Its a jungle out there!!

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South America » Bolivia » Beni Department » Madidi
January 15th 2012
Published: March 8th 2012
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So, it had just turned 4.30am and the four of us (Donna, Helen, Troy and I) were waiting in the reception of the hostel in order to jump in our cab to the airport. I was still a little delicate, but felt OK to travel, so this was good news being that I wouldn’t have to miss out on any of the action! On arrival at the airport, check-in and customs all went very smoothly, and before we knew it, we were in the departure gate 45 minutes away from our flight.

Half an hour later and in true Bolivian style, we were told that the flight was delayed an hour due to bad weather in the jungle and so we waited. An hour later, we got the same message and so another hour passed. This happened every hour until around 12.30pm, when we were told the weather was OK in order for us to travel, and so although being knackered, we were finally on our way. The tiredness we felt didn’t last long though, as after one look at our ridiculously old and small plane we were all wide awake again and staring at each other with a fair amount of concern with the look of ’what have we signed up for here!’ Luckily, the flight itself was only going to be 35 minutes and was the reason why we chose this route over the bus. Although the bus would have been considerably cheaper than the flight, the estimated travel time to get from La Paz to Rurrenbaque via road was between 15 – 59 hours!!, not something any of us fancied! We were also told that the road would be especially bad as it is summer here and therefore the wet season. So, bad road, wet road, potential landslides….. all these reasons steered us in the direction of the plane we were currently staring at in horror!

Despite the initial panic, the flight itself was actually fine, apart from a couple of stomach in your mouth moments heading through the clouds, and with our eyes closed and our thoughts positive, we were there in no time. The first thing you notice when getting to the Bolivian jungle is the change in climate and scenery. We went from being surrounded by buildings and traffic high up in the mountains where the temperature was around 15 – 20 degrees, to a stifling 30 degrees and 80% humidity surrounded by nothing but trees and jungle. On top of that, the airport itself was a shack of a building and was a massive contrast to the international airport we had just left. This was a different kettle of fish altogether!

So, after faffing about at the airport and getting our bus transfer to the travel agency, we were eventually guided towards the river where we all jumped into a long boat that would take us to our lodge which was to be our home for the next few nights. The boat ride took us an hour and a half into the heart of the jungle, where there were hardly any boats or people about, and where the landscape was simply incredible, and the animals of the jungle roamed free.

After our chilled and relaxed boat trip down the river, we eventually arrived at the lodge where we were greeted by our guide for the next couple of days and given a run-down of the activities we would be getting involved with. This was also accompanied by a talk on the types of animals and creatures we may encounter whilst here. This was an interesting part of the tour as most of us were pretty bad with large bugs and spiders, but of course we also had Donna who is practically scared of everything!

The day we arrived was a short hour and a half walk into the primary jungle in order to be taught about the flora and fauna of the forest as well as walking to a lookout point high up on the cliffs in order to see the vast canopy below us. Along the trek, we were also told to be on alert for animals and bugs within the jungle. This was so that we could identify and take photos of them, but also so that we didn’t tread on anything or touch anything that could seriously endanger our health!

The trek itself was great as well as being very informative. We didn’t see many animals as such, but the bug count was fairly high! At one point Donna lobbed a 2 litre bottle of water into the heart of the trees as she was ‘being attacked’ by a rather large unidentified flying bug… it was here I decided to take control of the water as the amount of strange noises and bugs that was here, Donna was in danger of unintentionally knocking someone out at any moment with her bottle of agua!

That evening we were given the option of a night walk. The walk consisted of a 45min or so trek into the pitch black jungle armed with only torches to physically seek out some jungle creatures. As you can imagine, we were all a little sceptical, but all decided it was something that had to be done whilst here. On the trek we ended up seeing all manner of strange bugs, toads and spiders that only come out at night, as well as a big furry Tarantula! Unfortunately for us, the tarantula wasn’t even in the heart of the jungle, but instead nested in the roof of one of our toilet blocks…. This was going to be a tough few days!

After a strangely cracking sleep considering we were now well aware of the beasts that roamed the vicinity, we were up early in order to do our full day trek into the jungle. After a long 4 hours or so trekking being taught along the way about the various creatures, trees and plants we were coming across it was time for lunch along with what seemed like a swarm of giant wasps and fly’s. Here, we were also treated to a well-deserved hours sleep in a hammock before we carried on into the heart of the canopy. After the snooze we carried on into the jungle for another 3 hours or so until we reached a viewing point in order to try catch a glimpse of some Macaws in their natural habitat, something we had yet to experience and something that we were eager to witness. After around 30 minutes wait looking out over the canopy, we were finally treated to the amazing sight of these extraordinary birds flying beneath us. Not long after this two of the birds came directly towards us and sat in a tree right beside where we were sitting. Squawking so loud that they seemed to be talking to the entire jungle, we just watched with joy at this amazing moment that we were privileged to be a part of.

From here, we walked a little further through the trees in order to get to the river. On the way, our guide stopped us to show us some footprints. These were not footprints of travellers that had been here before us, but instead prints of a Jaguar that had not long passed through the same part of the jungle that we were currently walking through… another reminder that we were truly in a completely different environment now, and on the animal’s territory, not ours.

Once we had made it to the river, we started to build ourselves a raft in order to float downstream back towards our lodge. When I say that we built the raft, I use this phrase in the loosest sense of the word! Troy and I entered the water whilst the girls watched from the riverbed. Once in the water, I simply held the logs in place so they didn’t flow down the river, and Troy tied one knot I believe in order to hold the raft together… the rest was done quickly and efficiently by our trusty guide. Once the raft had been built, we all climbed on board and drifted slowly down the river for a good hour and a half whilst the sun started to set chatting to our guide and hearing crazy stories of people who had entered the jungle and never returned… an eye opening, yet great end to a tough and challenging day.

Our last day was spent with another trek through the sweltering jungle, starting with a spot of Piranha fishing in a lake. Here we all attached some meat to our hooks cast the line into the river and waited for a bite from the meat-eating fish. It wasn’t long before we were getting bites, however the meat was disappearing so quick that we thought we would never catch anything. Eventually though, after a good session, we all ended up catching a Piranha, taking our snaps with the beast before putting them back. As you can see from the pictures…mine was a whopper!!

The rest of the trek was another interesting and fun encounter where we came across more giant trees, a Golden tailed cobra and even some wild pigs. Once we heard the pigs only 10 metres or so away from us, we were told to stay very still. We assumed this was so they didn’t run away from us which was partly correct. The other reason we were told to be quiet was if they felt threatened in anyway, they were liable to gang up together as a unit and then charge!! If this happened, we were to find the closest non-poisonous tree and climb as quickly as possible….. And there was us fretting about the spiders!

After this adventure, we eventually got back to the lodge and started on our final activity of the trip…. To make ‘Nut Rings’. At first I was a little scared as to what these nut rings consisted of but after a quick briefing my concerns were over as we started to make rings from nuts! After we had made our masterpieces, we decided there and then that from now on the four of us would become the ‘Nut Ring Crew (NRC)’ a solid bond that would never be broken!! So, after making our new jewellery, we hopped back on the boat bound for Rurrenbaque. Once here, we chilled out in the sun and relaxed thinking about the amazing experience we had just encountered together. All in all, I don’t think the jungle is a place I would want to spend too much time in due to the humidity, the dangerous bugs, animals and also due to the isolation of the place. Saying this however, it was a great experience we had together and one that we’re all so glad we did.

Bolivian Jungle…Tick

What could possibly be next in this amazing country…?

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