A Day on the Dunes - An Interview with Nick McPhee

Travel Aug 20, 2014

The morning started relatively early, and considering the previous night was a late one, I was yearning for my morning coffee and scrambled eggs. I knew the day was going to involve getting dirty so I skipped my customary morning wake-up shower and went straight to breakfast. Nourished and feeling good, we waited to be picked up.

Having been told that Nick was an Aussie, I secretly hoped he wasn't a spitting image of Steve Irwin, regardless of how much we all love a bit of "Crikey!". I wasn't disappointed. There was no doubting he was an Aussie, with his sun-drenched but fair skin, two-day-old stubble and welcoming smile. We loaded the ute with Nick in the back (that's completely legal apparently) and head off.

We joked with our driver, Miguel, until our first unannounced stop at Palmasola prison. In Bolivia the prison system is unlike anywhere else found in the world. The famous San Pedro prison in La Paz houses some of the most dangerous men in the world, yet produces the most sought-after Cocaine. Prisoners families often live and work inside, allowed access to the outside. With a completely self-sufficient mini city in operation inside San Pedro, the families have little reason to leave the confinement. Palmasola is no exception to San Pedro, just on a smaller scale. Just months before our arrival, Nick tells us of as incident where 35 people were killed inside Palmasola by a series of explosions due to gas tanks being used in gang fights/ riots.

Fifteen minutes later and we were entering Las Lomos de Arena, with sighting of Three-toed Sloths, Burrowing Owls, Caiman and Capybara. It was obvious from this point how passionate and concerned for the animals (particularly the Jaguar), Nick was. After spending out time sand boarding, witnessing where the jungle meet the dunes and learning about the threats to local flora and fauna, I took some time to catch up with Nick.

How did you become a tour operator?

I became a tour operator for many reasons, after moving to Bolivia I found it extremely hard and frustrating to find information about places in Santa Cruz and when I did they were usually of poor quality or extremely expensive. After exploring Santa Cruz and Bolivia I realized there was so much more to see than what was written in Lonely planet or on the internet so it became my goal to show people what amazing places Bolivia has to offer...

What's been the single best experience of your time in the wild?

The best experience I've had in the wild was in Kaa Iya National Park where I saw a large male Jaguar (the first in this park) at very close range (less than 4 metres from the car) and it was also with one of my best friends who came to visit me and with my partners Dad whos dream was always to see a wild Jaguar. To see them so happy was something very special. The sighting was after 3 hard days of searching without result. This was the first Jaguar sighting I'd had and the first of many...

A Toucanillo sits gazing down for prey

When was the moment you knew you wanted to be an animal conservationist?

I've always wanted to be an animal conservationist ever since I was a kid. One of my childhood memories was of my father killing a harmless carpet python on the road and my brother and I did not speak a word to him for a month! My conservation work includes working with cattle ranches and developing Eco tours to bring money into the properties which help combat cattle losses from Jaguars and Puma. We donate a percentage of these tours and employ locals to help teach people that the animals they usually kill are worth a lot more alive than dead. We also do camera trap studies in areas of Bolivia and plan to expand these studies as the business grows. Educational and conservation messages are always published on our webpage and facebook pages...

Whats the best part of your day?

The best part of my day is meeting different people from a variety of backgrounds and having the opportunity to show them some of the most beautiful places I know...

You've spoken to us about the terrible way locals kill wild and endangered animals, do you think it's possible to change the mindset of Bolivian farmers and hunters, and if so how?

Yeah it is possible to change their attitudes, I already have. For example one of my first nights out in Santa Cruz I met a local hunter who told me he killed many Tapir, when I explained how slow the gestation period is for the Tapir and its vunerabilty to extinction he swore he would never hunt one again. Education is the key and conservation is a relatively new concept here. There are always some Ranches who will never change but there are also a lot who don't want to see the Jaguar go extinct but also don't want to lose livestock...

What's your main goal for the future?

My main goal for Bolivia is to have set up Jaguar conservation tours on a number of cattle stations which would ensure the survival of them in large parts of Bolivia. One day I hope to own large portions of land where I can set up a private game reserve which would border a National Park and would serve as a buffer zone for wildlife. The reserve would also act as an area with no hunting and a place where people from all over the world can come to visit, enjoy and learn from. Rescued and or problem animals would also be welcomed here and looked after...

What's the hardest part about living abroad?

The hardest part of living abroad is being away from friends and family, different culture and language is also hard to deal with as well...

Do you have any advice for any 'Gringos' wanting to live in South America?

The best advice I can offer gringos who plan to move to South America is to learn the language, culture and accept that your adopted country will always be very different to your place of origin...

Nick McPhee, 31, is an Australian ex-military, having served in Afghanastan and Iran. While travelling through South America, Nick fell in love with not only the country of Bolivia but his girlfriend and business partner, Carolina.

Nick and Carolina runs tours daily from trekking the Andes mountains and the Amazon Rainforest to fishing for Piranhas in remote rivers. If you're heading to Bolivia, make sure you get in touch with Nick to get the best experience possible. For all you nature fiends, you might even see Jaguar, Puma, Sloths, Monkeys, Capybara, Toucans, Macaws, Caimans, Snakes, Ocelots, Dolphins, Tapir, Armadillos, Giant Otters, Anteaters, Deer, Racoons, Tarantulas, Andean Bears... the list goes on!

Click below for my deets...

#bolivia #intothewild #wilderness #santacruz #jaguar #conservation #adventure

Jono Mark

36 | SYD | LDN | ??? Happiest with a camera attached to my hand... I'm scaling the globe one country at a time to capture who and what makes our world such an amazing place.

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