arrived from Santa Cruz and created large "ranchos."
Few travelers reach this remote area of Bolivia. Those who venture do that due to two major attractions. San Ignacio de Moxos attracts many visitors for its day, every 30 and 31 of July. It offers the best possible contact with the Moxo culture, the native inhabitants of the area. Before the Spaniards arrival, their fluvial engineering skills surpassed modern ones, as described in the dedicate entry in my next journal. The other main attraction is visited at all times. Rurrenabaque – north of Yucumo – is a meeting point between the rainforest and the savanna; it is located on the eastern shore of the Beni River, on the border with the La Paz Department. Savannas are called here "pampa," a Quechua word meaning "open space." It appears also as a "bamba" suffix in many names of places, like "Apolobamba," and it may refer to open spaces in high valleys and the Altiplano as well. Truth is Rurrenabaque became popular with tourists only twenty years ago after a book related to it was published. Nowadays it’s so touristy that is better avoided. Most local travel agencies can help organizing visits to spots of similar interest. Riberalta – in the far north of the department – is becoming an attractive alternative. Beni has more to offer. Some of the Moxos hydraulic works can be visited. Four of them (Lomas Somopae is the main one, just 30 kilometers from Trinidad) are just east of Trinidad. Unluckily, these fluvial engineering wonders do not function anymore.
All these are more than enough to justify a visit, and a few journals.