Published: June 12th 2011June 11th 2011
Wednesday 11th May - Thursday 19th May
The view out of the bus window of La Paz waking up to sunrise, a soft orange and pink lighting up the mountainside of houses and shacks, as we arrived at 7am certainly helped us to forget the night we’d just endured. Let’s just say I would rather sit on a vibrating power plate at the gym for eleven hours than take the same journey again. Easily the worst bus ride of our travels so far – to the point where we were looking at each other and saying ‘this can’t actually be for real and laughing hysterically whilst we attempted to land a finger on the ipod buttons!
We made it to our hostel easily and enjoyed a well deserved shower for the first time in three days, before heading out to see the wonders of Bolivia’s capital city. If I was to list the first three phrases that come to mind to describe this place I would say…out of breath (due to the altitude of 3,700 metres!, minibus taxis calling out destinations from the windows as they pass, and the street markets' stalls with villagers in traditional dress sat behind,
La Paz, Bolivia
Amongst the chaos
selling everything imaginable from coca leaves to llama foetuses, alpaca wool jumpers and wares, fruit & vegetables, freshly squeezed juices, jellies topped with whipped cream, popcorn, ice-cream, soup, toiletries, chocolates, drinks, jewellery, etc, etc, etc…
It was a marvellous display of the culture, full of life, a myriad of colours, faces & smells all set on the sides of a steep valley, as though a bucket was tipped from the top, spilling the contents out and filling every space, whilst the streets manically pull endless streams of taxi buses and cars up and down amongst it all.
We were sure to walk slowly here, at 3,700 metres above sea level we weren’t taking any chances with the possibility of altitude sickness kicking in… that was until meeting up with our fab 6 (nicknamed ‘Team Tights’ from an interesting night shared in the salt flats days before…) and indulging in a few beverages.
With our minds starting to shift to the excitement of our jungle experience soon upon us, we wasted no time planning our time in La Paz and onwards. After consulting our ‘travel planner calendar’ (yes, also in Excel!), we decided to rent a bike and take
La Paz, Bolivia
Taking on the worlds most dangerous road.. hard core.
on the famously known (and regularly talked about amongst travellers in South America) ‘The World's Most Dangerous Road’ from La Cumbre to Coroico. A 64km journey fully downhill (3,600 metre descent) on a gravel road just over 3 metres wide, with drops of up to 600m, without the comfort of safety barriers…
The drive up on the bus via a newer, wider, paved road provided amazing views of the city, made known by Keri in usual Japanese tourist mode snapping photos continuously through the window of the bus… (Chris just sighs now..)
Anyhow, the ride was exhilarating and spectacular. Certainly the concentration levels were high, and Keri seemed to be the only one complaining afterwards of sore wrists (I think this is because I was hanging onto the handle bars for dear life!). Truly though, neither of us really felt like we were in danger. Luckily, our group seemed to avoid any of the other groups on the route (particularly the show off types pulling tricks) and we also didn’t have any oncoming traffic to contend with.
The speed was intense and the highlight was on approach of a corner, riding under a waterfall that spilled over the road.
The plane landing strip - grass!
Warm sunshine and a splash by the pool for lunch at Coroico afterwards, made for a great day out.
The next day we departed for the Amazon jungle for a 5 day jungle/pampas tour. To our surprise the walk to the plane ended with a narrow staircase up into a 19 passenger plane, with only a seat on each side of the isle and the cock pit in full view - quite unexpected! However, confronted with the option of a 40 minute flight compared to a windy, scary local bus ride over the mountains, overnight and continuing for 22 hours, our decision was easy.. Chris may describe it a little differently.. let’s just say he was happy to feel the grass under his feet as we walked back down the little ladder out of the plane!
The warm humid 28C air of Rurrenabaque was a welcome relief, leaving behind the high altitude chills in La Paz, and we were quick to ditch the jeans & jumper for shorts and t-shirts. We spent the evening drinking beer in a tropical jungle themed open air bar and relaxed into the mood of the place. I really sensed the mix here
The Amazon, Bolivia
At the start of our adventure
from tribal jungle life to the introduction of the western way of living brought in by tourism. I soon realised that the ‘charity clothes shops’ were actually the fashion shops for these people and the supermarkets were very basic indeed.
Our jungle trip started with a dug out canoe trip up the Beni River with the boat driver and our guide, a local guy who had grown up in the jungle, who turned out to have an amazing wealth of knowledge and connection with his land, the animals and everything within it.
By our luck, Chris and I were the only ones on the trip, so we had a wonderful personalised service. Upon arriving at camp set 20 metres back from the river in the jungle, Chris was quick to survey the condition of our accommodation and speculate a probable view of our chances of survival against the elements - bitten by a jungle spider: 30% risk, swallowed by an anaconda: 25% risk, munched to pieces by malarial mosquitos: 10% risk – all of which were significantly reduced as long as we tucked the mosquito net fully under the bed on all sides before sleep….
The Amazon, Bolivia
Hydro-speed... jungle style!
two days with Alex, our guide, learning lots about the ways of the jungle and the animals and plants that live there. His calm approach to everything even made us feel slightly less nervous when we smelt EVEN MORE freshly laid snake eggs along the jungle paths! We did walks through the forest, listening out for monkeys up high in the trees (and dodging the bombs they dropped in our direction!), watched the squawking, gliding and nesting colourful and majestic macaws from the top of a cliff, sunset over the river, and a memorable swim in the river, which quickly became a scramble onto a trunk of balsa wood whilst we were carried by the strong river current around rocks for an hour back to camp. We even saw a jaguar....footprint!
We left the jungle on a sunrise cruise back down the river, reminiscing over the unforgettable days we’d just shared, and joined up with four new people for a long and dusty ride out to the pampas. Another canoe ride later and we were at our new camp, set right on the riverbank. We were immediately welcomed with a pod of pink river dolphins frolicking in the water,
The Amazon, Bolivia
Cheeky little squirrel monkey
and before sunset we were swimming alongside them, feeling the nudge of their silky bodies against our legs in the murky river water, surprisingly without fear of the piranhas and caiman that were lurking in the depths – because Alex told us it was fine!!!!! Gulp!...
The pampas, unlike the jungle environment, is set on a network of small narrow rivers, supporting an abundance of spectacular birdlife, as well as caiman, anacondas and pink river dolphins. There are mangrove trees living on the edges of the river and flats of grassy land as the river dries up in the dry season.
Highlights of our three days in the pampas were swimming with the dolphins, cruising the river at night with torches spotting out the many lurking caiman from the red of their eyes, the endless bird watching and cruising on sunset....and Chris would probably include the afternoon piranha fishing (where he managed to hook a whopping 12 fish!). I realised fishing really isn’t for me, ditching the line for the camera, after my stomach dropped when I thought I’d plunged the sharp hook into an unsuspecting customer (I feel sick again now, just thinking of it… weak I
The Amazon, Bolivia
Sunset in the jungle
know – but I blame my Dad as he’s not so fond of the ‘sport’ either!).
Oh… and to top things off, did I mention we went on a walk to hunt out anacondas? Yes, the largest snake known to man, in the hope of seeing him in his natural environment for a few photos. Due to my love of snakes, I favoured the middle of the path and was only too pleased when we returned to the boat, unsuccessful.
Sadly our time in the pampas was up and we returned to town, before flying back to La Paz the following morning, with amazing views of the river system from out of the plane window that day.
Keri & Chris
There are more photos below