The answer for one British couple, Katharine and David Lowrie, is precisely the length of South America… in running shoes.
Discover what drives them to wake up in the morning, put on their trainers, and run for 25 miles – every day, for over a year…
Traveling across Bolivia is like finding yourself in a surrealist film-set; from exploring the dizzying high-altitude streets of La Paz and its witches market, to watching pink flamingos wade through red and green lakes at the foot of snow-capped mountains, to wandering across an island of towering cacti surrounded by a vast glaring desert of salt.
After this intoxicating experience, my feet finally land in the office of Asociación Civil Armonía, in the south-eastern city of Santa Cruz. Here I’m greeted by a small, enthusiastic team working together to save the country’s wildlands and wildlife. But before I settle down to begin my three weeks of volunteer work, there’s one question on everyone’s lips: “Have you heard about Katharine and David?”
I’m so inspired by the tales of this couple’s epic fundraising adventure that I’m soon emailing them, bursting with questions. What I really want to know is what drives them to wake up in the morning, put on their trainers, and run for 25 miles – every day, for over a year.
It’s time to find out…
Q&A interview with Katharine Lowrie
- Aim: To raise funds for nature conservation, to protect wildlands and wildlife
- Benefit: Donations will go to: BirdLife International, Asociación Civil Armonía, and Conservacion Patagonica
- Result: Successfully achieving a ‘world first’: the first couple and first female to run the continent
- Distance: From Chile to Venezuela, via Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil. That’s over 5000 miles; equivalent to a massive 250 marathons or 25 miles every day for over a year!
- Start & finish date: 27 Jul 2012 – 25 Oct 2013
1. Out of all the charities you could have chosen to raise money for, what inspired you about Armonía and their work in Bolivia?
Bolivia is an incredible country of extraordinary diversity; from its spiralling snow-capped mountains and flamingo filled altiplano, descending through the spectacled bear’s cloud forests into the steaming rainforests and flooded savannas to the land of jaguars and scarlet macaws.
We wanted to raise money for a conservation organisation who was based in the country, whom we could see was making a tangible difference by actually buying and conserving land, employing and training local people in conservation, involved in education programmes and raising awareness amongst its population of the importance of Bolivia’s astounding natural world. Armonía is doing all of this.
2. What was it like meeting the team?
They’re incredibly warm and welcoming – opening their office, library and homes to us – making it quickly clear how they have gained friends in their conservation work across the country and internationally.
We met Sebastian Herzog, Scientific Director of Armonía, whose knowledge and understanding of birds and conservation provide a crucially important grounding for the charity’s work.
While manager of the Trinidad office, Gustavo Sanchez, is ensuring the Critically Endangered blue-throated macaw population is gradually increasing through a broad programme of working with estancia (ranch) owners, monitoring populations, managing the new reserve and education.
These are just two dedicated members of the team, but then there are all the others; from Maria Cerro Constantino who heads the media and communication side of things, to Cesar Flores who works on the ground putting up nest boxes and promoting the importance of macaws amongst the estancia owners and local communities.
Together they are achieving huge steps in the conservation of birds, wildlife and their habitats in Bolivia.
3. What was it like to visit the Barba Azul reserve created by Armonía?
We took a tiny propeller plane to reach the reserve, meandering along the River Mamore. A thin thread of gallery forest framed its banks and giant water lilies filled its back waters. These areas remained because they were inaccessible to cattle. Beyond them, white blobs and scorched paths signalled the massive herds of cattle that have grazed away the natural savannas and the wildlife they support.
Landing in the reserve was like entering another world. We rode through waste high grasses where the endangered pampa deer and giant anteater still have a home, above our heads blue-throated macaws screeched on their morning commute to feed on palm nuts, and in the swamps colossal jabiru storks stabbed snakes and orinoco geese jostled for grazing rights.
4. Why was it important to you to visit the reserve?
I hope to be the first woman and together we will be the first couple in the world to run the length of South America. But it’s not just about running; the whole point of the expedition is to run through some of the most biodiverse areas on Earth.
Watching a cayman basking in the sun or a puma crossing the road simply makes us happy! We want to share these encounters through videos and blogs, to tell the stories of the wildlife and wildlands we’re meeting.
Visiting the reserve allowed us to get under its watery skin. Plus we had run over 6000 km to reach the Beni Savannas, so there was no way that we were going to pass by the reserve without visiting it and meeting some of its wild characters!
5. What are the threats to the reserve?
Cattle and surrounding estancia owners are the greatest threats and Armonía are urgently trying to raise funding to fence the reserve, which we are aiming to help with through our fundraising campaign. The reserve’s rejuvenating grasslands are very attractive to neighbours and their cattle, so the warden of the reserve is having to battle to keep them out. Without fencing, this is impossible in many areas.
6. What has been your most incredible wildlife sighting?
Gosh, that is a really difficult question! There have been so many wonderful encounters! We had always dreamed of seeing a puma, so watching a female slip across the road in front of us in the early morning in northern Argentina was incredibly exhilarating.
Then there was eye-balling a red and black striped coral snake centimetres from my nose after stopping to tie my shoelace by the roadside in Bolivia. After the initial shock (!)…we watched it glide like liquid through grass tussocks; utterly beautiful.
Perhaps above all, it is the familiar ‘friends’ that I will never forget and one of the most memorable frequented the enchanting temperate rainforests of southern Chile. Whenever I scrambled through the mesh of lichen encrusted branches and bamboo thickets, to survey birds or collect water, after a couple of minutes I would hear a rustle and a little red bird would scuttle from beneath a tree stump and peer up at me; it was the chucao and so I was never alone.
7. What have you learnt from the experience?
Physically, neither of us knew whether we would be able to run so far. At the beginning, when our bodies were screaming, it seemed highly probable it was just not going to happen. But it’s amazing what the human body is capable of; we were just recreational runners, enjoying running in the hills and woods and here we are over 5,600 miles, running 25 miles days and it’s possible!
Mentally, it’s been incredibly tough, the hardest test of our relationship so far as we’re tired, hungry and often scared constantly camping and living by the roadside. But we’ve got through and it’s those wildlife encounters that have been the main reason.
Also, human generosity has been incredible; we have stopped to ask for water and people have invited us into their homes for lunch. But of all the countries we’ve run through so far, it is Bolivia, the poorest, that has been the most generous. People have pulled us into their homes, under the shade, bringing us water and sharing yarns. Whilst drivers constantly stopped us on the road to give us food and drinks.
8. Through the pain and hard times, what makes it all worth it?
Well, we’re running for South America’s wildlands and wildlife, raising money for its conservation, talking to school children along the way about the amazing natural world we’re running through. And it’s funny because whenever we feel low, annoyed or depressed, it is that wildlife that seems to get us through.
So many times we have forgotten our woes, because something amazing has popped up and reminded us what life is all about. Whether it’s a tiny piece of lichen that suddenly ups and walks off and we realise that it was in fact a bug we were looking at not a plant! Or a rowdy bunch of blue-and-yellow macaws who swoop over our heads, apparently checking out the weird four-legged running apparition.
I can’t imagine a world without these constantly intriguing life forms and so I refocus and run on.
- Follow Katharine and David’s journey on: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and 5000mileproject.org.
- Don’t forget to donate on their JustGiving page and show your support… they deserve it.