The mystery of Lars Hafskjold's disappearance
The original story written by Pablo Cingolani, Head of the Bolivian
Expeditions and composed / enriched by Emmanouil Lalaios
Who was Lars Hafskjold and how did he disappear?
To the west of the Heath River and the Tribe of Toromonas
Questions about Larsen's disappearance - San Jose Uchupiamonas
The Norwegian biologist Lars Hafskjold was lost within a Bolivian unexplored territory while he followed an expedition trail with his two native assistants from San Fermin towards Rio Colorado. This happened in 1997. When his two assistants returned to San Fermin later on, he continued the trail by himself and from that day onwards Lars is considered as a missing person.
"It was the dream of Lars to
discover the existence of the Toromonas, the indigenous tribe that today continues to be
Bolivian's ethnographic enigma"
The above affirmation was given by Zenon Limaco, President of a union of cattle dealers organized by the Norwegians in San Jose de Uchupiamonas, who knew Lars since 1993. Also another affirmation on the same subject was made by Pedro Macuapa, an old carpenter who believes in the existence of a nomadic group that lives in the Colorado River. A group that does not want any contact with strangers and had threatened the lumber intruders with arcs and arrows. In relation to this subject, it is necessary to honor that the settlers of San Fermin speak of the existence of a tribe having "great legs" (patagrande)
The true story of the Norwegian Biologist Lars Hafskjold and his disappearance in the Bolivian wilderness resembles that one of Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett but it took place in a different period and location. The story is written by Pablo Cingolani, the leader and the person in charge of the official Bolivian expeditions. This article is composed by Emmanouil Lalaios and some of its parts confirmed by the anthropologist Alvaro Diez Astete, who is one of the most important ethnographers of Bolivia.
Note: In 1998 the Hafskjold family sent
Henrik Hovland from Norway to investigate
circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Lars Hafskjold. His final
report has not yet been made public and we are expecting
his report concerning his findings
Who was Lars Hafskjold and how did he disappear? Back
Was he trying to follow Colonel Fawcett's footsteps?
All photos are courtesy of Pablo Cingolani
This photo of Lars Hafskjold was taken for a
video made in the COMUNIDAD LINO, near
Tambopata River, where Lars lived a time with
his people. From there Lars started the way to
Colorado River to search for the Toromonas
On the 17th of October 1997, a "trudge born traveler" arrived at the local office of Peru International Conservation in Puerto Maldonado and he was welcomed there by the biologist Caesar Ascorra. They talked about projects on trips from Peru to Bolivia, via the department of Puno, and saw maps in company of a geographer. The traveler started off without taking leave. The following day, he visited an organization called FADEMAD and he showed his intention to go into the Bolivian forest by the Pampas of the Heath River. Later, according to the registration of the harbor authorities of Puerto Maldonado, he took a boat to sail along the Tambopata River, presumably to arrive at the Tambopata Research Center.
Guzman Jove while rafting in the mighty Rio Tambopata
He walked that way until the 22nd of October. Four days later, that man took a flight of the Peruvian airline Aero Continente to the city of Cuzco. From there, he left towards the Amazonian forest descending towards Puno, then he continued to the borders of the Lake Titikaka, entering into the plateau through Juliaca and Azángaro.
In the barrow of Sayaco between Sandia and Juliaca (Peru) Left to right: Fernando Arispe, Pablo Cingolani, Pedro Aramayo, and Ricardo Solis
In continuation he
crossed the barrow of Sayaco, the mountain
range of Carabaya, reaching almost the
altitude of 5000 meters, crossed the
population of Sandia in the head of the valley of the Inambari River,
San Juan del Oro - in the valley of the Tambopata River and he visited the parish priest, the R.P.
Gabriel Horn -, then he descended to the humid
forest and back to those
villages that were called Putina Punco, Chocal, Punco Arc, San Ignacio,
Curva Alegre and, finally by a footpath he arrived at the borders of the
Great Tambopata River, the limit between the republics of Peru and Bolivia. He must have arrived
there the last days of October or the first of November.
Rene Ortiz, the ferryman who had taken Lars as far as the
Colorado River. Rene was a skinny man
He crossed a river and he arrived at Bolivia. More indeed to a called community Linen where their inhabitants were, at those days, constructing a chapel. He helped them and, with one of them, a young person 23 years of age called René Ortiz, took with him a day course to the north, sailing the Tambopata in a raft. Jumping on its waters, that man was leaving back the village of San Fermín in Bolivia and the Great Pampas population that he descried upwards on the other band, the mouth of the Azata River, the Cachimayu and Herrera streams, a pair of eddies, and when the Tambopata becomes an immense and moving river, he arrived at a site where its brave waters green and white were gentle with color brick.
All the members of the expedition at a place called 'Encounter', the point where the Rio Colorado flows into the Rio Tambopata
The site is called Encounter
and it was at the mouth of the Colorado River in the Tambopata. At about 300-400 meters
from the mouth of the Colorado, in the right margin, there was a fine sandy beach:
there they mounted the camping and
they spent the night. They fished pacúes, had their dinner, took many
photographs, particularly including the
man who had led him here René Ortiz. The next day, he requested from Rene
Ortiz to return to San Fermin by himself and explained to him that he wanted to
proceed further all by himself. René told him that he will be back soon with more
people to help him.
Segundino Chambi showing Pablo Cinholani this photos of Lars that had lived in his house in Lino. Segundino is 65 years old, and the old man of the San Fermín-Lino community
The man did not realize Rene's insinuation, took the last photograph of him telling him that he would try to come and find him the following year, and then he went into the mountain with his machete and was lost in the thickness of the vegetation. Since then, Rene Ortiz had no news about him. The man who disappeared in that forest was the Norwegian biologist called Lars Hafskjold who, by that time, was 41 years old.
Pablo Cingolani with René Ortiz in the stone beach of the Tambopata River, near Puerto San Fermín, close to Lino. René guided Lars to Colorado River, then guided us to the same place
To the west of the Heath River and the Tribe of Toromonas
By Pablo Cingolani, Head of the Bolivian Expeditions
Expedition Madidi XXI
It was early in December of the year 2000 when Pablo Cingolani, the leader of the Bolivian expedition "Apolobamba-Madidi 2000-Tras Los Pasos de Percy Harrison Fawcett" made a personal call to the Norwegian Consular in La Paz Senor Ian Hornsby and explained to him that they would search the case of the Norwegian biologist Lars Hafskjold who is a missing person since 1997 in the Rio Colorado's zone. The Norwegian consular was very glad to hear about this decision.
Puerto San Fermin – The Heart of Darkness
The story began in San Fermin, a small village located in the Bolivian jungle's territory at the borders with Peru, in 1997. San Fermin was also the place where the first part of the EAM2000 "Expedicion Apolobamba-Madidi 2000-Tras Los Pasos de Percy Harrison Fawcett" was terminated in November 1, 2000 and it was here where the members of this expedition became aware of Lars's story and they were so touched to hear about this unbelievable human story so they promised to help by starting soon a relief expedition to search for the biologist’s tracks and finally give a solution to his disappearance. The case was under serious discussion with the competent authorities and the Norwegian Consular in La Paz Mr. Ian Hornsby
Lars with his friends in San José de Uchupiamonas. In this community, near the Tuichi River, he worked three years and learned about the story of the Toromonas
Biologist Lars Hafskjold, who was born in Norway on
the 6th of September 1960, lived
in Bolivia for quite a long time and for the last five years before his
disappearance was residing in the Tacana community
of San Jose de
is the birth place of Benito Cuili, one of the EAM2000 members. Benito Cuili and
Ciro Oliver, the director of Madidi National Park had the opportunity to meet
Lars during his stay in the community. According to their reports, Lars had a
successful life there and among others, he learnt how to fish, how to make
boats, how to catch animals, and how to survive in the jungle.
Soon, Lars began
to take trips into the interior all by himself and it was in one of those trips
into the jungle territory that he was exposed to a tropical fever putting his
life in great danger and he hardly managed to escape death while he was there.
Lars was a strong character, fought against the disease and at the end he
managed to survive and return to civilization. After his return back, he
promised to his friends that he would never visit again this part of the jungle
The map of the routing from La Paz (Bolivia) to Juliaca (Peru) – Expedition “Madidi XXI” 2001
But things changed when in 1997 he took his decision to visit the interior again. This time he reached the community of San Fermin located at the Bolivian-Peruvian frontiers and he asked from the villagers to help him continue along the Tambopata River and from there to reach at the confluence with the Colorado River, a distance of approximately five hours of sailing north of San Fermin.
the villagers offered to join him in his journey and give him further
assistance. The journey began soon and they sailed along the Tambopata. When
they finally reached at the confluence with the Colorado River, Lars ordered his
two native assistants to return to San Fermin and, as he said, he would continue
his journey onwards by himself, braking in that way his promise that he gave to
his people not long ago to avoid travel by himself in places like that.
On his luck,
different hypothesis have been woven and one of them was that the objective of
Lars was to come into contact with indigenous tribes of a region difficult to be
accessed in the little explored to the present day territory, which was located
within the Madidi National Park. From there he walked to the Tacana community of
San Jose de Uchupiamonas on the Tuichi River, the place where he resided for
several years in the past coexisting with the natives and promoting a tropical
agriculture that does not destroy the environment.
possibility that arises is that Lars had come into contact with members of the
ethnic group Toromonas, whose existence continues to be an ethnographic enigma
From that day onwards, nobody had ever seen him or heard of him anymore. Lars was lost in that territory looking for his objective, something that he was the only one to know it.
It was on May 15, 1998, after a detailed investigation on his case, when Joe Vieira of Conservation International informed via email the Consular of Norway in Bolivia Mr. Hornsby that thanks to the work of pursuit made by the biologist Caesar Ascorra of Conservation International-Peru, has been able to determine the whereabouts of Lars between the 17th and the 26th of October, 1997.
Ascorra made an extensive research by radio, lists of passengers, registries of the National Parks and receipts of boarding and could determine that Lars left Cuzco, the Inca's capital on the 17th of October 1997. He went through the department of Puno, passing through the localities of San Juan del Oro and Putina Punco, and then he crossed the Peruvian borders and entered the Bolivian territory in the Department of La Paz on October 26, 1997 where he reached the village of San Fermin.
However, plenty of conjectures came to the surface according to the report of Joe Vieira of Conservation International (CI) of Bolivia, an organization to which Lars was in cooperation since 1995, such as,
Questions about Larsen's disappearance Back
Has Lars found the information he wanted about the legendary tribe of
the Tuichi River, Toromonas?
Did he discover the people that were not supposed to be discovered?
Was he buried alive by some landslide or by the flood of El Nino in this
little inhabitant area?
Was he hurt in some streams and left helpless?
Was he captured and kept prisoner by the guerillas Revolution Movement
of Tupac Amaru (MRTA)?
Was he lost in Peru or Bolivia?
In relation to the guerilla detachments in the zone, this subject was eliminated in 1992. In relation to the climate factor, the risks were multiplied during the end of October with the beginning of the raining season and Lars could have been a victim of the natural forces, taking into account that he walked in solitaire.
In relation of Toromona's existence, we have contacted and began to work together with one of the greatest specialists in Amazonian ethnography of Bolivia, the lawyer Alvaro Diez Astete.
In the meantime, Lars's parents in Norway, believing that their son is still alive, came into contact with Henrik Hovland who had earlier worked as an International investigator for the United Nations, investigating war crimes, asking him to go to Bolivia to investigate Lars's disappearance.
As a matter of fact, Henrik left for Bolivia but he went only up to the confluence of the Colorado River with the Tambopata and he avoided to enter the territory where probably Lars had visited during his last failed journey and also avoided to explore the zone of the Colorado, Heath and Enajewa rivers where he was informed that Lars was probably either alive living with a tribe or dead. It is believed that the tribe Lars had met on his last trip and he might be living with them, even if today, is the Toromonas.
This tribe's territory was near the Rio Madre de Dios (River) in the years of heavy exploration and also in the years of Percy Harrison Fawcett's explorations in the nearby area. As this tribe during that period had many difficulties and problems with the white people who used to catch them and trade them as slaves to others, a group of it moved further to the south and perhaps they are living in this zone today.
On February 23, 2001 there was an official meeting with Ian Hornsby to get to know him better and discuss with him some arrangements made during our investigation on Lars's case. At the same time, we wanted to certify certain other information that was given to us on October of 2000 by the parish priest of the valley of Tambopata Gabriel Horn when we visited the village of San Juan del Oro during our expedition's first part.
Horn suggested that we have to contact Henrik who was sent by the family to look for Lars. During this interview, the Norwegian Consular mentioned that Henrik informed him that the forest was impenetrable and that he had undergone much inclemency of the climate and the insects of the zone. At the same time, he also informed us that Joe Vieira from the Conservation International had headed a deeper expedition search and he gave us his electronic contact but we haven't been able to locate him so far and the case still remains unsolved.
Lars lived within the park, in the Tacana community of San Jose de Uchupiamonas on the banks of the Tuichi River
Tuichi River as it looks from the Asariamas community
The Quechua-Tacana of San Jose Uchupiamonas, is a community located within Madidi National Park. The park spans nearly 4.5 million acres in the tropical Andes, and is the home of impressive numbers of bird species, including toucans, macaus, aracaris, trogons, and mot-mots.
indigenous people who live in the area are primarily Quechua-Tacana in tribal
origins, now Spanish-speaking and Spanish-educated, these gentle and friendly
people long ago gave up the lifestyles of their forest ancestors in favor of
village life. Their village is San Jose de Uchupiamonas (population 500), an
isolated community of thatched-roof, adobe houses, with dirt paths for
roads, no guest accommodations and few of the comforts of
"civilization" but boasting a good school and a "big-house"
town hall with solar electric power.
The people of San Jose subsist primarily on primitive forest agriculture and the gifts of the rainforest. They are very much aware of the fragility of their home environment and the need to protect it from exploitation as they try to make the transition and adjustment to encroaching "civilization." Isolated though they are, their unique forests are still threatened by logging, petroleum and hydroelectric dam interests.
Lars's family today believe that the biologist is still alive and the help which was offered to the Norwegian Consular in La Paz by the Expedition members to resolve his case was cordially accepted.
The EXPEDITION of 2001 "MADIDI XII" has finished one approach to the history of the region that is being explored. It has been managed to locate a document of exceptional value as it is the report on the expedition of Colonel Jose Manuel Pando to the Inambary of 1897.
For more information about the Norwegian Biologist Lars Hafskjold and his disappearance in the Bolivian wilderness as well as about the Toromonas, please read the story entitled 'Within the unexplored Madidi-To the west of the Heath River and the tribe of Toromonas'
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